The Beginning Of The End
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Has The Next Recession Already Begun For America’s Middle Class?

RecessionHas the next major economic downturn already started?  The way that you would answer that question would probably depend on where you live.  If you live in New York City, or the suburbs of Washington D.C., or you work for one of the big tech firms in the San Francisco area, you would probably respond to such a question by saying of course not.  In those areas, the economy is doing great and prices for high end homes are still booming.  But in most of the rest of the nation, evidence continues to mount that the next recession has already begun for the poor and the middle class.  As you will read about below, major retailers had an absolutely dreadful start to 2014 and home sales are declining just as they did back in 2007 before the last financial crisis.  Meanwhile, the U.S. economy continues to lose more good jobs and 20 percent of all U.S. families do not have a single member that is employed at this point.  2014 is turning out to be eerily similar to 2007 in so many ways, but most people are not paying attention.

During the first quarter of 2014, earnings by major U.S. retailers missed estimates by the biggest margin in 13 years.  The “retail apocalypse” continues to escalate, and the biggest reason for this is the fact that middle class consumers in the U.S. are tapped out.  And this is not just happening to a few retailers – this is something that is happening across the board.  The following is a summary of how major U.S. retailers performed in the first quarter of 2014 that was put together by Jim Quinn

Wal-Mart Profit Plunges By $220 Million as US Store Traffic Declines by 1.4%

Target Profit Plunges by $80 Million, 16% Lower Than 2013, as Store Traffic Declines by 2.3%

Sears Loses $358 Million in First Quarter as Comparable Store Sales at Sears Plunge by 7.8% and Sales at Kmart Plunge by 5.1%

JC Penney Thrilled With Loss of Only $358 Million For the Quarter

Kohl’s Operating Income Plunges by 17% as Comparable Sales Decline by 3.4%

Costco Profit Declines by $84 Million as Comp Store Sales Only Increase by 2%

Staples Profit Plunges by 44% as Sales Collapse and Closing Hundreds of Stores

Gap Income Drops 22% as Same Store Sales Fall

American Eagle Profits Tumble 86%, Will Close 150 Stores

Aeropostale Losses $77 Million as Sales Collapse by 12%

Best Buy Sales Decline by $300 Million as Margins Decline and Comparable Store Sales Decline by 1.3%

Macy’s Profit Flat as Comparable Store Sales decline by 1.4%

Dollar General Profit Plummets by 40% as Comp Store Sales Decline by 3.8%

Urban Outfitters Earnings Collapse by 20% as Sales Stagnate

McDonalds Earnings Fall by $66 Million as US Comp Sales Fall by 1.7%

Darden Profit Collapses by 30% as Same Restaurant Sales Plunge by 5.6% and Company Selling Red Lobster

TJX Misses Earnings Expectations as Sales & Earnings Flat

Dick’s Misses Earnings Expectations as Golf Store Sales Plummet

Home Depot Misses Earnings Expectations as Customer Traffic Only Rises by 2.2%

Lowes Misses Earnings Expectations as Customer Traffic was Flat

That is quite a startling list.

But plummeting retail sales are not the only sign that the U.S. middle class is really struggling right now.  Home sales have also been extremely disappointing for quite a few months.  This is how Wolf Richter described what we have been witnessing…

This is precisely what shouldn’t have happened but was destined to happen: Sales of existing homes have gotten clobbered since last fall. At first, the Fiscal Cliff and the threat of a US government default – remember those zany times? – were blamed, then polar vortices were blamed even while home sales in California, where the weather had been gorgeous all winter, plunged more than elsewhere.

Then it spread to new-home sales: in April, they dropped 4.7% from a year ago, after March’s year-over-year decline of 4.9%, and February’s 2.8%. Not a good sign: the April hit was worse than February’s, when it was the weather’s fault. Yet April should be the busiest month of the year (excellent brief video by Lee Adler on this debacle).

We have already seen that in some markets, in California for example, sales have collapsed at the lower two-thirds of the price range, with the upper third thriving. People who earn median incomes are increasingly priced out of the market, and many potential first-time buyers have little chance of getting in. In San Diego, for example, sales of homes below $200,000 plunged 46% while the upper end is doing just fine.

As Richter noted, sales of upper end homes are still doing fine in many areas.

But how long will that be able to continue if things continue to get even worse for the poor and the middle class?  Traditionally, the U.S. economy has greatly depended upon consumer spending by the middle class.  If that continues to dry up, how long can we avoid falling into a recession?  For even more numbers that seem to indicate economic trouble for the middle class, please see my previous article entitled “27 Huge Red Flags For The U.S. Economy“.

Other analysts are expressing similar concerns.  For example, check out what John Williams of shadowstats.com had to say during one recent interview

We’re turning down anew. The first quarter should revise into negative territory… and I believe the second quarter will report negative as well.

That will all happen by July 30 when you have the annual revisions to the GDP. In reality the economy is much weaker than that. Economic growth is overstated with the GDP because they understate inflation, which is used in deflating the number…

What we’re seeing now is just… we’ve been barely stagnant and bottomed out… but we’re turning down again.

The reason for this is that the consumer is strapped… doesn’t have the liquidity to fuel the growth in consumption.

Income… the median household income, net of inflation, is as low as it was in 1967. The average guy is not staying ahead of inflation…

This has been a problem now for decades… You were able to buy consumption from the future by borrowing more money, expanding your debt. Greenspan saw the problem was income, so he encouraged debt expansion.

That all blew apart in 2007/2008… the income problems have continued, but now you don’t have the ability to borrow money the way you used to. Without that and the income problems remaining, there’s no way that consumption can grow faster than inflation if income isn’t.

As a result – personal consumption is more than two thirds of the economy – there’s no way you can have positive sustainable growth in the U.S. economy without the consumer being healthy.

The key to the health of the middle class is having plenty of good jobs.

But the U.S. economy continues to lose more good paying jobs.

For example, Hewlett-Packard has just announced that it plans to eliminate 16,000 more jobs in addition to the 34,000 job cuts that have already been announced.

Today, there are 27 million more working age Americans that do not have a job than there were in 2000, and the quality of our jobs continues to decline.

This is absolutely destroying the middle class.  Unless the employment situation in this country starts to turn around, there does not seem to be much hope that the middle class will recover any time soon.

Meanwhile, there are emerging signs of trouble for the wealthy as well.

For instance, just like we witnessed back in 2007, things are starting to look a bit shaky at the “too big to fail” banks.  The following is an excerpt from a recent CNBC report

Citigroup has joined the ranks of those with trading troubles, as a high-ranking official told the Deutsche Bank 2014 Global Financial Services Investor Conference Tuesday that adjusted trading revenue probably will decline 20 percent to 25 percent in the second quarter on an annualized basis.

“People are uncertain,” Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach said of investor behavior, according to an account from the Wall Street Journal. “There just isn’t a lot of movement.”

In recent weeks, officials at JPMorgan Chase and Barclays also both reported likely drops in trading revenue. JPMorgan said it expected a decline of 20 percent of the quarter, while Barclays anticipates a 41 percent drop, prompting it to announce mass layoffs that will pare 19,000 jobs by the end of 2016.

Remember, very few people expected a recession the last time around either.  In fact, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke repeatedly promised us that we would not have a recession and then we went on to experience the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

It will be the same this time as well.  Just like in 2007, we will continue to get an endless supply of “hopetimism” from our politicians and the mainstream media, and they will continue to fill our heads with visions of rainbows, unicorns and economic prosperity for as far as the eyes can see.

But then the next recession will strike and most Americans will be completely blindsided by it.

The Financial Crisis Of 2008 Was Just A Warm Up Act For The Economic Horror Show That Is Coming

The people out there that believe that the U.S. economy is experiencing a permanent recovery and that very bright days are ahead for us should have their heads examined.  Unfortunately, what we are going through right now is simply just a period of “hopetimism” between two financial crashes.  Things may seem relatively stable right now, but it won’t last long.  The truth is that the financial crisis of 2008 was just a warm up act for the economic horror show that is coming.  Nothing really got fixed after the crash of 2008.  We are living in the biggest debt bubble in the history of the world, and it has gotten even bigger since then.  The “too big to fail” banks are larger now than they have ever been.  Americans continue to run up credit card balances like there is no tomorrow.  Tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities and millions of jobs continue to leave the country.  We continue to consume far more than we produce and we continue to become poorer as a nation.  None of the problems that caused the crisis of 2008 have been solved and we are even weaker financially than we were back then.  So why in the world are so many people so optimistic about the economy right now?

Just take a look at the chart posted below.  It shows the growth of total debt in the United States.  During the financial crisis of 2008 there was a little “hiccup”, but the truth is that not much deleveraging really took place at all.  And since the recession “ended”, total credit market debt has gone on to even greater heights….

So what does this mean for the future?

Well, if a small “hiccup” in the debt bubble caused so much chaos back in 2008, what is going to happen when this debt bubble finally bursts?

That is something to think about.

Sadly, most Americans seem oblivious to all of this.

If you go out to malls in the wealthy areas of America today, people are charging up a storm.  In all, Americans charged a whopping 2.5 trillion dollars on their credit cards during 2011.  Way too many people have already forgotten the lessons that we all learned back in 2008.

Of course some Americans pay off their credit cards every month, but way too many Americans are not doing that.  Today, Americans are carrying 793 billion dollars in revolving credit balances.

And student loan debt is an even bigger bubble than credit card debt is.  As I have written about previously, total student loan debt in America is rapidly approaching a trillion dollars.

So it looks like U.S. consumers have not learned to stay away from debt.

That is not good.

Well, what about the banks?

Has the financial system learned any lessons since 2008?

No, not really.

Sadly, the “too big to fail” banks are now even bigger than ever.  The total assets of the six largest U.S. banks increased by 39 percent between September 30, 2006 and September 30, 2011.  If they were to fail today, they would be even more of a threat to our financial system than they were back in 2008.

And our major banks continue to be very highly leveraged.  In fact, major banks all over the world are absolutely swamped with debt.

The following statistics come from Zero Hedge….

The U.S. banking system is leveraged 13 to 1.

The Japanese banking system is leveraged 23 to 1.

The French banking system is leveraged 26 to 1.

The German banking system is leveraged 32 to 1.

These are insane levels of leverage, and they are just inviting another major financial crisis.

Do you all remember Lehman Brothers?  The fact that they were leveraged so highly is what did them in back in 2008.  When the value of their holdings declined by just a little bit they were totally wiped out.

Well, during this next financial crisis large financial institutions are going to be wiped out all over the world.  Major banks all over the globe are going to be crying out for more bailouts when things take a turn against them.

They are making the exact same mistakes that they made before, and they are going to be expecting more government handouts when things go bad.

Will we ever learn?

So obviously the banking system has not learned any lessons.

What about the federal government?

Well, if you follow my blog regularly, you know that I love to write about how horrific U.S. government debt is.

Unfortunately, over the past four years things have gotten so much worse.

Back in 2008, the U.S. national debt crossed the 10 trillion dollar mark.

Just recently, it crossed the 15 trillion dollar mark.

So now we are in a much weaker position financially to respond to another major financial crisis.

Just check out the chart posted below.  This is a recipe for national financial suicide….

During fiscal 2011, the Obama administration stole close to 150 million dollars from our children and our grandchildren every single hour.

At the moment, the legacy of debt that we are passing on to future generations is sitting a grand total of $15,351,406,294,640.49.

But keep in mind that it is going up every single hour.

Meanwhile, our ability to service that debt is declining.  We are rapidly getting poorer as a nation.

During 2011, the amount of money that left the United States exceeded the amount of money that entered the United States by more than a half a trillion dollars.

This gap is called a trade deficit, and it is absolutely ripping our economy to shreds.

For a moment, imagine Uncle Sam standing next to a giant pile of money on a map of the United States.  Then imagine a half a trillion dollars being taken out of that pile every single year.

So why haven’t we totally run out of money yet?

Well, it is because we borrow those dollars back.  In order to maintain our false standard of living, our federal government, our state governments and our local governments have to go out and beg the rest of the world to lend us our dollars back.

Sadly, our government schools have “dumbed-down” the population so much that most of them don’t even know what a “trade deficit” is anymore.

Meanwhile, our economic infrastructure is being gutted like a fish.

Look, I know that I go over this point over and over and over, but it is absolutely imperative that we all understand this.

The half a trillion dollars a year that leaves this country every year could have gone to support businesses and jobs inside the United States.

But instead it is going to support businesses and jobs on the other side of the world.

The consequences of this are absolutely devastating.

According to U.S. Representative Betty Sutton, an average of 23 manufacturing facilities a day closed down in the United States during 2010.  Overall, more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities in the United States have shut down since 2001.

Even many so-called “American companies” have been bought up by the rest of the world.  The following comes from a recent article posted on Economy In Crisis….

RCA is now a French company, Zenith is a Korean company. Frigidaire is a Swedish company. IBM’s Personal Computer Division—with its 500 patents—is now a Chinese company. Westinghouse Nuclear Energy’s major shareholder is Toshiba—a Japanese Company. Lucent Technologies, a former research division of AT&T, along with all the patents acquired from the beginning of the phone system, is now a French company. In 2008, Brazilian-Belgian brewing company InBev purchased the iconic American brewer Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser. With the sale of these manufacturing companies, the future profit and technologies all belong to foreign entities.

We once had the greatest economic machine in the history of the world.

Now it is being dismantled and bought up by foreigners.

When America’s economic infrastructure declines, that means that there are less jobs available for all of us.

As I wrote about the other day, the employment situation in this country is not getting better and we have never even come close to recovering from the recession that started back in 2008.

During 2008 and 2009, the U.S. economy lost millions of jobs.  Since the beginning of 2010, the percentage of the U.S. population that has had a job has remained very stable….

Normally, when a recession ends the percentage of Americans that have a job bounces back pretty dramatically.

So considering the fact that the employment situation has never recovered from the last financial crisis, what is going to happen when the next financial crisis hits?

And most of the jobs that have been “created” during this so-called “recovery” have been low income jobs.  In fact, if you look closely at the employment numbers that were released last Friday, you will find that the vast majority of the “new jobs” were part-time jobs.

But you cannot pay a mortgage and support a family on a part-time job.

Sadly, the truth is that median household income in America has been steadily dropping over the past several years.  Tens of millions of American families are deeply struggling and more Americans than ever are falling into poverty.

Back in the year 2000, about one out of every nine Americans was living in poverty.  Today, about one out of every seven Americans is living in poverty.

All of this is causing a great deal of anxiety in America today.  Large numbers of Americans know that something has fundamentally changed, even if they don’t understand the specifics.  That is one reason why sites such as this one have become so popular.  People want some answers.

And once people get some answers about what is really happening, they tend to want to prepare for the hard times that are coming.

In a few days, a new series on National Geographic entitled “Doomsday Preppers” premieres.  The mainstream media is starting to take notice of the growing “prepper” movement in America today.  It is estimated that there are at least 2 million “preppers” in the United States at this point.  Of course people are “prepping” for a whole host of reasons, but the number one concern among most groups of preppers is the economy.

As the economy crumbles, more Americans than ever have decided that it is not a good thing to be 100% dependent on the system.

Back in 2008 and 2009, millions of Americans suddenly lost their jobs.  Because they did not have any finances stored up, large numbers of them also lost their homes.  Many went from being solidly middle class to being out on the street in a matter of months.

That doesn’t have to happen to you.  Instead of blowing your money on frivolous things, do what you can to set something aside for the difficult times that are on the horizon.

A lot of those “in the know” are quietly making their own preparations.  For example, legendary film director James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic and Terminator) has purchased more than 2600 acres of farmland in New Zealand and he is getting out of the U.S. for good apparently.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have the resources for something like that.  But what most of us can do is we can change our priorities and start focusing on the things that will help us survive the hard times that are coming.

So are you ready?

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