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The Debt Crisis Of 2017: Once Their Vacation Ends, Congress Will Have 4 Days To Avoid A Government Shutdown On April 29

April 2017 could turn out to be one of the most important months in U.S. history that we have seen in a very long time.  On April 6th, Donald Trump attacked Syria on the 100th anniversary of the day that the U.S. officially entered World War I, and now at the end of this month we could be facing an unprecedented political crisis in Washington.  On Friday, members of Congress left town for their two week “Easter vacation”, and they won’t resume work until April 25th.  What this means is that Congress will have precisely four days when they get back to pass a bill to fund government operations or there will be a government shutdown starting on April 29th.

Up to this point, there has been very little urgency by either party to move a spending bill forward.  It is almost as if everyone is already resigned to the fact that a government shutdown will happen.  The Democrats will greatly benefit from a government shutdown because they can just blame the entire mess on the Republicans.  But for the GOP, this is essentially the equivalent of political malpractice.

To me, there is simply no way that Congress is going to be able to agree on a bill that funds the entire government in just four days.  And it turns out that this upcoming deadline comes exactly on the 100th day of Trump’s presidency

The U.S. government is poised to shut down on Day 100 of Donald Trump’s presidency, unless Congress can pass a new spending bill or a continuing resolution before the current one expires on April 28.

Since Congress is currently on a two-week recess, there will be a sense of urgency to get a new bill passed once they reconvene on April 25. Leaders in both chambers would have four days to craft a new proposal that each side can agree on and get it on the president’s desk for Trump to sign.

If the Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, why will it be so difficult to get an agreement on a spending bill?

Well, first of all, look at how difficult it was for the Republicans to agree on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.  At this point, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen at all.

More importantly, any bill to fund the government is going to require 60 votes in the Senate.  The “nuclear option” that the Republicans just used to push the Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination through is not available in this case under current Senate rules because a spending bill of this nature would not qualify.

So the Democrats have leverage, and they plan to use it to the maximum.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is already promising to block any spending bill that includes funds for a border wall or that defunds Planned Parenthood

The threat from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders sets up a climactic first showdown with the president, particularly with their inclusion of Trump’s signature border wall proposal.

“If Republicans insist on inserting poison pill riders such as defunding Planned Parenthood, building a border wall, or starting a deportation force, they will be shutting down the government and delivering a severe blow to our economy,” Schumer said in a statement.

Up until now, Trump hasn’t needed Democratic votes to stock his cabinet or advance the repeal of Obamacare, but a spending bill keeping the government open is subject to a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Do you understand what this means?

President Trump is going to be under an immense amount of pressure to end the government shutdown once it begins, but to do so will mean that he has to give up his goal of getting a border wall.

Do you think that Trump will just throw in the towel and forget about his beloved border wall after giving countless speeches promising one?

It is a game of chicken between Trump and the Democrats, and I don’t think that either side will give in easily.

Of even greater importance is the debate over the funding of Planned Parenthood.

There are members of the Freedom Caucus that will absolutely not vote for any spending bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood.  But without the Freedom Caucus, there aren’t enough Republican votes to get a spending bill through the House of Representatives.

Alternatively, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is vowing that his party will block any funding bill that attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in the Senate.

If Planned Parenthood is not defunded now, it never will be defunded.  This is one of the most pivotal moments in recent U.S. political history, and the outcome is going to have extraordinary consequences for our nation.

For those that are optimistic that there will not be a government shutdown, do you actually expect me to believe that this battle over the funding of Planned Parenthood will somehow get resolved in just four days?

Give me a break.

And of course there are dozens of other major issues that have to be resolved as well.  For example, Senator McCain is promising note to vote for any bill unless it includes an enormous increase in military spending, while many Senate Democrats would be very much against such a move.

I don’t see any way that a government shutdown is going to be avoided at this point, and the longer it goes on the more financial markets are going to get rattled.

Meanwhile, we continue to get even more signs that a substantial slowdown has begun for the U.S. economy.  Last week, we learned that only 98,000 jobs were added in March, and that was only about half of what most analysts were expecting.

And since it takes approximately 150,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth, that means that we are losing ground.

At the same time, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecasting model is now projecting that U.S. GDP growth for the first quarter of 2017 will be just 0.6 percent on an annualized basis.

That is absolutely pathetic, and as I have said before, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we actually end up with a negative number for the first quarter.

If we do indeed get a negative number for the first quarter and that is followed by another negative number for the second quarter, that will mean that a new recession has already started right now but we just haven’t gotten official confirmation yet.

And lots of other things are already happening which have not happened since the last recession.  For instance, this is the first time since the last financial crisis when there has been no growth for commercial and industrial lending for at least six months.

In addition, commercial bankruptcies spiked during the last recession, and now it is happening again

Commercial bankruptcy filings, from corporations to sole proprietorships, spiked 28% in March from February, the largest month-to-month move in the data series of the American Bankruptcy Institute going back to 2012.

Of course consumer bankruptcies are rising at an alarming rate as well.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

In December, bankruptcy filings rose 4.5% from a year earlier. In January they rose 5.4%. It was the first time consumer bankruptcies rose back-to-back since 2010. I called it “a red flag that’ll be highlighted only afterwards as a turning point.”

In March, consumer bankruptcy filings rose 4% year-over-year, to 77,900, the highest since March 2015, when 79,000 filings occurred, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute data.  The turning point has now been confirmed.

If you would like, I could keep talking about the bad economic news for a couple thousand more words.  U.S. credit card debt has just surpassed the one trillion dollar mark, a major crisis has arrived for the U.S. auto industry, thousands of retail stores are closing all over America, our pension funds are underfunded by trillions of dollars, and the U.S. national debt is now sitting at a grand total that is just shy of 20 trillion dollars.  The only reason that we have not crossed that 20 trillion dollar mark yet is because the debt ceiling deadline has already passed, and that is another thing that Congress needs to address very quickly if they want to avoid a major crisis.

Needless to say, the last thing that we need at this point is another war or two on top of everything else.

Unfortunately, a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group headed by the USS Carl Vinson is heading toward North Korea right at this moment, and Russia and Iran are promising to “respond with force” to any new U.S. attacks on Syria.  I will be writing quite a bit more about all of this on End Of The American Dream later today.

Those that were hoping for some sort of “reprieve” under Donald Trump can forget all about that now.  The pace of global events is really starting to accelerate, and the U.S. is already in a more precarious position than it was at any point in 2016.

The clouds have been building for a very long time, and now the storm is almost upon us.  I hope that you have been getting prepared, because a day of reckoning for the United States of America is closing in very rapidly.

The Next Subprime Crisis Is Here: 12 Signs That A Day Of Reckoning Has Arrived For The U.S. Auto Industry

In 2008, subprime mortgages almost single-handedly took down the entire financial system, and now a new subprime crisis is here.  In recent years, the auto industry has been able to boost sales by aggressively pushing people into auto loans that they cannot afford.  In particular, auto loans made to consumers with subprime credit have been accounting for an increasingly larger percentage of the market.  Unfortunately, when you make loans to people that should not be getting them, eventually a lot of those loans are going to start to go bad, and that is precisely what is happening now.  Meanwhile, automakers and dealers are starting to panic as sales have begun to fall and used car prices have started to crash.  If you work in the auto industry, you might remember how horrible the last recession was, and this new downturn could eventually turn out to be even worse.  The following are 12 signs that a day of reckoning has arrived for the U.S. auto industry…

#1 Seven out of the eight largest automakers in the United States fell short of their sales projections in March.

#2 Overall, U.S. auto sales so far in 2017 have been described as a “disaster” despite record spending on consumer incentives by automakers.

#3 Dealer inventories are now at the highest level that we have seen since the last financial crisis.  Why this is so troubling is because there are a whole lot of unsold vehicles just sitting there doing nothing, and this is becoming a major financial problem for many dealers.

#4 It now takes an average of 74 days before a dealer is able to sell a new vehicle.  This number is also the highest that it has been since the last financial crisis.

#5 Not only is Ford projecting that sales will fall this year, they are also projecting that sales will fall in 2018 as well.

#6 Used vehicle prices are already starting to decline dramatically

The used-vehicle price index from the National Automobile Dealers Association posted a 3.8% decline in February compared to the prior month. NADA also said wholesale prices fell 1.6%.

#7 As I discussed yesterday, Morgan Stanley is projecting that used car prices “could crash by up to 50%” over the next four or five years.

#8 Right now, more than a million Americans are behind on their payments on their auto loans.  This is something that has not happened since the last financial crisis.

#9 In 2017, U.S. consumers are more “underwater” on their auto loans than they have ever been before.

#10 Subprime auto loan losses have soared to their highest level since the last financial crisis, and the delinquency rate on those loans has risen to the highest level that we have seen since the last financial crisis.  By now, I am sure that you are starting to notice a pattern in these data points.

#11 At this moment, approximately $200,000,000,000 has been loaned out by auto lenders to consumers with subprime credit.

#12 Just like with subprime mortgages in the run up to the last financial crisis, subprime auto loans have been bundled together and sold as “securities” to investors.  And just like last time around, this has turned out to be a recipe for disaster

Many auto loans, including those considered subprime, are securitized and sold to investors. But Morgan Stanley recently reported that the share of auto securities tied to “deep subprime” loans – those given to borrowers with a FICO credit score below 550 — has risen from 5.1 percent in 2010 to 32.5 percent today. It said defaults on those bonds have risen significantly in the past five years.

Almost a quarter of the more than $1.1 trillion in U.S. auto loan debt is owed by subprime borrowers, and delinquency rates have hit their highest point in seven years.

In the old days, you could always count on the U.S. auto industry to bounce back eventually because of the economic strength of average U.S. consumers.

Unfortunately, the middle class in America is being systematically hollowed out by long-term economic trends that our leaders in Washington D.C. have consistently ignored.

We have become a nation of economic extremes.  There are more millionaires in this country than ever before, but meanwhile poverty is exploding in communities all over the country.

If you live in a prosperous area, things may be going great where you live for the moment.  But as Gallup has discovered, an all-time record high percentage of Americans are worrying “a great deal” about hunger and homelessness these days…

Over the past two years, an average of 67% of lower-income U.S. adults, up from 51% from 2010-2011, have worried “a great deal” about the problem of hunger and homelessness in the country. Concern has also increased among middle- and upper-income Americans, but they still worry far less than do lower-income Americans.

You may have plenty of money in your bank account, and so for you hunger and homelessness are not very big issues.  But for those that are just scraping by from month to month, having enough food and a place to sleep at night are top priorities.  Here is more from Gallup

Americans at all income levels are expressing greater concern about hunger and homelessness, and it is the top worry among lower-income Americans, who are most likely to struggle to pay for adequate food and housing.

In addition to the woes of the auto industry, the retail industry is going through the worst wave of store closings in modern American history, pension funds are melting down all over the nation, and stocks are primed for a crash of epic proportions.  Things are lining up just right for the kind of scenario that I laid out in The Beginning Of The End, but unfortunately most people are not listening to the warnings.

The same thing happened just before the great financial crisis of 2008.  All of the warning signs were there well in advance, and many of the experts were warning about what was coming as early as 2005.  But because it did not happen immediately, a lot of people greatly mocked the warnings.

But then the fall of 2008 arrived and all of the mockers suddenly went silent.

As you can see from the numbers that I shared above, a new crisis has already arrived.

The only question now is how bad it will ultimately turn out to be.

As always, let us hope for the best, but let us also get prepared for the worst.

What Is America Going To Look Like When Stocks, Home Prices And Even Used Cars All Crash By At Least 50 Percent?

Have you ever thought about what comes after the bubble?  In 2008 we got a short preview of what life will be like, but most Americans seem to have come to the conclusion that the last financial crisis was just a minor bump in the road toward endless economic prosperity.  But of course the truth is that the ridiculously high debt-fueled standard of living that we are enjoying now is not sustainable, and after this bubble bursts it will be an extremely painful adjustment for our society.

Since the last financial crisis, the U.S. national debt has nearly doubled, corporate debt has doubled, stock valuations have reached exceedingly ridiculous extremes, the student loan debt bubble has surpassed a trillion dollars, we are facing the largest unfunded pension crisis in U.S. history, and in many parts of the country (particularly the west coast) we are facing a housing bubble that is even worse than the one that burst in 2007 and 2008.

And even with all of these bubbles, U.S. GDP growth has been absolutely anemic.  Even if you believe the grossly manipulated numbers that the federal government puts out, the U.S. economy grew at a “miserably low” rate of just 1.6 percent in 2016…

In terms of GDP, the fourth quarter was revised up slightly, but there were adjustments for prior quarters, and overall GDP growth for the year 2016 remained at a miserably low 1.6%. We’ve come to call this the “stall speed.” It’s difficult for the US economy to stay aloft at this slow speed. As Q4 gutted any hopes for a strong finish, GDP growth in 2016 matched the worst year since the Great Recession.

And corporate profits, despite a stock market that has been surging for years, are even worse. A lot worse. They’ve declined for years. In fact, they declined for years during the prior two stock market bubbles, the dotcom bubble and the pre-Financial-Crisis bubble. Both ended in crashes.

Things have continued to get even worse early in 2016.  At this point, it is being projected that U.S. GDP will grow at an annual rate of just 0.9 percent during the first quarter of 2017.

So anyone that tries to tell you that the U.S. economy is in good shape is simply not being honest with you.

But even though things don’t look great now, they are going to look far, far worse after the biggest debt bubble in human history bursts.

For example, what do you think that America will look like after half of all stock market wealth disappears?  In a recent note to his clients, John P. Hussman stated that his team is projecting that by the end of this current market cycle “roughly half of U.S. equity market capitalization – $17 trillion in paper wealth – will simply vanish”.

And of course that projection lines up perfectly with what I have been saying for quite a while.  In order for key measures of stock market valuation (such as CAPE, etc.) to return to their long-term averages, stocks are going to have to fall at least 40 to 50 percent from their current levels.

As this coming crisis unfolds, other asset classes will experience astounding downturns as well.  This week, Morgan Stanley (one of the too big to fail banks) released a report that said that used car prices “could crash by up to 50%” over the next several years…

For months we’ve been talking about the massive lending bubble propping up the U.S. auto market. Now, noting many of the same concerns that we’ve highlighted repeatedly, Morgan Stanley’s auto team, led by Adam Jonas, has just issued a report detailing why they think used car prices could crash by up to 50% over the next 4-5 years.

Housing prices are primed for a major plunge as well.  This is especially true on the west coast where tech money and foreign purchasers from Asia have pushed home values up to dizzying levels.  Half a million dollars will be lucky to get you a “starter home” in San Francisco, and it was being reported that one poor techie living there was paying $1400 a month just to live in a closet.  Many believe that some cities on the west coast will be quite fortunate if home values only go down by 50 percent during the coming crash.

Everywhere you look there are bubbles.  In a recent piece, Daniel Lang pointed out some more of them

  • Eric Rosengren, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, recently made a startling tacit admission. We may be in the midst of yet another real estate bubble. Major financial institutions in this country are in possession of over $14 trillion worth of residential real estate loans. That’s well over $40,000 for every man woman and child in America.
  • Low interest rates have fueled a bubble in subprime auto loans, and that bubble appears to be reaching its limits. There are now over 1 million ordinary and subprime auto loans that are delinquent, a number that hasn’t been this high since 2009.
  • There is now well over a trillion dollars worth of student loan debt in this country; much of it owned by low income families. And there’s little hope that these students will ever see a return on their investment. That’s why at least 27% of student loans are in default. While more than one in four students are in default now, that number was one in nine a decade ago. And if current trends continue, there could be $3.3 trillion of student loan debt by the end of the next decade.

At some point the imbalances become just too great and the system collapses in upon itself.

In other words, we are heading for a massive implosion.

And once the implosion happens, people are going to go absolutely nuts.  Anger and frustration are already rising to the boiling point all over the country, and it isn’t going to take much to push millions of Americans completely over the edge.

In a recent interview with Greg Hunter, author James Rickards warned that when things get really bad in America we could actually see what he refers to as “money riots”

So, could we be facing a “Mad Max” world if the financial system totally crashes? Rickards says, “In ‘Road to Ruin,’ I talk about what I call the money riots.  There is a lot of reasons for rioting.  When you start shutting banks and the stock exchange and they say you can’t get your money, it’s only temporary, trust us, people will go out and start to burn down banks.  The government is ready for that also with emergency response and martial law. . . . Governments don’t go down without a fight. . . . You can see the shutdown coming because they will try to buy time until they come up with a solution, whether it’s gold, Special Drawing Rights (SDR), guarantees or whatever it might be.  There are only two or three possibilities here, but all of them will take time, and they will have to shut down the system. . . . People will not sit for that.  So, that means people will riot.  They’ll burn down banks.  They will smash windows, but what is the reaction to that?  The answer is martial law, militarized police, actual military units and you get something that looks like fascism pretty quickly.”

I very much agree with his assessment.

All it is going to take is another major financial crisis and this nation will go completely and utterly insane.

Unfortunately, all of our long-term economic problems have proceeded to get a lot worse since the last time around, and so when things fall apart this time we will likely be looking at a scenario that is absolutely unprecedented in American history.

A lot of people have become very complacent out there these days, but that is a huge mistake.

Just because a crisis is delayed does not mean that it is canceled.  And because our leaders have kept making this economic bubble larger and larger, that just means that the coming crisis will be even more painful than it otherwise could have been.

The Ticking Time Bomb That Will Wipe Out Virtually Every Pension Fund In America

Are millions of Americans about to see the big, juicy pensions that they were counting on to fund their golden years go up in flames in the biggest financial disaster in U.S. history? When Bloomberg published an editorial entitled “Pension Crisis Too Big for Markets to Ignore“, it simply confirmed what a lot of people already knew to be true.  Pension funds all over America are woefully underfunded, and they have been pouring mind boggling amounts of money into very risky investments such as Internet stocks and commercial mortgages.  Just like with subprime mortgages in 2008, this is a crisis that everyone can see coming well in advance, and yet nothing is being done about it.

On a day to day basis, Americans generally don’t think very much about pensions.  Most of those that have been promised pensions simply have faith that they will be there when they need them.

Unfortunately, the truth is that pension plans all over the country are severely underfunded, and this has already resulted in local fiascos such as the one that we just witnessed in Dallas.

But what happened in Dallas is just the very small tip of a very large iceberg.  According to Bloomberg, unfunded pension obligations on a national basis “have risen to $1.9 trillion from $292 billion since 2007″…

As was the case with the subprime crisis, the writing appears to be on the wall. And yet calamity has yet to strike. How so? Call it the triumvirate of conspirators – the actuaries, accountants and their accomplices in office. Throw in the law of big numbers, very big numbers, and you get to a disaster in a seemingly permanent state of making. Unfunded pension obligations have risen to $1.9 trillion from $292 billion since 2007.

And of course that $1.9 trillion number is not actually the real number.

That same Bloomberg article goes on to admit that if honest math was being used that the real number would actually be closer to 6 trillion dollars…

So why not just flip the switch and require truth and honesty in public pension math? Too many cities and potentially states would buckle under the weight of more realistic assumed rates of return. By some estimates, unfunded liabilities would triple to upwards of $6 trillion if the prevailing yields on Treasuries were used. That would translate into much steeper funding requirements at a time when budgets are already severely constrained. Pockets of the country would face essential public service budgets being slashed to dangerous levels.

So where are all of these pensions eventually going to come up with 6 trillion dollars?

That is a very good question.

Ultimately, even if financial conditions stay as stable as they are right now, a whole lot of people are not going to get the money that they were promised.

But things will get really “interesting” if we see a major downturn in the financial markets.  According to Dave Kranzler, if the stock market were to fall by 10 percent or more and stay there for a number of months, that “would cause every single public pension fund to blow up”.  And Kranzler is also deeply concerned about the tremendous amount of exposure that these pension funds have to commercial mortgages…

Circling back to the mall/REIT ticking time-bomb, while the Fed can keep the stock market propped up as means of preventing an immediate nuclear melt-down in U.S. pensions (all of which are substantially “maxed-out” in their mandated equities allocation), the collapse of commercial mortgage-back securities (CMBS) will have the affect of launching a nuclear sub-missile directly into the side of the U.S. financial system.

The commercial mortgage market is about $3 trillion, of which about $1 trillion has been packaged into asset-backed securities and stuffed into yield-starved pension funds. Without a doubt, the same degree of fraud of has been used to concoct the various tranches in these CMBS trusts that was employed during the mid-2000’s mortgage/housing bubble, with full cooperation of the ratings agencies then and now. Just like in 2008, with the derivatives that have been layered into the mix, the embedded leverage in the commercial mortgage/CMBS/REIT model is the financial equivalent of the Fukushima nuclear power plant collapse.

I have previously talked about the ongoing retail apocalypse in the United States which threatens to make so many of these commercial mortgage securities go bad.  It is being projected that somewhere around 3,500 stores will close in the months ahead, and this is going to absolutely devastate mall owners.  In turn, it is inevitable that a lot of their debts will start to go bad, and pension funds will be hit extremely hard by this.

But the coming stock market crash is going to hit pension funds even harder.  Stocks are ridiculously overvalued right now, and if they simply return to “normal valuations”, pension funds are going to lose trillions of dollars.

We are talking about a financial tsunami that will be absolutely unprecedented in our history, and yet investors continue to act like the party can last forever.  In fact, we just learned that margin debt on Wall Street has just hit another brand new record high

The latest data from the New York Stock Exchange show margin debt, or cash borrowed to buy shares, hit a record $528.2 billion in February, up from its prior high of $513.3 billion in January.

Of course my regular readers already know that margin debt also shot up to dramatic peaks just before the last two stock market crashes as well

Prior periods when margin debt hit records occurred around stock market peaks, including 2000 when the dot-com stock boom went bust, and 2007 when stocks began to crater amid early signs of trouble in the housing market ahead of the 2008 financial crisis.

Margin debt jumped 22% from the end of 1999 before peaking in March 2000 at $278.5 billion, the same month stocks peaked. In 2007, margin debt shot up to $381.4 billion in July, three months before stocks topped.

We are perfectly primed for the greatest financial disaster in American history, and yet very few people are sounding the alarm.

This massive financial bubble is a ticking time bomb, and when it finally goes off it is going to wipe out virtually every pension fund in the United States.

The Worst Retail Cataclysm Ever: Sears Warns It Is On The Verge Of Collapse As Payless Prepares To File For Bankruptcy

Alarm Clock Abstract - Public DomainMore than 3,500 retail stores are going to close all across America over the next few months as the worst retail downturn in U.S. history gets even deeper.  Earlier this week, Sears shocked the world when it announced that there is “substantial doubt” that the company will be able to “continue as a going concern” much longer.  In other words, Sears has announced that it is on the verge of imminent collapse.  Meanwhile, Payless stunned the retail industry when it came out that they are preparing to file for bankruptcy.  The “retail apocalypse” that I have been warning about is greatly accelerating, and many believe that this is one of the early warning signs that the economic collapse that is already going on in other parts of the globe will soon reach U.S. shores.

I have repeatedly warned my readers that “Sears is going to zero“, and now Sears is officially saying that it might actually happen.  When you file official paperwork with the government that says there is “substantial doubt” that the company will survive, that means that the end is very near

The company that operates Sears, the department store chain that dominated retail for decades, warned Tuesday that it faces “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business unless it can borrow more and tap cash from more of its assets.

“Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” Sears Holdings said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Sears Holdings operates both Sears and Kmart stores.

In the wake of that statement, the price of Sears stock dipped 13.69% to $7.85 a share.

Personally, I am going to miss Sears very much.  But of course the truth is that they simply cannot continue operating as they have been.

For the quarter that ended on January 28th, Sears lost an astounding 607 million dollars

The company said it lost $607 million, or $5.67 per diluted share, during the quarter that ended on Jan. 28. That compared with a loss of $580 million, or $5.44 per diluted share, a year earlier. It has posted a loss in all but two of the last 24 quarters, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

How in the world is it possible for a retailer to lose that amount of money in just three months?

As I have said before, if they had employees flushing dollar bills down the toilet 24 hours a day they still shouldn’t have losses that big.

This week we also learned that Payless is heading for bankruptcy.  According to Bloomberg, the chain is planning to imminently close at least 400 stores…

Payless Inc., the struggling discount shoe chain, is preparing to file for bankruptcy as soon as next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company is initially planning to close 400 to 500 stores as it reorganizes operations, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations aren’t public. Payless had originally looked to shutter as many as 1,000 locations, and the number may still be in flux, according to one of the people.

Of course these are just two examples of a much broader phenomenon.

Never before in U.S. history have we seen such a dramatic wave of store closures.  According to Business Insider, over 3,500 retail locations “are expected to close in the next couple of months”…

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades.

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months.

Once thriving shopping malls are rapidly being transformed into ghost towns.  As I wrote about just recently, “you might be tempted to think that ‘Space Available’ was the hottest new retail chain in the entire country.”

The demise of Sears is going to be an absolute nightmare for many mall owners.  Once “anchor stores” start closing, it is usually only a matter of time before smaller stores start bailing out

When an anchor store like Sears or Macy’s closes, it often triggers a downward spiral in performance for shopping malls.

Not only do the malls lose the income and shopper traffic from that store’s business, but the closure often triggers “co-tenancy clauses” that allow the other mall tenants to terminate their leases or renegotiate the terms, typically with a period of lower rents, until another retailer moves into the anchor space.

Years ago I wrote of a time when we would see boarded-up storefronts all across America, and now it is happening.

Instead of asking which retailers are going to close, perhaps we should be asking which ones are going to survive this retail cataclysm.

In the past, you could always count on middle class U.S. consumers to save the day, but today the middle class is steadily shrinking and U.S. consumers are increasingly tapped out.

For instance, just look at what is happening to delinquency rates on auto loans

US auto loan and lease credit loss rates weakened in the second half of 2016, according to a new report from Fitch Ratings, which said they will continue to deteriorate.

“Subprime credit losses are accelerating faster than the prime segment, and this trend is likely to continue as a result of looser underwriting standards by lenders in recent years,” said Michael Taiano, a director at Fitch.

The last time so many Americans got behind on subprime auto loans was during the last financial crisis.

We are seeing so many similarities to what happened just prior to the last recession, and yet most Americans still seem to think that the U.S. economy is going to be just fine in 2017.

Unfortunately, major red flags are popping up in the hard economic numbers and in the financial markets.

The last recession probably should have started back in late 2015, but thanks to manipulation by the Fed and an unprecedented debt binge by the Obama administration, official U.S. GDP growth has been able to stay barely above zero for the last year and a half.

But just because something is delayed does not mean that it is canceled.

All along, our long-term economic imbalances have continued to get even worse, and a date with destiny is rapidly approaching for the U.S. economy.

12 Reasons Why The Federal Reserve May Have Just Made The Biggest Economic Mistake Since The Last Financial Crisis

Wrong Way Signs - Public DomainHas the Federal Reserve gone completely insane?  On Wednesday, the Fed raised interest rates for the second time in three months, and it signaled that more rate hikes are coming in the months ahead.  When the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, it becomes less expensive to borrow money and that tends to stimulate more economic activity.  But when the Federal Reserve raises rates , that makes it more expensive to borrow money and that tends to slow down economic activity.  So why in the world is the Fed raising rates when the U.S. economy is already showing signs of slowing down dramatically?  The following are 12 reasons why the Federal Reserve may have just made the biggest economic mistake since the last financial crisis…

#1 Just hours before the Fed announced this rate hike, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s projection for U.S. GDP growth in the first quarter fell to just 0.9 percent.  If that projection turns out to be accurate, this will be the weakest quarter of economic growth during which rates were hiked in 37 years.

#2 The flow of credit is more critical to our economy than ever before, and higher rates will mean higher interest payments on adjustable rate mortgages, auto loans and credit card debt.  Needless to say, this is going to slow the economy down substantially

The Federal Reserve decision Wednesday to lift its benchmark short-term interest rate by a quarter percentage point is likely to have a domino effect across the economy as it gradually pushes up rates for everything from mortgages and credit card rates to small business loans.

Consumers with credit card debt, adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit are the most likely to be affected by a rate hike, says Greg McBride, chief analyst at Bankrate.com. He says it’s the cumulative effect that’s important, especially since the Fed already raised rates in December 2015 and December 2016.

#3 Speaking of auto loans, the number of people that are defaulting on them had already been rising even before this rate hike by the Fed…

The number of Americans who have stopped paying their car loans appears to be increasing — a development that has the potential to send ripple effects through the US economy.

Losses on subprime auto loans have spiked in the last few months, according to Steven Ricchiuto, Mizuho’s chief US economist. They jumped to 9.1% in January, up from 7.9% in January 2016.

“Recoveries on subprime auto loans also fell to just 34.8%, the worst performance in over seven years,” he said in a note.

#4 Higher rates will likely accelerate the ongoing “retail apocalypse“, and we just recently learned that department store sales are crashing “by the most on record“.

#5 We also recently learned that the number of “distressed retailers” in the United States is now at the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

#6 We have just been through “the worst financial recovery in 65 years“, and now the Fed’s actions threaten to plunge us into a brand new crisis.

#7 U.S. consumers certainly aren’t thriving, and so an economic slowdown will hit many of them extremely hard.  In fact, about half of all Americans could not even write a $500 check for an unexpected emergency expense if they had to do so right now.

#8 The bond market is already crashing.  Most casual observers only watch stocks, but the truth is that a bond crash almost always comes before a stock market crash.  Bonds have been falling like a rock since Donald Trump’s election victory, and we are not too far away from a full-blown crisis.  If you follow my work on a regular basis you know this is a hot button issue for me, and if bonds continue to plummet I will be writing quite a bit about this in the weeks ahead.

#9 On top of everything else, we could soon be facing a new debt ceiling crisis.  The suspension of the debt ceiling has ended, and Donald Trump could have a very hard time finding the votes that he needs to raise it.  The following comes from Bloomberg

In particular, the markets seem to be ignoring two vital numbers, which together could have profound consequences for global markets: 218 and $189 billion. In order to raise or suspend the debt ceiling (which will technically be reinstated on March 16), 218 votes are needed in the House of Representatives. The Treasury’s cash balance will need to last until this happens, or the U.S. will default.

The opening cash balance this month was $189 billion, and Treasury is burning an average of $2 billion per day – with the ability to issue new debt. Net redemptions of existing debt not held by the government are running north of $100 billion a month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has acknowledged the coming deadline, encouraging Congress last week to raise the limit immediately.

If something is not done soon, the federal government could be out of cash around the beginning of the summer, and this could create a political crisis of unprecedented proportions.

#10 And even if the debt ceiling is raised, that does not mean that everything is okay.  It is being reported that U.S. government revenues just experienced their largest decline since the last financial crisis.

#11 What do corporate insiders know that the rest of us do not?  Stock purchases by corporate insiders are at the lowest level that we have seen in three decades

It’s usually a good sign when the CEO of a major company is buying shares; s/he is an insider and knows what’s going on, so their confidence is a positive sign.

Well, according to public data filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, insider buying is at its LOWEST level in THREE DECADES.

In other words, the people at the top of the corporate food chain who have privileged information about their businesses are NOT buying.

#12 A survey that was just released found that corporate executives are extremely concerned that Donald Trump’s policies could trigger a trade war

As business leaders are nearly split over the effectiveness of Washington’s new leadership, they are in unison when it comes to fears over trade and immigration. Nearly all CFOs surveyed are concerned that the Trump administration’s policies could trigger a trade war between the United States and China.

A decline in global trade could deepen the economic downturns that are already going on all over the planet.  For example, Brazil is already experiencing “its longest and deepest recession in recorded history“, and right next door people are literally starving in Venezuela.

After everything that you just read, would you say that the economy is “doing well”?

Of course not.

But after raising rates on Wednesday, that is precisely what Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told the press

“The simple message is — the economy is doing well.” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said at a news conference. “The unemployment rate has moved way down and many more people are feeling more optimistic about their labor prospects.”

However, after she was challenged with some hard economic data by a reporter, Yellen seemed to change her tune somewhat

Well, look, our policy is not set in stone. It is data- dependent and we’re — we’re not locked into any particular policy path. Our — you know, as you said, the data have not notably strengthened. I — there’s noise always in the data from quarter to quarter. But we haven’t changed our view of the outlook. We think we’re on the same path, not — we haven’t boosted the outlook, projected faster growth. We think we’re moving along the same course we’ve been on, but it is one that involves gradual tightening in the labor market.

Just like in 2008, the Federal Reserve really doesn’t understand the economic environment.  At that time, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke assured everyone that there was not going to be a recession, but when he made that statement a recession was actually already underway.

And as I have said before, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it is ultimately announced that GDP growth for the first quarter of 2017 was negative.

Whether it happens now or a bit later, the truth is that the U.S. economy is heading for a new recession, and the Federal Reserve has just given us a major shove in that direction.

Is the Fed really so clueless about the true state of the economy, or could it be possible that they are raising rates just to hurt Donald Trump?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but clearly something very strange is going on…

$21,714 For Every Man, Woman And Child In The World – This Global Debt Bomb Is Ready To Explode

Debt Bomb Globe - Public DomainAccording to the International Monetary Fund, global debt has grown to a staggering grand total of 152 trillion dollars.  Other estimates put that figure closer to 200 trillion dollars, but for the purposes of this article let’s use the more conservative number.  If you take 152 trillion dollars and divide it by the seven billion people living on the planet, you get $21,714, which would be the share of that debt for every man, woman and child in the world if it was divided up equally.

So if you have a family of four, your family’s share of the global debt load would be $86,856.

Very few families could write a check for that amount today, and we also must remember that we live in some of the wealthiest areas on the globe.  Considering the fact that more than 3 billion people around the world live on two dollars a day or less, the truth is that about half the planet would not be capable of contributing toward the repayment of our 152 trillion dollar debt at all.  So they should probably be excluded from these calculations entirely, and that would mean that your family’s share of the debt would ultimately be far, far higher.

Of course global debt repayment will never actually be apportioned by family.  The reason why I am sharing this example is to show you that it is literally impossible for all of this debt to ever be repaid.

We are living during the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world, and our financial engineers have got to keep figuring out ways to keep it growing much faster than global GDP because if it ever stops growing it will burst and destroy the entire global financial system.

Bill Gross, one of the most highly respected financial minds on the entire planet, recently observed that “our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road”.

And he is precisely correct.  Everything might seem fine for a while, but one day we are going to hit the wrong bump at the wrong time and the whole thing is going to go KA-BOOM.

The financial crisis of 2008 represented an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, but instead we just papered over our errors and cranked up the global debt creation machine to levels never seen before.  Here is more from Bill Gross

My lesson continued but the crux of it was that in 2017, the global economy has created more credit relative to GDP than that at the beginning of 2008’s disaster. In the U.S., credit of $65 trillion is roughly 350% of annual GDP and the ratio is rising. In China, the ratio has more than doubled in the past decade to nearly 300%. Since 2007, China has added $24 trillion worth of debt to its collective balance sheet. Over the same period, the U.S. and Europe only added $12 trillion each. Capitalism, with its adopted fractional reserve banking system, depends on credit expansion and the printing of additional reserves by central banks, which in turn are re-lent by private banks to create pizza stores, cell phones and a myriad of other products and business enterprises. But the credit creation has limits and the cost of credit (interest rates) must be carefully monitored so that borrowers (think subprime) can pay back the monthly servicing costs. If rates are too high (and credit as a % of GDP too high as well), then potential Lehman black swans can occur. On the other hand, if rates are too low (and credit as a % of GDP declines), then the system breaks down, as savers, pension funds and insurance companies become unable to earn a rate of return high enough to match and service their liabilities.

There is always a price to be paid for going into debt.  It mystifies me that so many Americans seem to not understand this very basic principle.

On an individual level, you could live like a Trump (at least for a while) by getting a whole bunch of credit cards and maxing all of them out.

But eventually a day of reckoning would come.

The same thing happens on a national level.  In recent years we have seen examples in Greece, Cyprus, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and various other European nations.

Here in the United States, more than 9 trillion dollars was added to the national debt during the Obama years.  If we had not taken more than 9 trillion dollars of consumption and brought it into the present, we would most assuredly be in the midst of an epic economic depression right now.

Instead of taking our pain in the short-term, we have sold future generations of Americans as debt slaves, and if they get the chance someday they will look back and curse us for what we have done to them.

Many believe that Donald Trump can make short-term economic conditions even better than Obama did, but how in the world is he going to do that?

Is he going to borrow another 9 trillion dollars?

A big test is coming up.  A while back, Barack Obama and the Republican Congress colluded to suspend the debt ceiling until March 15th, 2017, and this week we are going to hit that deadline.

The U.S. Treasury will be able to implement “emergency measures” for a while, but if the debt ceiling is not raised the U.S. government will not be able to borrow more money and will run out of cash very quickly.  The following comes from David Stockman

The Treasury will likely be out of cash shortly after Memorial Day. That is, the White House will be in the mother of all debt ceiling battles before the Donald and his team even see it coming.

With just $66 billion on hand it is now going to run out of cash before even the bloody battle over Obamacare Lite now underway in the House has been completed. That means that there will not be even a glimmer of hope for the vaunted Trump tax cut stimulus and economic rebound on the horizon.

Trump is going to find it quite challenging to find the votes to raise the debt ceiling.  After everything that has happened, very few Democrats are willing to help Trump with anything, and many Republicans are absolutely against raising the debt ceiling without major spending cut concessions.

So we shall see what happens.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, it will almost certainly mean that a major political crisis and a severe economic downturn are imminent.

But if the debt ceiling is raised, it will mean that Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress are willingly complicit in the destruction of this country’s long-term economic future.

When you go into debt there are consequences.

And when the greatest debt bubble in human history finally bursts, the consequences will be exceedingly severe.

The best that our leaders can do for now is to keep the bubble alive for as long as possible, because what comes after the bubble is gone will be absolutely unthinkable.

A Third Of All U.S. Shopping Malls Are Projected To Close As ‘Space Available’ Signs Go Up All Over America

Abandoned Shopping Mall - Photo by Jeff TankIf you didn’t know better, you might be tempted to think that “Space Available” was the hottest new retail chain in the entire country.  As you will see below, it is being projected that about a third of all shopping malls in the United States will soon close, and we just recently learned that the number of “distressed retailers” is the highest that it has been since the last recession.  Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can possibly believe that the U.S. economy is in “good shape” after looking at the retail industry.  In my recent article about the ongoing “retail apocalypse“, I discussed the fact that Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s have all announced that they are closing dozens of stores in 2017, and you can find a pretty comprehensive list of 19 U.S. retailers that are “on the brink of bankruptcy” right here.  Needless to say, quite a bloodbath is going on out there right now.

But I didn’t realize how truly horrific things were for the retail industry until I came across an article about mall closings on Time Magazine’s website

About one-third of malls in the U.S. will shut their doors in the coming years, retail analyst Jan Kniffen told CNBC Thursday. His prediction comes in the wake of Macy’s reporting its worst consecutive same-store sales decline since the financial crisis.

Macy’s and its fellow retailers in American malls are challenged by an oversupply of retail space as customers migrate toward online shopping, as well as fast fashion retailers like H&M and off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx. As a result, about 400 of the country’s 1,100 enclosed malls will fail in the upcoming years. Of those that remain, he predicts that about 250 will thrive and the rest will continue to struggle.

Can you imagine what this country is going to look like if that actually happens?

Shopping malls all over the United States are literally becoming “ghost towns”, and many that have already closed have stayed empty for years and years.

The process usually starts when a shopping mall starts losing anchor stores.  That is why it is so alarming that Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s are planning to shut down so many locations in 2017.  According to one recent report, 310 shopping malls in America are in imminent danger of losing an anchor store

Dozens of malls have closed in the last 10 years, and many more are at risk of shutting down as retailers like Macy’s, JCPenney, and Sears — also known as anchor stores — shutter hundreds of stores to staunch the bleeding from falling sales.

The commercial-real-estate firm CoStar estimates that nearly a quarter of malls in the US, or roughly 310 of the nation’s 1,300 shopping malls, are at high risk of losing an anchor store.

Once the anchor stores start going, traffic falls off dramatically for the other stores and they start leaving too.

Four years ago in “The Beginning Of The End” I warned that empty storefronts would soon litter the national landscape, and now that is precisely what is happening.

Now that the Christmas season is over, some retailers that have been around for decades have suddenly decided that it is time to file for bankruptcy.  Sadly, one of those retailers is HHGregg

HHGregg Inc., the 61-year-old seller of appliances and electronics, is moving closer to Chapter 11 after announcing a store-closing plan, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The filing may come as soon as next week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t public. Bloomberg previously reported that HHGregg might file for bankruptcy in March if it couldn’t reach an out-of-court solution.

Another retailer that was once riding high but is now dealing with bankruptcy is BCBG

BCBG, the California-based fashion retailer that had acquired fashion design firm Herve Leger in 1998, and that once had more than 570 boutiques globally, including 175 in the US, and whose cocktail dresses and handbags were shown off by celebrities, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday.

It is buckling under $459 million of debt. It has 4,800 employees. Layoffs have already started. More layoffs and other cost cuts are planned, according to court documents, cited by Bloomberg. It started closing 120 of its stores in January. It wants to sell itself at a court-supervised auction. If that fails, it wants to negotiate a debt-for-equity swap with junior lenders owed $289 million.

If the U.S. economy was actually doing as well as the stock market says that it should be doing, all of these retail chains would not be closing stores and going bankrupt.

But of course the truth is that the stock market has become completely disconnected from economic reality.

We live at a time when middle class consumers are tapped out.  According to one recent survey, 57 percent of all Americans do not even have enough money in the bank to write a $500 check for an unexpected expense.

And people are falling out of the middle class at a staggering pace.  The number of homeless people in New York City recently set a brand new record high, and city authorities plan to construct 90 new homeless shelters within the next five years.

On the west coast we are also seeing a dramatic rise in homelessness.  The following comes from an article by Dan Lyman

Citizen journalists have captured stunning images and video of homeless encampments that are spiraling out of control in the shadows of Disneyland and Anaheim Stadium in California.

The tent city has recently sprung up along the Santa Ana riverbed, near a busy convergence of three major California highways known as the “Orange Crush,” at the border of Anaheim and Santa Ana, the latter a “sanctuary city.”

Homeless activists estimate that as many as 1,000 people are camped in the region.

You can see some video footage of this homeless encampment on YouTube right here

Incredibly, the Federal Reserve is almost certainly going to raise interest rates at their next meeting even though the U.S. economy is faltering so badly.  That only makes sense if they are trying to make Donald Trump look as bad as possible.

Even though this giant bubble of false economic stability that we are currently enjoying has lasted far longer than it should have, the truth is that nothing has changed about the long-term economic outlook at all.

America is still heading for “economic Armageddon”, and the retail industry is a huge red flag that is warning us that our day of reckoning is approaching more rapidly than many had anticipated.

March 2017: The End Of A 100 Year Global Debt Super Cycle Is Way Overdue

Global Debt Super Cycle - Public DomainFor more than 100 years global debt levels have been rising, and now we are potentially facing the greatest debt crisis in all of human history.  Never before have we seen such a level of debt saturation all over the planet, and pretty much everyone understands that this is going to end very, very badly at some point.  The only real question is when it will happen.  Many believe that the current global debt super cycle began when the Federal Reserve was established in 1913.  Central banks are designed to create debt, and since 1913 the U.S. national debt has gotten more than 6800 times larger.  But of course it is not just the United States that is in this sort of predicament.  At this point more than 99 percent of the population of the entire planet lives in a nation that has a debt-creating central bank, and as a result the whole world is drowning in debt.

When people tell me that things are going to “get better” in 2017 and beyond, I find it difficult not to roll my eyes.  The truth is that the only way we can even continue to maintain our current ridiculously high debt-fueled standard of living is to grow debt at a much faster pace than the economy is growing.  We may be able to do that for a brief period of time, but giant financial bubbles like this always end and we will not be any exception.

Barack Obama and his team understood what was happening, and they were able to keep us out of a horrifying economic depression by stealing more than nine trillion dollars from future generations of Americans and pumping that money into the U.S. economy.  As a result, the federal government is now 20 trillion dollars in debt, and that means that the eventual crash is going to be far, far worse than it would have been if we would have lived within our means all this time.

Corporations and households have been going into absolutely enormous amounts of debt as well.  Corporate debt has approximately doubled since the last financial crisis, and U.S. consumers are now more than 12 trillion dollars in debt.

When you add all forms of debt together, America’s debt to GDP ratio is now about 352 percent.  I think that the following illustration does a pretty good job of showing how absolutely insane that is

If your brother earns $100,000 in annual income and borrowed $10,000 on his credit card, he could consume $110,000 worth of stuff.  In this example, his debt to his personal GDP is just 10%.  But what if he could get more credit year after year and reached a point where his total debt reached $352,000 but his income remained the same.  His personal debt-to-GDP ratio would now be 352%.

If he could borrow at super low interest rates, maybe he could sustain the monthly loan payments. Maybe?  But how much more could he possibly borrow?  What lender would lend him more?  And what if those low rates began to rise?  How much debt can his $100,000 income cover?  Essentially, he has reached the end of his own debt cycle.

The United States is certainly not alone in this regard.  When you look all over the industrialized world, you see similar triple digit debt to GDP figures.

When this current debt super cycle ultimately ends, it is going to create economic pain on a scale that will be unlike anything that we have ever seen before.  The following comes from King World News

That is the inevitable consequence of 100 years of credit expansion from virtually nothing to $250 trillion, plus global unfunded liabilities of roughly $500 trillion, plus derivatives of $1.5 quadrillion. This is a staggering total of $2.25 quadrillion. Therefore, the question is not what could go wrong since it is guaranteed that all these liabilities will implode at some point. And when they do, it will bring misery to the world of a magnitude that no one could ever imagine. It is of course very difficult to forecast the end of a major cycle. As this is unlikely to be a mere 100-year cycle but possibly a 2000-year cycle. It is also impossible to forecast how long the decline will take. Will it be gradual like the Dark Ages, which took 500 years after the fall of the Roman Empire? Or will the fall be much faster this time due to the implosion of the biggest credit bubble in world history? The latter is more likely, especially since the bubble will become a lot bigger before it implodes.

And there are certainly lots of signs that a global slowdown is already beginning.  For example, global trade growth has fallen below 2 percent for only the third time since the year 2000.  On each of the other occasions, we witnessed a horrible recession take place.  For more signs that economic conditions are deteriorating, please see my previous article entitled “Recession 2017? Things Are Happening That Usually Never Happen Unless A New Recession Is Beginning“.

Of course much of the globe is already in the midst of a horrible economic crisis.  Brazil is in the middle of their worst recession ever, and people are literally starving in Venezuela.  A new round of debt problems has erupted in Europe, with Greece, Portugal and Italy being the latest flashpoints.

Just like in 2007, many are mocking the idea that the a major economic downturn is coming to the United States.  They believe that the ridiculously high stock market valuations of today can stick around indefinitely, and they are putting their faith in politicians.

But it won’t be too long before a new economic crisis begins in America and the kind of civil unrest that I portray in “The Beginning Of The End” erupts all across the country.

I just don’t understand why more people cannot see this.  Government debt, corporate debt and consumer debt have all been growing much, much faster than the overall economy.  Can someone please explain to me how that could possibly be sustainable in the long-term?

Someone that I considered to be a mentor but that has since passed away once said that things would seem like they would be getting better for a little while before the next crash comes.

And it turned out that he was precisely correct.  We are in a season of time when economic conditions have appeared to be getting a little bit better in the United States, and this has blinded so many people to the truth of what is about to happen to us.

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