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12 Reasons Why The Federal Reserve May Have Just Made The Biggest Economic Mistake Since The Last Financial Crisis

Wrong Way Signs - Public DomainHas the Federal Reserve gone completely insane?  On Wednesday, the Fed raised interest rates for the second time in three months, and it signaled that more rate hikes are coming in the months ahead.  When the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, it becomes less expensive to borrow money and that tends to stimulate more economic activity.  But when the Federal Reserve raises rates , that makes it more expensive to borrow money and that tends to slow down economic activity.  So why in the world is the Fed raising rates when the U.S. economy is already showing signs of slowing down dramatically?  The following are 12 reasons why the Federal Reserve may have just made the biggest economic mistake since the last financial crisis…

#1 Just hours before the Fed announced this rate hike, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s projection for U.S. GDP growth in the first quarter fell to just 0.9 percent.  If that projection turns out to be accurate, this will be the weakest quarter of economic growth during which rates were hiked in 37 years.

#2 The flow of credit is more critical to our economy than ever before, and higher rates will mean higher interest payments on adjustable rate mortgages, auto loans and credit card debt.  Needless to say, this is going to slow the economy down substantially

The Federal Reserve decision Wednesday to lift its benchmark short-term interest rate by a quarter percentage point is likely to have a domino effect across the economy as it gradually pushes up rates for everything from mortgages and credit card rates to small business loans.

Consumers with credit card debt, adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit are the most likely to be affected by a rate hike, says Greg McBride, chief analyst at Bankrate.com. He says it’s the cumulative effect that’s important, especially since the Fed already raised rates in December 2015 and December 2016.

#3 Speaking of auto loans, the number of people that are defaulting on them had already been rising even before this rate hike by the Fed…

The number of Americans who have stopped paying their car loans appears to be increasing — a development that has the potential to send ripple effects through the US economy.

Losses on subprime auto loans have spiked in the last few months, according to Steven Ricchiuto, Mizuho’s chief US economist. They jumped to 9.1% in January, up from 7.9% in January 2016.

“Recoveries on subprime auto loans also fell to just 34.8%, the worst performance in over seven years,” he said in a note.

#4 Higher rates will likely accelerate the ongoing “retail apocalypse“, and we just recently learned that department store sales are crashing “by the most on record“.

#5 We also recently learned that the number of “distressed retailers” in the United States is now at the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

#6 We have just been through “the worst financial recovery in 65 years“, and now the Fed’s actions threaten to plunge us into a brand new crisis.

#7 U.S. consumers certainly aren’t thriving, and so an economic slowdown will hit many of them extremely hard.  In fact, about half of all Americans could not even write a $500 check for an unexpected emergency expense if they had to do so right now.

#8 The bond market is already crashing.  Most casual observers only watch stocks, but the truth is that a bond crash almost always comes before a stock market crash.  Bonds have been falling like a rock since Donald Trump’s election victory, and we are not too far away from a full-blown crisis.  If you follow my work on a regular basis you know this is a hot button issue for me, and if bonds continue to plummet I will be writing quite a bit about this in the weeks ahead.

#9 On top of everything else, we could soon be facing a new debt ceiling crisis.  The suspension of the debt ceiling has ended, and Donald Trump could have a very hard time finding the votes that he needs to raise it.  The following comes from Bloomberg

In particular, the markets seem to be ignoring two vital numbers, which together could have profound consequences for global markets: 218 and $189 billion. In order to raise or suspend the debt ceiling (which will technically be reinstated on March 16), 218 votes are needed in the House of Representatives. The Treasury’s cash balance will need to last until this happens, or the U.S. will default.

The opening cash balance this month was $189 billion, and Treasury is burning an average of $2 billion per day – with the ability to issue new debt. Net redemptions of existing debt not held by the government are running north of $100 billion a month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has acknowledged the coming deadline, encouraging Congress last week to raise the limit immediately.

If something is not done soon, the federal government could be out of cash around the beginning of the summer, and this could create a political crisis of unprecedented proportions.

#10 And even if the debt ceiling is raised, that does not mean that everything is okay.  It is being reported that U.S. government revenues just experienced their largest decline since the last financial crisis.

#11 What do corporate insiders know that the rest of us do not?  Stock purchases by corporate insiders are at the lowest level that we have seen in three decades

It’s usually a good sign when the CEO of a major company is buying shares; s/he is an insider and knows what’s going on, so their confidence is a positive sign.

Well, according to public data filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, insider buying is at its LOWEST level in THREE DECADES.

In other words, the people at the top of the corporate food chain who have privileged information about their businesses are NOT buying.

#12 A survey that was just released found that corporate executives are extremely concerned that Donald Trump’s policies could trigger a trade war

As business leaders are nearly split over the effectiveness of Washington’s new leadership, they are in unison when it comes to fears over trade and immigration. Nearly all CFOs surveyed are concerned that the Trump administration’s policies could trigger a trade war between the United States and China.

A decline in global trade could deepen the economic downturns that are already going on all over the planet.  For example, Brazil is already experiencing “its longest and deepest recession in recorded history“, and right next door people are literally starving in Venezuela.

After everything that you just read, would you say that the economy is “doing well”?

Of course not.

But after raising rates on Wednesday, that is precisely what Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told the press

“The simple message is — the economy is doing well.” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said at a news conference. “The unemployment rate has moved way down and many more people are feeling more optimistic about their labor prospects.”

However, after she was challenged with some hard economic data by a reporter, Yellen seemed to change her tune somewhat

Well, look, our policy is not set in stone. It is data- dependent and we’re — we’re not locked into any particular policy path. Our — you know, as you said, the data have not notably strengthened. I — there’s noise always in the data from quarter to quarter. But we haven’t changed our view of the outlook. We think we’re on the same path, not — we haven’t boosted the outlook, projected faster growth. We think we’re moving along the same course we’ve been on, but it is one that involves gradual tightening in the labor market.

Just like in 2008, the Federal Reserve really doesn’t understand the economic environment.  At that time, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke assured everyone that there was not going to be a recession, but when he made that statement a recession was actually already underway.

And as I have said before, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it is ultimately announced that GDP growth for the first quarter of 2017 was negative.

Whether it happens now or a bit later, the truth is that the U.S. economy is heading for a new recession, and the Federal Reserve has just given us a major shove in that direction.

Is the Fed really so clueless about the true state of the economy, or could it be possible that they are raising rates just to hurt Donald Trump?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but clearly something very strange is going on…

How The Federal Reserve Is Setting Up Trump For A Recession, A Housing Crisis And A Stock Market Crash

Janet Yellen - Public DomainMost Americans do not understand this, but the truth is that the Federal Reserve has far more power over the U.S. economy than anyone else does, and that includes Donald Trump.  Politicians tend to get the credit or the blame for how the economy is performing, but in reality it is an unelected, unaccountable panel of central bankers that is running the show, and until something is done about the Fed our long-term economic problems will never be fixed.  For an extended analysis of this point, please see this article.  In this piece, I am going to explain why the Federal Reserve is currently setting the stage for a recession, a new housing crisis and a stock market crash, and if those things happen unfortunately it will be Donald Trump that will primarily get the blame.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve is expected to hike interest rates, and there is even the possibility that they will call for an acceleration of future rate hikes

Economists generally believe the central bank’s median estimate will continue to call for three quarter-point rate increases both this year and in 2018. But there’s some risk that gets pushed to four as inflation nears the Fed’s annual 2% target and business confidence keeps juicing markets in anticipation of President Trump’s plan to cut taxes and regulations.

During the Obama years, the Federal Reserve pushed interest rates all the way to the floor, and this artificially boosted the economy.  In a recent article, Gail Tverberg explained how this works…

With falling interest rates, monthly payments can be lower, even if prices of homes and cars rise. Thus, more people can afford homes and cars, and factories are less expensive to build. The whole economy is boosted by increased “demand” (really increased affordability) for high-priced goods, thanks to the lower monthly payments.

Asset prices, such as home prices and farm prices, can rise because the reduced interest rate for debt makes them more affordable to more buyers. Assets that people already own tend to inflate, making them feel richer. In fact, owners of assets such as homes can borrow part of the increased equity, giving them more spendable income for other things. This is part of what happened leading up to the financial crash of 2008.

But the opposite is also true.

When interest rates rise, borrowing money becomes more expensive and economic activity slows down.

For the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates right now is absolutely insane.  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s most recent projection, GDP growth for the first quarter of 2017 is supposed to be an anemic 1.2 percent.  Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we actually ended up with a negative number for the first quarter.

As Donald Trump has explained in detail, the U.S. economy is a complete mess right now, and we are teetering on the brink of a new recession.

So why in the world would the Fed raise rates unless they wanted to hurt Donald Trump?

Raising rates also threatens to bring on a new housing crisis.  Interest rates were raised prior to the subprime mortgage meltdown in 2007 and 2008, and now we could see history repeat itself.  When rates go higher, it becomes significantly more difficult for families to afford mortgage payments

The rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage reached its all-time low in November 2012, at just 3.31%. As of this week, it was 4.21%, and by the end of 2018, it could go as high as 5.5%, forecasts Matthew Pointon, a property economist for Capital Economics.

He points out that for a homeowner with a $250,000 mortgage fixed at 3.8%, annual payments are $14,000. If that homeowner moved to a similarly-priced home but had a 5.5% rate, their annual payments would rise by $3,000 a year, to $17,000.

Of course stock investors do not like rising rates at all either.  Stocks tend to rise in low rate environments such as we have had for the past several years, and they tend to fall in high rate environments.

And according to CNBC, a “coming stock market correction” could be just around the corner…

Investors are in for a rude awakening about a coming stock market correction — most just don’t know it yet. No one knows when the crash will come or what will cause it — and no one can. But what’s worse for most investors is they have no clue how much they stand to lose when it inevitably happens.

“If you look at the market historically, we have had, on average, a crash about every eight to 10 years, and essentially the average loss is about 42 percent,” said Kendrick Wakeman, CEO of financial technology and investment analytics firm FinMason.

If stocks start to fall, how low could they ultimately go?

One technical analyst that has a stunning record of predicting short-term stock market declines in recent years is saying that the Dow could potentially drop “by more than 6,000 points to 14,800”

But if the technical stars collide, as one chartist predicts, the blue-chip gauge could soon plunge by more than 6,000 points to 14,800. That’s nearly 30% lower, based on Friday’s close.

Sandy Jadeja, chief market strategist at Master Trading Strategies, claims several predicted stock market crashes to his name — all of them called days, or even weeks, in advance. (He told CNBC viewers, for example, that the August 2015 “Flash Crash” was coming 18 days before it hit.) He’s also made prescient calls on gold and crude oil.

And he’s extremely concerned about what this year could bring for investors. “The timeline is rapidly approaching” for the next potential Dow meltdown, said Jadeja, who shares his techniques via workshops and seminars.

Most big stock market crashes tend to happen in the fall, and that is what I portray in my novel, but the truth is that they can literally happen at any time.  If you have not seen my recent rant about how ridiculously overvalued stocks are at this moment in history, you can find it right here.  Whether you want to call it a “crash”, a “correction”, or something else, the truth is that a major downturn is coming for stocks and the only question is when it will strike.

And when things start to get bad, most of the blame will be dumped on Trump, but it won’t primarily be his fault.

It was the Federal Reserve that created this massive financial bubble, and they will also be responsible for popping it.  Hopefully we can get the American people to understand how these things really work so that accountability for what is coming can be placed where it belongs.

We Are Being Set Up For Higher Interest Rates, A Major Recession And A Giant Stock Market Crash

bear-market-bull-market-public-domainSince Donald Trump’s victory on election night we have seen the worst bond crash in 15 years.  Global bond investors have seen trillions of dollars of wealth wiped out since November 8th, and analysts are warning of another tough week ahead.  The general consensus in the investing community is that a Trump administration will mean much higher inflation, and as a result investors are already starting to demand higher interest rates.  Unfortunately for all of us, history has shown that higher interest rates always cause an economic slowdown.  And this makes perfect sense, because economic activity naturally slows down when it becomes more expensive to borrow money.  The Obama administration had already set up the next president for a major recession anyway, but now this bond crash threatens to bring it on sooner rather than later.

For those that are not familiar with the bond market, when yields go up bond prices go down.  And when bond prices go down, that is bad news for economic growth.

So we generally don’t want yields to go up.

Unfortunately, yields have been absolutely soaring over the past couple of weeks, and the yield on 10 year Treasury notes has now jumped “one full percentage point since July”

The 10-year Treasury yield jumped to 2.36% in late trading on Friday, the highest since December 2015, up 66 basis point since the election, and up one full percentage point since July!

The 10-year yield is at a critical juncture. In terms of reality, the first thing that might happen is a rate increase by the Fed in December, after a year of flip-flopping. A slew of post-election pronouncements by Fed heads – including Yellen’s “relatively soon” – have pushed the odds of a rate hike to 98%.

As I noted the other day, so many things in our financial system are tied to yields on U.S. Treasury notes.  Just look at what is happening to mortgages.  As Wolf Richter has noted, the average rate on 30 year mortgages is shooting into the stratosphere…

The carnage in bonds has consequences. The average interest rate of the a conforming 30-year fixed mortgage as of Friday was quoted at 4.125% for top credit scores. That’s up about 0.5 percentage point from just before the election, according to Mortgage News Daily. It put the month “on a short list of 4 worst months in more than a decade.”

If mortgage rates continue to shoot higher, there will be another housing crash.

Rates on auto loans, credit cards and student loans will also be affected.  Throughout our economic system it will become much more costly to borrow money, and that will inevitably slow the overall economy down.

Why bond investors are so on edge these days is because of statements such as this one from Steve Bannon

In a nascent administration that seems, at best, random in its beliefs, Bannon can seem to be not just a focused voice, but almost a messianic one:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

Steve Bannon is going to be one of the most influential voices in the new Trump administration, and he is absolutely determined to get this “trillion dollar infrastructure plan” through Congress.

And that is going to mean a lot more borrowing and a lot more spending for a government that is already on pace to add 2.4 trillion dollars to the national debt this fiscal year.

Sadly, all of this comes at a time when the U.S. economy is already starting to show significant signs of slowing down.  It is being projected that we will see a sixth straight decline in year-over-year earnings for the S&P 500, and industrial production has now contracted for 14 months in a row.

The truth is that the economy has been barely treading water for quite some time now, and it isn’t going to take much to push us over the edge.  The following comes from Lance Roberts

With an economy running at below 2%, consumers already heavily indebted, wage growth weak for the bulk of American’s, there is not a lot of wiggle room for policy mistakes.

Combine weak economics with higher interest rates, which negatively impacts consumption, and a stronger dollar, which weighs on exports, and you have a real potential of a recession occurring sooner rather than later.

Yes, the stock market soared immediately following Trump’s election, but it wasn’t because economic conditions actually improved.

If you look at history, a stock market crash almost always follows a major bond crash.  So if bond prices keep declining rapidly that is going to be a very ominous sign for stock traders.

And history has also shown us that no bull market can survive a major recession.  If the economy suffers a major downturn early in the Trump administration, it is inevitable that stock prices will follow.

The waning days of the Obama administration have set us up perfectly for higher interest rates, a major recession and a giant stock market crash.

Of course any problems that occur after January 20th, 2017 will be blamed on Trump, but the truth is that Obama will be far more responsible for what happens than Trump will be.

Right now so many people have been lulled into a sense of complacency because Donald Trump won the election.

That is an enormous mistake.

A shaking has already begun in the financial world, and this shaking could easily become an avalanche.

Now is not a time to party.  Rather, it is time to batten down the hatches and to prepare for very rough seas ahead.

All of the things that so many experts warned were coming may have been delayed slightly, but without a doubt they are still on the way.

So get prepared while you still can, because time is running out.

The $23 Trillion Credit Bubble In China Is Starting To Collapse – Global Financial Crisis Next?

Bubble - Photo by Jeff KubinaDid you know that financial institutions all over the world are warning that we could see a “mega default” on a very prominent high-yield investment product in China on January 31st?  We are being told that this could lead to a cascading collapse of the shadow banking system in China which could potentially result in “sky-high interest rates” and “a precipitous plunge in credit“.  In other words, it could be a “Lehman Brothers moment” for Asia.  And since the global financial system is more interconnected today than ever before, that would be very bad news for the United States as well.  Since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, the level of private domestic credit in China has risen from $9 trillion to an astounding $23 trillion.  That is an increase of $14 trillion in just a little bit more than 5 years.  Much of that “hot money” has flowed into stocks, bonds and real estate in the United States.  So what do you think is going to happen when that bubble collapses?

The bubble of private debt that we have seen inflate in China since the Lehman crisis is unlike anything that the world has ever seen.  Never before has so much private debt been accumulated in such a short period of time.  All of this debt has helped fuel tremendous economic growth in China, but now a whole bunch of Chinese companies are realizing that they have gotten in way, way over their heads.  In fact, it is being projected that Chinese companies will pay out the equivalent of approximately a trillion dollars in interest payments this year alone.  That is more than twice the amount that the U.S. government will pay in interest in 2014.

Over the past several years, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England have all been criticized for creating too much money.  But the truth is that what has been happening in China surpasses all of their efforts combined.  You can see an incredible chart which graphically illustrates this point right here.  As the Telegraph pointed out a while back, the Chinese have essentially “replicated the entire U.S. commercial banking system” in just five years…

Overall credit has jumped from $9 trillion to $23 trillion since the Lehman crisis. “They have replicated the entire U.S. commercial banking system in five years,” she said.

The ratio of credit to GDP has jumped by 75 percentage points to 200pc of GDP, compared to roughly 40 points in the US over five years leading up to the subprime bubble, or in Japan before the Nikkei bubble burst in 1990. “This is beyond anything we have ever seen before in a large economy. We don’t know how this will play out. The next six months will be crucial,” she said.

As with all other things in the financial world, what goes up must eventually come down.

And right now January 31st is shaping up to be a particularly important day for the Chinese financial system.  The following is from a Reuters article

The trust firm responsible for a troubled high-yield investment product sold through China’s largest banks has warned investors they may not be repaid when the 3 billion-yuan ($496 million)product matures on Jan. 31, state media reported on Friday.

Investors are closely watching the case to see if it will shatter assumptions that the government and state-owned banks will always protect investors from losses on risky off-balance-sheet investment products sold through a murky shadow banking system.

If there is a major default on January 31st, the effects could ripple throughout the entire Chinese financial system very rapidly.  A recent Forbes article explained why this is the case…

A WMP default, whether relating to Liansheng or Zhenfu, could devastate the Chinese banking system and the larger economy as well.  In short, China’s growth since the end of 2008 has been dependent on ultra-loose credit first channeled through state banks, like ICBC and Construction Bank, and then through the WMPs, which permitted the state banks to avoid credit risk.  Any disruption in the flow of cash from investors to dodgy borrowers through WMPs would rock China with sky-high interest rates or a precipitous plunge in credit, probably both.  The result?  The best outcome would be decades of misery, what we saw in Japan after its bubble burst in the early 1990s.

The big underlying problem is the fact that private debt and the money supply have both been growing far too rapidly in China.  According to Forbes, M2 in China increased by 13.6 percent last year…

And at the same time China’s money supply and credit are still expanding.  Last year, the closely watched M2 increased by only 13.6%, down from 2012’s 13.8% growth.  Optimists say China is getting its credit addiction under control, but that’s not correct.  In fact, credit expanded by at least 20% last year as money poured into new channels not measured by traditional statistics.

Overall, M2 in China is up by about 1000 percent since 1999.  That is absolutely insane.

And of course China is not the only place in the world where financial trouble signs are erupting.  Things in Europe just keep getting worse, and we have just learned that the largest bank in Germany just suffered ” a surprise fourth-quarter loss”

Deutsche Bank shares tumbled on Monday following a surprise fourth-quarter loss due to a steep drop in debt trading revenues and heavy litigation and restructuring costs that prompted the bank to warn of a challenging 2014.

Germany’s biggest bank said revenue at its important debt-trading division, fell 31 percent in the quarter, a much bigger drop than at U.S. rivals, which have also suffered from sluggish fixed-income trading.

If current trends continue, many other big banks will soon be experiencing a “bond headache” as well.  At this point, Treasury Bond sentiment is about the lowest that it has been in about 20 years.  Investors overwhelmingly believe that yields are heading higher.

If that does indeed turn out to be the case, interest rates throughout our economy are going to be rising, economic activity will start slowing down significantly and it could set up the “nightmare scenario” that I keep talking about.

But I am not the only one talking about it.

In fact, the World Economic Forum is warning about the exact same thing…

Fiscal crises triggered by ballooning debt levels in advanced economies pose the biggest threat to the global economy in 2014, a report by the World Economic Forum has warned.

Ahead of next week’s WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the forum’s annual assessment of global dangers said high levels of debt in advanced economies, including Japan and America, could lead to an investor backlash.

This would create a “vicious cycle” of ballooning interest payments, rising debt piles and investor doubt that would force interest rates up further.

So will a default event in China on January 31st be the next “Lehman Brothers moment” or will it be something else?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  The truth is that what has been going on in the global financial system is completely and totally unsustainable, and it is inevitable that it is all going to come horribly crashing down at some point during the next few years.

It is just a matter of time.

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