Why America’s Retail Apocalypse Could Accelerate Even More In 2018

Is the retail apocalypse in the United States about to go to a whole new level? That is a frightening thing to consider, because the truth is that things are already quite bad. We have already shattered the all-time record for store closings in a single year and we still have the rest of November and December to go. Unfortunately, it truly does appear that things will get even worse in 2018, because a tremendous amount of high-yield retail debt is coming due next year. In fact, Bloomberg is reporting that the amount of high-yield retail debt that will mature next year is approximately 19 times larger than the amount that matured this year…

Just $100 million of high-yield retail borrowings were set to mature this year, but that will increase to $1.9 billion in 2018, according to Fitch Ratings Inc. And from 2019 to 2025, it will balloon to an annual average of almost $5 billion. The amount of retail debt considered risky is also rising. Over the past year, high-yield bonds outstanding gained 20 percent, to $35 billion, and the industry’s leveraged loans are up 15 percent, to $152 billion, according to Bloomberg data.

Even worse, this will hit as a record $1 trillion in high-yield debt for all industries comes due over the next five years, according to Moody’s.

Can you say “debt bomb”?

For those of you that are not familiar with these concepts, high-yield debt is considered to be the riskiest form of debt. Retailers all over the nation went on a tremendous debt binge for years, and many of those loans never should have been made. Now that debt is going to start to come due, and many of these retailers simply will not be able to pay.

So how does that concern the rest of us?

Well, just like with the subprime mortgage meltdown, the “spillover” could potentially be enormous. Here is more from Bloomberg

The debt coming due, along with America’s over-stored suburbs and the continued gains of online shopping, has all the makings of a disaster. The spillover will likely flow far and wide across the U.S. economy. There will be displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases and investor losses on stocks, bonds and real estate. If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.

I have written extensively about Sears and other troubled retailers that definitely appear to be headed for zero. But one major retailer that is flying below the radar a little bit that you should keep an eye on is Target. For over a year, conservatives have been boycotting the retailer, and this boycott is really starting to take a toll

Target has been desperately grasping at ideas to recover lost business, including remodeling existing stores and opening smaller stores, lowering prices, hiring more holiday staff and introducing a new home line from Chip and Joanna Gaines. But Target stock remains relatively stagnant, opening at 61.50 today—certainly nowhere near the mid-80s of April 2016, when the AFA boycott began.

In the past, retailers could always count on the middle class to bail them out, but the middle class is steadily shrinking these days. In fact, at this point one out of every five U.S. households has a net worth of zero or less.

And we must also keep in mind that we do not actually deserve the debt-fueled standard of living that we are currently enjoying. We are consuming far more wealth than we are producing, and the only way we are able to do that is by going into unprecedented amounts of debt. The following comes from Egon von Greyerz

Total US debt in 1913 was $39 billion. Today it is $70 trillion, up 1,800X. But that only tells part of the story. There were virtually no unfunded liabilities in 1913. Today they are $130 trillion. So adding the $70 trillion debt to the unfunded liabilities gives a total liability of $200 trillion.

In 1913 US debt to GDP was 150%. Today, including unfunded liabilities, the figure becomes almost 1,000%. This is the burden that ordinary Americans are responsible for, a burden that will break the US people and the US economy as well as the dollar.

The only possible way that the game can go on is to continue to grow our debt much faster than the overall economy is growing.

Of course that is completely unsustainable, and when this debt bubble finally bursts everything is going to collapse.

We don’t know exactly when the next great financial crisis is coming, but we do know that conditions are absolutely perfect for one to erupt. According to John Hussman, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see stock prices fall more than 60 percent from current levels…

At the root of Hussman’s pessimistic market view are stock valuations that look historically stretched by a handful of measures. According to his preferred valuation metric — the ratio of non-financial market cap to corporate gross value-added (Market Cap/GVA) — stocks are more expensive than they were in 1929 and 2000, periods that immediately preceded major market selloffs.

“US equity market valuations at the most offensive levels in history,” he wrote in his November monthly note. “We expect that more extreme valuations will only be met by more severe losses.”

Those losses won’t just include the 63% plunge referenced above — it’ll also be accompanied by a longer 10 to 12 year period over which the S&P 500 will fall, says Hussman.

A financial system that is based on a pyramid of debt will never be sustainable. As I discuss in my new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters”, the design of our current debt-based system is fundamentally flawed, and it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

The borrower is the servant of the lender, and our current system is designed to create as much debt as possible. When it inevitably fails, we need to be ready to offer an alternative, because patching together our current system and trying to re-inflate the bubble is not a real solution.

Michael Snyder is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website. His new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

2017 Is Going To Be The Worst Retail Apocalypse In U.S. History – More Than 300 Retailers Have Already Filed For Bankruptcy

Not even during the worst parts of the last recession did things ever get this bad for the U.S. retail industry. As you will see in this article, more than 300 retailers have already filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and it is being projected that a staggering 8,640 stores will close in America by the end of this calendar year. That would shatter the old record by more than 20 percent. Sadly, our ongoing retail apocalypse appears to only be in the early chapters. One report recently estimated that up to 25 percent of all shopping malls in the country could shut down by 2022 due to the current woes of the retail industry. And if the new financial crisis that is already hitting Europe starts spreading over here, the numbers that I just shared with you could ultimately turn out to be a whole lot worse.

I knew that a lot of retailers were filing for bankruptcy, but I had no idea that the grand total for this year was already in the hundreds. According to CNN, the number of retail bankruptcies is now up 31 percent compared to the same time period last year…

Bankruptcies continue to pile up in the retail industry.

More than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy so far this year, according to data from BankruptcyData.com. That’s up 31% from the same time last year. Most of those filings were for small companies — the proverbial Mom & Pop store with a single location. But there are also plenty of household names on the list.

Yes, the growth of online retailers such as Amazon is fueling some of this, but the Internet has been around for several decades now.

So why are retail store closings and retail bankruptcies surging so dramatically all of a sudden?

Just a few days ago, another major victim of the retail apocalypse made headlines all over the nation when it filed for bankruptcy. At one time Gymboree was absolutely thriving, but now it is in a desperate fight to survive

Children’s clothing chain Gymboree has filed for bankruptcy protection, aiming to slash its debts and close hundreds of stores amid crushing pressure on retailers.

Gymboree said it plans to remain in business but will close 375 to 450 of its 1,281 stores in filing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Gymboree employs more than 11,000 people, including 10,500 hourly workers.

And in recent weeks other major retailers that were once very prosperous have also been forced to close stores and lay off staff

This hemorrhaging of retail jobs comes on the heels of last week’s mass layoffs at Hudson Bay Company, where employees from Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor were among the 2,000 people laid off. The news of HBC layoffs came on the same day that Ascena, the parent company of brands like Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, and Dress Barn, told investors it will be closing up to 650 stores (although it did not specify which brands will be affected just yet). Only two weeks ago, affordable luxury brand Michael Kors announced it too would close 125 stores to combat brand overexposure and plummeting sales.

In a lot of ways this reminds me of 2007. The stock market was still performing very well, but the real economy was starting to come apart at the seams.

And without a doubt, the real economy is really hurting right now. According to Business Insider, Moody’s is warning that 22 more major retailers may be forced to declare bankruptcy in the very near future…

Twenty-two retailers in Moody’s portfolio are in serious financial trouble that could lead to bankruptcy, according to a Moody’s note published on Wednesday. That’s 16% of the 148 companies in the financial firm’s retail group — eclipsing the level of seriously distressed retail companies that Moody’s reported during the Great Recession.

You can find the full list right here. If this many major retailers are “distressed” now, what are things going to look like once the financial markets start crashing?

As thousands of stores close down all across the United States, this is going to put an incredible amount of stress on shopping mall owners. In order to meet their financial obligations, those mall owners need tenants, but now the number of potential tenants is shrinking rapidly.

I have talked about dead malls before, but apparently what we have seen so far is nothing compared to what is coming. The following comes from CNN

Store closings and even dead malls are nothing new, but things might be about to get a whole lot worse.

Between 20% and 25% of American malls will close within five years, according to a new report out this week from Credit Suisse. That kind of plunge would be unprecedented in the nation’s history.

I can’t even imagine what this country is going to look like if a quarter of our shopping malls shut down within the next five years. Already, there are some parts of the U.S. that look like a third world nation.

And what is this going to do to employment? Today, the retail industry employs millions upon millions of Americans, and those jobs could start disappearing very rapidly

The retail sales associate is one of the most popular jobs in the country, with roughly 4.5 million Americans filling the occupation. In May, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released data that found that 7.5 million retail jobs might be replaced by technology. The World Economic Forum predicts 30 to 50 percent of retail jobs will be gone once struggling companies like Gymboree fully hop on the digital train. MarketWatch found that over the last year, the department store space bled 29,900 jobs, while general merchandising stores cut 15,700 positions. At this rate, one Florida columnist put it soberingly, “Half of all US retail jobs could vanish. Just as ATMs replaced many bank tellers, automated check-out stations are supplanting retail clerks.”

At this moment, the number of working age Americans that do not have a job is hovering near a record high. So being able to at least get a job in the retail industry has been a real lifeline for many Americans, and now that lifeline may be in grave danger.

For those running our big corporations, losing these kinds of jobs is not a big deal. In fact, many corporate executives would be quite happy to replace all of their U.S. employees with technology or with foreign workers.

But if the middle class is going to survive, we need an economy that produces good paying jobs. Unfortunately, even poor paying retail jobs are starting to disappear now, and the future of the middle class is looking bleaker than it ever has before.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

12 Signs The Economic Slowdown The Experts Have Been Warning About Is Now Here

Since the election there has been this perception among the American public that the economy is improving, but that has not been the case at all. U.S. GDP growth for the first quarter was just revised up to 1.2 percent, but that is even lower than the average growth of just 1.33 percent that we saw over the previous ten years. But when you look even deeper into the numbers a much more alarming picture emerges. Commercial and industrial loan growth is declining, auto loan defaults are rising, bankruptcies are absolutely surging and we are on pace to break the all-time record for most store closings in a single year in the United States by more than 20 percent. All of these are points that I have covered before, but today I have 12 new facts to share with you. The following are 12 signs that the economic slowdown that the experts have been warning about is now here…

#1 According to Challenger, the number of job cuts in May was 71 percent higher than it was in May 2016.

#2 We just witnessed the third worst drop in U.S. construction spending in the last six years.

#3 U.S. manufacturing PMI fell to an 8 month low in May.

#4 Financial stocks have lost all of their gains for the year, and some analysts are saying that this is “a terrible sign”.

#5 One new survey has found that 39 percent of all millionaires “plan to avoid investing in the coming month”. That is the highest that figure has been since December 2013.

#6 Jobless claims just shot up to a five week high of 248,000.

#7 General Motors just reported another sales decline in May, and it is being reported that the company may be preparing for “more job cuts at its American factories”.

#8 After an initial bump after Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, U.S. consumer confidence is starting to fall.

#9 Since Memorial Day, Radio Shack has officially shut down more than 1,000 stores.

#10 Payless has just increased the number of stores that it plans to close to about 800.

#11 According to the Los Angeles Times, it is being projected that 25 percent of all shopping malls in the United States may close within the next five years.

#12 Over the past 12 months, the number of homeless people living in Los Angeles County has risen by a staggering 23 percent.

And in case those numbers have not persuaded you that the U.S. economy is heading for rough times, I would encourage you to go check out my previous article entitled “11 Facts That Prove That The U.S. Economy In 2017 Is In Far Worse Shape Than It Was In 2016” for even more eye-popping statistics.

During a bubble, it can feel like the good times are just going to keep rolling forever.

But that never actually happens in reality.

The truth is that we are in the terminal phase of the greatest debt bubble of all time, and the evidence is starting to mount that this debt bubble has just about run its course. The following comes from Zero Hedge

A recurring theme on this website has been to periodically highlight the tremendous build up in US corporate debt, most recently in April when we showed that “Corporate Debt To EBITDA Hits All Time High.” The relentless debt build up is something which even the IMF recently noted, when in April it released a special report on financial stability, according to which 20% of US corporations were at risk of default should rates rise. It is also the topic of the latest piece by SocGen’s strategist Andrew Lapthorne who uses even more colorful adjectives to describe what has happened since the financial crisis, noting that “the debt build-up during this cycle has been incredible, particularly when compared to the stagnant progression of EBITDA.”

Lapthorne calculates that S&P1500 ex financial net debt has risen by almost $2 trillion in five years, a 150% increase, but this mild in comparison to the tripling of the debt pile in the Russell 2000 in six years. He also notes, as shown he previously, that as a result of this debt surge, interest payments cost the smallest 50% of stocks in the US fully 30% of their EBIT compared with just 10% of profits for the largest 10% and states that “clearly the sensitivity to higher interest rates is then going to be with this smallest 50%, while the dominance and financial strength of the largest 10% disguises this problem in the aggregate index measures.”

The same report noted that net debt growth in the U.S. is quickly headed toward negative territory, and the last time that happened was during the last recession.

We see similar things when we look at the 2nd largest economy on the entire planet. According to Jim Rickards, China “has multiple bubbles, and they’re all getting ready to burst”…

China is in the greatest financial bubble in history. Yet, calling China a bubble does not do justice to the situation. This story has been touched on periodically over the last year.

China has multiple bubbles, and they’re all getting ready to burst. If you make the right moves now, you could be well positioned even as Chinese credit and currency crash and burn.

The first and most obvious bubble is credit. The combined Chinese government and corporate debt-to-equity ratio is over 300-to-1 after hidden liabilities, such as provincial guarantees and shadow banking system liabilities, are taken into account.

We just got the worst Chinese manufacturing number in about a year, and it looks like economic conditions over there are really starting to slow down as well.

Just like 2008, the coming crisis is going to be truly global in scope.

It is funny how our perspective colors our reality. Just like in 2007, many are mocking those that are warning that a crisis is coming, but just like in 2009, after the crisis strikes many will be complaining that nobody warned them in advance about what was ahead.

And at this moment it may seem like we have all the time in the world to get prepared for the approaching storm, but once it is here people will be talking about how it seemed to hit us so quickly.

My hope is that many Americans will finally be fed up with our fundamentally flawed financial system once they realize that we are facing another horrendous economic crisis, and that in the aftermath they will finally be ready for the dramatic solutions that are necessary in order to permanently fix things.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

Is Puerto Rico’s Economic Collapse A Ploy By Liberals To Permanently Shift The Balance Of Power In Congress?

Next month, citizens of Puerto Rico are going to vote on statehood, and the absolutely devastating economic collapse that is gripping the island could be enough to push pro-statehood forces over the edge to victory. Of course Congress has the final say on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state or not, but it is going to be very difficult to deny Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents statehood if they strongly insist that they want it. Needless to say, if Puerto Rico becomes the 51st U.S. state that would greatly benefit the Democrats, because the population of Puerto Rico is very liberal.

Puerto Rico does not get to vote in presidential elections, but they do help select the nominees for both parties. In 2016, 58,764 votes were cast in the Democratic caucuses held in Puerto Rico, and only 36,660 votes were cast in the Republican primary. As a state, it is doubtful whether Puerto Rico would send any Republican lawmakers to Washington for decades to come.

So if Puerto Rico becomes a state, the Democrats would add two new senators and probably four or five representatives.

Puerto Rico would be the 30th largest state in the entire country, and so it would instantly have more political power than 21 other U.S. states.

This upcoming vote on June 11th is going to be extremely important, and pro-statehood forces are working very hard to get a positive result. The following info about the referendum in June comes from Wikipedia

The fifth referendum will be held on June 11, 2017 and will offer two options: “Statehood” and “Independence/Free Association.” It will be the first referendum not to offer the choice of “Commonwealth.” Newly-elected Governor Ricardo Rosselló is strongly in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico to help develop the economy and help to “solve our 500-year-old colonial dilemma … Colonialism is not an option …. It’s a civil rights issue … 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy,” he told the news media.[30] Benefits of statehood include an additional $10 billion per year in federal funds, the right to vote in presidential elections, higher Social Security and Medicare benefits, and a right for its government agencies and municipalities to file for bankruptcy. The latter is currently prohibited.[31]

At approximately the same time as the referendum, Puerto Rico’s legislators are also expected to vote on a bill that would allow the Governor to draft a state constitution and hold elections to choose senators and representatives to the federal Congress.[31]

Over the past decade, Puerto Rico has been suffering through a nightmarish economic recession that never seems to end. The island was recently forced to declare the equivalent of bankruptcy because it is facing $123 billion in debt and pension obligations. At this moment 46 percent of the residents of Puerto Rico are living below the poverty line, the unemployment rate is 11 percent, and authorities just announced that another 179 public schools will be closing down.

It has been argued that the Obama administration could have done much more to alleviate the economic problems in Puerto Rico but that it purposely chose not to do so.

Why?

Well, the worse economic conditions get in Puerto Rico, the better it is for pro-statehood forces. Puerto Ricans are being told that becoming a state is the key to Puerto Rico’s long-term economic future, and at this point many are willing to do just about anything to get the economic suffering to end. The following is a short excerpt from a New York Times article entitled “Amid Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Ruins, a New Push for Statehood“…

A vigorous push for statehood was a central campaign promise of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, 38, who was inaugurated in January. Next month, he will ask residents to vote, in a nonbinding referendum, for statehood as part of a long-term fix for a commonwealth facing a period of severe austerity that is likely to include shuttered public schools, frozen salaries, slashed pensions and crimped investments in public health. The island remains in the grip of a recession that has lingered for much of the past decade.

Could it be possible that this is what liberals have wanted all along?

Could it be possible that Obama and his minions saw Puerto Rico as a chess piece that could be used to permanently shift the balance of power in Congress?

Of course if Puerto Rico becomes a state that would have implications for presidential elections as well.

In the end, it will be Congress that decides what the fate of Puerto Rico will be, but if the people of Puerto Rico truly want to become the 51st U.S. state it is going to be really hard to deny them that opportunity indefinitely.

Last year at their national conventions, the Democrats and the Republicans both took the position that the citizens of Puerto Rico should be able to make this decision for themselves. But once faced with a final decision, it is inevitable that many Republican members of Congress would be opposed to statehood.

Personally, I believe that either independence or “free association” would be much better for Puerto Rico, and let us hope that the people of Puerto Rico choose that direction.

But when people are really hurting, they will often grasp any sort of olive branch that is being offered to them, and right now the progressives are really pushing statehood.

Of course for strategists on the left, the goal is not to help the suffering people of Puerto Rico.

Rather, the endgame is complete domination of the U.S. political system by any means necessary.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

The ’51st U.S. State’ Declares Bankruptcy As Corporate Insiders Sell Stocks At The Fastest Rate Since The Last Financial Crisis

Puerto Rico has collapsed financially and has “filed for the equivalent of bankruptcy protection”. When this was announced on Wednesday, it quickly made front page news all over the planet. For decades, Puerto Rico has been considered to be the territory most likely to become “the 51st U.S. state”, and there have even been rumblings that we could soon see a renewed push for statehood. But that is on the back burner for now, because at the moment Puerto Rico is dealing with a nightmarish financial crisis that is the result of an accelerating economic collapse. Unfortunately, many Americans still don’t believe that what has happened to Puerto Rico could happen to us, even though signs of major economic trouble are emerging all around us.

Almost two years ago I issued a major warning about the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, and now the day of reckoning for “America’s Greece” has finally arrived

Saddled by mountainous debts and undermined by rapid population loss, Puerto Rico filed for the equivalent of bankruptcy protection Wednesday in a historic move that will trigger a fierce legal battle, with the fate of the island’s citizens, creditors and workers at stake.

The oversight board appointed to lead the U.S. territory back to fiscal sustainability declared in a court filing that it is “unable to provide its citizens effective services,” crushed by $74 billion in debts and $49 billion in pension liabilities.

Like Greece, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and so many others, what has happened in Puerto Rico shows us that it is simply not possible to live way above your means indefinitely. If your debt grows much faster than your economy, eventually you reach a point where financial disaster is inevitable. This is a lesson that our leaders in Washington D.C. desperately need to learn before it is too late for the United States.

Since 2007, the population of Puerto Rico has declined by 10 percent and the number of jobs in that nation has declined by 20 percent. It is a long-term economic collapse that just continues to get even worse with each passing month.

Unfortunately for Wall Street, many large U.S. financial institutions have invested very heavily in Puerto Rico’s bonds. In fact, it has been estimated that 180 mutual funds have “at least 5% of their portfolios in Puerto Rican bonds”.

At this point, U.S. firms stand poised to lose billions of dollars as their investments become worthless, and many of these firms were totally blindsided because they were assured that this could not happen…

The financial collapse promises to impose deep losses on bondholders who for years snapped up Puerto Rico’s securities, which are tax-free throughout the U.S. U.S. states can’t file for bankruptcy, and investors bought the bonds assured that it wasn’t a legal option for Puerto Rico either.

The scale of the restructuring is far larger than Detroit’s record-setting $18 billion bankruptcy, and it’s unclear how long a court proceeding would last or how deep would be the cuts that are imposed on bondholders.

So how far will the financial collapse of Puerto Rico ultimately ripple through our financial system?

It is hard to say, but without a doubt this is a major concern.

Meanwhile, corporate insiders are selling stocks at the fastest pace that we have seen in seven years. The following comes from Business Insider

As the investing public has continued to devour stocks, sending all three major indexes to record highs in the last few months, corporate insiders have been offloading shares to an extent not seen in seven years. Selling totaled $10 billion in March, according to data compiled by Trim Tabs.

It’s a troubling trend facing an equity market that’s already grappling with its loftiest valuations since the 2000 tech bubble. If the people with the deepest knowledge of a company are cashing out, why should investors keep buying at current prices?

What do those corporate insiders know that the rest of us do not?

Perhaps they are just being rational. If I was a top corporate insider at one of these “unicorns” that have market caps in the tens of billions of dollars even though they are consistently losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year I would be selling too.

You make money in the stock market by selling at the right time. Those that sold their Pets.com stock at the peak of the dotcom bubble got quite wealthy, but those that held on all the way through the stock market crash got completely wiped out.

There have been some analysts that have suggested that one way to make money in the stock market is to simply do what the insiders are doing. If they are buying, then that is supposedly a time to buy, and if they are selling that is supposedly a time to sell.

Personally, I would rather use my limited resources to get prepared for the horrific crisis that is inevitably coming, but not everyone agrees with that outlook.

The crisis in Puerto Rico developed over an extended period of time, and there were plenty of warning signs.

So anyone that is still holding Puerto Rican bonds at this point is quite foolish.

Similarly, the warning signs here in the U.S. have been mounting for quite a while. Just yesterday, we got more exceedingly bad news for the U.S. auto industry, and we are on pace to absolutely smash the all-time record for most retail store closings in a single year.

Just because a crisis does not arrive on the exact month or year that you were anticipating does not mean that it has been canceled.

I warned about a looming financial cataclysm in Puerto Rico nearly two years ago, but they somehow managed to hang on until now. And even though the U.S. financial system is still afloat for the moment, everyone should be able to see that we are definitely living on borrowed time.

So don’t look down on Puerto Rico, because what is happening to them is eventually coming here too.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

11 Reasons Why U.S. Economic Growth Is The Worst That It Has Been In 3 Years

Those that were predicting that the U.S. economy would be flying high by now have been proven wrong. U.S. GDP grew at the worst rate in three years during the first quarter of 2017, and many are wondering if this is the beginning of a major economic slowdown. Of course when we are dealing with the official numbers that the federal government puts out, it is important to acknowledge that they are highly manipulated. There are many that have correctly pointed out to me that if the numbers were not being doctored that they would show that we are still in a recession. In fact, John Williams of shadowstats.com has shown that if honest numbers were being used that U.S. GDP growth would have been consistently negative going all the way back to 2005. So I definitely don’t have any argument with those that claim that we are actually in a recession right now. But even if we take the official numbers that the federal government puts out at face value, they are definitely very ugly

Economic growth slowed in the first quarter to its slowest pace in three years as sluggish consumer spending and business stockpiling offset solid business investment. Many economists write off the weak performance as a byproduct of temporary blips and expect healthy growth in 2017.

The nation’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the USA — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.7%, the Commerce Department said Friday, below the tepid 2.1% pace clocked both in the fourth quarter and as an average throughout the nearly 8-year-old recovery. Economists expected a 1% increase in output, according to a Bloomberg survey.

Even if you want to assume that it is a legitimate number, 0.7 percent economic growth is essentially stall speed, and this follows a year when the U.S. economy grew at a rate of just 1.6 percent.

So why is this happening?

Of course the “experts” in the mainstream media are blaming all sorts of temporary factors

Economists blamed the weather. It was too warm this time around, rather than too cold, which is the usual explanation for Q1 debacles.

And they blamed the IRS refund checks that had been delayed due to last year’s spectacular identity theft problem. Everyone blamed everything on these delayed refund checks, including the auto industry and the restaurant industry. But by mid-February, a veritable tsunami of checks went out, and by the end of February, the IRS was pretty much caught up. So March should have been awash in consumer spending. But no. So we’ll patiently wait for that miracle to happen in second quarter.

They always want us to think that “boom times” for the U.S. economy are right around the corner, but those “boom times” have never materialized since the end of the last financial crisis.

Instead, we have had year after year of economic malaise and stagnation, and it looks like 2017 is going to continue that trend. The following are 11 reasons why U.S. economic growth is the worst that it has been in 3 years…

#1 The weak economic growth in the first quarter was the continuation of a long-term trend. Barack Obama was the only president in history not to have a single year when the U.S. economy grew by at least 3 percent, and this is now the fourth time in the last six quarters when economic growth has been less than 2 percent on an annualized basis. So essentially this latest number signals that our long-term economic decline is continuing.

#2 Consumer spending drives the U.S. economy more than anything else, and at this point most U.S. consumers are tapped out. In fact, CBS News has reported that three-fourths of all U.S. consumers have to “scramble to cover their living costs” each month.

#3 The job market appears to be slowing. The U.S. economy only added about 98,000 jobs in March, and that was approximately half of what most analysts were expecting.

#4 The flow of credit appears to be slowing as well. In fact, this is the first time since the last recession when there has been no growth for commercial and industrial lending for at least six months.

#5 Last month, U.S. factory output dropped at the fastest pace that we have witnessed in more than two years.

#6 We are in the midst of the worst “retail apocalypse” in U.S. history. The number of retailers that has filed for bankruptcy has already surpassed the total for the entire year of 2016, and at the current rate we will smash the previous all-time record for store closings in a year by nearly 2,000.

#7 The auto industry is also experiencing a great deal of stress. This has been the worst year for U.S. automakers since the last recession, and seven out of the eight largest fell short of their sales projections in March.

#8 Used vehicle prices are falling “dramatically”, and Morgan Stanley is now projecting that used vehicle prices “could crash by up to 50%” over the next several years.

#9 Commercial bankruptcies are rising at the fastest pace since the last recession.

#10 Consumer bankruptcies are rising at the fastest pace since the last recession.

#11 The student loan bubble is starting to burst. It is being reported that 27 percent of all student loans are already in default, and some analysts expect that number to go much higher.

And of course some areas of the country are being harder hit than others. The following comes from CNBC

Four states have not yet fully recovered from the Great Recession. As of the third quarter of last year, the latest data available, the economies of Louisiana, Wyoming, Connecticut and Alaska were still smaller than when the recession ended in June 2009.

Other states that have recovered have seen their economic recoveries stall out. Those include Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and West Virginia.

We should be thankful that we are not experiencing a full-blown economic meltdown just yet, but it is undeniable that our long-term economic decline continues to roll along.

And without a doubt the storm clouds are building on the horizon, and many believe that the next major economic downturn will begin in the not too distant future.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

11 Facts That Prove That The U.S. Economy In 2017 Is In Far Worse Shape Than It Was In 2016

There is much debate about where the U.S. economy is ultimately heading, but what everybody should be able to agree on is that economic conditions are significantly worse this year than they were last year. It is being projected that U.S. economic growth for the first quarter will be close to zero, thousands of retail stores are closing, factory output is falling, and restaurants and automakers have both fallen on very hard times. As economic activity has slowed down, commercial and consumer bankruptcies are both rising at rates that we have not seen since the last financial crisis. Everywhere you look there are echoes of 2008, and yet most people still seem to be in denial about what is happening. The following are 11 facts that prove that the U.S. economy in 2017 is in far worse shape than it was in 2016…

#1 It is being projected that there will be more than 8,000 retail store closings in the United States in 2017, and that will far surpass the former peak of 6,163 store closings that we witnessed in 2008.

#2 The number of retailers that have filed for bankruptcy so far in 2017 has already surpassed the total for the entire year of 2016.

#3 So far in 2017, an astounding 49 million square feet of retail space has closed down in the United States. At this pace, approximately 147 million square feet will be shut down by the end of the year, and that would absolutely shatter the all-time record of 115 million square feet that was shut down in 2001.

#4 The Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now model is projecting that U.S. economic growth for the first quarter of 2017 will come in at just 0.5 percent. If that pace continues for the rest of the year, it will be the worst year for U.S. economic growth since the last recession.

#5 Restaurants are experiencing their toughest stretch since the last recession, and in March things continued to get even worse

Foot traffic at chain restaurants in March dropped 3.4% from a year ago. Menu prices couldn’t be increased enough to make up for it, and same-store sales fell 1.1%. The least bad region was the Western US, where sales inched up 1.2% year-over-year and traffic fell only 1.7%, according to TDn2K’s Restaurant Industry Snapshot. The worst was the NY-NJ Region, where sales plunged 4.6% and foot traffic 6.3%.

This comes after a dismal February, when foot traffic had dropped 5% year-over-year, and same-store sales 3.7%.

#6 In March, U.S. factory output declined at the fastest pace in more than two years.

#7 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, not a single person is employed in nearly one out of every five U.S. families.

#8 U.S. government revenues just suffered their biggest drop since the last recession.

#9 Nearly all of the big automakers reported disappointing sales in March, and dealer inventories have now risen to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

#10 Used vehicle prices are absolutely crashing, and subprime auto loan losses have shot up to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

#11 At this point, most U.S. consumers are completely tapped out. According to CNN, almost six out of every ten Americans do not have enough money saved to even cover a $500 emergency expense.

Just like in 2008, debts are going bad at a very alarming pace. In fact, things have already gotten so bad that the IMF has issued a major warning about it

In America alone, bad debt held by companies could reach $4 trillion, “or almost a quarter of corporate assets considered,” according to the IMF. That debt “could undermine financial stability” if mishandled, the IMF says.

The percentage of “weak,” “vulnerable” or “challenged” debt held as assets by US firms has almost arrived at the same level it was right before the 2008 crisis.

We are seeing so many parallels to the last financial crisis, and many are hoping that our politicians in Washington can fix things before it is too late.

On Monday, the most critical week of Trump’s young presidency begins. The administration will continue working on tax reform and a replacement for Obamacare, but of even greater importance is the fact that if a spending agreement is not passed by Friday a government shutdown will begin at the end of the week

Trump has indicated that he wants to tackle the repeal and replacement of Obamacare and introduce his “massive” tax plan in the next week, all while a shutdown of parts of federal government looms Friday.

By attempting three massive political undertakings in one week, investors will have a sense of whether or not Trump will be able to deliver on pro-growth policies that would be beneficial for markets.

If Trump can pull off the trifecta, it could restore faith that policy proposals like tax cuts and infrastructure spending are on the way. If not, look out.

Members of Congress are returning from their extended two week spring vacation, and now they will only have four working days to get something done.

And I don’t believe that they will be able to rush something through in just four days. The Republicans in Congress, the Democrats in Congress, and the Trump administration all want different things, and ironing out all of those differences is not going to be easy.

For example, the Trump administration is insisting on funding for a border wall, and the Democrats are saying no way. The following comes from the Washington Post

President Trump and his top aides applied new pressure Sunday on lawmakers to include money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in a must-pass government funding bill, raising the possibility of a federal government shutdown this week.

In a pair of tweets, Trump attacked Democrats for opposing the wall and insisted that Mexico would pay for it “at a later date,” despite his repeated campaign promises not including that qualifier. And top administration officials appeared on Sunday morning news shows to press for wall funding, including White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who said Trump might refuse to sign a spending bill that does not include any.

And of course the border wall is just one of a whole host of controversial issues that are standing in the way of an agreement. Those that are suggesting that all of these issues will be resolved in less than 100 hours are being completely unrealistic. And even though the Trump administration is putting on a brave face, the truth is that quiet preparations for a government shutdown have already begun.

The stage is being set for the kind of nightmare crisis that I portrayed in The Beginning Of The End. The stock market bubble is showing signs of being ready to burst, and an extended government shutdown would be more than enough to push things over the edge.

Let us hope that this government shutdown is only for a limited period of time, because an extended shutdown could potentially be catastrophic. In the end, either the Trump administration or the Democrats are going to have to give in on issues such as funding for Obamacare, the border wall, Planned Parenthood, defense spending increases, etc.

It will be a test of the wills, and it will be absolutely fascinating to see who buckles under the pressure first.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

The Worst Retail Cataclysm Ever: Sears Warns It Is On The Verge Of Collapse As Payless Prepares To File For Bankruptcy

More than 3,500 retail stores are going to close all across America over the next few months as the worst retail downturn in U.S. history gets even deeper. Earlier this week, Sears shocked the world when it announced that there is “substantial doubt” that the company will be able to “continue as a going concern” much longer. In other words, Sears has announced that it is on the verge of imminent collapse. Meanwhile, Payless stunned the retail industry when it came out that they are preparing to file for bankruptcy. The “retail apocalypse” that I have been warning about is greatly accelerating, and many believe that this is one of the early warning signs that the economic collapse that is already going on in other parts of the globe will soon reach U.S. shores.

I have repeatedly warned my readers that “Sears is going to zero“, and now Sears is officially saying that it might actually happen. When you file official paperwork with the government that says there is “substantial doubt” that the company will survive, that means that the end is very near

The company that operates Sears, the department store chain that dominated retail for decades, warned Tuesday that it faces “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business unless it can borrow more and tap cash from more of its assets.

“Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” Sears Holdings said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Sears Holdings operates both Sears and Kmart stores.

In the wake of that statement, the price of Sears stock dipped 13.69% to $7.85 a share.

Personally, I am going to miss Sears very much. But of course the truth is that they simply cannot continue operating as they have been.

For the quarter that ended on January 28th, Sears lost an astounding 607 million dollars

The company said it lost $607 million, or $5.67 per diluted share, during the quarter that ended on Jan. 28. That compared with a loss of $580 million, or $5.44 per diluted share, a year earlier. It has posted a loss in all but two of the last 24 quarters, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

How in the world is it possible for a retailer to lose that amount of money in just three months?

As I have said before, if they had employees flushing dollar bills down the toilet 24 hours a day they still shouldn’t have losses that big.

This week we also learned that Payless is heading for bankruptcy. According to Bloomberg, the chain is planning to imminently close at least 400 stores…

Payless Inc., the struggling discount shoe chain, is preparing to file for bankruptcy as soon as next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company is initially planning to close 400 to 500 stores as it reorganizes operations, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations aren’t public. Payless had originally looked to shutter as many as 1,000 locations, and the number may still be in flux, according to one of the people.

Of course these are just two examples of a much broader phenomenon.

Never before in U.S. history have we seen such a dramatic wave of store closures. According to Business Insider, over 3,500 retail locations “are expected to close in the next couple of months”…

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades.

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months.

Once thriving shopping malls are rapidly being transformed into ghost towns. As I wrote about just recently, “you might be tempted to think that ‘Space Available’ was the hottest new retail chain in the entire country.”

The demise of Sears is going to be an absolute nightmare for many mall owners. Once “anchor stores” start closing, it is usually only a matter of time before smaller stores start bailing out

When an anchor store like Sears or Macy’s closes, it often triggers a downward spiral in performance for shopping malls.

Not only do the malls lose the income and shopper traffic from that store’s business, but the closure often triggers “co-tenancy clauses” that allow the other mall tenants to terminate their leases or renegotiate the terms, typically with a period of lower rents, until another retailer moves into the anchor space.

Years ago I wrote of a time when we would see boarded-up storefronts all across America, and now it is happening.

Instead of asking which retailers are going to close, perhaps we should be asking which ones are going to survive this retail cataclysm.

In the past, you could always count on middle class U.S. consumers to save the day, but today the middle class is steadily shrinking and U.S. consumers are increasingly tapped out.

For instance, just look at what is happening to delinquency rates on auto loans

US auto loan and lease credit loss rates weakened in the second half of 2016, according to a new report from Fitch Ratings, which said they will continue to deteriorate.

“Subprime credit losses are accelerating faster than the prime segment, and this trend is likely to continue as a result of looser underwriting standards by lenders in recent years,” said Michael Taiano, a director at Fitch.

The last time so many Americans got behind on subprime auto loans was during the last financial crisis.

We are seeing so many similarities to what happened just prior to the last recession, and yet most Americans still seem to think that the U.S. economy is going to be just fine in 2017.

Unfortunately, major red flags are popping up in the hard economic numbers and in the financial markets.

The last recession probably should have started back in late 2015, but thanks to manipulation by the Fed and an unprecedented debt binge by the Obama administration, official U.S. GDP growth has been able to stay barely above zero for the last year and a half.

But just because something is delayed does not mean that it is canceled.

All along, our long-term economic imbalances have continued to get even worse, and a date with destiny is rapidly approaching for the U.S. economy.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

This Region Of The World Is Being Hit By The Worst Economic Collapse It Has Ever Experienced

The ninth largest economy in the entire world is currently experiencing “its longest and deepest recession in recorded history”, and in a country right next door people are being encouraged to label their trash so that the thousands upon thousands of desperately hungry people that are digging through trash bins on the streets can find discarded food more easily. Of course the two nations that I am talking about are Brazil and Venezuela. The Brazilian economy was once the seventh largest on the globe, but after shrinking for eight consecutive quarters it has now fallen to ninth place. And in Venezuela the economic collapse has gotten so bad that more than 70 percent of the population lost weight last year due to a severe lack of food. Most of us living in the northern hemisphere don’t think that anything like this could happen to us any time soon, but the truth is that trouble signs are already starting to erupt all around us. It is just a matter of time before the things currently happening in Brazil and Venezuela start happening here, but unfortunately most people are not heeding the warnings.

Just a few years ago, the Brazilian economy was absolutely roaring and it was being hailed as a model for the rest of the world to follow. But now Brazil’s GDP has been imploding for two years in a row, and this downturn is being described as “the worst recession in recorded history” for that South American nation…

Latin America’s largest economy Brazil has contracted by 3.6 percent in 2016, shrinking for the second year in a row; statistics agency IBGE said on Tuesday. It confirmed the country is facing its longest and deepest recession in recorded history.

Data shows gross domestic product (GDP) fell for the eighth straight quarter in the three months to December, down 0.9 percent from the previous quarter. The figure was worse than the 0.5 percent decline economists had forecast and left the country’s overall GDP down 3.6 percent for the full year following a 3.8 percent drop in 2015.

“In real terms, GDP is now nine percent below its pre-recession peak,” Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, told the Financial Times.

“This is comfortably the worst recession in recorded history,” he added.

It had been hoped that things in Brazil would be getting better by now, but instead they just keep getting worse.

The number of bankruptcy filings has soared to an all-time record high, and the official unemployment rate has more than doubled since the end of 2013. The following comes from Wolf Richter

In a stunning deterioration, the unemployment rate in Brazil spiked to 12.6% in the rolling three-month period through January, a record in the new data series going back to 2012, according to Brazil’s statistical agency IBGE. Up from 11.8% in the three-month period through October. Up from an already terribly high 9.5% a year ago. And more than double the 6.2% in December 2013.

Meanwhile, hordes of hungry people are rummaging through garbage cans in Venezuela in order to find something to fill their aching stomachs.

Things have gotten so bad that one of President Maduro’s chief opponents has urged citizens to label which trash bags have food in them so that people that are searching through the garbage can find food scraps more easily

Controversial Priest and opponent to President Nicolás Maduro’s administration Father Jose Palmar posted on social media this week about labeling discarded waste so those looking through it for food can do so more easily and “with dignity.”

Palmar called on Venezuelans to celebrate Lent by identifying bags where food has been discarded for those with no where else to turn. That way, they don’t have to dig through non-edible items to find it.

And previously I have written about how people are so hungry in Venezuela that some of them are actually slaughtering and eating cats, dogs, pigeons and zoo animals.

I keep telling people that this is coming to America, but a lot of people out there don’t want to believe me.

But it is most certainly coming.

Thanks to chronically empty store shelves and severe food shortages, people in Venezuela are losing weight at an astounding pace. In the United States it would be a good thing if much of the population lost this much weight, but in Venezuela it definitely is not

Three quarters of the country’s population lost an average of over 18 pounds over food shortages in 2016, according to a survey by Venezuelan universities and nonprofit groups. Last year, over 80 percent of foodstuffs disappeared from shelves and many had to get by with one meal a day, Foreign Policy reported.

Venezuela was once South America’s most powerful petrostate. But decades of government mismanagement sent the country into decline. Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez choked the economy with heavy-handed regulations, price controls, and a campaign to nationalize major industries that chased out foreign investments.

Further north, very alarming signs are starting to pop up in Mexico.

It probably won’t happen next week or next month, but there are indications of emerging “liquidity problems” which could precipitate a major debt crisis at some point…

In Mexico foreign investors hold around $100 billion of the country’s local-currency government debt, the most for any emerging market economy. That’s almost 20 times what it was 20 years ago. They also hold billions of euros worth of corporate bonds, which are also showing signs of strain, prompting some Mexican business leaders to call for “new programs” to be implemented before the situation causes “a large-scale crisis” among Mexican companies.

The most ominous sign yet came last week when Bloomberg reported sources saying that the Bank of Mexico (or Banxico, as it is referred to) had sought a swap line from the Federal Reserve in case of “liquidity problems,” which immediately triggered furious denials from Banxico. “I can say clearly and unequivocally that we are not in the process of asking for any credit line from any authority,” said the central bank’s governor, Agustin Carstens, who has postponed by six months his departure from the bank, initially scheduled for May.

One of the biggest problems for nations such as Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico is the strength of the U.S. dollar. During the good times they went into tremendous amounts of debt, and much of that debt was denominated in U.S. dollars. So when the U.S. dollar becomes stronger, it takes more of their own local currencies to pay that debt back.

And if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates at their next meeting, that will strengthen the U.S. dollar even more and put even more pressure on emerging market economies.

Unfortunately, it appears that this is precisely what the Fed is going to do

Even one small interest rate increase by the Fedcould have a sweeping impact on U.S. and world economies, Komal Sri-Kumar told CNBC on Monday.

“I think they are going to hike” on March 15, Sri-Kumar said on “Squawk Box,” echoing a theory shared by many analysts. “But that is going to prompt capital outflows from the euro zone, especially with the political risk. It is going to increase the capital outflow from China, and the U.S. economy will feel the impact.”

The global economy is more interconnected than ever before, and pain that starts in one region can rapidly spread to others.

The biggest debt bubble that the world has ever seen is starting to burst, and over the coming years we are going to see financial pain on a scale that would be unimaginable to most of us at this moment.

But even now there are those that would suggest that this colossal debt bubble can continue growing much faster than global GDP indefinitely, and this sort of exceedingly reckless optimism is leading many astray.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

A Third Of All U.S. Shopping Malls Are Projected To Close As ‘Space Available’ Signs Go Up All Over America

If you didn’t know better, you might be tempted to think that “Space Available” was the hottest new retail chain in the entire country. As you will see below, it is being projected that about a third of all shopping malls in the United States will soon close, and we just recently learned that the number of “distressed retailers” is the highest that it has been since the last recession. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can possibly believe that the U.S. economy is in “good shape” after looking at the retail industry. In my recent article about the ongoing “retail apocalypse“, I discussed the fact that Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s have all announced that they are closing dozens of stores in 2017, and you can find a pretty comprehensive list of 19 U.S. retailers that are “on the brink of bankruptcy” right here. Needless to say, quite a bloodbath is going on out there right now.

But I didn’t realize how truly horrific things were for the retail industry until I came across an article about mall closings on Time Magazine’s website

About one-third of malls in the U.S. will shut their doors in the coming years, retail analyst Jan Kniffen told CNBC Thursday. His prediction comes in the wake of Macy’s reporting its worst consecutive same-store sales decline since the financial crisis.

Macy’s and its fellow retailers in American malls are challenged by an oversupply of retail space as customers migrate toward online shopping, as well as fast fashion retailers like H&M and off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx. As a result, about 400 of the country’s 1,100 enclosed malls will fail in the upcoming years. Of those that remain, he predicts that about 250 will thrive and the rest will continue to struggle.

Can you imagine what this country is going to look like if that actually happens?

Shopping malls all over the United States are literally becoming “ghost towns”, and many that have already closed have stayed empty for years and years.

The process usually starts when a shopping mall starts losing anchor stores. That is why it is so alarming that Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s are planning to shut down so many locations in 2017. According to one recent report, 310 shopping malls in America are in imminent danger of losing an anchor store

Dozens of malls have closed in the last 10 years, and many more are at risk of shutting down as retailers like Macy’s, JCPenney, and Sears — also known as anchor stores — shutter hundreds of stores to staunch the bleeding from falling sales.

The commercial-real-estate firm CoStar estimates that nearly a quarter of malls in the US, or roughly 310 of the nation’s 1,300 shopping malls, are at high risk of losing an anchor store.

Once the anchor stores start going, traffic falls off dramatically for the other stores and they start leaving too.

Four years ago in “The Beginning Of The End” I warned that empty storefronts would soon litter the national landscape, and now that is precisely what is happening.

Now that the Christmas season is over, some retailers that have been around for decades have suddenly decided that it is time to file for bankruptcy. Sadly, one of those retailers is HHGregg

HHGregg Inc., the 61-year-old seller of appliances and electronics, is moving closer to Chapter 11 after announcing a store-closing plan, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The filing may come as soon as next week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t public. Bloomberg previously reported that HHGregg might file for bankruptcy in March if it couldn’t reach an out-of-court solution.

Another retailer that was once riding high but is now dealing with bankruptcy is BCBG

BCBG, the California-based fashion retailer that had acquired fashion design firm Herve Leger in 1998, and that once had more than 570 boutiques globally, including 175 in the US, and whose cocktail dresses and handbags were shown off by celebrities, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday.

It is buckling under $459 million of debt. It has 4,800 employees. Layoffs have already started. More layoffs and other cost cuts are planned, according to court documents, cited by Bloomberg. It started closing 120 of its stores in January. It wants to sell itself at a court-supervised auction. If that fails, it wants to negotiate a debt-for-equity swap with junior lenders owed $289 million.

If the U.S. economy was actually doing as well as the stock market says that it should be doing, all of these retail chains would not be closing stores and going bankrupt.

But of course the truth is that the stock market has become completely disconnected from economic reality.

We live at a time when middle class consumers are tapped out. According to one recent survey, 57 percent of all Americans do not even have enough money in the bank to write a $500 check for an unexpected expense.

And people are falling out of the middle class at a staggering pace. The number of homeless people in New York City recently set a brand new record high, and city authorities plan to construct 90 new homeless shelters within the next five years.

On the west coast we are also seeing a dramatic rise in homelessness. The following comes from an article by Dan Lyman

Citizen journalists have captured stunning images and video of homeless encampments that are spiraling out of control in the shadows of Disneyland and Anaheim Stadium in California.

The tent city has recently sprung up along the Santa Ana riverbed, near a busy convergence of three major California highways known as the “Orange Crush,” at the border of Anaheim and Santa Ana, the latter a “sanctuary city.”

Homeless activists estimate that as many as 1,000 people are camped in the region.

You can see some video footage of this homeless encampment on YouTube right here

Incredibly, the Federal Reserve is almost certainly going to raise interest rates at their next meeting even though the U.S. economy is faltering so badly. That only makes sense if they are trying to make Donald Trump look as bad as possible.

Even though this giant bubble of false economic stability that we are currently enjoying has lasted far longer than it should have, the truth is that nothing has changed about the long-term economic outlook at all.

America is still heading for “economic Armageddon”, and the retail industry is a huge red flag that is warning us that our day of reckoning is approaching more rapidly than many had anticipated.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

Debt Apocalypse Beckons As U.S. Consumer Bankruptcies Do Something They Haven’t Done In Almost 7 Years

When debt grows much faster than GDP for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that a good portion of that debt will start to go bad at some point. We witnessed a perfect example of this in 2008, and now it is starting to happen again. Commercial bankruptcies have been rising on a year-over-year basis since late 2015, and this is something that I have written about previously, but now consumer bankruptcies are also increasing. In fact, we have just witnessed U.S. consumer bankruptcies do something that they haven’t done in nearly 7 years. The following comes from Wolf Richter

US bankruptcy filings by consumers rose 5.4% in January, compared to January last year, to 52,421 according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. In December, they’d already risen 4.5% from a year earlier. This was the first time that consumer bankruptcies increased back-to-back since 2010.

However, business bankruptcies began to surge in November 2015 and continued surging on a year-over-year basis in 2016, to reach a full-year total of 37,823 filings, up 26% from the prior year and the highest since 2014.

Of course consumer bankruptcies are still much lower than they were during the last financial crisis, but what this could mean is that we have reached a turning point.

For years, the Federal Reserve has been encouraging reckless borrowing and spending by pushing interest rates to ultra-low levels. Unfortunately, this created an absolutely enormous debt bubble, and now that debt bubble is beginning to burst. Here is more from Wolf Richter

The dizzying borrowing by consumers and businesses that the Fed with its ultra-low interest rates and in its infinite wisdom has purposefully encouraged to fuel economic growth, if any, and to inflate asset prices, has caused debt to pile up. That debt is now eating up cash flows needed for other things, and this is causing pressures, just when interest rates have begun to rise, which will make refinancing this debt more expensive and, for a rising number of consumers and businesses, impossible. And so, the legacy of this binge will haunt the economy – and creditors – for years to come.

Despite all of the economic optimism that is out there right now, the truth is that U.S. consumers are tapped out.

If the U.S. economy truly was doing great, major retailers would not be closing hundreds of stores. Sears, Macy’s and a whole host of other big retailers are closing stores because those stores are losing money. It truly is a “retail apocalypse“, and this trend is not going to turn around until U.S. consumers start to become healthier financially.

We also see signs of trouble in the auto sales numbers. Compared to 2016, sales were way down in January this year

Compared to January last year, car sales collapsed for all three US automakers, and the largest Japanese automakers didn’t do much better:

  • GM -21.1%
  • Ford -17.5%
  • Fiat Chrysler -35.8%
  • Toyota -19.9%
  • Honda -10.7%
  • Nissan -9.0%

For all automakers combined, car sales sagged 12.2% from a year ago.

A lot of attention is given to our 20 trillion dollar national debt, and rightly so, but a similar amount of attention should be paid to the fact that U.S. households are collectively more than 12 trillion dollars in debt.

About two-thirds of the nation is essentially living paycheck to paycheck. Most families really struggle to pay the bills from month to month, and all it would take is a major event such as a job loss or a significant illness to plunge them into financial oblivion.

In America today we are told that the secret to success is a college education, but most young Americans have to go deep into debt to afford such an education.

As a result, most college graduates start out life in the “real world” with a mountain of debt. And since many of them never find the “good jobs” that they were promised, repayment of that debt becomes a very big issue. In fact, the Wall Street Journal has discovered that student loan repayment rates are much worse than we were being told…

Last Friday, the Education Department released a memo saying that it had overstated student loan repayment rates at most colleges and trade schools and provided updated numbers.

When The Wall Street Journal analyzed the new numbers, the data revealed that the Department previously had inflated the repayment rates for 99.8% of all colleges and trade schools in the country.

The new analysis shows that at more than 1,000 colleges and trade schools, or about a quarter of the total, at least half the students had defaulted or failed to pay down at least $1 on their debt within seven years.

If you do find yourself deep in debt, a lot of families have found success by following a plan that was pioneered by author Dave Ramsey. His “Debt Snowball Plan” really works, but you have to be committed to it.

Getting out of debt can be tremendously freeing. So many people spend so many sleepless nights consumed by financial stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Most of us have had to go into debt for some reason or another, and not all debt is bad debt. For example, very few of us would be able to own a home without getting a mortgage, and usually mortgages come with very low interest rates these days.

But other forms of debt (such as credit card debt or payday loans) can be financially crippling. When it comes to eliminating debt, it is often a really good idea to start with the most toxic forms of debt first.

It has been said that the borrower is the servant of the lender, and you don’t want to spend the best years of your life making somebody else rich.

Whether economic conditions turn out to be good or bad in 2017, the truth is that each one of us should be trying to do what we can to get out of debt.

Unfortunately, a lot of people never seem to learn from the past, and I have a feeling that both consumer and commercial bankruptcies will continue to rise throughout the rest of this year.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

At This Current Pace, A Record-Shattering 2.4 Trillion Dollars Will Be Added To The National Debt This Year

america-is-broke

Barack Obama is about to become the 20 trillion dollar man.  With less than two months to go in his second term, the U.S. national debt stands less than 150 billion dollars away from the 20 trillion dollar mark.  And at the pace that the debt is increasing, it seems almost certain that we will cross 20 trillion dollars before Inauguration Day.  After promising us that “deficits are under control”, the federal debt jumped by more than 1.3 trillion dollars last fiscal year, and so far this year it is on pace to rise by a record-shattering 2.4 trillion dollars.  This is a recipe for national suicide, and yet it wasn’t even a major issue during the recently concluded presidential campaign.

It is really, really hard to spend a trillion dollars.  For example, if you were alive when Jesus was born and you had spent a million dollars every single day since that time, you still would not have spent a trillion dollars by now.

And even though the Republicans have had control of the House of Representatives since 2010, the wild spending has not slowed down one bit.  In fact, it is actually accelerating as we near the end of Obama’s second term.  Last year’s rise in the debt of more than 1.3 trillion dollars was shocking enough, but this year we are on pace to top that number by more than a trillion dollars.  The following comes from Simon Black

According to data released by the Treasury Department yesterday, the US national debt has soared by a whopping $294 billion since the start of the 2017 fiscal year, just 45 days ago.

That’s an annualized increase of 13%.

So if they keep up this pace, the national debt will increase by $2.4 trillion this fiscal year, surpassing $21 trillion by next September.

The only reason we have been able to go on this debt binge for as long as we have is because the rest of the world has been willing to loan us trillions upon trillions of dollars at ridiculously low interest rates that are well below the real rate of inflation.

This is a highly irrational state of affairs, and once this changes we are going to be in a massive amount of trouble.

And since Donald Trump’s election victory, we have already seen the rate on 10 year U.S. Treasury notes shoot up dramatically.

Over the long-term, the average rate of interest paid on U.S. government debt has been about 6 percent.  Right now we are way below that, but that cannot last forever.

At some point rates will rise, and if we were to just get back to the 5 percent mark we would be paying more than a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt once the debt hits $21 trillion.

The bottom line is that we are racing toward national bankruptcy.

But instead of focusing on getting the debt under control, Donald Trump is already promising a whole bunch of new spending in addition to what is already taking place.

This week, Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen warned Congress about what Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spending program may mean for our financial situation…

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged a $1 trillion infrastructure spending program to help jump-start an economy that he said during the campaign was in terrible shape.

Speaking on Capitol Hill Thursday, Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen warned lawmakers that as they consider such spending, they should keep an eye on the national debt. Yellen also said that while the economy needed a big boost with fiscal stimulus after the financial crisis, that’s not the case now.

“The economy is operating relatively close to full employment at this point,” she said, “so in contrast to where the economy was after the financial crisis when a large demand boost was needed to lower unemployment, we’re no longer in that state.”

The truth is that we simply can’t afford to keep going into so much debt.

Debt literally destroys the future, and since Barack Obama has been in the White House our government has been stealing more than 100 million dollars an hour from our children and our grandchildren every single hour of every single day.  It is a crime of such a magnitude that I don’t know if there are words to describe it, and yet only a very small fraction of the population is upset about this right now.

We have just come to accept that ripping off our children and our grandchildren is normal.  But someday if they get the chance they will curse us for what we have done to them.

In our extreme arrogance, we actually think that it is okay to saddle them with a giant mountain of debt that they will be servicing for their entire lives.  In a just society, those that have done this to future generations of Americans would be going to prison.

When you go into debt, you take consumption from the future and bring it into the present.  In essence, we are taking money that they should have been able to spend, and instead we are spending it right now.

Without a doubt, government spending helps the economy in the short-term.  When the government spends money, it gets into the pockets of ordinary Americans who in turn spend that money on goods and services that they need.  So that is why politicians like to borrow and spend – it makes the economy perform better than it otherwise would, and voters tend to vote for incumbents when “things are going well”.

If the federal government had only spent the money that it took in through taxes over the past eight years, we would be in a rip-roaring depression right now.  Barack Obama and those that work under him understand this, and that is why they were perfectly fine with running the national debt up to 20 trillion dollars.  They will take credit for “fixing the economy”, but the truth is that all they did was steal trillions of dollars from our kids and our grandkids.

And anyone that has ever gotten into trouble with debt knows that a day of reckoning comes eventually.

Could our day of reckoning be just around the corner during the Trump years?

Donald Trump will be blamed if everything crashes while he is in office, but the real blame should be placed at the feet of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and a deeply corrupt Congress that always went along with the wild spending.

About the author: Michael Snyder is the founder and publisher of The Economic Collapse Blog and The Most Important News. Michael’s controversial new book about Bible prophecy entitled “The Rapture Verdict” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

Corporations Are Defaulting On Their Debts Like It’s 2008 All Over Again

Corporate Debt Defaults - Public Domain

The Dow closed above 18,000 on Monday for the first time since July. Isn’t that great news? I truly wish that it was. If the Dow actually reflected economic reality, I could stop writing about “economic collapse” and start blogging about cats or football. Unfortunately, the stock market and the economy are moving in two completely different directions right now. Even as stock prices soar, big corporations are defaulting on their debts at a level that we have not seen since the last financial crisis. In fact, this wave of debt defaults have become so dramatic that even USA Today is reporting on it

Get ready to step over some landmines, investors. The number of companies defaulting on their debt is hitting levels not seen since the financial crisis, and it’s not just a problem for bondholders.

So far this year, 46 companies have defaulted on their debt, the highest level since 2009, according to S&P Ratings Services. Five companies defaulted this week, based on the latest data available from S&P Ratings Services. That includes New Jersey-based specialty chemical company Vertellus Specialties and Ohio-based iron ore producer Cliffs Natural. Of the world’s defaults this year, 37 are of companies based in the U.S.

Meanwhile, coal producer Peabody Energy (BTU) and surfwear seller Pacific Sunwear (PSUN) this week filed plans for bankruptcy protection. Shares of Peabody have dropped 97% over the past year to $2 a share and Pacific Sunwear stock is off 98% to 4 cents a share.

A lot of big companies in this country have fallen on hard times, and it looks like bankruptcy attorneys are going to be absolutely swamped with work for the foreseeable future.

So why are stock prices soaring right now? After all, it doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever.

And it isn’t just a few bad apples that we are talking about. All across the spectrum, corporate revenues and corporate earnings are down. At this point, earnings for companies on the S&P 500 have plunged a total of 18.5 percent from their peak in late 2014, and it is being projected that corporate earnings overall will be down 8.5 percent for the first quarter of 2016 compared to one year ago.

As earnings decline, a lot of big companies are getting into trouble with debt, and we have already seen a very large number of corporate debt downgrades. In recent interviews, I have been bringing up the fact that the average rating on U.S. corporate debt has now fallen to “BB”, which is already lower than it was at any point during the last financial crisis.

A lot of people don’t seem to believe me when I share that fact, but it is absolutely true.

One of the big reasons why corporate debt is being downgraded is because a lot of these big companies have been going into enormous amounts of debt in order to buy back their own stock. The following comes from Wolf Richter

Downgrades ascribed to “shareholder compensation,” as Moody’s calls share buybacks and dividends, have been soaring, according to John Lonski, Chief Economist at Moody’s Capital Markets Research. The moving 12-month sum of Moody’s credit rating downgrades of US companies, jumped from 32 in March 2015, to 48 in December 2015, and to 61 in March 2016, nearly doubling within a year.

The last time the number of downgrades attributed to financial engineering reached 61 was in early 2007. It would hit its peak of 79 in mid- 2007, a few months before the beginning of the Great Recession in Q4 2007. At the time, stocks were on the verge of commencing their epic crash.

When corporations go into the market and buy back their own stock, they are slowly cannibalizing themselves. But we have seen these stock buybacks soar to record levels for a couple of reasons. Number one, big investors want to see stock prices go up, and so big investors tend to really like these stock buybacks and will generally support corporate executives that wish to engage in doing this. Number two, if you are a greedy corporate executive that is heavily compensated by stock options, you very much want to see the stock price go up as well.

So the name of the game is greed, and stock buybacks have been fueling much of the rise in U.S. stock prices that we have been seeing recently.

However, the truth is that nothing in the financial world lasts forever, and this irrational bubble will ultimately come to an end as well.

Earlier today, I am across an article that included a comment from Michael Hartnett of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He believes that there are a lot of parallels between what is happening today and the period of time that immediately preceded the bursting of the dotcom bubble

Back then, as could be the case today, a bull market & a US-led economic recovery was rudely interrupted by a crisis in Emerging Markets. The crisis threatened to hurt Main Street via Wall Street (the Nasdaq fell 33% between Jul-Oct 1998, when [Long-Term Capital Management] went under). Policy makers panicked and monetary policy was eased (with hindsight unnecessarily). Fresh liquidity combined with apocalyptic investor sentiment very quickly morphed into a violent but narrow equity bull market/bubble in 1998/99, one which ultimately took valuations & interest rates sharply higher to levels that eventually caused a “pop”.

Like Hartnett, I definitely believe that a major “pop” is on the way, although I would like for it to be delayed for as long as possible.

Someday we will look back on these times with utter amazement. It has been absolutely incredible how the financial markets have been able to defy economic reality for so long.

But they can’t do it forever, and according to a brand new CNN survey Americans are becoming increasingly pessimistic about where the real economy is heading…

In a new CNNMoney/E*Trade survey of Americans who have at least $10,000 in an online trading account, over half (52%) gave the U.S. economy as a “C” grade. Another 15% rated the economy a “D” or “F.”

This gloom persists despite the fact that the stock market is on the upswing again. The Dow topped 18,000 Monday for the first time since July 2015.

If some Americans think that the U.S. economy deserves a “D” or an “F” grade right now, just wait until they see what is in our immediate future.

Personally, I give our economy an “A” for being able to maintain our unsustainable debt-fueled standard of living for as long as it has. Somehow we have managed to consume far more than we produce for decades, and the largest debt bubble in the history of the planet just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Of course we are very much living on borrowed time at this point, but I truly hope that the bubble economy can keep going for at least a little while longer, because nobody should want to see what is coming afterwards.

*About the author: Michael Snyder is the founder and publisher of The Economic Collapse Blog. Michael’s controversial new book about Bible prophecy entitled “The Rapture Verdict” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.*

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

Financial Crisis 2016: High Yield Debt Tells Us That Just About EVERYTHING Is About To Collapse

Money Tornado - Public Domain

Did you know that there are more than 1.8 trillion dollars worth of junk bonds outstanding in the United States alone? With interest rates at record lows all over the world in recent years, investors that were starving for a decent return poured hundreds of billions of dollars into high yield debt (also known as junk bonds). This created a giant bubble, but at first everything seemed to be going fine. Defaults were very low and most investors were seeing a nice return. But then the price of oil started crashing and the global economy began to slow down significantly. Energy company debt makes up somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the junk bond market, and the credit rating downgrades for that sector are coming fast and furious. But it isn’t just the energy industry that is seeing a massive wave of defaults, debt restructurings and bankruptcy filings. Just like with subprime mortgages in 2008, investors are starting to wake up and realize that the paper that they are holding is not worth a whole lot. So now investors are rushing for the exits and we are starting to see panic on a level that we have not witnessed since the last financial crisis.

Just look at what has been happening in recent days. Investors took nearly 500 million dollars out of the largest junk bond ETF (iShares HYG) last week alone. The following chart shows that HYG has now fallen to the lowest level that it has been since the last financial crisis

HYG February 2016

During the last financial crisis, junk bonds starting crashing well before stocks did. In fact, many consider junk bonds to be a sort of “early warning system” for stocks. For many analysts, when you see high yield debt collapse that is a huge warning sign that you need to get out of stocks as soon as possible.

And this makes perfect sense. When financial trouble erupts, it is going to hit more vulnerable companies first usually.

Blue chip companies are typically not in the high yield debt market. Normally, high yield debt is only for companies that have more risk associated with them. And it is risky companies that typically start to crumble the quickest.

Another high yield ETF that I watch very closely is JNK. As you can see, the chart for JNK looks nearly identical to the chart for HYG…

JNK - February 2016

What these charts are telling us is that a new financial crisis began during the second half of last year and that it is now accelerating.

At this point, yields have reached levels that we have not seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The following bit of analysis comes from Wolf Richter

The average yield of CCC or lower-rated junk bonds hit the 20% mark a week ago. The last time yields had jumped to that level was on September 20, 2008, in the panic after the Lehman bankruptcy, as we pointed out. Today, that average yield is nearly 22%!

Today even the average yield spread between those bonds and US Treasuries has breached the 20% mark. Last time this happened was on October 6, 2008, during the post-Lehman panic:

Junk Bond Spreads - Wolf Richter

At this cost of capital, companies can no longer borrow. Since they’re cash-flow negative, they’ll run out of liquidity sooner or later. When that happens, defaults jump, which blows out spreads even further, which is what happened during the Financial Crisis. The market seizes. Financial chaos ensues.

After junk bonds crashed in 2008, virtually every other kind of investment followed suit.

Just about the only thing that didn’t crash were precious metals. Gold and silver soared, and that is what you would expect to happen during a major financial crisis.

Another thing that I am watching closely is margin debt.

During past financial bubbles, we have seen lots of people borrow lots and lots of money to buy stocks.

If that sounds like a really bad idea, that is because it is a really bad idea.

Whenever margin debt peaks and then starts to decline precipitously, that is a signal that a stock market crash could be imminent. The following chart comes from James Stack

Margin Debt - James Stack

After looking at that chart, I can’t understand how anyone couldn’t see the pattern.

We keep making the same mistakes, but we never seem to learn from history. In fact, the mainstream media keeps telling us that this new financial crisis “isn’t 2008” over and over again. Even though the exact same patterns are happening once again, they still believe that this time will somehow be different.

And to a certain extent that is actually true. This current crisis is not going to be the same as the last one. Eventually, it is going to prove to be even worse than the last one once everything is all said and done.

So what should we all be doing? In a recent article entitled “70 Tips That Will Help You Survive What Is Going To Happen To America“, I gave my readers some basic pieces of advice on how to get prepared for what is coming. But not all of them will apply immediately. For example, my wife and I don’t believe that we will need our emergency food next month. But down the road we are absolutely convinced that we will need it.

For the moment, one of the key things is to build up an emergency fund. In my opinion, everyone should have an emergency fund that can cover at least six months of bills and expenses. And now is not the time to go into debt. Instead of buying lots of shiny new toys, now is a time to spend money on practical things that will be needed during the hard times that are coming.

Unfortunately, most people believe what they want to believe, and most people do not want to believe that hard times are coming. They have an extraordinary amount of faith in the system, and they are convinced that this time will be different somehow.

So I wish them the best, but as for me and my family, we are getting prepared.

What about you?

Are you getting prepared?

Please feel free to share your thoughts with the rest of us by posting a comment below…

The Oil Crash Of 2016 Has The Big Banks Running Scared

Running Scared - Public Domain

Last time around it was subprime mortgages, but this time it is oil that is playing a starring role in a global financial crisis. Since the start of 2015, 42 North American oil companies have filed for bankruptcy, 130,000 good paying energy jobs have been lost in the United States, and at this point 50 percent of all energy junk bonds are “distressed” according to Standard & Poor’s. As you will see below, some of the big banks have a tremendous amount of loan exposure to the energy industry, and now they are bracing for big losses. And the longer the price of oil stays this low, the worse the carnage is going to get.

Today, the price of oil has been hovering around 29 dollars a barrel, and over the past 18 months the price of oil has fallen by more than 70 percent. This is something that has many U.S. consumers very excited. The average price of a gallon of gasoline nationally is just $1.89 at the moment, and on Monday it was selling for as low as 46 cents a gallon at one station in Michigan.

But this oil crash is nothing to cheer about as far as the big banks are concerned. During the boom years, those banks gave out billions upon billions of dollars in loans to fund exceedingly expensive drilling projects all over the world.

Now those firms are dropping like flies, and the big banks could potentially be facing absolutely catastrophic losses. The following examples come from CNN

For instance, Wells Fargo (WFC) is sitting on more than $17 billion in loans to the oil and gas sector. The bank is setting aside $1.2 billion in reserves to cover losses because of the “continued deterioration within the energy sector.”

JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is setting aside an extra $124 million to cover potential losses in its oil and gas loans. It warned that figure could rise to $750 million if oil prices unexpectedly stay at their current $30 level for the next 18 months.

Citigroup is another bank that also has a tremendous amount of exposure

Citigroup (C) built up loan loss reserves in the energy space by $300 million. The bank said the move reflects its view that “oil prices are likely to remain low for a longer period of time.”

If oil stays around $30 a barrel, Citi is bracing for about $600 million of energy credit losses in the first half of 2016. Citi said that figure could double to $1.2 billion if oil dropped to $25 a barrel and stayed there.

For the moment, these big banks are telling the public that the damage can be contained.

But didn’t they tell us the same thing about subprime mortgages in 2008?

We are already seeing bank stocks start to slide precipitously. People are beginning to realize that these banks are dangerously exposed to a lot of really bad deals.

If the price of oil were to shoot back up above 50 dollars in very short order, the damage would probably be manageable. Unfortunately, that does not appear likely to happen. In fact, now that sanctions have been lifted on Iran, the Iranians are planning to flood the world with massive amounts of oil that they have been storing in tankers at sea

Iran has been carefully planning for its return from the economic penalty box by hoarding tons of oil in tankers at sea.

Now that the U.S. and European Union have lifted some sanctions on Iran, the OPEC country can begin selling its massive stockpile of oil.

The sale of this seaborne oil will allow Iran to get an immediate financial boost before it ramps up production. The onslaught of Iranian oil is coming at a terrible time for the global oil markets, which are already drowning in an epic supply glut.

Just the other day, I explained that some of the biggest banks in the world are now projecting that the price of oil could soon fall much, much lower.

Morgan Stanley says that it could go as low as 20 dollars a barrel, the Royal Bank of Scotland says that it could go as low as 16 dollars a barrel, and Standard Chartered says that it could go as low as 10 dollars a barrel.

But the truth is that the price of oil does not need to go down one penny more to have a catastrophic impact on global financial markets. If it just stays right here, we will see an endless parade of layoffs, energy company bankruptcies and debt defaults. Without any change, junk bonds will continue to crash and financial institutions will continue to go down like dominoes.

We are already experiencing a major disaster. Things are already so bad that some forms of low quality crude oil are literally selling for next to nothing. The following comes from Bloomberg

Oil is so plentiful and cheap in the U.S. that at least one buyer says it would pay almost nothing to take a certain type of low-quality crude.

Flint Hills Resources LLC, the refining arm of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch’s industrial empire, said it offered to pay $1.50 a barrel Friday for North Dakota Sour, a high-sulfur grade of crude, according to a corrected list of prices posted on its website Monday. It had previously posted a price of -$0.50. The crude is down from $13.50 a barrel a year ago and $47.60 in January 2014.

While the near-zero price is due to the lack of pipeline capacity for a particular variety of ultra low quality crude, it underscores how dire things are in the U.S. oil patch.

A chart that I saw posted on Zero Hedge earlier today can help put all of this into perspective. Whenever the price of oil falls really low relative to the price of gold, there is a major global crisis. Right now an ounce of gold will purchase more oil than ever before, and many believe that this indicates that a new great crisis is upon us…

The number of barrels of oil that a single ounce of gold can buy has never, ever been higher.

Barrels Of Oil Per Ounce Of Gold

All over the planet, big banks are absolutely teeming with bad loans. And to be honest, the big banks in the U.S. are probably in better shape than some of the major banks in Europe and Asia. But once the dominoes start to fall, very few financial institutions are going to escape unscathed.

In the coming days I would expect to see more headlines like we just got out of Italy. Apparently, Italian banks are nearing full meltdown mode, and short selling has been temporarily banned. To me, it appears that we are just inches away from full-blown financial panic in Europe.

However, just like with the last financial crisis, you never quite know where the next “explosion” is going to happen next.

But one thing is for sure – the financial crisis that began during the second half of 2015 is raging out of control, and the pain that we have seen so far is just the beginning.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

Is The Global Economy Getting Ready To Implode?

World On Fire - Public Domain

Did you know that the number of publicly traded companies declaring bankruptcy has reached a five year high? And did you know that Chinese exports are absolutely collapsing and that Chinese economic growth in 2014 was the weakest in over 20 years? Even though things may seem to be okay on the surface for the global economy at the moment, that does not mean that big trouble is not percolating just under the surface. On Wednesday, investors cheered as stocks soared to new highs, but almost all of the economic news coming in from around the planet has been bad. The credit rating on Greek debt has been slashed again, global economic trade is really slowing down, and many of the exact same financial patterns that we saw just before the crash of 2008 are repeating once again. All of this reminds me of the months leading up to the implosion of Lehman Brothers. Most people were feeling really good about things, but huge trouble was brewing just underneath the surface. Finally, one day we learned that Lehman Brothers had “suddenly” collapsed, and then all hell broke loose.

If the economy is actually “getting better” like we are being told by the establishment media, then why are so many big companies declaring bankruptcy? According to CNBC, the number of publicly traded companies declaring bankruptcy has hit a five year high…

The number of bankruptcies among publicly traded U.S. companies has climbed to the highest first-quarter level for five years, according to a Reuters analysis of data from research firm bankruptcompanynews.com.

Plunging prices of crude oil and other commodities is one of the major reasons for the increased filings, and bankruptcy experts said a more aggressive stance by lenders may also be hurting some companies.

It is interesting to note that the price of oil is being named as one of the primary reasons why this is happening.

In an article entitled “Anyone That Believes That Collapsing Oil Prices Are Good For The Economy Is Crazy“, I warned about this. If the price of oil does not bounce back in a huge way, we are going to see a lot more companies go bankrupt, a lot more people are going to lose their jobs, and a lot more corporate debt is going to go bad.

And of course this oil crash has not just hurt the United States. All over the world, economic activity is being curtailed because of what has happened to the price of oil…

In the heady days of the commodity boom, oil-rich nations accumulated billions of dollars in reserves they invested in U.S. debt and other securities. They also occasionally bought trophy assets, such as Manhattan skyscrapers, luxury homes in London or Paris Saint-Germain Football Club.

Now that oil prices have dropped by half to $50 a barrel, Saudi Arabia and other commodity-rich nations are fast drawing down those “petrodollar” reserves. Some nations, such as Angola, are burning through their savings at a record pace, removing a source of liquidity from global markets.

If oil and other commodity prices remain depressed, the trend will cut demand for everything from European government debt to U.S. real estate as producing nations seek to fill holes in their domestic budgets.

But it isn’t just oil. We appear to be moving into a time when things are slowing down all over the place.

In a recent article, Zero Hedge summarized some of the bad economic news that has come in just this week…

Mortgage Apps tumble, Empire Fed slumps, and now Industrial Production plunges… Against expectations of a 0.3% drop MoM, US Factory Output was twice as bad at -0.6% – the worst since August 2012 (and lamost worst since June 2009). This is the 4th miss in a row.

If we are indeed heading into another economic downturn, that is really bad news, because at the moment we are in far worse shape than we were just prior to the last recession.

To help illustrate this, I want to share with you a couple of charts.

This first chart comes from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and it shows that after you adjust for inflation, median income for the middle class is the lowest that it has been in decades

Median Income St. Louis Fed

This next chart shows that median net worth for the middle class is also the lowest that it has been in decades after you adjust for inflation…

Median Net Worth St. Louis Fed

The middle class is being systematically destroyed. For much more on this, please see this recent article that I published. And now we are on the verge of another major economic slowdown. That is not what the middle class needs at all.

We are also getting some very disturbing economic news out of China.

In 2014, economic growth in China was the weakest in more than 20 years, and Chinese export numbers are absolutely collapsing

China’s monthly trade data shows exports fell in March from a year ago by 14.6% in yuan terms, compared to expectations for a rise of more than 8%.

Imports meanwhile fell 12.3% in yuan terms compared to forecasts for a fall of more than 11%.

This is a clear sign that global economic activity is slowing down in a big way.

In addition, Chinese home prices are now falling at a faster pace then U.S. home prices fell during the subprime mortgage meltdown

It appeared as though things went from bad to worse nearly overnight; China’s National Bureau of Statistics said that contrary to hopes that there would be a modest rebound, the average new home price in China fell at the fastest pace on record in February, from the previous year.

Reuters reported that average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities fell 5.7 percent, year to year, in February – marking the sixth consecutive drop after January’s decline of 5.1 percent.

Things continue to get worse in Europe as well.

This week we learned that the credit rating for Greek government debt has been slashed once again

Standard & Poor’s has just cut Greece’s credit rating to “CCC+” from “B-” with a negative outlook.

S&P said it expected Greece’s debt to be “unsustainable.” It cited the potential for dissolving liquidity in the government, banks and economy.

And according to the Financial Times, we could actually be on the verge of witnessing a Greek debt default…

Greece is preparing to take the dramatic step of declaring a debt default unless it can reach a deal with its international creditors by the end of April, according to people briefed on the radical leftist government’s thinking.

The government, which is rapidly running out of funds to pay public sector salaries and state pensions, has decided to withhold €2.5bn of payments due to the International Monetary Fund in May and June if no agreement is struck, they said.

So I hope that those that are euphoric about the performance of their stock portfolios are taking their profits while they still can.

Huge trouble is percolating just under the surface of the global economy, and it won’t be too long before the financial markets start feeling the pain.

(Originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog)

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