Bulls Running: Frackers Getting Trampled

It's bulls v. bears on Wall Street, and the collateral damage is substantial.

It’s bulls v. bears on Wall Street, and the collateral damage is substantial.

Overtaken by arithmetic and logic, the Wall Street bulls are trying to find a place to hide their money, and while they don’t agree on where to put it, they are beginning to agree that it definitely should not be in the fracking patch. The stock of fracking operators has been in bear country for weeks now as the strain of trying to pretend everything is all right gets worse by the hour.

A Ponzi scheme requires the operator to get new suckers in the door fast enough to use their money to pay off the old suckers, so they don’t blow the whistle on the  con. Continue reading

Twin Peaks: Stock-Market Fear, Oil Panic

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, turn your screen upside down.

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, read from right to left.

Gasoline is below three dollars a gallon and the stock market is at an all-time high. Well, yes, that was last week but still. What could be wrong with this picture? Like a face that has had way too many plastic surgeries, this one is stretched a little thin, with eyes bugged out and droplets of sweat all over it. The market, which all concerned promised would go up and up and never come down (Does anybody remember them saying the same thing about real estate? Anybody?) has lost 7% of its value in a week and, yesterday at least, could not pull out of the nose dive. A 10 percent drop is a correction. Twenty percent is a crash. And the low gas prices are being celebrated by everyone but the frackers who brought them to us. For them, low oil prices mean almost-immediate ruin. Continue reading

I Hear America Rotting

The deadly collapse of an Interstate Highway bridge near Minneapolis in 2007 brought a horrified nation to its feet. Then the nation sat down again.  (Photo by mtellin/Flickr)

The deadly collapse of an Interstate Highway bridge near Minneapolis in 2007 brought a horrified nation to its feet. Then the nation sat down again. (Photo by mtellin/Flickr)

She was elderly, spry, energetic, and she lived alone in the remains of a genteel Southern plantation, with its Tara-like mansion and sprawling lawns. She was not without means, but she was entirely without staff.  She was telling me how she had recently paved with flagstones the banks of a fairly sizable pond near the mansion’s rear patio. Herself. Mightily impressed, I asked her what she did with her spare time. “Oh,” she sighed, “I like to get a glass of iced tea and just sit out here and listen to the house rot.”

Which is what we Americans have been doing since 1980, when we decided that taxes are evil and must never be raised again for any reason. We’ve been sitting around listening to the country rot. Continue reading

Miracle of the Loaves, Fishes and New Home Sales

If the housing market in the US were in fact recovering, it would be a miracle. Alas, (Wikipedia Photo)

If the housing market in the US were in fact recovering, it would be a miracle. Alas, (Wikipedia Photo)

To call it a miracle is to misunderestimate it by at least an order of magnitude: according to the US Commerce Department, sales of new single family homes in August surged 18% from July, and 33% from last year, “offering confirmation,” swooned CNBC, “that the housing recovery remains on course.”

Even while humming its charming little refrain of “Happy,” CNBC, like the many others who sang from the same sheet music, slipped in a few clunkers without elaborating or explaining: one, that new home sales account for only nine percent of the market, and thus (despite CNBC’s offered confirmation) are hardly determinative; and two, that despite the rise in sales, the stock of new houses still unsold hit its highest level in four years. Wait, what? You sell more than you have in six years, and end up with more unsold inventory than you’ve had in four years? Continue reading

More Warnings from Wall Street: The Party’s Over

On Wall Street the party's almost over, and the music is about to stop. Wall Street's response: dance harder. (Image by Stock Graphic Designs)

On Wall Street the party’s almost over, and the music is about to stop. Wall Street’s response: dance harder. (Image by Stock Graphic Designs)

The warnings are coming thick and fast now, from inside the redoubts of the Masters of the Universe, that their world is spinning out of control. I am especially interested in the warnings from the MOTUS themselves, not because they have demonstrated any special ability to forecast, but because they are making noises in a large herd of bulls, knowing that if they set off the stampede they will get hurt.

There is no bigger bull than UBS — it’s the largest asset manager in the world, with nearly two trillion dollars in assets. It told its clients in a newsletter last month that it no longer likes stocks, and it no longer likes bonds. Where you gonna put two billion dollars? Baseball cards? [Thanks to Wolf Richter on WolfStreet.com for bringing this to light.] Continue reading

Housing Bubble II: Deja Vu, Again

FOR RENT in tony neighborhood, handyman special, low low rent, tenant responsible for maintenance. Any problems, call 1 800 BITE ME. (Photo by Kevin Dooley/Flickr)

FOR RENT in tony neighborhood, handyman special, low low rent, tenant responsible for maintenance. Any problems, call 1 800 BITE ME. (Photo by Kevin Dooley/Flickr)

I knew a woman with lung cancer who almost blew her face off while sneaking a smoke under an oxygen mask. Wall Street reminds me of her. The Masters of the Universe (hedge fund guys, private equity managers, parasites, whatever you wish to call them) are so addicted to subprime lending they can’t give it up, even though they are still in traction from the last time it blew them up (and evicted ten million Americans from their homes).

Immediately — and I mean, immediately — after the collapse of the subprime-mortgage bubble brought the entire world’s financial system to its knees, the MOTU decided that the remedy to the destruction wrought by subprime mortgages was — subprime rental contracts. (Not to mention subprime auto loans, which is another story.) Continue reading

Masters of the Universe Head for Exits

It may be time to put your money under the mattress again.

It may be time to put your money under the mattress again.

The list of stock market players who are talking openly about the danger of an imminent crash (in doublespeak, that’s “correction”) is growing fast. This is all the more remarkable when you remember that it is generally against the best interests of players to warn people away from the game at which they are making their money. They are, in a sense, yelling “Fire!” in a crowded casino; either they know nobody is going to pay any attention, or they are sitting next to a pre-dug tunnel out. Or there really is a fire.

Rich people are in general given too much deference in our money-worshiping culture. We don’t do that here. But people who speak against their apparent interests are especially interesting, and it usually behooves us to listen to what they have to say.   Continue reading

Financial Storm Flags Up: Take Cover

God may not play dice with the universe, but the Masters of the Universe shoot craps with everything. (Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr)

God may not play dice with the universe, but the Masters of the Universe shoot craps with everything. (Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr)

This is not about TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It), nor about the Crash of the Industrial Age (Wait! The acronym for that’s CIA!) that we expect. But it is about a very hard time we are all about to go through, most likely beginning before next year is out and ending God knows when. Most probably, it will not end, but like the last Great Recession simply deliver us to a new plateau of diminished expectations that will become the New Normal. This imminent event is being forecast by a rising chorus of voices like those who warned us 10 years ago that a prosperity based on subprime mortgages, and financial derivatives thereof, could not stand. These voices — actually some of them the very same people — are telling us that we face not one, but two, train wrecks that will be nearly simultaneous, in that one will bring on the other. Continue reading

The Next Bubble: Cars Under Water

car under water

Most new cars sold in America today are submarines — they live under water.

The Masters of the Universe — those energetic guys and gals who brought the world’s economies gasping to their knees six years ago — are at it again. Having successfully avoided punishment (for the most part) and staved off any meaningful interference by regulators, they have gone back to their favorite modus operandi: predatory subprime lending to finance big-ticket purchases followed by bundling and securitization of the shaky loans. Not houses, this time. Cars. Continue reading

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again: Recession Redux

This was then, but retail stores are right now closing at a rate not seen since then. Just one of many signs that the recovery is not recovering. (Photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr)

This was then (2009), but retail stores are right now closing at a rate not seen since then. Just one of many signs that the recovery is not recovering. (Photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr)

Would it not be a hoot if we who expect the crash of industrial civilization, while we are staring intently at the usual suspects (peak oil, climate change, food shortages, grid failure, the San Andreas Fault) and waiting for one of them to start the avalanche, get sucker-punched by the Masters of the Universe? Would it not be excruciatingly funny if the very same people who almost burned the world alive in the first decade of this century managed not only to escape repercussions but to incinerate it in the second? The dial is moving from possible to likely as the ethically challenged whiz kids of Wall Street continue to play, unsupervised by adults, with the same matches in the same gasoline-soaked structure. Here’s what they’re doing, compared with what they did. Continue reading