One year ago, when looking at the 20 most popular stories of 2014, we were troubled by a recurring thread: "despite the just concluded 6th consecutive year of a rising S&P 500 - the longest such stretch since 1999 of what otherwise would be deemed optimism - despite what should be a steadily improving economy and improving social and economic conditions, what readers founds most fascinating, and troubling, was the increasing preponderance of social disobedience, of covert, proxy or outright wars, and of civil unrest: all phenomena that accompany a world sliding deeper into distress, not as most central banks and their puppet media would have us believe, a global recovery."
We will be the first to admit that while it is more difficult to find a coherent theme unifying the most popular posts on Zero Hedge as determined by you, our readers, in the past year, several major domestic socio-economic tensions all came to a head in 2015: class warfare in the US approached unprecedented levels with antagonism between races, genders, ethnicities, ideologies, age groups and incomes all approaching peak levels, and spilling over, literally, on the street as the US public was inundated with daily reports of mass shootings, of trigger-happy policemen, of petulant students demanding conformity, of a president demanding the population hand over even more constitutional rights, of a nation torn in the most volatile presidential race yet.
All this took place as the median income across the US continued to decline: the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and the middle class was officially put on the endangered species list, although in 2015, for the first time since the financial crisis, the market closed red in no small part due to the action of the Fed, which after seven years of ZIRP, hiked rates for the first time in nine years despite all other central banks "giving it all they've got."
For those trading, it was a year of rising, and in many cases, brutal intraday volatility, of ever more flash crashes across virtually all asset classes, of pain for anyone who was not invested in the five largest companies, and overall a year of change and losses for those hoping the Fed would "have their back" no matter what.
Meanwhile, the geopolitical situation outside of the U.S. got decidedly worse, with the Syrian global proxy war resulting in the first instance of a NATO nation attacking and taking down a Russian fighter jet in decades, but more importantly, in a historic refugee crisis that will alter the face of Europe for years to come, as well as unleashing a wave of terrorist events which are likely just beginning, as governments across the globe seek to exploit the crisis for their own selfish reasons.
Overall, it was a year of flux and of dramatic change: change which was largely amorphous and chaotic in 2015 but which will crystallize over the next 12 months, in unpredictable and, sadly, violent ways. Perhaps this change is why 2015 was a record year for Zero Hedge: for the first time this website clocked in over half a billion page views thanks to record readership.
We thank all of our readers for making this website - which has never seen one dollar of outside funding and has never spent one dollar on marketing - a small (or not so small) part of your daily routine!
But before we get into the details of what has now become an annual tradition for the last day of the year, those who wish to jog down memory lane, can refresh our most popular articles for every year during our brief 6-year existence, starting with 2009 and continuing with 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
So without further ado, here are the articles that readers found to be the most popular over the past year.
- In 20th place, with 560,000 page views, was the event that for millions of Greeks was the defining event of the summer, the year, and perhaps, a generation: the complete collapse of the country's financial system, and the imposition of capital controls: a regime of financial repression that will remain with the insolvent German colony indefinitely, as we first showed in "It's 2 In The Morning And Greeks Are Lining Up At ATMs; Alpha Limits Online Banking."
- In 19th place, with over 571,000 reads was a simple chart post, one which summarized "Obama's Recovery In Just Nine Charts." The post was popular because it succinctly captured what everyone knows too well: for the vast majority of the population there has been no recovery, just spin and propaganda. We hope the next update of these 9 charts, due some time in 2016, will show some improvement but we doubt it.
- In 18th spot, read 604,000 times, was our explanation of a phenomenon that has perplexed none other than the career economists at the Federal Reserve, one which we solved in "The Mystery Of The "Missing Inflation" Solved, And Why The US Housing Crisis Is About To Get Much Worse." We demonstrated how, despite persistently weak CPI, for a record number of Americans renting is now prohibitively expensive, a finding which together with the adverse effect of Obamacare, explained why despite countless predictions for a surge in consumer spending (due to "plunging gas prices") consumers did precisely the opposite and not only did personal consumption and expenditures decline, but GDP tumbled, ending last year just under 3% and subsequently sliding to just above 2%: a confounding paradox considering the Fed recently launched a rate hiking cycle just to "demonstrate" how strong the US economy has become.
- In 17th spot, and deservedly with over 626,000 page views, was the man who has been right all along: Ron Paul explained how "Reality Is Now Setting In For America... It Was All Based On Lies & Ignorance." Unfortunately, his message has yet to be believed and appreciated by the majority of Americans, many of whom prefer to stick their head in the sand and pretend that all is well, but sooner or later they, and everyone else, will come to grips with the truth, unpleasant as it may be.
- In 16th place, with an impressive 632,000 reads, we revealed the man who serves as the "ISIS connection" with the western world, and the source of funding for the Islamic State. "Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdogan, The Son Of Turkey's President" caused shockwaves across the globe, leading to a dramatic reappraisal of the ISIS conflict in the past month. We hope that as the influence of NATO member Turkey on the Syrian conflict wanes, that peace may finally return as a handful of corrupt Turkish politicians can no longer make billions in profits from the death and misery of thousands.
- In 15th spot, with nearly 650,000 page views, was a post touching the barely beating heart of America's centrally-planned regime, the Fed Chairwoman herself, who entered the history books by being the first Fed head in nearly a decade to raise interest rates. Many wondered why. The answer was provided by her when "Yellen Said Negative Rates On The Table "If Outlook Worsened." We await the Fed to realize it has committed what many admit was a "policy mistake" and for Yellen to enter the history books for another dubious achievement: lowering rates to negative for the first time in US history.
- A curious tangent on US social commentary was found in the 14th spot, in which we and 668,000 other readers listened as a professor slammed both the "Thin-Skinned Minority Ruining This Nation", and damning the "Political Correctness" Wave Sweeping America. Sadly, the willingness of increasingly more "smart, progressive" young men and women to trade their fundamental rights to expression just to avoid any conflict and reside in the "safety" of an emotional cocoon, is one which leads to a dangerous state of uniformity and ultimately to the failure of all individual rights and liberties. We hope this trend is reversed in the coming year.
- In 13th spot, and reverting back to the core economic and financial malaise eating away at the US, 680,000 found out that "Texas Pulls $1 Billion In Gold From NY Fed, Makes It "Non-Confiscatable." To be sure, 2015 was another year in which gold suffered, however with central banks around the world continuing their debasement of fiat, it is only a matter of time before the age-old question has to be finally answered: hard or soft money. Perhaps 2016 will be the year.
- Related to that last question, was the 12th most popular post of the year, in which hedge fund legend "Paul Tudor Jones Warned that "Disastrous Market Mania" Will End In "Revolution, Taxes, Or War." This is something we have warned since the beginning of this website, and is hardly a profound observation: history is littered with "French Revolutions" which spontaneously happen when the impoverished majority has had enough of the status quo and rebels against the tiny minority which sets the status quo. The outcome is always tragic, and is why since the beginning we have been trying to warn anyone who cares to listen that the path this nation is on will have devastating consequences unless something changes. We hope that as more people agree with us, that some tangible change will finally take place.
- But we are pessimistic. The reason for that is while the plight of billions of people gets worse despite constant daily distraction, a handful of plutocrats continues to control everything, and does so entirely for their own benefit. We revealed this tiny group and their agents in "Meet The Secretive Group That Runs The World", the 11th most popular post of the year. With nearly 700,000 views we are happy that the group's actions and identities are at least a little less secret.
- Stepping away from the secretive cabals of finance, we shift to what has been perhaps the most important geopolitical event for Germany, if not all of Europe, and judging by the US reaction, for many Americans as well: in 10th spot, 705,000 were quick to read that "10,000 Syrians Are Headed For The Following 180 US "Refugee Processing Centers." The final number may well be greater, and while we know where many Syrians refugees will end up, what we don't know is how they will be welcomed and treated in their newly adoptive country.
- In 9th spot is an article we wrote in September in which we showed that "The IMF Just Confirmed The Nightmare Scenario For Central Banks Is Now In Play." We were referring to the gradual realization by the tenured economists that both the ECB and the BOJ are increasingly more cornered and are running out of things to monetize, and thus, of ways to boost manipulated market ever higher and surprise with ever bigger bazookas. And yet, even though the post was read by 717,000, countless asset managers were "shocked" when first the ECB and then the BOJ, both expected to reveal the latest and greatest bazooka, sprayed the market with a water pistol. The FX losses for those caught on the wrong side of these trades was astounding.
- In spot #8, with 763,000 reads was a shocking update by Vladimir Putin, who claimed that "ISIS Is Now On The Ropes As Fighters Desert After 60 Airstrikes In 72 Hours." To be sure, Russia's involvement in the ISIS conflict, and its "blitzkrieg"-like success against the Islamic State led to quick and dramatic consequences, chief among which was the US once again folded on its demands to replace Syrian president al Assad: the second time in two years. For a nation for which installing puppet leaders is ordinary course of action, this dramatic derailment of US national policy by Russia has led many to ask if the world is once again truly multipolar.
- In 7th spot was an article revealing the curious congregation of tankers filled to the brim with oil off the coast of Texas. Indeed, nearly 800,000 were shocked to find that "Something Very Strange Is Taking Place Off The Coast Of Galveston, TX", that something being that with no storage space to accommodate the millions of barrels of oversupplied crude, the oil would have to float on the ocean until either supply slowed down dramatically, which seems unlikely for the time being, or demand surges, which for a world sliding into recession is also impractical. The result: the price of oil dropped another 30% in 2015, suffering its worst back to back decline in history.
- In 6th spot was a tragic reminder that every major geopolitical action tends to have deadly consequence, and just weeks after Russia boasted of its military success against ISIS, the Islamic terrorist organization blew up a Russian passanger jet departing Egypt. Nearly 830,000 saw the morbid video clip ISIS made of the exploding airplane. The result was an even more furious military campaign by Putin which ultimately went after what we said should be the goal all along: the Islamic State's financial lifeline - its crude oil infrastructure and its sales of balck gold to Turkey and other willing buyers.
- In 5th spot we go back to a prediction we made back in 2014, namely that as a result of plunging oil prices, the death of the Petrodollar had finally arrived. Many ignored our observations of the dramatic liquidation of Chinese Treasurys which started in early 2015, although eventually everyone noticed, even the biggest banks and 872,000 read that "China's Record Dumping Of US Treasuries Leaves Goldman Speechless." Since then, the historic liquidation of foreign reserves by petroleum exporters and sovereign wealth funds has been dubbed a "reverse QE", something which will only accelerate in the future with dramatic results.
- Related to the above was the 4th most popular post of 2015: over 900,000 were surprised to learn that "China Confirmed It Has Begun Liquidating Treasuries, Warns Washington."Will China continue to strategically sell US paper, or will it use it tacticaly as a "diplomatic" tool? And will others join? Now that the seal has been broken, expect to see many more "surprises" such as this one, as it is increasingly every player for themselves in a world of currency and trade (and proxy shooting) warfare, and where mixed messages by central banks leave everyone confused.
- It is no surprise that the third most popular article of 2015 was one which turned the official narrative of the Syrian war on its head, as it revealed just who is stoking the Syrian war. Over 1 million read that a "Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US "Created" ISIS As A "Tool" To Overthrow Syria's President Assad." In a world where transparency of motives of governments working on behalf of corporate interests is critical, we hope many more such articles will expose the hypocrisy and duplicity not only of the U.S. but every other regime that openly lies to its people, just so a handful can benefit from death and suffering.
- The second most popular article of 2015 was one which followed in the aftermath of fears, that a cyber attack had taken down the NYSE. We, as well as 1.1 million others, asked "Is This What The First World Cyber War Looks Like: Global Real Time Cyber Attack Map." Subsequently we found out that the NYSE suffered a historic outage simply because someone had "updated the software" incorrectly, although in a time when cyber terrorism is increasingly prevalent, we expect to revert to the real time map of cyber attacks on many more occasions in the future.
- The top post of 2015 was one in which we - and 1.2 million others - asked "Why Is WalMart Mysteriously Shuttering Stores Nationwide For "Plumbing Issues"?" The answer was revealed a few months later when WalMart shocked the investing world by revealing just how dire the financial situation at this iconic US retailer truly was, a revelation which cut the price of the largest US-based employer by a third and allowed its online competitor Amazon to finally surpass it in market capitalization, a historic moment in the tension between the old and new economies.
With all that behind us, what is in store for 2016?
We don't know: as frequent and not so frequent readers know, we do not pretend to be able to predict the future and we don't try (despite endless allegations that we constantly predict the collapse of everything): we leave the predicting to the "smartest people in the room" who year after year have been dead wrong. We merely observe and try to find what is entertaining, amusing, surprising or grotesque in an increasingly sad world.
We do know, however, that after $14 trillion in liquidity has been conjured out of thin air by the world's central banks, and the tens of trillions of credit money created (and misallocated) by China - a country which was the world's growth dynamo for the past three decades and which is now rapidly slowing down - the entire world is floating on an ocean of excess money, which for one more year has succeeded in masking just how ugly the truth beneath the calm surface is. Now, with the Fed hiking, as the tide starts to come out, those swimming naked will finally be exposed. How far will the receding tide go?
We are confident, however, this in the end it will be the very final backstoppers of the status quo regime, the central banking emperors of the New Normal, who will eventually be revealed as fully naked. When that happens and what happens then is anyone's guess. But, as we have promised - and delivered - every year for the past seven, we will be there to document every aspect of it.
Finally, and as always, we wish all our readers the best of luck and success in 2016, with lots of trading success, and depart with our now traditional and unwavering year-end promise: Zero Hedge will be there each and every day helping readers expose, unravel and comprehend the fallacy, fiction, fraud and farce that the system is reduced to (ab)using each and every day just to keep the grand tragicomedy going for at least one more day.