If The Economy Is Fine, Why Are So Many Hedge Funds, Energy Companies And Large Retailers Imploding?

Demolition - Public DomainIf 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…

-Cabot Oil & Gas down 37.27 percent over the past 12 months

-Southwestern Energy down 68.11 percent over the past 12 months

-Chesapeake Energy down 73.98 percent over the past 12 months

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.

We are also seeing tremendous turmoil in the retail industry.  The following comes from Investment Research Dynamics

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…

Retail Sales Ex-Autos

But stocks went up 247 points on Wednesday so everything must be great, right?

Wrong.

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.

Even though it is taking a bit longer than many would have anticipated, the truth is that we are right on track for a massive financial collapse.

All of the indicators that I watch are flashing red, and even though things are moving slowly, they are definitely moving in the same direction that we saw in 2008.

But just like in 2008, there will be people that mock the warnings up until the day when it becomes completely and utterly apparent that the mockers were dead wrong.

 

20 Facts About The Great U.S. Retail Apocalypse That Will Blow Your Mind

Abandoned Mall - Photo by Justin CozartIf the U.S. economy is getting better, then why are major retail chains closing thousands of stores?  If we truly are in an “economic recovery”, then why do sales figures continue to go down for large retailers all over the country?  Without a doubt, the rise of Internet retailing giants such as Amazon.com have had a huge impact.  Today, there are millions of Americans that actually prefer to shop online.  Personally, when I published my novel I made it solely available on Amazon.  But Internet shopping alone does not account for the great retail apocalypse that we are witnessing.  In fact, some retail experts estimate that the Internet has accounted for only about 20 percent of the decline that we are seeing.  Most of the rest of it can be accounted for by the slow, steady death of the middle class U.S. consumer.  Median household income has declined for five years in a row, but all of our bills just keep going up.  That means that the amount of disposable income that average Americans have continues to shrink, and that is really bad news for retailers.

And sadly, this is just the beginning.  Retail experts are projecting that the pace of store closings will actually accelerate over the course of the next decade.

So as you read this list below, please take note that things will soon get even worse.

The following are 20 facts about the great U.S. retail apocalypse that will blow your mind…

#1 As you read this article, approximately a billion square feet of retail space is sitting vacant in the United States.

#2 Last week, Radio Shack announced that it was going to close more than a thousand stores.

#3 Last week, Staples announced that it was going to close 225 stores.

#4 Same-store sales at Office Depot have declined for 13 quarters in a row.

#5 J.C. Penney has been dying for years, and it recently announced plans to close 33 more stores.

#6 J.C. Penney lost 586 million dollars during the second quarter of 2013 alone.

#7 Sears has closed about 300 stores since 2010, and CNN is reporting that Sears is “expected to shutter another 500 Sears and Kmart locations soon”.

#8 Overall, sales numbers have declined at Sears for 27 quarters in a row.

#9 Target has announced that it is going to eliminate 475 jobs and not fill 700 positions that are currently empty.

#10 It is being projected that Aéropostale will close about 175 stores over the next couple of years.

#11 Macy’s has announced that it is going to be closing five stores and eliminating 2,500 jobs.

#12 The Children’s Place has announced that it will be closing down 125 of its “weakest” stores by 2016.

#13 Best Buy recently shut down about 50 stores up in Canada.

#14 Video rental giant Blockbuster has completely shut down all of their stores.

#15 It is being projected that sales at U.S. supermarkets will decline by 1.7 percent this year even as the overall population continues to grow.

#16 McDonald’s has reported that sales at established U.S. locations were down 3.3 percent in January.

#17 A home appliance chain known as “American TV” in the Midwest is going to be shutting down all 11 stores.

#18 Even Wal-Mart is struggling right now.  Just check out what one very prominent Wal-Mart executive recently admitted

David Cheesewright, CEO of Walmart International was speaking at the same presentation, and he pointed out that Walmart would try to protect its market share in the US – where the company had just issued an earnings warning. But most of the growth would have to come from its units outside the US. I mean, via these share buybacks?

Alas, outside the US too, economies were limping along at best, and consumers were struggling and the operating environment was tough. “We’re seeing economies under stress pretty much everywhere we operate,” Cheesewright admitted.

#19 In a recent CNBC article entitled “Time to close Wal-Mart stores? Analysts think so“, it was recommended that Wal-Mart should close approximately 100 “underperforming” supercenters in rural locations across America.

#20 Retail consultant Howard Davidowitz is projecting that up to half of all shopping malls in America may shut down within the next 15 to 20 years

Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America’s shopping malls to fail. He predicts that only upscale shopping centers with anchors like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus will survive.

So is there any hope that things will turn around?

Well, if the U.S. economy started producing large numbers of good paying middle class jobs there would definitely be cause for optimism.

Unfortunately, that is just not happening.

On Friday, we were told that the U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs during the month of February.

That sounds pretty good until you realize that it takes almost that many jobs each month just to keep up with population growth.

And according to CNS News, the number of unemployed Americans actually grew faster than the number of employed Americans in February…

The number of unemployed individuals 16 years and over increased by 223,000 in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In February, there were 10,459,000 unemployed individuals age 16 and over, which was up 223,000 from January, when there were 10,236,000 unemployed individuals.

Meanwhile, the labor force participation rate continues to sit at a 35 year low, and a staggering 70 percent of all Americans not in the labor force are below the age of 55.

That is outrageous.

And things look particularly depressing when you look at the labor force participation rate for men by themselves.

In 1950, the labor force participation rate for men was sitting at about 87 percent.  Today, it has dropped beneath 70 percent to a brand new all-time record low.

The truth is that there simply are not enough jobs for everyone anymore.

The chart posted below shows how the percentage of working age Americans that actually have a job has changed since the turn of the millennium.  As you can see, the employment-population ratio declined precipitously during the last recession, and it has stayed below 59 percent since late 2009…

Employment Population Ratio 2014

If we were going to have a “recovery”, we should have had one by now.

Since there are not enough jobs, what is happening is that more highly educated workers are taking the jobs that were once occupied by less educated workers and bumping them out of the labor force entirely.  The following is an excerpt from a recent Bloomberg article

Recent college graduates are ending up in more low-wage and part-time positions as it’s become harder to find education-level appropriate jobs, according to a January study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The share of Americans ages 22 to 27 with at least a bachelor’s degree in jobs that don’t require that level of education was 44 percent in 2012, up from 34 percent in 2001, the study found.

Due to the fact that there are not enough middle class jobs to go around, the middle class has been steadily shrinking.

In 2008, 53 percent of all Americans considered themselves to be “middle class”.  Today, only 44 percent of all Americans consider themselves to be “middle class”.

That is a pretty significant shift in just six years, don’t you think?

For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “28 Signs That The Middle Class Is Heading Toward Extinction“.

Despite what the politicians and the mainstream media are telling you, the truth is that something is fundamentally wrong with our economy.

On a gut level, most people realize this.

According to one recent survey, only 35 percent of all Americans say that they are better off financially than they were a year ago.  And according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 28 percent of all Americans believe that this country is moving in the right direction.

The frightening thing is that this is about as good as things are going to get.  The next great wave of the economic collapse is approaching, and when it strikes the plight of the middle class is going to get a whole lot worse.

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