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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - John Mauldin

RealClearPolitics - Articles - John Mauldin

Last Build Date: Sat, 11 Apr 2009 09:47:34 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Is That Recovery We See?

Sat, 11 Apr 2009 09:47:34 -0600

Is That Recovery We See?This week the market seemed to like financial stocks and was buoyed on news that Pulte Homes would buy Centex to create the largest US homebuilder. And with banks having some room to adjust their writedowns as mark-to-market is modified, the market saw significant increases in the financial sector. Everywhere I keep hearing the old saw that the market predicts a recovery about six months out, so won't we see a recovery in the fourth quarter of 2009?If you look at earnings estimates for 2009, that is what is suggested. Bloomberg reports that profits at S&P 500 companies probably fell 38% on average in the first quarter. The stretch of quarterly declines is the longest since at least the Great Depression, data compiled by S&P and Bloomberg show. Earnings may drop 31% in the second quarter and 18% in the next before gaining 74% in the last three months of the year, analysts predict. Banks are projected to account for all of the rebound in the final quarter. Without financial companies, the gain turns into a 5% decline, the data show. The above estimates are based on operating earnings, not as-reported earnings. Long-time readers know that operating earnings are actually earnings before interest and Bad Stuff. As-reported earnings are what companies actually report on their tax reports, and as a gauge of profitability they are much more reliable. Before the mid-'90s the difference between operating and as-reported earnings was typically quite small. Then companies found they could play the market if they played games with their operating earnings.Operating earnings typically do not take into account one-time, nonrecurring events. The number of items which get classified as "nonrecurring" has mushroomed to the point where projected operating earnings for 2009 are more than double the estimates of as-reported earnings. Operating earnings for 2008 were almost three times actual, or as-reported, earnings. We certainly seem to have entered an era of really bad one-time events, which just keep on coming and coming. As recently as 2006, there was less than a 10% difference between the two. In some quarters it was only 5%. A far cry from today's 100%-plus.Those Wild and Crazy AnalystsAnalysts, who as a group have been egregiously bad at predicting earnings of financial stocks for the last two years, would have us believe they are due for a large rise in the 4th quarter. Let's visit those assumptions for a few minutes.They contend that much of the bad news in the subprime-loan and housing market has been written off. And one would have to admit that a lot has been; and with the relaxation of mark-to-market, there may indeed be some truth to that suggestion. But there are still some issues that remain for housing. Take a look at the graph below. (Not sure where it is from, as it was sent to me, but I have seen the same data elsewhere.) Notice that monthly mortgage-rate resets declined markedly in 2009 from 2008, but are expected to rise again in 2010 and 2011. There is still some heartburn in the mortgage market.The Shadow Inventory of HomesAnd foreclosures keep climbing, though some point to that fact that they seem to be leveling off. However, a strange thing is happening. We are seeing what is being called a "shadow inventory" of foreclosed homes. "We believe there are in the neighborhood of 600,000 properties nationwide that banks have repossessed but not put on the market," said Rick Sharga, vice president of RealtyTrac, which compiles nationwide statistics on foreclosures. "California probably represents 80,000 of those homes. It could be disastrous if the banks suddenly flooded the market with those distressed properties. You'd have further depreciation and carnage." (San Francisco Chronicle)A Realty Trac survey found that only 30% of foreclosures were listed for sale in real estate listings like the MLS (Multiple Listing Service). Add in homes that people would like to sell but simply can't find buyers for, and must either hold or rent, and the unsold inventory numbers that are public are likely[...]