Wolf Richter is one of the most astute observers of our bubble-ridden/central bank perverted financial scene around. His blog called Testosterone Pit is a daily “must read” and more than that: its posts are succinct, spritely, fact-based, conclusionary and cover the global map with special insight on those debt ridden houses of cards on the other side of the Pacific—-Japan and China.
Wolf today issued a timely warning. Next week we will be told by Wall Street stock peddlers that what are just having a healthy correction and that it will soon be time to “buy the dip”. Don’t believe them. We are perched precariously at the top of one of the greatest financial bubbles ever because it is global—-the handiwork of world-wide central bank driven credit expansion and drastic interest rate repression.
Just recall some of the numbers. At the turn of the century, the US had about $25 trillion of credit market debt outstanding; now it is pushing $60 trillion. About 14 years ago, China had debt of $1 trillion; now its nearly $25 trillion. And similar credit explosions occurred in much of the rest of the world. It was all central bank enabled, and it caused world wide investment booms and asset inflations which defy every law of sound money and economics, and which cannot be sustained indefinitely.
The bottom line of those destructive policies is that “cap rates” are artificially low and so their reciprocal, asset values, are enormously inflated. Likewise, nearly zero money market interest rates in virtually every major economy of the world have fueled the most fantastic expansion of “carry trades” ever imagined.
As I have frequently pointed out, the short-term market for repo and other wholesale funding represents the cost of goods (COGS) for financial gamblers; its what they use to fund their speculations in higher yielding currencies, corporate debt, equities, and every manner of derivatives and OTC concoctions that Wall Street trading desks can engineer.
So when the central banks drive the money market rates to just 5-50 bps, they are offering ZERO-COGS to speculators. This is a massive incentive to bid up the price of anything that has a yield north of 50 basis points or a short-run appreciation prospect of the same—in order to capture the spread. This is what has turned the so-called capital markets of the world into dangerous casinos. This is what led speculators this week to gorge on $4 billion in Greek debt carrying the lunatic coupon of just 4.75%.
The latter is not even a remotely plausible pricing of the risk of a government with a 170% debt to GDP ratio—- sitting atop an eviscerated economy that has shrunk by more than 20% and has nothing much left except tourism, yogurt plants and a 27% unemployment rate. Instead, it evidences the fast money traders who swooped in to buy a 475 bp coupon funded by free money from the central banks, and who did so in the confidence that the ECB will do “whatever it takes” to prop up the price of member country sovereign debt.
Needless to say, the minute that the millions of gamblers who have been enabled by the ZERO-COGS gift of central banks loose confidence in their ability to prop up asset values, the panic will set in. Then a great dumping stampede will start. It will be the mother of all margin calls—-a repeat of the dumping panic on Wall Street that occurred in September 2008 when toxic mortgage securities which had been funded by overnight repo were forced into fire sales by wholesale lenders refusing to roll their repo.
Only this one will be much grander because the carry trades have gone more global then ever before. Even pig farmers in China have their sties loaded with copper because through a roundabout trade it can be repo’d for cash.
Indeed, the global financial system is land-mined with time-bombs–some hidden and others transparent. But what is certain is that when huge distortions like the newly booming market for dollar-denominated junk bonds being issued by EM companies increasingly parched for cash craters, there will be a ricocheting chain reaction that will spread far and wide.
As they might have said back in the day on Hill Street Blues “don’t go out there, its too dangerous”. Below, Wolf Richter reminds us of why.
By Wolf Richter At The Testosterone Pit
“Biotech Stocks’ Rout Perplexes Analysts” is how the Wall Street Journal headlined the phenomenon. The Nasdaq Biotech Index had plunged 21% from its intraday high six weeks ago, to which it had ascended in an ever steepening curve that culminated in a beautiful spike. I wrote about that craziness at the time. My impeccable timing was, unfortunately, sheer luck, but the Biotech bubble had become so glaring that even I could see it [NASDAQ 10,000 – Or Something]. So it’s perplexing that analysts would be perplexed.
To add some color, the WSJ quoted ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum: “Horrible day in #biotech. I’m frankly at a loss for an explanation. And it’s my job to at least know why. Humbling day.”
He has been a stock analyst following the Biotech sector since 2000. If he’d started three years earlier, he would have seen the bubble build, pick up momentum, go crazy, and pop in early 2000. He would have seen Biogen dive so fast so far it would have knotted up his stomach. He would have experienced the implosion viscerally. And he might not have forgotten – though many analysts have. But not having been through this before, he was “at a loss.”
And something is cracking.
Of the 14 IPOs planned for this week – the busiest since 2007 at the eve of the last implosion – five were postponed, pending better weather. But Farmland Partners started trading on Friday, and got plowed under. An hour before the close, it was down over 10% from its offering price of $14 a share. A last-minute rally brought it up to $12.98, for a loss of 7.3%.
“People are pretty nervous,” explained CEO Paul Pittman. “This is about building long-term value in an asset class that for all kinds of macro reasons we believe is certainly going to keep appreciating.”
That endlessly appreciating asset class is farmland. The company, which expects to get taxed as a REIT, doesn’t own or do much yet. But it’s gonna “acquire high-quality primary row crop farmland … throughout North America … upon completion of a series of formation transactions.” It’ll own 38 farms with 7,300 total acres, mostly in Illinois.
Farmland has been hot for long time.
Over the last 10 years, farmland prices in Iowa soared 282%, in Nebraska and South Dakota 326%. Over the last 6 months, prices still rose 7.2% in South Dakota, but in Nebraska they stalled, and in Iowa they started to fall, now down 2.8%.
Farmland has been through this before: in the 1980s, the bubble burst, and farmers who’d borrowed against their land at nosebleed valuations ran into trouble because crop prices couldn’t make the equation work, and they couldn’t service their debts and had to sell, which triggered more bouts of forced selling which drove prices down further and took rural lenders down with them. The scenario of any bubble that is unwinding. It wreaked havoc on rural America.
That Wall Street finally pushed a farmland REIT, willing to buy farmland at peak valuations, into the hands of retail investors, after a huge multi-year run-up in stocks and farmland, should send people scurrying out of the way.
“But it’s not a bubble.”
That’s what Savita Subramanian, Head of US Equity and Quantitative Strategy BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, wrote on March 21. Then she went on to describe what exactly it was, namely a bubble:
We have witnessed a recent surge in media attention on the topic of equity bubbles, citing various signs of evidence: Biotech stocks have risen 300% over the past five years, and Internet stocks have returned more than 400% over the same period. And most IPOs this year have been for unprofitable companies trading at high valuations…. The recent sell-off in high-fliers has investors worried that the deflation of this “bubble” could take down the overall market, similar to what occurred in 2000.
But no. “We think not,” she wrote. BofA Merrill Lynch makes lots of moolah pushing overpriced stocks to exuberant retail investors who’ve been driven by the Fed’s interest rate repression into the razor-like claws of risk. And besides, “the frothy spots appear well contained,” she added in central-banker lingo. And then the old saw: “Equity bubbles rarely happen when everybody is talking about bubbles.”
In late 1999 and early 2000, just before the bubble imploded spectacularly, “bubble” was the only thing everyone was talking about. Everybody tried to ride it up all the way and then get out. With predictable results. Repeat in 2007 and 2008.
That’s what analysts are doing. They see the bubble, and they benchmark it against the bubbles that blew up in 2000 and 2007, and they pull rationalizations out of thin air why this time it’s d…. Oops, they’re not using the d-word, which would make them the laughing stock of TP readers. They’re using logical-sounding arguments that border on superstitions – “Equity bubbles rarely happen when everybody is talking about bubbles” – to explain why it’s different. Exuberant retail investors are expected to swallow it hook, line, and sinker.
Meanwhile, the Smart Money is selling.
This week, it was once again private-equity mastodon Blackstone Group which dumped one of its LBOs, hotel chain La Quinta, into the lap of mutual funds and retail investors via an IPO. Blackstone has been busy dumping its LBOs. Other PE firms have been busy too. Valuations are enormous, and PE firms need months, sometimes years, to get out from under their priced possessions. So they plan ahead. And they’ve been selling everything that isn’t nailed down for over a year.
And hedge funds are bailing out of equities. Still in an orderly manner.
“We saw net exposure come way down,” explained Jon Kinderlerer, managing director at Credit Suisse’s prime brokerage business that deals with hedge funds. Hedge fund exposure to stocks in the US is “actually at the lowest level since August 2012,” during the euro turmoil before ECB President Mario Draghi saved the day with his whatever-it-takes pledge. “Funds have trimmed exposure, and they’ve added hedges.” The sharpest cuts occurred over the past month, he said. Hedge funds are “battening down the hatches to weather the storm.”
Buried in the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report is a doozie of a chart. It depicts the bubble in covenant-lite and second-lien loans, the same that helped blow up the banks in 2008. Only this time, they’re even worse. Read….. Biggest Credit Bubble in History Flashes Warning: ‘Seek Cover, Implosion In Sight’