Two pieces of business news announced this week provide a convenient frame through which to view our dysfunctional and distorted economy. The first (which has attracted tremendous attention), is Facebook's blockbuster $19 billion acquisition of instant messaging provider WhatsApp. The second (which few have noticed) is the horrific earnings report issued by Texas-based retail chain Conn's. While these two developments don't seem to have much in common, together they shed some very unflattering light on where we stand economically.
On Tuesday, new Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen went before Congress and confidently declared that "the economic recovery gained greater traction in the second half of last year" and that "substantial progress has been made in restoring the economy to health". This resulted in glowing headlines throughout the mainstream media such as this one from USA Today: "Yellen: Economy is improving at moderate pace". Sadly, tens of millions of Americans are going to believe what the mainstream media is telling them. But it isn't the truth. As you will see below, there are all sorts of signs that the economy is taking a turn for the worse.
- Even Obama's fans has turning on him: "The Decline and Fall of 'Hope and Change'"
- European Stocks Drop, Head for Worst January Since 2009 (BBG)
- Euro-Area Inflation at 0.7% Builds Rate Pressure on ECB (BBG)
- Japan’s Inflation Accelerates as Abe Seeks Wage Gains (BBG)
- Unpossible - this is the USSA: Detroit Debt Proposal Favors Pension Funds (WSJ)
- Keystone Report Said Likely to Disappoint Pipeline Foes (BBG)
- YHOO still pretending someone cares about it: Yahoo says detected hacking attempt on email accounts (Reuters)
- How Google's Costly Motorola Maneuver May Pay Off (WSJ)
- Mexico Surpassing Japan as No. 2 Auto Exporter to U.S. (BBG)
Two of the largest retailers in America are steamrolling toward bankruptcy. Sears and J.C. Penney are both losing hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter, and both of them appear to be caught in the grip of a death spiral from which it will be impossible to escape. Once upon a time, Sears was actually the largest retailer in the United States, and even today Sears and J.C. Penney are "anchor stores" in malls all over the country. They are both shutting down unprofitable stores and laying off employees in a desperate attempt to avoid bankruptcy, but everyone knows that they are just delaying the inevitable. These two great retail giants are dying, and they certainly won't be the last to fall. This is just the beginning.
If ever a chart provided unequivocal proof the economic recovery storyline is a fraud, the one below is the smoking gun.
- NSA phone data control may come to end (AP)
- China to rescue France: Peugeot Said to Weigh $1.4 Billion From Dongfeng, France (BBG)
- China to rescue Davos: Davos Teaches China to Ski as New Rich Lured to Slopes (BBG)
- Hollande’s Tryst and the End of Marriage (BBG)
- Iran has $100 billion abroad, can draw $4.2 billion (Reuters)
- Target Hackers Wrote Partly in Russian, Displayed High Skill, Report Finds (WSJ)
- Nintendo Sees Loss on Dismal Wii U Sales (WSJ)
- Goldman's low-cost Utah bet buoys its bottom-line (Reuters)
- Royal Dutch Shell Issues Profit Warnin: Oil Major Hit by Higher Exploration Costs and Lower Oil and Gas Volumes (WSJ)
- EU Weighs Ban on Proprietary Trading at Some Banks From 2018 (BBG) - so no holding of breaths?
- Sacramento Kings to Accept Bitcoin (WSJ)
You really can't make this shit up. From the funniest person on financial comedy TV (whose most memorable TV appearance will always be roaring that Bear Stearns is fine days before its collapse), here is his "opinion" on Best Sell Buy, entirely in his own words.
It would appear that the meteoric 300% rise of Best Buy's shares last year was promoted to the general investing public as the renaissance of the on-the-verge-of-bankruptcy warehouse store and sure enough, the world and his mom piled in to chase the momo higher and higher... until today. With a 30% tumble this morning, those momo-chasing moms and pops may be less enamored to buy-the-dip but there was one 'smart-money' insider who was selling as fast as retail was buying. Co-Founder Richard Schulze (who indicated in August he would be selling to 'diversify' his holdings) piled out of the stock through most of the fourth quarter (at a level well above this morning's opening print).
Despite several apparently well respected sell-side shops proclaiming that all would be well, the electronics warehouse missed comps (Sales at stores open at least 14 months were down 0.9 percent in the US (compared to expectations of +2.0%) and is being punished. Revenues fell 2.6% for the comparable period also. Shares are down 30% in the pre-market to 7-month lows as the company claims an "intensely promotional holiday season." It seems, perhaps, that following several other retailers' earnings updates the holiday season was even worse than many had expected (especially in the bricks-and-mortar stores that actually employ real people).
A hungover America slowly wakes up from a day of society-mandated consumption and purchasing excess to engage in even more Fed-mandated excess in the equity markets. The only difference is that while the "90%" was engaged in the former and depleting their equity, and savings, accounts in the process, far less than 10% will be doing the latter. Overnight attention was drawn to the rapidly escalating territorial dispute between China and Japan, now in the air, Bitcoin's brief surge above the price of an ounce of gold, and the ejection of the Holland from the AAA Eurozone club (where only Germany and Finland remain), following an S&P downgrade of the Netherlands from AAA to AA+, which however had been largely priced in long ago (and was coupled with an upgrade of Spain from negative to stable outlook, as well as an upgrade of Spain from CCC+ to B-). Europe surprised pleasantly on both the inflation (better than expected) and unemployment rate (dropped from an all time high of 12.2% to 12.1%), even if youth unemployment rose to fresh record highs.
"Black Friday is America's most honest holiday. It is immediately preceded by Thanksgiving, which is when Americans of all races, except the native kind, get together and exchange a mutual wink and a nod that they're giving thanks for the majestic land that God inexplicably bestowed upon them and then have a turkey dinner. But Black Friday actually embodies the pioneer spirit that carried smallpox riddled settlers from one coast to the other. Like raiders in the night, shoppers drunk on red wine and diabetes crouch before the gates of the enemy's castle, or Best Buy, waiting to storm through the breach and rape and pillage and ask if this can be returned if it turns out your sister already has one..."
- M&A Mystery: Why Are Takeover Prices Plummeting? (WSJ)
- Hedge-Fund Fight Club Traded Illegal Tips Not Punches (BBG)
- Speed Traders Meet Nightmare on Elm Street With Nanex (BBG)
- A new wave of U.S. mortgage trouble threatens (Reuters)
- Penny Lane: Gitmo's other secret CIA facility (AP)
- US hardens threat to leave Afghanistan with no troops (WSJ)
- Russian Prison Stuns Captain of Greenpeace’s Bombed Ship (BBG)
- ECB's Weidmann Warns Central Banks Might Be Too Dominated by Fiscal Concerns (WSJ)
- China Air Move Splits Japan as Carriers Obey New Rules (BBG)
- Inside the Breakup of the Pritzker Empire (WSJ)
From consumer and retailer surveys to quantitative data such as household spending and private jet bookings, ConvergEx's Nick Colas has amassed a collection of 10 clues about this year's holiday shopping season. On the plus side, disposable personal income and consumer spending on discretionary items are rising, and travel to Palm Beach via private jet is quite popular this Christmas season. However, consumer confidence surveys are particularly weak, and consumer debt has ballooned to a 5-year high. Roughly equal parts good and bad, Colas' collection of holiday spending indicators points to a mediocre (at best) 2013 shopping season (as we noted earlier).
... Wait, wait, wait. What do you mean Best Buy isn't releasing the next retinest, fingerprintscanniest, NSA-trackingest, 6-8 inchiest gizmo and instead these people are simply taking a 10 day break from their highly paid, quality jobs just to wait in line for a $98 TV?
- J.P. Morgan, U.S. Reach Historic Settlement (WSJ)
- OECD cuts global growth forecast (AP)
- Guess the profit margin: Wal-Mart Touts $98 TV as Holiday Seen Weakest Since 2009 (BBG)
- Republicans defy threat, block another Obama judicial pick (Reuters)
- Fed Ponders How to Temper Tapering Without Rate Increase (BBG)
- Wall Street uses 'merchant' workaround to cling to commodity assets (Reuters)
- PBOC to ‘Basically’ End Normal Yuan Intervention, Zhou Says (BBG)
- Italy’s leader warns Germany of rise of anti-European sentiment (FT)
- Yellen Nomination for Fed Chairman to Get Vote This Week (BBG)
- As U.S. default threatened, banks took extraordinary steps (Reuters)
- NSA vowed repeatedly to fix its collection errors (AP)