Hidden in the middle of the 25-page minutes of the last meeting, under the most wooden and convoluted prose, the Fed issued a doozie of a warning: it fretted about financial stability. It named soaring forward P/E ratios, stock buybacks, margin credit, and leveraged loans.
Central banks rule! We’ve seen it in 2013. They’ve accomplished the impossible: separating stock markets from the economies they’re based on. But in 2014, the US and China are trying to unwind these crazy policies – without taking down the entire global economy.
Number one is Palo Alto, epicenter of Silicon Valley craziness, where home prices are now 40% higher than they were at their prior bubble peak. What are we calling this phenomenon? Bubble? Nope. “Housing recovery.” But the middle class has hit a wall.
Treasuries have been skidding, and the 10-year yield hit the psycho-sound barrier of 3%. What happened last time this phenomenon occurred? Well, yields bounced off and fell – because the mayhem they’d triggered gave the Fed conniptions and caused it to back off.
There have been three mega-crashes in my investing lifetime, and three concurrent peaks in margin debt. In April, margin debt broke the record set in 2007 and has continued to rise. Over the last three months, it has soared 10.9%. Are we there yet?
Financial engineering had a glorious year. Now finally, after five years, the crazy fun is back, and the good thing is: this time, it’s different. This time, the smart money is selling!
Discount retailer Loehmann’s did what other retailers – and a large number of other junk-rated companies – will do once the Fed allows a sense of reality into the markets: it filed for bankruptcy. Investors had refused to fund further losses.
Municipal bond investors, a conservative bunch eager to avoid rollercoasters and cliffhangers, are getting frazzled. Bankruptcies and the Fed’s taper cacophony are a toxic mix. So they’re bailing out of muni bond funds at record rate. Losses are mounting. And so are the fears.
“It’s like you’re at a party and the keg is beginning to float. When do you leave the party? Where do you go?”
A “positive spiral effect?” Lenders are closing their eyes, sales are soaring, risks are piling up, auto loan balances jumped 15% in 12 months to an all-time high, and repossessions in the subprime segment more than doubled.