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Is Puerto Rico’s Economic Collapse A Ploy By Liberals To Permanently Shift The Balance Of Power In Congress?

Next month, citizens of Puerto Rico are going to vote on statehood, and the absolutely devastating economic collapse that is gripping the island could be enough to push pro-statehood forces over the edge to victory.  Of course Congress has the final say on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state or not, but it is going to be very difficult to deny Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents statehood if they strongly insist that they want it.  Needless to say, if Puerto Rico becomes the 51st U.S. state that would greatly benefit the Democrats, because the population of Puerto Rico is very liberal.

Puerto Rico does not get to vote in presidential elections, but they do help select the nominees for both parties.  In 2016, 58,764 votes were cast in the Democratic caucuses held in Puerto Rico, and only 36,660 votes were cast in the Republican primary.  As a state, it is doubtful whether Puerto Rico would send any Republican lawmakers to Washington for decades to come.

So if Puerto Rico becomes a state, the Democrats would add two new senators and probably four or five representatives.

Puerto Rico would be the 30th largest state in the entire country, and so it would instantly have more political power than 21 other U.S. states.

This upcoming vote on June 11th is going to be extremely important, and pro-statehood forces are working very hard to get a positive result.  The following info about the referendum in June comes from Wikipedia

The fifth referendum will be held on June 11, 2017 and will offer two options: “Statehood” and “Independence/Free Association.” It will be the first referendum not to offer the choice of “Commonwealth.” Newly-elected Governor Ricardo Rosselló is strongly in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico to help develop the economy and help to “solve our 500-year-old colonial dilemma … Colonialism is not an option …. It’s a civil rights issue … 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy,” he told the news media.[30] Benefits of statehood include an additional $10 billion per year in federal funds, the right to vote in presidential elections, higher Social Security and Medicare benefits, and a right for its government agencies and municipalities to file for bankruptcy. The latter is currently prohibited.[31]

At approximately the same time as the referendum, Puerto Rico’s legislators are also expected to vote on a bill that would allow the Governor to draft a state constitution and hold elections to choose senators and representatives to the federal Congress.[31]

Over the past decade, Puerto Rico has been suffering through a nightmarish economic recession that never seems to end.  The island was recently forced to declare the equivalent of bankruptcy because it is facing $123 billion in debt and pension obligations.  At this moment 46 percent of the residents of Puerto Rico are living below the poverty line, the unemployment rate is 11 percent, and authorities just announced that another 179 public schools will be closing down.

It has been argued that the Obama administration could have done much more to alleviate the economic problems in Puerto Rico but that it purposely chose not to do so.

Why?

Well, the worse economic conditions get in Puerto Rico, the better it is for pro-statehood forces.  Puerto Ricans are being told that becoming a state is the key to Puerto Rico’s long-term economic future, and at this point many are willing to do just about anything to get the economic suffering to end.  The following is a short excerpt from a New York Times article entitled “Amid Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Ruins, a New Push for Statehood“…

A vigorous push for statehood was a central campaign promise of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, 38, who was inaugurated in January. Next month, he will ask residents to vote, in a nonbinding referendum, for statehood as part of a long-term fix for a commonwealth facing a period of severe austerity that is likely to include shuttered public schools, frozen salaries, slashed pensions and crimped investments in public health. The island remains in the grip of a recession that has lingered for much of the past decade.

Could it be possible that this is what liberals have wanted all along?

Could it be possible that Obama and his minions saw Puerto Rico as a chess piece that could be used to permanently shift the balance of power in Congress?

Of course if Puerto Rico becomes a state that would have implications for presidential elections as well.

In the end, it will be Congress that decides what the fate of Puerto Rico will be, but if the people of Puerto Rico truly want to become the 51st U.S. state it is going to be really hard to deny them that opportunity indefinitely.

Last year at their national conventions, the Democrats and the Republicans both took the position that the citizens of Puerto Rico should be able to make this decision for themselves.  But once faced with a final decision, it is inevitable that many Republican members of Congress would be opposed to statehood.

Personally, I believe that either independence or “free association” would be much better for Puerto Rico, and let us hope that the people of Puerto Rico choose that direction.

But when people are really hurting, they will often grasp any sort of olive branch that is being offered to them, and right now the progressives are really pushing statehood.

Of course for strategists on the left, the goal is not to help the suffering people of Puerto Rico.

Rather, the endgame is complete domination of the U.S. political system by any means necessary.

The ’51st U.S. State’ Declares Bankruptcy As Corporate Insiders Sell Stocks At The Fastest Rate Since The Last Financial Crisis

Puerto Rico has collapsed financially and has “filed for the equivalent of bankruptcy protection”.  When this was announced on Wednesday, it quickly made front page news all over the planet.  For decades, Puerto Rico has been considered to be the territory most likely to become “the 51st U.S. state”, and there have even been rumblings that we could soon see a renewed push for statehood.  But that is on the back burner for now, because at the moment Puerto Rico is dealing with a nightmarish financial crisis that is the result of an accelerating economic collapse.  Unfortunately, many Americans still don’t believe that what has happened to Puerto Rico could happen to us, even though signs of major economic trouble are emerging all around us.

Almost two years ago I issued a major warning about the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, and now the day of reckoning for “America’s Greece” has finally arrived

Saddled by mountainous debts and undermined by rapid population loss, Puerto Rico filed for the equivalent of bankruptcy protection Wednesday in a historic move that will trigger a fierce legal battle, with the fate of the island’s citizens, creditors and workers at stake.

The oversight board appointed to lead the U.S. territory back to fiscal sustainability declared in a court filing that it is “unable to provide its citizens effective services,” crushed by $74 billion in debts and $49 billion in pension liabilities.

Like Greece, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and so many others, what has happened in Puerto Rico shows us that it is simply not possible to live way above your means indefinitely.  If your debt grows much faster than your economy, eventually you reach a point where financial disaster is inevitable.  This is a lesson that our leaders in Washington D.C. desperately need to learn before it is too late for the United States.

Since 2007, the population of Puerto Rico has declined by 10 percent and the number of jobs in that nation has declined by 20 percent.  It is a long-term economic collapse that just continues to get even worse with each passing month.

Unfortunately for Wall Street, many large U.S. financial institutions have invested very heavily in Puerto Rico’s bonds.  In fact, it has been estimated that 180 mutual funds have “at least 5% of their portfolios in Puerto Rican bonds”.

At this point, U.S. firms stand poised to lose billions of dollars as their investments become worthless, and many of these firms were totally blindsided because they were assured that this could not happen…

The financial collapse promises to impose deep losses on bondholders who for years snapped up Puerto Rico’s securities, which are tax-free throughout the U.S. U.S. states can’t file for bankruptcy, and investors bought the bonds assured that it wasn’t a legal option for Puerto Rico either.

The scale of the restructuring is far larger than Detroit’s record-setting $18 billion bankruptcy, and it’s unclear how long a court proceeding would last or how deep would be the cuts that are imposed on bondholders.

So how far will the financial collapse of Puerto Rico ultimately ripple through our financial system?

It is hard to say, but without a doubt this is a major concern.

Meanwhile, corporate insiders are selling stocks at the fastest pace that we have seen in seven years.  The following comes from Business Insider

As the investing public has continued to devour stocks, sending all three major indexes to record highs in the last few months, corporate insiders have been offloading shares to an extent not seen in seven years. Selling totaled $10 billion in March, according to data compiled by Trim Tabs.

It’s a troubling trend facing an equity market that’s already grappling with its loftiest valuations since the 2000 tech bubble. If the people with the deepest knowledge of a company are cashing out, why should investors keep buying at current prices?

What do those corporate insiders know that the rest of us do not?

Perhaps they are just being rational.  If I was a top corporate insider at one of these “unicorns” that have market caps in the tens of billions of dollars even though they are consistently losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year I would be selling too.

You make money in the stock market by selling at the right time.  Those that sold their Pets.com stock at the peak of the dotcom bubble got quite wealthy, but those that held on all the way through the stock market crash got completely wiped out.

There have been some analysts that have suggested that one way to make money in the stock market is to simply do what the insiders are doing.  If they are buying, then that is supposedly a time to buy, and if they are selling that is supposedly a time to sell.

Personally, I would rather use my limited resources to get prepared for the horrific crisis that is inevitably coming, but not everyone agrees with that outlook.

The crisis in Puerto Rico developed over an extended period of time, and there were plenty of warning signs.

So anyone that is still holding Puerto Rican bonds at this point is quite foolish.

Similarly, the warning signs here in the U.S. have been mounting for quite a while.  Just yesterday, we got more exceedingly bad news for the U.S. auto industry, and we are on pace to absolutely smash the all-time record for most retail store closings in a single year.

Just because a crisis does not arrive on the exact month or year that you were anticipating does not mean that it has been canceled.

I warned about a looming financial cataclysm in Puerto Rico nearly two years ago, but they somehow managed to hang on until now.  And even though the U.S. financial system is still afloat for the moment, everyone should be able to see that we are definitely living on borrowed time.

So don’t look down on Puerto Rico, because what is happening to them is eventually coming here too.

11 Reasons Why U.S. Economic Growth Is The Worst That It Has Been In 3 Years

Those that were predicting that the U.S. economy would be flying high by now have been proven wrong.  U.S. GDP grew at the worst rate in three years during the first quarter of 2017, and many are wondering if this is the beginning of a major economic slowdown.  Of course when we are dealing with the official numbers that the federal government puts out, it is important to acknowledge that they are highly manipulated.  There are many that have correctly pointed out to me that if the numbers were not being doctored that they would show that we are still in a recession.  In fact, John Williams of shadowstats.com has shown that if honest numbers were being used that U.S. GDP growth would have been consistently negative going all the way back to 2005.  So I definitely don’t have any argument with those that claim that we are actually in a recession right now.  But even if we take the official numbers that the federal government puts out at face value, they are definitely very ugly

Economic growth slowed in the first quarter to its slowest pace in three years as sluggish consumer spending and business stockpiling offset solid business investment. Many economists write off the weak performance as a byproduct of temporary blips and expect healthy growth in 2017.

The nation’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the USA — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.7%, the Commerce Department said Friday, below the tepid 2.1% pace clocked both in the fourth quarter and as an average throughout the nearly 8-year-old recovery. Economists expected a 1% increase in output, according to a Bloomberg survey.

Even if you want to assume that it is a legitimate number, 0.7 percent economic growth is essentially stall speed, and this follows a year when the U.S. economy grew at a rate of just 1.6 percent.

So why is this happening?

Of course the “experts” in the mainstream media are blaming all sorts of temporary factors

Economists blamed the weather. It was too warm this time around, rather than too cold, which is the usual explanation for Q1 debacles.

And they blamed the IRS refund checks that had been delayed due to last year’s spectacular identity theft problem. Everyone blamed everything on these delayed refund checks, including the auto industry and the restaurant industry. But by mid-February, a veritable tsunami of checks went out, and by the end of February, the IRS was pretty much caught up. So March should have been awash in consumer spending. But no. So we’ll patiently wait for that miracle to happen in second quarter.

They always want us to think that “boom times” for the U.S. economy are right around the corner, but those “boom times” have never materialized since the end of the last financial crisis.

Instead, we have had year after year of economic malaise and stagnation, and it looks like 2017 is going to continue that trend.  The following are 11 reasons why U.S. economic growth is the worst that it has been in 3 years…

#1 The weak economic growth in the first quarter was the continuation of a long-term trend.  Barack Obama was the only president in history not to have a single year when the U.S. economy grew by at least 3 percent, and this is now the fourth time in the last six quarters when economic growth has been less than 2 percent on an annualized basis.  So essentially this latest number signals that our long-term economic decline is continuing.

#2 Consumer spending drives the U.S. economy more than anything else, and at this point most U.S. consumers are tapped out.  In fact, CBS News has reported that three-fourths of all U.S. consumers have to “scramble to cover their living costs” each month.

#3 The job market appears to be slowing.  The U.S. economy only added about 98,000 jobs in March, and that was approximately half of what most analysts were expecting.

#4 The flow of credit appears to be slowing as well.  In fact, this is the first time since the last recession when there has been no growth for commercial and industrial lending for at least six months.

#5 Last month, U.S. factory output dropped at the fastest pace that we have witnessed in more than two years.

#6 We are in the midst of the worst “retail apocalypse” in U.S. history.  The number of retailers that has filed for bankruptcy has already surpassed the total for the entire year of 2016, and at the current rate we will smash the previous all-time record for store closings in a year by nearly 2,000.

#7 The auto industry is also experiencing a great deal of stress.  This has been the worst year for U.S. automakers since the last recession, and seven out of the eight largest fell short of their sales projections in March.

#8 Used vehicle prices are falling “dramatically”, and Morgan Stanley is now projecting that used vehicle prices “could crash by up to 50%” over the next several years.

#9 Commercial bankruptcies are rising at the fastest pace since the last recession.

#10 Consumer bankruptcies are rising at the fastest pace since the last recession.

#11 The student loan bubble is starting to burst.  It is being reported that 27 percent of all student loans are already in default, and some analysts expect that number to go much higher.

And of course some areas of the country are being harder hit than others.  The following comes from CNBC

Four states have not yet fully recovered from the Great Recession. As of the third quarter of last year, the latest data available, the economies of Louisiana, Wyoming, Connecticut and Alaska were still smaller than when the recession ended in June 2009.

Other states that have recovered have seen their economic recoveries stall out. Those include Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and West Virginia.

We should be thankful that we are not experiencing a full-blown economic meltdown just yet, but it is undeniable that our long-term economic decline continues to roll along.

And without a doubt the storm clouds are building on the horizon, and many believe that the next major economic downturn will begin in the not too distant future.

11 Facts That Prove That The U.S. Economy In 2017 Is In Far Worse Shape Than It Was In 2016

There is much debate about where the U.S. economy is ultimately heading, but what everybody should be able to agree on is that economic conditions are significantly worse this year than they were last year.  It is being projected that U.S. economic growth for the first quarter will be close to zero, thousands of retail stores are closing, factory output is falling, and restaurants and automakers have both fallen on very hard times.  As economic activity has slowed down, commercial and consumer bankruptcies are both rising at rates that we have not seen since the last financial crisis.  Everywhere you look there are echoes of 2008, and yet most people still seem to be in denial about what is happening.  The following are 11 facts that prove that the U.S. economy in 2017 is in far worse shape than it was in 2016…

#1 It is being projected that there will be more than 8,000 retail store closings in the United States in 2017, and that will far surpass the former peak of 6,163 store closings that we witnessed in 2008.

#2 The number of retailers that have filed for bankruptcy so far in 2017 has already surpassed the total for the entire year of 2016.

#3 So far in 2017, an astounding 49 million square feet of retail space has closed down in the United States.  At this pace, approximately 147 million square feet will be shut down by the end of the year, and that would absolutely shatter the all-time record of 115 million square feet that was shut down in 2001.

#4 The Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now model is projecting that U.S. economic growth for the first quarter of 2017 will come in at just 0.5 percent.  If that pace continues for the rest of the year, it will be the worst year for U.S. economic growth since the last recession.

#5 Restaurants are experiencing their toughest stretch since the last recession, and in March things continued to get even worse

Foot traffic at chain restaurants in March dropped 3.4% from a year ago. Menu prices couldn’t be increased enough to make up for it, and same-store sales fell 1.1%. The least bad region was the Western US, where sales inched up 1.2% year-over-year and traffic fell only 1.7%, according to TDn2K’s Restaurant Industry Snapshot. The worst was the NY-NJ Region, where sales plunged 4.6% and foot traffic 6.3%.

This comes after a dismal February, when foot traffic had dropped 5% year-over-year, and same-store sales 3.7%.

#6 In March, U.S. factory output declined at the fastest pace in more than two years.

#7 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, not a single person is employed in nearly one out of every five U.S. families.

#8 U.S. government revenues just suffered their biggest drop since the last recession.

#9 Nearly all of the big automakers reported disappointing sales in March, and dealer inventories have now risen to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

#10 Used vehicle prices are absolutely crashing, and subprime auto loan losses have shot up to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

#11 At this point, most U.S. consumers are completely tapped out.  According to CNN, almost six out of every ten Americans do not have enough money saved to even cover a $500 emergency expense.

Just like in 2008, debts are going bad at a very alarming pace.  In fact, things have already gotten so bad that the IMF has issued a major warning about it

In America alone, bad debt held by companies could reach $4 trillion, “or almost a quarter of corporate assets considered,” according to the IMF. That debt “could undermine financial stability” if mishandled, the IMF says.

The percentage of “weak,” “vulnerable” or “challenged” debt held as assets by US firms has almost arrived at the same level it was right before the 2008 crisis.

We are seeing so many parallels to the last financial crisis, and many are hoping that our politicians in Washington can fix things before it is too late.

On Monday, the most critical week of Trump’s young presidency begins.  The administration will continue working on tax reform and a replacement for Obamacare, but of even greater importance is the fact that if a spending agreement is not passed by Friday a government shutdown will begin at the end of the week

Trump has indicated that he wants to tackle the repeal and replacement of Obamacare and introduce his “massive” tax plan in the next week, all while a shutdown of parts of federal government looms Friday.

By attempting three massive political undertakings in one week, investors will have a sense of whether or not Trump will be able to deliver on pro-growth policies that would be beneficial for markets.

If Trump can pull off the trifecta, it could restore faith that policy proposals like tax cuts and infrastructure spending are on the way. If not, look out.

Members of Congress are returning from their extended two week spring vacation, and now they will only have four working days to get something done.

And I don’t believe that they will be able to rush something through in just four days.  The Republicans in Congress, the Democrats in Congress, and the Trump administration all want different things, and ironing out all of those differences is not going to be easy.

For example, the Trump administration is insisting on funding for a border wall, and the Democrats are saying no way.  The following comes from the Washington Post

President Trump and his top aides applied new pressure Sunday on lawmakers to include money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in a must-pass government funding bill, raising the possibility of a federal government shutdown this week.

In a pair of tweets, Trump attacked Democrats for opposing the wall and insisted that Mexico would pay for it “at a later date,” despite his repeated campaign promises not including that qualifier. And top administration officials appeared on Sunday morning news shows to press for wall funding, including White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who said Trump might refuse to sign a spending bill that does not include any.

And of course the border wall is just one of a whole host of controversial issues that are standing in the way of an agreement.  Those that are suggesting that all of these issues will be resolved in less than 100 hours are being completely unrealistic.  And even though the Trump administration is putting on a brave face, the truth is that quiet preparations for a government shutdown have already begun.

The stage is being set for the kind of nightmare crisis that I portrayed in The Beginning Of The End.  The stock market bubble is showing signs of being ready to burst, and an extended government shutdown would be more than enough to push things over the edge.

Let us hope that this government shutdown is only for a limited period of time, because an extended shutdown could potentially be catastrophic.  In the end, either the Trump administration or the Democrats are going to have to give in on issues such as funding for Obamacare, the border wall, Planned Parenthood, defense spending increases, etc.

It will be a test of the wills, and it will be absolutely fascinating to see who buckles under the pressure first.

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 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.

This Region Of The World Is Being Hit By The Worst Economic Collapse It Has Ever Experienced

South America On The Globe - Public DomainThe ninth largest economy in the entire world is currently experiencing “its longest and deepest recession in recorded history”, and in a country right next door people are being encouraged to label their trash so that the thousands upon thousands of desperately hungry people that are digging through trash bins on the streets can find discarded food more easily.  Of course the two nations that I am talking about are Brazil and Venezuela.  The Brazilian economy was once the seventh largest on the globe, but after shrinking for eight consecutive quarters it has now fallen to ninth place.  And in Venezuela the economic collapse has gotten so bad that more than 70 percent of the population lost weight last year due to a severe lack of food.  Most of us living in the northern hemisphere don’t think that anything like this could happen to us any time soon, but the truth is that trouble signs are already starting to erupt all around us.  It is just a matter of time before the things currently happening in Brazil and Venezuela start happening here, but unfortunately most people are not heeding the warnings.

Just a few years ago, the Brazilian economy was absolutely roaring and it was being hailed as a model for the rest of the world to follow.  But now Brazil’s GDP has been imploding for two years in a row, and this downturn is being described as “the worst recession in recorded history” for that South American nation…

Latin America’s largest economy Brazil has contracted by 3.6 percent in 2016, shrinking for the second year in a row; statistics agency IBGE said on Tuesday. It confirmed the country is facing its longest and deepest recession in recorded history.

Data shows gross domestic product (GDP) fell for the eighth straight quarter in the three months to December, down 0.9 percent from the previous quarter. The figure was worse than the 0.5 percent decline economists had forecast and left the country’s overall GDP down 3.6 percent for the full year following a 3.8 percent drop in 2015.

“In real terms, GDP is now nine percent below its pre-recession peak,” Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, told the Financial Times.

“This is comfortably the worst recession in recorded history,” he added.

It had been hoped that things in Brazil would be getting better by now, but instead they just keep getting worse.

The number of bankruptcy filings has soared to an all-time record high, and the official unemployment rate has more than doubled since the end of 2013.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

In a stunning deterioration, the unemployment rate in Brazil spiked to 12.6% in the rolling three-month period through January, a record in the new data series going back to 2012, according to Brazil’s statistical agency IBGE. Up from 11.8% in the three-month period through October. Up from an already terribly high 9.5% a year ago. And more than double the 6.2% in December 2013.

Meanwhile, hordes of hungry people are rummaging through garbage cans in Venezuela in order to find something to fill their aching stomachs.

Things have gotten so bad that one of President Maduro’s chief opponents has urged citizens to label which trash bags have food in them so that people that are searching through the garbage can find food scraps more easily

Controversial Priest and opponent to President Nicolás Maduro’s administration Father Jose Palmar posted on social media this week about labeling discarded waste so those looking through it for food can do so more easily and “with dignity.”

Palmar called on Venezuelans to celebrate Lent by identifying bags where food has been discarded for those with no where else to turn. That way, they don’t have to dig through non-edible items to find it.

And previously I have written about how people are so hungry in Venezuela that some of them are actually slaughtering and eating cats, dogs, pigeons and zoo animals.

I keep telling people that this is coming to America, but a lot of people out there don’t want to believe me.

But it is most certainly coming.

Thanks to chronically empty store shelves and severe food shortages, people in Venezuela are losing weight at an astounding pace.  In the United States it would be a good thing if much of the population lost this much weight, but in Venezuela it definitely is not

Three quarters of the country’s population lost an average of over 18 pounds over food shortages in 2016, according to a survey by Venezuelan universities and nonprofit groups. Last year, over 80 percent of foodstuffs disappeared from shelves and many had to get by with one meal a day, Foreign Policy reported.

Venezuela was once South America’s most powerful petrostate. But decades of government mismanagement sent the country into decline. Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez choked the economy with heavy-handed regulations, price controls, and a campaign to nationalize major industries that chased out foreign investments.

Further north, very alarming signs are starting to pop up in Mexico.

It probably won’t happen next week or next month, but there are indications of emerging “liquidity problems” which could precipitate a major debt crisis at some point…

In Mexico foreign investors hold around $100 billion of the country’s local-currency government debt, the most for any emerging market economy. That’s almost 20 times what it was 20 years ago. They also hold billions of euros worth of corporate bonds, which are also showing signs of strain, prompting some Mexican business leaders to call for “new programs” to be implemented before the situation causes “a large-scale crisis” among Mexican companies.

The most ominous sign yet came last week when Bloomberg reported sources saying that the Bank of Mexico (or Banxico, as it is referred to) had sought a swap line from the Federal Reserve in case of “liquidity problems,” which immediately triggered furious denials from Banxico. “I can say clearly and unequivocally that we are not in the process of asking for any credit line from any authority,” said the central bank’s governor, Agustin Carstens, who has postponed by six months his departure from the bank, initially scheduled for May.

One of the biggest problems for nations such as Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico is the strength of the U.S. dollar.  During the good times they went into tremendous amounts of debt, and much of that debt was denominated in U.S. dollars.  So when the U.S. dollar becomes stronger, it takes more of their own local currencies to pay that debt back.

And if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates at their next meeting, that will strengthen the U.S. dollar even more and put even more pressure on emerging market economies.

Unfortunately, it appears that this is precisely what the Fed is going to do

Even one small interest rate increase by the Fedcould have a sweeping impact on U.S. and world economies, Komal Sri-Kumar told CNBC on Monday.

“I think they are going to hike” on March 15, Sri-Kumar said on “Squawk Box,” echoing a theory shared by many analysts. “But that is going to prompt capital outflows from the euro zone, especially with the political risk. It is going to increase the capital outflow from China, and the U.S. economy will feel the impact.”

The global economy is more interconnected than ever before, and pain that starts in one region can rapidly spread to others.

The biggest debt bubble that the world has ever seen is starting to burst, and over the coming years we are going to see financial pain on a scale that would be unimaginable to most of us at this moment.

But even now there are those that would suggest that this colossal debt bubble can continue growing much faster than global GDP indefinitely, and this sort of exceedingly reckless optimism is leading many astray.

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.

Debt Apocalypse Beckons As U.S. Consumer Bankruptcies Do Something They Haven’t Done In Almost 7 Years

Bankrupt - Public DomainWhen debt grows much faster than GDP for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that a good portion of that debt will start to go bad at some point.  We witnessed a perfect example of this in 2008, and now it is starting to happen again.  Commercial bankruptcies have been rising on a year-over-year basis since late 2015, and this is something that I have written about previously, but now consumer bankruptcies are also increasing.  In fact, we have just witnessed U.S. consumer bankruptcies do something that they haven’t done in nearly 7 years.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

US bankruptcy filings by consumers rose 5.4% in January, compared to January last year, to 52,421 according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. In December, they’d already risen 4.5% from a year earlier. This was the first time that consumer bankruptcies increased back-to-back since 2010.

However, business bankruptcies began to surge in November 2015 and continued surging on a year-over-year basis in 2016, to reach a full-year total of 37,823 filings, up 26% from the prior year and the highest since 2014.

Of course consumer bankruptcies are still much lower than they were during the last financial crisis, but what this could mean is that we have reached a turning point.

For years, the Federal Reserve has been encouraging reckless borrowing and spending by pushing interest rates to ultra-low levels.  Unfortunately, this created an absolutely enormous debt bubble, and now that debt bubble is beginning to burst.  Here is more from Wolf Richter

The dizzying borrowing by consumers and businesses that the Fed with its ultra-low interest rates and in its infinite wisdom has purposefully encouraged to fuel economic growth, if any, and to inflate asset prices, has caused debt to pile up. That debt is now eating up cash flows needed for other things, and this is causing pressures, just when interest rates have begun to rise, which will make refinancing this debt more expensive and, for a rising number of consumers and businesses, impossible. And so, the legacy of this binge will haunt the economy – and creditors – for years to come.

Despite all of the economic optimism that is out there right now, the truth is that U.S. consumers are tapped out.

If the U.S. economy truly was doing great, major retailers would not be closing hundreds of stores.  Sears, Macy’s and a whole host of other big retailers are closing stores because those stores are losing money.  It truly is a “retail apocalypse“, and this trend is not going to turn around until U.S. consumers start to become healthier financially.

We also see signs of trouble in the auto sales numbers.  Compared to 2016, sales were way down in January this year

Compared to January last year, car sales collapsed for all three US automakers, and the largest Japanese automakers didn’t do much better:

  • GM -21.1%
  • Ford -17.5%
  • Fiat Chrysler -35.8%
  • Toyota -19.9%
  • Honda -10.7%
  • Nissan -9.0%

For all automakers combined, car sales sagged 12.2% from a year ago.

A lot of attention is given to our 20 trillion dollar national debt, and rightly so, but a similar amount of attention should be paid to the fact that U.S. households are collectively more than 12 trillion dollars in debt.

About two-thirds of the nation is essentially living paycheck to paycheck.  Most families really struggle to pay the bills from month to month, and all it would take is a major event such as a job loss or a significant illness to plunge them into financial oblivion.

In America today we are told that the secret to success is a college education, but most young Americans have to go deep into debt to afford such an education.

As a result, most college graduates start out life in the “real world” with a mountain of debt.  And since many of them never find the “good jobs” that they were promised, repayment of that debt becomes a very big issue.  In fact, the Wall Street Journal has discovered that student loan repayment rates are much worse than we were being told…

Last Friday, the Education Department released a memo saying that it had overstated student loan repayment rates at most colleges and trade schools and provided updated numbers.

When The Wall Street Journal analyzed the new numbers, the data revealed that the Department previously had inflated the repayment rates for 99.8% of all colleges and trade schools in the country.

The new analysis shows that at more than 1,000 colleges and trade schools, or about a quarter of the total, at least half the students had defaulted or failed to pay down at least $1 on their debt within seven years.

If you do find yourself deep in debt, a lot of families have found success by following a plan that was pioneered by author Dave Ramsey.  His “Debt Snowball Plan” really works, but you have to be committed to it.

Getting out of debt can be tremendously freeing.  So many people spend so many sleepless nights consumed by financial stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Most of us have had to go into debt for some reason or another, and not all debt is bad debt.  For example, very few of us would be able to own a home without getting a mortgage, and usually mortgages come with very low interest rates these days.

But other forms of debt (such as credit card debt or payday loans) can be financially crippling.  When it comes to eliminating debt, it is often a really good idea to start with the most toxic forms of debt first.

It has been said that the borrower is the servant of the lender, and you don’t want to spend the best years of your life making somebody else rich.

Whether economic conditions turn out to be good or bad in 2017, the truth is that each one of us should be trying to do what we can to get out of debt.

Unfortunately, a lot of people never seem to learn from the past, and I have a feeling that both consumer and commercial bankruptcies will continue to rise throughout the rest of this year.

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