Do They Know Something We Don’t? Corporate Insiders Are Selling Stocks At The Fastest Pace In 10 Years

A lot of things are starting to happen that we haven’t seen since the last recession.  A few days ago, I wrote about the fact that home sellers in the United States are cutting their prices at the fastest pace in at least eight years, and now we have learned that corporate insiders are selling stocks at the most rapid pace in ten years.  So why are they dumping their shares so quickly?  Do they know something that the rest of us do not?  Certainly nobody can blame them for taking advantage of the ridiculously high stock prices that we are seeing in the marketplace right now.  But stock prices have been very high for a while.  Why is there such a mad rush for the exits all of a sudden?  According to CNN, corporate insiders have sold 5.7 billion dollars worth of stock so far in September…

CEOs are using the market boom to quietly cash in their own chips.

Insiders at US companies have dumped $5.7 billion of stock this month, the highest in any September over the past decade, according to an analysis of regulatory filings by TrimTabs Investment Research.

It’s not a new trend. Insiders, which include corporate officers and directors, sold shares in August at the fastest pace in 10 years as well, TrimTabs said.

It would be one thing if September was an anomaly, but the fact that insider shares were being sold so rapidly in August as well indicates that this is a clear trend.

Could it be possible that these corporate insiders believe that the market is about to take a tumble?

Of course it doesn’t exactly take inside information to see the writing on the wall.  On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the third time in 2018.  Overall, this is the Fed’s eighth interest rate increase since 2015, and it looks like the Fed is anticipating three more rate hikes in 2019

Looking ahead to 2019, Fed officials expect at least three rate hikes will be necessary, and one more in 2020.

“The Fed shows no signs of taking (a) breath in rate hikes,” Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union, wrote in a research note.

This is terrible news for stock market investors, because every rate hiking program in the history of the Federal Reserve has ended in a stock market crash and/or a recession.

In fact, since 1957 there have been 18 rate hiking cycles, and every single one of them has ended in disaster.

So do you think that we are going to beat the odds this time?

After raising rates again, the Fed released a statement in which it said that it expects the U.S. economy to grow “for at least three more years”

The Fed sees the economy growing at a faster-than-expected 3.1 percent this year and continuing to expand moderately for at least three more years, amid sustained low unemployment and stable inflation near its 2 percent target.

“The labor market has continued to strengthen … economic activity has been rising at a strong rate,” it said in its statement.

You can believe that if you want, but it is also important to remember that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke assured all of us that a recession was not coming in 2008.

And later we learned that the moment when he made that statement a recession had actually already begun.

Needless to say, investors were not thrilled by Wednesday’s rate hike, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped another 100 points.  Stocks have really struggled this week, and we continue to get more disappointing news from the real economy.  On the heels of a “disappointing” existing home sales report, we just received news that new home sales missed expectations

Following existing home sales disappointment, hope was once again high for a bounce in new home sales in August but once again disappointed with a 629k print (up from a revised 608k), but missed expectations of 630k.

While the sales gain was the first in three months, the downward revisions to prior figures indicate that the market in recent months was slower than previously reported, adding to broader indications of cooler demand in residential real estate.

And the trade war continues to take a toll as well.  According to Ford’s chief executive, the metals tariffs are going to result in a billion dollars in lost profits for his company…

Ford CEO Jim Hackett told Bloomberg Television on Wednesday that his company faces $1 billion in lost profits from President Donald Trump’s tariffs.

“The metals tariffs took about $1 billion in profit from us – and the irony is we source most of that in the U.S. today anyways,” Hackett said. “If it goes on longer, there will be more damage.”

Perhaps this is one of the main reasons why it looks like Ford could soon be laying off thousands of workers.

The “smart money” is always one step ahead of the “dumb money”, and corporate insiders have a much better view of what is really going on inside their companies than any of the rest of us do.

So if they are collectively convinced that now is a perfect time to sell, that is a major red flag.

On Wall Street, actions speak much louder than words, and corporate insiders are sending a very loud message by selling so many of their own shares.

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.

Why Are So Many People Talking About The Potential For A Stock Market Crash In October?

It is that time of the year again.  Every year, people start talking about a possible stock market crash in October, because everyone remembers the historic crashes that took place in October 1987 and October 2008.  Could we witness a similar stock market crash in October 2018?  Without a doubt, the market is primed for another crash.  Stock valuations have been in crazytown territory for a very long time, and financial chaos has already begun to erupt in emerging markets all over the globe.  When the stock market does collapse, it won’t exactly be a surprise.  And a lot of people out there are pointing to October for historical reasons.  I did not know this, but it turns out that the month with the most market volatility since the Dow was first established has been the month of October

The difference is quite significant, as judged by a measure of volatility known as the standard deviation: For all Octobers since 1896, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was created, the standard deviation of the Dow’s daily changes has been 1.44%. That compares to 1.05% for all months other than October.

Like me, you are probably tempted to think that the reason why October’s number is so high is because of what happened in 1987 and 2008.

But even if you pull out those two months, October is still the most volatile

You might think that this difference is caused by a few outliers, such as the 1987 crash (which, of course, occurred in October) or 2008 (the Dow suffered several thousand-point plunges that month as it reacted to the snowballing financial crisis). But you would be wrong: The standard deviation of daily Dow changes is much higher in October than other months even if we eliminate 1987 and 2008 from the sample.

Once we get to Thanksgiving, the market tends to get sleepy, and it usually doesn’t wake up again until the new year begins.

So if something big is going to happen in the market in 2018, it is probably going to happen in the coming weeks.

And it is inevitable that something big will happen at some point.  As Jesse Colombo has pointed out, stocks are more overvalued right now than they were just before the great stock market crash of 1929…

In a bubble, the stock market becomes overpriced relative to its underlying fundamentals such as earnings, revenues, assets, book value, etc. The current bubble cycle is no different: the U.S. stock market is as overvalued as it was at major generational peaks. According to the cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (a smoothed price-to-earnings ratio), the U.S. stock market is more overvalued than it was in 1929, right before the stock market crash and Great Depression

It is becoming increasingly obvious what we are heading for, and a growing chorus of market experts are issuing ominous declarations about this market.

For example, David Tice is warning that “we’re getting closer to a meltdown scenario”

According to investor David Tice, who made a name for himself in running the Prudent Bear Fund before selling it to Federated Investors in 2008, the current market is dangerous. Tice was quoted as saying he’s “nervous” because “we’re getting closer to a meltdown scenario.”

And John Hussman ultimately expects “two-thirds of market capitalization” to vanish…

I am aware of no plausible conditions under which current extremes are likely to work out well for investors. There are a few possibilities that could involve a smaller loss than the two-thirds of market capitalization that I expect to vanish, as the run-of-the-mill, baseline expectation for the S&P 500 over the completion of this cycle. Yet it’s worth recognizing that the completion of every market cycle in history has taken the most reliable valuation measures we identify (those best correlated with actual subsequent S&P 500 market returns) to less than half of current levels.

Could you imagine the chaos that would be unleashed if the stock market went down by two-thirds?

That would make what happened in 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.

And there are a lot of parallels between what happened in 2008 and what is happening today.  For example, the housing market is slowing down dramatically just like it did a decade ago.  The following comes from a Bloomberg article that I came across earlier today entitled “Builders Slump as U.S. Housing Market Shifts to the Slow Lane”

The housing market is stalling, and homebuilder stocks are feeling the pain.

The S&P Supercomposite Homebuilding Index is down 21 percent year-to-date, on track for the biggest annual drop since 2008, when it fell 32 percent. That’s even with tax cuts, unemployment near the lowest since 1969 and a real-estate developer in the White House. What gives?

Just a few days ago, I wrote an entire article about the fact that home sellers are cutting prices at the fastest rate that we have seen in eight years.  The housing market is clearly telling us that a big time economic slowdown is coming, but most people are not listening.

Switching gears, we have also recently learned that it looks like Ford Motor Company will soon be laying off lots of workers

Ford Motor employees are warily awaiting details of CEO Jim Hackett’s promised “fitness” plan and the serious possibility of significant job losses as the company faces pressure to improve its operations.

The company has warned of $11 billion in restructuring costs over three to five years, which could mean thousands of worker buyouts, according to analysts.

Why would they be doing that if the economy really was in “good shape”?

And let us not forget about the ongoing woes of the retail industry.  Recently, I was astounded to learn that a whopping 20 percent of all retail space in Manhattan is currently vacant

“When you walk the streets, you see vacancies on every block in all five boroughs, rich or poor areas — even on Madison Avenue, where you used to have to fight to get space,” said Faith Hope Consolo, head of retail leasing for Douglas Elliman Real Estate, who said the increase in storefront vacancies in New York City had created “the most challenging retail landscape in my 25 years in real estate.”

A survey conducted by Douglas Elliman found that about 20 percent of all retail space in Manhattan is currently vacant, she said, compared with roughly 7 percent in 2016.

New York City is one of the few areas around the country that has actually been prospering.

If things are that bad there already, what does that say about the outlook for the rest of the nation?

The truth is that the economy is not nearly as good as you are being told, and things could literally start breaking loose at any moment.

Unfortunately, as a society we have not learned very much from history, and most Americans seem to think that this bubble of artificial prosperity is going to last indefinitely.

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.

Stock Prices Are Surging Because Corporations Are Spending More Money On Stock Buybacks Than Anything Else

The primary reason why stock prices have been soaring in recent months is because corporations have been buying back their own stock at an unprecedented pace.  In fact, the pace of stock buybacks is nearly double what it was at this time last year.  According to Goldman Sachs, S&P 500 companies spent 384 billion dollars buying back stock during the first half of 2018.  That is an absolutely astounding number.  And in many cases, corporations are going deep into debt in order to do this.  Of course this is going to push up stock prices, but corporate America will not be able to inflate this bubble indefinitely.  At some point a credit crunch will come, and the pace of stock buybacks will fall precipitously.

Prior to 1982, corporations were not permitted to go into the market and buy back stock.

The reason for this is obvious – stock buybacks are a really easy way for corporations to manipulate stock prices.

But these days it is expected that most large corporations will engage in this practice.  Large stockholders love to see the price of the stock go up, and they are never going to complain when smaller shareholders are bought out and their share of the company is increased.  And corporate executives love buybacks because so much of their compensation often involves stock options or bonuses related to key metrics such as earnings per share.

So in the end, stock buybacks are often all about greed.  It is a way to funnel money to those at the very top of the pyramid, and those stock market gains are taxed at capital gains rates which are much lower than the rates on normal income.

Normally, you would expect successful companies to invest most of their available cash back into operations so that they can make even more money in the future.  And for 19 of the past 20 years, corporations have spent more on capital investments than anything else.  But now, share buybacks have actually surpassed capital spending.  The following comes from CNN

But that doesn’t mean companies aren’t spending on job-creating investments, like new equipment, research projects and factories. Business spending is up 19% — it’s just that buybacks are growing much faster.

In fact, Goldman Sachs said that buybacks are garnering the largest share of cash spending by S&P 500 firms. It’s a milestone because capital spending had represented the single largest use of cash by corporations in 19 of the past 20 years.

And this trend seems to be accelerating during the second half of 2018.  It is being projected that firms will spend more than 600 billion dollars on stock buybacks during the second half of this year, and that will bring the grand total for 2018 to more than a trillion dollars

And the trend may not be done yet. Goldman Sachs predicted that share buyback authorizations among all US companies in all of 2018 will surpass $1 trillion for the first time ever.

Wow.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more than a trillion dollars that we could put toward reducing the national debt?

This is the reason why stocks hit another new all-time record high this week.  Stock buybacks have reached absolutely insane levels, and what we are witnessing is essentially a giant orgy of greed.

To give you some perspective, the previous annual record for stock buybacks was just 589 billion dollars in 2007.

This year, we may come close to doubling the previous record.

And let us not forget that the year after 2007 was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

So what corporations are the worst offenders?  Here is more from CNN

Apple (AAPL) alone spent a whopping $45 billion on buybacks during the first half of 2018, triple what it did during the same time period last year, the firm said. That included a record-shattering sum during the first quarter.

Amgen (AMGN), Cisco (CSCO), AbbVie (ABBV) and Oracle (ORCL) have also showered investors with big boosts to their buyback programs.

As I noted earlier, corporate insiders greatly benefit from stock buybacks, and they took advantage of massively inflated stock prices by selling off $10.3 billion worth of their shares during the month of August.

Inflating your stock price by cannibalizing your own shares is not a good long-term strategy for any corporation, but without a doubt it is making a lot of people very wealthy.

But in the process, the size of the stock market as a whole has been steadily shrinking.  In fact, the number of shares on the S&P 500 has fallen by almost 8 percent since the beginning of 2011…

According to Ed Yardeni, the number of S&P 500 shares has shrunk by 7.7% since the start of 2011. This tends to increase the earnings per remaining share and the dividends available per remaining share.

This is yet another example that shows why the stock market has become completely disconnected from economic reality.  Wall Street is inhabited by con men that are promoting Ponzi scheme after Ponzi scheme, and it is only a matter of time before the entire system collapses under its own weight.

But for now, the euphoria on Wall Street continues as stock prices continue to march higher.  Meanwhile, we continue to get more signs of trouble from the real economy.  For instance, this week we learned that the third largest bank in the entire country is going to lay off thousands of workers

Wells Fargo, the third-biggest U.S. bank, plans to lower its employee headcount by 5 percent to 10 percent in the next three years as part of its ongoing turnaround plan, the company announced Thursday.

The bank has 265,000 employees, meaning the reduction would result in a loss of between 13,250 and 26,500 jobs.

Why would they do that if the economy was in good shape?

And globally, the emerging market currency crisis has continued to escalate.  According to one source, more than 80 percent of all global currencies have fallen in value so far this year…

A review of the values of 143 global currencies indicates that so far this year, more than 80 percent have fallen in value.

Another eleven appear to be pegged to the dollar and 13 have risen in value. Of the 13 that have increased in value, only six are up more than 1 percent versus the dollar.

There have been outsized declines in countries like Venezuela (down 99 percent), Argentina (53 percent) and Turkey (38 percent). However, Brazil is down 20 percent, Russia 15 percent, India 11 percent, Sweden 10 percent, and the Philippines 8 percent. Big economies like China are experiencing a 5 percent currency value decline while the Euro is off by 3 percent.

I applaud those that have made lots of money in the stock market, but the party will not last forever.

In 2007 corporations were pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into stock buybacks, and it propped up the market for a time.  But eventually the bubble burst and the crisis of 2008 was so dramatic that it will be remembered forever.

Now we are facing a similar scenario, and it is just a matter of time before this bubble bursts as well.

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.

Median Household Income Has Fallen For FIVE YEARS IN A ROW

Five - Photo by woodley wonderworksIf the economy is getting better, then why do incomes keep falling?  According to a shocking new report that was just released by the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income (adjusted for inflation) has declined for five years in a row.  This has happened even though the federal government has been borrowing and spending money at an unprecedented rate and the Federal Reserve has been on the most reckless money printing spree in U.S. history.  Despite all of the “emergency measures” that have been taken to “stimulate the economy”, things just continue to get worse for average American families.  Americans are working harder than ever, but their paychecks are not reflecting that.  Meanwhile, the cost of everything just keeps going up.  The Federal Reserve insists that inflation is “low”, but anyone that goes grocery shopping or that stops at a gas station knows that is a lie.  In fact, if inflation was calculated the exact same way that it was calculated back in 1980, the inflation rate would be somewhere between 8 and 10 percent right now.  Paychecks are being stretched more than ever before, and that is probably the reason why about three-fourths of the entire country is living paycheck to paycheck at this point.

According to the Census report, the high point for median household income in the United States was back in 1999 ($56,080).  It almost got back to that level in 2007 ($55,627), but ever since then there has been a steady decline.  The following figures come directly from the report, and as you can see, median household income has fallen every single year for the past five years…

2007: $55,627

2008: $53,644

2009: $53,285

2010: $51,892

2011: $51,100

2012: $51,017

How far does that number have to go down before we admit that we have a major problem on our hands?

The new Census report also revealed that 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty.  As CNSNews.com noted, this is far higher than when Barack Obama first entered the White House…

During the four years that marked President Barack Obama’s first term in office, the real median income of American households dropped by $2,627 and the number of people on poverty increased by approximately 6,667,000, according to data released today by the Census Bureau.

So why does Obama continue to insist that things are getting better?

Right now, one out of every five households in the United States is on food stamps.

One out of every five.

How bad does it have to get before we acknowledge that what we are doing economically is not working.

Will half of us eventually end up on food stamps?

In addition, the new Census report also says that 48 million Americans are currently without any kind of health insurance whatsoever.

The biggest culprit for this is the stunning decline of employment-based health insurance.  Back in 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance.  Today, only 54.9 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.

And of course as I noted yesterday, even more companies are going to be dumping health insurance plans because of Obamacare.

All in all, what we have been witnessing over the past decade and a half is the systematic evisceration of the middle class.

After accounting for inflation, right now 40 percent of all U.S. workers are making less than what a full-time minimum wage worker made back in 1968.

Over the years, our incomes have certainly gone up, but inflation has increased even faster.

Back when I was growing up, $50,000 a year sounded like a whole lot of money.  I thought that anyone should be able to live a very comfortable lifestyle on that amount of money.

Unfortunately, $50,000 a year doesn’t go nearly as far as it once did.

If you take the current median household income ($51,017) and divide it up by 12 months, it comes to just a little bit more than $4000 a month.

And as I noted last year, it is not easy for the average American family to do everything that it needs to do on $4000 a month…

So can an average family of four people make it on just $4000 a month?

Well, first of all you have got to take out taxes.  After accounting for all forms of taxation you will be lucky if you have $3000 remaining.

With that $3000, you have to pay for all of the following…

*Housing

*Power

*Water

*Food

*Phone

*Internet

*At Least One Vehicle

*Gasoline

*Vehicle Repairs

*Car Insurance

*Health Insurance

*Dental Bills

*Home Or Rental Insurance

*Life Insurance

*Student Loan Debt Payments

*Credit Card Payments

*Furniture

*Clothing

*Pets

*Entertainment (although it is hard to imagine any money will be left for that)

Have I left anything out?

The truth is that $3000 does not go as far as it used to.

No wonder American families are feeling so stretched financially these days.

The new Census report also noted that the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us continues to grow.  There is certainly nothing wrong with making money, but if the economy was working properly all Americans should be able to have the opportunity to better themselves.

According to CNBC, the 400 wealthiest Americans now have more money than the poorest 50 percent of all Americans combined.

So why is this happening?  Well, certainly there are a lot of reasons, but in recent years quantitative easing has definitely played a role.  As I noted in my recent article about the Federal Reserve, quantitative easing has been incredibly good for those with stocks and other forms of financial investments.  All of that liquidity has juiced the financial markets, and the extremely wealthy have been loving it.

Meanwhile, things just continue to get even tougher for most of the rest of the American people, and the frightening thing is that the next major wave of the economic collapse has not even hit us yet.

How bad will things be for average American families once that happens?

And there are certainly lots of troubling signs as we get ready to head into the fall season…

-Total mortgage activity has dropped to the lowest level that we have seen since October 2008.

-One of the largest furniture manufacturers in America was just forced into bankruptcy.

-According to the Wall Street Journal, the 2013 holiday shopping season is already being projected to be the worst that we have seen since 2009.

Hopefully the slow and steady economic decline that we have been experiencing will not accelerate into a full-blown avalanche any time soon.

But I would definitely get prepared just in case.

The “McDonald’s Budget”: Laughably Unrealistic But Also Deeply Tragic

The McDonald's BudgetCan you support a family on $2,000 a month?  Recently, McDonald’s and Visa teamed up to launch a website that is intended to help employees of McDonald’s manage their money.  The aspect of the website that is getting a tremendous amount of national attention is the “McDonald’s Budget” which is a sample monthly budget which is designed to help workers plan their spending.  You can see a copy of it for yourself right here.  This budget is laughably unrealistic, but it is also deeply tragic, because there are tens of millions of American workers that are actually trying to raise families on this kind of an income.

The first thing that you will notice about the McDonald’s Budget is that it expects workers to have two jobs.  It is an open admission that working at McDonald’s is not enough to survive.  So this budget assumes that the worker will take on a second job which will pay nearly as much as the first one does.  Assuming that both jobs pay about the minimum wage, the budget will require about 70 to 80 hours of work every week.

People can put in those kind of hours for a time, but after a while your body starts to break down.  I have been there, and I have known many others that have been there.

But let’s assume that the hypothetical worker that this budget is for can work that many hours indefinitely.  The budget assumes a yearly income of about $24,000 after taxes, and that would make it a fairly typical budget for a typical working class American.

In the United States today, 47 percent of all U.S. workers make less than $25,000 a year before taxes.  So millions upon millions of U.S. workers are trying to make ends meet each month on very limited incomes.

Does the “McDonald’s Budget” provide any solutions for those workers?

Well, this budget allocates $0 for food, so if you plan on following this budget you might want to anticipate fasting a lot each month.

This budget also allocates $0 for gasoline.  So either you will have to ride a bicycle or walk everywhere you go.

This budget does not allocate any money for clothing either.  If you really need something to wear, perhaps you can take some cash from the “monthly spending money” category and go down to the local thrift store and get something.

In addition, this budget has no money for water, no money for child care and you might as well forget about saving for retirement.  But if you work yourself 70 to 80 hours a week, you probably won’t even make it to retirement age anyway.

So what are some of the things that actually are in the budget?

Well, it allocates $20 a month for health insurance.

Wow – where can I sign up for that health insurance plan?

As the Washington Post noted, nobody is going to be able to get health insurance that cheaply…

Low-income individuals receive assistance from Medicaid, but an after-tax income of $24,720 would put Medicaid out of reach in most states. The same point will likely apply to the subsidies offered by Obamacare: An individual with an income of $17,000 in California will be able to get a basic health insurance plan at no cost, but an individual making $28,000 will have to pay at least $137 per month.

So even a young, healthy person will have to pay $100 or more for an individual health insurance policy in most circumstances. Perhaps McDonalds is tacitly admitting that many low-income workers, including McDonalds employees, can’t afford health insurance and simply make do without it.

The original version of the budget also assumed that the worker would spend zero dollars a month on “heating”.

Perhaps McDonald’s just expects their workers to freeze all winter.

The new version of the budget now allocates $50 a month for heating.  Perhaps that may work for the state of Florida, but anyone that lives in a northern state knows that it takes a whole lot more than that just to heat up your home to a level that is barely livable during the winter.

This budget is absolutely crazy.  But perhaps even more patronizing then the budget itself is the following statement that is made on the website: “You can have almost anything you want as long as you plan ahead and save for it.”

Oh really?

Do they expect anyone to actually fall for that line?

Don’t get me wrong.  Working at McDonald’s is great for some people.  I worked there myself when I was in high school.  But the vast majority of adult Americans need jobs that will enable them to take care of their families.  And those kinds of jobs are rapidly disappearing.

Last month, the U.S. economy lost 240,000 full-time jobs.  We are about 6 million full-time jobs below the all-time record that was set back in 2007.  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled: “The Decline Of Breadwinner Jobs Has Resulted In The Longest Bread Lines In American History“.

Today, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.  A lot of very talented people are cutting hair, flipping burgers or working for temp agencies.  Those people should be doing something that takes advantage of their skills and abilities, but the U.S. economy is not producing enough of those kinds of jobs anymore.

Unfortunately, this is only just the beginning.  The next major wave of the economic collapse is rapidly approaching, and when it strikes unemployment in this country is going to get much worse.

So don’t put all of your faith in the system, because the system is failing.  Even if you do have a good job right now, you could lose it at any moment.

Whatever you can do to become more independent of the system is a good thing.  For example, starting up a side business is a wonderful thing.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort, but nobody can fire you if you are the boss.

So what do you think of the “McDonald’s Budget”?  Please feel free to share your opinion by posting a comment below…

McDonald's

Consumer Spending Drought: 16 Signs That The Middle Class Is Running Out Of Money

Drought - Photo by Bert KaufmannIs “discretionary income” rapidly becoming a thing of the past for most American families?  Right now, there are a lot of signs that we are on the verge of a nightmarish consumer spending drought.  Incomes are down, taxes are up, many large retail chains are deeply struggling because of the lack of customers, and at this point nearly a quarter of all Americans have more credit card debt than money in the bank.  Considering the fact that consumer spending is such a large percentage of the U.S. economy, that is very bad news.  How will we ever have a sustained economic recovery if consumers don’t have much money to spend?  Well, the truth is that we aren’t ever going to have a sustained economic recovery.  In fact, this debt-fueled bubble of false hope that we are experiencing right now is as good as things are going to get.  Things are going to go downhill from here, and if you think that consumer spending is bad now, just wait until you see what happens over the next several years.

Even though the Dow is surging toward a record high right now, everyone knows that things are not good for the middle class.  A recent quote from CPA Howard Dvorkin kind of summarizes our current state of affairs very nicely…

“The fact of the matter is that America is broke — whether it’s mortgages, student loans or credit cards, we are broke. The old rule of thumb is that people should have six months’ of savings,” Dvorkin says.”If you talk to people, most don’t have two pennies.”

These days most Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck, and thanks to rising prices and rising taxes, those paychecks are getting squeezed tighter and tighter.  Many families have had to cut back on unnecessary expenses, and some families no longer have any discretionary income at all.

The following are 16 signs that the middle class is rapidly running out of money…

#1 According to one brand new survey, 24 percent of all Americans have more credit card debt than money in the bank.

#2 J.C. Penney was once an unstoppable retail powerhouse, but now J.C. Penney has just posted its lowest annual retail sales in more than 20 years

J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) slid the most in more than three decades after the department-store chain lost $4.3 billion in sales in the first year of Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson’s turnaround plan.

The shares fell 18 percent to $17.40 at 11:28 a.m. in New York after earlier declining 22 percent, the biggest intraday drop since at least 1980, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. J.C. Penney yesterday said its net loss in the quarter ended Feb. 2 widened to $552 million from $87 million a year earlier. The Plano, Texas-based retailer’s annual revenue slid 25 percent to $13 billion, the lowest since at least 1987.

How much worse can things get?  At this point the decline has become so steep for J.C. Penney that Jim Cramer of CNBC is declaring that they are in “a true tailspin“.

#3 In the United States today, a new car has become out of reach for most middle class Americans according to the 2013 Car Affordability Study

Looking to buy a new car, truck or crossover? You may find it more difficult to stretch the household budget than you expected, according to a new study that finds median-income families in only one major U.S. city actually can afford the typical new vehicle.

The typical new vehicle is now more expensive than ever, averaging $30,500 in 2012, according to TrueCar.com data, and heading up again as makers curb the incentives that helped make their products more affordable during the recession when they were desperate for sales. According to the 2013 Car Affordability Study by Interest.com, only in Washington could the typical household swing the payments, the median income there running $86,680 a year.

#4 The founder of Subway Restaurants, Fred Deluca, says that the recent tax increases are having a noticeable impact on his business…

“The payroll tax is affecting sales. It’s causing sales declines,” he said, estimating a decline of about 2 percentage points off sales at his restaurants. “There are a lot of pressures on consumers,” Deluca said, adding “I think this is on the permanent side, but I think business will adjust to it.”

#5 Many other large restaurant chains are also struggling in this tough economic environment…

Darden Restaurants, which owns the casual dining chains Oliver Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster, said blended same-store sales at its three eateries would be 4.5 percent lower during its fiscal third quarter.

Clarence Otis, Darden’s chairman and chief executive, said that “while results midway through the third quarter were encouraging, there were difficult macro-economic headwinds during the last month of the quarter.”

“Two of the most prominent were increased payroll taxes and rising gasoline prices, which together put meaningful pressure on the discretionary purchasing power of our guests,” he added.

#6 The CFO of Family Dollar recently admitted to CNBC that this is a “challenging time” because of reduced consumer spending…

At Family Dollar where the average customer makes less than $40,000 a year, the combination of a two-percent hike in the payroll tax, rising gas prices and delayed tax refunds has created a “challenging time and an uncertain time for the consumer right now,” said Mary Winston, the company’s chief financial officer.

“In our case, anything that takes money out of our customer’s wallet gives them less money to spend in our stores,” she told CNBC. “So I think all of those things create nervousness for the consumer, and I think there are sometimes political dynamics going on that they might not even fully understand the details, but they know it’s not good.”

#7 Even Wal-Mart is really struggling right now.  According to a recent Bloomberg article, Wal-Mart is struggling “to restock store shelves as U.S. sales slump“…

Evelin Cruz, a department manager at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pico Rivera, California, said Simon’s comments from the officers’ meeting were “dead on.”

“There are gaps where merchandise is missing,” Cruz said in a telephone interview. “We are not talking about a couple of empty shelves. This is throughout the store in every store. Some places look like they’re going out of business.”

This all comes on the heels of an internal Wal-Mart memo that was leaked to the press earlier this month that described February sales as a “total disaster”.

#8 Electronics retailer Best Buy continues to struggle mightily.  Best Buy just announced that it will be eliminating 400 jobs at its headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota.

#9 It is being projected that many of the largest retail chains in America, including Best Buy, will close down hundreds of stores during 2013.  The following is a list of projected store closings for 2013 that I included in a previous 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

#10 Another sign that consumer spending is slowing down is the fact that less stuff is being moved around in our economy.   As I have mentioned previously, freight shipment volumes have hit their lowest level in two years, and freight expenditures have gone negative for the first time since the last recession.

#11 Many young adults have no discretionary income to spend because they are absolutely drowning in student loan debt.  According to the New York Federal Reserve, student loan debt nearly tripled between 2004 and 2012.

#12 The student loan delinquency rate in the United States is now at an all-time high.  It is only a matter of time before the student loan debt bubble bursts.

#13 Due to a lack of jobs and high levels of debt, poverty among young adults in America is absolutely exploding.  Today, U.S. families that have a head of household that is under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

#14 According to one recent survey, 62 percent of all middle class Americans say that they have had to reduce household spending over the past year.

#15 Median household income in the United States has fallen for four consecutive years.  Overall, it has declined by more than $4000 during that time span.

#16 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is currently taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.

Are you starting to get the picture?

Retailers are desperate for sales, but you can’t squeeze blood out of a rock.

For much more on how the middle class is absolutely drowning in debt, please see this article: “Money Is A Form Of Social Control And Most Americans Are Debt Slaves“.

But if you listen to the mainstream media, they would have you believe that happy days are here again.

Right now, everyone seems to be quite giddy about the fact that the Dow is marching toward an all-time high.  And I actually do believe that the Dow will blow right past it.  In fact, it is even possible that we could see the Dow hit 15,000 before everything starts falling apart.

But at some point, the financial markets will catch up with economic reality.  It is just a matter of time.

In the meanwhile, those that are wise are taking advantage of these times of plenty to prepare for the great economic drought that is coming.

Don’t be caught living paycheck to paycheck and totally unprepared when the next wave of the economic collapse strikes.  Anyone that believes that this debt-fueled bubble of false hope can last indefinitely is just being delusional.

During The Years Of Plenty, Prepare For The Years Of Drought - Photo Taken By Tomas Castelazo

All Of This Whining And Crying About The Sequester Shows Why America Is Doomed

CryingIf we can’t even cut federal spending by 2.4 percent without much of the country throwing an absolute hissy fit, then what hope does America have?  All of this whining and crying about the sequester is absolutely disgraceful.  The truth is that even if the sequester goes into effect, the U.S. government will still take in more money than ever before in 2013 and it will still spend more money than ever before in 2013.  So it is a bit disingenuous to call what is about to happen “a spending cut”, but for the sake of argument let’s concede that point.  Even if the budget really was being “cut” by 85 billion dollars, that only would only amount to a “cut” of 2.4 percent to federal spending.  It would barely make a dent in the federal budget deficit for 2013.  The U.S. government would still accumulate about as much new debt in fiscal year 2013 as it did in all the years from the inauguration of George Washington to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan combined.  Our debt to GDP ratio would continue to soar.  The sequester cuts would essentially only be a minor bump on the road to financial oblivion.  But if you listen to Barack Obama and his allies, they would have you believe that we are facing a great national crisis because of these impending cuts.  They would have you believe that hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs and that many government agencies will no longer be able to operate effectively.  They would have you believe that “granny won’t get her lunch” and “roofs blown off by Hurricane Sandy won’t get repaired”.  Well, if all of that is true, then what in the world would our country look like if we actually cut a trillion dollars from the federal budget this year and started living within our means?

Have you ever known people that are already hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and yet go out and regularly blow thousands more dollars on wild shopping sprees?

Such debt addicts may be very proud of their new homes, their new cars, their new clothes and all of their fancy electronic gadgets, but it was all purchased with debt.  When a “day of reckoning” finally arrives, many debt addicts lose absolutely everything and end up in the street.

That is what America is like today.

Our politicians like to show off all of the stuff that our government is spending money on, but the truth is that we are spending gigantic mountains of money that we simply do not have.  We are literally stealing from our kids and our grandkids so that we can continue to enjoy a massively inflated standard of living that we have not earned.

But we can’t stop ourselves.  Americans are absolutely addicted to big government.  They want a gigantic government that sends out free money to more than 100 million Americans every month, but they absolutely do not want to pay for it.  They would rather steal money from their children and their grandchildren to pay for it.

This has got to stop, because we are literally destroying the future of this country.

If Americans really want a massively bloated government that takes care of everyone from the cradle to the grave then they should pay for it.

If Americans don’t want to pay for it, then they should reduce the size of the government to a level where they are willing to pay for it.

But stealing money from future generations of Americans to pay our bills is absolutely disgraceful.

As I talked about in a previous article, we are stealing more than 100 million dollars from our children and our grandchildren every single hour of every single day.

Is there anyone out there that is willing to stand up and defend that kind of theft?

But the vast majority of Americans don’t want to do anything to stop it, because they don’t want to harm “the economy” (i.e. our ridiculously bloated standard of living).

Will the sequester cuts hurt the economy a bit?

Of course.

Government spending cuts always hurt the economy.

If we raised taxes to help pay the bills that the federal government has been racking up, would that hurt the economy?

Of course.

Tax increases always hurt the economy.

But if we continue on the path that we are today, America is doomed.

The U.S. national debt is the biggest single debt in the history of the world.  It is now more than 16.6 trillion dollars, and it has gotten more than 23 times larger since Jimmy Carter first entered the White House.

If our politicians suddenly decided to go to a balanced budget today, our debt-fueled “bubble economy” would disappear and we would immediately plunge into a deep economic depression.

Do the American people have the character to be able to handle that kind of an “adjustment” to our standard of living?

Of course not.

That is why so many of our politicians are scared to death of doing anything about the debt.

And even these small sequester “cuts” are freaking everyone out.  Many of our politicians and many in the mainstream media are openly declaring that “the sky is falling”.  Just check out the following short excerpt from a recent New York Times article

The owner of a Missouri smokehouse that makes beef jerky is worried about a slowdown in food safety inspections. A Montana school district is drawing up a list of teachers who could face layoffs. Officials at an Arizona border station fear that lines to cross the border could lengthen. And if Olympic National Park in Washington cannot hire enough workers to plow backcountry trails, they may stay closed until the snow melts in July.

But that is nothing compared to what others are saying.  CNN is declaring that if the sequester cuts happen, “granny won’t get her lunch” and “roofs blown off by Hurricane Sandy won’t get repaired”.

And check out these ominous warnings from Barack Obama about what will happen if the sequester cuts go into effect…

“Emergency responders like the ones who are here today — their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded.  Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced.  FBI agents will be furloughed.  Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go.  Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country.  Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off.  Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.”

The Obama administration has even decided to release hundreds of illegal immigrants in anticipation of the cuts…

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have released “several hundred” immigrants from deportation centers across the country, saying the move is an effort to cut costs ahead of budget cuts due to hit later this week.

Announcing the news Tuesday, ICE officials said that the immigrants were released under supervision and continue to face deportation. After reviewing hundreds of cases, those released were considered low-risk and “noncriminal,” officials said.

The claims about the sequester cuts just seem to get more ridiculous with each passing day.  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is warning that the cuts will make the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attacks,  and Obama recently decided not to send an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf because of “budget concerns“.

Apparently he sees no problem with using the U.S. military to score political points.

And Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says that the budget cuts will result in “less actual deficit reduction in the short run”.

Really?

How stupid do they think we all are?

Yes, the sequester cuts will have an impact on the economy, but they won’t cause the sky to fall.

The following is what the CBO says the economic impact of the cuts is likely to be

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cuts will cost 750,000 jobs and hit growth by 0.6 percentage points, assuming the cuts remain in effect for the remainder of the fiscal year. Some economists expect a slightly bigger impact.

Remember, these are actually very small cuts.

In fact, according to U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins, the U.S. government will actually be spending more money in 2013 than it did in 2012 even if the sequester cuts go into effect…

“There’s a fact that says we are going to take in more money this fiscal year than we have ever taken in before,” Jenkins said.  “The budget this year, we will spend more money this year than we spent last year even if the sequester goes into effect.  We will spend more money even if the sequester goes into effect.”

So why is everyone whining and crying over such a very small amount of money?

If you want to get upset about something, why not get upset about things that are increasing our debt by trillions of dollars?

For example, according to a Government Accountability Office report that was just released, Obamacare is going to cause the federal debt to rise by $6.2 trillion.

Why aren’t more people getting upset over that?

Sadly, it is because America is a debt addict.  Most Americans don’t really care much when federal spending skyrockets out of control, but if anyone tries to slow down the spending a little bit they throw hissy fits.

And please don’t tell me that “the big government Republicans” are much better than “the big government Democrats” on budget issues.  The Republicans have caved in and have gone along with all of this wild spending every single time.

On March 27th, they will have another opportunity to do something.  That is when the current continuing resolution expires.

At that time, the Republicans could refuse to pass anything but a balanced budget.

Or they could at least refuse to pass anything except a budget that would cut the federal budget deficit in half.

But they won’t do anything once again.  They will cave in and go along with the status quo because they are cowards.

So we will continue to rip off future generations to fuel our current bloated standard of living.

Thomas Jefferson understood that government borrowing is theft from future generations.  He once made the following statement….

And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.

Shame on you Democrats.

Shame on you Republicans.

Shame on you America.

You are destroying the future of America for your own selfish reasons.

If future generations get the chance, they will look back on what you did to them and they will curse you for it.

For much more on our exploding national debt, please see the following article: “55 Facts About The Debt And U.S. Government Finances That Every American Voter Should Know“.

Not that living within our means would be easy.

Like I said, it would mean a deep economic depression, and it would also likely mean a tremendous amount of societal chaos.

Even now, while we are still living in the boom times, things are really starting to get crazy out there.  Just check out what is going on in Oakland

Oakland’s crime problems have gotten so bad that some people aren’t even bothering to call the cops anymore; instead, they’re trying to solve and prevent crimes themselves.

KPIX 5 cameras caught up with a half dozen neighbors in East Oakland’s Arcadia Park neighborhood Monday as they walked the streets on the lookout for crime. The vigilance has never seemed more necessary than now; 25 homes in the neighborhood have been burglarized over the last two months alone.

In a neighborhood that has started to feel like the wild west, people have even started posting “wanted” signs.

“You have to walk around in your house with a gun to feel safe here,” said Alaska Tarvins of the Arcadia Park Board of Directors.

If this is how bad things are now, how bad will they be when a day of reckoning for our economy arrives?

And a day of reckoning is coming.

Our politicians can try to keep kicking the can down the road for as long as they can, but eventually time will run out.  Just take a look at what is happening in Greece and Spain.  Meanwhile, all of this can kicking is just making the eventual crisis even worse.

We can borrow our way to prosperity for a while, but in the end there is always a very bitter price to pay for doing so.

I would love to tell you that there is a chance that all of this will be turned around, but the truth is that all of this whining and crying about the sequester shows that America is doomed.

I hope that you are getting ready.

Cry

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