In the final section of this five-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) on the dismal reality behind the non-recovery, David Stockman explains what lies ahead. He details in his new book 'The Great Deformation', that the mainstream notion that there is a choice between fiscal austerity and fiscal stimulus is wishful thinking. It does not recognize that owing to the triumph of crony capitalism and printing-press money America has become a failed state fiscally. What lies ahead is a continuous, mad-cap cycling back and forth - virtually on an odd-even day basis - between deficit cutting and fiscal stimulus to the GDP. As Stockman notes, the proximate cause of this recession waiting to happen is the federal government’s unfolding encounter with Peak Debt. The latter is not a magical statistical point such as a federal debt ratio of 100 percent of GDP, but a condition of permanent crisis - "no viable economy can survive on chronic fiscal deficits nor can it fail to save at a sufficient rate to fund a healthy level of investment in productive capital assets. The blithe assumption to the contrary which animates current policy rests on self-serving clichés such as “deficits don’t matter” and the Chinese savings glut." So the American economy faces a long twilight of no growth, rising taxes, and brutally intensifying fiscal conflict. These are the wages of five decades of Keynesian sin - the price of abandoning financial discipline.
From Part 1's post-2009 faux prosperity to Part 2's detailed analysis of the "wholy unnatural" recovery to the discussion of the "recovery living on borrowed time" in Part 3 (of this 5-part series), David Stockman's new book 'The Great Deformation" then takes on the holiest of holies - The Fed's Potemkin village. The long-standing Wall Street mantra held that the American consumer is endlessly resilient and always able to bounce back into the malls. In truth, however, that was just another way of saying that consumers were willing to spend all they could borrow. That was the essence of Keynesian policy, and to accept the current situation as benign is also to deny that interest rates will ever normalize. The implication is that Bernanke has invented the free lunch after all - zero rates forever. Implicitly, then, Wall Street economists are financial repression deniers.
The mere mention that tapering was even possible, combined with the Chairman's fairly sunny disposition (perhaps caused by the realization that the real mess will likely be his successor's problem to clean up) was enough to convince the market that the post-QE world was at hand. This conclusion is wrong. Although many haven't yet realized it, the financial markets are stuck in a "Waiting for Godot" era in which the change in policy that all are straining to see, will never in fact arrive. Most fail to grasp the degree to which the "recovery" will stall without the $85 billion per month that the Fed is currently pumping into the economy. Of course, when the Fed is forced to make this concession, it should be obvious to a critical mass that the recovery is a sham.
While arguments will likely flare over just how 'miserable' the occupants of Louisiana are relative to those of Minnesota, based on Bloomberg's quantification of 'misery' these two states are the most and least miserable in our Union. Based on thirteen factors, ranging from child poverty rates to pollution, income inequality, and mental health it seems New Mexico and West Virginia are moving up the most miserable ranks most rapidly year over year.
Almost three years ago we first highlighted the real math behind the surging entitlement class that America has become. So why does a large portion of the population choose not to work when there are many jobs available? The answer is simple. If you can receive 2-3 times as much money from unemployment, disability, and/or welfare benefits (subsidized housing, food stamps, free cellphones, etc.) as you can from a temporary or part-time job, and live a life of leisure, why work? This is the ugly reality we illustrated just six months ago and the situation - amid what is apparently called a 'recovery' remains a depressingly real sign of the times. The political allure of free is so strong that an alarming number of people choose to become wards of the entitlement/welfare state rather than captain their own destiny. Indeed, while many are 'proud', 49% of American households now receive one or more government transfer benefits amounting to 18% of all personal income and a burden of $7,400 for every American - seemingly threatening the supposed self-reliance that has long characterized the American national psyche.
Evidence of the sequester remains elusive. The warning signs that we track closely – initial jobless claims, Richmond Fed, personal income and payrolls – do not show any material deterioration that we can attribute to the sequester. One mystery is why personal income of government workers has not contracted, as fewer hours worked should equal less pay. The answer, BofAML notes, is simple - it's just beginning...
Since Mr. Krugman tells us all this spending and debt issuance/guarantees are not only good and necessary but in the long run, painless, why are we bothering with personal income taxes?
The US government will collect approximately $2.0bn this year in Personal Income and Payroll taxes. But why? Why are we even bothering with this when today’s leading economists and politicians are telling us that debts/deficits don’t matter and running up astronomical debts is a long-term painless process? It’s practically patriotic. So why shouldn’t we just add our tax burden to the list of items the Fed should be monetizing? Seriously. Why not relieve the burden on every tax paying citizen in the United States (about 53% of us according to Mitt Romney)? You want an economic recovery? Reduce my taxes to zero and see how fast I go out and start spending some of that extra income.
Sell in May and go away will be on every investor’s mind after Friday’s week performance. It’s always been when you sell that’s been the measure for this maxim to be effective. If so the high for SPY would have been May 21st at $167.17. Then there’s the reappearance of the Hindenburg Omen but that’s for another day’s discussion.
In yet another confirmation that the US consumer continues to get slammed, and is respectively slamming the GDP by spending less, today's April personal spending and personal income both missed expectations, printing flat and declining -0.2% from the March numbers, much as expected following the Q1 spending spree, which means that economic growth in Q2 and onward as a function of consumer spending will only "taper" going forward especially with the delayed impacts of the payroll tax negative effect on spending finally starting to trickle down. What's worse, is that since incomes did not improve in April, the savings rate remained flat at a minuscule 2.5%, or just off the lowest its has been since the start of the Second Great Fed-propped Depression.
Everything was going so well in the overnight session, following some mixed Japanese data (stronger than expected production, inline inflation, weaker household spending) which kept the USDJPY 101 tractor beam engaged, and the market stable, until just before 2 am Eastern, when Tokyo professor Takatoshi Ito, formerly a deputy at the finance ministry to the BOJ's Kuroda, said overvaluation of the yen versus the dollar has been corrected, which led to a very unpleasant moment of gravity for the currency pair which somehow drives risk around the world based on what several millions Japanese housewives do in unison. The result was a slide to just 30 pips away from the key 100 support level, below which all hell breaks loose, Abenomics starts being unwound, hedge funds - short the yen and long the Nikkei - have no choice but to unwind once profitable positions, the wealth effect craters, and streams are generally crossed.
Inflation, housing, unemployment figures, personal spending and utility bills are all improving across the US.
There are a dozen significant economic indicators that are warning that the U.S. economy is heading into a recession. The Dow may have soared past the 15,000 mark, but the economic fundamentals are telling an entirely different story. If historical patterns hold up, the economy is heading for a very rocky stretch. But most average Americans are not that concerned with the performance of the stock market. They just want to be able to go to work, pay the bills and provide for their families. During the last recession, millions of Americans lost their jobs and millions of Americans lost their homes. If we have another major recession, that will happen again. Sadly, it appears that another major recession is quickly approaching. The following are 12 recession indicators that are flashing red...
A major issue in America today is the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and the popular narrative is that the disparity is caused by capitalism run wild and only the firm hand of government can fix the problem. But what if this narrative has it backwards? What if the growing wealth disparity in America is actually caused by the government? Take Warren Buffet, a man often at the center of this debate, as not only is he a billionaire, but also a vocal advocate for higher income taxes on the rich. Many are aware of his acumen in making investments that have a “margin of safety” – or minimal downside – but few are aware of the greatest source of such safety for Mr. Buffet in recent years, the US Government.
Monday's income and spending (and implicitly 'saving') data provided plenty of fodder at the headline level for any and every opinion. We explained in great detail just how weak the data really was (here and here). But the following two charts suggest that any optimism of organic consumption-led exuberance is completely misplaced. Retail sales of clothing is growing at the slowest pace since 2010; but while major store sales are about to drop negative YoY for the first time in over 3 years, the utter collapse in general merchandise sales is worse that at the peak of the last recession at -5%. It seems tough to see how a nation with an economy built on 70% consumption is not in a recessionary environment. And while this alone is a dismal signal for the discretionary upside of the US economy/consumer; as Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg points out real personal income net of transfer receipts plunged at a stunning 5.8% annual rate in Q1. The other seven times we have seen such a collapse, the economy was either in recession of just coming out of one. But apart from that, everything is fine...
The latest personal income and expenditure report for March was of particularly interesting reading. However, as opposed to the mainstream headlines that immediately reported that despite higher payroll taxes consumers were still spending, and therefore a sign of a strong economy, it was where they were spending that was most telling. In reality, The personal income and spending report does little to brighten the economic picture. The reality is that we now live in a world where "freely traded markets" are an anachronism and fundamental rules simply no longer apply. However, the problem is that such actions continually lead to asset bubbles, and eventual busts, that not only impact economic stability but destroy the financial stability of families. The consumer is clearly delivering a message about the state of the real economy. Eventually, the disconnect between the economy and the markets will merge. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence of such reversions being a positive event.