Has there ever been a major holiday more focused on materialism than the modern American Christmas? This year, Americans are planning to spend an average of 830 dollars on Christmas gifts, which represents a jump of 110 dollars over the average of 720 dollars last year. But have our incomes gone up accordingly? Of course not. In fact, real median household income in the United States has been experiencing a steady long-term decline. So in order to fund all of our Christmas spending, we have got to go into even more debt. We love to pull out our credit cards and spend money that we do not have on lots of cheap, useless stuff made on the other side of the world by workers making slave labor wages. We do the same thing year after year, and most of us have grown accustomed to the endless cycle of growing debt. In fact, one Pew survey found that approximately 70 percent of all Americans believe that “debt is a necessity in their lives”. But then we have to work our fingers to the bone to try to make the payments on all of that debt, not realizing that debt systematically impoverishes us. It may be hard to believe, but if you have a single dollar in your pocket and no debt, you have a greater net worth than 25 percent of all Americans. I know that sounds crazy, but it is true.
Overall, when you add up all forms of debt (consumer, business, local government, state government and federal government), Americans are more than 60 trillion dollars in debt.
Let that sink in for a bit.
40 years ago, that number was sitting at about 3 trillion dollars.
We have been on the greatest debt binge in the history of the world. Even though we were “the wealthiest, most prosperous nation on the entire planet”, we always had to have more. We just kept on borrowing and borrowing and borrowing from the future until we completely destroyed it.
And we still haven’t learned anything. Instead, this Christmas season we will be partying like it’s 2007…
Americans are planning on celebrating Christmas like it’s 2007.
A November survey by Gallup found that US adults are planning on spending about $830 on average on Christmas gifts this year.
That’s a huge jump from last year’s $720 average.
Notably, American consumers haven’t suggested a number that high since November 2007, when they were planning on spending $866 on average.
Sadly, our incomes simply do not justify this kind of extravagance. As Zero Hedge has pointed out, household incomes “actually peaked at least 15 years ago in 81% of U.S. counties.”
So why can’t we adjust our lifestyles to match?
Why must we always have more?
Here are more details on our declining incomes from the Visual Capitalist…
- Income peaked one year ago for many of the counties that are a part of the shale boom. This includes much of North and South Dakota, as well as parts of Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Income in Washington, D.C. and neighboring Arlington County also peaked then.
- In 1999, a total of 1,623 counties had their households reach peak income. The majority of these counties are in the Midwest and Southeast.
- The most southern part of California and parts of New England both peaked around 25 years ago.
- Many states along the Rocky Mountains such as Wyoming and Montana had counties that peaked roughly 35 years ago.
- Household income peaked in upstate New York, the northern tip of California, and southern Nevada at the same time that humans were first landing on the moon in 1969.
But you won’t hear this reported on the mainstream news, will you?
They want us to think that happy days are here again.
The following chart comes from the Federal Reserve, and it shows that real median household income in the United States has been trending down since 1999…
Americans should be having smaller Christmases instead of bigger ones, but that doesn’t fit the image of who we still think that we are.
Recently, I published an article entitled “Goodbye Middle Class: 51 Percent Of All American Workers Make Less Than 30,000 Dollars A Year” that was shared more than 44,000 times on Facebook. In that article, I included brand new figures that were just released by the Social Security Administration. As you can see, the quality of our jobs is not great…
-38 percent of all American workers made less than $20,000 last year.
-51 percent of all American workers made less than $30,000 last year.
-62 percent of all American workers made less than $40,000 last year.
-71 percent of all American workers made less than $50,000 last year.
Without a doubt, most American families should not be spending hundreds of dollars a year on Christmas gifts.
At these income levels, most American families are just barely surviving.
But once again this year, millions upon millions of Americans will flock to the malls and big box stores in a desperate attempt to make themselves happy.
Sadly, those efforts will be in vain. In fact, in a previous article I highlighted the fact that Christmas is the unhappiest season of the year. The suicide rate spikes to the highest level of the year during “the holidays”, and 45 percent of all Americans report that they dread the Christmas season. The following is an excerpt from a Psychology Today article…
We are told that Christmas, for Christians, should be the happiest time of year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends and colleagues. Yet, according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression. Hospitals and police forces report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. One North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.
In recent years, an increasing number of Americans have given up the tradition of Christmas gifts entirely, and many of them that I know seem quite happy to have done so.
Of course most people are still quite satisfied with the status quo, and there are many that will get very angry with you if you dare to suggest that the way that Americans celebrate Christmas has gotten way out of hand.
But shouldn’t it alarm us that for most Americans the biggest holiday of the year is all about the “stuff” they are going to buy, the “stuff” they are going to give and the “stuff” they are going to get?
As a society, we are obsessed with things, but those things are never going to make us happy.
Perhaps we should all take some time to reflect on the traditions that we choose to participate in and what they really mean to us during this “holiday season”…
The President of France has come up with a very creative way of solving the European debt crisis. On Sunday, a piece authored by French President Francois Hollande suggested that the ultimate solution to the problems currently plaguing Europe would be for every member of the eurozone to transfer all of their sovereignty to a newly created federal government. In other words, it would essentially be a “United States of Europe”. This federal government would have a prime minister, a parliament, a federal budget and a federal treasury. Presumably, the current national governments in Europe would continue to function much like state governments in the U.S. do. In the end, there may be some benefits to such a union – particularly for the weaker members of the eurozone. But at what cost would those benefits come?
When I first learned that French President Francois Hollande had proposed that the members of the eurozone should create their own version of a federal government, I was quite stunned. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. For the global elite, the answer to just about any problem is more centralization. The following comes from a Bloomberg article that was posted on Sunday…
French President Francois Hollande said that the 19 countries using the euro need their own government complete with a budget and parliament to cooperate better and overcome the Greek crisis.
“Circumstances are leading us to accelerate,” Hollande said in an opinion piece published by the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday. “What threatens us is not too much Europe, but a lack of it.”
So precisely what would “more Europe” look like?
Hollande envisions a central government that has both a parliament and a federal budget…
“I have proposed taking up Jacques Delors’ idea about euro government, with the addition of a specific budget and a parliament to ensure democratic control,” Hollande said.
His remarks touched on what analysts have seen as a major flaw in the euro.
Under the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, countries which share a common currency must obey rules on borrowing and deficit spending.
But the Greek crisis saw one of the 19 eurozone members notch up successive worsening deficits and amass a mountain of debt. The problems were only addressed by bailouts from the European institutions and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Critics say the problem stems from a lack of centralised control over national fiscal policies, which today are jealously guarded areas of sovereignty.
In addition, this eurozone government would have its own prime minister. In essence, he would be the European version of the president of the United States. The following comes from the Independent…
There would be a eurozone government with its own prime minister, the officials said. This government would have its own budget – separate from the EU budget – to aid and invest in more fragile countries, It would try to harmonise corporation and pay-roll taxes to ensure fair competition in the eurozone.
Of course Hollande is not the only one calling for more centralization. Last month, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem proposed a plan that would create a shared European treasury…
Draghi called for the creation of a shared treasury within 10 years in a joint proposal with politicians including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem last month.
I don’t anticipate that we will see any of these things implemented immediately.
However, what is important is the fact that this is where the European elite plan to take Europe. And when the next great European financial crisis erupts, these proposals will be offered as the “solutions” necessary to end the crisis.
During times of emergency, the elite are often able to push things through that they would never be able to accomplish under normal circumstances. At the moment, it would be extremely difficult to get everyone to agree to a full-blown “United States of Europe”. But if things were to start spinning wildly out of control and people were suddenly desperately clamoring for solutions, the environment would be quite different.
What that time arrives, the key will be to get Germany and France to agree on what a “United States of Europe” should look like. If Germany and France can agree, it is inevitable that most of the other members of the eurozone would ultimately fall in line.
One potential hurdle for the creation of this new government would be the euro. The current treaty agreements concerning the euro are quite complicated and quite restrictive. If Germany and France decided that they did want to create a “United States of Europe”, they might have to create an entirely new currency in order to accomplish that.
I know that sounds kind of crazy right now, but at one time the concept of “the euro” sounded really crazy too.
For the moment, the debt crisis in Europe just continues to get even worse. Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Belgium and France are all drowning in debt. Whether or not we see a “Grexit” in the short-term, I fully expect that European bond yields will continue to rise and European stocks will take quite a tumble in the months ahead.
I believe that we are right on the verge of a very significant European financial crisis. In particular, keep on eye on the big banks. Just like in the United States, the “too big to fail” banks in Europe are massively overleveraged and are tremendously exposed to derivatives.
In fact, the bank with the most exposure to derivatives on the entire planet is Deutsche Bank. It has been reported that Deutsche Bank has a whopping 75 trillion dollars worth of exposure to derivatives, their co-CEOs were recently forced to resign, and there are all sorts of rumblings about troubles going on behind the scenes at the bank.
What do you think would happen if the biggest and most important bank in Germany suddenly became the next Lehman Brothers?
That is something to think about.
Meanwhile, the euro continues to fall. For a long time, I have been repeating my prediction that the euro would fall to parity with the U.S. dollar.
One year ago, the EUR/USD was sitting at 1.35.
Today, it has come all the way down to 1.08.
There will be more ups and downs, but we are almost there.
A time of great chaos is coming to Europe, and the eurozone will be deeply shaken.
But whether or not there is a break up of the eurozone in the short-term, in the long-term the goal of the European elite is even more integration and even more centralization.
So even though there will be significant bumps in the road, I fully expect to see the “United States of Europe” that French President Francois Hollande has proposed.
Do you agree?
What do you think the future holds for Europe?
Please feel free to join the discussion by posting a comment below…
Greece is saved? All over the planet, news headlines are boldly proclaiming that a “deal” has been reached which will give Greece the money that it needs and keep it in the eurozone. But as you will see below, this is not true at all. Yesterday, when I wrote that “there never was going to be any deal“, I was not exaggerating. This “deal” was not drafted with the intention of “saving Greece”. As I explained in my previous article, these negotiations were all about setting up Greece for eviction from the euro. You see, the truth is that Greece desperately wants to stay in the euro, but Germany (and allies such as Finland) want Greece out. Since Germany can’t simply order Greece to leave the euro, they need some sort of legal framework which will make it possible, and that is what this new “deal” provides. As I am about to explain, there are all kinds of conditions that must be satisfied and hurdles that must be crossed before Greece ever sees a single penny. If there is a single hiccup along the way, and this is what the Germans are counting on, Greece will be ejected from the eurozone. This “deal” has been designed to fail so that the Germans can get what they have wanted all along. I think that three very famous words from Admiral Ackbar sum up the situation very well: “It’s a trap!”
So why is this “Greek debt deal” really a German trap?
The following are three big reasons…
#1 The “Deal” Is Designed To Be Rejected By The Greek Parliament
If Germany really wanted to save Greece, they would have already done so. Instead, now they have forced Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to agree to much, much harsher austerity terms than Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected during the recent referendum by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. Tsipras has only been given until Wednesday to pass a whole bunch of new laws, and another week to make another series of major economic changes. The following comes from CNN…
Greece has to swiftly pass a series of new laws. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has until Wednesday to convince Parliament to pass the first few, including pension cuts and higher taxes.
Assuming that happens, Greek lawmakers have another week, until July 22, to enact another batch of economic changes. These include adopting European Union rules on how to manage banks in crisis, and do a major overhaul to make Greece’s civil courts faster and more efficient.
Can Tsipras actually get all this done in such a short amount of time?
The Germans are hoping that he can’t. And already, two of Syriza’s coalition partners have publicly declared that they have no intention of voting in favor of this “deal”. The following is from a Bloomberg report…
Discontent brewed as Tsipras arrived back in the Greek capital. Left Platform, a faction within Syriza, and his coalition partners, the Independent Greeks party, both signaled they won’t be able to support the deal. That opposition alone would wipe out Tsipras’s 12-seat majority in parliament, forcing him to rely on opposition votes to carry the day.
The terms of the “deal” are not extremely draconian because the Germans want to destroy Greek sovereignty as many are suggesting. Rather, they are designed to provoke an overwhelmingly negative reaction in Greece so that the Greeks will willingly choose to reject the deal and thus be booted out of the euro.
And this is what we are seeing. So far, the response of the Greek public toward this deal has been overwhelmingly negative…
Haralambos Rouliskos, a 60-year-old economist who was out walking in Athens, described the deal as “misery, humiliation and slavery”.
Katerina Katsaba, a 52-year-old working for a pharmaceutical company, said: “I am not in favour of this deal. I know they (the eurozone creditors) are trying to blackmail us.”
On Wednesday, the union for Greek public workers has even called a 24 hour strike to protest this “agreement”…
Greece’s public workers are being called to stage a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, the day their country’s parliament is to vote on reforms needed to unlock the bankster eurozone plan agreed to by Greek Prime Minster Alex Tsipras.
Their union, Adedy, called for the stoppage in a statement issued today, saying it was against the agreement reached with the eurozone.
The Greek government is not guaranteed any money right now.
According to Bloomberg, the Greek government must pass all of the laws being imposed upon them by the EU “before Greece can even begin negotiations with creditors to access a third international bailout in five years.”
The Germans and their allies are actually hoping that there is a huge backlash in Greece and that Tsipras fails to get this package pushed through the Greek parliament. If that happens, Greece gets ejected from the euro, and Germany doesn’t look like the bad guy.
#2 Even If The “Deal” Miraculously Gets Through The Greek Parliament, It May Not Survive Other European Parliaments
The Greek parliament is not the only legislative body that must approve this new deal. The German and Finnish parliaments (among others) must also approve it. According to USA Today, it is being projected that the German and Finnish parliaments will probably vote on this new deal on Thursday or Friday…
Thursday/Friday, July 16/17: Eurozone parliaments must also agree to the plan for Greece’s $95 billion bailout. The biggest tests may come from Finland and Germany, two nations especially critical of Greece’s handling of the crisis. Berlin has contributed the most to Greece’s loans.
Either Germany or Finland could kill the entire “deal” with a single “no” vote.
Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb has already stated that Finland “cannot agree” with a new bailout for Greece, and it is highly questionable whether or not the German parliament will give it approval.
I think that the Germans and their allies would much prefer for the Greeks to reject the deal and walk away, but it may come down to one of these parliaments drawing a line in the sand.
#3 The Deal Makes Implementation Extraordinarily Difficult
If Greece fails to live up to each and every one of the extremely draconian measures demanded in the “deal”, they will be booted from the eurozone.
And if you take a look at what is being demanded of them, it is extremely unrealistic. Here is just one example…
For instance, the Greek government agreed to transfer up to 50 billion euros worth of Greek assets to an independent fund that will raise money from privatization.
According to the document, 25 billion euros from this fund will be poured into the banks, 12.5 billion will be used to pay off debt, and the remaining 12.5 billion to boost the economy through investment.
The fund will be based in Greece and run by the Greeks, but with supervision from European authorities.
Where in the world is the Greek government going to find 50 billion euros worth of assets at this point? The Greek government is flat broke and the banks are insolvent.
But if they don’t find 50 billion euros worth of assets, they have violated the agreement and they get booted.
This whole thing is about setting up Greece for failure so that there is a legal excuse to boot them out of the euro.
And it actually almost happened very early on Monday morning. The following comes from Business Insider…
As the FT tells it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rose from their chairs at 6 a.m. on Monday and headed for the door, resigned to a Greek exit from the euro.
“Sorry, but there is no way you are leaving this room,” European Council president Donald Tusk reportedly said.
And so a Grexit was avoided.
For the moment, Greece has supposedly been “saved”.
But anyone that believes that this crisis is “over” is just being delusional.
The Germans and their allies have successfully lured the Greek government into a trap. Thanks to Tsipras, they have been handed a legal framework for getting rid of Greece.
All they have to do now is wait for just the right moment to spring the trap, and it might just happen a lot sooner than a lot of people may think.
Did you notice that Greece’s creditors are not rushing to offer the Greeks a new deal in the wake of the stunning referendum result on Sunday? In fact, it is being reported that the initial reaction to the “no” vote from top European politicians was “a thunderous silence“. Needless to say, the European elite were not pleased by how the Greek people voted, but they still have all of the leverage. In particular, it is the Germans that are holding all of the cards. If the Germans want to cave in and give the Greeks the kind of deal that they desire, everyone else would follow suit. And if the Germans want to maintain a hard line with Greece, they can block any deal from happening all by themselves. So in the final analysis, this is really an economic test of wills between Germany and Greece, and time is on Germany’s side. Germany doesn’t have to offer anything new. The Germans can just sit back and wait for the Greek government to default on their debts, for Greek banks to totally run out of cash and for civil unrest to erupt in Greek cities as the economy grinds to a standstill.
In ancient times, if a conquering army came up against a walled city that was quite formidable, often a decision would be made to conduct a siege. Instead of attacking a heavily defended city directly and taking heavy casualties, it was often much more cost effective to simply surround the city from a safe distance and starve the inhabitants into submission.
In a sense, that is exactly what the Germans appear to want to do to the Greeks. Without more cash, the Greek government cannot pay their bills. Without more cash, Greek banks are going to start collapsing left and right. Without more cash, the Greek economy is going to completely and utterly collapse.
So yes, the Greeks voted for change, but the Germans still hold the purse strings.
And right now the Germans do not sound like they are in any mood to compromise. The following comes from a Reuters report that was published on Monday…
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy said Athens had wrecked any hope of compromise with its euro zone partners by overwhelmingly rejecting further austerity.
Merkel and French President Francois Hollande conferred by telephone and will meet in Paris on Monday afternoon to seek a joint response. Responding to their call, European Council President Donald Tusk announced that euro zone leaders would meet in Brussels on Tuesday evening (1600 GMT).
German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, leader of Merkel’s centre-left Social Democratic junior coalition partner, said it was hard to conceive of fresh negotiations on lending more billions to Athens after Greeks voted against more austerity.
Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had “torn down the last bridges on which Greece and Europe could have moved towards a compromise,” Gabriel told the Tagesspiegel daily.
In addition, Angela Merkel’s office released a statement on Monday that placed the onus on making a new proposal to end this crisis on the Greek government…
“It is up to Greece to make something of this. We are waiting to see which proposals the Greek government makes to its European partners,” the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s leading austerity advocate, said in a statement.
Just because the Greek people want the Germans to give them a very favorable deal does not mean that the Germans will be inclined to do so. The Germans know that whatever they do with the Greeks will set a precedent for the rest of the financially-troubled nations all across Europe. If Greece gets a free lunch, then Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and France will expect the same kind of treatment…
Angelos Chryssogelos, an expert on Greek politics at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said the strength of Sunday’s mandate handed to Tsipras means it will be almost impossible for the prime minister’s leftist Syriza party to make a deal with European creditors.
“The Europeans made it pretty clear where they stand, and they have been consistent,” Chryssogelos said, adding that the creditors also are unlikely to back down. “Right now, voters across the eurozone largely support the tough stance taken by the eurozone.”
Chryssogelos said Greek voters may have underestimated the resolve of the creditors to reach an accord on their terms. “If someone is seen getting preferential treatment, then someone else will want that treatment,” he said, referring to other eurozone debtors such as Ireland and Portugal.
And remember, there is a very important Spanish election coming up in December.
If Syriza comes out as the big winner in this crisis, it will empower similar movements in Spain and all over the rest of the continent.
So look for Greece’s creditors to tighten the screws over the coming days. In fact, we already saw a bit of screw tightening on Monday when the ECB announced that Greek banks would not be receiving additional emergency assistance…
In a move sure to increase pressure on Greece’s flailing banks, the European Central Bank on Monday decided not to expand an emergency assistance program, raising fears that Greece could soon go completely bankrupt.
The move put a swift crimp on Greek leaders’ jubilation after winning a landslide endorsement from their citizens to reject Europe’s austerity demands and seek a new bailout bargain. Now they must seek a bargain before the money runs out within days, which would likely force them off the euro.
Basically we are watching a very high stakes game of chicken play out. And as the cash dwindles, economic activity in Greece is slowly grinding to a halt. The following comes from the Washington Post…
The dwindling cash is sucking the life out of everything from coffee shops to taxis, as anxious Greeks economize amid fears for the future. Greek leaders also banned transfers of money abroad, meaning that very little can now be imported into the country.
Printing plants are warning that they may run out of paper to print newspapers by the end of the week. Butchers say that stocks of imported meat are dwindling.
Some are even projecting that we could see civil unrest erupt in Greece in about “48 hours” once the ATM machines run out of cash…
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras probably has 48 hours to resolve a standoff with creditors before civil unrest breaks out and ATMs run out of cash, hedge fund Balyasny Asset Management said.
Yes, the Greek people exhibited great resolve in voting against the demands of the creditors on Sunday.
But how long can they endure this economic siege?
It is inevitable that a breaking point will come. Either the Greek government will give in, or the Greeks will leave the euro and start to transition back to the drachma.
If we do see a “Grexit”, and many analysts believe that one is coming, it could set off a chain of events that could cause immense financial pain all over the planet. There are tens of trillions of dollars of derivatives that are tied to European bond yields, European interest rates, etc. The following is an excerpt from a piece authored by Phoenix Capital Research that explains what kind of jeopardy we could potentially be facing…
The global derivatives market is roughly $700 trillion in size. That’s over TEN TIMES the world’s GDP. And sovereign bonds… including even bonds from bankrupt countries such as Greece… are one of, if not the primary collateral underlying all of these trades.
Greece is not the real issue for Europe. The entire Greek debt market is about €345 billion in size. So we’re not talking about a massive amount of collateral… though the turmoil this country has caused in the last three years gives a sense of the importance of the issue.
Spain, by comparison has over €1.0 trillion in debt outstanding… and Italy has €2.6 trillion. These bonds are backstopping tens of trillions of Euros’ worth of derivatives trades. A haircut on them would trigger systemic failure in Europe.
If Greece gets a “haircut” on their debt, other European nations would want the same and that would cause massive chaos in the derivatives markets.
But if Greece does not get a deal and ends up leaving the eurozone, that will cause bond yields to go crazy all over Europe and that would also cause tremendous chaos in the derivatives markets.
So much depends on keeping this system of legalized gambling that we call “derivatives trading” stable. We have allowed the global derivatives bubble to become many times larger than the GDP of the entire planet, and in the end we will pay a great price for this foolishness.
Every pyramid scheme eventually collapses, and this one will too.
But the difference with this pyramid scheme is that it is going to take the entire global financial system down with it.
The debt crisis in Puerto Rico could potentially cost financial institutions in the United States tens of billions of dollars in losses. This week, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla publicly announced that Puerto Rico’s 73 billion dollar debt is “not payable,” and a special adviser that was recently appointed to help straighten out the island’s finances said that it is “insolvent” and will totally run out of cash very shortly. At this point, Puerto Rico’s debt is approximately 15 times larger than the per capita median debt of the 50 U.S. states. Yes, the Greek debt crisis is larger, as Greece currently owes about $350 billion to the rest of the planet. But only about $14 billion of that total is owed to U.S. financial institutions. But with Puerto Rico, things are very different. Just about the entire 73 billion dollar debt is owed to U.S. financial institutions, and this could potentially cause massive problems for some extremely leveraged Wall Street firms.
There is a reason why Puerto Rico is called “America’s Greece”. In Puerto Rico today, more than 40 percent of the population is living in poverty, the unemployment rate is over 12 percent, and the economy of the small island nation has continually been in recession since 2006.
Yet all this time Puerto Rico has continued to pile up even more debt. Finally, it has gotten to the point where all of this debt is simply unpayable
Steven Rhodes, the retired U.S. bankruptcy judge who oversaw Detroit’s historic bankruptcy and has now been retained by Puerto Rico to help solve its problems, gave a blunt assessment on Monday.
Puerto Rico “urgently needs our help,” Rhodes said. “It can no longer pay its debts, it will soon run out of cash to operate, its residents and businesses will suffer,” he added.
This is why I hammer on the danger of U.S. government debt so often. As we see with the examples of Greece and Puerto Rico, eventually a day of reckoning always arrives. And when the day of reckoning arrives, power shifts into the hands of those that you owe the money too.
It would be hard to understate just how severe the debt crisis in Puerto Rico has become. Former IMF economist Anne Krueger has gone so far as to say that it is “really dire”…
“The situation is dire, and I mean really dire,” said former IMF economist Anne Krueger, co-author of the report commissioned by the U.S. territory, which recommended debt restructuring, tax hikes and spending cuts. “The needed measures may face political resistance but failure to address the issues would affect even more the people of Puerto Rico.”
So who is going to get left holding the bag?
As I mentioned at the top of this article, major U.S. financial institutions are very heavily exposed. Income from Puerto Rican bonds is exempt from state and federal taxation, and so that made them very attractive to many U.S. investors. According to USA Today, there are 180 mutual funds that have “at least 5% of their portfolios in Puerto Rican bonds”…
The inability of the U.S. territory to repay its debt, combined with the financial crisis in Greece, would have far-reaching implications for financial markets and unsuspecting American investors. Morningstar, an investment research firm based in Chicago, estimated in 2013 that 180 mutual funds in the United States and elsewhere have at least 5% of their portfolios in Puerto Rican bonds.
It is important to keep in mind that many of these financial institutions are very highly leveraged. So just a “couple of percentage points” could mean the different between life and death for some of these firms.
And unlike what is happening with Greece, the private financial institutions that hold Puerto Rican bonds are not likely to be very eager to “negotiate”. In fact, the largest holder of Puerto Rican debt has already stated that it is very much against any kind of restructuring…
U.S. fund manager OppenheimerFunds, the largest holder of Puerto Rico debt among U.S. municipal bond funds, warned the island it stands ready to defend the terms of bonds it holds, a day after the governor said he wanted to restructure debt and postpone bond payments.
What Oppenheimer is essentially saying is that it does not plan to give Puerto Rico any slack at all. Here is more from the article that I just quoted above…
OppenheimerFunds, with about $4.5 billion exposure to Puerto Rico according to Morningstar, said it believed the island could repay bondholders while providing essential services to citizens and growing the economy. It said it stood ready “to defend the previously agreed to terms in each and every bond indenture.”
“We are disheartened that Governor Padilla, in a public forum, has called for negotiations with other creditors, representing and including the millions of individual Americans that hold Puerto Rico municipal bonds,” a spokesman for Oppenheimer said in a statement.
But Puerto Rico simply does not have the money to meet all of their debt obligations.
So somebody is not going to get paid at some point.
When that happens, those that insure Puerto Rican bonds are also going to take tremendous losses. The following comes from a recent piece by Stephen Flood…
Now, bondholders are at risk as are the funds which hold Puerto Rican bonds and, more importantly, those who insure them in the derivatives market.
Dave Kranzler, from Investment Research Dynamics has warned that there are signs that the Puerto Rico situation may not remain a local crisis for much longer.
He points out that share prices of MBIA, the bond insurers, have been plummeting. MBIA are valued at $3.9 billion whereas their exposure to Puerto Rican debt is around $4.5 billion. Kranzler reckons their exposure could even be multiples of that figure. A default could wipe them out.
He also points out that the firm’s largest shareholders are Warburg Pincus, the firm to which Timothy Geithner went after his stint as Treasury Secretary, when he helped paper over the chasms opening up in the financial system.
Did you notice the word “derivatives” in that quote?
Hmmm – who has been writing endless articles warning about the danger of derivatives for years?
Who has been warning that “this gigantic time bomb is going to go off and absolutely cripple the entire global financial system“?
When Puerto Rico defaults, bond insurers are going to be expected to step up and make huge debt service payments to investors.
But this just might bankrupt some of these big bond insurers. In fact, we have already started to see the stock prices of some of these bond insurers begin to plummet. The following comes from the Wall Street Journal…
Bond insurers MBIA Inc. and Ambac Financial Group Inc. are down again Tuesday as concerns over Puerto Rico’s ability to repay its debt multiply.
Investors fear that both firms face the potential for steep losses on their promises to backstop billions of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion of debt.
MBIA’s stock closed down 23% Monday, and fell more than 10% before rebounding Tuesday. By late afternoon, the stock was down 6%. Ambac’s stock fell 12% Monday and was off 14% Tuesday.
Of course Puerto Rico is just the tip of the iceberg of the coming debt crisis in the western hemisphere, just like Greece is just the tip of the iceberg of the coming debt crisis in Europe.
So stay tuned, because the second half of 2015 has now begun, and the remainder of this calendar year promises to be extremely “interesting”.
As we enter the second half of 2015, financial panic has gripped most of the globe. Stock prices are crashing in China, in Europe and in the United States. Greece is on the verge of a historic default, and now Puerto Rico and Ukraine are both threatening to default on their debts if they do not receive concessions from their creditors. Not since the financial crisis of 2008 has so much financial chaos been unleashed all at once. Could it be possible that the great financial crisis of 2015 has begun? The following are 16 facts about the tremendous financial devastation that is happening all over the world right now…
1. On Monday, the Dow fell by 350 points. That was the biggest one day decline that we have seen in two years.
2. In Europe, stocks got absolutely smashed. Germany’s DAX index dropped 3.6 percent, and France’s CAC 40 was down 3.7 percent.
3. After Greece, Italy is considered to be the most financially troubled nation in the eurozone, and on Monday Italian stocks were down more than 5 percent.
4. Greek stocks were down an astounding 18 percent on Monday.
5. As the week began, we witnessed the largest one day increase in European bond spreads that we have seen in seven years.
6. Chinese stocks have already met the official definition of being in a “bear market” – the Shanghai Composite is already down more than 20 percent from the high earlier this year.
7. Overall, this Chinese stock market crash is the worst that we have witnessed in 19 years.
8. On Monday, Standard & Poor’s slashed Greece’s credit rating once again and publicly stated that it believes that Greece now has a 50 percent chance of leaving the euro.
9. On Tuesday, Greece is scheduled to make a 1.6 billion euro loan repayment. One Greek official has already stated that this is not going to happen.
10. Greek banks have been totally shut down, and a daily cash withdrawal limit of 60 euros has been established. Nobody knows when this limit will be lifted.
11. Yields on 10 year Greek government bonds have shot past 15 percent.
12. U.S. investors are far more exposed to Greece than most people realize. The New York Times explains…
But the question of what happens when the markets do open is particularly acute for the hedge fund investors — including luminaries like David Einhorn and John Paulson — who have collectively poured more than 10 billion euros, or $11 billion, into Greek government bonds, bank stocks and a slew of other investments.
Through the weekend, Nicholas L. Papapolitis, a corporate lawyer here, was working round the clock comforting and cajoling his frantic hedge fund clients.
“People are freaking out,” said Mr. Papapolitis, 32, his eyes red and his voice hoarse. “They have made some really big bets on Greece.”
13. The Governor of Puerto Rico has announced that the debts that the small island has accumulated are “not payable“.
14. Overall, the government of Puerto Rico owes approximately 72 billion dollars to the rest of the world. Without debt restructuring, it is inevitable that Puerto Rico will default. In fact, CNN says that it could happen by the end of this summer.
15. Ukraine has just announced that it may “suspend debt payments” if their creditors do not agree to take a 40 percent “haircut”.
16. This week the Bank for International Settlements has just come out with a new report that says that central banks around the world are “defenseless” to stop the next major global financial crisis.
Without a doubt, we are overdue for another major financial crisis. All over the planet, stocks are massively overvalued, and financial markets have become completely disconnected from economic reality. And when the next crash happens, many believe that it will be even worse than what we experienced back in 2008. For example, just consider the words of Jim Rogers…
“In the United States, we have had economic slowdowns every four to seven years since the beginning of the Republic. It’s now been six or seven years since our last stock market problem. We’re overdue for another problem.”
In Rogers’ view, low interest rates caused stock prices to increase significantly. He believes many assets are priced beyond their fundamentals thanks to the ultra-easy monetary policies by the Federal Reserve. Fed supporters argue such measures are good for investors, but Rogers takes a different view.
“The Fed might tell us we don’t have to worry and that a correction or crash will never happen again. That’s balderdash! When this artificial sea of liquidity ends, we’re going to pay a terrible price. When the next economic problem occurs, it will be much worse because the debt is so much higher.”
Of course Rogers is far from alone. A recent article by Paul B. Farrell expressed similar sentiments…
America’s 95 million investors are at huge risk. Remember the $10 trillion losses in the crash and recession of 2007-2009? The $8 trillion lost after the dot-com technology crash and recession of 2000-2003? This is the third big recession of the century. Yes, America will lose trillions again.
Especially with dead-ahead predictions like Mark Cook’s 4,000-point Dow correction. And Jeremy Grantham’s warning of a 50% crash around election time, with negative stock returns through the first term of the next president, beyond 2020. Starting soon.
Why is America so vulnerable when the next recession hits? Simple: The Fed’s cheap-money giveaway is killing America. When the downturn, correction, crash hits, it will compare to the 2008 crash. The Economist warns: “the world will be in a rotten position to do much about it. Rarely have so many large economies been so ill-equipped to manage a recession,” whatever the trigger.
Things have been relatively quiet in the financial world for so long that many have been sucked into a false sense of security.
But the underlying imbalances were always there, and they have been getting worse over time.
I believe that we are heading into a global financial collapse that will make what happened in 2008 look like a Sunday picnic by the time it is all said and done.
Global debt levels are at all-time highs, big banks all over the planet have been behaving more recklessly than ever, and financial markets are absolutely primed for a huge crash.
Hopefully things will calm down a bit as the rest of this week unfolds, but I wouldn’t count on it.
We have entered uncharted territory, and what comes next is going to shock the world.
Corporations, individuals and the federal government continue to rack up debt at a rate that is far faster than the overall rate of economic growth. We are literally drowning in red ink from sea to shining sea, and yet we just can’t help ourselves. Consumer credit has doubled since the year 2000. Student loan debt has doubled over the course of the past decade. Business debt has doubled since 2006. And of course the debt of the federal government has doubled since 2007. Anyone that believes that this is “sustainable” in any way, shape or form is crazy. We have accumulated the greatest mountain of debt that the world has ever seen, and yet despite all of the warnings we just continue to race forward into financial oblivion. There is no possible way that this is going to end well.
Just the other day, a financial story that USA Today posted really got my attention. It contained charts and graphs that showed that business debt in the U.S. had doubled since 2006. I knew that things were bad, but I didn’t know that they were this bad. Back in 2006, just prior to the last major economic downturn, U.S. nonfinancial companies had a total of about 2.6 trillion dollars of debt. Now, that total has skyrocketed to 5.8 trillion…
Companies are sitting on a record $1.82 trillion in cash. That might sound impressive until you hear companies owe three times more – $5.8 trillion, according to a new report from Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.
Debt levels are soaring at U.S. non-financial companies so quickly – total debt outstanding rose $650 billion in 2014, which is six times faster than the $100 billion in added cash.
So are we in better condition to handle an economic crisis than we were the last time, or are we in worse shape?
Let’s look at another category of debt. According to new data that just came out, the total amount of student loan debt in the U.S. is up to a staggering 1.2 trillion dollars. That total has more than doubled over the past decade…
New data released by The Associated Press shows student loan debt is over $1.2 trillion, which is more than double the amount of a decade ago.
Students are facing an average of $35,000 in debt, that’s the highest of any graduating class in U.S. history. A senior at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Jon Cheek, knows the struggle first hand.
“It’s been a pretty big concern, I work while I go to school. I applied for a bunch of scholarships and done everything I can to try and keep it low,” said Cheek.
And of course it isn’t just student loan debt. American consumers have had a love affair with debt that stretches back for decades. As the chart below demonstrates, overall consumer credit has more than doubled since the year 2000…
If our paychecks were increasing at this same pace, that would be one thing. But they aren’t. In fact, real median household income is actually lower today than it was just prior to the last economic crisis.
So American households should actually be cutting back on debt. But instead, they are just piling on more debt, and the financial predators are becoming even more creative. In a previous article, I discussed how many auto loans are now being stretched out for seven years. At this point, the number of auto loans that exceed 72 months is at an all-time high…
The average new car loan has reached a record 67 months, reports Experian, the Ireland-based information-services company. The percentage of loans with terms of 73 to 84 months also reached a new high of 29.5% in the first quarter of 2015, up from 24.9% a year earlier.
Long-term used-vehicle loans also broke records with loan terms of 73 to 84 months reaching 16% in the first quarter 2015, up from 12.94% — also the highest on record.
When will we learn?
The crash of 2008 should have been a wake up call.
We should have acknowledged our mistakes and we should have started doing things very differently.
But instead, we just kept on making the exact same mistakes. In fact, our long-term financial problems have continued to accelerate since the last recession. Just look at what has happened to our national debt. Just prior to the last recession, the U.S. national debt was sitting at approximately 9 trillion dollars. Today, it is over 18 trillion dollars…
Our debt has grown so large that we will never be able to get out from under it. This is something that I covered in my recent article entitled “It Is Mathematically Impossible To Pay Off All Of Our Debt“. Because of our recklessness, our children, our grandchildren and all future generations of Americans are consigned to a lifetime of debt slavery. What we have done to them is beyond criminal. If we lived in a just society, a whole bunch of people would be going to prison for the rest of their lives over this.
During fiscal year 2014, the debt of the federal government increased by more than a trillion dollars. But in addition to that, the federal government has more than seven trillion dollars of debt that must be “rolled over” every year. In other words, the government must issue more than seven trillion dollars of new debt just to pay off old debts that are coming due.
As long as the rest of the world continues to lend us enormous mountains of money at ridiculously low interest rates, we can continue to keep our heads above the water. But this can change at any time. And once it does, interest rates will rise. If the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt was to return to the long-term average, we would very quickly find ourselves spending more than a trillion dollars a year just on interest on the national debt.
The debt-fueled prosperity that we are enjoying now is not real. It is a false prosperity that has been purchased by selling future generations into debt slavery. We have mortgaged the future to make our own lives better.
We are addicts. We are addicted to debt, and no matter how many warnings we receive, we just can’t help ourselves.
Shame on you America.
Most Americans are deathly afraid to go to the hospital these days – and it is because of the immense pain that it will cause to their wallets. If you want to get on a path that will lead you to bankruptcy, just start going to the hospital a lot. In America today, hospitals and doctors are blatantly ripping us off and they aren’t making any apologies for it. As you will read about below, some hospitals mark up treatments by 1,000 percent. In other instances, basic medical supplies are being billed out at hundreds of times what they cost providers. For example, it has been reported that some hospitals are charging up to 30 dollars for a single aspirin pill. It would be difficult to argue that the extreme greed that we see in the medical system is even matched by the crooks on Wall Street. These medical predators get their hands on us when we are at our most vulnerable. They know that in our lowest moments we are willing to pay just about anything to get better or to make the pain go away. And so they very quietly have us sign a bunch of forms without ever telling us how much everything is going to cost. Eventually when the bills come in the mail, it is too late to do anything about it.
How would you feel if someone sold you something for ten times the amount that it was worth?
Would you feel ripped off?
Well, that is what hospitals all over the country are doing every single day. Just check out what one brand new study has discovered…
Some hospitals are marking up treatments by as much as 1,000 percent, a new study finds, and the average U.S. hospital charges uninsured patients three times what Medicare allows.
Twenty of the hospitals in the top 50 when it comes to marking up charges are in Florida, the researchers write in the journal Health Affairs. And three-quarters of them are operated by two Tennessee-based for-profit hospital systems: Community Health Systems and Hospital Corporation of America.
“We just want to raise public awareness of the problem,” said Ge Bai of Washington & Lee University in Virginia, an accounting professor who wrote the study along with Gerard Anderson of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Does reading that make you angry?
They are greedily taking advantage of all of us.
Other studies have come up with similar results. Here is one example…
According to National Nurses United, U.S. hospital charges continue to soar with a handful of them, such as Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus, N.J., going as far as charging more than ten times the total cost — or almost $1,200 per $100 of the cost of care. Meanwhile, the hundred priciest hospitals in the nation were found to have this cost ratio begin at 765 percent, which is more than twice the national average of 331 percent.
Much of the time, we are being overcharged for tests, services and procedures that we don’t even need.
It has been estimated that the amount of truly wasteful spending in the U.S. medical system comes to a grand total of about $600 billion to $700 billion annually. That means that wasteful medical spending in the U.S. each year is greater than the GDP of the entire country of Sweden.
And of course almost everyone has a story about an absolutely ridiculous medical bill that they have received. In fact, if you have one that you would like to share, please feel free to share it at the end of this article. The following are just a few examples that were shared in an editorial in a local newspaper…
Have you heard about the little girl who required three stitches over her right eye? The emergency room sent her parents a bill for $1,500 — $500 per stitch (NY Times, Dec. 3). My neighbor recently spent six hours in the emergency room with bleeding from the mouth. He was on a blood thinner, needed several blood tests, and his heart was monitored. His hospital bill came to $22,000. A California man diagnosed with lung cancer chose to fight his cancer aggressively. Eleven months later his widow received a bill exceeding $900,000.
One of the most disturbing trends that we are witnessing all over the nation is something called “drive by doctoring”. That is where an extra doctor that isn’t even necessary “pops in” to visit patients that are not his or “assists” with a surgery in order to stick the patient with a big, fat extra bill. The following is from a New York Times article about this disgusting practice…
Before his three-hour neck surgery for herniated disks in December, Peter Drier, 37, signed a pile of consent forms. A bank technology manager who had researched his insurance coverage, Mr. Drier was prepared when the bills started arriving: $56,000 from Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, $4,300 from the anesthesiologist and even $133,000 from his orthopedist, who he knew would accept a fraction of that fee.
He was blindsided, though, by a bill of about $117,000 from an “assistant surgeon,” a Queens-based neurosurgeon whom Mr. Drier did not recall meeting.
How would you like to receive a bill for $117,000 from a doctor that you had never met and that you did not know would be at your surgery?
This is how broken our medical system has become.
And of course this type of abuse is not just happening in New York. It is literally happening all over the nation…
In operating rooms and on hospital wards across the country, physicians and other health providers typically help one another in patient care. But in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees are charging patients or their insurers hefty fees. They may be called in when the need for them is questionable. And patients usually do not realize they have been involved or are charging until the bill arrives.
If you or a close family member has been to the hospital recently, you probably know how astronomical some of these bills can be.
And if you have a chronic, life threatening disease, you can very rapidly end up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
If you doubt this, just check out the following excerpt from an article that appeared in Time Magazine. One cancer patient out in California ran up nearly a million dollars in hospital bills before he finally died…
By the time Steven D. died at his home in Northern California the following November, he had lived for an additional 11 months. And Alice had collected bills totaling $902,452. The family’s first bill — for $348,000 — which arrived when Steven got home from the Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Calif., was full of all the usual chargemaster profit grabs: $18 each for 88 diabetes-test strips that Amazon sells in boxes of 50 for $27.85; $24 each for 19 niacin pills that are sold in drugstores for about a nickel apiece. There were also four boxes of sterile gauze pads for $77 each. None of that was considered part of what was provided in return for Seton’s facility charge for the intensive-care unit for two days at $13,225 a day, 12 days in the critical unit at $7,315 a day and one day in a standard room (all of which totaled $120,116 over 15 days). There was also $20,886 for CT scans and $24,251 for lab work.
The sad truth is that the U.S. health care system has become all about the money.
A select few are becoming exceedingly wealthy while millions go broke. One very disturbing study discovered that approximately 41 percent of all working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt. And collection agencies seek to collect unpaid medical bills from approximately 30 million Americans every single year.
Once upon a time, going into the medical profession was a sacrifice and you did it because you wanted to help people.
Today, it is considered to be a path to riches.
If the U.S. health care system was a separate country, it would actually be the 6th largest economy on the entire planet. Even though our system is deeply broken, nobody wants to rock the boat because trillions of dollars are at stake. If it was up to me, I would tear the entire thing down and rebuild it from scratch.
So what about you? How would you fix our broken health care system? Please feel free to share your ideas by posting a comment below…