The Retail Apocalypse Picks Up Speed As Sears, JCPenney, Brookstone And Mattress Firm Spiral Toward Bankruptcy

Over 20 major retailers have filed for bankruptcy since the beginning of last year, and in 2018 we may break the all-time record for annual store closings that was established just last year.  We are in the midst of the worst retail apocalypse in American history, and it appears to be picking up speed as retail giants such as Sears, JCPenney, Brookstone and Mattress Firm spiral toward bankruptcy.  We live at a time when the middle class is being systematically destroyed, and so the truth is that U.S. consumers simply do not have as much discretionary income as they once did.  Many large retailers believed that things would eventually turn around, and they have been fighting very hard to survive, but now time has run out for quite a few of them.

Mattress Firm

Everyone knew that Mattress Firm was in deep trouble, but it still surprised many of us when it was announced that they are officially planning to file for bankruptcy.  The following comes from Reuters

Mattress Firm Inc, the largest U.S. mattress retailer, is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection as soon as this week, as it seeks to exit costly store leases and shore up its business, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

At this moment Mattress Firm has approximately 3,000 brick-and-mortar locations, and as those stores close down those abandoned buildings are going to be giant eyesores on street corners all over America.

Brookstone

When I was a kid back in the 1980s, it seemed like Brookstone had an outlet in every mall I visited.  But now Brookstone has filed for bankruptcy, and all remaining mall stores will be shut down

Brookstone filed for bankruptcy and will close its remaining 101 mall stores.

The mall and airport seller, best known for massage chairs, quirky gadgets, and travel luggage, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court on Thursday. It was Brookstone’s second bankruptcy round in four years.

Sears

Sears has been shutting down stores for years, but up until now they have never admitted that bankruptcy was on the horizon.

But now time has run out and emergency measures are required if Sears is to survive.  The following comes from CNN

Sears is running out of time to fix its problems, the CEO says.

Eddie Lampert, who controls most of the company’s shares through his hedge fund, told the board on Monday that it must address “significant near-term constraints” in its cash position.

Of course Sears is still not actually using the term “bankruptcy”, but even CNN is admitting that Eddie Lampert used “language that suggested the company could be forced out of business”

Lampert did not use the word “bankruptcy,” but he raised the possibility that creditors could be wiped out, a process that often takes place in bankruptcy court, without immediate action.

He also said it was in the best interest of stakeholders to “accomplish this as a going concern” — language that suggested the company could be forced out of business.

Those that have been following my work for a long time know that I have repeatedly stated that Sears is going to zero.

Now we appear to be on the precipice of that actually happening, and it is a very sad day for America indeed.

JCPenney

Speaking of retailers that are going to zero, JCPenney is absolutely drowning in debt and has a very dismal prognosis for the future

Leaderless, $4 billion in debt and with a stock price below $2, the besieged retailer faces an uncertain fate after posting its latest round of dismal earnings.

“They’re in a leaky boat that eventually will sink,” said Mark Cohen, the director of retail studies at the Columbia Business School and a former CEO of Sears Canada and other department stores. “The prognosis for the future is not happiness.”

In the end, JCPenney is not going to survive, and so America will have to shop elsewhere for substandard clothing at inflated prices.

Bed Bath & Beyond

Nobody is suggesting that bankruptcy is imminent for Bed Bath & Beyond, but if they continue to have disastrous sales results it won’t be too long before they are on the chopping block too…

The struggling retailer said Wednesday that it was bringing on two top management consulting firms to help it cut costs and improve its merchandise. CEO Steven Temares did not name the firms.

The housewares retailer needs help. Shares of Bed Bath & Beyond plunged nearly 25% Thursday to their lowest level since March 2000 because of awful sales during the previous quarter.

We are moving into the most critical time of the year for retailers.  Most troubled chains will hang on through the next three months, but once we get to January and February we will see many of them give up the fight for good.

Meanwhile, some of the retailers that are still doing okay are warning that our trade war with China will likely mean much higher prices for consumers

Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. are among the large retailers and food companies that have sent a letter to U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer warning that proposed tariffs on $200 billion on Chinese goods would hurt consumers and American businesses.

Walmart’s letter, dated Sept. 6, focuses on what it says will be the repercussions of the tariffs, which would apply to goods like food and beverages, personal care products like shampoo, detergents, motor vehicles and paper goods like napkins.

Of course U.S. consumers cannot exactly afford higher prices at this point.  U.S. consumers have been spending more than they are earning month after month, and they are making up the difference by going into ever-increasing amounts of debt.

This is not what a healthy economy looks like.

If we had a healthy economy, the middle class would be growing and retailers would be thriving.

But instead, the vacancy rate at U.S. shopping malls just hit the highest level in six years

The vacancy rate at metro and regional malls around the United States hit 8.6% last quarter, the highest since the end of 2012, according to data released Monday by real estate research firm Reis (REIS).

Back then, the economy was still working its way out of a recession and an excess of malls had been built in the preceding decades. Retail vacancies peaked at 9.4% during the middle of 2011.

Things are not getting better for the U.S. economy.  We continue to see numbers that we have not seen since the last recession, and it appears that things will continue to deteriorate as we head into 2019.

About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is publisher of The Most Important News and the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

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America’s Rapidly Accelerating Retail Apocalypse Is Being Fueled By One Enormously Painful Economic Problem

We are in the midst of the worst retail apocalypse in American history, and it seems to be getting worse with each passing month.  Many of the “experts” blame the growth of online retailers, and without a doubt online retail sales have been surging.  In fact, I sell far more through Amazon.com than I do through any other channel.  But the truth is that online retailers are not exactly taking over the world.  At this point, 91 percent of all retail sales still take place in brick-and-mortar stores, and that means that online retailers only account for about 9 percent of all retail sales.  Sadly, there is a much bigger reason why thousands of retail stores are closing down and millions upon millions of square feet of retail space is now sitting empty all over America.  The mighty U.S. consumer base was once primarily made up of middle class Americans, but the middle class in America has been on a slow, steady death spiral for many years.

So now the experts tell us that retailers that cater to high income and low income Americans are thriving, and those that once did so well selling to the middle class are fading away

The middle is disappearing — low and middle-income customers increasingly shop at discounters and dollar stores, forcing retailers that once served these customers, like Bon-Ton and its subsidiary brands, to close shop,” analysts from intelligence firm Gartner L2 wrote in a recent report on department stores.

The slow decline of the middle class in America has had an impact on retailers that haven’t adapted to the change. Increasingly, the most successful businesses in the sector have become more distinctly split into two sections: luxury and budget stores.

When I was growing up, it seemed like almost everyone that I knew was “middle class”, and the mall was the place to go on the weekends.

But now shopping malls are dying all over the country.  In fact, one brand new report says that shopping malls have not been this empty in the U.S. since we were coming out of the last recession

U.S. malls haven’t been this empty since 2012, when the retail industry was clawing its way back after the Great Recession, according to a new report from real estate research firm Reis.

The vacancy rate at regional and super regional malls reached 8.6 percent in the second quarter of 2018, based on a survey by Reis of 77 metropolitan areas across the country. That was up from 8.4 percent in the prior period, and a high not seen since the third quarter of 2012, when the vacancy rate was 8.7 percent.

If the U.S. economy really is in “good shape”, why is this happening?

And the numbers for “local shopping centers” are actually even worse

The vacancy rate last quarter, 10.2%, was higher than at malls in part because of hundreds of Toys “R” Us store closures.

Vacancies at local shopping centers increased in more than 70% of metro areas. Indianapolis, Dayton, and Wichita had the highest rates in the country.

If you didn’t know any better, you would be tempted to think that “Space Available” and “Going Out Of Business” were two of the hottest new retailers in the entire nation.

And the numbers that I just shared with you are actually quite understated.  In one of his most recent articles, Wolf Richter explained why this is the case…

But these numbers are deceptive – because something counts as “vacant” only when the landlord tries to fill it with another retailer.

Stores that emptied out and became zombie stores in zombie malls, or the Toys ‘R’ Us stores in bad areas with zero hopes of finding another retail tenant, etc. – they’re not being counted as “vacant” retail space because they’re no longer being marketed as retail space, and the square footage of that retail space disappears from the vacant retail space stats.

That space may remain shuttered and vacant for years, with a fence around that is catching tumbleweeds, as lenders tussle over who gets what, if anything, until the land can hopefully be sold to a developer who might bulldoze the walls and build an apartment complex on it.

We have never been through anything like this in modern American history.

2017 was the worst year for retail store closings in the United States that we have ever seen.  The number of retail stores that closed approximately tripled the number from 2016, and this year we are definitely on pace to shatter the record that we set last year.

And yet Americans continue to be exceedingly optimistic.  A poll that was just released found that 55 percent of all Americans believe that our best days are still ahead of us.

Hopefully they are right, but in the short-term things are looking rather grim.

For example, just today we learned that Sears is shutting down even more stores

Sears Holdings, which owns both chains, said it informed employees Thursday that it would be shuttering nine Sears stores and one Kmart in late September. Liquidation is scheduled to begin as early as July 13, the company said in a statement.

With the additions, a total of 78 stores – 62 Sears and 16 Kmart locations – will close in September.

Of course Sears is not the only major retailer that is slowly liquidating.  Many of the biggest names in the entire retail world have announced that they are closing at least 100 locations in 2018.  The following comes from CNN

Six hundred Walgreens have closed this year, while Bon-Ton, Sears and Kmart, Best Buy, Signet Jewelers, Mattress Firm, and GNC have all closed 200 stores or more this year. Claire’s, Foot Locker, and The Children’s Place have closed 100 or more locations.

If we still had a strong middle class, this would not be happening.

Not too long ago, I shared with you some absolutely shocking numbers about the decline of the middle class, and I would like to share them with you again now…

#1 78 million Americans are participating in the “gig economy” because full-time jobs just don’t pay enough to make ends meet these days.

#2 In 2011, the average home price was 3.56 times the average yearly salary in the United States.  But by the time 2017 was finished, the average home price was 4.73 times the average yearly salary in the United States.

#3 In 1980, the average American worker’s debt was 1.96 times larger than his or her monthly salary.  Today, that number has ballooned to 5.00.

#4 In the United States today, 66 percent of all jobs pay less than 20 dollars an hour.

#5 102 million working age Americans do not have a job right now.  That number is higher than it was at any point during the last recession.

#6 Earnings for low-skill jobs have stayed very flat for the last 40 years.

#7 Americans have been spending more money than they make for 28 months in a row.

#8 In the United States today, the average young adult with student loan debt has a negative net worth.

#9 At this point, the average American household is nearly $140,000 in debt.

#10 Poverty rates in U.S. suburbs “have increased by 50 percent since 1990”.

#11 Almost 51 million U.S. households “can’t afford basics like rent and food”.

#12 The bottom 40 percent of all U.S. households bring home just 11.4 percent of all income.

#13 According to the Federal Reserve, 4 out of 10 Americans do not have enough money to cover an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing the money or selling something they own.

#14 22 percent of all Americans cannot pay all of their bills in a typical month.

#15 Today, U.S. households are collectively 13.15 trillion dollars in debt.  That is a new all-time record.

This is why so many U.S. retailers are failing.

The once mighty U.S. consumer base is being hollowed out because the middle class in America is being eviscerated.

Yes, the wealthy are doing quite well for the moment, but an increasing number of signs indicate that things are about to take a negative turn for them as well.

For instance, just consider the following example from CNBC

Manhattan real estate had its worst second quarter since the financial crisis, with prices and sales dropping and inventory rising, according to a new report.

Total sales in Manhattan fell 17 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, according a report from Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants.

If we don’t find a way to turn things around, what we have witnessed so far is just the beginning.

The middle class will continue to die, retailers all over the country will continue to go out of business, and shopping malls will continue to turn into ghost towns.

And once we plunge into another recession, all of the trends that I have been talking about in this article are going to start moving much more quickly.  We truly are on the edge of disaster, and most Americans have absolutely no idea what is coming.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

77 Million Square Feet Of Retail Space And Counting – America’s Retail Apocalypse Is Spiraling Out Of Control In 2018

In 2017 we absolutely shattered the all-time record for retail store closings in a single year, and this year it looks like we are going to shatter the record once again.  In fact, there are some that are projecting that up to 9,000 retail stores could close by the time that we get to the end of this calendar year.  Already, the amount of retail space that has shut down is simply jaw-dropping.  If you total up all of the retail store closings that have been announced so far in 2018, it accounts for 77 million square feet of retail space.  Let that number sink in for a bit.  Many shopping centers and strip malls around the country already have a post-apocalyptic feel to them, and more “space available” signs are going up with each passing day.  And in case you are tempted to think that I am making this figure up, here it is straight from Bloomberg

At last count, U.S. store closures announced this year reached a staggering 77 million square feet, according to data on national and regional chains compiled by CoStar Group Inc. That means retailers are well on their way to surpassing the record 105 million square feet announced for closure in all of 2017.

In the end, we could shatter the all-time record that was established just last year by 20 or 30 million square feet.

At moments such as this, the phrase “retail apocalypse” doesn’t really seem to fit the gravity of what is actually taking place.

And unfortunately for the retail industry, it doesn’t appear that this crisis is going to end any time soon.  Here is more from Bloomberg

And with shifts to internet shopping and retailer debt woes continuing, there’s no indication the shakeout will end anytime soon. “A huge amount of retail real estate in the U.S. is going to meet its demise,” says James Corl, managing director and head of real estate at private equity firm Siguler Guff & Co. Property owners will “try to re-let it as a gun range or a church—or it’s going to go back to being a cornfield.”

Will retail real estate be the trigger for the next great debacle on Wall Street?

Some people think so.

A lot of major retail projects are going to go belly up, and somebody is going to be left holding the bag.

And the warning signs are definitely there.  In fact, retail sector debt defaults set a brand new record during the first quarter of 2018…

Financial stress in the retail industry is at a historic high.

Moody’s said in a report on Tuesday that retail sector defaults hit a record high during the first three months of 2018 as the rise of e-commerce and decline of malls continues to eat away at profits.

But the mainstream media is telling us that the U.S. economy is in great shape, and so everything is going to work out okay, right?

Sadly, nothing has changed regarding the long-term trends that are eating away at our economy like a cancer.  Just a few days ago I wrote about a brand new report that found that nearly 51 million U.S. households “can’t afford basics like rent and food”.  The real reason why our retailers are in decline is because the middle class is being systematically destroyed.  Once upon a time the middle class had plenty of discretionary income, but now the middle class is disappearing right in front of our eyes, but most of us are in such a state of denial that we won’t even admit what is happening.

Hopefully as stores continue to close by the hundreds people will start waking up.  The following is a list of just some of the major retailers that are closing stores in 2018

  • Abercrombie & Fitch: 60 more stores are charted to close
  • Aerosoles: Only 4 of their 88 stores are definitely remaining open
  • American Apparel: They’ve filed for bankruptcy and all their stores have closed (or will soon)
  • BCBG: 118 stores have closed
  • Bebe: Bebe is history and all 168 stores have closed
  • Bon-Ton: They’ve filed for Chapter 11 and will be closing 48 stores.
  • The Children’s Place: They plan to close hundreds of stores by 2020 and are going digital.
  • CVS: They closed 70 stores but thousands still remain viable.
  • Foot Locker: They’re closing 110 underperforming stores shortly.
  • Guess: 60 stores will bite the dust this year.
  • Gymboree: A whopping 350 stores will close their doors for good this year
  • HHGregg: All 220 stores will be closed this year after the company filed for bankruptcy.
  • J. Crew: They’ll be closing 50 stores instead of the original 20 they had announced.
  • J.C. Penney: They’ve closed 138 stores and plan to turn all the remaining ones into toy stores.
  • The Limited: All 250 retail locations have been closed and they’ve gone digital in an effort to remain in business.
  • Macy’s: 7 more stores will soon close and more than 5000 employees will be laid off.
  • Michael Kors: They’ll close 125 stores this year.
  • Payless: They’ll be closing a whopping 800 stores this year after recently filing for bankruptcy.
  • Radio Shack: More than 1000 stores have been shut down this year, leaving them with only 70 stores nationwide.
  • Rue 21: They’ll be closing 400 stores this year.
  • Sears/Kmart: They’ve closed over 300 locations.
  • ToysRUs: They’ve filed for bankruptcy but at this point, have not announced store closures, and have in fact, stated their stores will remain open.
  • Wet Seal: This place is history – all 171 stores will soon be closed.

A lot of people are blaming online retailers such as Amazon.com for the decline of brick and mortar stores, and without a doubt online sales are rising, but they still account for less than 10 percent of the entire retail industry.

And it isn’t just retailers that are closing locations.

Personally, I was greatly saddened when it was announced that Subway was planning on shutting down 500 locations in the United States…

Feeling the need to improve its store fleet amid intense competition in the sandwich industry, Subway is planning to close 500 U.S. locations this year, according to Bloomberg News.

Subway restaurants are small in size, but ubiquitous. The chain is the largest in the U.S. by store count of any quick-service chain with nearly 26,000 locations, well above the 14,000 McDonald’s (mcd, +0.29%) restaurants in this country. This has long been a point of pride for the company.

I have always been a big fan of Subway, and if they ever closed my hometown location I would be seriously distressed.

And banks are closing locations at an astounding rate as well.  In fact, from June 2016 to June 2017 the number of bank branches in the United States fell by more than 1,700.

That was the biggest decline that we have ever seen.

If the U.S. economy really was in good shape, none of this would be taking place.  Something really big is happening, and what we have seen so far is just the very small tip of a very large iceberg.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist.  He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

Would This Have Happened Under President Hillary? Holiday Retail Sales Soar Compare To Last Year

We are nearly a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, and the economic numbers continue to look quite good.  On Monday, we learned that U.S. retail sales during the holiday season are projected to be way up compared to 2016.  Yes, there are all sorts of economic red flags popping up all over the place, and I write about them regularly.  And without a doubt, 2017 has been one of the worst years for brick and mortar retail stores in a very long time.  But when something good happens we should acknowledge that too, and many are giving President Trump credit for the fact that retail sales are projected to be up 4.9 percent this holiday season compared to last year…

Despite thousands of store closings this year, Americans supplied a final flurry of spending to give retailers their best holiday season sales since 2011, figures released Tuesday show.

U.S. year-end holiday retail sales rose 4.9% compared to the same period last year, a welcome gift to U.S. retailers amid new signs of consumer confidence.

Of course this doesn’t mean that things have completely turned around for the retail industry.  We still absolutely shattered the all-time record for store closings in a single year, and the final number is going to be somewhere right around 7,000.  The following comes from CNBC

A larger-than-average slew of retail bankruptcies and stores being shuttered rocked the industry this year, making headlines and dragging even some of the better-performing companies such as Home Depot, TJ Maxx and Costco down with the dismal news.

So far in 2017, 6,985 store closure announcements have been made, according to a tracker from FGRT (formerly Fung Global Retail & Technology). That’s up more than 200 percent from a year ago, based on the firm’s findings.

More specifically, the number of store closings is up 229 percent compared to last year.

So yes, we are still very much in the midst of a “retail apocalypse”.

And actually, earlier this month we got news that Toys R US has filed for bankruptcy protection and could soon close as many as 200 stores

It’s hardly fun and games for the toy industry this holiday season with the bankruptcy of Toys ‘R’ Us hurting the fortunes of toymakers Mattel (MAT) and Hasbro (HAS). The sector’s prospects aren’t expected to improve anytime soon.

Toys ‘R’ Us, which filed for bankruptcy in September, is now said to be considering closing as many as 200 U.S. stores, roughly 21 percent of its brick-and-mortar locations, because of lackluster sales.

The fact that retail sales are up so much during this holiday season may slow the retail apocalypse, but it certainly will not end it.

We have got so much work to do to turn the economy around, but at least we have taken a few small steps in the right direction.  The recent tax bill that Congress passed was one of those small steps, but there is still so, so much more that needs to be accomplished.

Michael Snyder is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website. His new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

We Have Tripled The Number Of Store Closings From Last Year, And 20 Major Retailers Have Closed At Least 50 Stores In 2017

Did you know that the number of retail store closings in 2017 has already tripled the number from all of 2016?  Last year, a total of 2,056 store locations were closed down, but this year more than 6,700 stores have been shut down so far.  That absolutely shatters the all-time record for store closings in a single year, and yet nobody seems that concerned about it.  In 2008, an all-time record 6,163 retail stores were shuttered, and we have already surpassed that mark by a very wide margin.  We are facing an unprecedented retail apocalypse, and as you will see below, the number of retail store closings is actually supposed to be much higher next year.

Whenever the mainstream media reports on the retail apocalypse, they always try to put a positive spin on the story by blaming the growth of Amazon and other online retailers.  And without a doubt that has had an impact, but at this point online shopping still accounts for less than 10 percent of total U.S. retail sales.

Look, Amazon didn’t just show up to the party.  They have been around for many, many years and while it is true that they are growing, they still only account for a very small sliver of the overall retail pie.

So those that would like to explain away this retail apocalypse need to come up with a better explanation.

As I noted in the headline, there are 20 different major retail chains that have closed at least 50 stores so far this year.  The following numbers originally come from Fox Business

1. Abercrombie & Fitch: 60 stores
2. Aerosoles: 88 stores
3. American Apparel: 110 stores
4. BCBG: 118 stores
5. Bebe: 168 stores
6. The Children’s Place: hundreds of stores to be closed by 2020
7. CVS: 70 stores
8. Guess: 60 stores
9. Gymboree: 350 stores
10. HHgregg: 220 stores
11. J.Crew: 50 stores
12. JC Penney: 138 stores
13. The Limited: 250 stores
14. Macy’s: 68 stores
15. Michael Kors: 125 stores
16. Payless: 800 stores
17. RadioShack: more than 1,000 stores
18. Rue21: up to 400 stores
19. Sears/Kmart: more than 300 stores
20. Wet Seal: 171 stores

If the U.S. economy was really doing well, then why are all of these major retailers closing down locations?

Of course the truth is that the economy is not doing well.  The U.S. economy has not grown by at least 3 percent in a single year since the middle of the Bush administration, and it isn’t going to happen this year either.  Overall, the U.S. economy has grown by an average of just 1.33 percent over the last 10 years, and meanwhile U.S. stock prices are up about 250 percent since the end of the last recession.  The stock market has become completely and utterly disconnected from economic reality, and yet many Americans still believe that it is an accurate barometer for the health of the economy.

I used to do a Black Friday article every year, but I have ended that tradition.  Yes, there were still a few scuffles this year, but at this point the much bigger story is how poorly the retailers are doing.

So far this year, more than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy, and we are currently on pace to lose over 147 million square feet of retail space by the end of 2017.

Those are absolutely catastrophic numbers.

And some analysts are already predicting that as many as 9,000 stores could be shut down in the United States in 2018.

Are we just going to keep blaming Amazon every time another retail chain goes belly up?

What we should really be focusing on is the fact that the “retail bubble” is starting to burst.  In the aftermath of the last financial crisis, retailers went on an unprecedented debt binge, and now a lot of that debt is starting to go bad.

In fact, in a previous article I discussed the fact that “the amount of high-yield retail debt that will mature next year is approximately 19 times larger than the amount that matured this year”.  This is going to have very serious implications on Wall Street, but very few people are really talking about this.

Most stores try to stay open through Christmas, but once the holiday season is over we will see another huge wave of store closings.

And as individual stores close down, this will put a lot of financial pressure on malls and shopping centers.  Not too long ago, one report projected that up to 25 percent of all shopping malls in the entire nation could close down by 2022, but I tend to think that number is too optimistic.

The retail industry in the United States is dying, and the biggest reason for that is not Amazon.

Rather, the real reason why the retail industry is in so much trouble is because of the steady decline of the middle class.  The gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is greater than ever, and we can clearly see the impact of this in the retail world.

Retailers that serve the very wealthy are generally doing well, and those that serve the other end of the food chain (such as dollar stores and Wal-Mart) are also doing okay.

But virtually all of the retailers that depend on middle class shoppers are really struggling, and this is going to continue for the foreseeable future.

Most American families are either living paycheck to paycheck or are close to that level, and these days U.S. consumers simply do not have much discretionary income to play around with.  More hard working Americans are going to fall out of the middle class with each passing month, and that is extremely bad news for a retail industry that is literally falling apart right in front of our eyes.

Michael Snyder is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website. His new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

As America Gives Thanks, Homelessness Continues To Set New Records In Major Cities All Over The Nation

If the economy is doing just fine, then why is homelessness at levels not seen “since the Great Depression” in major cities all over the country?  If the U.S. economy was actually in good shape, we would expect that the number of people that are homeless would be going down or at least stabilizing.  Instead, we have a growing national crisis on our hands.  In fact, within the past two years “at least 10 cities or municipal regions in California, Oregon and Washington” have declared a state of emergency because the number of homeless is growing so rapidly.

Things are particularly bad in southern California, and this year the Midnight Mission will literally be feeding a small army of people that have nowhere to sleep at night…

Thanksgiving meals will be served to thousands of homeless and near-homeless individuals today on Skid Row and in Pasadena and Canoga Park amid calls for donations and volunteers for the rest of the year.

The Midnight Mission will serve Thanksgiving brunch to nearly 2,500 homeless and near-homeless men, women and children, according to Georgia Berkovich, its director of public affairs.

Overall, the Midnight Mission serves more than a million meals a year, and Berkovich says that homelessness hasn’t been this bad in southern California “since the Great Depression”

Berkovich said the group has been serving nearly 1 million meals a year each year since 2013.

“We haven’t seen numbers like this since the Great Depression,” she said.

And of course the official numbers confirm what Berkovich is claiming.  According to an article published earlier this year, the number of homeless people living in Los Angeles County has never been higher…

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles has jumped to a new record, as city officials grapple with a humanitarian crisis of proportions remarkable for a modern American metropolis.

Municipal leaders said that a recent count over several nights found 55,188 homeless people living in a survey region comprising most of Los Angeles County, up more than 25% from last year.

If the California economy is truly doing well, then why is this happening?

We see the same thing happening when we look at the east coast.  Just check out these numbers from New York City

In recent years the number of homeless people has grown. Whereas rents increased by 18% between 2005 and 2015, incomes rose by 5%. When Rudy Giuliani entered City Hall in 1994, 24,000 people lived in shelters. About 31,000 lived in them when Mike Bloomberg became mayor in 2002. When Bill de Blasio entered City Hall in 2014, 51,500 did. The number of homeless people now in shelters is around 63,000.

For New York, this is the highest that the homeless population has been since the Great Depression, and city leaders are trying to come up with a solution.

Meanwhile, things are so bad in Seattle that “400 unauthorized tent camps” have popped up…

Housing prices are soaring here thanks to the tech industry, but the boom comes with a consequence: A surge in homelessness marked by 400 unauthorized tent camps in parks, under bridges, on freeway medians and along busy sidewalks. The liberal city is trying to figure out what to do.

Are you noticing a theme?

Homelessness is at epidemic levels all over the U.S., and this crisis is getting worse with each passing day.  Some communities are trying to care for their growing homeless populations, but others are simply trying to force them to go somewhere else.  They are doing this by essentially making it illegal to be homeless.  In some cities it is now a crime to engage in “public camping”, to “block a walkway” or to create any sort of “temporary structure for human habitation”.  These laws specifically target the homeless, and they are very cruel.

Many of us tend to picture the homeless as mostly lazy older men that don’t want to work and that instead want to drink or do drugs all day.

But the truth is that women and children make up a significant percentage of the homeless.  In fact, the number of homeless children in our country has increased by about 60 percent since the end of the last recession.

And there are thousands upon thousands of military veterans that are homeless.  For example, a 34-year-old man named Johnny that served in the Marine Corps recently used his last 20 dollars to buy fuel for a woman that had run out of gas and was stranded along I-95 in Miami

Pulled over on the side of I-95, McClure, 27, was approached by a homeless man named Johnny. She was apprehensive at first, but Johnny told her to get back into her car and to lock the doors while he walked to get her help. He went to a nearby gas station, used his last $20 fill a can and brought it back to fill up her car.

Grateful, but without a dollar to repay him, McClure promised she would come back with something.

In the weeks since, she’s returned to the spot along I-95 where Johnny stays with cash, snacks and Wawa gift cards. Each time she’s stopped by with her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, they’ve learned a bit more about Johnny’s story, and become humbled by his gratitude.

Deciding that they wanted to do even more for Johnny, they started a GoFundMe page for him and have since raised approximately $250,000.

So it looks like there is going to be a happy ending to Johnny’s story, but the truth is that more people are falling into homelessness with each passing day.

If things are this bad now, how much worse will they become as the economy really starts slowing down?  Already, we have shattered the all-time yearly record for retail store closings, and we still have more than a month to go.  The following is from a CNN article entitled “Is This The Last Black Friday?”

A record number of store closures — 6,735 — have already been announced this year. That’s more than triple the tally for 2016, according to Fung Global Retail and Technology, a retail think tank.

And there have been 620 bankruptcies in the sector so far this year, according to BankruptcyData.com, up 31% from the same period last year. Prominent names such as Toys R Us, Gymboree, Payless Shoes and RadioShack have all filed this year, and Sears Holdings (SHLD), which owns both the iconic Sears and Kmart chains, has warned there is “substantial doubt” it can remain in business.

Sadly, analysts are projecting that the number of store closings could be as high as 9,000 next year.

Yes, there are some areas of the country that are doing well right now, but there are many others that are not.

Let us always remember to have compassion on those that are struggling, because someday we may be the ones that end up needing some help.

Michael Snyder is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website. His new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

Why America’s Retail Apocalypse Could Accelerate Even More In 2018

Is the retail apocalypse in the United States about to go to a whole new level?  That is a frightening thing to consider, because the truth is that things are already quite bad.  We have already shattered the all-time record for store closings in a single year and we still have the rest of November and December to go.  Unfortunately, it truly does appear that things will get even worse in 2018, because a tremendous amount of high-yield retail debt is coming due next year.  In fact, Bloomberg is reporting that the amount of high-yield retail debt that will mature next year is approximately 19 times larger than the amount that matured this year…

Just $100 million of high-yield retail borrowings were set to mature this year, but that will increase to $1.9 billion in 2018, according to Fitch Ratings Inc. And from 2019 to 2025, it will balloon to an annual average of almost $5 billion. The amount of retail debt considered risky is also rising. Over the past year, high-yield bonds outstanding gained 20 percent, to $35 billion, and the industry’s leveraged loans are up 15 percent, to $152 billion, according to Bloomberg data.

Even worse, this will hit as a record $1 trillion in high-yield debt for all industries comes due over the next five years, according to Moody’s.

Can you say “debt bomb”?

For those of you that are not familiar with these concepts, high-yield debt is considered to be the riskiest form of debt.  Retailers all over the nation went on a tremendous debt binge for years, and many of those loans never should have been made.  Now that debt is going to start to come due, and many of these retailers simply will not be able to pay.

So how does that concern the rest of us?

Well, just like with the subprime mortgage meltdown, the “spillover” could potentially be enormous.  Here is more from Bloomberg

The debt coming due, along with America’s over-stored suburbs and the continued gains of online shopping, has all the makings of a disaster. The spillover will likely flow far and wide across the U.S. economy. There will be displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases and investor losses on stocks, bonds and real estate. If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.

I have written extensively about Sears and other troubled retailers that definitely appear to be headed for zero.  But one major retailer that is flying below the radar a little bit that you should keep an eye on is Target.  For over a year, conservatives have been boycotting the retailer, and this boycott is really starting to take a toll

Target has been desperately grasping at ideas to recover lost business, including remodeling existing stores and opening smaller stores, lowering prices, hiring more holiday staff and introducing a new home line from Chip and Joanna Gaines. But Target stock remains relatively stagnant, opening at 61.50 today—certainly nowhere near the mid-80s of April 2016, when the AFA boycott began.

In the past, retailers could always count on the middle class to bail them out, but the middle class is steadily shrinking these days.  In fact, at this point one out of every five U.S. households has a net worth of zero or less.

And we must also keep in mind that we do not actually deserve the debt-fueled standard of living that we are currently enjoying.  We are consuming far more wealth than we are producing, and the only way we are able to do that is by going into unprecedented amounts of debt.  The following comes from Egon von Greyerz

Total US debt in 1913 was $39 billion. Today it is $70 trillion, up 1,800X. But that only tells part of the story. There were virtually no unfunded liabilities in 1913. Today they are $130 trillion. So adding the $70 trillion debt to the unfunded liabilities gives a total liability of $200 trillion.

In 1913 US debt to GDP was 150%. Today, including unfunded liabilities, the figure becomes almost 1,000%. This is the burden that ordinary Americans are responsible for, a burden that will break the US people and the US economy as well as the dollar.

The only possible way that the game can go on is to continue to grow our debt much faster than the overall economy is growing.

Of course that is completely unsustainable, and when this debt bubble finally bursts everything is going to collapse.

We don’t know exactly when the next great financial crisis is coming, but we do know that conditions are absolutely perfect for one to erupt.  According to John Hussman, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see stock prices fall more than 60 percent from current levels…

At the root of Hussman’s pessimistic market view are stock valuations that look historically stretched by a handful of measures. According to his preferred valuation metric — the ratio of non-financial market cap to corporate gross value-added (Market Cap/GVA) — stocks are more expensive than they were in 1929 and 2000, periods that immediately preceded major market selloffs.

“US equity market valuations at the most offensive levels in history,” he wrote in his November monthly note. “We expect that more extreme valuations will only be met by more severe losses.”

Those losses won’t just include the 63% plunge referenced above — it’ll also be accompanied by a longer 10 to 12 year period over which the S&P 500 will fall, says Hussman.

A financial system that is based on a pyramid of debt will never be sustainable.  As I discuss in my new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters”, the design of our current debt-based system is fundamentally flawed, and it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

The borrower is the servant of the lender, and our current system is designed to create as much debt as possible.  When it inevitably fails, we need to be ready to offer an alternative, because patching together our current system and trying to re-inflate the bubble is not a real solution.

Michael Snyder is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website. His new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.