Monthly Archives: May 2020

Barely Enough Time to Miss One Payment

Reading Time: < 1 minute

As the impact of the COVID pandemic unfolded, the speed at which the fiscal and monetary responses were rolled out seemed almost too fast.  My thought was that people barely had time to miss one mortgage payment.

Well, the data is in for April and it seems like lots of people did just that.  

“At 6.45%, the national delinquency rate nearly doubled (+3.06%) from March, the largest single-month increase ever recorded, and nearly three times the previous single-month record set back in late 2008.1” 

Data is only available through April.  May will be interesting.

  1. Black Knight’s First Look at April 2020 Mortgage Data  (https://www.blackknightinc.com/black-knights-first-look-at-april-2020-mortgage-data/)
  2. Calculated Risk Blog (https://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2020/05/black-knight-national-mortgage.html)

A Word: Hertz Bankruptcy

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A word on the Hertz Bankruptcy.

One of the most leveraged companies in one of the most impacted industries, managed to limp along and delay the inevitable for almost a full quarter. The Hertz filing is likely just the tip of iceberg…

I wrote previously that the velocity of change is much more difficult for companies to handle than the magnitude.  Hertz had to deal with both.  The travel industry has been one of the most impacted (velocity & magnitude) sectors during the COVID pandemic and response.

Hertz’s fleet of 700,000 vehicles, which are mostly rented from airports, has largely been idled due to the slow down in travel caused by the pandemic.  Complicating the matter is the value of these assets are falling as vehicle sales slow and used car prices fall.

Hertz also has $21 billion in long term debt. 

All of these factors combined into this bankruptcy filing came with lightning speed – relative to filings – adding Hertz to the short list of companies in the “no coupon club.”

Bankruptcy filings are going to be a lagging indicator. And there’s going to be more to come.

The Recession No One Believes In

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The recession no one believes in is here to stay.

My vantage point for the COVID pandemic and response has been somewhat unique – sitting here in Lower Deer Valley Utah since mid-March.  I am fortunate to fall into a line of work that transitioned to work from home seamlessly.  However, that’s not the case for many, especially around here.  No tourists, no work.

The same concept applies to many parts of the economy.  No shoppers, no store sales.  No diners, no restaurant sales.  No vacations, no travelers.  No sporting events, no ticket sales, etc. 

The likely outcome appears to be a fairly broad, deep, and lengthy economic recession (80% probability).  But that expectation looks to be in the minority using the S&P 500 as a proxy of the consensus view.

Source: MarketWatch

There seems to be a disconnect between the reality on the ground and expectations.  I think there are few things going on:

  • Velocity of the pandemic & response
  • Lag in economic data & company reporting
  • Demographics of those impacted by initial shutdowns
  • No single source of issues
  • Hope for a rapid return to normalcy

Velocity: I wrote earlier about the absolute stunning velocity of the global shutdown due to the COVID pandemic.  It’s almost incomprehensible.  It’s like nothing anyone alive today has ever experienced.

Lag: Given the speed of the fallout and the fact that impacts to U.S. companies did not truly start until mid-March, barely any of the financial impact is being reported in Q1 financial reporting.  Q2 results will be telling.  Those won’t be available until July; still two months away.  Same issue with most economic data; it’s a lagging indicator and barely incorporating the impacts yet.

These next two charts are not helpful – folks have barely had time to miss one mortgage payment and it’s not in the data yet.

Demographics: The initial stay at home orders have had a disproportionate impact on certain cohorts.  Many white collar workers (like me) simply picked up our laptops and started working from home.  No fear of lost income.  No major life setbacks – other than Mrs. SFTE zoom-bombing my meetings.  Not the case for many lower wage, retail and service jobs.  

Guess which of these cohorts is more invested in the market?  Hint: The groups not being impacted (yet). So be careful about using their views to assess the current state.

Source:  During the Great Financial Crisis, the source of the issues was concentrated in the financial system.  I’m not sure if the breadth makes the current situation better or worse over the longterm, but it does make it harder to understand.  

Headlines like this are more tangible than hand-made cardboard signs in windows of thousands of small businesses.

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”  ― Joseph Stalin 

Return to Normalcy: There’s also quite a bit of hope for a rapid return to normalcy.  I’m all for hope, but let me quash that notion.  I would love to get back to normal, but that doesn’t exist anymore.  This is like 9/11 in terms of resetting normal.  I will never touch an ATM or gas pump handle with the same innocence again.  There is no f-ing way I am getting on an airplane any time soon. “Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.”  

Mrs. SFTE would fight you tooth and nail if you tried to take her into a restaurant.  Those dentist appointments for mid-Summer, cancelled.  Check with me in six months (and no, I will not have two cleanings back to back so no pent up demand here).  Summer sports camps, ha.  Summer vacation plans, cancelled.  This is all lost income to someone, somewhere.

Yes, we’re a bit weird, but I bet not that weird.  If you haven’t noticed, this virus can kill you.  I’m 101% against being killed.  My guess is so are most people. That is why the data shows trends like this:

Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

So if people did not wait for stay at home orders to alter their behavior, how much will changing those orders affect their behavior? Not enough to make the recession go away.

Here is some economic data we do have:

The Initial Claims graph just broke the y-axis:

Lots of jobs have been lost (stunning velocity):

Unemployment rate is currently worse than at the peak of the Great Financial Crisis:

Approximately 70% of the economy is based on consumer spending, so no good news in this chart:

The handicap to the magnitude and duration of the recession is the amount of fiscal and monetary intervention being deployed.  This also falls into the incomprehensible and unprecedented category. 

However, by and large, these measures do not seem to be creating jobs, simply offsetting the financial impact of the shut downs.  At the end of the day though, it is jobs that matter.  Jobs will drive spending, and spending drives over two thirds of the U.S. economy.

“A better measure for how real people experience the business cycle: the ebb and flow of jobs creation. Losing your job is a recession; finding employment represents recovery. Looking at the business cycle through this lens paints a more complicated picture.

Perception on Main Street is always important for recoveries, and that will be true in the extreme this time. Given the sharp, dramatic jobs losses, which will probably get worse, sentiment in the broad population will be highly relevant for charting the path of the post-recession trend. On that front, jobs will arguably be the most relevant stat.

With that in mind, consider how private employment has fared on a rolling one-year basis in the past. As the next chart below reminds, the labor market often contracts through a recession and for a number of months after the downturn officially ends, based on NBER dates. In some cases, a positive one-year gain in private employment doesn’t arrive until several years after the recession’s official end.” Source: CapitalSpectator.com

Based on history, jobs do not recovery quickly from recessions:

And the jobs picture is likely to continue to deteriorate.  My sense is that there are also a lot of tough decisions going on in corporate boardrooms all across the nation.  You don’t know what Q2 is going to look like for most companies, but by now the current reality is fairly clear for most managers.

This chart is through March:

My investors are encouraging all their portfolio companies to renegotiate leases, defer 401k payments, stretch payments to vendor, and renegotiate contracts.  There is someone on the other side of each of those decisions who is going to be missing some income.

Somewhat obscured by the COVID pandemic is an oil crisis and simmering trade war, each with their own economic fallout. The oil crisis is threatening a major source of high paying jobs in many parts of the U.S.  The opposite was true during the Great Financial Crisis, when the budding shale boom was counteracting that recession

So, as you assess the likelihood of a deep and prolonged recession, keep in mind that the velocity and disproportionate initial impact is creating distortions in the data and news cycle. 

Broader impacts are coming.

Influential Reads – April 2020

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Four books this month.  No reason to read the news; nobody knows anything.  

Updated stats through April:

ArticlesBooks
January794
February781
March962
April964
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
Total34911

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. On Bridge Loans and Bankruptcy – “Using the bankruptcy code in this way would allow the United States to help firms (albeit, likely slightly larger ones than mom-and-pops) in a predictable, known, guaranteed way while also protecting tax payers from taking significant downside risk positions in an ad-hoc and convoluted matter via bridge loans (if they are feasible at all, which I doubt)”
  2. Why We Focus on Trivial Things: The Bikeshed Effect – “The Law of Triviality states that the amount of time spent discussing an issue in an organization is inversely correlated to its actual importance in the scheme of things.”
  3. Capitalists or Cronyists? – “CNBC/Trump want to protect current equity holders at the expense of future generations with rescue packages that explode the deficit.”
  4. The First Modern Pandemic – “It is important to realize that this is not just the result of government policies restricting activities. When people hear that an infectious disease is spreading widely, they change their behavior. There was never a choice to have the strong economy of 2019 in 2020.”
  5. You Should Do More $10,000 per Hour Work – “There’s one thing you’ll never see in a casino. A clock.”
  6. How to Be a Better Listener – “Pretend you’re doing improv, and that you can only react in the moment to what the other person is saying, rather than planning out the next three steps in the conversation.”
  7. What Would You Have Done in 2009? – “Have enough liquid reserves available but avoid an addiction to cash.”  SMS here: Would you say the same thing if you have gone through the Great Depression?  
  8. Victory is Inevitable (Part 2) – “Now is also a good time to be working, engaged in an activity that helps the economy and helps other people. Being busy at a time like this can be a blessing for your mental health. And its good to have money coming in to drip-feed into assets whilst they’re on sale…this won’t last forever.”
  9. Becoming An Investing Buddha – “Rather, it’s the ability to handle good and bad times with equanimity, combined with courage and decisiveness, that really matters in the long run.”
  10. Thoreau on Hard Work – “The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.