If the extreme drought in the western half of the country keeps going, the food supply problems that we are experiencing right now are only going to be the tip of the iceberg. The size of the U.S. cattle herd has dropped to a 61 year low, and organic food shortages are being reported all over the nation. Surprisingly cold weather and increasing demand for organic food have both been a factor, but the biggest threat to the U.S. food supply is the extraordinary drought which has had a relentless grip on the western half of the country. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought conditions currently stretch from California all the way to the heart of Texas. In fact, the worst drought in the history of the state of California is happening right now. And considering the fact that the rest of the nation is extremely dependent on produce grown in California and cattle raised in the western half of the U.S., this should be of great concern to all of us.
Back in August, when we wrote that "A Stunning 60% Of All Home Purchases Are "Cash Only" - A 200% Jump In Five Years" based on Goldman data, many laughed, unable to fathom that the majority of the US housing market has become a flippers' game played by institutions and the uber wealthy, who don't need a stinking mortgage to buy that South Beach mansion. As it turns out we were just a little ahead of the curve as usual, and as real estate company RealtyTrac reported overnight, with data that naturally is delayed due to the delayed impact of houses coming out of the much delayed foreclosure pipeline, "All-cash purchases accounted for 42.1 percent of all U.S. residential sales in December, up from a revised 38.1 percent in November, and up from 18.0 percent in December 2012." That's a 10% increase in one month for a 6-9 month delayed series, which means that in reality, roughly about 60% of all homes are now purchased with cold, hard cash.
Following last night's surprise event, which was China's HSBC PMI dropping into contraction territory for the first time since July, which in turn sent Asian market into a tailspin, the most relevant underreported news was a speech by International Monetary Fund Deputy Managing Director Naoyuki Shinohara who said that "As long as steady progress is being made toward the 2% target, we do not see a need for additional monetary accommodation in Japan." He added that while exit from unconventional monetary policy "is still very likely some way off for the euro area and Japan, I believe that the moment to start planning is now." This warning - an echo of prcisely what we said yesterday - promptly roiled the Yen, sending it far higher and sending the EMini futures sliding by over 10 tick in no time: a drop from which they have not recovered yet.
Bernanke may be printing the wealth effect to the benefit of the richest 1%, but that only serves to make the already wealthiest even wealthier. When it comes to the creation of new millionaire households, the epicenter of new wealth creation is about as far from Wall Street, West Putnam Avenue or Rodeo Drive as can be. In fact, the state that saw the fastest climb up in millionaire rankings in 2013 doesn't have a single Tiffany or Saks Fifth Avenue, and the closest BMW dealership is a six-hour drive from the capital (stats which are guaranteed to change by the end of the year). Presenting North Dakota: the state which jumped 14 spots in the latest ranking of millionaire households.
If you want to get an idea of where the rest of America is heading, just take a trip through the western half of West Virginia and the eastern half of Kentucky some time. Once you leave the main highways, you will rapidly encounter poverty on a level that is absolutely staggering. Overall, about 15 percent of the entire nation is under the poverty line, but in some areas of eastern Kentucky, more than 40 percent of the population is living in poverty. After decades of decline, vast stretches of impoverished Appalachia look like they have been through a war. Those living in the area know that things are not good, but they just try to do the best that they can with what they have.
Mess with us, we'll mess with you. That is the message one can derive from JPMorgan's surprise announcement that it plans to "sell or wind down its business of issuing prepaid cards for corporate payrolls and government tax refunds and benefits." Which also includes the infamous Electronic Benefits Transfer, or foodstamps, card. According to Reuters, the product, which has been offered with cash and treasury services to companies and governments, "had become a headache of risks in operations and regulations, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly." In other words, JPM just told the government which has been going after it relentless for the past year, forcing JPM to rack up some $25 billion in litigation reserves, you can find someone else to manage your wholesale welfare program for nearly 50 million Americans.
It’s NEVER to Protect Us From Bad Guys
The polar vortex came, saw, and is on its way out, and now comes the time for the damage report. As Reuters reports, "At least nine deaths have been reported across the country connected with the polar air mass that swept over North America during the past few days. Authorities have put about half of the United States under a wind chill warning or cold weather advisory.... Homeless shelters and public buildings took in people who were freezing outside. Daniel Dashner, a 33-year-old homeless man who typically sleeps under a bridge on Milwaukee's south side, said he opted to seek a spot at a shelter on Monday night. "Usually if I have four or five blankets, I can stay pretty warm, but when that wind is blowing, I don't care how many blankets I have, the wind blows right through me," he said, as temperatures dropped to minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 21 degrees Celsius)." On the other hand, there was some levity in the newsflow, when as AP reported, an escape inmate opted for the familiar warmth of prison and turned himself in.
- Yellen’s Record-Low Senate Support Reflects Fed’s Politicization (BBG)
- Euro-Zone Inflation Rate Falls in December, even further below ECB's target (WSJ)
- Zambia politician charged for calling president a potato (AFP)
- Blame gold: India Savings Deposit Scam Collapse Leaves Thousands Penniless (BBG)
- Hedge Funds Raise Gold Wagers as Yamada Sees $1,000 (BBG)
- George Osborne limits cuts options with pensions promise (FT)
- Vietnam Raises Foreign Bank Ownership Caps to Aid System (BBG)
- But they said buy a year ago... Goldman to JPMorgan Say Sell Emerging Markets After Slide (BBG)
- SAC Trial Seen by Probe Convict as Latest Abusive Tactic (BBG)
Having doubled off the post-PBOC-ban-and-Fed-Taper lows, Bitcoin, trading at USD910 currently is becoming increasingly ubiquitous as a payment method for many businesses. The latest, as NY Post reports, is Manhattan-based real-estate broker Bond New York, is "using Bitcoins to help facilitate transactions." With overseas money-laundering as a key support, and Manhattan apartment sales setting a record in Q4 for volume of transactions (+27% YoY), we suspect the acceptance of Bitcoin will merely ease the Chinese (or Russian) ability to transfer funds directly into NYC housing - blowing an even bigger bubble.
Despite his various "nanny-state" failings (all of which have been prominently featured on these pages in the past) outgoing New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg has had an impressive track record: New York crime rates are at historic lows, the $72.7 billion budget is balanced, jobs are at an all-time high and a record 54 million tourists pumped money into the economy this year. Homicides have declined by almost 50 percent since Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, and this year’s total of 333 through Dec. 29 is 20 percent below last year’s record low. Of course, how much of this is due to Bloomberg's own actions and how much due to the "rising tide" wealth effect resulting from the Fed's actions that gentrified New York over the past 20 years thanks to Fed wealth-effect boosting policies and which have led to a perilously unstable financial system, is a different question. Regardless, as of midnight the billionaire mayor is no more. His replecament, Bill de Blasio, 52, is the first democrat to run City Hall in 20 years.
In America today, there are close to 50 million people living in poverty and there are more than 100 million people that get money from the federal government every month. As the middle class disintegrates, poverty is climbing to unprecedented levels. Even though the stock market has been setting record high after record high, the amount of anger and frustration boiling just under the surface in our nation grows with each passing day. And now extended unemployment benefits have been cut off for 1.3 million unemployed Americans, and it is being projected that a total of 5 million unemployed Americans will lose their benefits by the end of 2014. In addition, 47 million Americans recently had their food stamp benefits reduced. The conditions for a "perfect storm" are certainly being created. So how much longer will it be until we see all of this anger and frustration boil over in the streets of our major cities? Is America about to reach a breaking point?
The noise in the jobless claims data over the past few months has been unprecedented and yet the impressive jump lower in recent weeks has been trumpeted as the all-clear for Tapering and as a signal that the recovery is 'real' this time. Except, thanks to a huge 'glitch' in Florida's new CONNECT unemployment claims website, the data is completely FUBAR...