Exports fell precipitously during the last two recessions, and now it is happening again. So how in the world can anyone make the claim that the U.S. economy is in good shape? On my website I have been repeatedly pointing out the parallels between the last two major economic downturns and the current crisis, and I am going to discuss another one today. Since peaking in late 2014, U.S. exports have been steadily declining, and this is something that we never see outside of a major recession. On the chart that I have shared below, the shaded gray bars represent the last two recessions, and you can see that exports of goods and services plunged dramatically in both instances…
The U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in January as a strong dollar and weak global demand helped to push exports to a more than 5-1/2-year low, suggesting trade will continue to weigh on economic growth in the first quarter.
The Commerce Department said on Friday the trade gap increased 2.2 percent to $45.7 billion. December’s trade deficit was revised up to $44.7 billion from the previously reported $43.4 billion. Exports have declined for four straight months.
Because our exports are falling faster than our imports, our trade deficit is blowing out once again. Every year we buy hundreds of billions of dollars more from the rest of the world than they buy from us, and this is systematically wrecking our economy. Over the past several decades, we have lost tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities, millions of good paying manufacturing jobs, and major exporting nations such as China have become exceedingly wealthy at our expense.
We are being absolutely killed on trade, and yet very few of our politicians ever want to talk about this.
A brand new study that was recently discussed in the New York Times is bringing some renewed attention to these problems. It turns out that the promised “benefits” of merging the U.S. economy into the global economic system simply have not materialized…
In a recent study, three economists — David Autor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, David Dorn at the University of Zurich and Gordon Hanson at the University of California, San Diego — raised a profound challenge to all of us brought up to believe that economies quickly recover from trade shocks. In theory, a developed industrial country like the United States adjusts to import competition by moving workers into more advanced industries that can successfully compete in global markets.
They examined the experience of American workers after China erupted onto world markets some two decades ago. The presumed adjustment, they concluded, never happened. Or at least hasn’t happened yet. Wages remain low and unemployment high in the most affected local job markets. Nationally, there is no sign of offsetting job gains elsewhere in the economy. What’s more, they found that sagging wages in local labor markets exposed to Chinese competition reduced earnings by $213 per adult per year.
Another study conducted by some of the same researchers discovered that 2.4 million American jobs were lost between 1999 and 2011 due to rising Chinese imports.
The China Containerized Freight Index (CCFI), published weekly, tracks contractual and spot-market rates for shipping containers from major ports in China to 14 regions around the world. Unlike most Chinese government data, this index reflects the unvarnished reality of the shipping industry in a languishing global economy. For the latest reporting week, the index dropped 4.1% to 705.6, its lowest level ever.
How many numbers like this do we have to get before we will all finally admit that we are in the midst of a major global economic meltdown?
Here in the United States, the recent rally in the stock market has most people feeling pretty good about things these days. But the truth is that there are ups and downs during any financial crisis, and this recent rally is putting the finishing touches on a very dangerous leaning “W” pattern that could signal a big dive ahead.
The bull market from early 2009 into May 2015 looks just like every bubble in history, and I’m getting one sign after the next that we did indeed peak last May. The dominant pattern in the stock market is the “rounded top” pattern:
After trading in a steep, bubble-like channel from late 2011 into late 2014, with only 10% maximum volatility top to bottom, the market finally lost its momentum… just as the Fed finished tapering its QE. That’s because the Fed was the primary driver in this stock bubble in the first place!
Now is not the time to relax at all.
In fact, now is the time to sound the alarm louder than ever.
That is one reason why my wife and I have started up a new television program. It will be airing on Christian television, but it will also be available on YouTube as well…
As I have said before, 2016 is the year when everything changes.
So don’t be fooled just because the stock market had a couple of good weeks. The truth is that global economic activity is slowing down significantly, geopolitical instability continues to get even worse, and this political season has caused very deep, simmering tensions in the United States to rise to the surface.
Let us hope that we have a few more weeks of relative stability like we are currently experiencing so that we can have more time to get prepared, but I certainly wouldn’t count on it.
We just got more evidence that global trade is absolutely imploding. Chinese exports dropped 25.4 percent during the month of February compared to a year ago, and Chinese imports fell 13.8 percent compared to a year ago. For Chinese exports, that was the worst decline that we have seen since 2009, and Chinese imports have now fallen for 16 months in a row on a year over year basis. The last time we saw numbers like this, we were in the depths of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. China accounts for more global trade than any other nation (including the United States), and so this is a major red flag. Anyone that is saying that the global economy is in “good shape” is clearly not paying attention.
If someone would have told me a year ago that Chinese exports would be 25 percent lower next February, I would not have believed it. This is not just a slowdown – this is a historic implosion. The following comes from Zero Hedge…
Things are not getting better in China as Exports crashed 25.4% YoY (the 3rd largest drop in history), almost double the 14.5% expectation and Imports tumbled 13.8%, the 16th month of YoY decline – the longest ever. Altogether this sent the trade surplus down to $32.6bn (missing expectations of $51bn) to 11-month lows.
So much for that whole “devalue yourself to export growth” idea…
I don’t know how anyone can possibly dismiss the importance of these numbers. As you can see, this is not just a one month aberration. Chinese trade numbers have been declining for months, and that decline appears to be accelerating.
Another very interesting piece of news that has come out in recent days regards the massive layoffs that are coming at state industries in China. According to Reuters, five to six million Chinese workers are going to be losing their jobs during this transition…
China aims to lay off 5-6 million state workers over the next two to three years as part of efforts to curb industrial overcapacity and pollution, two reliable sources said, Beijing’s boldest retrenchment program in almost two decades.
China’s leadership, obsessed with maintaining stability and making sure redundancies do not lead to unrest, will spend nearly 150 billion yuan ($23 billion) to cover layoffs in just the coal and steel sectors in the next 2-3 years.
For years, the Chinese economic miracle has been fueling global economic growth, but now things are changing dramatically.
Another factor that we should discuss is the fact that the relationship between the United States and China is going downhill very rapidly. This is something that I wrote about yesterday. China has seized control of several very important islands in the South China Sea, and in response the Obama administration has been sailing military vessels past the islands in a threatening manner. Most recently, Obama decided to have an aircraft carrier task force cruise past the islands, and this provoked a very angry response from the Chinese…
The four-ship U.S. strike group that patrolled the disputed South China Sea was followed by Chinese warships, a show of force that prompted a hard-line response from China doubling down on its claim to nearly all of the resource-rich sea.
China’s foreign minister said his country’s sovereignty claims are supported by history and made a veiled reference to the 5-day patrol by the Stennis Carrier Strike Group, as well as recent passes by China’s man-made islands by destroyers Lassen and Curtis Wilbur in recent months.
“The South China Sea has been subject to colonial invasion and illegal occupation and now some people are trying to stir up waves, while some others are showing off forces,” Wang Yi said, according to an Associated Press report, a day after the Stennis CSG departed the South China Sea. “However, like the tide that comes and goes, none of these attempts will have any impact. History will prove who is merely the guest and who is the real host.”
Most Americans are not even paying attention to this dispute, but in China there is talk of war. The Chinese are absolutely not going to back down, and it does not look like Obama is going to either. Needless to say, a souring of the relationship between the largest economy on the planet and the second largest economy on the planet would not be a good thing for the global economy.
And of course China is far from the only country that is having economic problems. Yesterday, I discussed how Italy’s banking system is on the verge of completely collapse. A few days before that I discussed the economic depression that has gripped much of South America. A new global economic crisis has already begun, and just because the United States is feeling less pain than the rest of the world so far does not mean that everything is going to be okay.
There are huge red flags in Europe, Asia and South America right now. In addition, our neighbor to the north (Canada) is experiencing a very significant slowdown. The irrational optimists can continue to believe that the U.S. economy will somehow escape relatively unscathed if they would like, but that is not going to be what happens.
Just like virtually everyone else on the planet, we are heading into hard times too, and this is going to become a dominant theme in the presidential campaign as we move forward into the months ahead.
Did you know that there are some U.S. states that have already officially fallen into recession? Economic activity all over the planet is in the process of slowing down, and there are some areas of the country that are really starting to feel the pain. In particular, any state that is heavily dependent on the energy industry is hurting right now. During the years immediately following the last recession, the energy industry was the primary engine for the growth of good paying jobs in America, but now that process is completely reversing. All over the U.S. energy companies are going under, and thousands upon thousands of good jobs are being lost.
As economists size up the chances of the first nationwide slump since 2009, pockets of the country are already contracting. Four states — Alaska, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming — are in a recession, and three others are at risk of prolonged declines, according to indexes of state economic performance tracked by Moody’s Analytics.
The three additional states that are “at risk of prolonged declines” are Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. What all of those seven states have in common is a strong dependence on the energy industry. Last year, 67 oil and gas companies in the United States filed for bankruptcy, and approximately 130,000 good paying energy jobs were lost.
If the price of oil does not go back up, this could be just the beginning. It is being reported that a whopping 35 percent of all oil and gas companies around the planet are at risk of falling into bankruptcy, and the financial institutions that have been backing these energy companies are getting very nervous.
Of course things could shift dramatically for oil and gas companies if World War 3 suddenly erupts in the Middle East, and that could literally happen at any time. But for the moment the outlook for the energy industry continues to be quite dreary.
Let us also keep in mind that the problems for the U.S. economy are not limited to the energy industry. According to CNBC, corporate profits in the United States have now declined for three straight quarters, and this is the very first time this has happened since the last recession…
With 87 percent of the S&P 500 reporting, total blended fourth-quarter earnings have shown a decline of 3.6 percent, according to FactSet. Assuming the trend holds up, it will mark the first time profits have fallen for three straight quarters since 2009.
But the road ahead doesn’t get any easier.
FactSet is now projecting that earnings will decline 6.9 percent in the first quarter, a stunning move lower over time considering that in September the expectation was for 4.8 percent growth.
As corporate profits fall, layoffs are starting to increase. Just the other day we learned that the number of job cuts in this country shot up 218 percent during the month of January according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
It is starting to look very much like 2008 all over again, and I am convinced that it will soon be much, much harder to find work in America.
Here are some more numbers that indicate that the U.S. is heading into a major economic slowdown…
–U.S. exports were down 7 percent on a year over year basis in December.
Well, if the U.S. economy is in such great shape, then why are some of the biggest retailers in the entire nation shutting down stores at a frightening pace. The following list of store closures comes from one of my previous articles…
-Wal-Mart is closing 269 stores, including 154 inside the United States.
-The Gap is in the process of closing 175 stores in North America.
-Aeropostale is in the process of closing 84 stores all across America.
-Finish Line has announced that 150 stores will be shutting down over the next few years.
-Sears has shut down about 600 stores over the past year or so, but sales at the stores that remain open continue to fall precipitously.
Perhaps things look fine for the moment in New York City or Washington D.C. or San Francisco or wherever it is that these “reporters” write their articles.
But for ordinary Americans that operate in the real world, the pain of this new economic downturn is already exceedingly apparent. Here is more from Bloomberg…
Dale Oxley doesn’t need to hear about rising odds of a U.S. recession to dread the future. For the West Virginia homebuilder, the downturn has already arrived.
“Everyone is going to have to tighten their belts,” said Oxley, the 48-year-old owner of a Charleston-area construction company. “The next couple of years are going to be difficult.”
Unfortunately for hard working Americans like Oxley, what we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg.
We have entered a long downturn that is ultimately going to be even more painful than the last recession was.
And everything changes if Saudi Arabia and Turkey get trigger happy and decide to invade Syria. If that happens, it could very well be the spark that sets off World War 3 and a full-blown meltdown of the global financial system.
Something has just happened that has signaled a recession every single time that it has occurred since World War I. 16 times since 1919 there have been at least 8 month-over-month declines in industrial production during the preceding 12 month period, and in each of those 16 instances the U.S. economy has plunged into recession. Now that it has happened again, will the U.S. economy beat the odds and avoid a major economic downturn? I certainly wouldn’t count on it. As I have written about repeatedly, there are a whole host of other numbers that are screaming that a new recession is here, and global financial markets are crumbling. It would take a miracle of epic proportions to pull us out of this tailspin, and yet there are many people out there that are absolutely convinced that it will happen.
John Hussman is not one of them. In his most recent weekly comment, he examined this stunning correlation between month-over-month declines in industrial production and recessions. To me, what Hussman has presented is overwhelmingly conclusive…
Last week, following a long period of poor internals and weakening order surplus, we observed fresh declines in industrial production and retail sales. Industrial production has now also declined on a year-over-year basis. The weakness we presently observe is strongly associated with recession. The chart below (h/t Jeff Wilson) plots the cumulative number of month-over-month declines in Industrial Production during the preceding 12-month period, in data since 1919. Recessions are shaded. The current total of 10 (of a possible 12) month-over-month declines in Industrial Production has never been observed except in the context of a U.S. recession. Historically, as Dick Van Patten would say, eight is enough.
After looking at that chart, is there anyone out there that still doubts that the U.S. economy is in significant trouble?
Many estimates of U.S. GDP growth for the fourth quarter of 2015 are already just a small fraction of one percent. It would not be a surprise at all to see a negative number posted once it is all said and done.
And of course more bad news for the economy just keeps pouring in. So far this week we have learned that the growth rate of federal withholding taxes has turned negative, Johnson & Johnson plans has announced that it is eliminating 3,000 jobs, and BP has announced that it is eliminating 4,000 jobs.
Of course it is not exactly a surprise that BP is cutting jobs. At this point the entire energy industry is absolutely hemorrhaging workers. As I wrote about yesterday, 130,000 good paying energy jobs have been lost in the United States since the beginning of last year.
But now we are seeing major firms outside the energy industry cutting payrolls. Even financial giants such as Morgan Stanley are looking for ways to cut costs…
During a conference call, CEO James Gorman uttered a sentence that will most likely make the bank’s staff shudder.
“Too many employees based in high-cost centers are doing work that can sensibly be done in lower-cost centers,” he said.
The whole environment is changing.
When things start to get tough, big corporations start to get rid of people. We saw this back in 2008, and it is starting to happen again right now.
And just like last time around, we are going to see millions of Americans lose their jobs during the hard years that are ahead of us.
But thankfully for the moment there is a brief lull in the action. The financial turmoil that has gripped the planet was calmed on Tuesday when China announced that their economy grew at a rate of 6.8 percent during the fourth quarter of 2015. This was right in line with expectations, and markets around the world responded positively to the news.
There is just one huge problem. Everyone knows that GDP figures coming out of China are essentially meaningless. If you believe that the Chinese economy actually grew at a 6.8 percent rate during the fourth quarter of 2015, then I have a bridge to sell you. Virtually every other number coming out of China over the past several months tells us that the Chinese economy is shrinking, and so that 6.8 percent figure is extremely questionable at best.
Do you want to know the last time the communist Chinese admitted to having a recession?
It was in 1976.
Over the past four decades, economic growth figures have become a source of great national pride for China. To admit that the economy is now imploding would bring great shame on the Chinese government and the nation as a whole, and so that must be avoided at all costs.
Yes, the numbers are fraudulent in the U.S. too. According to John Williams of shadowstats.com, if the U.S. was actually using honest numbers the last recession never would have technically ended.
But in China they take this to ridiculous extremes. The Chinese economy is fueled by exports, and Chinese exports have been down on a year over year basis for six months in a row. And the primary reason why commodity prices have been absolutely collapsing is because of the economic contraction in China.
Of course if China had released a GDP number that was honest, global markets would have crashed hard. So their lies are making everyone else feel a bit better for the moment, and every day of relative stability that we can enjoy from here on out is something to be thankful for.
As you read this article, markets all over Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East are already in bear market territory. More than 30 percent of the market has been wiped out in Brazil and Hong Kong, more than 40 percent of the market has been wiped out in China and Italy, and about 50 percent of the market has been wiped out in Saudi Arabia.
We are already experiencing a major global financial crisis.
The only question remaining is how bad it will eventually become.
Let us hope for more days like this one that are relatively calm. But I wouldn’t count on things turning around significantly any time soon, because the economic fundamentals are telling us that big trouble is ahead.
The 7th largest economy on the entire planet, Brazil, has been gripped by a horrifying recession, as has much of the rest of South America. But it isn’t just South America that is experiencing a very serious economic downturn. We have just learned that Japan (the third largest economy in the world) has lapsed into recession. So has Canada. So has Russia. The dominoes are starting to fall, and it looks like the global economic crisis that has already started is going to accelerate as we head into the end of the year. At this point, global trade is already down about 8.4 percent for the year, and last week the Baltic Dry Shipping Index plummeted to a brand new all-time record low. Unfortunately for all of us, the Federal Reserve is about to do something that will make this global economic slowdown even worse.
Throughout 2015, the U.S. dollar has been getting stronger. That sounds like good news, but the truth is that it is not. When the last financial crisis ended, emerging markets went on a debt binge unlike anything we have ever seen before. But much of that debt was denominated in U.S. dollars, and now this is creating a massive problem. As the U.S. dollar has risen, the prices that many of these emerging markets are getting for the commodities that they export have been declining. Meanwhile, it is taking much more of their own local currencies to pay back and service all of the debts that they have accumulated. Similar conditions contributed to the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, the Asian currency crisis of the 1990s and the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.
Many Americans may be wondering when “the next economic crisis” will arrive, but nobody in Brazil is asking that question. Thanks to the rising U.S. dollar, Brazil has already plunged into a very deep recession…
As Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff combats a slumping economy and corruption accusations, the country’s inflation surged above 10 percent while unemployment jumped to 7.9 percent, according to the latest official data. The dour state of affairs has Barclays forecasting a 4 percent economic contraction this year, followed by 3.3 percent shrinkage next year, the investment bank said in a research note last week.
The political and economic turmoil has recently driven the real, Brazil’s currency, to multiyear lows, a factor helping to stoke price pressures.
And as I mentioned above, Brazil is far from alone. This is something that is happening all over the planet, and the process appears to be accelerating. One of the places where this often first shows up is in the trade numbers. The following comes from an article that was just posted by Zero Hedge…
“This market is looking like a disaster and the rates are a reflection of that,” warns one of the world’s largest shipbrokers, but while The Baltic Dry Freight Index gets all the headlines – having collapsed to all-time record lows this week – it is the spefics below that headline that are truly terrifying. At a time of typical seasonal strength for freight and thus global trade around the world, Reuters reports that spot rates for transporting containers from Asia to Northern Europe have crashed a stunning 70% in the last 3 weeks alone. This almost unprecedented divergence from seasonality has only occurred at this scale once before… 2008! “It is looking scary for the market and it doesn’t look like there is going to be any life in the market in the near term.”
Many “experts” seem mystified by all of this, but the explanation is very simple.
For years, global economic growth was fueled by cheap U.S. dollars. But since the end of QE, the U.S. dollar has been surging, and according to Bloomberg it just hit a 12 year high…
The dollar traded near a seven-month high against the euro before the release of minutes of the Federal Reserve’s October meeting, when policy makers signaled the potential for an interest-rate increase this year.
A trade-weighted gauge of the greenback is at the highest in 12 years as Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other policy makers have made numerous pronouncements in the past month that it may be appropriate to boost rates from near zero at its Dec. 15-16 gathering. The probability the central bank will act next month has risen to 66 percent from 50 percent odds at the end of October.
But even though the wonks at the Federal Reserve supposedly know the damage that a strong dollar is already doing to the global economy, they seem poised to make things even worse by raising interest rates in December…
Most Federal Reserve policymakers agreed last month that the economy “could well” be strong enough in December to withstand the Fed’s first Interest rate hike in nearly a decade, according to minutes of its meeting Oct. 27-28.
The officials said global troubles had eased and a delay could increase market uncertainty and undermine confidence in the economy.
The meeting summary provides the clearest evidence yet that a majority of Fed policymakers are leaning toward raising the central bank’s benchmark rate next month, assuming the economy continues to progress.
Considering the tremendous amount of damage that has already been done to the global economy, this is one of the stupidest things that they could possibly do.
But it looks like they are going to do it anyway.
It has been said that those that refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
And right now so many of the exact same patterns that we saw just before the great financial crisis of 2008 are playing out once again right in front of our eyes.
A lot of people out there seem to assume that once we got past the September/October time frame that we were officially out of “the danger zone”.
But that is not true at all.
The truth is that we have already entered a new global economic downturn that is rapidly accelerating, and the financial shaking that we witnessed in August was just a foreshock of what is coming next.
Let us hope that common sense prevails and the Fed chooses not to raise interest rates at their next meeting.
Because if they do, it will just make the global crisis that is now emerging much, much worse.
If the U.S. economy really is in “great shape”, then why do all of the numbers keep telling us that we are in a recession? The manufacturing numbers say that we are in a recession, the trade numbers say that we are in a recession, and as you will see below the retail numbers say that we are in a recession. But just like in 2008, the Federal Reserve and our top politicians will continue to deny that a major economic downturn is happening for as long as they possibly can. In this article, I want to look at more signs that a dramatic shift is happening in our economy right now.
First of all, let’s consider what is happening to hedge funds. For many years, hedge funds had been doing extremely well, but now they are closing up shop at a pace that we haven’t seen since the last financial crisis. The following is an excerpt from a Business Insider article entitled “Hedge funds keep on imploding” that was posted on Wednesday…
BlackRock is winding down its Global Ascent Fund, a global macro hedge fund that once contained $4.6 billion in assets, according to Bloomberg’s Sabrina Willmer.
“We believe that redeeming the Global Ascent Fund was the right thing to do for our clients, given the headwinds that macro funds have faced,” a BlackRock spokeswoman told Business Insider.
The winding down of the Ascent fund is the second high-profile hedge fund closing in 24 hours. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Achievement Asset Management, a Chicago-based hedge fund, was closing.
And those are just two examples. Quite a few other prominent hedge funds have shut down recently, and many are wondering if this is just the beginning of a major “bloodbath” on Wall Street.
Another troubling sign is the implosion of so many energy companies. Just like in 2008, a major crash in the price of oil is hitting the energy sector really hard. Just check out these stock price declines…
A number of smaller energy companies have already gone out of business, and several of the big players are teetering on the brink. If the price of oil does not rebound significantly very soon, it is just a matter of time before the dominoes begin to fall.
The retail sales report for October was much worse than expected. Not only that, but the Government’s original estimates for retail sales in August and September were revised lower. A colleague of mine said he was chatting with his brother, who is a tax advisor, this past weekend who said he doesn’t understand how the Government can say the economy is growing (Hillary Clinton recently gave the economy an “A”) because his clients are lowering their estimated tax payments. Businesses lower their estimated tax payments when their business activity slows down.
The holiday season is always the best time of the year for retailers, but in 2015 there is a lot of talk of gloom and doom. Most large retailers will not start announcing mass store closings until January or February, but without a doubt many analysts are anticipating that once we get past the Christmas shopping season we will see stores shut down at a pace that we haven’t seen since at least 2009. Here is more from the article that I just quoted above…
Retail sales this holiday season are setting up to be a disaster. Already most retailers are advertising “pre-Black Friday” sales events. Remember when holiday shopping didn’t begin, period, until the day after Thanksgiving? Now retailers are going to cannibalize each other with massive discounting before Thanksgiving. Anybody notice over the weekend that BMW is now offering $6500 price rebates? The collapsing economy is affecting everyone, across all income demographics.
Last week we saw the stocks of Macy’s, Nordstrom and Advance Auto Parts do cliff-dives after they announced their earnings. I mentioned to a colleague that the Nordstrom’s report should be the most troubling for analysts. Nordstrom in their investor conference call said that they began seeing an “unexplainable slowdown in sales in August in transactions across all formats, across all catagories and across all geographies that has yet to recover.”
I think that a chart would be helpful to give you an idea of how bad things have already gotten. Jim Quinn shared this in an article that he just posted, and it shows the change in retail sales once you remove the numbers for the auto industry. As you can see, the numbers have never been this dreadful outside of a recession…
But stocks went up 247 points on Wednesday so everything must be great, right?
The stock market has never been a good barometer for the overall economy, and this is especially true these days.
In 2008, stocks didn’t crash until well after the U.S. economy as a whole started crashing, and the same thing is apparently happening this time around as well.
One of the things that is keeping stocks afloat for the moment is stock buybacks. In recent years, big corporations have spent hundreds of billions of dollars buying back their own stocks. The following comes from Wolf Richter…
IBM has blown $125 billion on buybacks since 2005, more than the $111 billion it invested in capital expenditures and R&D. It’s staggering under its debt, while revenues have been declining for 14 quarters in a row. It cut its workforce by 55,000 people since 2012. And its stock is down 38% since March 2013.
Big-pharma icon Pfizer plowed $139 billion into buybacks and dividends in the past decade, compared to $82 billion in R&D and $18 billion in capital spending. 3M spent $48 billion on buybacks and dividends, and $30 billion on R&D and capital expenditures. They’re all doing it.
Later in that same article, Richter explains that almost 60 percent of all publicly traded non-financial corporations have engaged in stock buybacks over the past five years…
Nearly 60% of the 3,297 publicly traded non-financial US companies Reuters analyzed have engaged in share buybacks since 2010. Last year, the money spent on buybacks and dividends exceeded net income for the first time in a non-recession period.
Big corporations like to do this for a couple of reasons. Number one, it pushes the price of the stock higher, and current investors appreciate that. Number two, corporate executives are usually in favor of conducting stock buybacks because it increases the value of their stock options and their own stock holdings.
But now corporate profits are falling and it is becoming tougher for big corporations to borrow money. So look for stock buybacks to start to decline significantly.
If you have been watching for the next major global economic downturn, you can now stop waiting, because it has officially arrived. Never before in history has global trade collapsed this dramatically outside of a major worldwide recession. And this makes perfect sense – when global economic activity is increasing there is more demand for goods and services around the world, and when global economic activity is decreasing there is less demand for goods and services around the world. So far this year, global trade is down about 8.4 percent, and over the past 30 days the Baltic Dry Index has been absolutely plummeting. A month ago it was sitting at a reading of 809, but now it has fallen all the way to 628. However, it is when you look at the trade numbers for specific countries that the numbers become particularly startling.
Just within the last few days, new trade numbers have come out of China. China accounts for approximately one-fifth of all global factory exports, and for many years Chinese export growth has helped fuel the overall global economy.
But now Chinese exports are falling. In October, Chinese exports were down 6.9 percent compared to a year ago. That follows a decline of 3.7 percent in September.
The numbers for Chinese imports are even worse. Chinese imports in October were down 18.8 percent compared to a year ago after falling 20.4 percent in September. China’s growing middle class was supposed to help lead a global economic recovery, but that simply is not happening.
The following chart from Zero Hedge shows just how dramatic these latest numbers are compared to what we are accustomed to witnessing. As you can see, the only time Chinese trade numbers have been this bad for this long was during the major global recession of 2008 and 2009…
Other numbers confirm the magnitude of the economic slowdown in China. I have mentioned the ongoing plunge of the China Containerized Freight Index previously, but now it has just hit a brand new record low…
The weakness in China’s economy and its exports to the rest of the world are showing up in the weekly China Containerized Freight Index (CCFI): On Friday, it dropped to the worst level ever.
The index, operated by the Shanghai Shipping Exchange, tracks how much it costs, based on contractual and spot-market rates, to ship containers from China to 14 major destinations around the world. Unlike a lot of official data from China, the index is an unvarnished reflection of a relentless reality.
It has been cascading lower since February and has since dropped 31%. At 742 currently, it’s down 26% from its inception in 1998 when it was set at 1,000.
–Demand for Chinese steel is down 8.9 percent compared to a year ago.
–China’s rail freight volume is down 10.1 percent compared to last year.
–In October, South Korean exports were down 15.8 percent from a year ago.
–According to the Dutch government index, a year ago global trade in primary commodities was sitting at a reading of 150 but now it has fallen all the way down to 114. What this means is that less commodities are being traded around the world, and that is a very clear sign that global economic activity is really slowing down.
Additionally, German export orders were down about 18 percent in September, and U.S. exports are down about 10 percent for the year so far.
Clearly something very big is happening, and it is affecting the entire planet. The CEO of the largest shipping company in the world believes that the explanation for what is taking place is fairly simple…
In fact, according to Maersk CEO, Nils Smedegaard Andersen, the reason why companies that are reliant on global trade, such as his, are flailing is simple: global growth is substantially worse than the official numbers and forecasts. To wit: “The world’s economy is growing at a slower pace than the International Monetary Fund and other large forecasters are predicting.”
Quoted by Bloomberg, Andersen says that “we believe that global growth is slowing down,” he said in a phone interview. “Trade is currently significantly weaker than it normally would be under the growth forecasts we see.“
Global financial markets can run, but they can’t hide from these horrifying trade numbers forever.
One of the big things that is contributing to this new global economic slowdown is the unwinding of the U.S. dollar carry trade. A recent piece from Phoenix Capital Research explained the U.S. dollar carry trade pretty well…
When the Fed cut interest rates to zero in 2008, it flooded the system with US Dollars. The US Dollar is the reserve currency of the world. NO matter what country you’re in (with few exceptions) you can borrow in US Dollars.
And if you can borrow in US Dollars at 0.25%… and put that money into anything yielding more… you could make a killing.
A hedge fund in Hong Kong could borrow $100 million, pay just $250,000 in interest and plow that money into Brazilian Reals which yielded 11%… locking in a $9.75 million return.
This was the strictly financial side of things. On the economics side, Governments both sovereign and local borrowed in US Dollars around the globe to fund various infrastructure and municipal projects.
Simply put, the US Government was practically giving money away and the world took notice, borrowing Dollars at a record pace. Today, the global carry trade (meaning money borrowed in US Dollars and invested in other assets) stands at over $9 TRILLION (larger than the economy of France and Brazil combined).
But now the U.S. dollar carry trade is starting to unwind because the U.S. dollar has been doing very well lately. As the U.S. dollar has surged against other global currencies in 2015, this has put a tremendous amount of stress on emerging markets around the world. All of a sudden oil, other commodities and stock markets in nations such as Brazil began to crash. Meanwhile, those that had taken out loans denominated in U.S. dollars were finding that it was taking far more of their own local currencies to service and repay those loans. This financial crunch in emerging markets is going to take years to fully play out, and it is going to take a tremendous toll on global markets.
If the U.S. economy really is improving, then why are big U.S. retailers permanently shutting down thousands of stores? The “retail apocalypse” that I have written about so frequently appears to be accelerating. As you will see below, major U.S. retailers have announced that they are closing more than 6,000 locations, but economic conditions in this country are still fairly stable. So if this is happening already, what are things going to look like once the next recession strikes? For a long time, I have been pointing to 2015 as a major “turning point” for the U.S. economy, and I still feel that way. And since I started The Economic Collapse Blog at the end of 2009, I have never seen as many indications that we are headed into another major economic downturn as I do right now. If retailers are closing this many stores already, what are our malls and shopping centers going to look like a few years from now?
The list below comes from information compiled by About.com, but I have only included major retailers that have announced plans to close at least 10 stores. Most of these closures will take place this year, but in some instances the closures are scheduled to be phased in over a number of years. As you can see, the number of stores that are being permanently shut down is absolutely staggering…
180 Abercrombie & Fitch (by 2015)
75 Aeropostale (through January 2015)
150 American Eagle Outfitters (through 2017)
223 Barnes & Noble (through 2023)
265 Body Central / Body Shop
66 Bottom Dollar Food
25 Build-A-Bear (through 2015)
32 C. Wonder
120 Chico’s (through 2017)
200 Children’s Place (through 2017)
17 Christopher & Banks
70 Coach (fiscal 2015)
70 Coco’s /Carrows
300 Deb Shops
340 Dollar Tree/Family Dollar
39 Einstein Bros. Bagels
50 Express (through 2015)
31 Frederick’s of Hollywood
50 Fresh & Easy Grocey Stores
65 Future Shop (Best Buy Canada)
54 Golf Galaxy (by 2016)
50 Guess (through 2015)
127 Jones New York Outlet
10 Just Baked
28 Kate Spade Saturday & Jack Spade
400 Office Depot/Office Max (by 2016)
63 Pep Boys (“in the coming years”)
100 Pier One (by 2017)
20 Pick ’n Save (by 2017)
1,784 Radio Shack
13 Ruby Tuesday
10 SpartanNash Grocery Stores
55 Staples (2015)
133 Target, Canada (bankruptcy)
31 Tiger Direct
200 Walgreens (by 2017)
10 West Marine
338 Wet Seal
80 Wolverine World Wide (2015 – Stride Rite & Keds)
So why is this happening?
Without a doubt, Internet retailing is taking a huge toll on brick and mortar stores, and this is a trend that is not going to end any time soon.
What we find is that over the past 6 months we had a tremendous drop in true discretionary consumer spending. Within the overall downtrend we do see a bit of a rally in February but quite ominously that rally failed and the bottom absolutely fell out. Again the importance is it confirms the fundamental theory that consumer spending is showing the initial signs of a severe pull back. A worrying signal to be certain as we would expect this pull back to begin impacting other areas of consumer spending. The reason is that American consumers typically do not voluntarily pull back like that on spending but do so because they have run out of credit. And if credit is running thin it will surely be felt in all spending.
The truth is that middle class U.S. consumers are tapped out. Most families are just scraping by financially from month to month. For most Americans, there simply is not a whole lot of extra money left over to go shopping with these days.
In fact, at this point approximately one out of every four Americans spend at least half of their incomes just on rent…
More than one in four Americans are spending at least half of their family income on rent – leaving little money left to purchase groceries, buy clothing or put gas in the car, new figures have revealed.
A staggering 11.25 million households consume 50 percent or more of their income on housing and utilities, according to an analysis of Census data by nonprofit firm, Enterprise Community Partners.
And 1.8 million of these households spend at least 70 percent of their paychecks on rent.
The surging cost of rental housing has affected a rising number of families since the Great Recession hit in 2007. Officials define housing costs in excess of 30 percent of income as burdensome.
For decades, the U.S. economy was powered by a free spending middle class that had plenty of discretionary income to throw around. But now that the middle class is being systematically destroyed, that paradigm is changing. Americans families simply do not have the same resources that they once did, and that spells big trouble for retailers.
As you read this article, the United States still has more retail space per person than any other nation on the planet. But as stores close by the thousands, “space available” signs are going to be popping up everywhere. This is especially going to be true in poor and lower middle class neighborhoods. Especially after what we just witnessed in Baltimore, many retailers are not going to hesitate to shut down underperforming locations in impoverished areas.
And remember, the next major economic crisis has not even arrived yet. Once it does, the business environment in this country is going to change dramatically, and a few years from now America is going to look far different than it does right now.