2020 is shaping up to be nothing short of a complete and total meltdown for the U.S. auto industry.
The industry was already barely holding on by a thread before the coronavirus pandemic started, with China leading the rest of the globe’s auto industries into recession over the last 18 months. Now, in a post-coronavirus world, automakers in the U.S. are expecting nothing less than full collapse.
And the things that were barely holding the industry up to start 2020, namely low rates and modest consumer confidence, don’t matter. Businesses are closed, would-be buyers are strapped for cash and the country’s economy has simply been turned off. The industry’s annualized selling rate could slow to 11.9 million in March, according to Edmunds.
Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for market researcher Edmunds, told Bloomberg: “The whole world is turned upside down right now.”
The coronavirus lock downs across the nation will also put a damper on April, which is traditionally a good month for auto sales. Ford is all but shutting down and names like Fiat and GM are expected to release extremely weak numbers later this week.
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas put it simply: “There are basically no U.S. auto sales right now. Investors have fully embraced the reality that the U.S. auto industry may be shut down for one or two full months. We’re now being asked to run scenarios of six-month or nine-month shutdowns.”
The President’s extension of his social distancing guidelines to the end of April will also act as a headwind for the industry. Factory shutdowns that started in March will now head toward their second month of no production, as the U.S. consumer, for the most part, remains stuck at home.
Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for research LMC Automotive commented: “We just don’t know when and how this ends, and that’s the biggest problem right now. All of this uncertainty creates a lot of angst and that has been spreading really like a wildfire through the industry.”
ISM manufacturing index shows biggest drop in orders since 2009
Most manufacturers are suffering, but not all of them. Those that make foodstuffs and safety equipment are holding up better than others. Getty Images
The numbers: American manufacturers began to feel the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic toward the end of March as new orders and employment fell to the lowest level since the end of the 2007-2009 Great Recession, a new survey of executives showed.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast the index to drop to 44%, but the survey was completed before widespread sections of the U.S. economy were shuttered.
The index is all but certain to sink next month, though a few industries are likely to hold up surprisingly well because of an increase in demand for products such as toilet paper, sanitizer and other consumer goods in short supply.
What happened: New orders for manufactured goods slumped in March. The ISM’s new-orders index fell 7.6 points to 42.2% — the lowest level since the end of the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
“COVID-19 has caused a 30% reduction in productivity in our factory,” said an executive at machinery manufacturer.
Production and employment also declined, with employment also sliding to an 11-year low.
The ISM index is compiled from a survey of executives who order raw materials and other supplies for their companies. The gauge tends to rise or fall in tandem with the health of the economy.
Big picture: Efforts to contain the coronavirus epidemic by shutting down large parts of the economy are slamming virtually every company, including manufacturers. Some have had to close, others can’t get necessary supplies and others have are seeing a big slump in demand.
A few manufacturers such as those that produce food, medicine, safety equipment and home supplies are faring better, in some cases even seeing an increase in sales.
“We are experiencing a record number of orders due to COVID-19,” said a senior executive at a company that makes food and beverages.
But they are few and far between. The news is only going to get worse in the short run.
What they are saying? “The headline looks not too terrible, but the details are far worse. The new orders and employment indexes both fell to their lowest levels since 2009,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -4.44% and S&P 500 SPX, -4.41% fell in Wednesday trades as investors remain nervous about the COVID-19 illness. The 10-year Treasury yield TMUBMUSD10Y, 0.581% slipped again to 0.60%.
(USA.watchdog) Bo Polny: “In the last interview, I gave you a time point, and I am going to give it to you again. This time point is incredible, and it is a Biblical calculation.
I am waiting to see what happens at this time point because it is supposed to be a truly epic time point, and that time point is April 21, 2020.
It’s a time point where the world changes, one system comes to an end or something really obvious happens. So, coming into the month of May, we have this new time point or this new era.”
Polny says all his work is based on Biblical cycles. He goes through the last 7,000 years with a powerful PowerPoint presentation that culminates with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and predicts a time window for his return in the not-so-distant future. Polny also says his charts say the bottom is going to be ugly for the so-called long term investors. Polny says, “What it points to is a market drop that keeps falling. The potential target is 5,000 to 5,050 range for the DOW, and the time point for this comes at the end of the year 2022.”
Polny also says the U.S. dollar has topped and is going lower. Bo says, “I looked at a chart recently, and the dollar has a double top. It has not made new highs in a long time. It has just been sitting there. A lot of times with market events, you see the dollar move down with the stock market. (The dollar was down big time on Friday 3/27/2020. It lost more the 1% on a day the DOW lost more than 900 points.) So, that is unusual. The dollar moved with the stock market, and gold did not go anywhere. Gold was steady.”
Bo says, “The people in control of this system will try to stop the fall, and they will fail. For that reason, point E (15,000 on the DOW) is coming. . . . They will try to stop it, and they will fail. Look what’s happening. What we have seen in March was a crash. . . . We have not seen is a plunge. The plunge comes in April.”
There is lots more in this hour long interview, including a free 30 page PowerPoint presentation on the 7,000 year cycle that started in the days of Adam and Eve. Join Greg Hunter of USAWatchdog.com as he goes One-on-One with analyst Bo Polny of Gold 2020Forecast.com.
“You have enormous buyers of debt meeting massive coordinated fiscal stimulus by governments across the globe. For bond investors, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”
With the Fed buying $622 billion in Treasury and MBS, a staggering 2.9% of US GDP, in just the past five days…
… any debate what to call the current phase of the Fed’s asset monetization – “NOT NOT-QE”, QE4, QE5, or just QEternity – can be laid to rest: because what the Fed is doing is simply Helicopter money, as it unleashes an unprecedented debt – and deficit – monetization program, one which is there to ensure that the trillions in new debt the US Treasury has to issue in the coming year to pay for the $2 (or is that $6) trillion stimulus package find a buyer, which with foreign central banks suddenly dumping US Treasuries…
… would otherwise be quite problematic, even if it means the Fed’s balance sheet is going to hit $6 trillion in a few days.
The problem, at least for traders, is that this new regime is something they have never encountered before, because during prior instances of QE, Treasuries were a safe asset. Now, however, with fears that helicopter money will unleash a tsunami of so much debt not even the Fed will be able to contain it resulting in hyperinflation, everything is in flux, especially when it comes to triangulating pricing on the all important 10Y and 30Y Treasury.
Indeed, as Bloomberg writes today, core investor tenets such as what constitutes a safe asset, the value of bonds as a portfolio hedge, and expectations for returns over the next decade are all being thrown out as governments and central banks strive to avert a global depression.
And as the now infamous “Money Printer go Brrr” meme captures so well, underlying the uncertainty is the risk that trillions of dollars in monetary and fiscal stimulus, and even more trillions in debt, “could create an eventual inflation shock that will trigger losses for bondholders.”
Needless to say, traders are shocked as for the first time in over a decade, they actually have to think:
“You have enormous buyers of debt meeting massive coordinated fiscal stimulus by governments across the globe. For bond investors, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”
And while equity investors may be confident that in the long run, hyperinflation results in positive real returns if one sticks with stocks, the Weimar case showed that that is not the case. But that is a topic for another day. For now we will focus on bond traders, who are finding the current money tsunami unlike anything they have seen before.
Indeed, while past quantitative easing programs have led to similar concerns, this emergency response is different because it’s playing out in weeks rather than months and limits on QE bond purchases have quickly been scrapped.
Any hope that the Fed will ease back on the Brrring printer was dashed when Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday the central bank will maintain its efforts “aggressively and forthrightly” saying in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that the Fed will not “run out of ammunition” after promising unlimited bond purchases. His comments came hours after the European Central Bank scrapped most of the bond-buying limits in its own program.
The problem is that while this type of policy dominates markets, fundamental analysis scrambling to calculate discount rates and/or debt in the system fails, and “strategic thinking is stymied and some prized investment tools appear to be defunct”, said Ronald van Steenweghen of Degroof Petercam Asset Management.
“Valuation models, correlation, mean reversion and other things we rely on fail in these circumstances,” said the Brussels-based money manager. Oh and as an added bonus, “Liquidity is also very poor so it is difficult to be super-agile.”
The irony: the more securities the Fed soaks up, be they Treasuries, MBS, Corporate bonds, ETFs or stocks, the worse the liquidity will get, as the BOJ is finding out the hard way, as virtually nobody wants to sell their bonds to the central bank.
Another irony: normally the prospect of a multi-trillion-dollar government spending surge globally ought to send borrowing costs soaring. But central bank purchases are now reshaping rates markets – emulating the Bank of Japan’s yield-curve control policy starting in 2016 – and quashing these latest volatility spikes.
In effect, the Fed’s takeover of bond markets (and soon all capital markets), means that any signaling function fixed income securities have historically conveyed, is now gone, probably for ever.
“Investors shouldn’t expect to see much more than moderately steep yield curves, since the Fed and its peers don’t want higher benchmark borrowing costs to undermine their stimulus,” said Blackrock strategist Scott Thiel. “That would be detrimental to financial conditions and to the ability for the stimulus to feed through to the economy. So the short answer is, it’s yield-curve control.”
Said otherwise, pretty soon the entire yield curve will be completely meaningless when evaluating such critical for the economy conditions as the price of money or projected inflation. They will be, simply said, whatever the Fed decides.
And with the yield curve no longer telegraphing any inflationary risk, it is precisely the inflationary imbalances that will build up at an unprecedented pace.
Additionally, when looking further out, Bloomberg notes that money managers need to reassess another assumption that’s become widely held in recent years: that inflation is dead. Van Steenweghen says he’s interested in inflation-linked bonds, though timing a foray into that market is “tricky.”
Naeimi also said he expects that the coordination by central banks and governments will spike inflation at some stage. “It all adds to the volatility of holding bonds,” he said. But for the time being, he’s range-trading Australian bonds — buying when 10-year yields hit 1.5%, and selling at 0.6%.
That’s right: government bonds have become a daytrader’s darling. Whatever can possibly go wrong.
But the biggest fear – one we have warned about since 2009 – is that helicopter money, which was always the inevitable outcome of QE, will lead to hyperinflation, and the collapse of both the US Dollar, and the fiat system, of which it is the reserve currency. Bloomberg agrees:
Many market veterans agree that faster inflation may return in a recovery awash with stimulus that central banks and governments may find tough to withdraw. A reassessment of consumer-price expectations would be a major setback for expensive risk-free bonds, especially those with the longest maturities, which are most vulnerable to inflation eroding their value over time.
Of course, at the moment that’s hard to envisage, with market-implied inflation barely at 1% over the next decade, but as noted above, at a certain point the bond market no longer produces any signal, just central bank noise, especially when, as Bloomberg puts it, “central bank balance sheets are set to explode further into unchartered territory.” Quick note to the Bloomberg editors: it is “uncharted”, although you will have plenty of opportunity to learn this in the coming months.
Alas, none of this provides any comfort to bond traders who no longer have any idea how to trade in this new “helicopter normal“, and thus another core conviction is being revised: the efficacy of U.S. Treasuries as a safe haven and portfolio hedge.
Mark Holman, chief executive and founding partner of TwentyFour Asset Management in London, started questioning that when the 10-year benchmark hit its historic low early this month.
“Will government bonds play the same role in your portfolio going forward as they have in the past?” he said. “To me the answer is no they don’t — I’d rather own cash.”
For now, Mark is turning to high-quality corporate credit for low-risk income, particularly in the longer maturity bonds gradually rallying back from a plunge, especially since they are now also purchased by the Fed. He sees no chance of central banks escaping the zero-bound’s gravitational pull in the foreseeable future. “What we do know is we’re going to have zero rates around the world for another decade, and we’re going to have the need for income for another decade,” he said.
Other investors agree that cash is the only solution, which is why T-Bills – widely seen as cash equivalents – are now trading with negative yields for 3 months and over.
Yet others rush into the safety of gold… if they can find it. At least check, physical gold was trading with a 10% premium to paper gold and rising fast.
Ultimately, as Bloomberg concludes, investors will have to find their bearings “in a crisis without recent historical parallel.”
“It’s very hard to look at this in a historical context and then apply an investment framework around it,” said BlackRock’s Thiel. “The most applicable period is right before America entered WW2, when you had gigantic stimulus to spur the war effort. I mean, Ford made bombers in WW2 and now they’re making ventilators in 2020.”
Update (2040ET): 12 hours after the Senate was supposed to originally release the full text– all 889 pages of it – of the $2 trillion stimulus bill, it finally did just that, detailing in a whopping 889 pages, detailing its plans to stimulate spending, push tax breaks and generally boost the U.S. economy during and after the coronavirus outbreak.
Here is the part most relevant to capital markets, discussing the limitations on dividends and buyback:
The Secretary may enter into agreements to make loans or loan guarantees to 1 or more eligible businesses… if the Secretary determines that, in the Secretary’s discretion—(A) the applicant is an eligible business for which credit is not reasonably available at the time of the transaction; (B) the intended obligation by the applicant is prudently incurred; (C) the loan or loan guarantee is sufficiently secured or is made at a rate that— (i) reflects the risk of the loan or loan guarantee; and (ii) is to the extent practicable, not less than an interest rate based on market conditions for comparable obligations prevalent prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID–19); (D) the duration of the loan or loan guarantee is as short as practicable and in any case not longer than 5 years…
… and the punchline:
(F) the agreement provides that, until the date 12 months after the date the loan or loan guarantee is no longer outstanding, the eligible business shall not pay dividends or make other capital distributions with respect to the common stock of the eligible business.
In other words, as noted earlier, no dividends or buybacks for any company that uses the bailout loan. By implication, it means that all other companies can continue to repurchase their stock.
And here, courtesy of Bloomberg, are some additional observations on the winners and losers:
Even before the coronavirus pandemic ground the US economy to a halt, the US brick and mortar retail sector was facing an apocalypse of epic proportions with dozens of retailers filing for bankruptcy in recent years as Amazon stole everyone’s market share…
Since June 2015, retail chains have accumulated more than $45 billion in aggregate chapter 11 liabilities in connection with over 80 bankruptcy filings: pic.twitter.com/Q1XO9pSWij
… resulting in tens of thousands of stores across the nation shuttering.
So what has taken place in the retail sector in just the past few weeks is straight out of the the 9th circle of hell.
With cash flows dwindling, and their survival in question every day, the total collapse in revenue has meant that firms such as (recently reorganized) Mattress Firm and Subway are among some of the major U.S. retail and restaurant chains telling landlords they will withhold or slash rent in the coming months after closing stores to slow the coronavirus, Bloomberg reports citing sources.
Aware that one way (out of bankruptcy) or another (in bankruptcy), they will end up renegotiating their leases, retail chains are proactively calling for rent reductions through lease amendments and other measures starting in April.
Mattress Firm, with about 2,400 stores, sent landlords a letter last week saying it would cut rent in exchange for longer leases and offering two options to do so. This week, it sent a more urgent note revoking its earlier offer.
“The decline in revenue and forced store closures across the nation are more drastic, compressed and immediate than we originally anticipated,” the company wrote in a letter reviewed by Bloomberg. “Our need is now more severe,” the firm said, invoking the virus as a force majeure event that “will prevent or prohibit us” from paying rent.
After being contacted by Bloomberg, Mattress Firm confirmed that it has requested a temporary suspension of rent.
“We appreciate our landlord partners, and the responses have been encouraging so far,” Randy Carlin, chief real estate officer for Mattress Firm, said in a statement. “We will continue to do everything we can to maintain business continuity and to ensure there are jobs available for our people to return to when this crisis ends.”
Subway Restaurants, which has more than 20,000 U.S. locations, sent out a letter to landlords last week saying that it might cut or postpone rental payments due to the virus, according a person with knowledge of the situation. The Real Deal, a real estate trade publication, reported on the communication earlier.
Virtually every other US retailer has also told their landlords the same, and if not, they will soon.
Worse, if landlords refuse to budge, it’s unclear how this mutually assured destruction will conclude in anyone’s favor. The fiscal stimulus packages being considered don’t directly address rents. But the Federal Reserve’s actions may give banks the leeway to defer mortgage payments, allowing property owners to delay rent. Some retailers may also declare a “force majeure,” a contract clause that covers highly unusual events, although whether or not landlords or banks accept this is a different question.
“The court system is just going to get flooded with a million of these disputes between tenants and landlords,” said Vince Tibone, an analyst at Green Street Advisors. “If the government doesn’t step in in any form or fashion, it could get ugly. They need to respond quickly.”
In short: this will be the biggest in court mess ever, and whether it involves in court bankruptcy or not, will not matter one bit, as there is simply no money.
The good news is that some landlords have recognized they need to help smaller tenants. For example, California’s Irvine Company Retail Properties, is allowing rent to be deferred for 90 days and then paid back with no interest over a year starting in January. The firm confirmed the practice without further comment. Bedrock, a Detroit developer, said it will waive rent and other fees for three months for its smaller retail and restaurant tenants.
However, for many other landlords, who themselves are highly levered, forbearing on rent is simply not an auction as the lack of even a few months of liquidity could mean the different between life and death. Indeed, it may also be the tipping point for America’s malls, many of which should have shuttered long ago yet subsisted as zombie creatures kept alive by cheap money. Well, no more, and the result is a massive victory for all those who had the “Big Short 2.0” trade on their books: also known as the great mall armageddon trade via CMBX Series 6, and which we discussed yesterday, has made its long-suffering fans very right.
But even if retailers succeed in getting a rent reprieve for a month or two, in the grand scheme of things it will hardly make much of a difference. The reason: in just the past 10 days, more than 47,000 chain stores across the US shut their doors –temporarily, or so they hope – as retailers took extreme measures to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic according to Bloomberg data. At least 90 nationwide retailers, ranging from Macy’s to GameStop to Michael Kors have temporarily gone dark.
While most have pledged to remain closed for at least two weeks, many if not all will likely have to stay closed for much longer, because as we showed earlier, the US is very early on the coronavirus curve, and many weeks have to pass before the peak is hit.
It has been an unprecedented moment for shopping in America, a country that contains more retail selling space than any other.
“In the space of a week, the retail landscape has changed from being fairly normalized to being absolutely disrupted beyond what we’ve ever seen before outside of the Second World War,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said.
After Apple, Nike and Urban Outfitters were among the first to announce store closures on Saturday, March 14, the store shuttering pace quickened over the remainder of the week. Then shopping centers closed by the hundreds, with developers like Simon Property Group and Westfield, owned by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, locking up their entire U.S. mall networks. By Monday, March 23, at least 47,000 chain stores were shut. Most told customers that goods would be available online, but even store websites weren’t immune. Victoria’s Secret, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls decided to cease operations in their distribution centers and shut down their e-commerce businesses.
There is some hope that when the virus is contained, shopping will get back to normal but in all likelihood the shopping experience in America may never be the same. People could still lean towards social distancing and be fearful of crowds, said Simeon Siegel, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.“Even when companies are given the all-clear, we don’t yet know when consumers are going to embrace that,” he said. On the other hand, should the lock down duration extend, many of the stores listed above will simply liquidate and never be heard from again.