Sunday, November 9, 2008

Forward Looking

Often a term used to describe the market, as if it somehow looks into the future 6 months down the road and tells us where we'll be. I find this hard to believe given the pressure on public companies to produce quarterly results and even now, in the worst of times, improving monthly figures.

I remember the excitement over companies like Disney, living high off of recent movie successes and thriving theme park revenue, pushing guidance higher for the year in April. How they could not have seen then that the failure of a movie or two and impending recession wouldn't hurt Disney World bookings I have no idea, but that's what they told us on Friday.

Along with Disney, retailers look to make some history this week. If October reveals another decline in sales, it would make 4 consecutive months, the first time since 1974. "'October will prove to be a disaster for retail sales, with only the discounters having anything to cheer about,'wrote Avery Shenfeld, an economist for CIBC World Markets."

At least some of the denial plaguing our financial industry has come to an end. Hedge fund managers turned in some all-time bad performances in October. "Steve Galbraith, a partner at Lee Ainslie's Maverick Capital, read about 25 letters other hedge funds sent to their investors in October. 'The tone of the discourse was funereal.'"

The same Marketwatch article takes a poke at Mr. Buffett, advising us to buy stocks from his throne up above. "Be careful buying ANYTHING today," Kyle Bass, managing partner of Hayman Advisors, warned in an Oct. 17 letter to investors. "There will be a time to buy stocks," he added. "That time is a few years into the future when the strong have separated themselves from the week ... a time when unemployment has hit 10% and U.S. GDP has dropped 4-5% (maybe more)." "Mr. Buffett has enough money to be able to have his holdings drop 50% and still fly in his jets and live the way in which he has become accustomed," Bass wrote. "Do you have enough capital to take what you have left, cut it in half, and continue to live the way you have for the past few years? I don't." I don't either.

Barron's has also fessed up, admitting that their recos on both GM stock and bonds have been bad ones. With the price now under $5, admitting that "our enthusiasm for GM was clearly wrong, as was a suggestion that its bonds, like the senior note maturing July 15, 2041, would be more valuable" seems a bit late.

If the market does continue to "look forward," perhaps keep President Elect Obama's words this past week in mind. "There will be many false starts and missteps." I see no reason for stocks to go up at this point. Two more banks failed on Friday and I think that we are a hundred away from the total count. Trying to find a silver lining in Friday's rally is useless. Look no further than the 10% decline the previous two days to find an explanation.

I am curious to see what my readers think of a potential Big 3 bailout. Personally, I'm torn about it. The pension and job losses would be disastrous. But how much more money can we put towards dead companies in dying industries before we let things hit bottom? How soon before Obama signs off on a homeowner bailout, and at what cost to the dollar and our long term economic health?


Tiger Coach said...

Ax... Great article! Retail numbers should be "HORRIFIC" this week! Unemployment unfortunately, is picking up momentum... The failure of one of the Big Three is imminent. I'll take my pick of Chrysler as of now... Regardless, even Chrysler will cause another 200-300,000 in related job loss. Ford and GM will clearly benefit if Obama tests a health care plan...and uses former employees as the guinea pigs.

Casinos and commercial real estate not to mention emegring markets and China should all take a beating... What currency should replace teh dollar? The Euro or Swiss Franc?


DCNorth said...

Hey Ax,

I have worked for an off shore auto manufacturer for a number of years at their head office. The job losses they are projecting are bad, no, brutal if they start having to lay people off. It's sad that so many people will suffer if they go under but I believe that it is a necessary pain that needs to happen.

We can point the fingers at a number of places, but ultimately, management must bear the punishment for their faults.

Lack of competitive product. Big 3 do have some great small cars in Europe! By why aren't they here? Why is the new F-150 causing Ford to hire back 1000 people, and the Camaro and Charger being brought back with all this hype? The Euro Focus should be landing on the shores HERE! I had the (dis)pleasure of renting a Challenger and what a horrible vehicle. The interior felt cheap, plasticy and had these garbage wipers.

Too many brands. GM has something like 80+ different vehicles! They have 3X the product as Toyota and spend half the R&D they do.

Why did they give the unions so much? They should be taking a huge cut too! The Japanese CEO's make a lot less than their american counterparts. The Honda CEO split 13M between himself and 36 other board members.

People also forget that a lot of foreign mfgs have shops in the US too. Toyota has their Camry plant in Kentucky, Truck plant in Texas. Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and their parts manufacturers are all building here in the US. VW has even said that they need a US plant to compete.

But mostly, I believe in American innovation and capitalism. I remember when Apple was hurting and was ready to cry uncle (a looooong time ago). Sony dropped the ball despite making "Walkman" a household term back when I was a kid. Everywhere you go you see people with Ipods with songs purchased from Itunes. Internet Explorer was the "big concern" and Yahoo was this awesome search engine. Now Google has come and practically owns the search business!

They need to file for bankruptcy protection, re-write those union contracts to a competitive level become smaller and more nimble.


AX said...

DC, best post to date, thanks for the insight. It's shocking to see how the runaway cycle of easy credit has come full circle into a temporary asset deflation. I'm seeing ads for Nissan Altimas for $199/month, 0% financing, 0% financing on Camrys and Accords, and high-end BMWs for $399/month. I was lamenting the prices of housing and cars with my wife last night, saying I wish we had bought at current prices. She reminded me that the two jobs she had prior to leaving for maternity don't exist anymore.....

Samir said...


I agree with what dcnorth says about the big 3. The one major thing that sticks out to me is why the big three are in the trouble they are now. To me it is seems they were clearly not ready for a global economy. Unfortunately toyota, honda, and all the other international companies ate the Big's 3 lunch in front of them.

The consumer went towards the imported cars for a reason. We as americans need to reinvest and make our american cars better than the competition. I say we let them fail or place drastic actions on them to improve their products (ie gas mileage, wear and tear lasting past 70K without major problems like the imports). I do realize there will be drastic job losses however I firmly believe it will be for the better in the long run. Many people will need to be retrained and as they get that new training there will be new jobs, a demographic shift and an overall better and more competitive job market for the new generation.


AX said...


Your assessment is a good one. Simply getting into most American cars makes you think that they'll fall apart. But for many of us who grew up with parents who tried to buy American, an alternative choice became buying foreign cars made here. We are not competing on this product and we have been punished, rightfully so. The technology must change, or flush these 3, and all of the jobs with them.

Thank you for your continued support in not patronizing the enemy (Capital Grill)!

Brand You said...

You asked "How soon before Obama signs off on a homeowner bailout?" I think he and the rest of the world already did. Oh the poor, helpless consumer was victimized. I say AX FOR PRESIDENT!

DCNorth said...

Hey Ax,

Was watching the news about how those that have >3 months in arrears, owe >90% on their house are entitled to get this.

a) A reduction in the interest rate on their house
b) An increase in the their mortgage
c) Interest only to help get them out.

What? Why do the stupid ones get everything? I was shaking my head when I saw that piece of nonsense!

DCNorth said...

Oh, and about the auto market,

That 2.5 to 3 million jobs number is estimated by the Center for Automotive Research...which is funded by...the Detroit Automakers! Now would you think that they might slightly inflate those numbers?

Our finance minister is getting calls to not assist the auto industry, and his constituents live in the huge GM riding!

What I find interesting is that no one has said that if the money is handed out, how many jobs will still be LOST. Someone will buy someone and there will be cuts needed to survive! You can't make people buy something that they don't want.


AX said...

DC, good to see you all fired up! As far as these bogus mortgage re-fis go, with people getting to make payments as low as $500, there are going to be some dire unintended consequences. One,they are just delaying the death spiral of the people in those homes and putting a temporary false bottom on prices. Two, people who are in doubt as to whether or not to make payments will now gladly forego payments for 90 days to get into one of these programs as their credit is likely shot already.

As far as automakers are concerned, you're exactly right again. Nobody wants these cars at any price. Their business model is a dead one. Why, as Ackerman pointed out today, throw them money only to see it flushed. They should only be given that money under an organized bankruptcy structure. And the total jobs count? No way it's 3 million, even if you include all of the peripheral services.