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Guest Post: The Consumption Dysfunction





pce-foodandgas-savings-033012The sharp drop in the personal savings rate in the month of February, which just hit to lowest level since January of 2008, is indicative of the problem.  While personal savings rates could be bled down further to sustain the current level of subpar economic growth - the world today is vastly different than prior to the last two recessions where access to credit and leverage we very easy to obtain.  It is entirely possible, that in the very short term, we could see personal consumption expenditures continue to make some gains even in the face of the obvious headwinds.  However, it is important to keep these month to month variations in context with longer term historical trends.  Personal consumption is ultimately a function of the income available from which that spending is derived.  As such, the current decline in the growth rate of incomes, without the tailwind of easy credit, poses a much greater threat to the current level of anemic economic growth than we have seen in past cycles.

 
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Guest Post: Welcome to the United States of Orwell, Part 4: "Consumer Protection" Just Another Federal Reserve Power Grab





This is truly Orwellian: the latest and greatest Executive Branch/Federal Reserve power grab is labeled "consumer protection." I am indebted to correspondent Jim S. who seems to be one of the few Americans to have actually sorted through this monstronsity and gleaned its true nature: an unprecedented extension of Executive (i.e. Imperial Presidency) and Federal Reserve power. Let's start by recalling that the Federal Reserve is a consortium of private banks. Calling a private consortium of banks the "Federal Reserve" is the original Orwellian misdirection, for there is nothing "Federal" about the Federal Reserve. It is not a government agency. Now guess who will fund and control this vast new bureaucracy of "consumer protection"? Yes, the private consortium known as the Federal Reserve. "The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will be an independent unit located inside and funded by the United States Federal Reserve. It will write and enforce bank rules, conduct bank examinations, monitor and report on markets, as well as collect and track consumer complaints." Since managing the money supply and interest rates is the ultimate "consumer protection," we can ask how well the Fed managed those tasks in the past 15 years: alas, their management has been catastrophic for the nation and the middle class, which has been gutted by their policies of serial bubble blowing, leveraged speculation and bank predation.

 
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Guest Post: Renewable Technologies And Our Energy Future - An Interview With Tom Murphy





Rising geopolitical tensions and high oil prices are continuing to help renewable energy find favour amongst investors and politicians. Yet how much faith should we place in renewables to make up the shortfall in fossil fuels? Can science really solve our energy problems, and which sectors offers the best hope for our energy future? To help us get to the bottom of this we spoke with energy specialist Dr. Tom Murphy, an associate professor of physics at the University of California. Tom runs the popular energy blog Do the Math which takes an astrophysicist’s-eye view of societal issues relating to energy production, climate change, and economic growth.

In the interview Tom talks about the following:

Why we shouldn’t get too excited over the shale boom
Why resource depletion is a greater threat than climate change
Why Fukushima should not be seen as a reason to abandon nuclear
Why the Keystone XL pipeline may do little to help US energy security
Why renewables have difficulty mitigating a liquid fuels shortage
Why we shouldn’t rely on science to solve our energy problems
Forget fusion and thorium breeders – artificial photosynthesis would be a bigger game changer

 
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Guest Post: What Do Bankers Dream Of?





When Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf sleeps, he dreams -- like all good bankers -- about numbers.  He probably doesn't dream about the number 600 -- the number of foreclosure packages signed each day by his robosigners.  He probably doesn't dream about 14,420 -- the number of conveyance claims fraudulently submitted to HUD in exchange for $1.7 billion from the FHA [Inspector General report.] And, he almost certainly doesn't dream about his share of laughably small $25 billion penalty he and his fellow bankers might pay to slough off legal liability for the millions of Americans they've helped make homeless (don't know why they're bellyaching...they're all getting $2,000!) No, I imagine the number he fixates on is 35 -- the third rail around which his stock seems to go into spasms every time it gets close.   I'm exaggerating, of course; it's only happened three of the last four times since November 2007.  The other time, in September '08, the stock soared right through 35 to nearly 45 -- before plunging to 7.80 six months later. Stumpf might be dreaming about 35 a lot this week, as the stock's edging toward that buzzing rail yet again.  And, darn it, did the SEC have to pick this week to file that subpoena to compel him to hand over the documents he promised in regards to a $60 billion fraud investigationNow, with earnings coming up in a couple of weeks?

 
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Guest Post: Are There Any Currencies Backed By Gold?





Dumbfounded. That’s the only way to describe the reaction that future historians will have when they look back and study the utter perversion that is our global financial system. We live in a time when a tiny handful of people have their fingers on a button that can conjure trillions of dollars, euro, yen, and renminbi out of thin air. In the United States, it comes down to one man. Just one. With a single decision, he controls the lever that dominates the entire economy. When you control the money, you control everything– financial markets, consumer prices, risk perceptions, investment habits, savings rates, hiring decisions, pay raises, sovereign debt, housing starts, etc.  One man.

 
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Guest Post: Welcome To The United States Of Orwell, Part 3: We Had To Destroy Democracy In Order To Save It





The dominant narrative of our so-called 'National Security State' seems to be: we were surprised by a treacherous, shadowy, sinister enemy and we have to set aside the niceties of democracy and civil liberties to combat this new and terrible foe. It's actually very simple: whatever the National Security State does anywhere on Earth is legal. Whatever action you take to protect your civil liberties is illegal. The State holds all the hammers, and you know what happens to raised nails.

 
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Guest Post: Surprise! Jobs Drive Consumer Confidence





confidence-gap-032712

Have you wondered what really drives consumer confidence? The answer is simple. Jobs. If consumers are to be confident about their future, they need to feel secure in the present and future employment. The chart shows (gold bar) the confidence gap, which is the difference between the present situation index and the future expectations index. The red and blue lines are the number of individuals surveyed who feel that jobs are currently hard to get or plentiful. When confidence is high, so are the number of people who feel that jobs are plentiful. This is generally because they are currently employed and feel like they could get another job if they wanted one. The opposite is true today. This gap between jobs being hard to get and plentiful has closed slightly in the last couple of years; however, we are a long way from getting back to levels that are more normally associated with recoveries.

 
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Guest Post: The Chart Of The Decade





This chart tells millions of stories. That’s right: since 1984 (surely an appropriate year) while the elderly have grown their wealth in nominal terms, the young are much worse off both in inflation-adjusted terms, as well as nominal terms (pretty hard to believe given that the money supply has expanded eightfold in the intervening years). So why are the elderly doing over fifty times better than the young when they were only doing ten times better before? There is enough money to keep the economy flowing so long as there are opportunities for people to make themselves useful in a way that pays. With the crushing burden of overregulation and the problem of barriers to entry, these opportunities are often restricted to large corporations. These issues of youth unemployment and growing inequality between the generations are critically important. Unemployed and poor swathes of youth have a habit of creating volatility in response to restricted economic opportunity.

 
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Guest Post: Welcome to the United States of Orwell, Part 2: Law-Abiding Taxpayers Treated As Criminals





Law-abiding taxpayers are treated like criminals while the criminal class of financiers and State apparatchiks are free to loot and pillage muppets and taxpayers alike. It's actually very simple: whatever the state or Federal government does to you, that's legal. Whatever action you take to protect your rights is illegal. In case you have any doubts about where our "leadership" is taking us, please review these Assorted quotes by Fascists or about Fascism.

 
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Guest Post: John Corzine- An Insider Helping Out Fellow Insiders





Few men have a resume quite like Jon Corzine.  Not only has Corzine served in the U.S. Senate and been governor of New Jersey, he has also been the CEO of Goldman Sachs and the recently imploded brokerage firm MF Global.   The insider blood filtrated through cronyism and the endless squandering of the public dime flows heavily through his veins. When MF Global went belly up back in the fall, Corzine was finally revealed for the inept, overly connected bureaucrat he really is.  Corruption seemingly follows the former Senator, Governor, and banker like shadows on a sunny day.  Earlier this week, New Jersey was declared the least corruptible state in the union much to the surprise of, well, everyone.  But as the great Jonathan Weil pointed out, the methodology in the study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity was horribly flawed.

 
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Guest Post: Welcome To The United States of Orwell, Part 1: Our One Last Chance to Preserve the Bill of Rights





We have one last chance to restore at least a part of the Bill of Rights. Some members of Congress awakened from their fund-raising somnambulance and proposed the Due Process Guarantee Act which would restore the Bill of Rights to its proper place in US law. So do one thing today for the nation and its liberties: contact your representative and senators to press them to support this bill. Ask them which military or law enforcement agencies requested that Congress nullify the Bill of Rights with the NDAA. Advise them to do the correct thing for once in their sordid little careers and vote for the Due Process Guarantee Act. This page lists other articles about the NDAA and also provides links to find your representative and Senators: It's treason. Call it what it is.

 
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Guest Post: How To Think Like A Mad Man, Find Your Edge & Risk Little For Lots





Eccentric People

The enigma that is eccentricity can be unravelled by grasping of this single statement; that which you perceive is both a matter of the object of your perception (in this case; the eccentric person) and your apparatus of perception. Eccentricity, then, is as much a quirk of the popular mind as it is of a particular person. So with the assumption that you seek creativeness and intrigue — here’s how to think eccentrically, find your edge and risk little for lots.

 
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Guest Post: How Housing Affordability Can Falter Even as House Prices Decline





Those snapping up housing for cash are either buying to rent the homes or to speculate that a resurgent housing market will arise and they can "flip" for big profits. This segment simply isn't large enough to soak up all the millions of homes languishing in the "shadow inventory" of homes being held off the market in the vain hope prices will bubble higher. The general idea of lower home prices is that once prices fall to some magic threshold, buyers will jump in and liquidate the inventory. That notion makes two enormous assumptions: 1) Interest rates will stay near-zero when inflation is factored in. 2) Household income will stop declining. In other words, there are three inputs to housing affordability, and price is only one of them. Interest rates and disposable income are equally important.

 
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Guest Post: Its A Dead-Man-Walking Economy





In an interview with Louis James, the inimitable Doug Casey throws cold water on those celebrating the economic recovery. "Get out your mower; it's time to cut down some green shoots again, and debunk a bit of the so-called recovery."

 
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Guest Post: About That $20 Trillion In Public Debt...





In only three more years you're talking $20 trillion in public debt for the USA and a GDP going nowhere fast. Add to this that demographics are not encouraging and taxes of all sorts will have to rise. Cuts will be symbolic because the political pain will be unbearable. Without productive new investment, then debt service soon outstrips income growth and the economy enters a death spiral of declining productive investment, ever expanding debt and ever higher debt service costs.

 
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