After an almost uninterrupted period of decline over the last few years, US home prices now have some positive momentum. For one, the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities has seen its highest increase in more than two years. In addition, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon recently stated that his bank was seeing a surge in mortgage applications. And perhaps most importantly, the National Association of Realtors has reported that the nation’s inventory of homes on the market has dropped to its lowest level since March 2006, while the median home price is 11.3% higher than a year ago. These are definitely good signs for housing. But remember, nothing goes up or down in a straight line. Just like a stock market that suffers a serious crash, housing has been due for an upward correction. But it is a false premise to conflate ‘rebound’ with full blown ‘recovery’. The market could just as easily improve, then decline once again in a few months’ time. Positive data is great, but doesn’t necessarily portend long-term growth.
Other than some obligatory arrests for disorderly conduct, the Occupy Wall Street movement celebrated its one year anniversary this past September with little fanfare. While the movement seems to have lost momentum, at least temporarily, it did succeed in showcasing the growing sense of unease felt among a large segment of the US population – a group the Occupy movement shrewdly referred to as “the 99%”. The 99% means different things to different people, but to us, the 99% represents the US consumer. It represents the majority of Americans who are neither wealthy nor impoverished and whose spending power makes up approximately 71% of the US economy. It is the purchasing power of this massive, amorphous group that drives the US economy forward. The problem, however, is that four years into a so-called recovery, this group is still being financially squeezed from every possible angle, making it very difficult for them to maintain their standard of living, let alone increase their levels of consumption.
Initial Claims Beat This Week, Will Miss Post Revision, As Core Capital Goods Shipments Miss For Third MonthSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 10/25/2012 08:51 -0400
When we reported on the surge in last week's initial claims from 342K to 388K, we made one simple forecast: "Remember: this number will be revised to 391K next week." We were off: it was revised to 392K. In other words, the data charlatainism at the DOL continues unabated. And of course, today's Initial Claims number which magically "beat" expectations by 1K, printing at 369K, on expectations of 370K, will be revised to a miss of 372K next week. The BLS has become a total farce. In other manipulated news, the BLS reported the culprit for last week's surge in Claims: it was California, which saw a +26,935 jump in initial claims, due to "Layoffs across all sectors, with the largest share from the service industry." This somehow is supposed to offset the -4,979 claims drop from the week before, when all those plunges and jumps in claims took place. Elsewhere, the number of Americans on extended claims and EUCs dropped to 2.1 million, down 1.4 million from a year earlier.
On the surface, today's New Home Sales number was great (as always tends to happen just before a presidential election): a print of 389K seasonally adjusted annualized units sold in the US (ignoring the 37.3% collapse in the Midwest), which was a 5.7% increase from August's downward (unlike initial jobless claims, when one is attempting to report an increase, the last number is always revised downward) revised 368K (was 373K). This number was the highest adjusted print since April 2010, which makes for great headlines. So far so good, until one looks beneath the headline and finds that the 389K number (to be revised lower next month), is based on a September unadjusted number of 31K in actual sales, consistting of 3K sales in the Northeast and MidWest each, 16K in the South and 9K in the West. This is the unadjusted number, which as last week's BLS fiasco with Initial Claims showed, applying seasonal adjustments is the easiest and best way to manipulate any data set (for more see X-12 Arima's FAQ). This was the lowest print since February's 30K, the same as August's 31K, and well below the 35K from May 2012.
Education plays a fundamental role in American Society. This ultimate infographic from Census.gov provides the ultimate visualization of what all you tax dollars ($602.6bn on elementary and secondary education) and student loan debt (57.6mm people over 25 have at least a Bachelor's degree) has created - for instance: only 7% of <34-year-olds had gone to college in 1970, as opposed to 18.9% currently!
As we all know, what matters isn't our nominal earnings, it's what our earnings can buy that counts. If it takes an hour of labor to buy four gallons of gasoline, it doesn't really matter if we're paid $1.60 an hour and gasoline costs 40 cents a gallon or we're paid $16 an hour and gasoline costs $4 per gallon. Ditto $16,000 an hour and $4,000 per gallon. What matters is if our hourly wage once bought eight gallons of gasoline and now it buys only four gallons. This is called purchasing power, and rather naturally the Status Quo has worked mightily to cloak the reality that our purchasing power of the bottom 95% of wage earners has been declining for decades. Until oil no longer matters, our real earnings and our economy remain hostages to the cost of oil.
The Federal Reserve is probably not ready to take the aggressive plunge into Nominal GDP Targeting, but it likely will. But if you think these measures are desperate, we have only just begun to push energy and financial systems beyond their capability. The launch of QE3 (and similar measures by the European central bank (ECB) in Europe) is like the crack! of a starting-gun to human psychology that carries the following, urgent message: Hey, humans – go get those resources quickly, before someone else does! Indeed, the most powerful lever for monetary policy remains our capacity for social competition. The open-ended promise to pursue a faster rate of growth at the expense of inflation, mal-investment, bubbles, and the environment places a new and fast pressure on human economies to perform.
The Fed can create money but if it doesn't end up as household income it is "dead money." In the consensus view, the Federal Reserve's unlimited quantitative easing (QE3) programs will do two things: 1) boost stocks and other "risk on" assets and 2) generate inflation. The two follow-on effects are related, of course; gold and other hard assets are rising in anticipation of higher inflation. But all is not quite as it seems when it comes to the inflationary effect of creating money. Add all this up and here's what we get: money is not just being created by the Fed, it's being destroyed by declines in asset valuations and writedowns of impaired debt. Money velocity is plummeting and banks are hoarding Treasuries as much-needed collateral. As for the "wealth effect," it only affects the 5% who own enough equities to make a difference. That narrows the whole "wealth effect" to 7 million people out of 142 million workers.
Moments ago, the Census Bureau released the August new single-family house sales number: at 373,000 on an annualized basis, it missed expectations of a rise to 380,000, and was down from a revised 374,000. This is only the second miss in 2012, and confirms that all talk of a housing recovery is misguided, and merely represents one particular segment of the housing market: that of existing home sales where buyers have all cash, are price indiscriminate, and are willing to take advantage of the NAR's exemptions from anti-money laundering provisions. I.e., US real estate is merely a place to park cash for those who have obtained it using questionable means. Looking at the number on a non-SAAR basis reveals that only 31,000 actual houses sold in August, of which 3,000 in the Northeast: surely a reason to keep on bidding up the builders into the stratosphere: fear not, actual sales will come. Eventually. Finally, and demonstrating that rich buyers focus primarily on dumping money into existing mansions, was the distribution of purchases by price bucket, which showed a (Z), or under 500 houses sold, in the $750,000+ category. This was the first time there was a (Z) in this bucket since February.
By now everyone has heard the infamous Mitt Romney speech discussing the "47%" if primarily in the context of how this impacts his political chances, and how it is possible that a president "of the people" can really be a president "of the 53%." Alas, there has been very little discussion of the actual underlying facts behind this statement, which ironically underestimates the sad reality of America's transition to a welfare state. Recall Art Cashin's math from a month ago that when one adds the 107 million Americans already receiving some form of means-tested government welfare, to the 46 million seniors collecting Medicare and 22 million government employees at the federal, state and local level, and "suddenly, over 165 million people, a clear majority of the 308 million Americans counted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, are at least partially dependents of the state." Yes, Romney demonstrated potentially terminal lack of tact and contextual comprehension with his statement, and most certainly did alienate a substantial chunk of voters (most of whom would not have voted for him in the first place) but the math is there. The same math that inevitably fails when one attempts to reconcile how the $100+ trillion in underfunded US welfare liabilities will someday be funded. Yet the above is for political pundits to debate, if not resolve. Because there is no resolution. What we did want to bring attention to, is something else that Mitt Romney said, which has received no prominence in the mainstream media from either side. The import of the Romney statement is critical as it reveals just what the endgame may well looks like.
The August housing starts number was a disappointment, printing at 750K on expectations of a rise to 767K from last month's 746K, now revised lower to 733K. This would have been a boost to a market trained to expect more QE on any economic weakness, if only all QE in perpetuity, and certainly at leat $85 billion in monthly flow, was not already priced in. As a result, we are slowly getting to the dreaded point where bad news is once again bad news, at which all faith in the Fed as a monetary policy vehicle is lost (since Fiscal policy is now perpetually deadlocked). If there was any good news, it was in the single family starts which printed at 535K in August, a rise of 28K from July, and the highest since April 2010 (when housing had again "bottomed") driven by a surge in new building in the Midwest to 134K, from 111K. Finally housing permits which are nothing but noise, declined but beat expectations modestly. Since permits are a completely meaningless category and are purely used by hedge funds to game the market (they cost a token amount of money to procure, involve no actual work, and are there merely to frame the "housing has bottomed" trope time after time, until disproven), just like Libor, there is no point to observe them.
If the Federal Reserve’s nightmare comes true and deflation occurs, something else happens that the banks fear and loathe: marginal borrowers default on all their debts. Rather than being easier to pay, the debts become more difficult to pay as money gains value. Marginal borrowers no longer get the “boost” of inflation, so they increasingly default on their loans. How is it bad for hopelessly over-indebted, overleveraged households to default on all their debt and get a fresh start? Exactly why is that bad? What is the over-indebted household losing other than a lifetime of debt-serfdom, stress and poverty? The banks have to absorb the losses, and since they are so highly leveraged, the losses drive the banks into insolvency. They are bankrupt and must close their doors. Note that 99.9% of the people benefit when bad banks absorb losses and close their doors. Only the bank managers, owners and bond holders lose, and everyone else gains as an unproductive, poorly managed bank no longer burdens the economy with its malinvestments and risky bets. The Federal Reserve’s policy of protecting the wealth and power of the banks while stealing from wage earners via inflation is a catastrophe for the nation and the 99.9% who are not financiers, politicians and lobbyists.
If you want to do something for the poor and middle class, encourage deflation.
Connecting the dots between my anecdotal observations of suburbia and a critical review of the true non-manipulated data bestows me with a not optimistic outlook for the coming decade. Is what I’m seeing just the view of a pessimist, or are you seeing the same thing? A few powerful men have hijacked our economic, financial and political structure. They aren’t socialists or capitalists. They’re criminals. They created the culture of materialism, greed and debt, sustained by prodigious levels of media propaganda. Our culture has been led to believe that debt financed consumption over morality and justice is the path to success. In reality, we’ve condemned ourselves to a slow painful death spiral of debasement and despair.
“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” – Chris Hedges
The unleashing of QE3--unlimited money-printing in support of the financial Status Quo-- is proof the Fed has failed, failed, failed. If anything the Fed has done in the past four years had actually had a positive consequence in the real economy, Bernanke would have identifed that policy and expanded it in a measured response. Instead he went all-in, emptying the Fed's toolbox in one big dump: unlimited money-printing, unlimited propping of the mortgage market, unlimited support of low Treasury rates and three more years of zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP). Here is the translation of the Fed Chairman's public comments: whatever. Did you see any of his testimony? It was painfully obvious that either 1) he was sky-high on Ibogaine or 2) he was just going through the motions, duly enunciating PR "cover" that he finds tiresome to repeat and impossible to say with any sincerity or conviction. His body language and delivery said: "You think I believe this canned shuck and jive? Get real, chumps."