Of all the case studies in our "it is easier to get into Harvard than to get a job at X" series (flight attendants, Goldman summer interns, McDonalds, etc), this one may be our favorite because it captures at its core, just how "strong" the US economic "recovery" truly is for all those who don't have a spare million or two in financial assets to throw at the levitating, centrally-planned markets. As the WaPo reports, when a Maryland ice cream plant, shut down in 2011 and subsequnetly was brought back to life when a Co-op of dairy farmers purchased it in the summer of 2013 to process milk and icream, sent out "jobs wanted" notices to fill some three dozen open job positions, it got a surprise: 1,600 applicants (and counting) "a deluge" - 44 applicants for every position - or nearly three times more difficult than getting into Harvard to get a simple job... To make ice cream!
With 1.3 million Americans having lost (or about to lose) their emergency unemployment benefits, President Obama is back from vacation and ready to re-start the blame-and-shame game (supported with the now ubiquitous crowd of needy entitled onlookers, ready to faint on command). As he explains, "this is money that helps pay the bills while folks work hard to find their next job..." as long as it's well-paying and not at McDonalds. Of course, the uncomfortable truth is...
*BOEHNER SAYS EXTENSION OF UNEMPLOYMENT AID MUST BE PAID FOR
But that's what the rich are for, right?
It is time to crank up the Looney Tunes theme song because Wall Street has officially entered crazytown territory. Stocks just keep going higher and higher, and at this point what is happening in the stock market does not bear any resemblance to what is going on in the overall economy whatsoever. So how long can this irrational state of affairs possibly continue? Stocks seem to go up no matter what happens. If there is good news, stocks go up. If there is bad news, stocks go up. If there is no news, stocks go up. On Thursday, the day after Christmas, the Dow was up another 122 points to another new all-time record high. In fact, the Dow has had an astonishing 50 record high closes this year. This reminds me of the kind of euphoria that we witnessed during the peak of the housing bubble. At the time, housing prices just kept going higher and higher and everyone rushed to buy before they were "priced out of the market". But we all know how that ended, and this stock market bubble is headed for a similar ending.
McDonalds' internal employee resource website McResource Line has been no stranger to surreal, farcical scandals in the past several weeks. First, it was revealed that the site was offering MCD workers tips, telling employees to find second jobs, apply for food stamps and sell their things to weather a financial crisis. The site had also given advice on how to tip au pairs, doormen, personal trainers and pool boys. The irony meter went off the charts following a study released in October by UC Berkeley Labor Center and University of Illinois that said 52% of families of fast food workers receive assistance from a public program like Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Still, none of this even remotely compares to the latest debacle at the world's largest fast food maker, when on one of the resource website pages, McDonalds basically strongly urged its employees to eat... elsewhere. Fast forward to today when in the aftermath of these humiliating revelations we find that the McResource site has been taken down and that MCD workers are no longer strongly advised to eat elsewhere.
As the non-government worker 'slaves' away, working 80 hours straight at Toys'r'Us, or earning an 'unlivable' wage at McDonalds, President Obama as used an executive order to activate a 1% pay raise for all government workers. As the WSJ reports, the 4.4 milion federal employees are receiving their first across-the-board pay bump since a 2% increase in January 2010 (though notably agency directors must meet this cost within their existing budgets - not collecting any new funds to pay for it). Of course, even by government statistical standards, this is still not keeping up with inflation, but hey, it's better than nothing.
Yields for many staple crops (like wheat) essentially hit a wall about ten years ago. After decades of miraculous gains in the amount of tons, bushels, and kilograms per acre we have been able to extract from the Earth, productive capacity has largely plateaued. In other words, we have maxed out what we can pull out of the soil for now. And the amount of soil per person that’s in production is in serious decline. This spells out an obvious case for investing in agriculture… and even more specifically, to own farmland.
it's not Spago, nor Per Se. It isn't located on Rodeo Drive or in Columbus Circle. The restaurant with the longest waiting list, five-years to be precise, is a small, nondescript, 12-table basement located in Earlton, N.Y., named simply enough Damon Baehrel after its owner and chef. Its guests come from 48 countries and include such celebrities as Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart and Barack Obama himself. However what makes Baehrel's restaurant the most exclusive restaurant in the world is not the decor, nor the patrons, some who fly overnight from Manhattan to pay $255 for dinner (before wine and tip), nor the hype (although all the advertising is through word-of-mouth), but the food, which is all cultivated, grown, prepared, cooked and served from and on the property, and where Baehrel is literally the only employee. "I’m the chef, the waiter, the grower, the forager, the gardener, the cheesemaker, the cured-meat maker, and, as I will explain, everything comes from this 12-acre property."
While much has been said about the benefits of Bernanke's wealth effect to the asset-owning "10%", just as much has been said about the ever deteriorating plight of the remaining debt-owning 90%, who are forced to resort to labor to provide for their families, and more specifically how their living condition has deteriorated over not only the past five years, since the start of the Fed's great experiment, but over the past several decades as well. However, in the case of America's "servant" class, Al Jazeera finds that their plight is now worse than it has been at any time over the past century, going back all the way to 1910!
For Shawndraka Mack, a 100% pay rise from her current $7.60 "would do just fine." While some employees turn to blood plasma donation, and most are on food stamps (and other benefits), the mother of two teenagers (on Medicaid) told Bloomberg Businessweek, “I love what I do, but I don’t want to work for nothing." Between the 40 hours a week she works and the benefits, Mack explains, “I work at McDonald’s and I can’t afford to eat there. It’s crazy.” Of course, McDonalds has 'tips' for surviving on their state-subsidized wages but once again, despite Harry Reid's extrapolated charts, the reality of raising the minimum wage is lost on most who never stop to think of where the 'money' comes from; and besides employees have little to no leverage as we explained here.
The difficulty of US workers to obtain "desirable" jobs has been noted here previously. Recall in 2012 when Delta received 22,000 applications for about 300 flight attendant jobs in the first week after posting the positions outside the company (which was an improvement from 2010, when the Atlanta-based carrier received 100,000 applications for 1,000 jobs when it last hired flight attendants in October 2010). Or when in 2011 McDonalds hired 62,000 minimum wage applicants out of one million total applicants. However, that is nothing compared to the job seeking frenzy in China, where as AFP reports, more than one million people took China's national civil service exam at the weekend in a modern version of an age-old rite, but faced huge odds against clinching one of the few government jobs available. A total of 1.12 million took the National Public Servant Exam, according to figures from the State Administration of Civil Service figures. How many total job openings were there? A tiny 19,000 according to China's Global Times, meaning less than 1 on 50 would be successful.
Back in July, we highlighted a ridiculous and insulting campaign that McDonalds ran with Visa in which the company tried to help its impoverished employees plan a budget. The only thing the campaign did was embarrass the company by proving that you can’t survive working there. Well the company is right back at it in time for the holidays, with several pieces of advice for its legions of serf employees through its ”McResource” website. Three of the more insulting pieces of wisdom include...
As we have pointed out previously, in the context of corporations that have given up on growing the top line (as virtually all free cash goes into stock buybacks and dividends and none into growth capex), and in pursuit of a rising bottom line, employee wages are the one variable cost that corporations will touch last of all. But what's worse, these same unionized employees have zero negotiating leverage. Perhaps nowhere is this more visible than in the recent strategy of smoothie retailer Jamba Juice, which in order to battle a 4% drop in Q3 same store sales has decided to radically transform its entire retailing strategy by getting rid of labor, cheap, part-time or otherwise, altogether. Presenting the biggest threat to minimum-wage restaurant workers everywhere: the JambaGo self-serve machine that just made the vast majority of Jamba's employees obsolete. Coming soon to a fast-food retailer near you.
It was as if a million Warren Buffetts cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. That is an artist's impression of what happened overnight following news that McDonalds would, after 40 years of serving the red tomato paste in its global restaurants, drop the use of Heinz ketchup from its stores. The apparent reason: executive bad blood due to the appointment of Bernardo Hees, the former CEO of biggest rival Burger King, as the current head of Heinz following the Berkshire purchase of the company in February, in the process making the John Kerry estate even richer.
And the hits just keep on coming for McDonalds. An animal rights organization is urging McDonald’s Canada to take a firm stand against what it calls “shocking animal cruelty” captured on a graphic video it says was taken at two Alberta farms, which shows dead hens rotting in the cages, and chicks being covered in feces. . As The Globe and Mail reports, McDonald’s, however, says while it does get eggs from Burnbrae along with many other Canadian companies, it says its eggs do not come from the farms referenced in the W5 story.
It takes a lot of courage to go against the crowd. Whether in investing, or acknowledging that your country is heading towards an epic fiscal crisis, it isn’t easy to stand alone... especially when everyone else is betting the other way. After more than a decade of positive returns, many investors have abandoned their precious metals positions. The conventional wisdom says that gold is ‘finished’. After all, the dollar price is falling... so it must be a bad ‘investment’. Others, however, are looking at where gold is right now, where it probably will be a few years from now, and thinking that it’s a hell of a bargain.