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Frauds and Bear Markets


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Guest Cameron

Considering that bear markets have historically exposed some sort of fraud going on in the market, I figured since we are in the second longest bull market it might be fun to speculate on where the fraud might come from when the music stops.

 

My guess is companies involved in subscription based business models, Wall Street loves them too much.

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I am going to guess that you will see fraud where you see debt...

 

I don't think you will too much of it at the "TBTF" banks.  They are under too much scrutiny.

 

You might see it with auto lending & leasing.  There have hints, rumors & whispers that WAY too many loans are being given out and underwriting standards are too low.

 

On a different tack, you might see a collapse of student loans, lending & "for profit" education.  There have been reports that MANY student loans are in "soft" default.  That is, the borrower will apply for hardship exemptions, they will get on "IBR" (income based repayment), or other special programs.  There are reports that almost HALF of student loans are not being paid on, OR that they are on some type of assistance and making vastly reduced payments at best.  I know for a fact that there is TONS of goofiness going on here.  What I do not know for sure is if the number is 50%...some people say it is even higher than that...others say it is bad, but not 50% bad (maybe 25% to 30%)?

 

There is also a problem with institutions of higher learning enticing students to take out incredible levels of debt to pay for their "education".  Word is getting out that there is a problem with this and enrollment at some schools is declining.  What happens if a trickle turns into a torrent of prospective students refusing to enroll?

 

OR

 

What about companies that are not a "scam" per se...but are running on questionable business strategies?  For example, there are some "high tech" companies that have sales...but little or no hope of profit.  These companies are multi-billion market cap companies.  What happens if they are no longer Wall Street darlings?  What happens if they actually have to start making money?  You could see their business models collapse, perhaps prompting a broader market route?

 

OR

 

What if you have the general economy start to slow down and retail further collapse?  A bad "black Friday" followed by weak Christmas sales?  That could prompt some big name retail bankruptcies...followed by smaller name collapses...followed by problems with real estate...followed by problems with lending/banks?  This then starts a negative feedback loop and the market goes down substantially.

 

OR

 

could be something totally out of the blue that few are expecting. 

 

I certainly hope things stay strong for a while longer...

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I completely agree with the three quoted below. I would like to add that there is absolutely insane behavior within subprime auto lending, that has been well documented for some time for those willing to look. Luckily subprime auto is small in size relative to the total economy.

 

I would like to add crypto currencies. If we aren't there yet, it will eventually attract fraudulent operators. Read the recent Grant's for an indication of the willingness to purchase against all reason.

 

Finally, I think entrepreneurship and Venture and Angel Capital jumped the shark a while ago. Eventually there are going to be some very unhappy investors. Luckily most of these frauds will not be anywhere near the dollar value of Theranos and in aggregate will not be that large relative to the real economy.

 

With time any of these areas of irrational behavior could grow in size enough to be of great concern although we have a long way to go.

 

I am going to guess that you will see fraud where you see debt...

 

You might see it with auto lending & leasing.  There have hints, rumors & whispers that WAY too many loans are being given out and underwriting standards are too low.

 

OR

 

What about companies that are not a "scam" per se...but are running on questionable business strategies?  For example, there are some "high tech" companies that have sales...but little or no hope of profit.  These companies are multi-billion market cap companies.  What happens if they are no longer Wall Street darlings?  What happens if they actually have to start making money?  You could see their business models collapse, perhaps prompting a broader market route?

 

 

I certainly hope things stay strong for a while longer...

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Tesla?

 

This seems the most likely to me. They build great products, but haven't yet figured out how to sell them for more than it costs them to make them. They burned $1+ billion prior to the acquisition of Solar City and that was burning $1+ billion too.

 

All of the Musk companies seem like a giant circle jerk - they're buying one another, being the largest investor in the bonds of one another, propping up one another, etc. all while each loses money. These things are only floated at the goodwill of shareholders/debt holders who don't seem to care that the companies, in their current form, or totally unsustainable.

 

If the whole things works, they'll likely end up as powerhouses within their respective industries. If even a singel thing goes wrong at one, it's possible that it brings all 3 down.

 

 

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Guest Cameron

I completely agree with the three quoted below. I would like to add that there is absolutely insane behavior within subprime auto lending, that has been well documented for some time for those willing to look. Luckily subprime auto is small in size relative to the total economy.

 

I would like to add crypto currencies. If we aren't there yet, it will eventually attract fraudulent operators. Read the recent Grant's for an indication of the willingness to purchase against all reason.

 

Finally, I think entrepreneurship and venture and angle capital jumped the shark a while ago. Eventually there are going to be some very unhappy investors. Luckily most of these frauds will not be anywhere near the dollar value of Theranos and in aggregate will not be that large relative to the real economy.

 

With time any of these areas of irrational behavior could grow in size enough to be of great concern although we have a long way to go.

 

I am going to guess that you will see fraud where you see debt...

 

You might see it with auto lending & leasing.  There have hints, rumors & whispers that WAY too many loans are being given out and underwriting standards are too low.

 

OR

 

What about companies that are not a "scam" per se...but are running on questionable business strategies?  For example, there are some "high tech" companies that have sales...but little or no hope of profit.  These companies are multi-billion market cap companies.  What happens if they are no longer Wall Street darlings?  What happens if they actually have to start making money?  You could see their business models collapse, perhaps prompting a broader market route?

 

 

I certainly hope things stay strong for a while longer...

 

Speaking of Venture Capital jumping ship, they got out just in time with IPO'ing J.Jill, down 50% today. Also the retail decline isn't all Amazon or E-commerce the US overbuilt retail locations for years and we are finally seeing the impact.

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Tesla?

 

This seems the most likely to me. They build great products, but haven't yet figured out how to sell them for more than it costs them to make them. They burned $1+ billion prior to the acquisition of Solar City and that was burning $1+ billion too.

 

All of the Musk companies seem like a giant circle jerk - they're buying one another, being the largest investor in the bonds of one another, propping up one another, etc. all while each loses money. These things are only floated at the goodwill of shareholders/debt holders who don't seem to care that the companies, in their current form, or totally unsustainable.

 

If the whole things works, they'll likely end up as powerhouses within their respective industries. If even a singel thing goes wrong at one, it's possible that it brings all 3 down.

 

Yeah, Whose lending Tesla $2 billion during a recession? If credit creation slightly slips its a dead man walking.

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Tesla?

 

This seems the most likely to me. They build great products, but haven't yet figured out how to sell them for more than it costs them to make them. They burned $1+ billion prior to the acquisition of Solar City and that was burning $1+ billion too.

 

All of the Musk companies seem like a giant circle jerk - they're buying one another, being the largest investor in the bonds of one another, propping up one another, etc. all while each loses money. These things are only floated at the goodwill of shareholders/debt holders who don't seem to care that the companies, in their current form, or totally unsustainable.

 

If the whole things works, they'll likely end up as powerhouses within their respective industries. If even a singel thing goes wrong at one, it's possible that it brings all 3 down.

 

Yeah, Whose lending Tesla $2 billion during a recession? If credit creation slightly slips its a dead man walking.

 

I think the question is probably, who is buying Tesla in a recession? Could easily see one of the big tech firms buying Tesla if Elon gets desperate and can no longer fund operations.

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Tesla?

 

This seems the most likely to me. They build great products, but haven't yet figured out how to sell them for more than it costs them to make them. They burned $1+ billion prior to the acquisition of Solar City and that was burning $1+ billion too.

 

All of the Musk companies seem like a giant circle jerk - they're buying one another, being the largest investor in the bonds of one another, propping up one another, etc. all while each loses money. These things are only floated at the goodwill of shareholders/debt holders who don't seem to care that the companies, in their current form, or totally unsustainable.

 

If the whole things works, they'll likely end up as powerhouses within their respective industries. If even a singel thing goes wrong at one, it's possible that it brings all 3 down.

 

Yeah, Whose lending Tesla $2 billion during a recession? If credit creation slightly slips its a dead man walking.

 

I think the question is probably, who is buying Tesla in a recession? Could easily see one of the big tech firms buying Tesla if Elon gets desperate and can no longer fund operations.

 

I dunno - maybe?  But then Elon would have to go. Not a frequent success story when founders/CEOs stay on as something other than founder/CEO - especially a personality as strong as Elon.

 

Tesla was saved once by a investment from Mercedes. I think it's more likely one of the big auto companies would save Tesla at that point - but at what price? Tesla's valuation would likely have to drop precipitously to where it was more closely aligned with current multiples of other major manufacturers before they'd make a bid.

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Tesla?

 

This seems the most likely to me. They build great products, but haven't yet figured out how to sell them for more than it costs them to make them. They burned $1+ billion prior to the acquisition of Solar City and that was burning $1+ billion too.

 

http://www.cornerofberkshireandfairfax.ca/forum/investment-ideas/tsla-tesla-motors/msg311666/#msg311666

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I think the question is probably, who is buying Tesla in a recession? Could easily see one of the big tech firms buying Tesla if Elon gets desperate and can no longer fund operations.

 

Google or Apple. Google already tried to buy Tesla in 2012, and Musk and Larry Page are close friends.

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Guest Cameron

Debt-lots of this with auto loans---higher interest rates/longer terms/not enough due diligence and higher default rates.  It's hard for most people to get to work without a car.

 

I've been doing research on this since it was first mentioned this morning Santander, the biggest auto lender only checks 13% of their loans for income verification.

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According to Grant's newsletter...it might be Bridgewater. If that's the case then, whoa.

 

can you elaborate or quote the newsletter .....

 

One of the points brought up is that they have had the same net return as the Wasatch-Hoisington U.S. Treasury Fund since 1996 which is 7.9%. Could be a coincidence.

Also something about only 2 of the 33 funds having a prime broker and the 2 that do are 99% owned by employees.

 

If Bridgewater is a fraud it would be a shame, I doubt that they are.

 

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Tesla?

 

This seems the most likely to me. They build great products, but haven't yet figured out how to sell them for more than it costs them to make them. They burned $1+ billion prior to the acquisition of Solar City and that was burning $1+ billion too.

 

http://www.cornerofberkshireandfairfax.ca/forum/investment-ideas/tsla-tesla-motors/msg311666/#msg311666

 

I get that it's mostly "growth" CapEx and that they're pushing the industry forward. I don't see how investors benefit from that. Model 3 is sexy - they sell a ton of them and business continues to generate massive losses. They issue more shares and more debt. Build a model S - it's sexy and sell, but they continue to generate massive losses. More shares and more debt. They start developing model X and build a battery factory. It's sexy and sells - they still generate massive losses and buy a semi-related business that's also hemorraghing cash (growth CapEx???). More shares and more debt.

 

I'm not saying that Elon Musk is a failure or that Tesla builds bad cars or whatever. I'm saying they live by the grace of the capital markets and capital markets are fickle things. This month they love Tesla - next month they may hate it.

 

Tesla isn't like Amazon where they can just shut off the spicket of CapEx spending and start minting billions. They shut off the spicket of capital spending and then their sales disappear and all prior revenues were already it on fire so they have nothing left to show for it except a name and an empty factory. Is there value to that brand? Yes. Is it more valuable than all the collections of brands, cash, and assets of other sustainable car manufacturers? I highly doubt it.

 

Maybe they succeed and evolve into a sustainable business model with staying power. Right now - they aren't. It's that simple. They've "generated" enormous wealth for those who are ok with a massively levered company who is swinging for the fences. If they hit a home run - everyone is rich. If they fall short - everyone is broke. There won't be an in between with Tesla.

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Here's my thing with auto loans, they're too small to move the needle.

 

Look at past debt fueled falls, the debt is LBO deals, sovereign debt, or housing debt.  The smallest end is housing debt, but we're still talking $200k-500k sometimes more in HCL areas.  Contrast this with subprime auto, a $15k loan for a Dodge Neon at the high end.  Maybe all those Neon loans go bad at once, there is still an underlying value, probably 50% of the face value, so a $7.5k markdown.  How many of those loans do you need to make to equal one or two phoney home loans, and or a few bad pieces of corporate debt?

 

I don't dispute that there is probably bad auto lending, but my point is this isn't the rot that will kill the system.  Beyond that auto lending is a small portion of most bank's loan books.  It isn't like residential or commercial lending where that amount dominates the book.

 

For my $.02 it will be something that rocks the confidence of the system.  Right now we have confidence in everything.  Even TSLA which is having trouble producing cars is given a halo.  Same with fraud laden ICO's, they've been given a market blessing.  At some point some event will happen and people's eyes will be opened.  When the confidence flows out a lot of things are going to fall like a rock. 

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Oddball, I completely agree with the size of the auto loan market, and your assessment of one type of scenario that could bring down the system, however the original post asked:

 

Considering that bear markets have historically exposed some sort of fraud going on in the market, I figured since we are in the second longest bull market it might be fun to speculate on where the fraud might come from when the music stops.

 

The question asks what might be exposed in a crash not what might precipitate a fall. Therefore, I think auto loans are an appropriate topic for this thread. Plus, if I am right there are loans that are much more egregious than most people expect and the effect will be worse than expected for those invested or employed with the bad actors, if these risks are not disclosed and priced appropriately. Also, there will likely be many different types of frauds of various sizes exposed just like in previous crashes.

 

Oddball, I think your assumptions regarding subprime auto lending are very reasonable. However there is lending that has been unreasonable. Therefore you are making rational assumptions about actors who are behaving irrationally*, which might underestimate the problem. I would think of something closer to loan of $30k backed up by a $15K Dodge Neon. So though the size of the problem might be small relative to the economy, the lending standards are insane. By the way, how you might ask to you get an above market value auto loan? Well you simply end up upside down in your previous car or cars, and then find a lender to roll that debt in to your loan to purchase your next car. So this is not really an asset backed loan, it is really backed by the borrowers earnings, which might disappear in a recession or crash.

 

At the other extreme I have also observed a different type of crazy auto lending. Here are some stories from personal conversations I had with people. I recently spent time with owners of cars worth more well in excess of $100k (some of whom were young people who seemed to have no discernible real assets or source of income). What was shocking to me is that every one of these cars I inquired about was financed to the gills. People were very happy to talk to me about how smart it was to buy them with as much debt as possible. The logic was that prices were only going to go up on the cars, and they would not want to have their money tied up in a car when they could make so much more money in the stock market. Though they did not say so, this seems to assume that stock prices also only go up. I was further shocked that the loan rates many of these people were getting were close to prime mortgage rates.

 

I also talked to people who planned to buy classic or exotic cars. They all planned on buying with debt. I also met collectors who owned multiple Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Aston Martins, etc. What was shocking to me is that these collectors were financing their collections at near 100% LTV. I kept asking these enthusiasts if they had any concerns about this, and they said that they aren't making any more of these cars and prices only go up. Does that sound familiar? I literally couldn't convince any owners of these rare, exotic, or classic cars that prices could go down.

 

Obviously if there aren't enough Dodge Neon's to bring down the system, then there aren't enough classic 911's to bring down the system either. However, to anyone who invested in these loans above asset value, or in bubble priced collectors cars, is likely to be very unhappy someday down the line. You may need a car to get work, but you don't need a $100k car to get to work, and you certainly don't need a collection of cars. When the crash comes, a lot of these people won't have jobs anyway. Plus if we see this type of truly insane lending going on, what else is there in the sector that we aren't seeing?

 

Here's my thing with auto loans, they're too small to move the needle.

 

Look at past debt fueled falls, the debt is LBO deals, sovereign debt, or housing debt.  The smallest end is housing debt, but we're still talking $200k-500k sometimes more in HCL areas.  Contrast this with subprime auto, a $15k loan for a Dodge Neon at the high end.  Maybe all those Neon loans go bad at once, there is still an underlying value, probably 50% of the face value, so a $7.5k markdown.  How many of those loans do you need to make to equal one or two phoney home loans, and or a few bad pieces of corporate debt?

 

I don't dispute that there is probably bad auto lending, but my point is this isn't the rot that will kill the system.  Beyond that auto lending is a small portion of most bank's loan books.  It isn't like residential or commercial lending where that amount dominates the book.

 

For my $.02 it will be something that rocks the confidence of the system.  Right now we have confidence in everything.  Even TSLA which is having trouble producing cars is given a halo.  Same with fraud laden ICO's, they've been given a market blessing.  At some point some event will happen and people's eyes will be opened.  When the confidence flows out a lot of things are going to fall like a rock.

 

*These behaviors appear irrational because from the outside it is difficult to overcome your assumptions about the incentives and motives of the participants. Once you understand the true incentives and motivations of the individual actors, and how different they can be from what we would hope they are, then these actors start to appear rational in a perverted market suffering from a similar type of logic and incentives that lead to the previous implosion of subprime real estate lending.

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Oddball, I completely agree with the size of the auto loan market, and your assessment of one type of scenario that could bring down the system, however the original post asked:

 

Considering that bear markets have historically exposed some sort of fraud going on in the market, I figured since we are in the second longest bull market it might be fun to speculate on where the fraud might come from when the music stops.

 

The question asks what might be exposed in a crash not what might precipitate a fall. Therefore, I think auto loans are an appropriate topic for this thread. Plus, if I am right there are loans that are much more egregious than most people expect and the effect will be worse than expected for those invested or employed with the bad actors, if these risks are not disclosed and priced appropriately. Also, there will likely be many different types of frauds of various sizes exposed just like in previous crashes.

 

Oddball, I think your assumptions regarding subprime auto lending are very reasonable. However there is lending that has been unreasonable. Therefore you are making rational assumptions about actors who are behaving irrationally, which might underestimate the problem. I would think of something closer to loan of $30k backed up by a $15K Dodge Neon. So though the size of the problem might be small relative to the economy, the lending standards are insane. By the way, how you might ask to you get an above market value auto loan? Well you simply end up upside down in your previous car or cars, and then find a lender to roll that debt in to your loan to purchase your next car. So this is not really an asset backed loan, it is really backed by the borrowers earnings, which might disappear in a recession or crash.

 

At the other extreme I have also observed a different type of crazy auto lending. Here are some stories from personal conversations I had with people. I recently spent time with owners of cars worth more well in excess of $100k (some of whom were young people who seemed to have no discernible real assets or source of income). What was shocking to me is that every one of these cars I inquired about was financed to the gills. People were very happy to talk to me about how smart it was to buy them with as much debt as possible. The logic was that prices were only going to go up on the cars, and they would not want to have their money tied up in a car when they could make so much more money in the stock market. Though they did not say so, this seems to assume that stock prices also only go up. I was further shocked that the loan rates many of these people were getting were close to prime mortgage rates.

 

I also talked to people who planned to buy classic or exotic cars. They all planned on buying with debt. I also met collectors who owned multiple Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Aston Martins, etc. What was shocking to me is that these collectors were financing their collections at near 100% LTV. I kept asking these enthusiasts if they had any concerns about this, and they said that they aren't making any more of these cars and prices only go up. Does that sound familiar? I literally couldn't convince any owners of these rare, exotic, or classic cars that prices could go down.

 

Obviously if there aren't enough Dodge Neon's to bring down the system, then there aren't enough classic 911's to bring down the system either. However, to anyone who invested in these loans above asset value, or in bubble priced collectors cars, is likely to be very unhappy someday down the line. You may need a car to get work, but you don't need a $100k car to get to work, and you certainly don't need a collection of cars. When the crash comes, a lot of these people won't have jobs anyway. Plus if we see this type of truly insane lending going on, what else is there in the sector that we aren't seeing?

 

Here's my thing with auto loans, they're too small to move the needle.

 

Look at past debt fueled falls, the debt is LBO deals, sovereign debt, or housing debt.  The smallest end is housing debt, but we're still talking $200k-500k sometimes more in HCL areas.  Contrast this with subprime auto, a $15k loan for a Dodge Neon at the high end.  Maybe all those Neon loans go bad at once, there is still an underlying value, probably 50% of the face value, so a $7.5k markdown.  How many of those loans do you need to make to equal one or two phoney home loans, and or a few bad pieces of corporate debt?

 

I don't dispute that there is probably bad auto lending, but my point is this isn't the rot that will kill the system.  Beyond that auto lending is a small portion of most bank's loan books.  It isn't like residential or commercial lending where that amount dominates the book.

 

For my $.02 it will be something that rocks the confidence of the system.  Right now we have confidence in everything.  Even TSLA which is having trouble producing cars is given a halo.  Same with fraud laden ICO's, they've been given a market blessing.  At some point some event will happen and people's eyes will be opened.  When the confidence flows out a lot of things are going to fall like a rock.

 

Great post Read the Foot Notes.  I think autolending sounds extremely stupid.  Same old pattern of the credit cycle where lenders beat themselves up to make idiotic loans.  I heard that autolenders are making loans at more than the car is worth now.  A local competitor was passing on these loans (for regular cars) as they didn't make sense.  The auto lending will blow up bad - not sure when though and everyone connected with the boom will get hurt.

 

Defaults are already rising - and this is into a good economy.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-17/new-u-s-subprime-boom-same-old-sins-auto-defaults-are-soaring

 

And those collector cars can go way down.  Sounds like a dumb bubble to me.  Expensive cars to maintain also.

Interesting that no one would listen to you.

 

What were their responses when you said the prices could go down?

 

In my experience when people get drunk in making easy profits it just over rides everything else and they don't listen at all.  Very emotional creatures we are.

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What were their responses when you said the prices could go down?

 

 

There were never any responses. Why would they respond to someone who clearly doesn't understand?

 

To be a bit more serious, occasionally someone would respond. Usually they would treat me like a ignorant novice that they were trying to educate. They told me that I did not understand and that supply would never increase because they were never going to make any more of these cars and therefore the price would only go up as a result.

 

What is really scary is when you realize that almost none of the people I spoke to own these cars outright. In some of my informal and clearly biased samples essentially all were financed. If these samples have the least bit of predictive power, when the crash comes, it will hit hard. This part totally shocked me. If I were going to buy a toy, I would pay cash and keep the amount so small that if I took a totally loss I wouldn't care. I had mistakenly assumed other people overwhelmingly would pursue the same approach.

 

To reiterate, I am fully aware that this is a small subset and of a small portion of ABS and poses no systemic risk and I am not aware of any SINGLE bubble at the moment that really does.

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Hey all:

 

While sub-prime auto loans are almost certainly not enough to touch off a correction or market collapse BY THEMSELVES, they certainly could be the match that sets off the chain of events that does.  Sub-prime loans take down a bank or two or three OR maybe an auto manufacturer, or a couple of large hedge funds, OR some pension funds...and then the market goes down 15% and then that touches off more pension collapses....and on and on...

 

 

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