According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the official recession arbiter, the US economy is currently at its fourth longest expansion in history. By the sheer nature of a capitalistic society with its inherent cyclicality it is a safe bet that a new economic recession will hit in the not too distant future. We have argued since June last year that the next recession is imminent and we now feel increasingly confident that our prediction will come true before November’s Presidential Election. Even mainstream forecasters seem to jump on the increasingly likely recession-bandwagon.
After the February jobs report, President Obama said “America’s pretty darn great right now.” He then went on to disparage the “doomsday rhetoric” of the Republicans, which he said was pure “fantasy. I think that there is a good chance that this will enter the Hall of Fame of miss-timed statements, right up there with this jewel from Ben Bernanke in March 2007: “At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the sub-prime market seems likely to be contained.”
If it sounds like history repeating itself, it most surely is. The coming recession will again obliterate the sell side hockey sticks, which this time started last spring at $135 per share for 2016 and are already being reduced at a lickety-split rate not seen since the fall of 2008. But this time there is one thing that decisively different, and it will make all the difference in the world. As will be reinforced once again by the post-meeting contretemps on Wednesday, the Fed has painted itself into a deathly corner and is utterly out of dry powder. It has nothing left but to hint at the prospect of negative interest rates. And that will be usher in its thundering demise.
Two weeks ago we reported that while for most of 2015, tax withholdings rose at a rate of 5% or more from a year ago, on the back of job growth and gains in wages, commissions and other incentive pay, in recent months there has been a substantial dropoff in this key indicator. Today, TrimTabs put an actual jobs number to this particular decline in tax withholdings: according to the research service, the US added only 55,000 to 85,000 jobs in February, less than half of the official estimate.
The bear will soon be arriving in earnest, marauding through the canyons of Wall Street while red in tooth and claw. Our monetary central planners, of course, will once again - for the third time this century - be utterly shocked and unprepared. That’s because they have spent the better part of two decades deforming, distorting, denuding and destroying what were once serviceably free financial markets. Yet they remain as clueless as ever about the financial time bombs this inexorably fosters.
"While buybacks work great during bull market advances, as individuals willfully overlook the fundamentals in hopes of further price gains, the eventual collision of reality with fantasy has been a nasty event..."
“...parts of the U.S. jobs report for January seem fishy...”
The "Jobs Friday" ritual is getting truly absurd. So it can’t be repeated often enough: These artifacts of the BLS’ seasonally maladjusted, trend-cycle modeled, heavily imputed/crafted and five times revised “jobs” numbers have precious little to do with the real health of the main street economy. Indeed, the six-year run of job gains since early 2010 primarily represent “born-again jobs” and part-time gigs. In economic terms, they do not remotely resemble your grandfather’s industrial era economy when a “job” lasted 40 to 50 hours per week all year round; and most of what the BLS survey counted as “jobs” paid a living wage. Not now. Not even close.
It is absolutely normal for employers to completely miss the signs of impending doom. The 2007 extreme occurred just before the carnage of mass layoffs that was to begin a couple of months later. Employers were still clueless that the end of the housing bubble would have devastating effects. If they were clueless then, they are in an advanced state of delirium and delusion now. The devastating 1973-74 bear market, which cut the value of stocks by 50%, was in its early stages. This was an early example of employers being late to the funeral. Similar employer hoarding of workers has been associated with bubbles in the more recent past and has led to massive retrenchment, usually within 18 months or so.
A current Bank of America employee has made a number of whistleblower submissions to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about the role played by the U.S. banking subsidiary in financing dividend-arbitrage trades: trades which used taxpayer-backed funds to allow hedge funds to avoid paying taxes. The employee’s submissions allege that Bank of America’s London-based Merrill Lynch International unit has extended “extreme levels of BANA leverage” to fund “increasingly aggressive and reckless” tax-avoidance trades. The submissions said the practices risked causing the bank “serious financial and reputational damage.”
Inspired by Scotland's hopes for independence and hot on the heels of Crime'a 95% preference for accession to Russia, 89% of the citizens of Venice voted for their own sovereign state in a ‘referendum’ on independence from Italy. As The Daily Mail reports, the proposed ‘Repubblica Veneta’ includes the five million inhabitants of the Veneto region and has been largely driven by the wealthy 'who are tired of supporting the poor and crime-ridden south' (Venice pays EUR71bn in taxes and receives only EUR21bn in services and investment). The ballot appointed a committee of ten who immediately declared independence from Italy. Venice may now start withholding taxes from Rome. Wonder why the US, Europe, and Japan have not announced the referendum "illegal" and announced sanctions yet?
"I don’t think they’ve solved anything. I think they’ve compounded the underlying problems that caused the last crisis, and so now the next crisis will be that much worse because of what the central banks did, in particular the Federal Reserve...The Fed is building an economy that is completely dependent on that cheap money. And so if you take it away, the economy implodes, but if you don’t take it away, then it’s worse." The idea is to preempt capital controls - "get out the window before it slams shut!"
It's difficult to have a meaningful national debate about economic policy when "headline numbers" are juiced to make things appear rosier than reality. Since unemployment statistics are either suspect or blatantly bogus, we must look for other less manipulated statistics for some modicum of truth. Key statistics of employment, income and production are vital propaganda tools for the status quo, and the temptation to adjust them to manage perceptions is apparently irresistible. The con being played here is the assumption that more jobs means more wages which means things are getting better and better in every way, every day. If payroll withholding taxes are declining, and wages/salaries are flatlined, things are not getting better and better in terms of earned income flowing into household bank accounts, purses and wallets.
To the Execs at Walmart, and all of those other retailers that are feeling the SS pinch, I say "Welcome to the club".
One of the biggest games in the Wall Street farce is the game of Beat the Number.