When it comes to the US housing market there appear to be three groups of people: those who who have either unlimited cash and/or access to credit, and like the most rabid of bubble-chasing speculators, are perfectly happy to engage in a game of Flip That House for a short-term profit pending the discovery of a greater fool (often times converting the house into rental properties as numerous hedge funds have been doing on cost-free basis courtesy of the government's REO-To-Rent program) - they are the vast minority of speculators; then there are those who currently rent and are opportunistically looking at home prices, willing to dip their toe at the right price - these too are few and far between and mostly represent a function of the natural growth of the US household offset by the availability of jobs; and then there is everyone else. Sadly, it is the "everyone else" that is the vast majority of the US population. It is this "everyone else" who comprises the bulk of those who have been kicked out of the American Dream, whose core pillar has always been owning your own home (with or without a massive mortgage attached), not renting. As the US Census Bureau reported earlier today, the US homeownership rates in the first quarter of 2013 dropped by another 0.4% to a fresh 18 years low, or 65% - the lowest since 1995!
Did you know that there are thousands upon thousands of homeless people that are living underground beneath the streets of major U.S. cities? It is happening in Las Vegas, it is happening in New York City and it is even happening in Kansas City. As the economy crumbles, poverty in the United States is absolutely exploding and so is homelessness. In addition to the thousands of "tunnel people" living under the streets of America, there are also thousands that are living in tent cities, there are tens of thousands that are living in their vehicles and there are more than a million public school children that do not have a home to go back to at night. The federal government tells us that the recession "is over" and that "things are getting better", and yet poverty and homelessness in this country continue to rise with no end in sight. So what in the world are things going to look like when the next economic crisis hits?
If the economy is getting better, then why does poverty in America continue to grow so rapidly? Yes, the stock market has been hitting all-time highs recently, but also the number of Americans living in poverty has now reached a level not seen since the 1960s. Yes, corporate profits are at levels never seen before, but so is the number of Americans on food stamps. Yes, housing prices have started to rebound a little bit (especially in wealthy areas), but there are also more than a million public school students in America that are homeless. That is the first time that has ever happened in U.S. history. So should we measure our economic progress by the false stock market bubble that has been inflated by Ben Bernanke's reckless money printing, or should we measure our economic progress by how the poor and the middle class are doing? Because if we look at how average Americans are doing these days, then there is not much to be excited about. Unfortunately, that bubble of false hope is not going to last much longer. In fact, we are already seeing signs that it is getting ready to burst.
That the US manufacturing sector has hardly performed in line with a record stock market is not news to anyone, and was confirmed most recently when the February CapEx number was revealed (i.e., Durable Goods non-defense ex aircraft) and missed expectations. Today, we closed to page on February production with the monthly Factory Orders, which printed just better than expected at the headline level or 3.0% vs expectations of a 2.9% number. However, just like with the Durable Goods data, this was entirely driven by the transportation industry, i.e., Boeing airplanes. Stripping transports, the increase from January to February was a tiny 0.3%, far below the 2.0% sequential increase in the prior month, as the entire delta in the headline increase from $477.5 billion to $492 billion was purely as a result of transports. Finally, when looked at correct on a Year over Year basis, this is how Factory Orders (headline and ex-trans) look. Surely this chart of economic activity should explains record stock prices, as sadly no other one can.
We are currently in an environment where policy makers are intent on devaluing their currencies in an effort to create growth. Real rates continue to stay negative in most of the developed world. Every marginal dollar of debt that is created is producing lower and lower amounts of growth. In a world overwhelmed by mountains of debt and economic growth which is sub-par at best, precious metals and real assets can act as insurance against the stupidity of policy makers. The evidence pointing towards the suppression of the gold price is becoming increasingly apparent. Don’t be the last person to figure this out! The current sell-off in gold should be viewed not with extreme trepidation but as an unbelievable opportunity to buy the metal at an artificially low value.
The Dow is at a record high and so are corporate profits - so why does it feel like most of the country is deeply suffering right now? Real household income is the lowest that it has been in a decade, poverty is absolutely soaring, 47 million Americans are on food stamps and the middle class is being systematically destroyed. How can big corporations be doing so well while most American families are having such a hard time? Isn't their wealth supposed to "trickle down" to the rest of us? Unfortunately, that is not how the real world works. But now we have replaced capitalism with something that we like to call "corporatism". In many ways, it shares a lot of characteristics with communism, and that is why nations such as communist China have embraced it so readily. Today, most big corporations are trying to minimize the number of "expensive" American workers on their payrolls as much as they can. Right now, the system is designed to continually funnel more money and more power to the very top of the pyramid. The global elite are becoming more dominant with each passing day. The idea of a very tiny elite completely dominating all the rest of us goes against everything that America is supposed to stand for. In the end, it will result in absolute tyranny if it is not stopped.
Today, the Federal Government's office in D.C. will be closed due to weather: we note this because supposedly someone would notice a difference. Not the sequester, no matter how hard the administration would like to blame it for today's shutdown, but the weather is to blame. Stone McCarthy explains what this means for today's economic reports. "The Office of Personal Management announced Wednesday, March 6 that federal government offices in the Washington, DC area would be closed due to weather. As a result, the usual lockup procedures for the release of economic data will be suspended. The only economic report of note set for release by the federal government on Wednesday is the data for factory orders in January. It will be published on the Census Bureau website at 10:00 ET as scheduled. The Federal Reserve's Beige Book is scheduled for release at 14:00 ET on Wednesday, and we anticipate it will be available on that website at the announced time."
Is "discretionary income" rapidly becoming a thing of the past for most American families? Right now, there are a lot of signs that we are on the verge of a nightmarish consumer spending drought. Incomes are down, taxes are up, many large retail chains are deeply struggling because of the lack of customers, and at this point nearly a quarter of all Americans have more credit card debt than money in the bank. Considering the fact that consumer spending is such a large percentage of the U.S. economy, that is very bad news. How will we ever have a sustained economic recovery if consumers don't have much money to spend? Well, the truth is that we aren't ever going to have a sustained economic recovery. In fact, this debt-fueled bubble of false hope that we are experiencing right now is as good as things are going to get. Things are going to go downhill from here, and if you think that consumer spending is bad now, just wait until you see what happens over the next several years. The following are 16 signs that the middle class is rapidly running out of money...
What could go wrong with the housing 'recovery' in 2013? To answer this question, we need to understand that housing is the key component a middle class squeezed by historically high debt loads, stagnant incomes, and a net worth largely dependent on their home. In response, Central Planners have pulled out all the stops to reflate housing as the only available means to spark a broad-based “wealth effect” that would support higher spending and an expansion of household debt. This returns us to the key question: Are all these Central Planning interventions sustainable, or might they falter in 2013? Once markets become dependent on intervention and support to price risk and assets, they are intrinsically vulnerable to any reduction in that support. Should these supports diminish or lose their effectiveness, it will be sink-or-swim for housing. Either organic demand rises without subsidies and lenders originate mortgages without agency guarantees, or the market could resume the fall in valuations Central Planning halted in 2009.
I really need to stop being so pessimistic. I’m getting richer by the day. My home value is rising at a rate of 1% per month according to the National Association of Realtors. At that rate, my house will be worth $1 million in less than 10 years. Every mainstream media newspaper, magazine, and news channel is telling me the “strong” housing recovery is propelling the economy and creating millions of new jobs. Keynesian economists, Wall Street bankers, government apparatchiks and housing trade organizations are all in agreement that the wealth effect from rising home prices will be the jumpstart our economy needs to get back to the glory days of 2005. Who am I to argue with such honorable men with degrees from Ivy League schools and a track record of unquestioned accuracy as we can see in the chart below? These are the facts. But why trust facts when you can believe Baghdad Ben and the NAR? It’s always the best time to buy.
Who fares better in retirement, pensioners or folks who saved up their own respective nest eggs? If you look at the numbers, you might be surprised to learn who's really "living large" after retirement.
And by "you", we mean of course the average American worker, who according to the Census Bureau averaged a full-time income of $4,400 per month, and whose plight has been documented extensively as making less and less on an inflation-adjusted basis every year, having an ever older average age, putting off retirement indefinitely, and whose lifestyle continues to deteriorate in line with the progressive elimination of the US middle class. But for every million or so disenfranchised workers, there are a few hundred lucky ones, in this particular case interns who work at companies that pay better than the average American worker. So if you are tired of making next to minimum wage, here is your chance to start afresh as an intern with zero experience at one of these 25 companies, while probably making more than the current jobs pays.
It’s Valentine’s Day – a unique combination of Hallmark Holiday, celebration of romantic love, and source of self-loathing angst, all depending on your personal situation. And in that Rorschach test located in the local drugstore’s greeting card aisle, ConvergEx's Nick Colas finds some useful lessons about investing and economic development. Most divorced Americans remarry, for example, within four years of the end of their first marriage. Any surprise that investors are looking to hitch up with stocks again, some six years after that messy divorce in 2007? More scientifically, the brain functions of people in love use the same bits of the cranium as we all light up when assessing the pros and cons of a given investment. “Don’t fall in love with your positions” is good advice. A central observation to a lot of Nick's work: investing isn’t any different from many of the other decisions we make in our lives. Love, heartache, winning investments, losing positions – it matters not. Our decisions in life all filter through the same personality. There’s an old saying: “What does every bad relationship you’ve ever had share in common? You.” More optimistically, all the good ones have the same feature.
The economic collapse is not a single event. The economic collapse has been happening, it is is happening right now, and it will continue to happen. Yes, there will be times when our decline will be punctuated by moments of great crisis, but that will be the exception rather than the rule. A lot of people that write about "the economic collapse" hype it up as if it will be some huge "event" that will happen very rapidly and then once it is all over we will rebuild. Unfortunately, that is not how the real world works. We are living in the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world, and once it completely bursts there will be no going back to how things were before. But other than that, everything is rainbows and lollipops, right?