Trump’s Approval Rating Is Supposedly Only 37 Percent, But Small Business Optimism Just Hit The Highest Level In 12 Years

donald-trump-and-mike-pence-public-domainA Quinnipiac University Poll that was released on Tuesday says that Donald Trump only has an approval rating of 37 percent.  Meanwhile, that same survey found that Barack Obama currently has an approval rating of 55 percent.  Of course considering the fact that Quinnipiac polls showed Hillary Clinton winning the election in November easily, perhaps we should not put too much stock in these results.  But other polling organizations have come up with similar results.  In fact, an average of nine recent polls indicates that Trump’s approval rating is somewhere around 42 percent.  So without a doubt there are a whole lot of people out there that do not like Donald Trump.

But the business community sure seems thrilled with him.  We just witnessed one of the greatest post-election stock market rallies in American history, numerous corporations have already announced that they will be bringing jobs back to the United States, and Bloomberg is reporting that small business optimism has hit the highest level that we have seen since the end of 2004…

Optimism among America’s small businesses soared in December by the most since 1980 as expectations about the economy’s prospects improved dramatically in the aftermath of the presidential election.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s index jumped 7.4 points last month to 105.8, the highest since the end of 2004, from 98.4. While seven of the 10 components increased in December, 73 percent of the monthly advance was due to more upbeat views about the outlook for sales and the economy, the Washington-based group said.

On the surface, all of these numbers appear to be contradictory.  If the American people are not feeling good about our new president, then it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that the small business community would be so optimistic.

But of course the American people are not a single monolithic entity in 2017.  We are a deeply, deeply divided nation, and Donald Trump is the single most polarizing political figure to come along in generations.

Those that love Trump tend to really love Trump, and most of those people are quite optimistic about the future.

And those that hate Trump tend to really hate Trump.  Yesterday, I explained that the radical left wants to transform Inauguration Day into an epic riot, and many of his opponents are planning to spend the next four years doing whatever they can to destroy him.

Just look at what happened today.  The top story on CNN was about how the Russians supposedly have “compromising personal and financial information” on Donald Trump that they can use to blackmail him…

Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

If you want to read the full 35 page report, you can do so right here.  Some of the things in the report are so absolutely laughable that I don’t know how anyone could possibly take them seriously.  And one particularly absurd section of the report was reportedly originally fabricated by some pranksters on the Internet, but you probably won’t hear that in the mainstream media.  CNN is standing by the legitimacy of these documents, and apparently U.S. Senator John McCain thought so much of them that he handed copies of them over to FBI Director James Comey on December 9th

CNN has also learned that on December 9, Senator John McCain gave a full copy of the memos — dated from June through December, 2016 — to FBI Director James Comey. McCain became aware of the memos from a former British diplomat who had been posted in Moscow. But the FBI had already been given a set of the memos compiled up to August 2016, when the former MI6 agent presented them to an FBI official in Rome, according to national security officials.

The raw memos on which the synopsis is based were prepared by the former MI6 agent, who was posted in Russia in the 1990s and now runs a private intelligence gathering firm. His investigations related to Mr. Trump were initially funded by groups and donors supporting Republican opponents of Mr. Trump during the GOP primaries, multiple sources confirmed to CNN. Those sources also said that once Mr. Trump became the nominee, further investigation was funded by groups and donors supporting Hillary Clinton.

According to this report, the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Donald Trump “for at least five years”.

So has Donald Trump really been a super secret Russian agent all this time?

Of course not.  The mainstream media has decided to peddle Internet hoaxes, rampant speculation and fake news as legitimate journalism, and it is absolutely disgraceful.

But we are going to see much more of this.  The goal is to destroy Donald Trump, and this is a game that will be played daily now for the next four years.

We are a nation that is bitterly divided, and after everything that has already been said and done I don’t know if Donald Trump could bring us back together even if he wanted to do so.

The protests against Trump in Washington D.C. start in just four days.  I think that the period of time immediately surrounding Inauguration Day is going to set the tone for how Trump’s first year is going to play out.

I am definitely hoping for the best, but I also know that there is a large portion of the population that considers him to be the personification of everything that is wrong with America, and they have absolutely no intention of following his leadership.

It has been said that a house divided against itself will surely fall, and America is a deeply, deeply divided nation in early 2017.

Perhaps Trump can prove the naysayers wrong and bring us all together in unity, but at this point I am not optimistic that any president will be able to do this ever again.

Deutsche Bank Collapse: The Most Important Bank In Europe Is Facing A Major ‘Liquidity Event’

toilet-paper-stock-market-collapse-public-domainThe largest and most important bank in the largest and most important economy in Europe is imploding right in front of our eyes.  Deutsche Bank is the 11th biggest bank on the entire planet, and due to the enormous exposure to derivatives that it has, it has been called “the world’s most dangerous bank“.  Over the past year, I have repeatedly warned that Deutsche Bank is heading for disaster and is a likely candidate to be “the next Lehman Brothers”.  If you would like to review, you can do so here, here and here.  On September 16th, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Justice wanted 14 billion dollars from Deutsche Bank to settle a case related to the mis-handling of mortgage-backed securities during the last financial crisis.  As a result of that announcement, confidence in the bank has been greatly shaken, the stock price has fallen to record lows, and analysts are warning that Deutsche Bank may be facing a “liquidity event” unlike anything that we have seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers back in 2008.

At one point on Friday, Deutsche Bank stock fell below the 10 euro mark for the first time ever before bouncing back a bit.  A completely unverified rumor that was spreading on Twitter that claimed that Deutsche Bank would settle with the Department of Justice for only 5.4 billion dollars was the reason for the bounce.

But the size of the fine is not really the issue now.  Shares of Deutsche Bank have fallen by more than half so far in 2016, and this latest episode seems to have been the final straw for the deeply troubled financial institution.  Old sources of liquidity are being cut off, and nobody wants to be the idiot that offers Deutsche Bank a new source of liquidity at this point.

As a result, Deutsche Bank is potentially facing a “liquidity event” on a scale that we have not seen since the financial crisis of 2008.  The following comes from Zero Hedge

It is not solvency, or the lack of capital – a vague, synthetic, and usually quite arbitrary concept, determined by regulators – that kills a bank; it is – as Dick Fuld will tell anyone who bothers to listen – the loss of (access to) liquidity: cold, hard, fungible (something Jon Corzine knew all too well when he commingled and was caught) cash, that pushes a bank into its grave, usually quite rapidly: recall that it took Lehman just a few days for its stock to plunge from the high double digits to zero.

It is also liquidity, or rather concerns about it, that sent Deutsche Bank stock crashing to new all time lows earlier today: after all, the investing world already knew for nearly two weeks that its capitalization is insufficient. As we reported earlier this week, it was a report by Citigroup, among many other, that found how badly undercapitalized the German lender is, noting that DB’s “leverage ratio, at 3.4%, looks even worse relative to the 4.5% company target by 2018” and calculated that while he only models €2.9bn in litigation charges over 2H16-2017 – far less than the $14 billion settlement figure proposed by the DOJ – and includes a successful disposal of a 70% stake in Postbank at end-2017 for 0.4x book he still only reaches a CET 1 ratio of 11.6% by end-2018, meaning the bank would have a Tier 1 capital €3bn shortfall to the company target of 12.5%, and a leverage ratio of 3.9%, resulting in an €8bn shortfall to the target of 4.5%.

The more the stock price drops, the faster other financial institutions, investors and regular banking clients are going to want to pull their money out of Deutsche Bank.  And every time there is news about people pulling money out of the bank, that is just going to drive the stock price even lower.

In other words, Deutsche Bank may be entering a death spiral that may be impossible to stop without a government bailout, and the German government has already stated that there will be no bailout for Deutsche Bank.

Banking customers have a total of approximately 566 billion euros deposited with the bank, and even if a small fraction of those clients start demanding their money back it is going to cause a major, major crunch.

Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan attempted to calm nerves on Friday by releasing a memo to employees that blamed “speculators” for the decline in the stock price

Instead of doing what many have correctly suggested he should be doing, namely focusing on ways to raise more capital for the undercapitalized Deutsche Bank in order to stem the slow (at first) liquidity leak, first thing this morning CEO John Cryan issued another morale-boosting note to employees of Deustche Bank who have been watching their stock price crash to another record low, dipping under €10 in early trading for the first time ever. In the memo the embattled CEO worryingly did what Dick Fuld and other chief executives did when they felt the situation slipping out of control, namely blaming evil “rumor-spreading” shorts, saying “our bank has become subject to speculation. Ongoing rumours are causing significant swings in our stock price. … Trust is the foundation of banking. Some forces in the markets are currently trying to damage this trust.

Just as important, Cryan confirms the Bloomberg report that “a few of our hedge fund clients have reduced some activities with us. That is causing unjustified concerns.” As we explained last night, the concerns are very much justified if they spread to the biggest risk-factor for the German bank: its depositors, which collectively hold over €550 billion in liquidity-providing instruments.

If you would like to ready the full memo, you can do so right here.

One of the reasons why Deutsche Bank is considered to be so systemically “dangerous” is because it has 42 trillion euros worth of exposure to derivatives.  That is an amount of money that is 14 times larger than the GDP of the entire nation of Germany.

Some firms that were derivatives clients of the bank have already gotten spooked and have moved their business to other institutions.  It was this report from Bloomberg that really helped drive down the stock price of Deutsche Bank earlier this week…

The funds, a small subset of the more than 800 clients in the bank’s hedge fund business, have shifted part of their listed derivatives holdings to other firms this week, according to an internal bank document seen by Bloomberg News. Among them are Izzy Englander’s $34 billion Millennium Partners, Chris Rokos’s $4 billion Rokos Capital Management, and the $14 billion Capula Investment Management, said a person with knowledge of the situation who declined to be identified talking about confidential client matters.

“The issue here is now one of confidence,” said Chris Wheeler, a financial analyst with Atlantic Equities LLP in London.

So what comes next?

Monday is a banking holiday for Germany, so we may not see anything major happen until Tuesday.

An announcement of a major reduction in the Department of Justice fine may buy Deutsche Bank some time, but any reprieve would likely only be temporary.

What appears to be more likely is the scenario that Jeffrey Gundlach is suggesting

But Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, said investors betting that Berlin would not rescue Deutsche could find themselves nursing big losses.

The market is going to push down Deutsche Bank until there is some recognition of support. They will get assistance, if need be,’ said Gundlach, who oversees more than $100 billion at Los Angeles-based DoubleLine.

It will be very interesting to see how desperate things become before the German government finally gives in to the pressure.

The complete and total collapse of Deutsche Bank would be an event many times more significant for the global financial system than the collapse of Lehman Brothers was.  Global leaders simply cannot afford for such a thing to happen, but without serious intervention it appears that is precisely where we are heading.

Personally, I don’t know exactly what will happen next, but it will be fascinating to watch.

Day Of Reckoning: The Collapse Of The Too Big To Fail Banks In Europe Is Here

Europe Lightning - Public DomainThere is so much chaos going on that I don’t even know where to start.  For a very long time I have been warning my readers that a major banking collapse was coming to Europe, and now it is finally unfolding.  Let’s start with Deutsche Bank.  The stock of the most important bank in the “strongest economy in Europe” plunged another 8 percent on Monday, and it is now hovering just above the all-time record low that was set during the last financial crisis.  Overall, the stock price is now down a staggering 36 percent since 2016 began, and Deutsche Bank credit default swaps are going parabolic.  Of course my readers were alerted to major problems at Deutsche Bank all the way back in September, and now the endgame is playing out.  In addition to Deutsche Bank, the list of other “too big to fail” banks in Europe that appear to be in very serious trouble includes Commerzbank, Credit Suisse, HSBC and BNP Paribas.  Just about every major bank in Italy could fall on that list as well, and Greek bank stocks lost close to a quarter of their value on Monday alone.  Financial Armageddon has come to Europe, and the entire planet is going to feel the pain.

The collapse of the banks in Europe is dragging down stock prices all over the continent.  At this point, more than one-fifth of all stock market wealth in Europe has already been wiped out since the middle of last year.  That means that we only have four-fifths left.  The following comes from USA Today

The MSCI Europe index is now down 20.5% from its highest point over the past 12 months, says S&P Global Market Intelligence, placing it in the 20% decline that unofficially defines a bear market.

Europe’s stock implosion makes the U.S.’ sell-off look like child’s play. The U.S.-centric Standard & Poor’s 500 Monday fell another 1.4% – but it’s only down 13% from its high. Some individual European markets are getting hit even harder. The Milan MIB 30, Madrid Ibex 35 and MSCI United Kingdom indexes are off 29%, 23% and 20% from their 52-week highs, respectively as investors fear the worse could be headed for the Old World.

These declines are being primarily driven by the banks.  According to MarketWatch, European banking stocks have fallen for six weeks in a row, and this is the longest streak that we have seen since the heart of the last financial crisis…

The region’s banking gauge, the Stoxx Europe 600 Banks Index FX7, -5.59% has logged six straight weeks of declines, its longest weekly losing stretch since 2008, when banks booked 10 weeks of losses, beginning in May, according to FactSet data.

The current environment for European banks is very, very bad. Over a full business cycle, I think it’s very questionable whether banks on average are able to cover their cost of equity. And as a result that makes it an unattractive investment for long-term investors,” warned Peter Garnry, head of equity strategy at Saxo Bank.

Overall, Europe’s banking stocks are down 23 percent year to date and 39 percent since the peak of the market in the middle of last year.

The financial crisis that began during the second half of 2015 is picking up speed over in Europe, and it isn’t just Deutsche Bank that could implode at any moment.  Credit Suisse is the most important bank in Switzerland, and they announced a fourth quarter loss of 5.8 billion dollars.  The stock price has fallen 34 percent year to date, and many are now raising questions about the continued viability of the bank.

Similar scenes are being repeated all over the continent.  On Monday we learned that Russia had just shut down two more major banks, and the collapse of Greek banks has pushed Greek stock prices to a 25 year low

Greek stocks tumbled on Monday to close nearly eight percent lower, with bank shares losing almost a quarter of their market value amid concerns over the future of government reforms.

The general index on the Athens stock exchange closed down 7.9 percent at 464.23 points — a 25-year-low — while banks suffered a 24.3-percent average drop.

This is what a financial crisis looks like.

Fortunately things are not this bad here in the U.S. quite yet, but we are on the exact same path that they are.

One of the big things that is fueling the banking crisis in Europe is the fact that the too big to fail banks over there have more than 100 billion dollars of exposure to energy sector loans.  This makes European banks even more sensitive to the price of oil than U.S. banks.  The following comes from CNBC

The four U.S. banks with the highest dollar amount of exposure to energy loans have a capital position 60 percent greater than European banks Deutsche Bank, UBS, Credit Suisse and HSBC, according to CLSA research using a measure called tangible common equity to tangible assets ratio. Or, as Mayo put it, “U.S. banks have more quality capital.”

Analysts at JPMorgan saw the energy loan crisis coming for Europe, and highlighted in early January where investors might get hit.

“[Standard Chartered] and [Deutsche Bank] would be the most sensitive banks to higher default rates in oil and gas,” the analysts wrote in their January report.

There is Deutsche Bank again.

It is funny how they keep coming up.

In the U.S., the collapse of the price of oil is pushing energy company after energy company into bankruptcy.  This has happened 42 times in North America since the beginning of last year so far, and rumors that Chesapeake Energy is heading that direction caused their stock price to plummet a staggering 33 percent on Monday

Energy stocks continue to tank, with Transocean (RIG) dropping 7% and Baker Hughes (BHI) down nearly 5%. But those losses pale in comparison with Chesapeake Energy (CHK), the energy giant that plummeted as much as 51% amid bankruptcy fears. Chesapeake denied it’s currently planning to file for bankruptcy, but its stock still closed down 33% on the day.

And let’s not forget about the ongoing bursting of the tech bubble that I wrote about yesterday.

On Monday the carnage continued, and this pushed the Nasdaq down to its lowest level in almost 18 months

Technology shares with lofty valuations, including those of midcap data analytics company Tableau Software Inc and Internet giant Facebook Inc, extended their losses on Monday following a gutting selloff in the previous session.

Shares of cloud services companies such as Splunk Inc and Salesforce.com Inc had also declined sharply on Friday. They fell again on Monday, dragging down the Nasdaq Composite index 2.4 percent to its lowest in nearly 1-1/2 years.

Those that read my articles regularly know that I have been warning this would happen.

All over the world we are witnessing a financial implosion.  As I write this article, the Japanese market has only been open less than an hour and it is already down 747 points.

The next great financial crisis is already here, and right now we are only in the early chapters.

Ultimately what we are facing is going to be far worse than the financial crisis of 2008/2009, and as a result of this great shaking the entire world is going to fundamentally change.

Bear Market: The Average U.S. Stock Is Already Down More Than 20 Percent

Angry BearThe stock market is in far worse shape than we are being told.  As you will see in this article, the average U.S. stock is already down more than 20 percent from the peak of the market.  But of course the major indexes are not down nearly that much.  As the week begins, the S&P 500 is down 9.8 percent from its 2015 peak, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 10.7 percent from its 2015 peak, and the Nasdaq is down 11.0 percent from its 2015 peak.  So if you only look at those indexes, you would think that we are only about halfway to bear market territory.  Unfortunately, a few high flying stocks such as Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google have been masking a much deeper decline for the rest of the market.  When the market closed on Friday, 229 of the stocks on the S&P 500 were down at least 20 percent from their 52 week highs, and when you look at indexes that are even broader things are even worse.

For example, let’s take a look at the Standard & Poor’s 1500 index.  According to the Bespoke Investment Group, the average stock on that index is down a staggering 26.9 percent from the peak of the market…

Indeed, the Standard & Poor’s 1500 index – a broad basket of large, mid and small company stocks – shows that the average stock’s distance from its 52-week high is 26.9%, according to stats compiled by Bespoke Investment Group through Friday’s close.

“That’s bear market territory!” says Paul Hickey, co-founder of Bespoke Investment Group, the firm that provided USA TODAY with the gloomy price data.

So if the average stock has fallen 26.9 percent, what kind of market are we in?

To me, that is definitely bear market territory.

The rapid decline of the markets last week got the attention of the entire world, but of course this current financial crisis did not begin last week.  These stocks have been falling since the middle part of last year.  And what Bespoke Investment Group discovered is that small cap stocks have been hurt the most by this current downturn

Here’s a statistical damage assessment, provided by Bespoke Investment Group, of the pain being felt by the average U.S. stock in the S&P 1500 index:

* Large-company stocks in the S&P 500 index are down 22.6%, on average, from peaks hit in the past 12 months.

* Mid-sized stocks in the S&P 400 index are sporting an average decline of 26.5% since hitting 52-week highs.

* Small stocks in the S&P 600 index are the farthest distance away from their recent peaks. The average small-cap name is 30.7% below its high in the past year.

After looking at those numbers, is there anyone out there that still wants to try to claim that “nothing is happening”?

Over the past six months or so, the sector that has been hit the hardest has been energy.  According to CNN, the average energy stock has now fallen 52 percent…

And then there’s energy. The dramatic decline in crude oil prices rocked the energy space. The average energy stock is now down a whopping 52% from its 52-week high, according to Bespoke. The only thing worse than that is small-cap energy, which is down 61%.

If you go up to an energy executive and try to tell him that “nothing is happening”, you might just get punched in the face.

And it is very important to keep in mind that stocks still have a tremendous distance to fall.  They are still massively overvalued by historical standards, and this is something that I have covered repeatedly on my website in recent months.

So how far could they ultimately fall?

Well, Dr. John Hussman is convinced that we could eventually see total losses in the 40 to 55 percent range…

I remain convinced that the U.S. financial markets, particularly equities and low-grade debt, are in a late-stage top formation of the third speculative bubble in 15 years.

On the basis of the valuation measures most strongly correlated with subsequent market returns (and that havefully retained that correlation even across recent market cycles), current extremes imply 40-55% market losses over the completion of the current market cycle, with zero nominal and negative real total returns for the S&P 500 on a 10-to-12-year horizon.

These are not worst-case scenarios, but run-of-the-mill expectations.

If the market does fall about 40 percent, that will just bring us into the range of what is considered to be historically “normal”.  If some sort of major disaster or emergency were to strike, that could potentially push the market down much, much farther.

And with each passing day, we get even more numbers which seem to indicate that we are entering a very, very deep global recession.

For instance, global trade numbers are absolutely collapsing.  This is a point that Raoul Pal hammered home during an interview with CNBC just the other day…

Looking at International Monetary Fund data, “the year-over-year change in global exports is at the second lowest level since 1958,” Raoul Pal, Publisher of the Global Macro Investor told CNBC’s”Fast Money”this week.

Basically, it means economies around the world are shipping their goods at near historically low levels. “Something massive is going on in the global economy and people are missing it,” Pal added.

The steep decline in 2015 exports is second only to 2009, when the global recession led to a 37 percent drop in export growth.

We have never seen global exports collapse this much outside of a recession.

Clearly we are witnessing a tremendous shift, and it boggles my mind that more people cannot see it.

As for this current wave of financial turmoil, it is hard to say how long it will last.  As I write this article, markets all over the Middle East are imploding, stocks in Asia are going crazy, currencies are crashing, and carry trades are being unwound at a staggering pace.  But at some point we should expect the level of panic to subside a bit.

If things do temporarily calm down, don’t let that fool you.  Global financial markets have not been this fragile since 2008.  Any sort of a trigger event is going to cause stocks all over the world to slide even more.

And let us not minimize the damage that has already been done one bit.  As you just read, the average stock on the Standard & Poor’s 1500 index is already down 26.9 percent.  The financial crisis that erupted during the second half of 2015 has already resulted in trillions of dollars of wealth being wiped out.

When people ask me when the “next financial crisis” is coming, I have a very simple answer for them.

The next financial crisis is not coming.

The next financial crisis is already here.

An angry bear has been released after nearly seven years in hibernation, and the entire world is going to be absolutely shocked by what happens next.

20 Signs That The U.S. Economy Is Heading For Big Trouble In The Months Ahead

20 Signs That The U.S. Economy Is Heading For Big Trouble In The Months Ahead - Photo by Frank KovalchekIs the U.S. economy about to experience a major downturn?  Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of signs that economic activity in the United States is really slowing down right now.  Freight volumes and freight expenditures are way down, consumer confidence has declined sharply, major retail chains all over America are closing hundreds of stores, and the “sequester” threatens to give the American people their first significant opportunity to experience what “austerity” tastes like.  Gas prices are going up rapidly, corporate insiders are dumping massive amounts of stock and there are high profile corporate bankruptcies in the news almost every single day now.  In many ways, what we are going through right now feels very similar to 2008 before the crash happened.  Back then the warning signs of economic trouble were very obvious, but our politicians and the mainstream media insisted that everything was just fine, and the stock market was very much detached from reality.  When the stock market did finally catch up with reality, it happened very, very rapidly.  Sadly, most people do not appear to have learned any lessons from the crisis of 2008.  Americans continue to rack up staggering amounts of debt, and Wall Street is more reckless than ever.  As a society, we seem to have concluded that 2008 was just a temporary malfunction rather than an indication that our entire system was fundamentally flawed.  In the end, we will pay a great price for our overconfidence and our recklessness.

So what will the rest of 2013 bring?

Hopefully the economy will remain stable for as long as possible, but right now things do not look particularly promising.

The following are 20 signs that the U.S. economy is heading for big trouble in the months ahead…

#1 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.

#2 The average price of a gallon of gasoline has risen by more than 50 cents over the past two months.  This is making things tougher on our economy, because nearly every form of economic activity involves moving people or goods around.

#3 Reader’s Digest, once one of the most popular magazines in the world, has filed for bankruptcy.

#4 Atlantic City’s newest casino, Revel, has just filed for bankruptcy.  It had been hoped that Revel would help lead a turnaround for Atlantic City.

#5 A state-appointed review board has determined that there is “no satisfactory plan” to solve Detroit’s financial emergency, and many believe that bankruptcy is imminent.  If Detroit does declare bankruptcy, it will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

#6 David Gallagher, the CEO of Town Sports International, recently said that his company is struggling right now because consumers simply do not have as much disposable income anymore…

“As we moved into January membership trends were tracking to expectations in the first half of the month, but fell off track and did not meet our expectations in the second half of the month. We believe the driver of this was the rapid decline in consumer sentiment that has been reported and is connected to the reduction in net pay consumers earn given the changes in tax rates that went into effect in January.

#7 According to the Conference Board, consumer confidence in the U.S. has hit its lowest level in more than a year.

#8 Sales of the Apple iPhone have been slower than projected, and as a result Chinese manufacturing giant FoxConn has instituted a hiring freeze.  The following is from a CNET report that was posted on Wednesday…

The Financial Times noted that it was the first time since a 2009 downturn that the company opted to halt hiring in all of its facilities across the country. The publication talked to multiple recruiters.

The actions taken by Foxconn fuel the concern over the perceived weakened demand for the iPhone 5 and slumping sentiment around Apple in general, with production activity a leading indicator of interest in the product.

#9 In 2012, global cell phone sales posted their first decline since the end of the last recession.

#10 We appear to be in the midst of a “retail apocalypse“.  It is being projected that Sears, J.C. Penney, Best Buy and RadioShack will also close hundreds of stores by the end of 2013.

#11 An internal memo authored by a Wal-Mart executive that was recently leaked to the press said that February sales were a “total disaster” and that the beginning of February was the “worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”

#12 If Congress does not do anything and “sequestration” goes into effect on March 1st, the Pentagon says that approximately 800,000 civilian employees will be facing mandatory furloughs.

#13 Barack Obama is admitting that the “sequester” could have a crippling impact on the U.S. economy.  The following is from a recent CNBC article

Obama cautioned that if the $85 billion in immediate cuts — known as the sequester — occur, the full range of government would feel the effects. Among those he listed: furloughed FBI agents, reductions in spending for communities to pay police and fire personnel and teachers, and decreased ability to respond to threats around the world.

He said the consequences would be felt across the economy.

“People will lose their jobs,” he said. “The unemployment rate might tick up again.”

#14 If the “sequester” is allowed to go into effect, the CBO is projecting that it will cause U.S. GDP growth to go down by at least 0.6 percent and that it will “reduce job growth by 750,000 jobs“.

#15 According to a recent Gallup survey, 65 percent of all Americans believe that 2013 will be a year of “economic difficulty“, and 50 percent of all Americans believe that the “best days” of America are now in the past.

#16 U.S. GDP actually contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2012.  This was the first GDP contraction that the official numbers have shown in more than three years.

#17 For the entire year of 2012, U.S. GDP growth was only about 1.5 percent.  According to Art Cashin, every time GDP growth has fallen this low for an entire year, the U.S. economy has always ended up going into a recession.

#18 The global economy overall is really starting to slow down

The world’s richest countries saw their economies contract for the first time in almost four years during the final three months of 2012, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said.

The Paris-based thinktank said gross domestic product across its 34 member states fell by 0.2% – breaking a period of rising activity stretching back to a 2.3% slump in output in the first quarter of 2009.

All the major economies of the OECD – the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK – have already reported falls in output at the end of 2012, with the thinktank noting that the steepest declines had been seen in the European Union, where GDP fell by 0.5%. Canada is the only member of the G7 currently on course to register an increase in national output.

#19 Corporate insiders are dumping enormous amounts of stock right now.  Do they know something that we don’t?

#20 Even some of the biggest names on Wall Street are warning that we are heading for an economic collapse.  For example, Seth Klarman, one of the most respected investors on Wall Street, said in his year-end letter that the collapse of the U.S. financial system could happen at any time

“Investing today may well be harder than it has been at any time in our three decades of existence,” writes Seth Klarman in his year-end letter. The Fed’s “relentless interventions and manipulations” have left few purchase targets for Baupost, he laments. “(The) underpinnings of our economy and financial system are so precarious that the un-abating risks of collapse dwarf all other factors.”

So what do you think is going to happen to the U.S. economy in the months ahead?

Please feel free to express your opinion by leaving a comment below…

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Goldman Sachs Made 400 Million Betting On Food Prices In 2012 While Hundreds Of Millions Starved

Starving Child In Ethiopia - Photo by Cate Turton - Department for International DevelopmentWhy does it seem like wherever there is human suffering, some giant bank is making money off of it?  According to a new report from the World Development Movement, Goldman Sachs made about 400 million dollars betting on food prices last year.  Overall, 2012 was quite a banner year for Goldman Sachs.  As I reported in a previous article, revenues for Goldman increased by about 30 percent in 2012 and the price of Goldman stock has risen by more than 40 percent over the past 12 months.  It is estimated that the average banker at Goldman brought in a pay and bonus package of approximately $396,500 for 2012.  So without a doubt, Goldman Sachs is swimming in money right now.  But what is the price for all of this “success”?  Many claim that the rampant speculation on food prices by the big banks has dramatically increased the global price of food and has caused the suffering of hundreds of millions of poor families around the planet to become much worse.  At this point, global food prices are more than twice as high as they were back in 2003.  Approximately 2 billion people on the planet spend at least half of their incomes on food, and close to a billion people regularly do not have enough food to eat.  Is it moral for Goldman Sachs and other big banks such as Barclays and Morgan Stanley to make hundreds of millions of dollars betting on the price of food if that is going to drive up global food prices and make it harder for poor families all over the world to feed themselves?

This is another reason why the derivatives bubble is so bad for the world economy.  Goldman Sachs and other big banks are treating the global food supply as if it was some kind of a casino game.  This kind of reckless activity was greatly condemned by the World Development Movement report

“Goldman Sachs is the global leader in a trade that is driving food prices up while nearly a billion people are hungry. The bank lobbied for the financial deregulation that made it possible to pour billions into the commodity derivative markets, created the necessary financial instruments, and is now raking in the profits. Speculation is fuelling volatility and food price spikes, hurting people who struggle to afford food across the world.”

So shouldn’t there be a law against this kind of a thing?

Well, in the United States there actually is, but the law has been blocked by the big Wall Street banks and their very highly paid lawyers.  The following is another excerpt from the report

“The US has passed legislation to limit speculation, but the controls have not been implemented due to a legal challenge from Wall Street spearheaded by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, of which Goldman Sachs is a leading member. Similar legislation is on the table at the EU, but the UK government has so far opposed effective controls. Goldman Sachs has lobbied against controls in both the US and the EU.”

Posted below is a chart that shows what this kind of activity has done to commodity prices over the past couple of decades.  You will notice that commodity prices were fairly stable in the 1990s, but since the year 2000 they have been extremely volatile…

Commodity Prices

The reason for all of this volatility was explained in an excellent article by Frederick Kaufman

The money tells the story. Since the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, there has been a 50fold increase in dollars invested in commodity index funds. To put the phenomenon in real terms: In 2003, the commodities futures market still totaled a sleepy $13 billion. But when the global financial crisis sent investors running scared in early 2008, and as dollars, pounds, and euros evaded investor confidence, commodities — including food — seemed like the last, best place for hedge, pension, and sovereign wealth funds to park their cash. “You had people who had no clue what commodities were all about suddenly buying commodities,” an analyst from the United States Department of Agriculture told me. In the first 55 days of 2008, speculators poured $55 billion into commodity markets, and by July, $318 billion was roiling the markets. Food inflation has remained steady since.

The money flowed, and the bankers were ready with a sparkling new casino of food derivatives. Spearheaded by oil and gas prices (the dominant commodities of the index funds) the new investment products ignited the markets of all the other indexed commodities, which led to a problem familiar to those versed in the history of tulips, dotcoms, and cheap real estate: a food bubble. Hard red spring wheat, which usually trades in the $4 to $6 dollar range per 60-pound bushel, broke all previous records as the futures contract climbed into the teens and kept on going until it topped $25. And so, from 2005 to 2008, the worldwide price of food rose 80 percent –and has kept rising.

Are you angry yet?

You should be.

Poor families all over the planet are suffering so that Wall Street bankers can make bigger profits.

It’s disgusting.

Many big financial institutions just seem to love to make money on the backs of the poor.  I have previously reported on how JP Morgan makes billions of dollars issuing food stamp cards in the United States.  When the number of Americans on food stamps goes up, so does the amount of money that JP Morgan makes.  You can read much more about all of this right here: “Making Money On Poverty: JP Morgan Makes Bigger Profits When The Number Of Americans On Food Stamps Goes Up“.

Sadly, the global food supply is getting tighter with each passing day, and things are looking rather ominous for the years ahead.

According to the United Nations, global food reserves have reached their lowest level in nearly 40 years.  Global food reserves have not been this low since 1974, but the population of the world has greatly increased since then.  If 2013 is another year of drought and bad harvests, things could spiral out of control rather quickly…

World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned.

Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heatwaves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.

“We’ve not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The world has barely been able to feed itself for some time now.  In fact, we have consumed more food than we have produced for 6 of the last 11 years

Evan Fraser, author of Empires of Food and a geography lecturer at Guelph University in Ontario, Canada, says: “For six of the last 11 years the world has consumed more food than it has grown. We do not have any buffer and are running down reserves. Our stocks are very low and if we have a dry winter and a poor rice harvest we could see a major food crisis across the board.”

“Even if things do not boil over this year, by next summer we’ll have used up this buffer and consumers in the poorer parts of the world will once again be exposed to the effects of anything that hurts production.”

We desperately need a good growing season next summer, and all eyes are on the United States.  The U.S. exports more food than anyone else does, and last summer the United States experienced the worst drought that it had seen in about 50 years.  That drought left deep scars all over the country.  The following is from a recent Rolling Stone article

In 2012, more than 9 million acres went up in flames in this country. Only dredging and some eleventh-hour rain kept the mighty Mississippi River from being shut down to navigation due to low water levels; continuing drought conditions make “long-term stabilization” of river levels unlikely in the near future. Several of the Great Lakes are soon expected to hit their lowest levels in history. In Nebraska last summer, a 100-mile stretch of the Platte River simply dried up. Drought led the USDA to declare federal disaster areas in 2,245 counties in 39 states last year, and the federal government will likely have to pay tens of billions for crop insurance and lost crops. As ranchers became increasingly desperate to feed their livestock, “hay rustling” and other agricultural crimes rose.

Ranchers were hit particularly hard.  Because they couldn’t feed their herds, many ranchers slaughtered a tremendous number of animals.  As a result, the U.S. cattle herd is now sitting at a 60 year low.

What do you think that is going to do to meat prices over the next few years?

Meanwhile, the drought continues.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, this is one of the worst winter droughts the U.S. has ever seen.  At this point, more than 60 percent of the entire nation is currently experiencing drought.

If things don’t turn around dramatically, 2013 could be an absolutely nightmarish year for crops in the United States.  If 2013 does turn out to be another bad year, food prices would soar both in the U.S. and on the global level.  The following is from a recent CNBC article

The severe drought that swept through much of the U.S. last year is continuing into 2013, threatening to cripple economic growth while forcing consumers to pay higher food prices.

“The drought will have a significant impact on prices, especially beef, pork and chicken,” said Ernie Gross, an economic professor at Creighton University and who studies farming issues.

So let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst.

It looks like higher food prices are on the way, and millions of poor families all over the planet will be hard-pressed to feed their families.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs will be laughing all the way to the bank.

A Global Food Crisis Is Coming - Are You Ready? - Photo by Oxfam East Africa