Our entire economic paradigm is built upon desperate measures. Zero interest rates, $3 trillion of QE, systematic accounting fraud, fudged economic data, and doling out subprime loans to auto renters and University of Phoenix wannabes have failed to revive our moribund economy. Delusions don’t die easily. But they do die. We are reaching the limit of this delusionary dream built upon debt, denial, and deception. Make sure you wolf down that Thanksgiving feast before 5:00 pm. There are HDTV’s to fight for at 6:00 pm.
When you see the headlines touting strong retail sales, you need to consider what you are actually seeing in the real world. RadioShack will be filing for bankruptcy within months. Wet Seal will follow. Sears is about two years from a bankruptcy filing. JC Penney’s turnaround is a sham. They continue to lose hundreds of millions every quarter and will be filing for bankruptcy within the next couple years. Target and Wal-Mart continue to post awful sales results and have stopped expanding. And as you drive around in your leased BMW, you see more Space Available signs than operating outlets in every strip center in America.
Has the next major economic downturn already started? The way that you would answer that question would probably depend on where you live. If you live in New York City, or the suburbs of Washington D.C., or you work for one of the big tech firms in the San Francisco area, you would probably respond to such a question by saying of course not. In those areas, the economy is doing great and prices for high end homes are still booming. But in most of the rest of the nation, evidence continues to mount that the next recession has already begun for the poor and the middle class.
The inevitable shuttering of at least 3 billion square feet of retail space is a certainty. The aging demographics of the U.S. population, dire economic situation of both young and old, and sheer lunacy of the retail expansion since 2000, guarantee a future of ghost malls, decaying weed infested empty parking lots, retailer bankruptcies, real estate developer bankruptcies, massive loan losses for the banking industry, and the loss of millions of retail jobs. Since we always look for a silver lining in a black cloud, we predict a bright future for the SPACE AVAILABLE and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign making companies.
On Tuesday, new Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen went before Congress and confidently declared that "the economic recovery gained greater traction in the second half of last year" and that "substantial progress has been made in restoring the economy to health". This resulted in glowing headlines throughout the mainstream media such as this one from USA Today: "Yellen: Economy is improving at moderate pace". Sadly, tens of millions of Americans are going to believe what the mainstream media is telling them. But it isn't the truth. As you will see below, there are all sorts of signs that the economy is taking a turn for the worse.
"It looks like this year’s economic horse will pull up lame," warns Bloomberg's Richard Yamarone, adding that the Bloomberg Orange Book Sentiment Index – a proxy for the overall state of economic affairs in the U.S. – has been running below 50 for 49 consecutive weeks, which implies a stagnant growth rate in GDP in the 2-to-2.5% range. The driving theme behind this subpar, sluggish recovery, Yamarone points out, is the lack of desirable growth in real disposable personal incomes, which grew at just 0.6% during the 12 months ending in November.
After Seven Lean Years, Part 2: US Commercial Real Estate: The Present Position And Future ProspectsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/20/2014 16:32 -0400
The first installment of our series on U.S. real estate by correspondent Mark G. focused on residential real estate. In Part 2, Mark explains why the commercial real estate (CRE) market is set to implode. The fundamentals of demographics, stagnant household income and an overbuilt retail sector eroded by eCommerce support only one conclusion: commercial real estate in the U.S. will implode as retail sales and profits weaken.
If ever a chart provided unequivocal proof the economic recovery storyline is a fraud, the one below is the smoking gun.
One can debate whether QE has benefitted Main Street or Wall Street until one is blue in the face, even though five years later, the answer is perfectly clear to all but the staunchest Keynesians and monetarists (and if it isn't, just pay attention to the 3:30 pm S&P ramp every day). One thing, however, that is undisputed is what the market itself says about where the QE money ends up when it is being spent by its recipients. And that story is so simple even a Keynesian would get it. Stated briefly, luxury retailers such as Tiffany, Coach and LVMH are now up 500% since the Lehman lows, and about 30% above the prior cycle highs. On the other hand, regular retailers such as Macy's, Kohl's and JC Penney are barely up 100% from the crisis lows, and still more than 30% below the last bubble highs.
But this year was supposed to be different... Early-year prospects for a revival in consumer spending quickly faded in the wake of the lagged impact of the $148 billion tax hike that began the year. As Bloomberg's Joe Brusuelas notes in the following brief interview, combined with a slower pace of hiring and sluggish wage growth, the result will probably be another in a string of disappointing holiday shopping seasons. It is increasingly doubtful that consumers have the wherewithal to meet the ambitious National Retail Federation forecast for a 3.9% increase in holiday spending to $602.1 billion. Brusuelas believes a 2 to 2.5% increases appears closer to the mark given the economic and policy challenges in place this year.
Across the entire curve, credit spreads on JCPenney are exploding. The curve is inverted with the market indicating an almost 50% chance of default within the next 2 years (specifically in 2014 as opposed to pre-2013 Xmas). The stock price is collapsing further (though we suspect a gaggle of analysts calls to catch the accelerating knife - just as we saw last time). At $6.30, this is the lowest stock price since March 1981, on the back of yet another downgrade (this time with a $1 target) by none other than the same Mary-Ross Gilbert who proclaimed the most recent quarter a success and suggested buying the debt in just August.
Planned job cuts in the third quarter rose 25% from a year ago. With September jobs cuts up 19% from last year, it represented the fourth month in a row in which job cuts were higher than the same month last year. Despite the current trend, employers are on pace to cut roughly the same number of jobs that were cut last year. We already have declining real wages. Small businesses are geting wiped out by taxes, regulations, and Obamacare. These mega-corporations are firing thousands. Retail and restaurant sales are plunging. Consumers are scared straight and are reducing credit card debt. Government spending in states and localities is declining because they are required to balance their budgets. The Boomers are old, with no savings. They can no longer live in a delusionary credit bubble. Sounds like a reason to buy stocks.
It just keeps getting worse and worse for Bill Ackman. A few weeks after the epic humiliation, not to mention even more epic losses, he suffered on his now defunct JCP long position (despite ample warnings by the likes of Zero Hedge who said long ago JCP is merely a melting icecube and fast-track Chapter 11/7 candidate) all those who predicted (such as Zero Hedge back in January) that an epic HLF short squeeze would result in the aftermath of Ackman's Herbalife short announcement leading to Ackman's ultimate capitulation, have been proven correct. Moments ago, in a letter to investors, Bill Ackman just announced that he has covered over 40% of his Herbalife short position, with his forced buy-in explaining the endless move higher in Herbalife stock in recent weeks. The explanation of being forced out of nearly half of his position is amusing: "we minimize the risk of so-called short squeezes or other technical attempts by market manipulators to force us to cover our position." So Ackman is forced out by his Prime Brokers so as not to be forced out by market manipulators? That's an interesting explanation for what is a far simple situation: booking your paper losses.
Structural declines in miles driven, middle and working-class income and rising competition from dollar stores may be leading to Peak Walmart. Walmart's model of superstores built on the edge of town with an inventory/distribution system based on high turnover may have reached the point of diminishing returns. Peak Walmart may also presage Peak Mall Shopping and Peak Retail in general. The poaching of competitors' customers appears to be replacing real growth, and perhaps the impending demise of JC Penney is simply the first of many such victims of the retail shark pool.
Don't Blame Free Market Capitalism ... We Haven't Had It for a While