“One of the hallmarks of financial manias is that propositions which are perfectly absurd nevertheless get widely embraced by those caught up in the excitement,” writes David Stockman – in this case, Blackstone’s LBO of Extended Stay Hotels, and its subsequent sale at a ridiculous three times replacement cost, funded by Citibank … a pre-packaged scam.
Why would anyone buy this crap? No, not the clothes in J.C. Penney’s stores – which practically no one is buying – but the shares it just sold. It desperately needed to raise capital because it’s bleeding cash and won’t be around much longer without lots of new cash to bleed. So it did. At a horrendous expense, overnight, to existing stockholders.
It could be an aberration. Or it could be the first visible crack in the insane leveraged buyout craze that has spread across the country: JPMorgan, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs could get hit with a loss of up to $156 million on the $780 million in junk debt they pledged to sell to fund the buyout of teen-fashion retailer rue21. With consequences for investors.
How much have Americans received of the nearly $3 trillion the Fed printed since the financial crisis? The recipients included JPMorgan, now negotiating to settle its various mortgage scams for $11 billion; it made $53.2 billion in profits over the last three years. American consumers weren’t so lucky. And Wal-Mart shoppers have been hit the hardest.
Corporate revenues have been crummy all year, and earnings estimates for Q3 have come crashing down. A year ago, they were still expected to grow 15.9%, a sign of blind optimism. By Friday, they’d plunged to 4.7%. During that time, the S&P 500 soared 16.8% and the NASDAQ 19.6%. The Fed’s greatest accomplishment. But there is a corollary.
The idea that LBOs carry massive debt that is never paid down, leaving behind “financial zombies on the ragged edge of insolvency,” defies historical principles of LBOs, writes David Stockman. Blackstone’s LBO of Hilton Hotels is one of these “free market defying zombies” – “one global business slump away from bankruptcy.” And it just filed for an IPO.
With Q3 GDP growth tracking 1.6%, Wall Street strategists, whose bullishness has been deafening despite realities on the ground, are starting to hedge their bets with some unusually candid analyses. Seeing overvalued assets everywhere, they’re struggling to point at solutions, other than a crash. And they predict a sour future for stocks and bonds.
Verizon will unleash a tsunami of money on Wall Street. To pay for its $130 billion acquisition of Vodafone’s share of Verizon Wireless, it will print $60 billion of its own inflated stock. It will borrow the rest – much of it via the largest bond sale in history, though it’s drowning in debt. Now that sale is slamming the already deflating bond bubble.
The founders of the LBO industry – KKR, Blackstone, Apollo, TPG, and Bain Capital – are stuck in giant deals that have turned into debt zombies. The outbreak of mega-LBO mania during 2006–2007 reflected a financial market deformation that sowed recklessness across the entire private equity space. And the debt zombies are still out there.
The bond-fund massacre is spectacular. Antsy investors yanked $7.7 billion in August out of the world’s largest bond fund, Pimco’s Total Return Fund. In July, they’d yanked out $7.5 billion, in June $14.5 billion. From May 1 through August 31, the fund’s assets shriveled 14%. Other bond funds got hit too. And September is shaping up to be even worse.