Declining Profits, Rising Defaults Assure 2016 Recession
By: David Haggith
GDP estimates are increasingly moving in favor of my prediction that the US has been entering a recession since the start of 2016. (Keep in mind recessions are always declared after the fact -- after quarterly statistics are in. That's why I call it a "prediction," even though I say we have already entered it. The prediction is that it will eventually be declared, but not for many months.)
End of stock buybacks triggers 2016 recession in the US
I've noted on The Great Recession Blog a few times that the only force that has been sustaining high stock market values in the recent rally -- now ended -- has been the huge number of incestuous stock buybacks. The corporate elite have been saving themselves by desperate measures that will leave smaller investors holding crashing shares. When the shares are done crashing, the elite investors will come back in with their cash and thereby profit from the crash.
In stock buyback programs, companies create their own demand for their stocks by taking out low-interest loans to buy their own shares back. Sometimes the major investors on the board make this decision and focus on buying their own shares back. Those extraordinary measures to create stock value are now ending, partially for temporary reasons and partially, it seems, as a reversal in the buyback trend (maybe because board-member aims of cashing themselves out have been achieved).
As a result, we see the recent stock rally has hit a new ceiling. Goldman Sachs reported earlier this week that the end of stock repurchases threatens the rally, and we can now see that the rally has been threatened practically to death as it now struggles against the market's lowering ceiling like a hero in one of those rooms where the ceiling keeps coming down inch by inch until it crushes you. Since the end of QE, buybacks have formed the primary demand for stocks while the kinds of economic factors that ordinarily create demand have receded.
We'd say the next month would be weaker rather than stronger because you have no corporate repurchases, which are a key source -- the only source -- of demand for shares. Then you've got your core earnings, which are likely to be muted. So there's an absence of drivers for why the market goes higher. - NewsMaxRight now the market is in a lull because buyback support is not there, but reports of lower corporate earnings have not started to hit it yet either. I've noted that buybacks get curtailed while companies issue their reports for the previous quarter and that the reduction in buybacks would end the rally they have supported. Thus, we see a rally that finished off with a lower ceiling than previous rallies.
You have to be able to recognize that buying back your own stocks is not a sustainable path for creating stock value. If it were, companies would just start out by issuing stocks to the company, forgetting investors altogether and skip entering the New York Stock Exchange.
Hopefully, putting it that way makes it clear why a rally based on stock buybacks cannot be sustained. It is, if anything, how corporations end themselves, not how they save themselves. At best, it is a temporary boost.
Not only have buybacks been curtailed as companies ready for the reporting season, but they have been diminishing on a quarter-on-quarter basis. CNBC reports that the buyback fuel for the seven-year bull market is losing steam as a trend, not just as a short-term matter in the lead-up to the present reporting period:
Share repurchases decreased 3.4 percent in the fourth quarter from the previous three-month period and are tracking at a 21-month low in March, according to respective data from S&P Dow Jones Indices and TrimTabs. If the trend continues, that would mark a major trend shift. Companies have been using reductions in share count as a way to boost earnings profiles, raise stock prices and reward corporate executives. The programs have been seen as a major driver of the market rally, though the extent of the effect has come under scrutiny in recent months.... However, the pendulum could be turning, due in part to several factors. One obstacle to buybacks is the market simply getting more expensive.February saw a buyback leap because stocks lost so much value in January that companies leaped in with more buybacks to save themselves and because it is sensible to buy back shares when they are a bargain rather than when they are priced high. That began winding down again in March because the buyback rally raised prices.
You see, any rally created by buybacks is ultimately self-defeating as companies are less inclined to purchase back their stock when the value is rising or high, unless they are purchasing back stocks solely from the board members and other major stock holders who want to cash out. When you have players with a lot of stocks to dump, buybacks are a way to keep the dump from crashing the stock's value. In which case, buybacks continue until the major players who want out have exited.. Buybacks can bridge a company through a slump, too, but they don't work for longterm gain.
Buybacks are self-defeating as a longer-term support to the market because, when they run on for too long, savvy investors become wary. Buybacks happen at the cost of capital investment that cash and credit could go toward if it were not being poured into buying back shares. So, buybacks happen at the cost of a company positioning itself for the future.
You can do that short-term and maybe not feel it much. You can never do it long-term and succeed.
Old-fashion investors, who still like real value, lose interest in companies that are not creating value by doing what they could be doing with that same money in research and development or in upgrading manufacturing equipment, etc.
Call it "financial fatigue." True investors eventually tire of stock values that only rise because of financial engineering.
What will prevent a 2016 recession in the US if buybacks are running out of steam?
Recessions are not measured by stock market values, but recessions and stock market crashes do naturally tend run in tandem. Corporate profits have declined for three quarters in a row; so what is going to replace buybacks in creating demand for stocks? And, if profits are declining, it's pretty certain GDP (by which recessions are measured) is also declining.
It's not likely that the data these companies report will energize investors either. So, April -- usually a decent month for stocks -- looks poised to hit stall speed just as the overall economy is also hitting stall speed. I'd say the decline of recent days in the market IS the market hitting stall speed.
I've reported how Caterpillar has been aggressively buying back shares and offering dividends as a way to support its share prices. That has not helped ward off Caterpillars own recession, as it has seen steadily falling revenue from its own product -- both domestic and foreign -- for most of the last three years. Its buybacks have done nothing to improve its market or its products, and ultimately even non-savvy investors should be able to see that selling products into a market is the only reason a company like Caterpillar exists. The company has spent more than $8 billion buying up its own shares to create a phony market for its stock.
The more Caterpillar uses its resources incestuously like that in order to pump up flagging stock prices by creating its own stock demand, the less it does to develop its product line and create demand for its products. Perhaps that is why Caterpillar stock has lost 12% of its value in spite of aggressive buybacks. Smart investors aren't going for the candy. They want the meat.
Again we come to the economic Law of Diminishing Returns that I bring up so often. I bring it up because it is one of those economic fundamentals that cannot be ignored, but which has been ignored throughout the Great Recession. Remember, that I consider the Great Recession to be ongoing since its causes and its unemployment rage on.
(If you want to be tricked by all those part-time, lower-paying, no-benefit jobs that have been taken up by immigrant workers, both legal and illegal, go ahead. That's your call based on your willingness to be duped and your willingness to watch the middle class get eviscerated with its eyes wide open.
Remember also how the government plays with its job numbers. Only a few months ago, I reported on how only 10,000 jobs out of about 220,000 new jobs reported were actual jobs. The rest were "adjustments" based on the Bureau of Lying Statistic's assumptions.)
The Law of Diminishing Returns always assures non-sustainable practices will meet their natural end. You cannot beat it. You can only delay the inevitable. In this case, that means delaying the 2016 recession to the latter part of the year and the stock market crash that should run in tandem with said recession.
Diminishing returns work like this: When companies first start buying back shares, they create their own demand for their own stocks, so prices go up (a good return). The more companies continue to buy back their own shares, the more they start losing demand from from savvy investors who see that stock prices are only going up because of the buybacks and not because of a healthy company. As they go even further down that path, they company starts to look desperate and also starts to become less healthy because it is not using its resources to expand its potential. It is, therefore perceived as less worthy because of it apparent desperation, and it is less worthy because it has degraded its own quality.
Buybacks ultimately are like drinking your own urine or your own milk -- not a program that can save you from dying of thirst for very long.
Smart money rushes for the market's exit doors -- another sign of recession
The trend indicates buybacks are nearing their natural end as their downside begins to outpace the upside. That is seen in the form of the smart money leaving the market quickly. As Zero Hedge reports, "Everything is being sold":
"Still No Confidence In The Rally" - that's the title of the latest weekly BofA report looking at the buying and selling by its smart money clients (institutional clients, private clients and hedge funds), which finds that not only were sales by this group of clients last week the largest since September, and the fifth-largest in our data history, but this was the 10th consecutive week of selling as absolutely nobody believed this fakest of fake "rebounds" in recent history."Fakest of fake" because this last rally was all engineered. The smart money sees through that engineering and gets out. In fact, it is probably creating in order to build an exit door just for itself .
The smart money can do that with buybacks because the BIG smart money is usually on the boards of those corporations.
Bank of America reports that its largest clients were net sellers of US stocks last week and that the outflow from the market from its major clients was the largest it has seen in its data history. That doesn't sound promising. To me, it sounds like we are running into a recession, and the smart money is rushing for the exits. Led by institutional investors, BofA says the rush out the fire escape shows "that clients continue to doubt the sustainability of the rally amid the lack of fundamental drivers."
Exactly. It was not a sustainable rally.
Buybacks are diminishing as major players finish their exit plans and as the reporting period commences, and they are diminishing in an environment of degrading economic fundamentals; i.e., lowering sales due to global recession, a high-valued dollar that diminishes trade, making future sales less likely, a crashing oil industry, towering debts, and rising corporate and even international defaults with many more lined up on the near horizon.
We are not just seeing the end of the fakest of fake rallies; we are seeing the end of the fakest of fake recoveries. The other thing that has ended for the stock market is free or cheap money from the Fed.
So, when profits are in longterm decline and global trade is highly unlikely to do anything but get worse and corporate buybacks have hit that point in the curve of diminishing returns where they are triggering more concern than demand and defaults are rising while companies have more debt to default on because of all the buybacks they financed, what is going to drive stock prices up?
Regardless of whatever one might read in their horoscope graphs of the market, please explain to me HOW a really rally is possible with those fundamentals solidly established in such bad shape.
And that is what the Federal Reserve calls "recovery."
The biggest leading economic indicator for stocks is pointing toward a 2016 recession
It is an aphorism of the stock market that, when the Dow transportation stocks are in decline, the market will soon follow. This is called "Dow Theory," and it has a long track record of being one of the best indicators out there for both market drops and recessions.
The theory works like this: transportation companies are the first to notice the hit of an economic downturn. When fewer products ship, transportation companies feel the loss of freight. It starts with fewer natural resources being shipped to non-transportation industries to create products. It, then, worsens as the diminishing supply of products takes transportation down even more.
Transport stocks were looking bullish for the market for a brief stint, but they have now soured again.
When transportation is in longterm decline, sales of big trucks go down. Truck sales tanked by 37% in March from a year ago, and inventories of unsold trucks reached a high not seen since ...
immediately prior to the Great Recession. Who wants to buy big rigs when products are not moving?
Rail is looking bad, too:
The dark clouds just continue to gather on the nation's economic horizon. This time, rail traffic has plunged to recessionary levels, according to Wolf Street.com's Wolf Richter. U.S. railroad cargo in 2015 dropped the most in six years, and 2016 isn't expected to be any better. - NewsMax
Transportation is a measure of how well the real economy is clicking. Alas rail traffic is getting clobbered. The deterioration in the second half of 2015 dragged the whole year down from 2014: carloads fell 6.1%.... In December, total volume dropped 8.9% year over year.... And then there was last week's rail traffic!
Christine Hughes, Chief Investment Strategist at OtterWood Capital, put it this way: "Rail volumes at recessionary levels." - WolfStreetThat was in December and January. Deterioration of Dow transports usually precedes a fall in the overall Dow by as much as five months.
Stock market crash is inevitable and ongoing until Fed comes to the rescue
Even with Fed help, the market's crash is now inevitable, but it could be delayed when the Fed steps in more aggressively.
What began in January will continue ... as always noted with surges upward breaking the fall along the way. This last surge was likely so great solely because so much of the smart money was fleeing the market and using company credit to do it. Thus, the big players were able to dump their stocks and increase stock value at the same time.
Just more reason why it is predictable that the stock market will continue on a crash course and not recover into a new bull market. It is not surprising to find that the S&P 500 this week turned from finally becoming faintly positive for the entire year to date back to being negative.
There is just no real support for a positive market ... unless, of course, the Fed does a major turnaround and goes back to full-on stimulus as a way to try to pump the market up again. With the oil industry on the gallows and profits falling everywhere, a dovish Fed is really the only hope the stock market has right now.
The Fed has announced an emergency closed-door meeting for this coming Monday. The last time it did that was just before it ended its zero-interest-rate policy. Perhaps it is meeting in such expedited, secretive manner again on Monday to consider reversing that policy change. "Oops.
Guess we shouldn't have done that." Perhaps the Fed is noting that, without its continued support and without the other fake support of corporate repurchases of stocks, their bubble has nothing left to inflate it.
I'm speculating, obviously, as the Fed does not reveal its secret motives to me; nor did it use the word "emergency." The word the Fed used for this specially called meeting was "expedited." I am merely speculating that, if one holds a closed, special meeting under "expedited procedures" there is some sort of emergency behind it. I could be wrong. It could be that Grandma Yellen is calling the board together for a surprise birthday party for Papa Ben. The declared purpose of the meeting is "to review and determine advance and discount rates" of interest charged to its member banks.
Hmm. Sounds like that would be a review of the recent move to raise those interest rates. Their committee in charge of such matters, the Federal Open Market Committee, just had a meeting to determine interest rates, so why the sudden need for the Fed's superior Board to Governors expedite a closed meeting to review and determine all that was just reviewed and determined? Perhaps "expedited procedures" allow the board to overrule the FOMC on an emergency basis or to take additional action on an emergency basis.
I am only speculating to say I would not be surprised if new stimulus comes out of the meeting.
I'm just saying it will not make me feel wrong about what I've said about the stock market and the economy crashing if that happens. I've always maintained that the Fed's recovery only lasts as long as the Fed stays continually in recovery mode. That's why it was easy to predict the stock market would crash as soon as the Fed began winding down the last of its stimulus. Crash it did ... in the worst January in stock-market history, worse even than any January during the Great Depression.
I've also always said the Fed will step back in with more stimulus when its recovery fails, but it will be too little, too late. That doesn't mean it will not give some temporary lift, especially enough to get through the present election cycle. Even though the Fed's recovery has no capacity to sustain itself and Fed stimulus has hit the downslope of diminishing returns, a return to stimulus is still likely to give the market some buoyancy for a short time.
On the other hand, I would not be surprised to see Fed stimulus backfire this time -- just as it greater stimulus in Japan when the Bank of Japan sunk to negative interest to try to force the economy to move. What it forced was people taking their money out of the banks, and the banks suffering losses.
The Fed's return to stimulus, whenever it happens, should make it clear to all that the Fed's over-fed "recovery" failed. It would make it clear, except that there are so many people who don't want to see the truth, no matter how much evidence is shoved in their face.
Bear in mind that the Federal Reserve has the courage to lead by cowing to the stock market every time it burps. So, I'm sure it would like to avoid the appearance of failure by timing any reversal of its recent interest "normalization" policy to an event outside of the market. Will they find they have that option? They are not omnipotent -- even if they think they are -- but there are a lot of bad events waiting to happen that they can blame for the need to drop interest ... so it doesn't look like they are the maidservants of the stock market. Maybe they see an aptly timed event approaching now.
Regardless, this has long been a stock market that wants to believe in unreality. It likes to live in fantasy, and that runs in the Fed's favor. The market wants to believe in recovery, so I would not rule out a burst of market euphoria if the Fed reverses course and returns to some kind of stimulus, even though that kind of action will be seen as an admission of failed recovery by any rational mind. Such a temporary rise in the market will especially become true if the Board of Governors can come up with a new crackpot idea that gives new hope to hopelessly stupid investors.
Here is what makes this year different. Both the Republican establishment and the Democrat establishment desperately want to see Trump and Bernie (the anti-establishment candidates) fail. The establishment hates the fact that those candidates are emerging as likely victors because those candidates have gone rogue. They don't track with the Wall-Street-serving establishment! They track with the party proletariat.
That means the two parties will likely work together (behind the scenes as much as possible) to do all they can to pump things up long enough to get through this election cycle. I've stated they will do that, even in my predictions of a great crash; but I also said they would not likely succeed.
However, they now have Trump and Bernie brandishing their butts and giving them a reason to work together. Though they've never to come together with a fiscal policy that could actually improve the US economy, they can and will come together to save the plans of the establishment where those plans agree on bailing out bankers and supporting Wall street, etc. That's because, if either leading candidate proves right in his own predictions of economic disaster prior to the election, the establishment is going to lose. And they know it!
Until recently, I would have said the Republicans would gladly let the economy crash just to see Obama blamed for it. Winning party power is more important to them than the good of the nation.
Now, however, they know that, if Trump is proven right on what they see as extravagant predictions of economic doom, he will get the popular vote. That scares them to death and scares Wall Street, too.
A Trump win, if he's true to his many words, means the unwinding of the Republican establishment even more than a Democrat for president would mean its unwinding. The alternative they see is a Democrat President Bernie. The Republican establishment would feel the Bern even more if an anti-war socialist wins. Now that the establishment candidates have crumbled into the dust, a failed economy will no longer work for the good of Republican power.
The only question that remains for me is whether the two major parties with the Fed's help can manage to forestall the crash until November now that it has already begun. The trouble that is unfolding should be apparent enough to energize them all into trying; but I still think the events will largely override their best efforts.
I've said that there will be so many troubles ready to fall apart at the seams in 2016 that the two parties and the Fed won't be able to hold things together until the end of the election cycle. I still think that is the more likely course, but Republicans have a lot more reason to work with Democrats and with the Fed to keep the economy sliming along. In the very least, all parties would like the recession to hold off until Trump wins so they can try to blame it all on him.
Then they can claim that it all came down because of his brash mouth.
A 2016 recession is likely here already, but can it be papered over through November?
I believe the recession is already here, just as the stock market started its crash with the worst January in history. My only wonder is whether or not a US recession will become visible until after the 2016 election.
Already GDP estimates for the first quarter are being revised downward week after week. This week some estimates finally reached as low as zero growth for the first quarter. We could easily find, as I've been saying, that we are already in a recession since recessions are always declared after the fact when two quarters of decline happen consecutively. Then they are declared to have begun at the start of the first quarter of decline. In short, recession are never declared until, at least, six months after they began. So, how much will it take to hide the fact of a recession for an additional four months?
The first quarter of the year is now looking close to being one of decline. GDP also often reports higher at first and then gets revised downward many months later as more data firms up to replace estimates. When things are this close to going below zero, that area where data is estimated provided enough wiggle room for hiding the truth about recession through November.
I am certain it will be hidden because everyone wants it hidden -- except Trump and Sanders -- unless the truth is so bad that the government cannot skew the numbers enough without getting called on the carpet for blatant falsehood. The government has many ways of "adjusting" GDP upward in those parts of the data that remain estimates until later in the year.
It may turn out the economy did not grow at all in the first quarter. Trade data released Tuesday show the U.S. deficit widened more than expected to $47.1 billion in February and was a bigger drag on growth than expected. It's the latest economic metric that chiseled away at the tracking model for first quarter growth.... Given the average, and substantial, revisions to government GDP data, that 0.5 percent could easily turn into a negative number.... The widely followed Atalanta Fed's GDPNow model sees the economy expanding by just 0.4 percent. - CNBCUh huh.
Since GDP growth has been revised downward every month, it could easily get revised down the final notch to reach negative levels by the time it is reported; but you can be sure internal efforts will become a scurry to keep the estimated portions of GDP on the high side in order to maintain an overall positive number.
Debt-Default Epocalypse approaches in 2016
The market is struggling, the Fed is calling expedited meetings, and we haven't even hit the next default wave (at least, not that we know):
Losses on bonds from defaulted companies are likely to be higher than in previous cycles, because U.S. issuers have more debt relative to their assets, according to Bank of America Corp. strategists. Those high levels of borrowings mean that if a company liquidates, the proceeds have to cover more liabilities. "We've had more corporate debt than ever, and more leverage than ever, which increases the potential for greater pain." - NewsMaxMaybe the Fed sees that the default tsunami is arriving on shore. Perhaps that is what triggered a specially called meeting of the Federal Reserve. Do you think they have enough sandbags to create a seawall that will hold against it until November? That is really the only question left in my mind. That the economy is all going down is a slam-dunk.
How much ability the Fed -- now that it is assured of total support by both Dems and Pubs -- has to keep things alive through this election cycle in order to avoid Fed-Hating President Trump or Socialist President Sanders, probably is not even known by the Fed. So, it is beyond me to know how much that combination of counterforces can stall the inevitable, but they will certainly do their best. We are likely to see some extravagant measures.
I think they are reaching that desperate point where I said they will jump back in with stimulus that is too little, too late. It was only three months ago that they were convinced the US could withstand all the global financial shocks that would be coming its way. I said it wouldn't take long for that to be disproved, and it hasn't. The Fed has already capitulated to the stock market on their return to normal economics by admitting they will have to postpone their earlier schedule due to global concerns.
I think the Fed is running scared but doing everything it can to put a good face on things because they know they have engineered a market where perception is reality. My guess is that the Fed knows a lot more about how credit defaults are leaning than anyone else, and everyone else is starting to learn:
At least part of the pain that investors will experience in this downturn was deferred from the last credit crunch, which for corporate issuers was relatively short-lived. During the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve was quick to cut rates, and investors began diving back into junk bonds quickly....
Many companies were able to refinance debt instead of defaulting.
"A lot of the troubled companies that had become overleveraged were able to find more temporary solutions in the last credit cycle," Holtz said. "Those Band-Aids are no longer available now, and a lot of companies are going to have to face distress."Uh huh.
...Leverage levels have been rising as more companies use borrowings to refinance existing liabilities, buy back shares and take other steps that do not increase asset values. - "Coming Debt-Default Armageddon Will Be Painful for Investors"
While I've been saying the Dow will probably drop 60% from its all-time high before the current bear environment ends, Albert Edwards, the Société Générale strategist, forecasts the S&P 500 will plunge 75 percent! He, too, says that recession is already underway: