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Dale Franks

Dale Franks’ QandO posts

Economic Statistics for 7 Mar 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports mortgage applications fell -1.2% last week, with purchase apps up 2.1%, but re-fis down -2.0%.

The ADP Employment Report estimates that February net new jobs in Friday’s Employment Situation report will rise by 216,000.

The final revision for 4Q productivity shows a 0.9% increase in productivity for the quarter, but with a 2.8% increase in unit labor costs. Productivity gains are modest, while labor costs are escalating.  This is not good for continued labor growth.

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Dale Franks
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Oh. This can’t be good…

Via Zero Hedge, I’ve acquired this very interesting little chart, that shows the number of margin calls on its credit-extensions to counterparties. Huh. Now, see, I just wrote that, and I have no idea what it means. It’s just lots of economic gobbledy-gook when you write it out in a single sentence like that.  But, here, let’s take a gander at the chart, then I’ll explain, in human terms, what it tells us.

20120306_ECB

So, the European Central Bank (ECB) had this great idea, which was to implement a European version of Quantitative Easing. They called it the Long-Term Refinancing Operation, or LTRO.

It was actually pretty simple. The banks would go to the ECB and get an LTRO loan by providing collateral of some sort—generally A-rated securities. By which, I mean a security that at least one rating agency has rated as "A". Like, you know, Italian bonds. They don’t actually have to give the collateral to the ECB or anything, just let them know that, "Hey, we’ll just keep it safe, and can hand it over if we really have to." On the strength of those assurances, and the sterling quality of the collateral in question, like Spanish bonds, the ECB then gives the banks a huge hunk of cash. The banks then get to keep the money for up to three years, but are only charged the average overnight rate of interest.

Now, as long as the securities you put up for collateral are good, like Irish bonds, it’s a pretty sweet deal. Alas, if the securities turn out not to be so reliable, the ECB will make a "margin call", that is to say, they will demand the banks come up with additional cash or other assets to cover the collateral.

As you can see from the charts, that is exactly what the ECB is is starting to do. That’s troublesome.  You see, the ECB has a €3 trillion balance sheet. But it only has a bit under €11 billion in actual assets. So the ECB has a leverage ratio of a little under 300:1. So, it really does have to go after better assets from the banks if the initial collateral turns, you know, sucky.

The problem then is, as Tyler at Zero Hedge puts it:

The rapid deterioration in collateral asset quality is extremely worrisome(GGBs? European financial sub debt? Papandreou’s Kebab Shop unsecured 2nd lien notes?) as it forces the banks who took the collateralized loans to come up with more ‘precious’ cash or assets (unwind existing profitable trades such as sovereign carry, delever further by selling assets, or subordinate more of the capital structure via pledging more assets – to cover these collateral shortfalls) or pay-down the loan in part. This could very quickly become a self-fulfilling vicious circle – especially given the leverage in both the ECB and the already-insolvent banks that took LTRO loans that now back the main Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese sovereign bond markets.

Essentially, the LTRO program is beginning to suck higher quality assets out of the banks to meet the margin calls that are issued when the initial collateral’s value starts to go belly up. Sucking those higher-quality assets into the ECB’s LTRO collateral program, mean that they can no longer be used to finance business and consumer credit, and, thus, spending. The banks essentially become bond storage warehouses, that don’t actually do any business.

That slows the economy, of course. Which means that those original A-Rated securities stand e much better chance of defaulting, in which case, they’re worth nothing. As Seeking Alpha explains:

The real menace comes in the event of a further weakening of the Eurozone economy. If the economy were to contract, the collateral that the banks have pledged to the ECB may cease to be "performing" (seemingly the only hard criterion for collateral for the second round of LTRO). The ECB would be at risk–and ultimately so would the banks that pledged the defaulting securities.

Any defaults, be they of collateral or the banks themselves, would be a serious issue for the ECB. The ECB is supporting its EUR 3 trillion balance sheet with EUR 10.76 billion in capital–leverage of nearly 300 to one. With the fiscal situation of European sovereigns already strained to the breaking point, it’s hard to see where the money to cover the defaults could come from. This issue of a ballooning balance sheet, coupled with shaky collateral and the 3-year tenor of the ECB loans, is precisely why Trichet and Weber would not go the Draghi route. They bristled at the risk.

The odds of a calamity of the sort that would endanger the ECB are not great, but nor are they impossibly long.

Well, that huge jump in margin calls may be an indicator that those not "impossibly long" odds are getting shorter and shorter. And I wonder how much exposure US banks have to an LTRO default through credit/FX swaps. Probably…really a lot.

So, we got that goin’ for us.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 6 Mar 12

Weekly retail sales are the only thing on the calendar today. Redbook reports sales suffered a -0.4% drop to a 3.0% year-on-year same-store sales rate for the week due to bad weather. ICSC-Goldman, on the other hand, is reporting that, while weekly store sales rose 1.3%, the year-on-year sales rate is only 1.7%, as higher gas prices put more pressure on consumers’ pocketbooks.

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Economic Statistics for 5 Mar 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

Factory orders declined by -0.1% in January, led by weakness in durable goods, which fell -3.8%.

The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index rose five-tenths from last month to a better-than-expected 57.3.

That’s all for today, as we kick off a light week of statistics, with the exception of Friday’s Employment Situation.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 01 Mar 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

Chain stores are reporting sales today, and a large majority are reporting greater rates of year-on-year sales growth in February than in January.

Initial jobless claims were 351,000, down 2,000 from the prior week. The 4-week moving average fell 5,500 to 354,000.

Personal income rose 0.3% in January, up 3.6% for the year. Personal expenditures rose 0.2% for the month, and 3.8% for the year. The Core PCE price index rose 0.2% for the month, and 1.9% for the year.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index posted at -38.8 for the 26 Feb period. This is almost a 4-year high. I don’t know whether that’s supposed to make me happy at the increase, or sad that the high is still a negative number.

The ISM Index fell to 52.4 this month, from 54.1 last month, indicating a slower rate of manufacturing growth.

Construction spending came in well below expectations of a 1% increase, posting a -0.1% decline for the month, though it’s still 7.1% higher than a year ago.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 29 Feb 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US Economy:

The Commerce Department revised fourth quarter GDP growth up to 3.0% from the initial estimate of 2.8%. Mainly, the change stemmed from upward revision to nonresidential fixed investment, a downward revision to imports, and an upward revision to personal consumption. Interestingly, inflation, as measured by the GDP price index, was revised upwards to 0.9%. That’s quite a drop from 3Q, where it was measured at 2.6%, despite 3Q growth being significantly slower at 1.8%

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports mortgage applications fell by -0.3% last week as refinance apps dropped -2.2%. Purchase apps jumped 8.3%, though MBA isn’t impressed with that gain.  They note, "Purchase application volume increased over the week, but remains within the narrow and anemic range of activity we have seen since the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit in May 2010."

The Chicago Purchasing Manager’s Index rose sharply to 64 from 60.2 last month. The Production, New Orders, and Employment sub-indexes were all up sharply. The Chicago PMI is widely seen as a predictor of the national ISM Index, which is due out tomorrow.

The Feds "beige book", which compiles anecdotal evidence on economic conditions from each of the 12 Federal Reserve districts, is due out later today. This document generally serves as a guide to Fed policy makers at the regular meetings of the FOMC, which determine the Fed’s monetary policy moves.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 28 Feb 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US Economy:

Durable goods orders fell -4.0% for January, but were still 8.1% higher than a year ago. Ex-transportation, orders fell -2.3% for the month, but were up 5.7% over last year.

Home prices are still falling, as Case-Schiller reports prices dropped a steep -0.5% in December. That’s down -4.0% from last December.

Consumer confidence jumped more than 9 points to 70.8. That’s still below the February 2011 index of 72.0, however.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index jumped sharply, up 8 points to 20, indicating a strong increase in manufacturing in the district. This continues the trend of strong regional manufacturing reports we’ve been seeing, but is at odds with the weak durable goods orders data also released this morning.

State Street’s Investor Confidence Index says institutional investors may be getting skittish, as the index dropped to a very weak 86.5 in February.

In retail sales, Redbook reports a strong 3.4% year-over-year increase in same store sales. Conversely, ICSC-Goldman’s same-store sales index fell a big -1.0% for the week, and the year-over-year 2.7% increase is the lowest in three months.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 27 Feb 11

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US Economy:

The National Association of Realtors reports the Pending Home Sales Index rose nearly 2 points to 97.0. Year-on-year, pending sales were up 5.6%.

In the Dallas Fed’s manufacturing survey, the business activity index rose to 17.8, and the production index rose to 11.2.

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Dale Franks
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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 26 Feb 12

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about the president’s energy speech.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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I guess I’m a VFR guy now

Yesterday, on my ride home from work, I decided to go by North County House of motorcycles. While there, I saw a brand new 2010 VFR1200F with the DCT automatic transmission on sale. They’d marked it down from $17,499 to $11,999. So, I traded my FJR1300AE for it on the spot.

DalesNewVFR

This is the only picture I have of it, a crappy cell phone pic the sales guy took just before I geared up and rode off on it. Here’s a professional picture of it:

2010_honda_vfr1200f-normal

I didn’t get saddlebags with it, but I put my tailbag on it as soon as I got home.

In short, the VFR1200F has a V-4 powerplant that puts out a peak of 170HP, and  weighs approximately 600 lbs—which is about 60 lbs less than my FJR, with 145 peak HP. The performance is noticeably superior. It’s shaft-driven, with the shaft putting power to the rear wheel via a single-sided swingarm. It does the 1/4 in 10.2 seconds @ 136MPH. That’s about as fast as I need.

I had a lots of work to do today, so I only got a chance to ride it to the store and back. So I’ve only got 20 miles on it. I can already tell that there’s a bit of a learning curve for it. 

The transmission has an interesting setup. Honda took the dual-clutch transmission they use in their Formula 1 Race cars and fitted it to this motorcycle.  So, there’s no clutch.  You can can either manually shift using buttons on the hand grip, or you can switch it to an automatic transmission with two modes.

In automatic, there’s a standard Drive mode that short-shifts and is very strongly biased to fuel economy…to the extent that you’re in 6th gear by 40mph. Not very exciting at all.  Like a moderately sporty scooter. Then there’s the Sport mode. It’s…the opposite. It shifts at redline. And, while I can’t really use the sport mode much during the break-in period, it is…exciting. Let’s just say you can leave rubber from the rear wheel…in 3rd gear, though with brand-new tires.

You don’t need to know how I know that. Or how badly my pants were soiled.

The main difference is that, unlike the FJR AE model, you don’t have to hit 2,500RPM on the tach before it starts to move. Touch the throttle and it goes. And I mean goes. The performance simply outclasses the FJR in every way…if you want it to.

It’s got lots less wind protection and general cushy comfort than the FJR had, though I knew that going into it. I miss the heated grips, too.

But it’s a stonkin’ great engine. Which is what I was looking for in this case.

My cunning plan is to have both a fancy man’s sporty bike like a VFR or K1300S, and a fancy man’s touring bike, either the R1200RT or K1600GT. So, I guess I’m halfway there.