The Retail Apocalypse Picks Up Speed As Sears, JCPenney, Brookstone And Mattress Firm Spiral Toward Bankruptcy

Over 20 major retailers have filed for bankruptcy since the beginning of last year, and in 2018 we may break the all-time record for annual store closings that was established just last year.  We are in the midst of the worst retail apocalypse in American history, and it appears to be picking up speed as retail giants such as Sears, JCPenney, Brookstone and Mattress Firm spiral toward bankruptcy.  We live at a time when the middle class is being systematically destroyed, and so the truth is that U.S. consumers simply do not have as much discretionary income as they once did.  Many large retailers believed that things would eventually turn around, and they have been fighting very hard to survive, but now time has run out for quite a few of them.

Mattress Firm

Everyone knew that Mattress Firm was in deep trouble, but it still surprised many of us when it was announced that they are officially planning to file for bankruptcy.  The following comes from Reuters

Mattress Firm Inc, the largest U.S. mattress retailer, is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection as soon as this week, as it seeks to exit costly store leases and shore up its business, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

At this moment Mattress Firm has approximately 3,000 brick-and-mortar locations, and as those stores close down those abandoned buildings are going to be giant eyesores on street corners all over America.

Brookstone

When I was a kid back in the 1980s, it seemed like Brookstone had an outlet in every mall I visited.  But now Brookstone has filed for bankruptcy, and all remaining mall stores will be shut down

Brookstone filed for bankruptcy and will close its remaining 101 mall stores.

The mall and airport seller, best known for massage chairs, quirky gadgets, and travel luggage, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court on Thursday. It was Brookstone’s second bankruptcy round in four years.

Sears

Sears has been shutting down stores for years, but up until now they have never admitted that bankruptcy was on the horizon.

But now time has run out and emergency measures are required if Sears is to survive.  The following comes from CNN

Sears is running out of time to fix its problems, the CEO says.

Eddie Lampert, who controls most of the company’s shares through his hedge fund, told the board on Monday that it must address “significant near-term constraints” in its cash position.

Of course Sears is still not actually using the term “bankruptcy”, but even CNN is admitting that Eddie Lampert used “language that suggested the company could be forced out of business”

Lampert did not use the word “bankruptcy,” but he raised the possibility that creditors could be wiped out, a process that often takes place in bankruptcy court, without immediate action.

He also said it was in the best interest of stakeholders to “accomplish this as a going concern” — language that suggested the company could be forced out of business.

Those that have been following my work for a long time know that I have repeatedly stated that Sears is going to zero.

Now we appear to be on the precipice of that actually happening, and it is a very sad day for America indeed.

JCPenney

Speaking of retailers that are going to zero, JCPenney is absolutely drowning in debt and has a very dismal prognosis for the future

Leaderless, $4 billion in debt and with a stock price below $2, the besieged retailer faces an uncertain fate after posting its latest round of dismal earnings.

“They’re in a leaky boat that eventually will sink,” said Mark Cohen, the director of retail studies at the Columbia Business School and a former CEO of Sears Canada and other department stores. “The prognosis for the future is not happiness.”

In the end, JCPenney is not going to survive, and so America will have to shop elsewhere for substandard clothing at inflated prices.

Bed Bath & Beyond

Nobody is suggesting that bankruptcy is imminent for Bed Bath & Beyond, but if they continue to have disastrous sales results it won’t be too long before they are on the chopping block too…

The struggling retailer said Wednesday that it was bringing on two top management consulting firms to help it cut costs and improve its merchandise. CEO Steven Temares did not name the firms.

The housewares retailer needs help. Shares of Bed Bath & Beyond plunged nearly 25% Thursday to their lowest level since March 2000 because of awful sales during the previous quarter.

We are moving into the most critical time of the year for retailers.  Most troubled chains will hang on through the next three months, but once we get to January and February we will see many of them give up the fight for good.

Meanwhile, some of the retailers that are still doing okay are warning that our trade war with China will likely mean much higher prices for consumers

Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. are among the large retailers and food companies that have sent a letter to U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer warning that proposed tariffs on $200 billion on Chinese goods would hurt consumers and American businesses.

Walmart’s letter, dated Sept. 6, focuses on what it says will be the repercussions of the tariffs, which would apply to goods like food and beverages, personal care products like shampoo, detergents, motor vehicles and paper goods like napkins.

Of course U.S. consumers cannot exactly afford higher prices at this point.  U.S. consumers have been spending more than they are earning month after month, and they are making up the difference by going into ever-increasing amounts of debt.

This is not what a healthy economy looks like.

If we had a healthy economy, the middle class would be growing and retailers would be thriving.

But instead, the vacancy rate at U.S. shopping malls just hit the highest level in six years

The vacancy rate at metro and regional malls around the United States hit 8.6% last quarter, the highest since the end of 2012, according to data released Monday by real estate research firm Reis (REIS).

Back then, the economy was still working its way out of a recession and an excess of malls had been built in the preceding decades. Retail vacancies peaked at 9.4% during the middle of 2011.

Things are not getting better for the U.S. economy.  We continue to see numbers that we have not seen since the last recession, and it appears that things will continue to deteriorate as we head into 2019.

About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is publisher of The Most Important News and the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

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America’s Rapidly Accelerating Retail Apocalypse Is Being Fueled By One Enormously Painful Economic Problem

We are in the midst of the worst retail apocalypse in American history, and it seems to be getting worse with each passing month.  Many of the “experts” blame the growth of online retailers, and without a doubt online retail sales have been surging.  In fact, I sell far more through Amazon.com than I do through any other channel.  But the truth is that online retailers are not exactly taking over the world.  At this point, 91 percent of all retail sales still take place in brick-and-mortar stores, and that means that online retailers only account for about 9 percent of all retail sales.  Sadly, there is a much bigger reason why thousands of retail stores are closing down and millions upon millions of square feet of retail space is now sitting empty all over America.  The mighty U.S. consumer base was once primarily made up of middle class Americans, but the middle class in America has been on a slow, steady death spiral for many years.

So now the experts tell us that retailers that cater to high income and low income Americans are thriving, and those that once did so well selling to the middle class are fading away

The middle is disappearing — low and middle-income customers increasingly shop at discounters and dollar stores, forcing retailers that once served these customers, like Bon-Ton and its subsidiary brands, to close shop,” analysts from intelligence firm Gartner L2 wrote in a recent report on department stores.

The slow decline of the middle class in America has had an impact on retailers that haven’t adapted to the change. Increasingly, the most successful businesses in the sector have become more distinctly split into two sections: luxury and budget stores.

When I was growing up, it seemed like almost everyone that I knew was “middle class”, and the mall was the place to go on the weekends.

But now shopping malls are dying all over the country.  In fact, one brand new report says that shopping malls have not been this empty in the U.S. since we were coming out of the last recession

U.S. malls haven’t been this empty since 2012, when the retail industry was clawing its way back after the Great Recession, according to a new report from real estate research firm Reis.

The vacancy rate at regional and super regional malls reached 8.6 percent in the second quarter of 2018, based on a survey by Reis of 77 metropolitan areas across the country. That was up from 8.4 percent in the prior period, and a high not seen since the third quarter of 2012, when the vacancy rate was 8.7 percent.

If the U.S. economy really is in “good shape”, why is this happening?

And the numbers for “local shopping centers” are actually even worse

The vacancy rate last quarter, 10.2%, was higher than at malls in part because of hundreds of Toys “R” Us store closures.

Vacancies at local shopping centers increased in more than 70% of metro areas. Indianapolis, Dayton, and Wichita had the highest rates in the country.

If you didn’t know any better, you would be tempted to think that “Space Available” and “Going Out Of Business” were two of the hottest new retailers in the entire nation.

And the numbers that I just shared with you are actually quite understated.  In one of his most recent articles, Wolf Richter explained why this is the case…

But these numbers are deceptive – because something counts as “vacant” only when the landlord tries to fill it with another retailer.

Stores that emptied out and became zombie stores in zombie malls, or the Toys ‘R’ Us stores in bad areas with zero hopes of finding another retail tenant, etc. – they’re not being counted as “vacant” retail space because they’re no longer being marketed as retail space, and the square footage of that retail space disappears from the vacant retail space stats.

That space may remain shuttered and vacant for years, with a fence around that is catching tumbleweeds, as lenders tussle over who gets what, if anything, until the land can hopefully be sold to a developer who might bulldoze the walls and build an apartment complex on it.

We have never been through anything like this in modern American history.

2017 was the worst year for retail store closings in the United States that we have ever seen.  The number of retail stores that closed approximately tripled the number from 2016, and this year we are definitely on pace to shatter the record that we set last year.

And yet Americans continue to be exceedingly optimistic.  A poll that was just released found that 55 percent of all Americans believe that our best days are still ahead of us.

Hopefully they are right, but in the short-term things are looking rather grim.

For example, just today we learned that Sears is shutting down even more stores

Sears Holdings, which owns both chains, said it informed employees Thursday that it would be shuttering nine Sears stores and one Kmart in late September. Liquidation is scheduled to begin as early as July 13, the company said in a statement.

With the additions, a total of 78 stores – 62 Sears and 16 Kmart locations – will close in September.

Of course Sears is not the only major retailer that is slowly liquidating.  Many of the biggest names in the entire retail world have announced that they are closing at least 100 locations in 2018.  The following comes from CNN

Six hundred Walgreens have closed this year, while Bon-Ton, Sears and Kmart, Best Buy, Signet Jewelers, Mattress Firm, and GNC have all closed 200 stores or more this year. Claire’s, Foot Locker, and The Children’s Place have closed 100 or more locations.

If we still had a strong middle class, this would not be happening.

Not too long ago, I shared with you some absolutely shocking numbers about the decline of the middle class, and I would like to share them with you again now…

#1 78 million Americans are participating in the “gig economy” because full-time jobs just don’t pay enough to make ends meet these days.

#2 In 2011, the average home price was 3.56 times the average yearly salary in the United States.  But by the time 2017 was finished, the average home price was 4.73 times the average yearly salary in the United States.

#3 In 1980, the average American worker’s debt was 1.96 times larger than his or her monthly salary.  Today, that number has ballooned to 5.00.

#4 In the United States today, 66 percent of all jobs pay less than 20 dollars an hour.

#5 102 million working age Americans do not have a job right now.  That number is higher than it was at any point during the last recession.

#6 Earnings for low-skill jobs have stayed very flat for the last 40 years.

#7 Americans have been spending more money than they make for 28 months in a row.

#8 In the United States today, the average young adult with student loan debt has a negative net worth.

#9 At this point, the average American household is nearly $140,000 in debt.

#10 Poverty rates in U.S. suburbs “have increased by 50 percent since 1990”.

#11 Almost 51 million U.S. households “can’t afford basics like rent and food”.

#12 The bottom 40 percent of all U.S. households bring home just 11.4 percent of all income.

#13 According to the Federal Reserve, 4 out of 10 Americans do not have enough money to cover an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing the money or selling something they own.

#14 22 percent of all Americans cannot pay all of their bills in a typical month.

#15 Today, U.S. households are collectively 13.15 trillion dollars in debt.  That is a new all-time record.

This is why so many U.S. retailers are failing.

The once mighty U.S. consumer base is being hollowed out because the middle class in America is being eviscerated.

Yes, the wealthy are doing quite well for the moment, but an increasing number of signs indicate that things are about to take a negative turn for them as well.

For instance, just consider the following example from CNBC

Manhattan real estate had its worst second quarter since the financial crisis, with prices and sales dropping and inventory rising, according to a new report.

Total sales in Manhattan fell 17 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, according a report from Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants.

If we don’t find a way to turn things around, what we have witnessed so far is just the beginning.

The middle class will continue to die, retailers all over the country will continue to go out of business, and shopping malls will continue to turn into ghost towns.

And once we plunge into another recession, all of the trends that I have been talking about in this article are going to start moving much more quickly.  We truly are on the edge of disaster, and most Americans have absolutely no idea what is coming.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

77 Million Square Feet Of Retail Space And Counting – America’s Retail Apocalypse Is Spiraling Out Of Control In 2018

In 2017 we absolutely shattered the all-time record for retail store closings in a single year, and this year it looks like we are going to shatter the record once again.  In fact, there are some that are projecting that up to 9,000 retail stores could close by the time that we get to the end of this calendar year.  Already, the amount of retail space that has shut down is simply jaw-dropping.  If you total up all of the retail store closings that have been announced so far in 2018, it accounts for 77 million square feet of retail space.  Let that number sink in for a bit.  Many shopping centers and strip malls around the country already have a post-apocalyptic feel to them, and more “space available” signs are going up with each passing day.  And in case you are tempted to think that I am making this figure up, here it is straight from Bloomberg

At last count, U.S. store closures announced this year reached a staggering 77 million square feet, according to data on national and regional chains compiled by CoStar Group Inc. That means retailers are well on their way to surpassing the record 105 million square feet announced for closure in all of 2017.

In the end, we could shatter the all-time record that was established just last year by 20 or 30 million square feet.

At moments such as this, the phrase “retail apocalypse” doesn’t really seem to fit the gravity of what is actually taking place.

And unfortunately for the retail industry, it doesn’t appear that this crisis is going to end any time soon.  Here is more from Bloomberg

And with shifts to internet shopping and retailer debt woes continuing, there’s no indication the shakeout will end anytime soon. “A huge amount of retail real estate in the U.S. is going to meet its demise,” says James Corl, managing director and head of real estate at private equity firm Siguler Guff & Co. Property owners will “try to re-let it as a gun range or a church—or it’s going to go back to being a cornfield.”

Will retail real estate be the trigger for the next great debacle on Wall Street?

Some people think so.

A lot of major retail projects are going to go belly up, and somebody is going to be left holding the bag.

And the warning signs are definitely there.  In fact, retail sector debt defaults set a brand new record during the first quarter of 2018…

Financial stress in the retail industry is at a historic high.

Moody’s said in a report on Tuesday that retail sector defaults hit a record high during the first three months of 2018 as the rise of e-commerce and decline of malls continues to eat away at profits.

But the mainstream media is telling us that the U.S. economy is in great shape, and so everything is going to work out okay, right?

Sadly, nothing has changed regarding the long-term trends that are eating away at our economy like a cancer.  Just a few days ago I wrote about a brand new report that found that nearly 51 million U.S. households “can’t afford basics like rent and food”.  The real reason why our retailers are in decline is because the middle class is being systematically destroyed.  Once upon a time the middle class had plenty of discretionary income, but now the middle class is disappearing right in front of our eyes, but most of us are in such a state of denial that we won’t even admit what is happening.

Hopefully as stores continue to close by the hundreds people will start waking up.  The following is a list of just some of the major retailers that are closing stores in 2018

  • Abercrombie & Fitch: 60 more stores are charted to close
  • Aerosoles: Only 4 of their 88 stores are definitely remaining open
  • American Apparel: They’ve filed for bankruptcy and all their stores have closed (or will soon)
  • BCBG: 118 stores have closed
  • Bebe: Bebe is history and all 168 stores have closed
  • Bon-Ton: They’ve filed for Chapter 11 and will be closing 48 stores.
  • The Children’s Place: They plan to close hundreds of stores by 2020 and are going digital.
  • CVS: They closed 70 stores but thousands still remain viable.
  • Foot Locker: They’re closing 110 underperforming stores shortly.
  • Guess: 60 stores will bite the dust this year.
  • Gymboree: A whopping 350 stores will close their doors for good this year
  • HHGregg: All 220 stores will be closed this year after the company filed for bankruptcy.
  • J. Crew: They’ll be closing 50 stores instead of the original 20 they had announced.
  • J.C. Penney: They’ve closed 138 stores and plan to turn all the remaining ones into toy stores.
  • The Limited: All 250 retail locations have been closed and they’ve gone digital in an effort to remain in business.
  • Macy’s: 7 more stores will soon close and more than 5000 employees will be laid off.
  • Michael Kors: They’ll close 125 stores this year.
  • Payless: They’ll be closing a whopping 800 stores this year after recently filing for bankruptcy.
  • Radio Shack: More than 1000 stores have been shut down this year, leaving them with only 70 stores nationwide.
  • Rue 21: They’ll be closing 400 stores this year.
  • Sears/Kmart: They’ve closed over 300 locations.
  • ToysRUs: They’ve filed for bankruptcy but at this point, have not announced store closures, and have in fact, stated their stores will remain open.
  • Wet Seal: This place is history – all 171 stores will soon be closed.

A lot of people are blaming online retailers such as Amazon.com for the decline of brick and mortar stores, and without a doubt online sales are rising, but they still account for less than 10 percent of the entire retail industry.

And it isn’t just retailers that are closing locations.

Personally, I was greatly saddened when it was announced that Subway was planning on shutting down 500 locations in the United States…

Feeling the need to improve its store fleet amid intense competition in the sandwich industry, Subway is planning to close 500 U.S. locations this year, according to Bloomberg News.

Subway restaurants are small in size, but ubiquitous. The chain is the largest in the U.S. by store count of any quick-service chain with nearly 26,000 locations, well above the 14,000 McDonald’s (mcd, +0.29%) restaurants in this country. This has long been a point of pride for the company.

I have always been a big fan of Subway, and if they ever closed my hometown location I would be seriously distressed.

And banks are closing locations at an astounding rate as well.  In fact, from June 2016 to June 2017 the number of bank branches in the United States fell by more than 1,700.

That was the biggest decline that we have ever seen.

If the U.S. economy really was in good shape, none of this would be taking place.  Something really big is happening, and what we have seen so far is just the very small tip of a very large iceberg.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist.  He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

12 Signs The Economic Slowdown The Experts Have Been Warning About Is Now Here

Since the election there has been this perception among the American public that the economy is improving, but that has not been the case at all.  U.S. GDP growth for the first quarter was just revised up to 1.2 percent, but that is even lower than the average growth of just 1.33 percent that we saw over the previous ten years.  But when you look even deeper into the numbers a much more alarming picture emerges.  Commercial and industrial loan growth is declining, auto loan defaults are rising, bankruptcies are absolutely surging and we are on pace to break the all-time record for most store closings in a single year in the United States by more than 20 percent.  All of these are points that I have covered before, but today I have 12 new facts to share with you.  The following are 12 signs that the economic slowdown that the experts have been warning about is now here…

#1 According to Challenger, the number of job cuts in May was 71 percent higher than it was in May 2016.

#2 We just witnessed the third worst drop in U.S. construction spending in the last six years.

#3 U.S. manufacturing PMI fell to an 8 month low in May.

#4 Financial stocks have lost all of their gains for the year, and some analysts are saying that this is “a terrible sign”.

#5 One new survey has found that 39 percent of all millionaires “plan to avoid investing in the coming month”.  That is the highest that figure has been since December 2013.

#6 Jobless claims just shot up to a five week high of 248,000.

#7 General Motors just reported another sales decline in May, and it is being reported that the company may be preparing for “more job cuts at its American factories”.

#8 After an initial bump after Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, U.S. consumer confidence is starting to fall.

#9 Since Memorial Day, Radio Shack has officially shut down more than 1,000 stores.

#10 Payless has just increased the number of stores that it plans to close to about 800.

#11 According to the Los Angeles Times, it is being projected that 25 percent of all shopping malls in the United States may close within the next five years.

#12 Over the past 12 months, the number of homeless people living in Los Angeles County has risen by a  staggering 23 percent.

And in case those numbers have not persuaded you that the U.S. economy is heading for rough times, I would encourage you to go check out my previous article entitled “11 Facts That Prove That The U.S. Economy In 2017 Is In Far Worse Shape Than It Was In 2016” for even more eye-popping statistics.

During a bubble, it can feel like the good times are just going to keep rolling forever.

But that never actually happens in reality.

The truth is that we are in the terminal phase of the greatest debt bubble of all time, and the evidence is starting to mount that this debt bubble has just about run its course.  The following comes from Zero Hedge

A recurring theme on this website has been to periodically highlight the tremendous build up in US corporate debt, most recently in April when we showed that “Corporate Debt To EBITDA Hits All Time High.” The relentless debt build up is something which even the IMF recently noted, when in April it released a special report on financial stability, according to which 20% of US corporations were at risk of default should rates rise. It is also the topic of the latest piece by SocGen’s strategist Andrew Lapthorne who uses even more colorful adjectives to describe what has happened since the financial crisis, noting that “the debt build-up during this cycle has been incredible, particularly when compared to the stagnant progression of EBITDA.”

Lapthorne calculates that S&P1500 ex financial net debt has risen by almost $2 trillion in five years, a 150% increase, but this mild in comparison to the tripling of the debt pile in the Russell 2000 in six years. He also notes, as shown he previously, that as a result of this debt surge, interest payments cost the smallest 50% of stocks in the US fully 30% of their EBIT compared with just 10% of profits for the largest 10% and states that “clearly the sensitivity to higher interest rates is then going to be with this smallest 50%, while the dominance and financial strength of the largest 10% disguises this problem in the aggregate index measures.”

The same report noted that net debt growth in the U.S. is quickly headed toward negative territory, and the last time that happened was during the last recession.

We see similar things when we look at the 2nd largest economy on the entire planet.  According to Jim Rickards, China “has multiple bubbles, and they’re all getting ready to burst”…

China is in the greatest financial bubble in history. Yet, calling China a bubble does not do justice to the situation. This story has been touched on periodically over the last year.

China has multiple bubbles, and they’re all getting ready to burst. If you make the right moves now, you could be well positioned even as Chinese credit and currency crash and burn.

The first and most obvious bubble is credit. The combined Chinese government and corporate debt-to-equity ratio is over 300-to-1 after hidden liabilities, such as provincial guarantees and shadow banking system liabilities, are taken into account.

We just got the worst Chinese manufacturing number in about a year, and it looks like economic conditions over there are really starting to slow down as well.

Just like 2008, the coming crisis is going to be truly global in scope.

It is funny how our perspective colors our reality.  Just like in 2007, many are mocking those that are warning that a crisis is coming, but just like in 2009, after the crisis strikes many will be complaining that nobody warned them in advance about what was ahead.

And at this moment it may seem like we have all the time in the world to get prepared for the approaching storm, but once it is here people will be talking about how it seemed to hit us so quickly.

My hope is that many Americans will finally be fed up with our fundamentally flawed financial system once they realize that we are facing another horrendous economic crisis, and that in the aftermath they will finally be ready for the dramatic solutions that are necessary in order to permanently fix things.

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.

America The Debt Pig: We Are A ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Society – And ‘Pay Later’ Is Rapidly Approaching

America The Pig - Public DomainIf you really wanted to live like a millionaire, you could start doing it right now.  All you have to do is to apply for as many credit cards as possible and then begin running up credit card balances like there is no tomorrow.  At this point, I know what most of you are probably thinking.  You are probably thinking that such a lifestyle would not last for long and that a day of reckoning would eventually come, and you would be exactly right.  In fact, anyone that has ever had a tremendous amount of credit card debt knows how painful that day of reckoning can be.  To mindlessly run up credit card debt is exceedingly reckless, but unfortunately that is precisely what we have been doing as a nation as a whole.  We are a “buy now, pay later” society, and our national day of reckoning is approaching very, very quickly.

Often we like to focus on our exploding national debt, but household debt is out of control too.  In fact, the total amount of household debt in the United States is now up to a whopping 12.3 trillion dolllars

In the second quarter, total household debt increased by $35 billion to $12.3 trillion, according to the New York Fed’s latest quarterly report on household debt. That increase was driven by two categories: auto loans and credit cards.

We throw around words like “trillion” so often these days that they often start to lose their meaning.  But the truth is that 12.3 trillion dollars is an astounding amount of money.  It breaks down to about $38,557 for every man, woman and child in the entire country.  So if you have a family of four, your share comes to a grand total of $154,231, and that doesn’t even include corporate debt, local government debt, state government debt or the gigantic debt of the federal government.  That number is only for household debt, and there aren’t too many Americans that could cough up their share right at this moment.

Do you remember when I wrote about how credit card companies are specifically targeting less educated and less sophisticated consumers?  Well, that is where much of the credit card debt growth has come lately.  Just check out these numbers

Now, credit cards are returning among individuals with low credit or subprime credit scores below 660. Among people with credit scores between 620 and 660, the share that had a credit card rose to 58.8% in 2015 from a low of 54.3% in 2013. Among those with scores below 620, the number of people with a credit card increased to 50% from a low of 45.6% two years ago. Both figures for 2015 are the highest since 2008.

In America today, we are enjoying a standard of living that we do not deserve.

We consume far more wealth than we produce.  The only way we are able to do that is by going into debt.

Debt takes future consumption and brings it into the present.  In other words, we are damaging the future in order to make the present a little bit better.  On an individual level, we may enjoy the big screen television we buy with a credit card today, but we are taking away our ability to spend money later.  And on a national level, what our unprecedented debt binge is doing to future generations of Americans is beyond criminal.

Earlier this month I explained these things to a live studio audience down at Morningside, and you can view a video of that right here

In this article I haven’t even talked about corporate debt yet.  Instead of learning their lessons from the last financial crisis, big corporations have gone on the biggest debt spree of all time.  If you can believe it, corporate debt has approximately doubled since the last financial crisis.  In other words, since the last recession we have essentially matched the total amount of corporate debt that we accumulated from the beginning of the country up to 2009.

Unfortunately, a lot of that debt is now going bad.

In previous articles I have documented that corporate debt delinquencies are now the highest that they have been since the last financial crisis, and corporate debt defaults are also the highest that they have been since the last financial crisis.

At this point, even the mainstream media is acknowledging that we have a corporate debt “crisis”.  The following comes from an article that was just put out by the Denver Post

The number of companies that have defaulted so far this year has already passed the total for all of last year, which itself had the most since the financial crisis. Even among companies considered high-quality, or investment grade, credit-rating agencies say a record number are so stretched financially that they’re one bad quarter or so from being downgraded to “junk” status.

Companies whose debt is already deemed “junk” are in the worst shape in years. To pay back all they owe, they would have to set aside every dollar of their operating earnings over the next eight and a half years, more than twice as long as it would have taken during the 2008 crisis, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Are you starting to get the picture?

And I haven’t even started talking about our national debt yet.  When Barack Obama entered the White House, we were 10.6 trillion dollars in debt.  Today, we are 19.4 trillion dollars in debt.  That means that we have added 8.8 trillion dollars to the national debt under Obama, which breaks down to an average of 1.1 trillion dollars of additional debt a year.

We have been taking more than 100 million dollars of future consumption and bringing it into the present every single hour of every single day during the Obama administration.  That is why I am constantly referring to our “debt-fueled standard of living”.  We do not deserve to live the way that we do, but since we are able to steal from our children and our grandchildren we are able to enjoy a standard of living that most people in the world can only dream about.

Of course we are literally destroying the future of America in the process, but very few people seem to care about that these days.

Without all of this debt, we would be in a very deep economic depression right now.

But even with all of this “stimulus”, we are still mired in the worst economic “recovery” since 1949.  In fact, Barack Obama is actually on track to be the very first president in all of American history to not have one single year when U.S. GDP grew by 3 percent or better, and he has had two terms in which to try to get that accomplished.  The percentage of working age Americans that actually have a job is way down from where it was just prior to the last recession, and in this video I explain why the employment numbers put out by the government are not nearly as good as the administration would have us believe…

If the American people would have been willing to sacrifice and make some very hard choices a long time ago, maybe we could have gotten a handle on all of this debt.

But instead we continue to rack up debt as if there is no tomorrow, and in the process we are literally destroying tomorrow.

Every dollar of debt that we accumulate now makes life worse for our children and our grandchildren.

Unfortunately, we are a bunch of debt pigs, and we just can’t help ourselves.  We have come to believe that it is “normal” to go into so much debt, and as a society we continue to race toward economic oblivion.