25 Questions To Ask Anyone Who Is Delusional Enough To Believe That This Economic Recovery Is Real

If you listen to the mainstream media long enough, you just might be tempted to believe that the United States has emerged from the recession and is now in the middle of a full-fledged economic recovery.  In fact, according to Obama administration officials, the great American economic machine has roared back to life, stronger and more vibrant than ever before.  But is that really the case?  Of course not.  You would have to be delusional to believe that.  What did happen was that all of the stimulus packages and government spending and new debt that Obama and the U.S. Congress pumped into the economy bought us a little bit of time.  But they have also made our long-term economic problems far worse.  The reality is that the U.S. cannot keep supporting an economy on an ocean of red ink forever.  At some point the charade is going to come crashing down. 

And GDP is not a really good measure of the economic health of a nation.  For example, if you would have looked at the growth of GDP in the Weimar republic in the early 1930s, you may have been tempted to think that the German economy was really thriving.  German citizens were spending increasingly massive amounts of money.  But of course that money was becoming increasingly worthless at the same time as hyperinflation spiralled out of control.

Well, today the purchasing power of our dollar is rapidly eroding as the price of food and other necessities continues to increase.  So just because Americans are spending a little bit more money than before really doesn’t mean much of anything.  As you will see below, there are a whole bunch of other signs that the U.S. economy is in very, very serious trouble. 

Any “recovery” that the U.S. economy is experiencing is illusory and will be quite temporary.  The entire financial system of the United States is falling apart, and the powers that be can try to patch it up and prop it up for a while, but in the end this thing is going to come crashing down.

But as obvious as that may seem to most of us, there are still quite a few people out there that are absolutely convinced that the U.S. economy will fully recover and will soon be stronger than ever.

So the following are 25 questions to ask anyone who is delusional enough to believe that this economic recovery is real….  

#1) In what universe is an economy with 39.68 million Americans on food stamps considered to be a healthy, recovering economy?  In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that enrollment in the food stamp program will exceed 43 million Americans in 2011.  Is a rapidly increasing number of Americans on food stamps a good sign or a bad sign for the economy?

#2) According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings were reported on 367,056 properties in the month of March.  This was an increase of almost 19 percent from February, and it was the highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began issuing its report back in January 2005.  So can you please explain again how the U.S. real estate market is getting better?

#3) The Mortgage Bankers Association just announced that more than 10 percent of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage had missed at least one payment in the January-March period.  That was a record high and up from 9.1 percent a year ago.  Do you think that is an indication that the U.S. housing market is recovering?

#4) How can the U.S. real estate market be considered healthy when, for the first time in modern history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together?

#5) With the U.S. Congress planning to quadruple oil taxes, what do you think that is going to do to the price of gasoline in the United States and how do you think that will affect the U.S. economy?

#6) Do you think that it is a good sign that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of the state of California, says that “terrible cuts” are urgently needed in order to avoid a complete financial disaster in his state?

#7) But it just isn’t California that is in trouble.  Dozens of U.S. states are in such bad financial shape that they are getting ready for their biggest budget cuts in decades.  What do you think all of those budget cuts will do to the economy?

#8) In March, the U.S. trade deficit widened to its highest level since December 2008.  Month after month after month we buy much more from the rest of the world than they buy from us.  Wealth is draining out of the United States at an unprecedented rate.  So is the fact that the gigantic U.S. trade deficit is actually getting bigger a good sign or a bad sign for the U.S. economy?

#9) Considering the fact that the U.S. government is projected to have a 1.6 trillion dollar deficit in 2010, and considering the fact that if you went out and spent one dollar every single second it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend a trillion dollars, how can anyone in their right mind claim that the U.S. economy is getting healthier when we are getting into so much debt?

#10) The U.S. Treasury Department recently announced that the U.S. government suffered a wider-than-expected budget deficit of 82.69 billion dollars in April.  So is the fact that the red ink of the U.S. government is actually worse than projected a good sign or a bad sign?

#11) According to one new report, the U.S. national debt will reach 100 percent of GDP by the year 2015.  So is that a sign of economic recovery or of economic disaster?

#12) Monstrous amounts of oil continue to gush freely into the Gulf of Mexico, and analysts are already projecting that the seafood and tourism industries along the Gulf coast will be devastated for decades by this unprecedented environmental disaster.  In light of those facts, how in the world can anyone project that the U.S. economy will soon be stronger than ever?

#13) The FDIC’s list of problem banks recently hit a 17-year high.  Do you think that an increasing number of small banks failing is a good sign or a bad sign for the U.S. economy?

#14) The FDIC is backing 8,000 banks that have a total of $13 trillion in assets with a deposit insurance fund that is basically flat broke.  So what do you think will happen if a significant number of small banks do start failing?

#15) Existing home sales in the United States jumped 7.6 percent in April.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that this increase only happened because the deadline to take advantage of the temporary home buyer tax credit (government bribe) was looming.  So now that there is no more tax credit for home buyers, what will that do to home sales? 

#16) Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently told the U.S. government that they are going to need even more bailout money.  So what does it say about the U.S. economy when the two “pillars” of the U.S. mortgage industry are government-backed financial black holes that the U.S. government has to relentlessly pour money into?

#17) 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.  Tens of millions of Americans find themselves just one lawsuit, one really bad traffic accident or one very serious illness away from financial ruin.  With so many Americans living on the edge, how can you say that the economy is healthy?

#18) The mayor of Detroit says that the real unemployment rate in his city is somewhere around 50 percent.  So can the U.S. really be experiencing an economic recovery when so many are still unemployed in one of America’s biggest cities?

#19) Gallup’s measure of underemployment hit 20.0% on March 15th.  That was up from 19.7% two weeks earlier and 19.5% at the start of the year.  Do you think that is a good trend or a bad trend?

#20) One new poll shows that 76 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. economy is still in a recession.  So are the vast majority of Americans just stupid or could we still actually be in a recession?

#21) The bottom 40 percent of those living in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.  So is Barack Obama’s mantra that “what is good for Wall Street is good for Main Street” actually true?

#22) Richard Russell, the famous author of the Dow Theory Letters, says that Americans should sell anything they can sell in order to get liquid because of the economic trouble that is coming.  Do you think that Richard Russell is delusional or could he possibly have a point?

#23) Defaults on apartment building mortgages held by U.S. banks climbed to a record 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2010.  In fact, that was almost twice the level of a year earlier.  Does that look like a good trend to you?

#24) In March, the price of fresh and dried vegetables in the United States soared 49.3% – the most in 16 years.  Is it a sign of a healthy economy when food prices are increasing so dramatically?

#25) 1.41 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009 – a 32 percent increase over 2008.  Not only that, more Americans filed for bankruptcy in March 2010 than during any month since U.S. bankruptcy law was tightened in October 2005.  So shouldn’t we at least wait until the number of Americans filing for bankruptcy is not setting new all-time records before we even dare whisper the words “economic recovery”?

Wow! The SEC Formally Charges Goldman Sachs With Fraud

Wow!  Just when you think the U.S. government is entirely incompetent and toothless when it comes to controlling the corruption on Wall Street something like this happens.  For those who have not heard yet, on Friday the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil suit accusing Goldman Sachs of securities fraud.  We’ll get into the details below, but first it is important to note how stunning all of this is.  Goldman Sachs has had an extremely chummy relationship with the U.S. government over the past couple of decades.  A whole host of former Goldman Sachs executives have been appointed to key government positions by both Republicans and Democrats in recent years.  In addition, Goldman Sachs was Barack Obama’s number one campaign donor, and its employees gave $981,000 to his campaign.  But in spite of all that, the SEC has decided to go after Goldman Sachs.

Someone out there has a lot of guts.  Although to be honest it is far too soon to pass final judgment on this while thing.  Let’s see how it plays out.  It could end up being a “white wash” after all.  But at least this is a hopeful sign that justice will be done.

You can see a copy of the official charges filed by the SEC right here.

These charges are a huge blow to the reputation of what is widely regarded as the most powerful firm on Wall Street.  Goldman Sachs earned a record $4.79 billion last quarter, and for years it has seemed as if they could do no wrong.

But all of that has suddenly changed.

After the announcement of these charges by the SEC, Goldman’s shares fell more than 13 percent.

The heart of the charges involves the failure by Goldman Sachs to disclose conflicts in the 2007 sale of a collateralized debt obligation.  According to the SEC, investors in the collateralized debt obligation ended up losing approximately 1 billion dollars.

So what did Goldman Sachs do that was so wrong?

Well, it turns out that Goldman Sachs allowed hedge fund Paulson & Co. (run by John Paulson – not related to Henry Paulson) to help select the securities that were to be included in the CDO.

The SEC says Paulson & Co. paid Goldman around 15 million dollars in 2007 to put together a collateralized debt obligation that included mortgage-related securities that Paulson & Co. believed were very likely to decline in value.  Then Paulson & Co. placed huge bets against the CDO.

When Goldman Sachs presented the collateralized debt obligation to potential investors, they did not tell them that Paulson & Co. was shorting the CDO.

In essence, what happened is that Paulson & Co. helped select mortgage-related securities for the CDO that they thought would definitely fail and then they bet big money that they would fail.  Then Goldman went out and marketed the CDO as a worthy investment to investors and did not tell them that Paulson & Co. were betting big money that the CDO would fail.

When the value of the CDO plunged dramatically just a few months after it was issued, Paulson & Co. walked off with about a billion dollars.

According to the SEC, within 6 months of the issuance of the CDO, 83% of the residential mortgage-backed securities in the portfolio had been downgraded.

Within nine months of the issuance of the CDO, 99% of the residential mortgage-backed securities in the portfolio had been downgraded.

Two major European banks were left holding the bag. ABN Amro, a major Dutch bank, and IKB, a German commercial bank, combined to lose nearly a billion dollars.

The SEC says that it is trying to recoup profits reaped on the deal.

Also being charged by the SEC is a 31 year old Goldman Sachs vice president, Fabrice Tourre.  The SEC alleges that he was principally responsible for putting together the deal and marketing the securities.

You see, this is what happens when you let a young kid play around with hundreds of millions of dollars.

In an almost unbelievable email to a friend, Tourre described himself as “the fabulous Fab standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstrosities!!!”

That is the level of maturity that we can apparently expect from Wall Street executives these days.

No wonder our financial system is falling apart.

In a statement, Goldman Sachs responded to the SEC charges by saying the following: “the SEC’s charges are completely unfounded in law and fact and we will vigorously contest them and defend the firm and its reputation.”

But of course Goldman Sachs never admits that they are wrong.

“Our short positions were not a ‘bet against our clients,”‘ Goldman Sachs said in a recent letter to shareholders that discussed Goldman’s behavior during the recent housing crash. “Rather, they served to offset our long positions. Our goal was, and is, to be in a position to make markets for our clients while managing our risk within prescribed limits.”

But other financial analysts are applauding this action by the SEC….

In a note to his clients on Friday, Chris Whalen, a bank analyst at Institutional Risk Analytics noted the following….

“This litigation exposes the cynical, savage culture of Wall Street that allows a dealer to commit fraud on one customer to benefit another.”

A brief video news report about these charges against Goldman Sachs is posted below….

So will there be additional charges against Goldman Sachs?

Let’s hope so.

The truth is that the misbehavior documented above is just the tip of the iceberg.

Goldman Sachs helped create the housing collapse by selling mortgage-related securities that were absolute garbage to trusting clients at vastly overinflated prices.  Then Goldman Sachs placed huge bets against those same mortgage-related securities and also placed huge bets against the U.S. housing market.  When the U.S. economy collapsed in 2008 and 2009 they ended up making huge profits.

“The simultaneous selling of securities to customers and shorting them because they believed they were going to default is the most cynical use of credit information that I have ever seen,”Sylvain Raynes, an expert in structured finance at R & R Consulting in New York, told The New York Times. “When you buy protection against an event that you have a hand in causing, you are buying fire insurance on someone else’s house and then committing arson.”

Even with today’s action by the SEC, it still seems extremely unlikely that Goldman Sachs will ever be held fully accountable for all that they have done.  They are just too big and too powerful and they have too many big and powerful friends.

But at least today is a beginning.

For years Goldman has been considered almost untouchable.  They have been considered an almost “all-powerful” financial monster that pretty much does whatever it wants.

An article in Rolling Stone described it this way….

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

But perhaps today will start to change that.

Let’s hope so.

For much more on Goldman Sachs and all of the mischief that they have been involved in, please read our recent article entitled “How Goldman Sachs Made Tens Of Billions Of Dollars From The Economic Collapse Of America In Four Easy Steps”.

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If The Money Supply Is Exploding Why Are We Not Seeing Rampant Inflation?

The U.S. money supply has been expanding at an absolutely unprecedented rate.  So why are we not experiencing rampant inflation?  Why is the U.S. dollar not falling through the floor?  Well, the truth is that all of this new money has gotten into the U.S. financial system but it is not getting into the hands of U.S. businesses and consumers.  In fact, even though the money supply is exploding, U.S. banks have dramatically decreased lending.  This has brought us to a very bizarre financial situation as a nation.

What we have seen is the U.S. government shovel massive amounts of cash into the U.S. financial system and then watch as the big banks sit on that cash and refuse to lend it. The biggest banks in the U.S. reduced their collective small business lending balance by another 1 billion dollars in November 2009.  That drop was the seventh monthly decline in a row.  In fact, in 2009 as a whole U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in lending since 1942.

So all of this money that the U.S. government pumped into the financial system has been doing American businesses and consumers very little good.  That is why we can have a vastly increased money supply (as you can see from the chart below) and very little inflation.

So if the banks are not lending the money to the American people, what are they doing with it?  One of the things they are doing with it is buying U.S. government debt.  As you can see from the chart below, U.S. banks have cut business lending by approximately 350 billion dollars since early 2009 and they have purchased approximately 300 billion dollars worth of U.S. Treasury securities.

So instead of loaning money to American businesses and consumers who desperately need it, a ton of this new money is being used to pump up yet another bubble.  This time the bubble is in U.S. Treasuries.  Asia Times recently described how this trillion-dollar carry trade in U.S. government securities works….

Remarkably, the most aggressive buyers of US government debt during the past several months have been global banks domiciled in London and the Cayman Islands. They borrow at 20 basis points (a fifth of a percentage point) and buy Treasury securities paying 1% to 3%, depending on maturity.

This is the famous “carry trade”, by which banks or hedge funds borrow short-term at a very low rate and lend medium- or long-term at a higher rate. This works as long as short-tem rates remain extremely low. The moment that borrowing costs begin to rise, the trillion-dollar carry trade in US government securities will collapse.

So what happens when this bubble collapses?

Nobody knows for sure.  But anyone who has dealt with carry trades in the past knows that when carry trades unwind they can do so very, very quickly and the results can be nightmarish.

The truth is that the U.S. financial system is a house of cards that could fall at any time.  A lot of economic pain is on the horizon – it is only a matter of when it comes and how bad it is going to get.  Trends forecaster Gerald Celente is predicting that it could be as soon as this year….

Is The United States Headed For A Commercial Real Estate Crash Of Unprecedented Magnitude?

Will commercial real estate be the next shoe to drop in the ongoing U.S. financial crisis?  While most eyes are on the continuing residential real estate disaster, the reality is that the state of the commercial real estate market in America could soon be even worse.  Very few financial pundits are talking about this looming disaster but they should be.  The truth is that U.S. commercial property values are down approximately 40 percent since the peak in 2007 and currently approximately 18 percent of all office space in the United States is now sitting vacant.  That qualifies as a complete and total mess, but the reality is that the commercial real estate crisis is just starting.

In fact, the commercial real estate market is likely to get a whole lot worse.  It is being projected that the largest commercial real estate loan losses will be experienced in 2011 and the years following.  Some analysts are estimating that losses from commercial real estate at U.S. banks alone could reach as high as 200 to 300 billion dollars.  To get an idea of how rapidly the commercial real estate market is unraveling, just check out the chart below….

Does that look like things are getting better to you?

And unfortunately, all indications are that the commercial real estate market is going to get much worse.

According to Real Capital Analytics, the default rate for commercial property mortgages held by all U.S. banks more than doubled in the fourth quarter of 2009 and may reach a peak of 5.4 percent by the end of 2011.

But even that estimate may be way too conservative as we shall see in a moment.

According to a recent report by the Congressional Oversight Panel, approximately 3,000 U.S. banks are currently classified as having a risky concentration of commercial real estate loans.  All of them are small to mid-size banks which have been already severely weakened by the recent financial crisis.

So could the crisis in the commercial real estate market lead to a massive wave of failures among small and mid-size banks?

Count on it.

In fact, the FDIC has acknowledged that the number of banks on its “problem” list climbed to 702 at the end of 2009.  To get an idea of just how bad that is, keep in mind that only 552 banks that were on the problem list at the end of September 2009, and only 252 banks that were on the problem list at the end of 2008.

Are you starting to get the picture?

So how are banks responding to this commercial real estate quagmire?

They are rapidly raising loan standards and they are dramatically reducing the number of loans they are making.

Just a few years ago, the number of commercial real estate loans was exploding, but now the bubble has burst, and as the chart below reveals, commercial real estate lending has absolutely fallen off the map….

What is making things even worse is that owners of commercial real estate are starting to walk away from properties that are heavily “underwater” just as many residential homeowners have been doing.  This has caused default rates to start shooting through the roof.

One of the latest and most high profile commercial property owners to do this is Vornado Realty Trust.  Earlier this month Vornado indicated that it would walk away from two heavily underwater loans totaling $235 million.

In the past commercial property owners would be very hesitant to do such a thing, but the reality is that the stigma has faded for these kind of “strategic defaults”.  Just as with residential real estate, these kinds of defaults have almost become accepted practice now.

The number of defaults is likely to skyrocket even further with so many commercial real estate loans scheduled to rollover in the next few years.

You see, commercial real estate properties typically carry mortgages with lives of 5 to 10 years.  A vast array of commercial real estate loans made between 2000 and 2005 are coming up for a rollover, but because credit standards have tightened, borrowers may find that they simply do not qualify for refinancing.

In fact, a report entitled “Commercial Real Estate at the Precipice” estimates that even under lenient lending standards, approximately 57 percent of existing commercial real estate mortgages will not qualify for refinancing.

That is a nightmare.

But if you apply more conservative lending standards, it is estimated that almost two-thirds of all commercial real estate borrowers will not qualify for a rollover.

So what is going to happen to the U.S. commercial real estate market when large numbers of borrowers start walking away from their “underwater” loans and about half of those who want to rollover their loans don’t qualify for refinancing?

What do you think that is going to do to commercial real estate prices?

Somebody better do something, because both the commercial and the residential real estate markets in the U.S. face a crisis of unprecedented magnitude.

But most Americans still have no idea that the great economic machine that their forefathers built is falling to pieces all around them.  They would rather numb the pain by watching the latest episode of American Idol or by catching up on the latest round of celebrity gossip.

But that is not going to stop what is about to happen.

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Money Out Of Thin Air: Now Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke Wants To Eliminate Reserve Requirements Completely?

Up until now, the United States has operated under a “fractional reserve” banking system.  Banks have always been required to keep a small fraction of the money deposited with them for a reserve, but were allowed to loan out the rest.  But now it turns out that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke wants to completely eliminate minimum reserve requirements, which he says “impose costs and distortions on the banking system”. At least that is what a footnote to his testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services on February 10th says. So is Bernanke actually proposing that banks should be allowed to have no reserves at all?

That simply does not make any sense. But it is right there in black and white on the Federal Reserve’s own website….

The Federal Reserve believes it is possible that, ultimately, its operating framework will allow the elimination of minimum reserve requirements, which impose costs and distortions on the banking system.

If there were no minimum reserve requirements, what kind of chaos would that lead to in our financial system?  Not that we are operating with sound money now, but is the solution to have no restrictions at all?  Of course not.

What in the world is Bernanke thinking?

But of course he is Time Magazine’s “Person Of The Year”, so shouldn’t we all just shut up and trust his expertise?

Hardly.

The truth is that Bernanke is making a mess of the U.S. financial system.

Fortunately there are a few members of Congress that realize this.  One of them is Republican Congressman Ron Paul from Texas.  He has created a firestorm by introducing legislation that would subject the Federal Reserve to a comprehensive audit for the first time since it was created.  Ron Paul understands that creating money out of thin air is only going to create massive problems.  The following is an excerpt from Ron Paul’s remarks to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke at a recent Congressional hearing….

“The Federal Reserve in collaboration with the giant banks has created the greatest financial crisis the world has ever seen. The foolish notion that unlimited amounts of money and credit created out of thin air can provide sustainable economic growth has delivered this crisis to us. Instead of economic growth and stable prices, (The Fed) has given us a system of government and finance that now threatens the world financial and political institutions. Pursuing the same policy of excessive spending, debt expansion and monetary inflation can only compound the problems that prevent the required corrections. Doubling the money supply didn’t work, quadrupling it won’t work either. Buying up the bad debt of privileged institutions and dumping worthless assets on the American people is morally wrong and economically futile.”

The truth is that the financial system that we have created makes inflation inevitable.  The U.S. dollar has lost more than 95 percent of the value that it had when the Federal Reserve was created.  During this decade the value of the dollar will decline a whole lot more.

That doesn’t sound like a very good investment.

But that is what happens when you give bankers power to make money up out of thin air.

And things are only going to get worse.

Especially if Bernanke gets his way and reserve requirements are eliminated entirely.

The U.S. economy is a giant mess already, and we have got a guy at the controls who simply does not have a clue.

It’s going to be a rough ride.

How Can Anyone Claim That The Housing Crisis Is Over When The Delinquency Rate On U.S. Mortgages Continues To Explode At An Exponential Rate?

Housing prices have stabilized and are actually slightly increasing in some areas.  The tax breaks passed by Congress have encouraged more first-time home buyers to get into the market.  So is the U.S. housing crisis over?  Will the real estate market be back to normal in no time?  Well, if you listen to many of the talking heads on the news channels, you might be tempted to think that the worst of the housing crisis is behind us and that we are headed towards recovery.  But that is not what is happening.  The truth is that we are just now getting ready for round 2 of the real estate nightmare.

Where is the evidence to back that assertion up?  Well, just consider the chart below.  The delinquency rate on U.S. residential mortgages continues to explode at an exponential  rate….

Please note that the rate of mortgage delinquencies is now much, much higher than it was when the housing market was crashing so hard in 2007 and 2008.  More people than ever are falling seriously behind on their mortgages, and that means that more homes than ever are in danger of being foreclosed.

Now it is true that there are some signs that the rate of serious mortgage delinquencies is starting to stabilize, but the reality is that we will experience only a momentary pause.

Why?

A massive second wave of adjustable rate mortgages is scheduled to reset beginning this year, and if it goes anything like the “first wave” did, the results could be absolutely catastrophic for the U.S. economy.  Just check out the chart below….

This coming second wave could result in another huge mountain of foreclosures being forced on to the market.

So is the housing crisis over?

No.

Not even close.

Unless something really dramatic happens, the U.S. housing market is going to experience pain so intense that it is hard to even imagine.  Millions more Americans could lose their homes and scores of banks could end up being shut down.

Let’s hope that things end up being not quite as bad as it looks like they could be.

But you know what they say: “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst”.

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