The retail sales report for December – delayed because of the Government shut-down – was released this morning. It showed the largest monthly drop since September 2009. Online sales plunged 3.9%, the steepest drop since November 2008. Not surprisingly, sporting goods/hobby/musical instruments/books plunged 4.9%. This is evidence that the average household has been forced to cut back discretionary spending to pay for food, shelter and debt service (mortgage, auto, credit card, student loans).
I had to laugh when Trump’s Cocaine Cowboy – masquerading as the Administration’s flagship “economist” – attributed the plunge in retail sales to a “glitch.” Yes, the “glitch” is that 7 million people are delinquent to seriously delinquent on their auto loan payments. I’d have to hazard a wild guess that these folks aren’t are not spending money on the latest i-Phone or a pair of high-end yoga pants.
Here’s the “glitch” to which Larry must be referring:
The chart above shows personal interest payments excluding mortgage debt. As you can see, the current non-mortgage personal interest burden is nearly 20% higher than it was just before the 2008 financial crisis. It’s roughly 75% higher than it was at the turn of the century. The middle class spending capacity is predicated on disposable income, savings, and borrowing capacity. Disposable income is shrinking, the savings rate is near an all-time low and many households are running out of capacity to support more household debt.
I found another “glitch” in the private sector sourced data, which is infinitely more reliable than the manipulated, propaganda-laced garbage spit out by Government agencies. The Conference Board’s measurement of consumer confidence plunged to 120.2 from 126.6 in January (December’s number was revised lower). Both the current and future expectations sub-indices plunged. Bond guru, Jeff Gundlach, commented that consumer future expectations relative to current conditions is a recessionary signal and this was one of the worst readings ever in that ratio.
This was the third straight month the index has declined after hitting 137.9 (an 18-yr high) in October. The 17.7 cumulative (12.8%) decline is the worst string of losses since October 2011 (back then the Fed was just finishing QE2 and prepping for QE3). The expectation for jobs was the largest contributor to the plunge in consumer confidence. Just 14.7% of the respondents are expecting more jobs in the next 6 months vs 22.7% in November. The 2-month drop in the Conference Board’s index was the steepest 2-month drop since 1968.
This report reflects a tapped-out consumer. It’s a great leading economic indicator because historically downturns in this report either coincide with a recession or occur a few months prior.
Further supporting my “glitch” thesis, mortgage purchase applications have dropped four weeks in row after a brief increase to start 2019. Last week purchase applications tanked 6% from the previous week. The previous week dropped 5% after two consecutive weeks of 2% drops. This plunge in mortgage purchase apps occurred as the 10yr Treasury rate – the benchmark rate for mortgage rates – fell to its lowest level in a year.
Previously we have been fed the fairy tale that housing sales were tanking because mortgage rates had climbed over the past year or that inventory was too low. Well, mortgage rates just dropped considerably since November and home sales are still declining. The inventory of existing and new homes is as high as it’s been in over a year. Why? Because of the rapidity with which number of households that can afford the cost of home ownership has diminished. The glitch is the record level of consumer debt.
The parabolic rise in stock prices since Christmas is nothing more than a bear market, short-covering squeeze triggered by direct official intervention in the markets in an attempt to prevent the stock market from collapsing. This is why Powell has reversed the Fed’s monetary policy stance more quickly than cock roaches scatter when the kitchen light is turned on. But when 7 million people are delinquent on their car loan and retail sales go straight off the cliff, we’re at the point at which stopping QT re-upping QE won’t work. The stock market will soon seek lower ground to catch down to reality. This “adjustment” in the stock market could occur more abruptly than most expect.