The Bear Market Has Just Begun


Today the narrow-minded canyons of Wall Street are littered almost entirely of trend-following bulls and cheerleaders who don’t realize how little there is to actually cheer about. Stock values are far less attractive than they were on that day back in 2009 and this selloff has a lot longer to run. There are hordes of perma-bulls calling for a V-shaped recovery in stocks, even after multiple years of nary a downtick.

Here are six reasons why I believe the bear market in the major averages has only just begun:

1) Stocks are overvalued by almost every metric.One of my favorite metrics is the price-to-sales ratio, which shows stock prices in relation to the company’s revenue per share and omits the financial engineering associated with borrowing money to buy back shares for the purpose of boosting EPS growth. For the S&P 500 (INDEX: .SPX), this ratio is currently 1.7, which is far above the mean value of 1.4. The benchmark index is also near record high valuations when measured as a percentage of GDP and in relation to the replacement costs of its companies.


2) There is currently a lack of revenue and earnings growth for S&P 500 companies. Second-quarter earnings shrank 0.7 percent, while revenues declined by 3.4 percent from a year earlier, according to FactSet. The Q2 revenue contraction marks the first time the benchmark index’s revenue shrank two quarters in a row since 2009.

S&P 500
  • Virtually the entire global economy is either in, or teetering on, a recession. In 2009, China stepped further into a huge stimulus cycle that would eventually lead to the largest misallocation of capital in the history of the modern world. Empty cities don’t build themselves: They require enormous spurious demand of natural resources, which, in turn, leads to excess capacity from resource-producing countries such as Brazil, Australia, Russia, Canada, et al. Now those economies are in recession because China has become debt disabled and is painfully working down that misallocation of capital. And now Japan and the entire European Union appear poised to follow the same fate.

This is causing the rate of inflation to fall according to the Core PCE index. And the CRB Index, which is at the panic lows of early 2009, is corroborating the decreasing rate of inflation.


But the bulls on Wall Street would have you believe the cratering price of oil is a good thing because the “gas tax cut” will drive consumer spending – never mind the fact that energy prices are crashing due to crumbling global demand. Nevertheless, there will be no such boost to consumer spending from lower oil prices because consumers are being hurt by a lack of real income growth, huge health-care spending increases and soaring shelter costs.

4) U.S. manufacturing and GDP is headed south. The Dallas Fed’s manufacturing report showed its general activity index fell to -15.8 in August, from an already weak -4.6 reading in July. The oil-fracking industry had been one of the sole bright spots for the US economy since the Great Recession and has been the lead impetus of job creation. However, many Wall Street charlatans contend the United States is immune from deflation and a global slowdown and remain blindly optimistic about a strong second half.

Unfortunately, we are already two-thirds of the way into the third quarter and the Atlanta Fed is predicting GDP will grow at an unimpressive rate of 1.3 percent. Furthermore, the August ISM manufacturing index fell to 51.1, from 52.7, its weakest read in over two years. And while gross domestic product in the second quarter came in at a 3.7 percent annual rate, due in large part to a huge inventory build, gross domestic income increased at an annual rate of only 0.6 percent.

GDP tracks all expenditures on final goods and services produced in the United States and GDI tracks all income received by those who produced that output. These two metrics should be equal because every dollar spent on a good or service flows as income to a household, a firm, or the government. The two numbers will, at times, differ in practice due to measurement errors. However this is a fairly large measurement error and it leads one to wonder if that 0.6 percent GDI number should get a bit more attention.

5) Global trade is currently in freefall. Reuters reported that exports from South Korea dropped nearly 15 percent in August from a year earlier, with shipments to China, the United States and Europe all weaker. U.S. exports of goods and general merchandise are at the lowest level since September of 2011. The latest measurement of $370 billion is down from $408 billion, or -9.46 percent from Q4 2014. And CNBC reported this week that the volume of exports from the Port of Long Beach to China dropped by 10 percent YOY. The metastasizing global slowdown will only continue to exacerbate the plummeting value of U.S. trade.


6) The Fed is promising to no longer support the stock market. Back in 2009, our central bank was willing to provide all the wind for the market’s sail. And despite a lackluster 2 percent average annual GDP print since 2010, the stock market doubled in value on the back of zero interest rates and the Federal Reserve ‘s $3.7 trillion money-printing spree. Thus, for the past several years, there has been a huge disparity building between economic fundamentals and the value of stocks.

But now, the end of all monetary accommodations may soon occur, while markets have become massively over-leveraged and overvalued. The end of quantitative easing and a zero interest-rate policy will also coincide with slowing U.S. and global GDP, falling inflation and negative earnings growth. And the Fed will be raising rates and putting more upward pressure on the U.S. dollar while the manufacturing and export sectors are already rolling over.

I am glad Ms. Yellen and Co. appear to have finally assented to removing the safety net from underneath the stock market. Nevertheless, Wall Street may soon learn the baneful lesson that the artificial supports of QE and ZIRP were the only things preventing the unfolding of the greatest bear market in history.

Michael Pento produces the weekly podcast “The Mid-week Reality Check,” is the president and founder of Pento Portfolio Strategies and author of the book “The Coming Bond Market Collapse.”


Morgan Stanley Oil Warning: The Crash / Glut Continues

Morgan Stanley has been pretty pessimistic about oil prices in 2015,

drawing comparisons to the some of the worst oil slumps of the past three decades. The current downturn could even rival the iconic price crash of 1986, analysts had warned—but definitely no worse.

This week, a revision: It could be much worse

Until recently, confidence in a strong recovery for oil prices—and oil companies—had been pretty high, wrote analysts including Martijn Rats and Haythem Rashed, in a report to investors yesterday. That confidence was based on four premises, they said, and only three have proven true.

1. Demand will rise: Check 

In theory: The crash in prices that started a year ago should stimulate demand. Cheap oil means cheaper manufacturing, cheaper shipping, more summer road trips.

In practice: Despite a softening Chinese economy, global demand has indeed surged by about 1.6 million barrels a day over last year’s average, according to the report.

2. Spending on new oil will fall: Check 

In theory: Lower oil prices should force energy companies to cut spending on new oil supplies, and the cost of drilling and pumping should decline.

In practice: Sure enough, since October the number of rigs actively drilling for new oil around the world has declined by about 42 percent. More than 70,000 oil workers have lost their jobs globally, and in 2015 alone listed oil companies have cut about $129 billion in capital expenditures.

3. Stock prices remain low: Check 

In theory: While oil markets rebalance themselves, stock prices of oil companies should remain cheap, setting the stage for a strong rebound.

In practice: Yep. The oil majors are trading near 35-year lows, using two different methods of valuation.

4. Oil supply will drop: Uh-oh 

In theory: With strong demand for oil and less money for drilling and exploration, the global oil glut should diminish. Let the recovery commence.

In practice: The opposite has happened. While U.S. production has leveled off since June, OPEC has taken up the role of market spoiler.

OPEC Production Surges in 2015

Source: Morgan Stanley Research, Bloomberg

For now, Morgan Stanley is sticking with its original thesis that prices will improve, largely because OPEC doesn’t have much more spare capacity to fill and because oil stocks have already been hammered.

But another possibility is that the supply of new oil coming from outside the U.S. may continue to increase as sanctions against Iran dissolve and if the situation in Libya improves, the Morgan Stanley analysts said. U.S. production could also rise again. A recovery is less certain than it once was, and the slump could last for three years or more—”far worse than in 1986.”

“In that case,” they wrote, “there would be little in history that could be a guide” for what’s to come.

Park your oil profits offshore

Merkel will show Greece no mercy


It’s no secret that the biggest holder of Greek debt — which Greece is refusing to pay — is Germany.

But when you see how much exposure Germany has to Greek debt, you quickly realize just how motivated German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to prevent the Greeks from defaulting and to keep them in the eurozone.

She really, really needs to get Germany’s money back.

According to this table from Deutsche Bank, the Greeks owe Germany €87 billion (£62 billion, $96 billion).

That’s 20 billion more euros than the next biggest creditor, France.

Italy and Spain are heavily exposed too, but once you go further down the list the amounts quickly become smaller and more reasonable.

It’s all relative, of course: 400 million euros is doubtless a big deal in Cyprus.

But still, it’s no wonder that Merkel, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union simply shrugged when the Greeks voted “no” to the bailout deal; Merkel has 87 billion reasons to ignore their wishes.

Here’s the table:

Greece debtDeutsche Bank

Now, before you become angry in solidarity with the Germans, there’s the twist at the end of the Deutsche Bank note. Even if Greece defaults and exits the eurozone, it won’t hurt these countries much.

In a note to clients, Deutsche Bank’s Abhishek Singhania and Jack Di Lizia write the debt has already been accounted for and nonpayment will therefore not be “financially burdensome”:

The assessment of major rating agencies is consistent with our analysis that although the economic loss due to a Greek sovereign default or an exit from the Eurozone could be large it is unlikely to prove to be financially burdensome because it is not likely to raise immediate funding needs in creditor countries and has already been largely accounted for in the debt statistics of these countries.

Also missing from the list are the obvious non-euro-using EU countries such as Britain, Denmark, and Sweden.

Suddenly, being a member of the EU but keeping your domestic currency looks like the most important economic decision these countries ever made.


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Money Managers Brace for Bond-Market Collapse




TCW Group Inc. is taking the possibility of a bond-market selloff seriously.

So seriously that the Los Angeles-based money manager, which oversees almost $140 billion of U.S. debt, has been accumulating more and more cash in its credit funds, with the proportion rising to the highest since the 2008 crisis.

“We never realize what the tipping point is until after it happens,” said Jack A. Bass,  head of trading for Jack A. Bass and Associates. “We’re as defensive as we’ve been since pre-crisis.”

Bass isn’t alone: Bond funds are holding about 8 percent of their assets as cash-like securities, the highest proportion since at least 1999, according to FTN Financial, citing Investment Company Institute data.

Cudzil’s reasoning is that the Federal Reserve is moving toward its first interest-rate increase since 2006, and the end of record monetary stimulus will rattle the herds of investors who poured cash into risky debt to try and get some yield.

The shift in policy comes amid a global backdrop that’s not exactly rosy. The Chinese economy is slowing, the outlook for developing nations has grown cloudy, and the tone of Greece’s bailout talks changes daily.

Distorted Markets

Of course, U.S. central bankers are aiming to gently wean markets and companies off zero interest-rate policies. In their ideal scenario, borrowing costs would rise slowly and steadily, debt investors would calmly absorb losses and corporate America would easily adjust to debt that’s a little less cheap amid an improving economy.

That outcome seems less and less likely to Cudzil, as volatility in the bond market climbs.

“If you distort markets for long periods of time and then you remove those distortions, you’re subject to unanticipated volatility,” said Cudzil, who traded high-yield bonds at Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank AG . He declined to specify the exact amount of cash he’s holding in the funds he runs.

Price swings will also likely be magnified by investors’ inability to quickly trade bonds, he said. New regulations have made it less profitable for banks to grease the wheels of markets that are traded over the counter and, as a result, they’re devoting fewer traders and money to the operations.

To boot, record-low yields have prompted investors to pile into the same types of risky investors — so it may be even more painful to get out with few potential buyers able to absorb mass selling.

“We think the market’s telling you to upgrade your portfolio,” Bass said. “Whether it happens tomorrow or in six months, do you want look silly before the market sells off or after?”

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Iraq About to Flood Oil Market in New Front of OPEC Price War

(Bloomberg) — Iraq is taking OPEC’s strategy to defend its share of the global oil market to a new level.

The nation plans to boost crude exports by about 26 percent to a record 3.75 million barrels a day next month, according to shipping programs, signaling an escalation of OPEC strategy to undercut U.S. shale drillers in the current market rout. The additional Iraqi oil is equal to about 800,000 barrels a day, or more than comes from OPEC member Qatar. The rest of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is expected to rubber stamp its policy to maintain output levels at a meeting on June 5.

While shipping schedules aren’t a promise of future production, they are indicative of what may come. The following chart graphs planned tanker loadings (in red) against exports.

As in previous months, Iraq might not hit its June target – export capacity is currently capped at 3.1 million barrels a day, Deputy Oil Minister Fayyad al-Nimaa said on May 18. Still, any extra Iraqi supplies inevitably mean OPEC strays even further above its collective output target of 30 million barrels a day, Morgan Stanley says. The following chart shows OPEC increasing output in recent months against its current target.

Defying the threat from Islamic State militants, Iraq has been ramping up exports from both the Shiite south – where companies like BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc operate – and the Kurdish region in the north, which last year reached a temporary compromise with the federal government on its right to sell crude independently.

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Stock Market Top ? : The Q Ratio Indicator Says Watch Out Below


If you sold every share of every company in the U.S. and used the money to buy up all the factories, machines and inventory, you’d have some cash left over. That, in a nutshell, is the math behind a bear case on equities that says prices have outrun reality.

The concept is embodied in a measure known as the Q ratio developed by James Tobin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Yale University who died in 2002. According to Tobin’s Q, equities in the U.S. are valued about 10 percent above the cost of replacing their underlying assets — higher than any time other than the Internet bubble and the 1929 peak.

Valuation tools are being dusted off around Wall Street as investors assess the staying power of the bull market that is now the second longest in 60 years. To Andrew Smithers, the 77-year-old former head of SG Warburg’s investment arm, the Q ratio is an indicator whose time has come because it illuminates distortions caused by quantitative easing.

“QE is a very dangerous policy, in my view, because it has pushed asset prices up and high asset prices, we know from history, are very dangerous,” Smithers, founder of Smithers & Co. in London, said in a phone interview. “It is very strongly indicated by reliable measures that we’re looking at a stock market which is something like 80 percent over-priced.”

Dissenting Views

Acceptance of Tobin’s theory is at best uneven, with investors such as Laszlo Birinyi saying the ratio is useless as a signal because it would have kept you out of a bull market that has added $17 trillion to share values. Others see its meaning debased in an economy whose reliance on manufacturing is nothing like it used to be.

Futures on the S&P 500 expiring next month slipped 0.1 percent at 9:36 a.m. in London.

To Smithers, the ratio’s doubling since 2009 to 1.10 is a symptom of companies diverting money from their businesses to the stock market, choosing buybacks over capital spending. Six years of zero-percent interest rates have similarly driven investors into riskier things like equities, elevating the paper value of assets over their tangible worth, he said.

Standard & Poor’s 500 Index members last year spent about 95 percent of their profits on buybacks and dividends, with stock repurchases exceeding $2 trillion since 2009, data compiled by S&P Dow Jones Indices show.

In the first four months of this year, almost $400 billion of buybacks were announced, with February, March and April ranking as three of the four busiest months ever, according to data compiled by Birinyi Associates Inc.

Slow Spending

Spending by companies on plants and equipment is lagging behind. While capital investment also rose to a record in 2014, its growth was 11 percent over the last two years, versus 45 percent in buybacks, data compiled by Barclays Plc show.

With equity prices surging and investment growth failing to keep pace, the Q ratio has risen to 58 percent above its average of 0.70 since 1900, according to data compiled by Birinyi and the Federal Reserve on market and asset values for non-financial companies. Readings above 1 are considered by some to be too high and the ratio has exceeded that threshold only 12 percent of the time, mostly between 1995 to 2001.

That’s nothing to be alarmed about because the American economy has become more oriented around services than manufacturing, according to George Pearkes, an analyst at Harrison, New York-based Bespoke Investment Group LLC. Nowadays, companies like Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. dominate growth, while decades ago, it was railroads and steelmakers, which rely heavily on capital.

Mean Reversion

“Does that necessarily mean that the Q ratio should be as high as it is right now? I don’t know,” Pearkes said by phone. “With those sorts of long-term indicators, they can sometimes mean that the market is overvalued. But the reversion to the mean on them is usually going to take a lot longer than most people’s time frame.”

Any investors who based their investment decisions on the Q ratio would have missed most of the rally since 2009, according to Jeffrey Yale Rubin, director of research at Birinyi’s firm. The measure rose above its historic mean three months into this bull market and since then, the S&P 500 has climbed 131 percent.

“The issue we have with Tobin Q is that it does a very poor job at timing the market,” Rubin said from Westport, Connecticut. “The followers of Tobin Q never told us to buy in 2009, yet now we are warned that we should sell. Our response is sell what? We were never told to buy.”

Bond Yields

Everyone from Janet Yellen to Warren Buffett has spoken cautiously on stock valuations in the past month. Both the Fed chair and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said prices are at risk of getting stretched should bond yields increase. The rate on 10-year Treasuries slipped last week to 2.14 percent while the S&P 500 gained 0.3 percent.

“It’s probably a sensible configuration for the stock market to be overvalued because competing investments are so poor,” Robert Brusca, president of Fact & Opinion Economics in New York, said by phone. “As an investor, you’re not just looking at the value of the firm, but the value of the firm relative to other things you can do with your money.”

At 2,260 days, the bull market that began in March 2009 this month exceeded the 1974-1980 rally as the second longest since 1956. While measures such as price-to-earnings ratios are holding just above historical averages, the bull market’s duration is sowing anxiety among professionals who watched the previous two end in catastrophe.

“We’re still close enough to that prior experience and that hold-over effect is still there,” Chris Bouffard, chief investment officer who oversees more than $10 billion at Mutual Fund Store in Overland Park, Kansas, said by phone. “When you start to see prior cycle peaks on the chart like Tobin Q and any other valuation metrics that people are putting up there, it looks dramatic, stark and scary.”

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Oil Hits Two-Week High on Dollar-Fueled Rally – Yemen:Shipping Chokepoint

Oil storage in tanks on the edge of town in Cushing, Okla.


Trader cites added impact of Middle Eastern conflicts on pricing
Updated March 25, 2015 4:06 p.m. ET

Oil prices surged to their longest winning-streak in more than a month as the weakening dollar continues to fire up a rally despite a historic glut of oil.

U.S. oil pushed to the verge of $50 a barrel for the first time since March 9. Four straight sessions of gains matched a winning streak from late January and early February. The market hasn’t had a five-session winning streak since June, when Islamic State militants were threatening the Iraqi capital.

Middle Eastern conflicts could have played a role Wednesday as news spread of Saudi Arabia building up forces near Yemen, said trader Tariq Zahir. But the dollar was likely the main factor behind the rally, Mr. Zahir and others said.

Oil has been rallying for most of the past week, since the Federal Reserve ratcheted back expectations for a rate increase. That news started the dollar’s retreat from a historic high, which has since fueled an inverse price move in oil.

Oil prices moved in tandem with the dollar, especially in the past four months, analysts said. Dollar-priced commodities like oil become more affordable for holders of other currencies as the dollar depreciates.

Some traders have been buying on expectation of the tandem move. Others have been buying oil simply because they are looking for other trades now that the dollar’s long rally may be over, traders and brokers said.

“It’s the hope of U.S. dollar going down and production going down in the U.S.—without [the traders] fully thinking about it,” said Mr. Zahir, who is bearish on oil prices.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery settled up $1.70, or 3.6%, to $49.21 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That is its highest settlement since March 9.

Brent, the global benchmark, gained $1.37, or 2.5%, to $56.48 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, its highest settlement since March 12.

It could be a panic move and a mistake, said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc., comparing the rise to the last winning streak when traders bought into oil as rig counts started to fall precipitously. With rigs out of work, hopes grew that production would soon decline. Instead, production has kept growing.

“They think they have this newfound gem of an information point, and then they realize” the fundamentals rule, Mr. Yawger said.


The market briefly lost ground on news that U.S. producers added to a historic glut, but rebounded within about 90 minutes and kept rallying for the rest of the afternoon.

U.S. oil inventories rose by 8.2 million barrels in the week ended March 20 to 466.7 million barrels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said, outdoing a 5.6-million-barrel increase expected in a Wall Street Journal survey of traders and analysts.

Stockpiles are at a high in weekly data going back to 1982. In monthly data, which don’t exactly line up with weekly data, inventories haven’t been this high since 1930.

Stockpiles in Cushing, Okla., a key storage hub and the delivery point for the Nymex contract, rose by 1.9 million barrels to 56.3 million barrels, adding to its highest level on record in data going back to April 2004. The EIA said in September that Cushing’s working storage capacity was 70.8 million barrels.
Domestic crude production also slightly edged out the weekly record it set last week of 9.4 million barrels.

“Bottom line, we’re filling up those stockpiles and as long as refinery operations are subdued, we’re going to see these” additions, said Mark Waggoner, president of brokerage Excel Futures. “This is about the time we ought to sell.”

Gasoline stockpiles fell by 2 million barrels, more than the 1.7 million-barrel drop expected by analysts surveyed by the Journal.

Front-month gasoline futures settled up 2% at $1.8365 a gallon.

Distillate stocks, including heating oil and diesel fuel, fell by 34,000 barrels, less than the 500,000-barrel drop that analysts had expected.

Diesel futures settled up 1.3% at $1.7283 a gallon.

Bloomberg) — While Yemen contributes less than 0.2 percent of global oil output, its location puts it near the center of world energy trade.

The nation shares a border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, and sits on one side of a shipping chokepoint used by crude tankers heading West from the Persian Gulf. Global oil prices jumped more than 5 percent on Thursday after regional powers began bombing rebel targets in the country that produced less than Denmark in 2013.

Yemen’s government has collapsed in the face of an offensive by rebels known as Houthis, prompting airstrikes led by Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The Gulf’s main Sunni Muslim power says the Houthis are tools of its Shiite rival Iran, another OPEC member, and has vowed to do what’s necessary to halt them.

“While thousands of barrels of oil from Yemen will not be noticed, millions from Saudi Arabia will matter,” said John Vautrain, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the energy industry and is the head of Vautrain & Co., a consultant in Singapore. “Saudi Arabia has been concerned about unrest spreading from Yemen.”

Yemen produced about 133,000 barrels a day of oil in 2013, making it the 39th biggest producer, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Output peaked at more than 440,000 barrels a day in 2001, the Energy Department’s statistical arm said on its website.

Shipping Chokepoint

Brent, the benchmark grade for more than half the world’s crude, gained as much as $3.23, or 5.7 percent, to $59.71 a barrel in electronic trading on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange on Thursday. West Texas Intermediate futures, the U.S. marker, jumped 5.6 percent to $51.98 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“Yemen is not an oil producer of great significance but it is located geographically and politically in a very important part of the Middle East,” said Ric Spooner, a chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.