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Why Are Wal-Mart And Boeing Laying Off Workers If The U.S. Economy Is In Good Shape?

wal-mart-photo-by-mikemozartjeepersmediaThe stock market has been on quite a roll in recent weeks, but signs of trouble continue to plague the real economy.  Earlier this week, I talked about the “retail apocalypse” that is sweeping America.  Major retail chains such as Sears and Macy’s are closing stores and laying off workers, but I didn’t think that Wal-Mart would be feeling the pain as well.  Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening.  USA Today is reporting that approximately 1,000 jobs will be cut at Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas by the end of this month…

Walmart’s plan to lay off of hundreds of employees is the latest ripple in a wave of job cuts and store closures that are roiling the retail industry.

The world’s largest retailer is cutting roughly 1,000 jobs at its corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., later this month, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak about it.

The company is saying that these cuts are necessary because Wal-Mart is always “looking for ways to operate more efficiently and effectively“.  But something doesn’t smell right here.  You don’t get rid of 1,000 employees at your corporate headquarters if everything is just fine.

I have driven past Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville a number of times, and it is in a beautiful part of the country.  Bentonville and the surrounding areas had been booming, but it looks like times may be changing.

Meanwhile, there are signs of trouble out on the west coast as well.  The Los Angeles Times is reporting that there is going to be a new round of engineering job cuts at Boeing…

Boeing Co. has internally announced a new round of employee buyouts for engineers companywide, including in Southern California, and warned that layoff notices will follow later this month to engineers in Washington state, where the company has a large presence.

Management did not cite a target for the number of projected job cuts.

The news comes after company Vice Chairman Ray Conner and the new chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, or BCA, Kevin McAllister, warned in December of the need to aim for further cuts in 2017.

And according to Boeing spokesperson Doug Alder, similar job cut announcements are coming for other classes of workers as well.

So why is Boeing getting rid of so many employees?

Well, the truth is that Boeing’s business is way down.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

Business has been tough. In 2016, deliveries fell by 14 jets from a year ago, to 748. Net orders dropped 13% from an already rotten level in 2015, to just 668, down 53% from 2014. And the lowest level since 2010!

When the economy is doing well, air traffic tends to rise, and when the economy is doing poorly it tends to go down.

Needless to say, the fact that Boeing is doing so poorly does not bode well for the future.

In addition to Wal-Mart, another major retailer that is letting people go is Petco

Petco is cutting 180 positions with about 50 at its San Diego headquarters, the pet supply retailer confirmed Wednesday.

The company made the cuts across its workforce and include both existing and open positions.

Petco has about 650 workers at its headquarters in Rancho Bernardo. It employs 27,000 in the U.S.

My wife and I have three cats, and even though Petco tends to be a bit overpriced we have always appreciated the work that they do.

Unfortunately, when the economy gets tough spending on pets tends to be one of the first things to get cut back, and this current trouble at Petco could be a sign that rough sledding is ahead for the entire economy.

Of course your personal perspective on these things is likely to be very heavily influenced by your immediate surroundings.  Those that live in wealthy enclaves of major cities such as San Francisco, New York City or Washington D.C. may be wondering how anyone could possibly be talking about economic trouble right now.

But if you live in economically depressed areas of Appalachia or the upper Midwest, it may seem like the last economic recession never even ended.

There have been pockets of economic prosperity in recent years, and this has resulted in some people becoming exceedingly wealthy.  Meanwhile, things have just continued to become even tougher for millions of other families as the cost of living always seems to grow faster than their paychecks do.

If you are in the top one percent of all income earners, maybe to you it seems like things have never been better.  But most of the country is living paycheck to paycheck and is just struggling to survive from month to month.  The following comes from CNN

The rich are money-making machines. Today, the top mega wealthy — the top 1% — earn an average of $1.3 million a year. It’s more than three times as much as the 1980s, when the rich “only” made $428,000, on average, according to economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the American population earned an average of $16,000 in pre-tax income in 1980. That hasn’t changed in over three decades.

The workers being laid off at the companies discussed above are real people with real hopes and real dreams.  Perhaps many of them will be able to land other employment fairly soon, but the truth is that the job market is really tough in many areas of the country right now.

Finding a good job that will allow you to pay the bills and support your family is not easy.  You may find that out the hard way if you end up losing your current job during the economic troubles that will come in 2017.

Earlier today, I came across an excellent article by Gail Tverberg that detailed a whole bunch of reasons why a significant economic downturn appears to be imminent in 2017.  If you would like to read it, you can find it here.  She points to many of the same things that I have been pointing to for a very long time.

Even though economic conditions were fairly stable throughout 2016, our long-term problems just continued to get even worse.  So the truth is that we are more primed for a major crisis today than we have been at any point since the last recession.

My hope is that things will not be nearly as bad in 2017 as Gail Tverberg and others are projecting that they could be, but the warning signs are definitely there, and it isn’t going to take much to push the U.S. economy off the rails.

It’s A Retail Apocalypse: Sears, Macy’s And The Limited Are All Closing Stores

retail-apocalypse-public-domainIt has only been two weeks since Christmas, and already we are witnessing a stunning bloodbath of store closings.  Macy’s shocked the retail industry by announcing that they will be closing about 100 stores.  The downward spiral of Sears hit another landmark when it was announced that another 150 Sears and Kmart stores would be shutting down.  And we have just learned that The Limited is immediately closing all stores nationwide.  If the U.S. economy is doing just fine, then why are we experiencing such a retail apocalypse?  All over America, vast shopping malls that were once buzzing with eager consumers now resemble mausoleums.  We have never seen anything quite like this in our entire history, and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen next.

Not too long ago I walked into a Macy’s, and it was eerily quiet.  I stumbled around the men’s department looking for something to buy, but I was deeply disappointed in what was being offered.  After some time had passed, an employee finally noticed me and came over to help, but they didn’t have anything that I was looking for.

And it is a sad thing, because over the past several years when I have gone into Macy’s looking to spend money, most of the time I have come out of there without spending a penny.  Macy’s has made some very bad decisions recently, and I am hoping that they can still turn things around.  But for the moment, they are closing stores and cutting jobs.  The following comes from the New York Times

Struggling with sagging sales over another crucial holiday shopping season, Macy’s announced on Wednesday that it was eliminating more than 10,000 jobs as part of a continuing plan to cut costs and close 100 stores.

Macy’s, the country’s largest department store chain, said sales at its stores had fallen 2.1 percent in November and December compared with the same period in 2015. Terry J. Lundgren, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement that while the trend was “consistent with the lower end of our guidance, we had anticipated sales would be stronger.”

Another legendary retailer that really does not have any hope left is Sears.  Every year they just keep closing even more stores, and because they are losing so much money they don’t have anything to invest in the stores that remain.  As a result, the state of many Sears locations is downright embarrassing at this point

But the retailer, famous for selling everything from shoes to vacuum cleaners to whole houses, is facing its biggest crisis ever. It’s closing hundreds of stores. Others are in shambles, with leaking ceilings and broken escalators. In some, employees hang bedsheets to shield shoppers from sections that stand empty.

Since the early portion of 2013, sales are down an astounding 37 percent for the company.  Sears is currently more than 1.6 billion dollars in debt, and they are losing more than a billion dollars a year.

They keep closing stores in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding, but it hasn’t worked.

In 2010, Sears had 3,555 stores.

Last year, Sears had 1,503 stores, and now a whole bunch more are being shut down.

But everyone can see where this is going.  As I have stated repeatedly, Sears is going to zero, and many of the experts completely agree with me

“They are going out of business,” said Van Conway, an expert in bankruptcy and debt restructuring and CEO of Van Conway & Partners. “This snowball is 90% of the way to the bottom of the hill.”

Of course Sears is still surviving for the moment, and that is more than can be said for The Limited.

Back in the old days, it seemed like every mall had one of their stores.  I remember passing it on my way to Orange Julius and Herman’s World of Sporting Goods.

But now they are shutting down every single location and will be online only

American malls just got emptier.

The Limited, a once-popular women’s clothing brand that offers casual attire and workwear, no longer has any storefronts.

On Saturday, a message on the store’s website read, “We’re sad to say that all The Limited stores nationwide have officially closed their doors. But this isn’t goodbye.” The website will still be up and running and will continue to ship nationwide, the company said.

In addition to Macy’s, Sears and The Limited, other huge names in the retail industry have also fallen on hard times and have had to shut stores over the past 12 months.  The following comes from the Washington Post

The retail environment has proved challenging for a variety of stores: Sports Authority went out of business in 2016, shuttering more than 460 locations in U.S. malls and strip malls. PacSun, Aeropostale and American Apparel each have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past year and are aiming to reorganize and revive their businesses.

So why is this happening?

Without a doubt, our shopping habits have changed.  And in the online world, many of these retailers are being absolutely crushed by competition from Amazon and other tech companies that developed online infrastructure before they did.  I know that my wife and I actually prefer to shop online for many things when possible, and I anticipate that the share of retailing done online will only continue to grow in this country.

But let us also not underestimate the impact that the stagnating economy is having on ordinary consumers.  Thanks to the last eight years, approximately two-thirds of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.  More than a third of all Americans have a debt that is at least 180 days past due, and the rate of homeownership has been hovering near the lowest level that we have seen in about 50 years.  As you read this article, more than 95 million Americans are not in the labor force, and that number has grown by 18 percent under Barack Obama.  Homelessness in New York City and other major cities is at a record high, and as a nation we have accumulated the largest mountain of debt in the history of the world.

Let us hope that things can be turned around, but if current trends continue the retail apocalypse is just going to go from bad to worse, and we will continue to see lots of headlines about more stores closing down.

What Recovery? Sears And J.C. Penney Are DYING

Sears - Photo by Belus Capital AdvisorsTwo of the largest retailers in America are steamrolling toward bankruptcy.  Sears and J.C. Penney are both losing hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter, and both of them appear to be caught in the grip of a death spiral from which it will be impossible to escape.  Once upon a time, Sears was actually the largest retailer in the United States, and even today Sears and J.C. Penney are “anchor stores” in malls all over the country.  When I was growing up, my mother would take me to the mall when it was time to go clothes shopping, and there were usually just two options: Sears or J.C. Penney.  When I got older, I actually worked for Sears for a little while.  At the time, nobody would have ever imagined that Sears or J.C. Penney could go out of business someday.  But that is precisely what is happening.  They are both shutting down unprofitable stores and laying off employees in a desperate attempt to avoid bankruptcy, but everyone knows that they are just delaying the inevitable.  These two great retail giants are dying, and they certainly won’t be the last to fall.  This is just the beginning.

The Death Of Sears

Sales have declined at Sears for 27 quarters in a row, and the legendary retailer has been closing hundreds of stores and selling off property in a frantic attempt to turn things around.

Unfortunately for Sears, it is not working.  In fact, Sears has announced that it expects to lose “between $250 million to $360 million” for the quarter that will end on February 1st.

Things have gotten so bad that Sears is even making commercials that openly acknowledge how badly it is struggling.  For example, consider the following bit of dialogue from a recent Sears television commercial featuring two young women…

“Wait, the movie theater is on the other side,” the passenger says.

“But Sears always has parking!” the driver responds.

Sears always has parking???

Of course the unspoken admission is that Sears always has parking because nobody shops there anymore.

I have posted video of the commercial below…

A couple of months ago I walked into a Sears store in the middle of the week and it was like a ghost town.  A few associates were milling around here and there having private discussions among themselves, but other than that it was eerily quiet.

You can find 18 incredibly depressing photographs which do a great job of illustrating why Sears is steadily dying right here.  This was once one of America’s greatest companies, but soon it will be dead.

The Death Of J.C. Penney

J.C. Penny has been a dead man walking for a long time.  In some ways, it is in even worse shape than Sears.

If you can believe it, J.C. Penney actually lost 586 million dollars during the second quarter of 2013 alone.

How in the world do you lose 586 million dollars in three months?

Are they paying employees to flush giant piles of cash down the toilets?

This week J.C. Penney announced that it is eliminating 2,000 jobs and closing 33 stores.  The following is a list of the store closings that was released to the public…

Selma, Ala. — Selma Mall

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. — Arrow Plaza

Colorado Springs — Chapel Hills Mall

Meriden, Conn. — Meriden Square

Leesburg, Fla. — Lake Square Mall

Port Richey, Fla. — Gulf View Square

Muscatine, Iowa — Muscatine Mall

Bloomingdale, Ill. — Stratford Square Mall

Forsyth, Ill. — Hickory Point Mall

Marion, Ind. — Five Points Mall

Warsaw, Ind. — Marketplace Shopping Center

Salisbury, Md. — The Centre at Salisbury

Marquette, Mich. — Westwood Plaza

Worthington, Minn. — Northland Mall

Gautier, Miss. — Singing River Mall

Natchez, Miss. — Natchez Mall

Butte, Mont. — Butte Plaza Shopping Center

Cut Bank, Mont.

Kinston, N.C. — Vernon Park Mall

Burlington, N.J. — Burlington Center

Phillipsburg, N.J. — Phillipsburg Mall

Wooster, Ohio — Wayne Towne Plaza

Exton, Pa. — Exton Square Mall

Hazleton, Pa. — LaurelMall

Washington, Pa. — Washington Mall

Chattanooga — Northgate Mall

Bristol, Va. — Bristol Mall

Norfolk, Va. — Military Circle Mall

Fond du Lac, Wis., Forest Mall

Janesville, Wis. — Janesville Mall

Rhinelander, Wis. — Lincoln Plaza Center

Rice Lake, Wis. — Cedar Mall

Wausau, Wis. — Wausau Mall

The CEO of J.C. Penney says that these closures were necessary for the future of the company…

“As we continue to progress toward long-term profitable growth, it is necessary to reexamine the financial performance of our store portfolio and adjust our national footprint accordingly,” CEO Myron Ullman said in a news release.

Actually, his statement would be a lot more accurate if he replaced “continue to progress toward long-term profitable growth” with ” prepare for bankruptcy”.

It would be hard to overstate how much of a disaster 2013 was for J.C. Penney.  The following is an excerpt from a recent CNN article

It’s been a brutal year for J.C. Penney, its stock falling over 60% in the past 12 months. The company has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter, and is in the midst of another turnaround effort after ousting former Apple executive Ron Johnson last year.

Overall, shares of J.C. Penney have fallen by an astounding 84 percent since February 2012.  And keep in mind that this decline has happened during one of the greatest stock market rallies of all-time.

For now, J.C. Penney will continue to try to desperately raise more cash from investors that are foolish enough to give it to them, but all that is really accomplishing is just delaying the inevitable.

If you would like to see some photos that graphically illustrate why J.C. Penney is falling apart, you can find some right here.

And of course Sears and J.C. Penney are not the only large retailers that have fallen on hard times.  This week the CEO of Best Buy admitted that sales declined at his chain during the holiday season…

Best Buy shares skid on Thursday after the retailer said total revenue and sales at its established U.S stores fell in the all-important holiday season due to intense discounting by rivals, supply constraints for key products and weak traffic in December.

In the immediate aftermath of that announcement, Best Buy stock was down more than 30 percent in pre-market trading.

And Macy’s just announced that it is laying off 2,500 employees in an attempt to move in a more profitable direction.

So why is all of this happening?

Aren’t we supposed to be in the midst of an “economic recovery”?

That is what the Obama administration and the mainstream media keep telling us, but it is simply not true.

In fact, a new Gallup survey has found that the number of Americans that are “financially worse off” than a year ago is significantly higher than the number of Americans that say that they are “financially better off” than a year ago…

More Americans, 42%, say they are financially worse off now than they were a year ago, reversing the lower levels found over the past two years. Just more than a third of Americans say their financial situation has improved from a year ago.

That is why these stores are dying.

Things continue to get even worse for the middle class.

But a lot of people out there will continue to deny what is happening right in front of their eyes.  They are kind of like that woman over in California who was conned out of half a million dollars by a Nigerian online dating scam.  They will never admit the truth until it is far too late to do anything about it.

So have you been to a Sears or a J.C. Penney lately?

Do you believe that they will survive?

Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…

Retail Apocalypse: Why Are Major Retail Chains All Over America Collapsing?

Why Are Major Retail Chains All Over America Collapsing? -  Photo by Gars129If the economy is improving, then why are many of the largest retail chains in America closing hundreds of stores?  When I was growing up, Sears, J.C. Penney, Best Buy and RadioShack were all considered to be unstoppable retail powerhouses.  But now it is being projected that all of them will close hundreds of stores before the end of 2013.  Even Wal-Mart is running into problems.  A recent internal Wal-Mart memo that was leaked to Bloomberg described February sales as a “total disaster”.  So why is this happening?  Why are major retail chains all over America collapsing?  Is the “retail apocalypse” upon us?  Well, the truth is that this is just another sign that the U.S. economy is falling apart right in front of our eyes.  Incomes are declining, taxes are going up, government dependence is at an all-time high, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the percentage of the U.S. labor force that is employed has been steadily falling since 2006.  The top 10% of all income earners in the U.S. are still doing very well, but most U.S. consumers are either flat broke or are drowning in debt.  The large disposable incomes that the big retail chains have depended upon in the past simply are not there anymore.  So retail chains all over the United States are now closing up unprofitable stores.  This is especially true in low income areas.

When you step back and take a look at the bigger picture, the rapid decline of some of our largest retail chains really is stunning.

It is happening already in some areas, but soon half empty malls and boarded up storefronts will litter the landscapes of cities all over America.

Just check out some of these store closing numbers for 2013.  These numbers are from a recent Yahoo Finance article

Best Buy

Forecast store closings: 200 to 250

Sears Holding Corp.

Forecast store closings: Kmart 175 to 225, Sears 100 to 125

J.C. Penney

Forecast store closings: 300 to 350

Office Depot

Forecast store closings: 125 to 150

Barnes & Noble

Forecast store closings: 190 to 240, per company comments

Gamestop

Forecast store closings: 500 to 600

OfficeMax

Forecast store closings: 150 to 175

RadioShack

Forecast store closings: 450 to 550

The RadioShack in a nearby town just closed up where I live.  This is all happening so fast that it is hard to believe.

But the truth is that those store closings are not the entire story.  When you dig deeper you find a lot more retailers that are in trouble.

For example, Blockbuster recently announced that this year they will be closing about 300 stores and eliminating about 3,000 jobs.

Toy manufacturer Hasbro recently announced that they will be reducing the size of their workforce by about 10 percent.

Even Wal-Mart is going through a tough stretch right now.  According to documents that were leaked to Bloomberg, Wal-Mart is having an absolutely disastrous February…

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had the worst sales start to a month in seven years as payroll-tax increases hit shoppers already battling a slow economy, according to internal e-mails obtained by Bloomberg News.

“In case you haven’t seen a sales report these days, February MTD sales are a total disaster,” Jerry Murray, Wal- Mart’s vice president of finance and logistics, said in a Feb. 12 e-mail to other executives, referring to month-to-date sales. “The worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”

So what in the world is going on here?

The mainstream media continues to proclaim that we are experiencing a robust “economic recovery”, but at the same time there are a whole host of indications that things are continually getting worse.

Even global cell phone sales actually declined slightly in 2012.  That was the first time that has happened since the last recession.

Perhaps it is time that we faced the truth.  The middle class is shrinking, incomes are declining and there are not nearly as many jobs as there used to be.

Mort Zuckerman pointed this out in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal

The U.S. labor market, which peaked in November 2007 when there were 139,143,000 jobs, now encompasses only 132,705,000 workers, a drop of 6.4 million jobs from the peak. The only work that has increased is part-time, and that is because it allows employers to reduce costs through a diminished benefit package or none at all.

So how can the mainstream media be talking about how “good” things are if we still have 6.4 million fewer jobs than we had back in November 2007?

And sadly, things may soon be getting a lot worse.  If Congress does not do anything about the “sequester”, millions of federal workers may shortly be facing some very painful furloughs according to CNN

Federal workers could start facing furloughs as early as April, according to federal agencies trying to prepare for the worst.

Unless Congress steps in, some $85 billion in massive spending reductions will hit the federal government, doling out furloughs to much of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workforce, experts say.

If you still live in an area of the country where the stores and the restaurants are booming, you should be very thankful because that is not the reality for most of the country.

I often write about the stunning economic decline of major cities such as Detroit, but there are huge sections of rural America that are in even worse shape than Detroit in many ways.

For example, many Indian reservations all over America have been shamefully neglected by the federal government and have become hotbeds for crime, drugs and poverty.

Business Insider recently profiled the Wind River Indian reservation in western Wyoming.  The following is a brief excerpt from that outstanding article

The Wind River Indian Reservation is not an easy place to get to, but I had to see it for myself.

Thirty-five-hundred square miles of prairie and mountains in western Wyoming, the reservation is home to bitter ancestral enemies: the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

Even among reservations, it’s renowned for brutal crime, widespread drug use, and legal dumping of toxic waste.

You can see some amazing photos of the Wind River Indian reservation right here.

It is hard to believe that there are places like that in America, but the truth is that conditions like that are spreading to more U.S. communities with each passing day.

We are a nation that is in an advanced state of decline.  But as long as the financial markets are okay, our leaders don’t seem too concerned about the suffering that everyone else is going through.

In fact, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan essentially admitted as much during a recent interview with CNBC.  The following is how a Zero Hedge article summarized that interview…

Starting at around 1:50, Greenspan states the odds of sequester occurring are very high – in fact, the playdough-faced ex-Chair-head notes, “I find it very difficult to find a scenario in which [the sequester] doesn’t happen” But when asked how this will affect the economy, Awkward Alan is unusually clearly spoken – “the issue is how does it affect the stock market.”

While not so many of our leaders have taken the path to direct truthiness, Greenspan somewhat shocks a Botox’d and babbling Bartiromo when he admits “the stock market is the key player in the game of economic growth.”

Bartiromo shifts uncomfortably in her seat, strokes her imaginary beard and stares blankly as Greenspan explains that while the sequester will have a real effect on the real economy, “if the stock market can hold up through this, then the effect will be rather minor.”

Do you see?

As long as the stock market is moving higher they think that everything is just fine and dandy.

And the Obama administration?

They continue to pursue the same policies that got us into this mess.

Their idea of “economic reform” is to threaten to sue businesses that do not hire ex-convicts.

And of course now that Obama has been re-elected he is putting a tremendous amount of effort into “stimulating the economy”.

For example, he spent this weekend golfing in Florida, and the Obamas recently spent about 20 million taxpayer dollars vacationing in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is getting worse with each passing day.

If you doubt that economic conditions are getting worse, please read this article: “Show This To Anyone That Believes That ‘Things Are Getting Better’ In America“.

When you look at the cold, hard numbers, it is undeniable what is happening to America.

And our leaders are not doing anything to fix our problems.  In fact, most of the time they are just making things worse.

So buckle up and get prepared.  We are in for very bumpy ride, and this is only just the beginning.

Store Closed Until Further Notice - Photo by Gryllida

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