With real incomes stagnant and the cost of everything from food, school tuition and healthcare premiums skyrocketing for millions of Americans, it appears that borrowing against one’s home is once again a key source for consumption, if not survival, for the nearly extinct socio-economic demographicknown as the middle-class. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that home-equity lines of credit (Helocs) had increased at a 8% rate year-over-year in 1Q14...The new American Dream.
Easy money and the timing of the Fed’s policy shift continue to dominate across the globe. Recovery is widely assumed for the next two years; but as Abe Gulkowitz exposes in this week's The PunchLine chartapalooza, deep-seated weaknesses have also become more evident. Very obvious financial vulnerabilities, repercussions from various political stalemates and serious geopolitical concerns are aggravating the problems of clearly insufficient growth in the world economy. And let’s not forget that many of the challenges cannot be resolved easily...
At the beginning of the year, all - as in all - of the smart money expected a rising yield environment and a recovering economy. They were all wrong. Oddly enough, they still believe pretty much the same, using seasonal scapegoats to explain away their mistakes. As for what the most selective subset of the smart money believes, here is Goldman's David Kostin with the summary: "Almost all clients have the same outlook: 3% economic growth, rising earnings, rising bond yields, and a rising equity market." Goldman's own view doesn't stray much: "Our S&P 500 targets of 1900/2100/2200 for end-2014/2015/2016 are slightly more conservative but generally in line with consensus views." And of course, when everyone expects the same, the opposite happens... even if this is one of those financial cliches we wrote about yesterday.
Crunch time will hit in Spring 2016 according to some economists in the UK. That’s the time when the British will suffer the consequences of the rising annual house-price rate in the country standing at 17% per year. Oh, the people are rejoicing that their houses are worth hundreds of thousands and increasing every year.
Has the next major economic downturn already started? The way that you would answer that question would probably depend on where you live. If you live in New York City, or the suburbs of Washington D.C., or you work for one of the big tech firms in the San Francisco area, you would probably respond to such a question by saying of course not. In those areas, the economy is doing great and prices for high end homes are still booming. But in most of the rest of the nation, evidence continues to mount that the next recession has already begun for the poor and the middle class.
With tear-gas flying in the streets of Turkey, Ukraine's civil-war raging in the south and east, US drones based in Japan to oversee the South China Sea, and Europe's extremist parties gaining significant traction, today we get one more piece of considerably worrisome geopolitical news that global stock markets must ignore. The Sunday Times reports that Israel is to deploy three submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles in the Persian Gulf that are meant to act as a deterrent, gather intelligence and potentially to land Mossad agents. Iran is not happy, warning that "anyone who wishes to do an evil act in the Persian Gulf will receive a forceful response from us."
As the U.S. Greater Depression progresses, depicted most vividly in the collapse in the “civilian participation rate” (the number of people working in the economy) and the “velocity of money” (the heartbeat of the economy) - indicating an economy which is not merely in decline, but rather is being sucked downward in a terminal (and accelerating) death-spiral. There is another even more concerning statistic: U.S. “gasoline consumption” – as measured by the U.S. EIA itself – has plummeted by nearly 75%, from its all-time peak in July of 1998. A near-75% collapse in U.S. gasoline consumption has occurred in little more than 15 years... "recovery"
Did you hear the one about the Vegas gambler, the Pro golfer, and the Wall Street insider? Straight off the pages of some Hollywood script, the Wall Street Journal reports that Federal investigators are pursuing a major insider-trading probe involving finance, gambling and sports, examining the trading of investor Carl Icahn, golfer Phil Mickelson and Las Vegas bettor William "Billy" Walters. All three men have denied any investigations or "no comment"-ed about "well timed" stock trades in Clorox in 2011 - around the time Icahn made a $10.2bn bid for the company. Mr. Walters and Mr. Mickelson, 43, play golf together; and rather comedically, Mr. Icahn said he didn't know who Mr. Mickelson was...?
The overwhelming majority of global fresh water is locked up as ice or permanent snow cover, making it inaccessible and severely limiting our readily available supply. The average American uses 65 to 78 gallons of water per day, while the average person in the Republic of Gambia, Africa, uses just 1.17 gallons, barely above the minimum amount needed to survive.
Four years after its passage, Obamacare has now been largely implemented, and millions have had their coverage disrupted. For years, the administration has propagated a number of myths about Obamacare. Some have already crumbled, and others will fall as Obamacare continues to change the American health system.
One of the most important, but difficult to measure, concepts in macroeconomics is the natural or equilibrium real interest rate. This is the rate of interest consistent with full employment and stable inflation. The last few weeks have seen bond yields tumble and a rising cacophony of market participants questioning both the Fed's central tendency of terminal or natural rates (around 4%) and the market's perception of how fast we get there. SF Fed Williams models see a 1.8% natural rate, BofA also believes it is between 1.5 and 2%; and now Citi admits, "fair value of long-term rates may be lower than we and other market participants judged them to be."
"...the West, on the other hand, is full of debt and consumption. America’s greatest exports are now infinite quantities of paper currency, drone attacks, and arrogant regulations like FATCA. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this is going. The West is running out of steam, and the Social Contract subtext is breaking down. Parents are no longer able to provide a better life for their children."