Economic Activity Is Slowing Down Much Faster Than The Experts Anticipated

Locomotive - Public DomainWe have not seen global economic activity fall off this rapidly since the great recession of 2008.  Manufacturing activity is imploding all over the planet, global trade is slowing down at a pace that is extremely alarming, and the Baltic Dry Index just hit another brand new all-time record low.  If the “real economy” consists of people making, selling and shipping stuff, then it is in incredibly bad shape.  Here in the United States, the dismal economic numbers continue to stun all of the experts.  For example, on Monday we learned that the Texas general business activity index just hit a six year low

Economic activity in Texas keeps getting worse.

The general business activity index out Monday from the Dallas Federal Reserve for January was -34.6, a six-year low and much worse than economists had expected.

The forecast for the monthly index was -14, following a December reading of -21.6 (revised from -20.1) that was also worse than expected.

One could perhaps argue that this is to be expected in Texas because of the collapse in the price of oil.

But what about the very unusual things that we are seeing in other areas of the country?  In Erwin, Tennessee, a rail terminal that had been continuously operating for 135 years was just permanently shut down, and hundreds of workers now find themselves without a job

The last coal train to leave Erwin rolled slowly out of town just after at 3 p.m. Thursday, less than eight hours after CSX Transportation employees heard the news that rocked all of Unicoi County.

“Its a hard pill to swallow,”  county Mayor Greg Lynch said. “Of course, we heard rumors that something was coming down. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine they would just shut down and leave town.”

CSX delivered the news of its decision to immediately close Erwin’s 175-acre rail yard and abruptly end the employment of the facility’s 300 workers in a series of meetings with employees conducted at the start of their morning shifts.

It has been said that if you want to know what is really happening with the U.S. economy, just watch the railroads.

And right now, rail traffic all over the nation is falling to depressingly low levels.

One of Steve Quayle’s readers says that rail traffic in Colorado has slowed down so much that hundreds of engines are just sitting there on the tracks

With regard to the train freight article this morning, we have in Grand Junction, CO., literally hundreds of engines sidelined on the tracks. They are three deep on some tracks and easily number over 250. I have never seen this many engines on the tracks before and I feel this is just another indicator of the slowdown in shipping.

In case you are tempted to think that this is just anecdotal evidence, I want you to consider what is happening to the largest railroad company in the United States.

According to Wolf Richter, operating revenues for Union Pacific were down 15 percent last year…

Union Pacific, the largest US railroad, reported awful fourth-quarter earnings Thursday evening. Operating revenues plummeted 15% year over year, and net income dropped 22%.

It was broad-based: The only category where revenues rose was automotive (+1%). Otherwise, revenues fell: Chemicals (-7%), Agricultural Products (-12%), Intermodal containers (-14%), Industrial Products (-23%), and Coal (-31%). Shipment of crude plunged 42%.

So Union Pacific did what American companies do best: it laid off 3,900 people last year.

And of course we can see evidence of the emerging economic slowdown all around us pretty much wherever we look.  Sprint just laid off 8 percent of its workforce, GoPro is letting go 7 percent of its workers,  and Wal-Mart just announced the closure of 269 stores.

But instead of dealing with reality, there are a lot of irrational optimists that insist that things will start bouncing back any day now.  For instance, CNBC is reporting that Goldman Sachs is forecasting that the S&P 500 will end up finishing the year back at 2,100…

Goldman, though, is sticking with its forecast that the S&P 500 will rebound and finish the year at 2,100, a rise of about 11 percent from current levels but basically no net gain for the full year.

It is easy to say something like that, but the actions of the big banks speak louder than words.

Most people don’t realize this, but several of the “too big to fail” banks laid off thousands of workers in 2015

Bank of America and Citigroup reduced headcount the most, eliminating about 20,000 staffers between them, according to fourth-quarter earnings reports from each bank. The respective moves amount to 4.6 percent and 4 percent fewer workers at the banks. JPMorgan Chase reported in its earnings that it employs 6,700 fewer workers than a year ago.

And guess what?

The “too big to fail” banks did the exact same thing just before the great stock market crash of 2008.

When are people going to finally start understanding that we have a major league crisis on our hands?

Since June 2015, approximately 15 trillion dollars of global stock market wealth has been wiped out.  After a brief respite at the end of last week, it appears that the global financial crisis is getting ready to accelerate once again.

On Monday, the price of oil dipped back under 30 dollars, the Dow was down another 208 points, and the Nikkei is currently down another 389 points in early trading.

Somewhere close to one-fifth of all global stock market wealth has already been wiped out.

We only have about four-fifths left.

But in the end, I can talk about these numbers until I am blue in the face and some people will still not get prepared.

Some people have so much faith in Barack Obama, the Federal Reserve and the mainstream media that they would literally follow them off a cliff.

By now, most of the people that believe that they should prepare for the coming crisis have already gotten prepared, and most of those that want to believe that everything is going to work out just fine somehow are never going to get prepared anyway.

What is going to happen is going to happen, and tens of millions of people are going to end up bitterly regretting not listening to the warnings when they still had the chance.

We Have Never Seen Global Trade Collapse This Dramatically Outside Of A Major Recession

Globe Interconnected - Public DomainIf 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…

Chinese Imports Chinese Exports

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.

Here are some more deeply disturbing global trade numbers that come from my previous article entitled “18 Numbers That Scream That A Crippling Global Recession Has Arrived“…

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.

Of course we have seen this happen before.  A surging dollar helped cause the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s and the major global recession of 2008 and 2009.

If you thought that the financial shaking that happened in late August was bad, the truth is that it was nothing compared to what is now heading our way.

So buckle your seat belts boys and girls, because we are definitely in for a bumpy ride.

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