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.
These wildly optimistic estimates of earnings growth that analysts work on so studiously by copying and pasting what companies tell them, or by doing channel checks and poking around the industry, and that companies have to exceed at all costs “on an adjusted basis?” Well, they have been shrinking for 2013 – but only after reality forced them down.
In this installment from Chapter 25, “DEALS GONE WILD: Rise of the Debt Zombies,” of his bestseller, David Stockman vivisects the LBO craze before the financial crisis, including the insane and largest ever buyout, Texas mega-utility TXU Corporation – now in bankruptcy. And then there is Goldman….
Printing money and forcing interest rates to near zero, that’s how the Fed and other central banks papered over the Financial Crisis, duct-taped the bursting credit bubble back together, inflated new asset bubbles, and propped up TBTF banks. It accomplished a huge feat: a worldwide tsunami of hot money. Which is now receding.
The $47 billion buyout of TXU was a bet on a truly aberrational price gap between coal and natural gas that couldn’t possibly last, writes David Stockman. “So the largest LBO in history was the ultimate folly of bubble finance.” It generated $1 billion in fees and an “epic $32 billion payday” for shareholders, “including the hedge funds that had front-run the deal.”