Since the depths of the last recession, the price of ground beef in the United States has doubled. Has your paycheck doubled since then? Even though the Federal Reserve insists that we are in a “low inflation” environment, the government’s own numbers show that the price of ground beef has been on an unprecedented run over the past six years. In early 2009, the average price of a pound of ground beef was hovering near 2 dollars. In February, it hit a brand new all-time record high of $4.238 per pound. Even just 12 months ago, the price of ground beef was sitting at $3.555 per pound. So we are talking about a huge increase. And this hits American families where they really live. Each year, the average American consumes approximately 270 pounds of meat. The only nation in the world that eats more meat than we do is Luxembourg. If the paychecks of American workers were going up fast enough to deal with this increase, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But of course that is not happening. In an article just last week, I showed that real median household income is a couple thousand dollars lower now than it was during the depths of the last recession. The middle class is being squeezed, and we are rapidly getting to the point where burgers are going to be considered a “luxury” item.
The following chart was posted by the Economic Policy Journal on Wednesday, and it incorporates the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When I first saw it, I was rather stunned. I knew that the price of ground beef had become rather outrageous in my local grocery stores, but I had no idea just how much damage had been done over the past six years…
The biggest reason why the price of ground beef has been going up is the fact that the U.S. cattle herd has been shrinking. It shrunk seven years in a row, and on January 1st, 2014 it was the smallest that it had been since 1951.
The good news is that the decline appears to have stopped, at least for the moment. According to the Wall Street Journal, the size of the U.S. cattle herd actually increased by 1 percent last year…
The U.S. cattle herd expanded in 2014 for the first time in eight years, offering hope to consumers that beef prices could start to subside after soaring to a series of records.
The nation’s cattle supply increased 1% in the year through Jan. 1 to 89.8 million head, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Agriculture Department, reversing a steady decline fueled by prolonged drought in the southern U.S. Great Plains and industry consolidation that encouraged many ranchers to thin herds.
But an increase of 1 percent is just barely going to keep up with the official population growth rate. If you factor in illegal immigration, we are still losing ground.
And if we have another major drought in cattle country this summer, the cattle herd is going to start shrinking again.
In addition, the price of food overall has been steadily rising for years. Here is a chart that I shared the other day…
It boggles the mind that the Federal Reserve can claim that we are in a “low inflation” environment. Anyone that goes grocery shopping feels the pain of these rising prices every time that they go to the store.
In the list that I put together yesterday, I included the following statistic…
Almost half of all Americans (47 percent) do not put a single penny out of their paychecks into savings.
One of the primary reasons why so many Americans are not saving any money is because many families simply cannot save any money. Their paychecks are stagnant while the cost of living just keeps going up and up.
There simply are not enough “good jobs” out there anymore. Our economy continues to bleed middle class jobs and the competition for the jobs that remain is quite intense.
Do you know what the two most common occupations in America today are?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they are “retail sales clerk” and “cashier”.
And of course neither of those “occupations” pays even close to what is required to support a middle class family.
On average, a retail sales clerk makes $24,020 a year, and a cashier makes $20,670 a year.
Because the quality of our jobs has declined so much, there are millions of American families today in which both the mother and the father are working multiple jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet each month.
But don’t worry, the Federal Reserve says that we are nearly at “full employment“, and Barack Obama says that everything is going to be just fine.
Actually, the truth is that things are about to get a lot worse. At this point, we are even getting pessimistic numbers out of the Federal Reserve. Just this week we learned that the Fed is now projecting that economic growth for the first quarter of 2015 will be barely above zero…
We are at a turning point. The bubble of false stability that we have been living in is rapidly coming to an end, and when people start to realize that another great economic crisis is coming there is going to be a lot of panic.
And as far as food prices go, they are just going to keep taking a bigger chunk out of all of our wallets.
As high as prices are already, the truth is that your food dollars are never going to go farther than they do right now.
So let us hope for the best, but let us also get prepared for the worst.
Jim Clifton, the Chairman and CEO of Gallup, says that the percentage of Americans that are employed full-time has been hovering near record lows since the end of the last recession. But most Americans don’t realize this because the official unemployment numbers are extremely misleading. In fact, Clifton says that the official 5.6 percent unemployment rate is a “big lie”. Gallup regularly tracks the percentage of U.S. adults that are employed for 30 or more hours per week, and it is currently at 44.2 percent. It has been hovering between 42 percent and 45 percent since the end of 2009. This is extremely low. As I discussed the other day, there are 8.69 million Americans that are considered to be “officially unemployed” at this point. But there are another 92.90 million Americans that are considered to be “not in the labor force”. Millions upon millions of those Americans would work if they could. Overall, there are 101 million U.S. adults that do not have a job right now. But you won’t hear that number being discussed by the mainstream media, because it would make Barack Obama look really bad.
Most Americans just assume that the economic numbers that we are being given accurately reflect reality. That is why it is so refreshing to have men like Jim Clifton step forward and tell the truth. His recent article entitled “The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment” is making headlines all over America. The following is an extended excerpt from that article…
There’s another reason why the official rate is misleading. Say you’re an out-of-work engineer or healthcare worker or construction worker or retail manager: If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20 — maybe someone pays you to mow their lawn — you’re not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 5.6%. Few Americans know this.
Yet another figure of importance that doesn’t get much press: those working part time but wanting full-time work. If you have a degree in chemistry or math and are working 10 hours part time because it is all you can find — in other words, you are severely underemployed — the government doesn’t count you in the 5.6%. Few Americans know this.
There’s no other way to say this. The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie.
And it’s a lie that has consequences, because the great American dream is to have a good job, and in recent years, America has failed to deliver that dream more than it has at any time in recent memory. A good job is an individual’s primary identity, their very self-worth, their dignity — it establishes the relationship they have with their friends, community and country. When we fail to deliver a good job that fits a citizen’s talents, training and experience, we are failing the great American dream.
Gallup defines a good job as 30+ hours per week for an organization that provides a regular paycheck. Right now, the U.S. is delivering at a staggeringly low rate of 44%, which is the number of full-time jobs as a percent of the adult population, 18 years and older.
And Gallup is being extremely generous.
I certainly would not define a 30 hour a week job at minimum wage as a “good job”, but Gallup does.
So the truth is that the percentage of U.S. adults that do have “good jobs” is actually far lower than 44 percent.
In the video that I have posted below, there is much more from Clifton about our current employment crisis…
Pretty strong stuff.
But Clifton also understands that there is danger in speaking out like this.
For example, just check out what he told CNBC during one recent interview…
“I think that the number that comes out of BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] and the Department of Labor is very, very accurate. I need to make that very, very clear so that I don’t suddenly disappear. I need to make it home tonight.”
So why are there so few good jobs for Americans?
Well, for one thing, our control freak politicians have absolutely murdered job creation in the United States.
Traditionally, small businesses have been the primary engine of job growth for the U.S. economy. But for each of the past six years, the number of new businesses being created has been lower than the number of businesses that have died.
Prior to 2008, we had never seen this happen before in all of U.S. history.
A confluence of factors are coming together to create a perfect storm that is going to be extremely bitter for American workers.
Spending our wealth is not a path to prosperity. We have got to create wealth in order to be a prosperous nation.
But instead, we continue to buy far, far more from the rest of the world than they buy from us. We just learned that the trade deficit increased to 46.6 billion dollars in December, and the total trade deficit for the year was more than half a trillion dollars.
This is complete and utter insanity, but at this point the trade deficit is not even a political issue for either major political party anymore.
And the really bad news is that this is about as good as things are going to get for the U.S. economy. The next major economic downturn is right around the corner, and our employment crisis is going to get much, much worse once that strikes.
Already, layoffs in January were 17.6 percent higher than they were in January a year ago and businesses all over the country are shutting down following a very disappointing holiday season.
In addition, the Baltic Dry Index has dropped to stunningly low levels. In fact, it is already lower than it was at any point during the last recession. The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Mac Slavo…
The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) is used by economists and stock traders alike as a leading economic indicator because it predicts future economic activity. The index tracks in US dollars and measures global supply and demand for commodity shipments among bulk carriers including raw materials like lumber, coal, metallic ores, and grains. What makes this particular measurement so distinct from others, according to economic Howard Simmons, is that the BDI “is totally devoid of speculative content” because “people don’t book freighters unless they have cargo to move.”
On Thursday, the Baltic Dry Index was sitting at 564, That is not too far above the record low level of 554 that was established in July 1986.
So don’t be fooled by all the happy talk from the mainstream media and from politicians like Barack Obama.
They are lying to you, and their lies will soon be evident for all the world to see.
The signs of the times are everywhere – all you have to do is open up your eyes and look at them. When a pregnant woman first goes into labor, the birth pangs are usually fairly moderate and are not that close together. But as the time for delivery approaches, they become much more frequent and much more intense. Economically, what we are experiencing right now are birth pangs of the coming Great Depression. As we get closer to the crisis that is looming on the horizon, they will become even more powerful. This week, we learned that the Baltic Dry Index has fallen to the lowest level that we have seen in 29 years. The Baltic Dry Index also crashed during the financial collapse of 2008, but right now it is already lower than it was at any point during the last financial crisis. In addition, “Dr. Copper” and other industrial commodities continue to plunge. This almost always happens before we enter an economic downturn. Meanwhile, as I mentioned the other day, orders for durable goods are declining. This is also a traditional indicator that a recession is approaching. The warning signs are there – we just have to be open to what they are telling us.
And of course there are so many more parallels between past economic downturns and what is happening right now.
For example, volatility has returned to the markets in a big way. On Tuesday the Dow was down about 300 points, on Wednesday it was down another couple hundred points, and then on Thursday it was up a couple hundred points.
This is precisely how markets behave just before they crash. When markets are calm, they tend to go up. When markets get really choppy and start behaving erratically, that tells us that a big move down is usually coming.
At the same time, almost every major global currency is imploding. For much more on this, see the amazing charts in this article.
In particular, I am greatly concerned about the collapse of the euro. The Swiss would not have decoupled their currency from the euro if it was healthy. And political events in Greece are certainly not going to help things either. Economic conditions across Europe just continue to get worse, and the future of the eurozone itself is very much in doubt at this point. And if the eurozone does break up, a European economic depression is almost virtually assured – at least in the short term.
And I haven’t even mentioned the oil crash yet.
There is only one other time in all of history when the price of oil collapsed by more than 60 dollars, and that was just prior to the horrific financial crisis of 2008.
Since the last financial crisis, the oil industry has been a huge source for job growth in this country. The following is an excerpt from a recent CNN article…
The oil sector has added over a half million jobs — many of them high paying — since the recession ended in June 2009. That’s 13% of all US job growth over that period.
Now energy companies and related sectors are laying off thousands. Expect that trend to continue, bears say.
But losing good jobs is just the tip of the iceberg of this oil crisis.
At this point, the price of oil has already dropped to a catastrophically low level. The longer it stays at this level, the more damage that it is going to do. If the price of oil stays at this level for all of 2015, we are going to have a complete and total financial nightmare on our hands…
For the first time in 18 years, oil exporters are pulling liquidity out of world markets rather than putting money in. The world is now fast approaching a world reserve currency shift. If we see 8 to 12 months at these oil prices; U.S. shale industry will be wiped out. The effect on junk bonds will cascade to the rest of the stock market and U.S. economy.
…and this time there will be nothing left to catch the falling knife before it hits the American economy right in the heart. Not the FED nor the U.S. government can stop what’s coming. Liquidity will freeze up, our credit will be downgraded, the stock market will start to collapse, and then we can expect the FED to come in and hyper-inflate the dollar. This will cause the world to finish abandoning the world reserve currency in the last rungs of trade. This will be the end of the petrodollar.
Something that I have not discussed so far this year is the looming crisis in emerging market debt.
As economic problems spread around the world, a number of “emerging markets” are in danger of having their debt downgraded. And many investment funds have rules that prohibit them from holding any debt that is not “investment grade”. Therefore, we could potentially see some of these giant funds dumping massive amounts of emerging market debt if downgrades happen.
This is a really big deal. As a Business Insider article recently detailed, we could be talking about hundreds of billions of dollars…
Russia this week became the first of the major economies to lose its investment grade status from Standard & Poor’s, falling out off the top ratings category for credits deemed to have a low risk of default for the first time in a decade.
If Moody’s and Fitch follow, conservative investors barred from owning junk securities must sell their holdings. JPMorgan estimates this means they may ditch $6 billion in Russian government rouble and dollar debt.
Russia may have company. Almost $260 billion worth of sovereign and corporate bonds – nearly a tenth of outstanding emerging market (EM) debt – is in danger of being relegated to junk, according to David Spegel, head of emerging debt at BNP Paribas, who calls such credits “falling angels”.
And no article of this nature would be complete without mentioning derivatives.
As we enter the coming Great Depression, derivatives are going to play a starring role. Wall Street has been pumped full of funny money by global central banks, and our financial markets have been transformed into the greatest casino in the history of the world. When this house of cards comes crashing down, and it will, it is going to be a financial disaster unlike anything that the planet has ever seen.
The global financial system is literally booby-trapped with accidents waiting to happen owing to six consecutive years of massive money printing by nearly every central bank in the world.
Over that span, the collective balance sheet of the major central banks has soared by nearly $11 trillion, meaning that honest price discovery has been virtually destroyed. This massive “bid” for existing financial assets based on credit confected from thin air drove long-term bond yields to rock bottom levels not seen in 600 years since the Black Plague; and pinned money market costs at zero—-for 73 months running.
What is the consequence of this drastic financial repression along the entire yield curve? The answer is bond prices which keep rising regardless of credit risk, inflation or taxes; and rampant carry trade speculation that can’t get out of its own way because central banks have made the financial gamblers’ cost of goods—the “funding” cost of their trades—-essentially zero.
British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey thinks we’ve entered an economic downturn that is “likely to be remembered in a hundred years,” and central banks won’t be able to stop it.
In his Odey Asset Management investor letter dated Dec. 31, Odey writes that the shorting opportunity “looks as great as it was in 07/09.”
“My point is that we used all our monetary firepower to avoid the first downturn in 2007-09,” he writes, “so we are really at a dangerous point to try to counter the effects of a slowing China, falling commodities and EM incomes, and the ultimate First World Effects. This is the heart of the message. If economic activity far from picks up, but falters, then there will be a painful round of debt default.”
Even though most average citizens are completely oblivious to what is happening, many among the elite are heeding the warning signs and are feverishly getting prepared. As Robert Johnson told a stunned audience at the World Economic Forum the other day, they are “buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand“. They can see the horrifying storm forming on the horizon and they are preparing to get out while the getting is good.
It can be very frustrating to write about economics, because things in the financial world can take an extended period of time to play out. Sadly, most people these days have extremely short attention spans. We live in a world of iPhones, iPads, YouTube videos, Facebook updates and 48 hour news cycles. People no longer are accustomed to thinking in long-term time frames, and if something does not happen right away we tend to get bored with it.
But the economic world is not like a game of “Angry Birds”. Rather, it is very much like a game of chess.
And unfortunately for us, checkmate is right around the corner.
Nearly two-thirds of all Americans are completely and totally unprepared for the next economic crisis. As you will read about below, a new survey has found that only 38 percent of Americans have enough money on hand to cover “a $500 repair bill or a $1,000 emergency room visit”. That essentially means that 62 percent of the people in this country do not have an emergency fund. Even after the extremely bitter financial lessons that millions of Americans learned during the last recession, most of us are still choosing to live on the edge. That is utter insanity, and when the next major economic downturn strikes most people are going to find themselves totally unprepared.
The number one thing that you need to do to get ready for the coming economic collapse is to build up an emergency fund.
I know that is not the most “sexy” piece of advice in the world, but it is the truth. Just think about it. During the last recession, millions of Americans suddenly lost their jobs. Because they did not have any cushion to fall back on, millions of them also suddenly could not pay their bills and their mortgages. Foreclosures skyrocketed and countless families went from living a very comfortable middle class lifestyle to being out on the street in very short order.
And now because the people of this country have been so foolish it is going to happen again.
Because of my website, people are constantly asking me what they should do to prepare for the coming economic collapse.
I think that they expect me to say something like this…
“Sell everything that you possibly can and buy gold and silver, go purchase a llama farm, and dig a bunker where you can bury 10,000 cases of MREs.”
Not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of preparations.
But before you do anything else, you have got to have an emergency fund. My recommendation is to have an emergency fund that can cover at least six months of expenses in case something happens.
Sadly, a solid majority of Americans do not have any emergency cash at all. The following comes from the Wall Street Journal…
Only 38% of those polled said they could cover a $500 repair bill or a $1,000 emergency room visit with funds from their bank accounts, a new Bankrate report said. Most others would need to take on debt or cut back elsewhere.
“A solid majority of Americans say they have a household budget,” said Bankrate banking analyst Claes Bell. “But too few have the ability to cover expenses outside their budget without going into debt or turning to family and friends for help.”
The survey found that an unexpected bill would cause 26% to reduce spending elsewhere, while 16% would borrow from family or friends and 12% would put the expense on a credit card. The remainder didn’t know what they would do or would make other arrangements.
And of course this is not the only poll that has come up with these kinds of results. In fact, a Federal Reserve survey from last year produced similar numbers…
The findings are strikingly similar to a U.S. Federal Reserve survey of more than 4,000 adults released last year. “Savings are depleted for many households after the recession,” it found. Among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57% said they’d used up some or all of their savings in the Great Recession and its aftermath. What’s more, only 39% of respondents reported having a “rainy day” fund adequate to cover three months of expenses and only 48% of respondents said that they would completely cover a hypothetical emergency expense costing $400 without selling something or borrowing money.
Meanwhile, the financial condition of most American families is far worse than it was just prior to the last major economic crisis. As a recent MarketWatch article detailed, the average family currently has far less wealth than it did back then…
But while the jobs market is improving and the Affordable Care Act has given an estimated 15 million people access to medical care, the Great Recession does appear to have taken its toll on Americans’ finances; in fact, they’re 40% poorer today than they were in 2007. The net worth of American families — that is, the difference between the values of their assets, including homes and investments, and liabilities — fell to $81,400 in 2013, down slightly from $82,300 in 2010, but a long way off the $135,700 in 2007, according to a report released last month by the nonprofit think tank Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.
So we have a lot less wealth, and almost two-thirds of us have no emergency cushion to fall back on whatsoever.
What could go wrong?
In addition, there is lots of evidence that much of the country has not bothered to make any preparations at all for even a basic emergency that would last for just a few days. For example, the following are results from a survey conducted by the Adelphi Center for Health Innovation that I featured in a previous article…
44 percent don’t have first-aid kits
48 percent lack emergency supplies
53 percent do not have a minimum three-day supply of nonperishable food and water at home
55 percent believe local authorities will come to their rescue if disaster strikes
52 percent have not designated a family meeting place if they are separated during an emergency
42 percent do not know the phone numbers of all of their immediate family members
21 percent don’t know if their workplace has an emergency preparedness plan
37 percent do not have a list of the drugs they are taking
52 percent do not have copies of health insurance documents
What are all of those people going to do if there is an extended crisis or disaster in this nation?
That is a very good question.
Meanwhile, the signs that we are on the verge of the next major economic crisis just continue to grow. Yesterday, I shared 10 things that happened just prior to the financial crisis of 2008 that are happening again right now.
Today, we learned that a major oil driller down in Texas has just declared bankruptcy, and many more energy companies are expected to follow suit in the coming months. The following is from the Wall Street Journal…
[S]igns of strain are building in the oil patch, where revenue growth hasn’t kept pace with borrowing. On Sunday, a private company that drills in Texas, WBH Energy LP, and its partners, filed for bankruptcy protection, saying a lender refused to advance more money and citing debt of between $10 million and $50 million. Neither the Austin-based company nor its lawyers responded to requests for comment.
Energy analysts warn defaults could be coming. “The group is not positioned for this downturn,” said Daniel Katzenberg, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. “There are too many ugly balance sheets.”
The American people are feeling really good right about now. For example, Gallup’s economic confidence index has hit the highest level that we have seen since the last recession. In addition, nearly half of all Americans believe that 2015 will be a better year than 2014 was, and only about 10 percent believe that it will be a worse year. And a lot of people are generally feeling quite good about the people that have been leading our nation. According to Gallup, once again this year Hillary Clinton is the most admired woman in America and Barack Obama is the most admired man in America. I don’t know what that says about our nation, but it can’t be good. Unfortunately, when things seem to be going well common sense tends to go out the window. A couple days ago, the Guardian ran an article entitled “Goodbye to one of the best years in history“, and a whole lot of people out there are feeling really optimistic these days. But should they be?
Sadly, what we are experiencing right now is so similar to what we witnessed in 2007 and early 2008. The stock market had been on a great run, people were flipping houses like crazy and most people were convinced that the party would never end.
But then it did end – very painfully.
The signs of trouble were there, but most people chose to ignore them.
Sadly, the exact same thing is happening again.
On Monday, the price of oil hit a brand new five year low. As I write this, U.S. oil is sitting at a price of $53.76 a barrel, which is nearly a 50 percent decline from the peak earlier this year.
There is only one other time in history when the price of oil has declined by more than 50 dollars a barrel in such a short time frame. That was back in the middle of 2008, shortly before the worst stock market crash since the Great Depression.
Unless the price of oil starts really bouncing back, the U.S. economy is going to be hit really hard.
Since 2009, oil industry employment has risen by 50 percent. And jobs in the oil industry pay quite well. One figure that I saw put the average weekly wage at about 1700 dollars.
But now we aren’t going to be gaining those types of jobs. Instead, we are going to rapidly start losing them.
Already, the oil rig count has dropped for three weeks in a row and is now at an 8 month low. And as the oil industry suffers, all of the industries that it supports are also going to start feeling the pain. In fact, Business Insider is reporting that Texas business executives are “freaked out” about what is happening…
Business executives in Texas are worried about the drop in oil prices.
The latest composite index came in at 4.1, widely missing expectations and down big from November’s reading. Expectations were for the index to come in at 9, down from 10.5 last month.
So while most Americans are feeling really good about the coming year, many of those with an inside view are becoming quite alarmed. One Texas business executive went so far as to say that the stunning decline in oil prices was “going to make things ugly … quickly.“
Meanwhile, the 9 trillion dollar U.S. dollar carry trade is starting to unwind.
Oil’s collapse is predicated by one major event: the explosion of the US Dollar carry trade. Worldwide, there is over $9 TRILLION in borrowed US Dollars that has been ploughed into risk assets.
Energy projects, particularly Oil Shale in the US, are one of the prime spots for this. But it is not the only one. Economies that are closely aligned with commodities (all of which are priced in US Dollars) are getting demolished too.
Just about everything will be hit as well. Most of the “recovery” of the last five years has been fueled by cheap borrowed Dollars. Now that the US Dollar has broken out of a multi-year range, you’re going to see more and more “risk assets” (read: projects or investments fueled by borrowed Dollars) blow up. Oil is just the beginning, not a standalone story.
If things really pick up steam, there’s over $9 TRILLION worth of potential explosions waiting in the wings. Imagine if the entire economies of both Germany and Japan exploded and you’ve got a decent idea of the size of the potential impact on the financial system.
And that’s assuming NO increased leverage from derivative usage.
And yes, as that last excerpt mentioned, derivatives could soon become a massive problem. The big banks are holding trillions in commodity derivatives that could blow up if the price of oil does not rebound. Overall, there are five U.S. banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives of all types, and the total global derivatives bubble is at least 700 trillion dollars at this point.
At the same time, many are becoming concerned that the unprecedented bond bubble that we are witnessing could soon implode and trillions of dollars of “wealth” could disappear into thin air.
In fact, Bloomberg says that we should “get ready for a disastrous year” for bonds…
Get ready for a disastrous year for U.S. government bonds. That’s the message forecasters on Wall Street are sending.
With Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen poised to raise interest rates in 2015 for the first time in almost a decade, prognosticators are convinced Treasury yields have nowhere to go except up. Their calls for higher yields next year are the most aggressive since 2009, when U.S. debt securities suffered record losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
That certainly does not sound very optimistic, does it?
Anyone with even a minimal amount of intelligence should be able to see the massive financial bubbles that the central banks of the world have created, and anyone with even a minimal amount of intelligence should be able to see that we are heading for a massive financial implosion which will be extraordinarily painful.
Unfortunately, as I wrote about yesterday, the American people have become “zombiefied“. Instead of thinking for themselves, they let “the matrix” do their thinking for them. And right now “the matrix” is telling them that everything is going to be just fine in 2015.
If you do not think that there is a propaganda machine that tells us what to think, I want you to watch the video posted below very carefully. This video makes it so obvious that even a small child can understand it…
Are much lower oil prices good news for the U.S. economy? Only if you like collapsing capital expenditures, rising unemployment and a potential financial implosion on Wall Street. Yes, lower gasoline prices are good news for the middle class. I certainly would rather pay two dollars for a gallon of gas than four dollars. But in order to have money to fill up your vehicle you have got to have an income first. And since the last recession, the energy sector has been the number one creator of good jobs in the U.S. economy by far. Barack Obama loves to stand up and take credit for the fact that the employment picture in this country has been improving slightly, but without the energy industry boom, unemployment would be through the roof. And now that the “energy boom” is rapidly becoming an “energy bust”, what will happen to the struggling U.S. economy as we head into 2015?
At the start of this article I mentioned that much lower oil prices would result in “collapsing capital expenditures”.
If you do not know what a “capital expenditure” is, the following is a definition that comes from Investopedia…
“Funds used by a company to acquire or upgrade physical assets such as property, industrial buildings or equipment. This type of outlay is made by companies to maintain or increase the scope of their operations. These expenditures can include everything from repairing a roof to building a brand new factory.”
Needless to say, this kind of spending is very good for an economy. It builds infrastructure, it creates jobs and it is an investment in the future.
In recent years, energy companies have been pouring massive amounts of money into capital expenditures. In fact, the energy sector currently accounts for about a third of all capital expenditures in the United States according to Deutsche Bank…
US private investment spending is usually ~15% of US GDP or $2.8trn now. This investment consists of $1.6trn spent annually on equipment and software, $700bn on non-residential construction and a bit over $500bn on residential. Equipment and software is 35% technology and communications, 25-30% is industrial equipment for energy, utilities and agriculture, 15% is transportation equipment, with remaining 20-25% related to other industries or intangibles. Non-residential construction is 20% oil and gas producing structures and 30% is energy related in total. We estimate global investment spending is 20% of S&P EPS or 12% from US. The Energy sector is responsible for a third of S&P 500 capex.
These companies make these investments because they believe that there are big profits to be made.
Unfortunately, when the price of oil crashes those investments become unprofitable and capital expenditures start getting slashed almost immediately.
For example, the budget for 2015 at ConocoPhillips has already been reduced by 20 percent…
ConocoPhillips is one of the bigger shale players. And its decision to slash its budget for next year by 20% is raising eyebrows. The company said the new target reflects lower spending on major projects as well as “unconventional plays.” Despite the expectation that others will follow, it doesn’t mean U.S. shale oil production is dead. Just don’t expect a surge in spending like in recent years.
And Reuters is reporting that the number of new well permits for the industry as a whole plunged by an astounding 40 percent during the month of November…
Plunging oil prices sparked a drop of almost 40 percent in new well permits issued across the United States in November, in a sudden pause in the growth of the U.S. shale oil and gas boom that started around 2007.
Data provided exclusively to Reuters on Tuesday by industry data firm Drilling Info Inc showed 4,520 new well permits were approved last month, down from 7,227 in October.
If the price of oil stays this low or continues dropping, this is just the beginning.
Meanwhile, the flow of good jobs that this industry has been producing is also likely to start drying up.
According to a new study, investments in oil and gas exploration and production generate substantial economic gains, as well as other benefits such as increased energy independence. The Perryman Group estimates that the industry as a whole generates an economic stimulus of almost $1.2 trillion in gross product each year, as well as more than 9.3 million permanent jobs across the nation.
The ripple effects are everywhere. If you think about the role of oil in your life, it is not only the primary source of many of our fuels, but is also critical to our lubricants, chemicals, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and many other items we come into contact with every day. The industry supports almost 1.3 million jobs in manufacturing alone and is responsible for almost $1.2 trillion in annual gross domestic product. If you think about the law, accounting, and engineering firms that serve the industry, the pipe, drilling equipment, and other manufactured goods that it requires, and the large payrolls and their effects on consumer spending, you will begin to get a picture of the enormity of the industry.
And these are good paying jobs. They aren’t eight dollar part-time jobs down at your local big box retailer. These are jobs that comfortably support middle class families. These are precisely the kinds of jobs that we cannot afford to lose.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable economic difference between areas of the country where energy is being produced and where energy is not being produced.
Since December 2007, a total of 1.36 million jobs have been gained in shale oil states.
Meanwhile, a total of 424,000 jobs have been lost in non-shale oil states.
So what happens now that the shale oil boom is turning into a bust?
That is a very good question.
Even more ominous is what an oil price collapse could mean for our financial system.
Based on recent stress tests of subprime borrowers in the energy sector in the US produced by Deutsche Bank, should the price of US crude fall by a further 20pc to $60 per barrel, it could result in up to a 30pc default rate among B and CCC rated high-yield US borrowers in the industry. West Texas Intermediate crude is currently trading at multi-year lows of around $75 per barrel, down from $107 per barrel in June.
“A shock of that magnitude could be sufficient to trigger a broader high-yield market default cycle, if materialized,” warn Deutsche strategists Oleg Melentyev and Daniel Sorid in their report.
If the price of oil stays at this level or continues to go down, it is inevitable that we will start to see some of these junk bonds go bad.
In fact, one Motley Fool article recently stated that one industry analyst believes that up to 40 percent of all energy junk bonds could eventually go into default…
The junk bonds, or noninvestment-rated bonds, of energy companies are also beginning to see heavy selling as investors start to worry that drillers could one day default on these bonds. Those defaults could get so bad, according to one analyst, that up to 40% of all energy junk bonds go into default over the next few years if oil prices don’t recover.
In addition, plunging oil prices could end up absolutely destroying the banks that are holding enormous amounts of energy derivatives. This is something that I recently covered in this article and this article.
As you read this, there are five “too big to fail” banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives. Of course only a small fraction of that total exposure is made up of energy derivatives, but a small fraction of 40 trillion dollars is still a massive amount of money.
These derivatives trades are largely unregulated, and even Forbes admits that they are likely to be at the heart of the coming financial collapse…
No one understands the derivative risk positions of the Too Big To Fail Banks, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. There is presently no way to measure the risks involved in the leverage, quantity of collateral, or stability of counter-parties for these major institutions. To me personally they are big black holes capable of potential wrack and ruin. Without access to confidential internal data about these risky derivative positions the regulators cannot react in a timely and measured fashion to block the threat to financial stability, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study.
So do we have any hope?
Yes, if oil prices start going back up, much of what you just read about can be averted.
Unfortunately, that does not seem likely any time soon. Even though U.S. energy companies are cutting back on capital expenditures, most of them are still actually projecting an increase in production for 2015. Here is one example from Bloomberg…
Continental, the biggest holder of drilling rights in the Bakken, last month said 2015 output will grow between 23 percent and 29 percent even after shelving plans to allocate more money to exploration.
Higher levels of production will just drive the price of oil even lower.
At this point, Morgan Stanley is saying that the price of oil could plummet as low as $43 a barrel next year.
If that happens, it would be absolutely catastrophic to the most important industry in the United States.
In turn, that would be absolutely catastrophic for the economy as a whole.
So don’t let anyone tell you that much lower oil prices are “good” for the economy.
Retail sales during the four day Thanksgiving weekend were down a whopping 11 percent from last year. This is a “make or break” time of the year for many retailers, and if things don’t turn around during the coming weeks we could see a tsunami of store closings in January and February. As you read this article, there is already more than a billion square feet of retail space sitting empty in the United States. Many have described the ongoing collapse of the retail industry as an “apocalypse”, and this apocalypse appears to be accelerating. Yes, the shift to online retailers is a significant factor, but as you will see below even online retailers struggled over the holiday weekend. The sad truth of the matter is that U.S. consumers are tapped out and are drowning in debt at this point, so they simply do not have as much money to spend as they once did.
According to the National Retail Federation, 5.2 percent fewer Americans shopped online or at retail stores over the past weekend. Those that did shop spent an average of 6.4 percent less money than consumers did last year.
So if less people shopped, and they spent less money on average, that means that total retail sales must have been way down.
And indeed they were. As the New York Times has reported, total retail sales were down an astounding 11 percent…
Sales, both in stores and online, from Thanksgiving through the weekend were estimated to have dropped 11 percent, to $50.9 billion, from $57.4 billion last year, according to preliminary survey results released Sunday by the National Retail Federation. Sales fell despite many stores’ opening earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day.
And though many retailers offered the same aggressive discounts online as they did in their stores, the web failed to attract more shoppers or spending over the four-day holiday weekend than it did last year, the group said. The average person who shopped over the weekend spent $159.55 at online retailers, down 10.2 percent from last year.
No wonder there was less violence on Black Friday this year.
Traffic at retailers was way down.
Of course some analysts are trying to put a positive spin on all of this. For example, the CEO of the National Retail Federation says that this could actually be a sign that the economy is improving…
As the WSJ reports, NRF’s CEO Matt Shay attributed the drop to a combination of factors, including the fact that retailers moved promotions earlier this year in attempt to get people out sooner and avoid what happened last year when people didn’t finish their shopping because of bad weather.
Also did we mention the NRF is perpetually cheery and always desperate to put a metric ton of lipstick on a pig? Well, hold on to your hats folks:
He also attributed the declines to better online offerings and an improving economy where “people don’t feel the same psychological need to rush out and get the great deal that weekend, particularly if they expected to be more deals,” he said.
And of course the sprint vs marathon comparisons, such as this one: “The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon not a sprint,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. Odd how that metaphor is never used when the (seasonally-adjusted) sprint beats the marathoners.
So there you have it: a 11% collapse in retail spending has just been spun as super bullish for the US economy, whereby US consumers aren’t spending because the economy is simply too strong, and the only reason they don’t spend is because they will spend much more later. Or something.
The retail industry is absolutely brutal at this point. It is flooded with very large competitors that are chasing fewer and fewer disposable dollars.
In order to thrive, retailers need financially healthy consumers. But over time, U.S. consumers have been getting deeper and deeper into debt. The chart posted below shows that consumer credit in the United States has doubled since the year 2000…
Meanwhile, the long-term trend for real median household income since the year 2000 has been down…
In order for Americans to spend money, they have to make money first.
Unfortunately, the quality of our jobs continues to plummet.
As I have written about previously, 50 percent of all American workers currently make less than $28,031 a year at their jobs. And here are some more numbers from a report that the Social Security Administration recently released…
-39 percent of American workers made less than $20,000 last year
-52 percent of American workers made less than $30,000 last year
-63 percent of American workers made less than $40,000 last year
-72 percent of American workers made less than $50,000 last year
So in order for a typical American family to bring in $50,000 a year or more both parents usually have to work.
Sometimes they both have to work more than one job.
And with the cost of living constantly rising, family budgets are being squeezed more than ever. That is why families have less money to spend at retail stores these days. For even more on the current financial condition of American families, please see my previous article entitled “Are You Better Off This Thanksgiving Than You Were Last Thanksgiving?”
It is time for retailers in America to face the fact that economic conditions have fundamentally changed. U.S. consumers simply are not in as good shape as they used to be.
In addition, online retailers are going to continue to steal sales from traditional retail locations. This means that more stores are going to close and more retail space is going to be abandoned.
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.
In the years ahead, it is going to become normal to see boarded up strip malls and abandoned shopping centers all over the country.
The golden age of retail is over, and now most retailers will have to work incredibly hard to survive the apocalypse that is unfolding right before our eyes.
Are you in better shape financially than you were last Thanksgiving? If so, you should consider yourself to be very fortunate because most Americans are not. As you chow down on turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce this Thursday, please remember that there are millions of Americans that simply cannot afford to eat such a meal. According to a shocking new report that was just released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has reached a new all-time high of 2.5 million. And right now one out of every seven Americans rely on food banks to put food on the table. Yes, life is very good at the moment for Americans at the top end of the income spectrum. The stock market has been soaring and sales of homes worth at last a million dollars are up 16 percent so far this year. But most Americans live in a very different world. The percentage of Americans that are employed is about the same as it was during the depths of the last recession, the quality of our jobs continues to go down, the rate of homeownership in America has fallen for seven years in a row, and the cost of living is rising much faster than paychecks are. As a result, the middle class is smaller this Thanksgiving than it was last Thanksgiving, and most Americans have seen their standards of living go down over the past year.
In 2014, there are tens of millions of Americans that are anonymously leading lives of quiet desperation. They are desperately trying to hold on even though things just keep getting worse. For example, just consider the plight of 49-year-old Darrell Eberhardt. Once upon a time, his job in a Chevy factory paid him $18.50 an hour, but now he only makes $10.50 an hour and he knows that he probably would not be able to make as much in a new job if he decided to leave…
For nearly 20 years, Darrell Eberhardt worked in an Ohio factory putting together wheelchairs, earning $18.50 an hour, enough to gain a toehold in the middle class and feel respected at work.
He is still working with his hands, assembling seats for Chevrolet Cruze cars at the Camaco auto parts factory in Lorain, Ohio, but now he makes $10.50 an hour and is barely hanging on. “I’d like to earn more,” said Mr. Eberhardt, who is 49 and went back to school a few years ago to earn an associate’s degree. “But the chances of finding something like I used to have are slim to none.”
Of course you can’t support a family on $10.50 an hour.
You can barely support one person on $10.50 an hour.
But there are many men out there that would absolutely love to switch positions with Darrell Eberhardt. At this point, one out of every six men in their prime working years (25 to 54) does not have a job. That is an absolutely crazy number.
And of course just because you “have a job” does not mean that things are going well. The number of Americans that are “working part-time involuntarily” has risen by over 50 percent since the beginning of the last recession. There are millions of hard working Americans that would love to get a full-time job if they could land one. But these days “decent jobs” are in short supply.
For example, CNN recently profiled the story of college graduate Meghan Brachle…
Meghan would love to be a music teacher or play full-time in an orchestra. She studied music at Loyola University in New Orleans and plays the flute.
Instead, Meghan works a slew of part-time jobs and receives no benefits.
She is a cashier at Whole Foods, a substitute teacher, a flute tutor and an administrative assistant at a non-profit.
With inconsistent hours, Meghan monthly income fluctuates between $1,000 and $3,000. Even with her husband’s teaching salary, the couple sometimes struggles to cover the $3,600 of monthly expenses they have.
“It’s very stressful,” Meghan, a college graduate, says. “I think about all the job applications I’ve turned in and all the interviews I’ve been on and all the other people who are in the same situation, looking for those same [full-time] jobs. It’s frustrating.”
Sadly, a lot of these part-time employers know that their employees desperately need these jobs and are using that leverage to treat them very poorly.
For example, it is being reported that any KMart employees that do not show up for work on Thanksgiving will be automatically fired.
What kind of nonsense is that?
And around the country at Wal-Mart stores, food drives are being held for “needy employees“.
So why wouldn’t Wal-Mart just pay their workers enough so that they could afford to take care of themselves in the first place?
Most people don’t realize this, but approximately one out of every four part-time workers in America is currently living below the poverty line. Many of them are working as hard as they can and still can’t make enough to take care of themselves.
Meanwhile, our paychecks are getting stretched further and further with each passing month.
When you don’t make much money, every dollar is precious. And when food prices go up substantially, it can be very painful. Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening right now…
-From September to October, the price of a pound of Turkey rose from $1.58 to $1.66. That represents a 5.2 percent price increase in just one month.
-The price of a pound of ground beef has just risen to a brand new record high of $4.15 a pound, and more price increases are on the way. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting that U.S. beef production will drop by another 1 billion pounds next year due to a variety of factors including the horrific multi-year drought out west.
-The entire planet is bracing for a huge chocolate shortage, and this threatens to push the price of chocolate beyond the reach of many American families…
Start hoarding those Hershey’s Kisses and stockpile your Snickers: The world could soon experience a chocolate shortage.
Mars Inc. and Barry Callebaut, two of the world’s largest chocolate makers, say that’s the path we’re headed down. They cite a perfect storm of factors: Less cocoa is being produced as more and more people are devouring chocolate.
In 2013, consumers ate about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than was produced, The Washington Post reports, and that deficit could go up to 1 million metric tons by 2020. The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce more than 70 percent of the world’s cacao beans, and both countries are experiencing dry weather that limits growth. To make things worse, a fungal disease called frosty pod has destroyed 30 to 40 percent of global cocoa production.
As a result of all of the things that I have just discussed above, more Americans than ever are being forced to turn to the government for assistance. Today, the number of Americans getting a check from the government each month is at an all-time high, and at this point Americans collectively get more money from the government than they pay in taxes. For much, much more on this, please see my recent article entitled “21 Facts That Prove That Dependence On The Government Is Out Of Control In America“.
So if things are going well for you this Thanksgiving, you should be truly thankful.
For most of the country, things just continue to get even worse. And if the next major wave of our economic crisis arrives next year like many are projecting, this may just be the beginning of our economic pain.