The police state is about to pass the baton to the surveillance state.
“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.” - William Binney, NSA whistleblower
It seems comical, yet ill-omened, how Barack Obama is herding the already decimated middle class along a path sure to reach economic oblivion, while maintaining support from much of the old guard of school-government-trade unionists which has kept the Democratic Party afloat during the last five decades in a conservative sea dominated by currents of old-time religion and misguided patriotism. ISIS’ literal style of decapitation is repugnant and shocking. US’ self-imposed economic decapitation may not appear at first as shocking, but the end result will be as gruesome to America’s working class: not the proletariat of old, but most everyone holding both blue and white collar jobs.
The consequences of economic stagnation are not limited to finance: stagnation is causing a social depression.
Many activists are clamoring for a higher minimum wage. That's an admirable goal, but is that where the worst problem is? Even at the abysmally low wages of the present moment, we still have 938,000 people being turned away from McDonald's because there aren't enough McJobs. The real problem is the lack of meaningful work. In a world of machines and social alienation, meaningful work is as scarce as water in the drought-stricken California Central Valley.
According to Tobin's Q, which compares stock prices to the replacement value of companies' underlying assets, equity markets have become detached from reality to a degree only witnessed on two occasions in history: the tech bubble and 1929.
It's worthwhile recalling that mainstream economists, the Federal Reserve, government agencies and the mainstream financial media all deny the economy is in recession until it falls off a cliff.
- Amtrak train in Philadelphia wreck was traveling at twice speed limit (Reuters)
- The engineer has no recollection of the crash and “no explanation” for what happened (WSJ)
- Taliban claim attack on Afghan guesthouse that killed 14 (Reuters)
- Chicago’s Junk Rating From Moody’s Puzzles Investors (BBG)
- House votes to end spy agencies' bulk collection of phone data (Reuters)
- Wesley Clark: The Penny-Stock General (BBG)
- AOL’s Armstrong to Leave $213 Million Richer After Verizon Deal (BBG)
What is extremely clear is that there is something amiss with the statistical headline employment and economic data. While there are indeed pockets of improvement, which should be expected following a recessionary contraction, there is a lack of widespread recovery. That sentiment is clearly reflected in every major poll of American's over the last year. What is important is that there is a clear disconnect between the financial markets, statistical economic headlines, and the reality of the vast majority of American consumers. So, riddle me this - what happens when that disconnect is eventually resolved?
The good news: companies are beating earnings estimates by the widest margin in four years. The bad news: this has very little to do with strong corporate earnings and quite a lot to do with buybacks and analysts cutting estimates. In fact, bottom-up EPS estimates fell by 8.2% in Q1, nearly double the 1-, 5-, and 10-year averages and the largest decline since 2009. Meanwhile, repurchase authorizations hit a record in April and are now set to climb to an all-time high in 2015, providing a wonderful frontrunning opportunity for everyone from retail investors to the SNB.
What follows is a remarkable data base of Corporate Fines and Settlements. From blatant cartel price-fixing or not disclosing the dangers of the company's heavily promoted medications to destroying documents to thwart an investigation of wrong-doing, the list is stunning and reads like a who's who of Corporate America and Top 100 Global Corporations. In other words, these were not wrist-slaps for minor oversights of complex regulations - these are blatant violations of core laws of the land and while the PR spins how corporate profits benefit widows and orphans, this vast wealth is concentrated in the top 1% and the top 5%.
Including the professional class, perhaps only 3% of the workforce is truly independent.
Morgan Stanley breaks down the buyback-equity rally relationship while WSJ flags "big borrowing" by both corporations and investors. In short: corporate debt issuance is at record levels and so are buybacks, stock prices, and margin accounts. When the cycle finally turns, look out below.
Apple is the Ty Cobb of corporate America. Like Cobb, Apple has set some impressive records. Nine years, a trillion dollars in sales, and almost no taxes paid. Apple risks having a legacy of tainted success and isolation.
While preserving the farce of the S&P's relentless rise no matter the earnings recession, the 1% GDP or the negative funds flow, has been entirely a central bank mandate in the past month (one which will soon inlude the PBOC), the good news for the BOJs and the NYFeds of the world is that the stock buyback hiatus is almost over, and starting this week the bulk of companies can come right back and proceed to repurchase their stocks at all time highs. And what a come back it will be. According to Goldman, the pace of buybacks is now absolutely off the charts, with nearly $1 trillion in buyback announcements expected in just this calendar year, a mindboggling number, one which is the same size as the largest annual Fed Quantiative Easing amount in any one year going back to the great financial crisis.
No sector will be immune to the changing nature of work and value creation. The only sustainable way to avoid upheaval is to learn to create value in ways that cannot be commoditized.