Tag Archives: Wall Street

Exploring The Death Spiral Of Financialization [video]

Each new policy destroys another level of prudent fiscal/financial discipline.

The primary driver of our economy–financialization–is in a death spiral. Financialization substitutes expansion of interest, leverage and speculation for real-world expansion of goods, services and wages.

Financial “wealth” created by leveraging more debt on a base of real-world collateral that doesn’t actually produce more goods and services flows to the top of the wealth-power pyramid, driving the soaring wealth-income inequality we see everywhere in the global economy.

As this phantom wealth pours into assets such as stocks, bonds and real estate, it has pushed the value of these assets into the stratosphere, out of reach of the bottom 95% whose incomes have stagnated for the past 16 years.

The core problem with financialization is that it requires ever more extreme policies to keep it going. These policies are mutually reinforcing, meaning that the total impact becomes geometric rather than linear. Put another way, the fragility and instability generated by each new policy extreme reinforces the negative consequences of previous policies.

These extremes don’t just pile up like bricks–they fuel a parabolic rise in systemic leverage, debt, speculation, fragility, distortion and instability.

This accretive, mutually reinforcing, geometric rise in systemic fragility that is the unavoidable output of financialization is poorly understood, not just by laypeople but by the financial punditry and professional economists.

Gordon Long and I cover the policy extremes which have locked our financial system into a death spiral in a new 50-minute presentation, The Road to Financialization. Each “fix” that boosts leverage and debt fuels a speculative boom that then fizzles when the distortions introduced by financialization destabilize the real economy’s credit-business cycle.

Each new policy destroys another level of prudent fiscal/financial discipline.

The discipline of sound money? Gone.

The discipline of limited leverage? Gone.

The discipline of prudent lending? Gone.

The discipline of mark-to-market discovery of the price of collateral? Gone.

The discipline of separating investment and commercial banking, i.e. Glass-Steagall? Gone.

The discipline of open-market interest rates? Gone.

The discipline of losses being absorbed by those who generated the loans? Gone.

And so on: every structural source of discipline has been eradicated, weakened or hollowed out. Financialization has consumed the nation’s seed corn, and the harvest of instability is ripening in the fields of finance and the real economy alike.

Source: ZeroHedge

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Is Wall Street Dancing On A Live Volcano?

The S&P 500 closed today exactly where it first crossed in November 2014. In the interim, its been a roller-coaster of rips, dips, spills and thrills.

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The thing is, however, this extended period of sideways churning has not materialized under a constant economic backdrop; it does not reflect a mere steady-state of dare-doing at the gaming tables.

Actually, earnings have been falling sharply and macroeconomic headwinds have been intensifying dramatically. So the level of risk in the financial system has been rocketing higher even as the stock averages have labored around the flat-line.

Thus, GAAP earnings of the S&P 500 in November 2014 were $106 per share on an LTM basis compared to $86.44 today. So earnings are down by 18.5%, meaning that the broad market PE multiple has escalated from an already sporty 19.3X back then to an outlandish 23.7X today.

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Always and everywhere, such persistent profit collapses have signaled recession just around the corner. And there are plenty of macro-economic data points signaling just that in the remainder of this article (here)

by David Stockman | Contra Corner

 

Why US Stock And Bond Markets Are High

We’ve been saying for quite some time now that the US equity market’s seemingly inexorable (until this week) tendency to rise to new highs in the absence of the Fed’s guiding hand is almost certainly in large part attributable to the fact that in a world where you are literally guaranteed to lose money if you invest in safe haven assets such as negative-yielding German bunds, corporations can and will take advantage of the situation by issuing debt and using the proceeds to buy back stock, thus underwriting the rally in US equities. Here’s what we said after stocks turned in their best month in three years in February:

It also explains why, in the absence of the Fed, stocks continue to rise as if QE was still taking place: simply said, bondholders – starved for any yield in an increasingly NIRP world – have taken the place of the Federal Reserve, and are willing to throw any money at companies who promise even the tiniest of returns over Treasuries, oblivious if all the proceeds will be used immediately to buyback stock, thus pushing equity prices even higher, but benefiting not only shareholders but management teams who equity-linked compensation has likewise never been higher.

If you need further proof that this is precisely what is going on in US markets, consider the following from Citi: 

Companies are rapidly re-leveraging…

…and the proceeds sure aren’t being invested in future productivity, but rather in buy backs and dividends…
https://i2.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user92183/imageroot/2015/03/Leverage2.jpg
…and Citi says all that debt issued by struggling oil producers may prove dangerous given that “default risk in the energy space has jumped [and considering] the energy sector now accounts for 18% of the market”…
…and ratings agencies are behind the curve…
https://i2.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user92183/imageroot/2015/03/Leverage4.jpg
We’ll leave you with the following:

To be sure, this theater of financial engineering – because stocks are not going up on any resemblance of fundamental reasons but simply due to expanding balance sheet leverage – will continue only until it can no longer continue.

Read more at Zero Hedge

Junk-Rated Oil & Gas Companies in a “Liquidity Death Spiral”

by Wolf Richter

https://ashwinikumar007.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/blackmoney.jpg?w=355&h=284

On the face of it, the oil price appears to be stabilizing. What a precarious balance it is, however.

Behind the facade of stability, the re-balancing triggered by the price collapse has yet to run its course, and it might be overly optimistic to expect it to proceed smoothly. Steep drops in the US rig count have been a key driver of the price rebound. Yet US supply so far shows precious little sign of slowing down. Quite to the contrary, it continues to defy expectations.

So said the International Energy Agency in its Oil Market Report on Friday. West Texas Intermediate plunged over 4% to $45 a barrel.

The boom in US oil production will continue “to defy expectations” and wreak havoc on the price of oil until the power behind the boom dries up: money borrowed from yield-chasing investors driven to near insanity by the Fed’s interest rate repression. But that money isn’t drying up yet – except at the margins.

Companies have raked in 14% more money from high-grade bond sales so far this year than over the same period in 2014, according to LCD. And in 2014 at this time, they were 27% ahead of the same period in 2013. You get the idea.

Even energy companies got to top off their money reservoirs. Among high-grade issuers over just the last few days were BP Capital, Valero Energy, Sempra Energy, Noble, and Helmerich & Payne. They’re all furiously bringing in liquidity before it gets more expensive.

In the junk-bond market, bond-fund managers are chasing yield with gusto. Last week alone, pro-forma junk bond issuance “ballooned to $16.48 billion, the largest weekly tally in two years,” the LCD HY Weekly reported. Year-to-date, $79.2 billion in junk bonds have been sold, 36% more than in the same period last year.

But despite this drunken investor enthusiasm, the bottom of the energy sector – junk-rated smaller companies – is falling out.

Standard & Poor’s rates 170 bond issuers that are engaged in oil and gas exploration & production, oil field services, and contract drilling. Of them, 81% are junk rated – many of them deep junk. The oil bust is now picking off the smaller junk-rated companies, one after the other, three of them so far in March.

On March 3, offshore oil-and-gas contractor CalDive that in 2013 still had 1,550 employees filed for bankruptcy. It’s focused on maintaining offshore production platforms. But some projects were suspended last year, and lenders shut off the spigot.

On March 8, Dune Energy filed for bankruptcy in Austin, TX, after its merger with Eos Petro collapsed. It listed $144 million in debt. Dune said that it received $10 million Debtor in Possession financing, on the condition that the company puts itself up for auction.

On March 9, BPZ Resources traipsed to the courthouse in Houston to file for bankruptcy, four days after I’d written about its travails; it had skipped a $60 million payment to its bondholders [read… “Default Monday”: Oil & Gas Companies Face Their Creditors].

And more companies are “in the pipeline to be restructured,” LCD reported. They all face the same issues: low oil and gas prices, newly skittish bond investors, and banks that have their eyes riveted on the revolving lines of credit with which these companies fund their capital expenditures. Being forever cash-flow negative, these companies periodically issue bonds and use the proceeds to pay down their revolver when it approaches the limit. In many cases, the bank uses the value of the company’s oil and gas reserves to determine that limit.

If the prices of oil and gas are high, those reserves have a high value. It those prices plunge, the borrowing base for their revolving lines of credit plunges. S&P Capital IQ explained it this way in its report, “Waiting for the Spring… Will it Recoil”:

Typically, banks do their credit facility redeterminations in April and November with one random redetermination if needed. With oil prices plummeting, we expect banks to lower their price decks, which will then lead to lower reserves and thus, reduced borrowing-base availability.

April is coming up soon. These companies would then have to issue bonds to pay down their credit lines. But with bond fund managers losing their appetite for junk-rated oil & gas bonds, and with shares nearly worthless, these companies are blocked from the capital markets and can neither pay back the banks nor fund their cash-flow negative operations. For many companies, according to S&P Capital IQ, these redeterminations of their credit facilities could lead to a “liquidity death spiral.”

Alan Holtz, Managing Director in AlixPartners’ Turnaround and Restructuring group told LCD in an interview:

We are already starting to see companies that on the one hand are trying to work out their operational problems and are looking for financing or a way out through the capital markets, while on the other hand are preparing for the events of contingency planning or bankruptcy.

Look at BPZ Resources. It wasn’t able to raise more money and ended up filing for bankruptcy. “I think that is going to be a pattern for many other companies out there as well,” Holtz said.

When it trickled out on Tuesday that Hercules Offshore, which I last wrote about on March 3, had retained Lazard to explore options for its capital structure, its bonds plunged as low as 28 cents on the dollar. By Friday, its stock closed at $0.41 a share.

When Midstates Petroleum announced that it had hired an interim CEO and put a restructuring specialist on its board of directors, its bonds got knocked down, and its shares plummeted 33% during the week, closing at $0.77 a share on Friday.

When news emerged that Walter Energy hired legal counsel Paul Weiss to explore restructuring options, its first-lien notes – whose investors thought they’d see a reasonable recovery in case of bankruptcy – dropped to 64.5 cents on the dollar by Thursday. Its stock plunged 63% during the week to close at $0.33 a share on Friday.

Numerous other oil and gas companies are heading down that path as the oil bust is working its way from smaller more vulnerable companies to larger ones. In the process, stockholders get wiped out. Bondholders get to fight with other creditors over the scraps. But restructuring firms are licking their chops, after a Fed-induced dry spell that had lasted for years.

Investors Crushed as US Natural Gas Drillers Blow Up

by Wolf Richter

The Fed speaks, the dollar crashes. The dollar was ripe. The entire world had been bullish on it. Down nearly 3% against the euro, before recovering some. The biggest drop since March 2009. Everything else jumped. Stocks, Treasuries, gold, even oil.

West Texas Intermediate had been experiencing its biggest weekly plunge since January, trading at just above $42 a barrel, a new low in the current oil bust. When the Fed released its magic words, WTI soared to $45.34 a barrel before re-sagging some. Even natural gas rose 1.8%. Energy related bonds had been drowning in red ink; they too rose when oil roared higher. It was one heck of a party.

But it was too late for some players mired in the oil and gas bust where the series of Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings continues. Next in line was Quicksilver Resources.

It had focused on producing natural gas. Natural gas was where the fracking boom got started. Fracking has a special characteristic. After a well is fracked, it produces a terrific surge of hydrocarbons during first few months, and particularly on the first day. Many drillers used the first-day production numbers, which some of them enhanced in various ways, in their investor materials. Investors drooled and threw more money at these companies that then drilled this money into the ground.

But the impressive initial production soon declines sharply. Two years later, only a fraction is coming out of the ground. So these companies had to drill more just to cover up the decline rates, and in order to drill more, they needed to borrow more money, and it triggered a junk-rated energy boom on Wall Street.

At the time, the price of natural gas was soaring. It hit $13 per million Btu at the Henry Hub in June 2008. About 1,600 rigs were drilling for gas. It was the game in town. And Wall Street firms were greasing it with other people’s money. Production soared. And the US became the largest gas producer in the world.

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But then the price began to plunge. It recovered a little after the Financial Crisis but re-plunged during the gas “glut.” By April 2012, natural gas had crashed 85% from June 2008, to $1.92/mmBtu. With the exception of a few short periods, it has remained below $4/mmBtu – trading at $2.91/mmBtu today.

Throughout, gas drillers had to go back to Wall Street to borrow more money to feed the fracking orgy. They were cash-flow negative. They lost money on wells that produced mostly dry gas. Yet they kept up the charade. They aced investor presentations with fancy charts. They raved about new technologies that were performing miracles and bringing down costs. The theme was that they would make their investors rich at these gas prices.

The saving grace was that oil and natural-gas liquids, which were selling for much higher prices, also occur in many shale plays along with dry gas. So drillers began to emphasize that they were drilling for liquids, not dry gas, and they tried to switch production to liquids-rich plays. In that vein, Quicksilver ventured into the oil-rich Permian Basin in Texas. But it was too little, too late for the amount of borrowed money it had already burned through over the years by fracking for gas below cost.

During the terrible years of 2011 and 2012, drillers began reclassifying gas rigs as rigs drilling for oil. It was a judgement call, since most wells produce both. The gas rig count plummeted further, and the oil rig count skyrocketed by about the same amount. But gas production has continued to rise since, even as the gas rig count has continued to drop. On Friday, the rig count was down to 257 gas rigs, the lowest since March 1993, down 84% from its peak in 2008.

US-rig-count_1988_2015-03-13=gas

Quicksilver’s bankruptcy is a consequence of this fracking environment. It listed $2.35 billion in debts. That’s what is left from its borrowing binge that covered its negative cash flows. It listed only $1.21 billion in assets. The rest has gone up in smoke.

Its shares are worthless. Stockholders got wiped out. Creditors get to fight over the scraps.

Its leveraged loan was holding up better: the $625 million covenant-lite second-lien term loan traded at 56 cents on the dollar this morning, according to S&P Capital IQ LCD. But its junk bonds have gotten eviscerated over time. Its 9.125% senior notes due 2019 traded at 17.6 cents on the dollar; its 7.125% subordinated notes due 2016 traded at around 2 cents on the dollar.

Among its creditors, according to the Star Telegram: the Wilmington Trust National Association ($361.6 million), Delaware Trust Co. ($332.6 million), US Bank National Association ($312.7 million), and several pipeline companies, including Oasis Pipeline and Energy Transfer Fuel.

Last year, it hired restructuring advisers. On February 17, it announced that it would not make a $13.6 million interest payment on its senior notes and invoked the possibility of filing for Chapter 11. It said it would use its 30-day grace period to haggle with its creditors over the “company’s options.”

Now, those 30 days are up. But there were no other “viable options,” the company said in the statement. Its Canadian subsidiary was not included in the bankruptcy filing; it reached a forbearance agreement with its first lien secured lenders and has some breathing room until June 16.

Quicksilver isn’t alone in its travails. Samson Resources and other natural gas drillers are stuck neck-deep in the same frack mud.

A group of private equity firms, led by KKR, had acquired Samson in 2011 for $7.2 billion. Since then, Samson has lost $3 billion. It too hired restructuring advisers to deal with its $3.75 billion in debt. On March 2, Moody’s downgraded Samson to Caa3, pointing at “chronically low natural gas prices,” “suddenly weaker crude oil prices,” the “stressed liquidity position,” and delays in asset sales. It invoked the possibility of “a debt restructuring” and “a high risk of default.”

But maybe not just yet. The New York Post reported today that, according to sources, a JPMorgan-led group, which holds a $1 billion revolving line of credit, is granting Samson a waiver for an expected covenant breach. This would avert default for the moment. Under the deal, the group will reduce the size of the revolver. Last year, the same JPMorgan-led group already reduced the credit line from $1.8 billion to $1 billion and waived a covenant breach.

By curtailing access to funding, they’re driving Samson deeper into what S&P Capital IQ called the “liquidity death spiral.” According to the New York Post’s sources, in August the company has to make an interest payment to its more junior creditors, “and may run out of money later this year.”

Industry soothsayers claimed vociferously over the years that natural gas drillers can make money at these prices due to new technologies and efficiencies. They said this to attract more money. But Quicksilver along with Samson Resources and others are proof that these drillers had been drilling below the cost of production for years. And they’d been bleeding every step along the way. A business model that lasts only as long as new investors are willing to bail out old investors.

But it was the crash in the price of “liquids” that made investors finally squeamish, and they began to look beyond the hype. In doing so, they’re triggering the very bloodletting amongst each other that ever more new money had delayed for years. Only now, it’s a lot more expensive for them than it would have been three years ago. While the companies will get through it in restructured form, investors get crushed.


Chart Of The Day: Recession Dead Ahead?

By Tyler Durden

The chart below showing the annual increase, or rather, decrease in US factory orders which have now declined for 6 months in a row (so no one can’t blame either the west coast port strike or the weather) pretty much speaks for itself, and also which way the US “recovery” (whose GDP is about to crash to the 1.2% where the Atlanta Fed is modeling it, or even lower is headed.

https://i1.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2015/03/Factory%20Orders%20YY.jpg

As the St Louis Fed so kindly reminds us, the two previous times US manufacturing orders declined at this rate on an unadjusted (or adjusted) basis, the US economy was already in a recession.

https://i2.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2015/03/fed%20recession%20NSA.jpg

And now, time for consensus to be shocked once again when the Fed yanks the rug from under the feet of the rite-hike-istas.

Housing Crash In China Steeper Than In Pre-Lehman America

China has long frustrated the hard-landing watchers – or any-landing watchers, for that matter – who’ve diligently put two and two together and rationally expected to be right. They see the supply glut in housing, after years of malinvestment. They see that unoccupied homes are considered a highly leveraged investment that speculators own like others own stocks, whose prices soar forever, as if by state mandate, but that regular people can’t afford to live in.

Hard-landing watchers know this can’t go on forever. Given that housing adds 15% to China’s GDP, when this housing bubble pops, the hard-landing watchers will finally be right.

Home-price inflation in China peaked 13 months ago. Since then, it has been a tough slog.

Earlier this month, the housing news from China’s National Bureau of Statistics gave observers the willies once again. New home prices in January had dropped in 69 of 70 cities by an average of 5.1% from prior year, the largest drop in the new data series going back to 2011, and beating the prior record, December’s year-over-year decline of 4.3%. It was the fifth month in a row of annual home price declines, and the ninth month in a row of monthly declines, the longest series on record.

Even in prime cities like Beijing and Shanghai, home prices dropped at an accelerating rate from December, 3.2% and 4.2% respectively.

For second-hand residential buildings, house prices fell in 67 of 70 cities over the past 12 months, topped by Mudanjiang, where they plunged nearly 14%.

True to form, the stimulus machinery has been cranked up, with the People’s Bank of China cutting reserve requirements for major banks in January, after cutting its interest rate in November. A sign that it thinks the situation is getting urgent.

So how bad is this housing bust – if this is what it turns out to be – compared to the housing bust in the US that was one of the triggers in the Global Financial Crisis?

Thomson Reuters overlaid the home price changes of the US housing bust with those of the Chinese housing bust, and found this:

The US entered recession around two years after house price inflation had peaked. After nine months of recession, Lehman Brothers collapsed. As our chart illustrates, house price inflation in China has slowed from its peak in January 2014 at least as rapidly as it did in the US.

Note the crashing orange line on the left: year-over-year home-price changes in China, out-crashing (declining at a steeper rate than) the home-price changes in the US at the time….

US-China-housing-crash

The hard-landing watchers are now wondering whether the Chinese stimulus machinery can actually accomplish anything at all, given that a tsunami of global stimulus – from negative interest rates to big bouts of QE – is already sloshing through the globalized system. And look what it is accomplishing: Stocks and bonds are soaring, commodities – a demand gauge – are crashing, and real economies are languishing.

Besides, they argue, propping up the value of unoccupied and often unfinished investment properties that most Chinese can’t even afford to live in might look good on paper, but it won’t solve the problem. And building even more of these units props up GDP nicely in the short term, and therefore it’s still being done on a massive scale, but it just makes the supply glut worse.

Sooner or later, the hard-landing watchers expect to be right. They know how to add two and two together. And they’re already smelling the sweet scent of being right this time, which, alas, they have smelled many times before.

But it does make you wonder what the China housing crash might trigger when it blooms into full maturity, considering the US housing crash helped trigger of the Global Financial Crisis. It might be a hard landing for more than just China. And ironically, it might occur during, despite, or because of the greatest stimulus wave the world has ever seen.

Stocks, of course, have been oblivious to all this and have been on a tear, not only in China, but just about everywhere except Greece. But what happens to highly valued stock markets when they collide with a recession? They crash.


What to Expect When This Stock Market Meets a Recession

Last week I had a fascinating conversation with Neile Wolfe, of Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC., about high equity valuations and what happens when they collide with a recession.

Here is my monthly update that shows the average of the four valuation indicators: Robert Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (CAPE), Ed Easterling’s Crestmont P/E, James Tobin’s Q Ratio, and my own monthly regression analysis of the S&P 500:

Click to View

Based on the underlying data in the chart above, Neile made some cogent observations about the historical relationships between equity valuations, recessions and market prices:

  • High valuations lead to large stock market declines during recessions.
  • During secular bull markets, modest overvaluation does not produce large stock market declines.
  • During secular bear markets, modest overvaluation still produces large stock market declines.

Here is a table that highlights some of the key points. The rows are sorted by the valuation column.

Beginning with the market peak before the epic Crash of 1929, there have been fourteen recessions as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The table above l ists the recessions, the recession lengths, the valuation (as documented in the chart illustration above), the peak-to-trough changes in market price and GDP. The market price is based on the S&P Composite, an academic splicing of the S&P 500, which dates from 1957 and the S&P 90 for the earlier years (more on that splice here).

I’ve included a row for our current valuation, through the end of January, to assist us in making an assessment of potential risk of a near-term recession. The valuation that preceded the Tech Bubble tops the list and was associated with a 49.1% decline in the S&P 500. The largest decline, of course, was associated with the 43-month recession that began in 1929.

Note: Our current market valuation puts us between the two.

Here’s an interesting calculation not included in the table: Of the nine market declines associated with recessions that started with valuations above the mean, the average decline was -42.8%. Of the four declines that began with valuations below the mean, the average was -19.9% (and that doesn’t factor in the 1945 outlier recession associated with a market gain).

What are the Implications of Overvaluation for Portfolio Management?

Neile and I discussed his thoughts on the data in this table with respect to portfolio management. I came away with some key implications:

  • The S&P 500 is likely to decline severely during the next recession, and future index returns over the next 7 to 10 years are likely to be low.
  • Given this scenario, over the next 7 to 10 years a buy and hold strategy may not meet the return assumptions that many investors have for their portfolio.
  • Asset allocation in general and tactical asset allocation specifically are going to be THE important determinant of portfolio return during this time frame. Just buying and holding the S&P 500 is likely be disappointing.
  • Some market commentators argue that high long-term valuations (e.g., Shiller’s CAPE) no longer matter because accounting standards have changed and the stock market is still going up. However, the impact of elevated valuations — when it really matters — is expressed when the business cycle peaks and the next recession rolls around. Elevated valuations do not take a toll on portfolios so long as the economy is in expansion.

How Long Can Periods of Overvaluations Last?

Equity markets can stay at lofty valuation levels for a very long time. Consider the chart posted above. There are 1369 months in the series with only 58 months of valuations more than two Standard Deviations (STD) above the mean. They are:

  • September 1929 (i.e., only one month above 2 STDs prior to the Crash of 1929)
  • Fifty-one months during the Tech bubble (that’s over FOUR YEARS)
  • Six of the last seven months have been above 2 STDs

Stay tuned.

How The Baltic Dry Index Predicted 3 Market Crashes: Will It Do It Again?

Summary

  • The BDI as a precursor to three different stock market corrections.
  • Is it really causation or is it correlation?
  • A look at the current level of the index as it hits new lows.
 by Jonathan Fishman

The Baltic Dry Index, usually referred to as the BDI, is making historical lows in recent weeks, almost every week.

The index is a composition of four sub-indexes that follow shipping freight rates. Each of the four sub-indexes follows a different ship size category and the BDI mixes them all together to get a sense of global shipping freight rates.

The index follows dry bulk shipping rates, which represent the trade of various raw materials: iron, cement, copper, etc.

The main argument for looking at the Baltic Dry Index as an economic indicator is that end demand for those raw materials is tightly tied to economic activity. If demand for those raw materials is weak, one of the first places that will be evident is in shipping prices.

The supply of ships is not very flexible, so changes to the index are more likely to be caused by changes in demand.

Let’s first look at the three cases where the Baltic Dry Index predicted a stock market crash, as well as a recession.

1986 – The Baltic Dry Index Hits Its first All-time Low.

In late 1986, the newly formed BDI (which replaced an older index) hit its first all-time low.

Other than predicting the late 80s-early 90s recession itself, the index was a precursor to the 1987 stock market crash.

(click to enlarge)

1999 – The Baltic Dry Index Takes a Dive

In 1999, the BDI hit a 12-year low. After a short recovery, it almost hit that low point again two years later. The index was predicting the recession of the early 2000s and the dot-com market crash.

(click to enlarge)

2008 – The Sharpest Decline in The History of the BDI

In 2008, the BDI almost hit its all-time low from 1986 in a free fall from around 11,000 points to around 780.

(click to enlarge)

You already know what happened next. The 2008 stock market crash and a long recession that many parts of the global economy is still trying to get out of.

Is It Real Causation?

One of the pitfalls that affects many investors is to confuse correlation and causation. Just because two metrics seem to behave in a certain relationship, doesn’t tell us if A caused B or vice versa.

When trying to navigate your portfolio ahead, correctly making the distinction between causation and correlation is crucial.

Without doing so, you can find yourself selling when there is no reason to, or buying when you should be selling.

So let’s think critically about the BDI.

Is it the BDI itself that predicts stock market crashes? Is it a magical omen of things to come?

My view is that no. The BDI is not sufficient to determine if a stock market crash is coming or not. That said, the index does tells us many important things about the global economy.

Each and every time the BDI hit its lows, it predicted a real-world recession. That is no surprise as the index follows a fundamental precursor, which is shipping rates. It’s very intuitive; as manufacturers see demand for end products start to slow down, they start to wind-down production and inventory, which immediately affects their orders for raw materials.

Manufacturers are the ultimate indicator to follow, because they are the ones that see end demand most closely and have the best sense of where it’s going.

But does an economic slowdown necessarily bring about a full-blown market crash?

Only if the stock market valuation is not reflecting that coming economic downturn. When these two conditions align, chances are a sharp market correction is around the corner.

2010-2015 – The BDI Hits All-time Low, Again

In recent weeks, the BDI has hit an all-time low that is even lower than the 1986 low point. That comes after a few years of depressed prices.

(click to enlarge)

Source: Bloomberg

What does that tell us?

  1. The global economy, excluding the U.S., is still struggling. Numerous signs for that are the strengthening dollar, the crisis in Russia and Eastern Europe, a slowdown in China, and new uncertainties concerning Greece.
  2. The U.S. is almost the sole bright spot in the landscape of the global economy, although it’s starting to be affected by the global turmoil. A strong dollar hits exporters and lower oil prices hit the American oil industry hard.

Looking at stock prices, we are at the peak of a 6-year long bull market, although earnings seem to be at all-time highs as well.

(click to enlarge)

Source: Yardeni

What the BDI might tell us is that the disconnect between the global economy’s struggle and great American business performance across the board might be coming to an end.

More than that, China could be a significant reason for why the index has taken such a dive, as serious slowdowns on the real-estate market in China and tremendous real estate inventory accumulation are disrupting the imports of steel, cement and other raw materials.

Conclusion

The BDI tells us that a global economic slowdown is well underway. The source of that downturn seems to be outside of the U.S., and is more concentrated in China and the E.U.

The performance of the U.S. economy can’t be disconnected from the global economy for too long.

The BDI is a precursor for recessions, not stock market crashes. It’s not a sufficient condition to base a decision upon, but it’s one you can’t afford to ignore.

Going forward, this is a time to make sure you know the companies you invest in inside and out, and make sure end demand for their products is bound for continued growth and success despite overall headwinds.