The Beginning Of The End
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Junk Bonds Are Going To Tell Us Where The Stock Market Is Heading In 2015

Dominoes - Public DomainDo you want to know if the stock market is going to crash next year?  Just keep an eye on junk bonds.  Prior to the horrific collapse of stocks in 2008, high yield debt collapsed first.  And as you will see below, high yield debt is starting to crash again.  The primary reason for this is the price of oil.  The energy sector accounts for approximately 15 to 20 percent of the entire junk bond market, and those energy bonds are taking a tremendous beating right now.  This panic in energy bonds is infecting the broader high yield debt market, and investors have been pulling money out at a frightening pace.  And as I have written about previously, almost every single time junk bonds decline substantially, stocks end up following suit.  So don’t be fooled by the fact that some comforting words from Janet Yellen caused stock prices to jump over the past couple of days.  If you really want to know where the stock market is heading in 2015, keep a close eye on the market for high yield debt.

If you are not familiar with junk bonds, the concept is actually very simple.  Corporations that do not have high credit ratings typically have to pay higher interest rates to borrow money.  The following is how USA Today describes these bonds…

High-yield bonds are long-term IOUs issued by companies with shaky credit ratings. Just like credit card users, companies with poor credit must pay higher interest rates on loans than those with gold-plated credit histories.

But in recent years, interest rates on junk bonds have gone down to ridiculously low levels.  This is another bubble that was created by Federal Reserve policies, and it is a colossal disaster waiting to happen.  And unfortunately, there are already signs that this bubble is now beginning to burst

Back in June, the average junk bond yield was 3.90 percentage points higher than Treasury securities. The average energy junk bond yielded 3.91 percentage points higher than Treasuries, Lonski says.

That spread has widened to 5.08 percentage points for junk bonds vs. 7.86 percentage points for energy bonds — an indication of how worried investors are about default, particularly for small, highly indebted companies in the fracking business.

The reason why so many analysts are becoming extremely concerned about this shift in junk bonds is because we also saw this happen just before the great stock market crash of 2008.  In the chart below, you can see how yields on junk bonds started to absolutely skyrocket in September of that year…

High Yield Debt 2008

Of course we have not seen a move of that magnitude quite yet this year, but without a doubt yields have been spiking.  The next chart that I want to share is of this year.  As you can see, the movement over the past month or so has been quite substantial…

High Yield Debt 2014

And of course I am far from the only one that is watching this.  In fact, there are some sharks on Wall Street that plan to make an absolute boatload of cash as high yield bonds crash.

One of them is Josh Birnbaum.  He correctly made a giant bet against subprime mortgages in 2007, and now he is making a giant bet against junk bonds

When Josh Birnbaum was at Goldman Sachs in 2007, he made a huge bet against subprime mortgages.

Now he’s betting against something else: high-yield bonds.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Joshua Birnbaum, the ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. trader who made bets against subprime mortgages during the financial crisis, now has more than $2 billion in wagers against high-yield bonds at his Tilden Park Capital Management LP hedge-fund firm, according to investor documents.

Could you imagine betting 2 billion dollars on anything?

If he is right, he is going to make an incredible amount of money.

And I have a feeling that he will be.  As a recent New American article detailed, there is already panic in the air…

It’s a mania, said Tim Gramatovich of Peritus Asset Management who oversees a bond portfolio of $800 million: “Anything that becomes a mania — ends badly. And this is a mania.”

Bill Gross, who used to run PIMCO’s gigantic bond portfolio and now advises the Janus Capital Group, explained that “there’s very little liquidity” in junk bonds. This is the language a bond fund manager uses to tell people that no one is buying, everyone is selling. Gross added: “Everyone is trying to squeeze through a very small door.”

Bonds issued by individual energy developers have gotten hammered. For instance, Energy XXI, an oil and gas producer, issued more than $2 billion in bonds just in the last four years and, up until a couple of weeks ago, they were selling at 100 cents on the dollar. On Friday buyers were offering just 64 cents. Midstates Petroleum’s $700 million in bonds — rated “junk” by both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s — are selling at 54 cents on the dollar, if buyers can be found.

So is there anything that could stop junk bonds from crashing?

Yes, if the price of oil goes back up to 80 dollars or more a barrel that would go a long way to settling things back down.

Unfortunately, many analysts are convinced that the price of oil is going to head even lower instead…

“We’re continuing to search for a bottom, and might even see another significant drop before the year-end,” said Gene McGillian, an analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

As I write this, the price of U.S. oil has fallen $1.69 today to $54.78.

If the price of oil stays this low, junk bonds are going to keep crashing.

If junk bonds keep crashing, the stock market is almost certainly going to follow.

For additional reading on this, please see my previous article entitled “‘Near Perfect’ Indicator That Precedes Almost Every Stock Market Correction Is Flashing A Warning Signal“.

But just like in the years leading up to the crash of 2008, there are all kinds of naysayers proclaiming that a collapse will never happen.

Even though our financial problems and our underlying economic fundamentals have gotten much worse since the last crisis, they are absolutely convinced that things are somehow going to be different this time.

In the end, a lot of those skeptics are going to lose an enormous amount of money when the dominoes start falling.

‘Near Perfect’ Indicator That Precedes Almost Every Stock Market Correction Is Flashing A Warning Signal

Exclamation Marks - Public DomainAre we about to see U.S. stocks take a significant tumble?  If you are looking for a “canary in the coal mine” for the U.S. stock market, just look at high yield bonds.  In recent years, almost every single time junk bonds have declined substantially there has been a notable stock market correction as well.  And right now high yield bonds are steadily moving lower.  The biggest reason for this is falling oil prices.  As I wrote about the other day, energy companies now account for about 20 percent of the high yield bond market.  As the price of oil falls, investors are understandably becoming concerned about the future prospects of those companies and are dumping their bonds.  What is happening cannot be described as a “crash” just yet, but there has been a pretty sizable decline for junk bonds over the past month.  And as I noted above, junk bonds and stocks usually move in tandem.  In fact, junk bonds usually start falling before stocks do.  So does the decline in high yield bonds that we are witnessing at the moment indicate that we are on the verge of a significant stock market correction?

That is a question that CNBC asked in a recent article entitled “Near perfect sell signal says stocks should drop“…

The S&P 500 and the iShares iBoxx High Yield Corporate Bond ETF are a mirror image since the start of the year, but since the end of October, high yield has diverged to the lower right, and yet the S&P 500 has continued to record highs. Since separating in October, the S&P 500 is up 3 percent, while the high-yield ETF is down 4 percent.

On 10 occasions since 2007, the high-yield ETF dropped 5 percent in 30 trading days. During nine of those instances, the S&P 500 fell as well, with an average return of negative 9 percent, according to CNBC analysis using Kensho.

Only once did high yield give a false sell signal. That was last year, when the market was already entranced by the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program, which has seemed to elevate stocks with an abnormal consistency. And even then, the S&P 500 managed just a 0.4 percent climb amid the junk debt rout.

Personally, I am convinced that this correlation between junk bonds and stocks is very significant.

Let’s just go back and look at what happened during the financial crash of 2008 for a moment.

In the chart posted below, you can see that high yield bonds began crashing in the middle of September that year…

High Yield Bonds 2008

But U.S. stocks did not crash at the same time.  In fact, the chart below shows that they did not really begin crashing until early October…

Dow Jones Industrial Average 2008

That is why analysts often refer to junk bonds as a “leading indicator”.  What happens to high yield debt is often a really good indicator of what is about to happen to stocks.

Now let’s take a look at what is happening today.

Since the beginning of November, junk bonds have been falling steadily…

High Yield Bonds November

Meanwhile, the Dow has continued to reach new heights…

Dow Jones Industrial Average November

This is not a state of affairs that can persist indefinitely.  Either junk bonds will rebound or U.S. stocks will start falling.

If the U.S. economy was on solid footing, you could perhaps argue that it could go either way.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.  At this point, the stock market has become completely divorced from economic fundamentals.  Price to earnings ratios are at absurd levels, margin debt is hovering near record highs, and the “real economy” continues to fall apart.  We are enjoying a massively inflated standard of living which is being propped up by the largest mountain of debt in world history, and it is only a matter of time before reality starts catching up with us.

And the signs of our long-term economic decline are all around us if you are willing to look at them.  For example, the lead headline on the Drudge Report today was about how China has now overtaken us and has become the largest economy on the planet

Hang on to your hats, America.

And throw away that big, fat styrofoam finger while you’re about it.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it: We’re no longer No. 1. Today, we’re No. 2. Yes, it’s official. The Chinese economy just overtook the United States economy to become the largest in the world. For the first time since Ulysses S. Grant was president, America is not the leading economic power on the planet.

It just happened — and almost nobody noticed.

The International Monetary Fund recently released the latest numbers for the world economy. And when you measure national economic output in “real” terms of goods and services, China will this year produce $17.6 trillion — compared with $17.4 trillion for the U.S.A.

Meanwhile, some of the most iconic companies in the United States continue to struggle deeply.  For instance, Sears has just announced that the number of store closings for this year is going to reach a total of 235 and that the company lost more than half a billion dollars during the third quarter of 2014 alone…

Sears Holdings Corp., posted a disappointing third quarter Thursday that saw revenue, earnings, and sales at stores open at least a year all fall as the retailer tries to salvage its business.

Sears, which owns Kmart, lost $548 million, or $5.15 a share, for the period ended Nov. 1. That’s up from a loss of $534 million, or $5.03 a share, in the year-ago period.

Even though Sears is losing more than 500 million dollars a quarter, banks and investors continue to inject new money into the corporation.  That is a crying shame, because Sears is a company that is going to zero.  Anyone that is investing in Sears at this point is just pouring their money into a black hole.  As Kevin O’Leary would say, they are guilty of murdering money.

And of course what is happening to Sears is just part of the broader “retail apocalypse” that I keep writing about.  In order for retailers to thrive they need healthy consumers, and consumers are not financially healthy because the real economy is a disaster zone.

But these days so many people are in denial.  The stock market has been soaring for so long that many skeptics are now proclaiming that another 2008-style crash will never happen.  Even though the fact that we are in the midst of an absolutely insane financial bubble should be glaringly obvious to anyone with half a brain, these skeptics have convinced themselves that the current state of affairs can persist indefinitely.

Sadly, it looks like what is about to hit us in 2015 is going to serve as a very rude wake up call for them and for the millions of other Americans that currently have their heads in the sand.

Guess What Happened The Last Time The Price Of Oil Crashed Like This?…

Price Of Oil Causes A Junk Bond Crash - Public DomainThere has only been one other time in history when the price of oil has crashed by more than 40 dollars in less than 6 months.  The last time this happened was during the second half of 2008, and the beginning of that oil price crash preceded the great financial collapse that happened later that year by several months.  Well, now it is happening again, but this time the stakes are even higher.  When the price of oil falls dramatically, that is a sign that economic activity is slowing down.  It can also have a tremendously destabilizing affect on financial markets.  As you will read about below, energy companies now account for approximately 20 percent of the junk bond market.  And a junk bond implosion is usually a signal that a major stock market crash is on the way.  So if you are looking for a “canary in the coal mine”, keep your eye on the performance of energy junk bonds.  If they begin to collapse, that is a sign that all hell is about to break loose on Wall Street.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the shale oil boom to the U.S. economy.  Thanks to this boom, the United States has become the largest oil producer on the entire planet.

Yes, the U.S. now actually produces more oil than either Saudi Arabia or Russia.  This “revolution” has resulted in the creation of  millions of jobs since the last recession, and it has been one of the key factors that has kept the percentage of Americans that are employed fairly stable.

Unfortunately, the shale oil boom is coming to an abrupt end.  As a recent Vox article discussed, OPEC has essentially declared a price war on U.S. shale oil producers…

For all intents and purposes, OPEC is now engaged in a “price war” with the United States. What that means is that it’s very cheap to pump oil out of places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But it’s more expensive to extract oil from shale formations in places like Texas and North Dakota. So as the price of oil keeps falling, some US producers may become unprofitable and go out of business. The result? Oil prices will stabilize and OPEC maintains its market share.

If the price of oil stays at this level or continues falling, we will see a significant number of U.S. shale oil companies go out of business and large numbers of jobs will be lost.  The Saudis know how to play hardball, and they are absolutely ruthless.  In fact, we have seen this kind of scenario happen before

Robert McNally, a White House adviser to former President George W. Bush and president of the Rapidan Group energy consultancy, told Reuters that Saudi Arabia “will accept a price decline necessary to sweat whatever supply cuts are needed to balance the market out of the US shale oil sector.” Even legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens believes Saudi Arabia is in a stand-off with US drillers and frackers to “see how the shale boys are going to stand up to a cheaper price.” This has happened once before. By the mid-1980’s, as oil output from Alaska’s North Slope and the North Sea came on line (combined production of around 5-6 million barrels a day), OPEC set off a price war to compete for market share. As a result, the price of oil sank from around $40 to just under $10 a barrel by 1986.

But the energy sector has been one of the only bright spots for the U.S. economy in recent years.  If this sector starts collapsing, it is going to have a dramatic negative impact on our economic outlook.  For example, just consider the following numbers from a recent Business Insider article

Specifically, if prices get too low, then energy companies won’t be able to cover the cost of production in the US. This spending by energy companies, also known as capital expenditures, is responsible for a lot of jobs.

“The Energy sector accounts for roughly one-third of S&P 500 capex and nearly 25% of combined capex and R&D spending,” Goldman Sachs’ Amanda Sneider writes.

Even more troubling is what this could mean for the financial markets.

As I mentioned above, energy companies now account for close to 20 percent of the entire junk bond market.  As those companies start to fail and those bonds start to go bad, that is going to hit our major banks really hard

Everyone could suffer if the collapse triggers a wave of defaults through the high-yield debt market, and in turn, hits stocks. The first to fall: the banks that were last hit by the housing crisis.

Why could that happen?

Well, energy companies make up anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of all U.S. junk debt, according to various sources.

It would be hard to overstate the seriousness of what the markets could potentially be facing.

One analyst summed it up to CNBC this way

This is the one thing I’ve seen over and over again,” said Larry McDonald, head of U.S strategy at Newedge USA’s macro group. “When high yield underperforms equity, a major credit event occurs. It’s the canary in the coal mine.

The last time junk bonds collapsed, a major stock market crash followed fairly rapidly.

And those that were hardest hit were the big Wall Street banks

During the last high-yield collapse, which centered around debt tied to the housing sector, Citigroup lost 63 percent of its value in the following 60 days, Kensho shows. Bank of America was cut in half.

I understand that some of this information is too technical for a lot of people, but the bottom line is this…

Watch junk bonds.  When they start crashing it is a sign that a major stock market collapse is right at the door.

At this point, even the mainstream media is warning about this.  Just consider the following excerpt from a recent CNN article

That swing away from junk bonds often happens shortly before stock market downturns.

“High yield does provide useful sell signals to equity investors,” Barclays analysts concluded in a recent report.

Barclays combed through the past dozen years of data. The warning signal they found is a 30% or greater increase in the spread between Treasuries and junk bonds before a dip.

If you have been waiting for the next major financial collapse, what you have just read in this article indicates that it is now closer than it has ever been.

Over the coming weeks, keep your eye on the price of oil, keep your eye on the junk bond market and keep your eye on the big banks.

Trouble is brewing, and nobody is quite sure exactly what comes next.

Did We Just Witness The Last Great Black Friday Celebration Of American Materialism?

Black Friday - Photo by PowhuskuAmericans are going to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season, and on Friday we got to see our fellow citizens fight each other like rabid animals over foreign-made flat screen televisions and Barbie dolls.  As disgusting as this behavior is to many of us, there may soon come a time when we will all fondly remember these days.  Most Americans are completely unaware of what is currently happening in the financial world, but right now there are deeply troubling signs that we could be on the verge of another major global financial collapse.  If the next great economic downturn does strike in 2015, that could mean that we may have just witnessed the last great Black Friday celebration of American materialism.  As you read this, stock prices are approximately double the value that they should be, margin debt is hovering near all-time record highs, and the “too big to fail” banks are being far more reckless than they were just prior to the last major stock market implosion.  So many of the exact same patterns that we witnessed back in 2007 and 2008 are repeating right now, and as you will see below, this includes a horrifying crash in the price of oil.  Anyone with half a brain should be able to see the slow-motion financial train wreck that is unfolding right before our eyes.

Every year, it has been my tradition to write an article about the mini-riots that erupt in retail stores all around the country on Black Friday.  This year things were a bit calmer because so many stores opened up on Thanksgiving itself, but there was still plenty of chaos.  For example, in the video posted below you can see women viciously fighting one another over discounted lingerie and underwear…

But instead of launching into another diatribe about how we are committing national economic suicide by buying hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign-made goods with money that we do not have, I want to focus on what is coming next.

You see, I believe that in the not too distant future many of us will be wishing for the days when the debt-fueled U.S. economy was healthy enough for people to be wrestling with one another on the floor over good deals in our retail establishments.

The next great financial crash (which many have been anticipating for years) is rapidly approaching.  So many of the same things that happened last time are happening again.  As I noted above, this includes a crash in the price of oil.

In the months prior to the last stock market collapse, the price of oil began plummeting dramatically in the summer of 2008.  This was an “early warning signal” that something was deeply amiss in the financial world…

Oil Price 2007 - 2008

Many people assume that a lower price for oil is good for the economy, but the exact opposite is actually true.  The oil industry has become absolutely critical to the U.S. and Canadian economies.  And in recent years, the “shale oil boom” has been one of the only bright spots for the United States.  If the shale oil industry starts to fail because of lower prices, a lot of the boom areas all over the nation are going to go bust really quickly and a lot of the financial institutions that were backing these projects are going to feel an immense amount of pain.

Unfortunately for us, the “shale oil revolution” simply does not work at 80 dollars a barrel.

And it certainly does not work at 70 dollars a barrel.

As I write this, U.S. crude is sitting at about 66 dollars a barrel due to OPEC’s recent decision to not cut output.

That is the lowest price for U.S. crude since September 2009.

So just like we saw during the summer of 2008, crude oil prices are collapsing once again.  The chart below comes from the Federal Reserve, but it is a few days out of date.  Now that the price of crude is down to about 66 dollars, you have to imagine the price actually going below the bottom of this chart…

Oil Price 2013 - 2014

Needless to say, this price collapse is having a huge impact on the stock prices of oil companies.  The following information about what happened in the markets on Friday comes from Business Insider

Here were some of the biggest losers on Friday:

  • BP (BP), down 5%
  • Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A), down 6%
  • Total (TOT), down 5%
  • Statoil (STO), down 14%
  • Exxon Mobil (XOM), down 5%
  • ConocoPhillips (COP), down 9%
  • Marathon Oil (MRO), down 13%
  • Occidental Petroleum (OXY), down 7%
  • Anadarko Petroleum (APC), down 14%
  • Linn Energy (LINE), down 13%
  • Whiting Petroleum (WLL), down 28%
  • Oasis Petroleum (OAS), down 32%
  • Kodiak Oil & Gas (KOG), down 28%

And this list goes on.

But this could just be the beginning of the oil price declines.

The most powerful oil official in Russia believes that the price of oil could fall below $60 next year…

Russia’s most powerful oil official Igor Sechin said in an interview with an Austrian newspaper that oil prices could fall below $60 by mid-way through next year.

Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, also said U.S. oil production would fall after 2025 and that an oil market council should be created to monitor prices, the same day the OPEC cartel met in Vienna and left its output targets unchanged.

“We expect that a fall in the price to $60 and below is possible, but only during the first half, or rather by the end of the first half (of next year),” Sechin told the Die Presse newspaper.

And one oil industry analyst just told CNBC that he believes that the price of oil could ultimately plunge as low as $35 a barrel…

“When you look at the second half of 2015, that’s when you see oil beginning to dwarf demand by about a million, a million and a half barrels a day,” he said. “Thirty-five dollars is a possibility if they don’t get an agreement next spring because that’s when the oil really starts to build and you can have a billion barrels of oil with really no place to put it.”

This comes at a time when there are already a whole host of signs that the global economy is slowing down.  Three of the ten largest economies on the planet have already slipped into recession, and the economic nightmare over in Europe just continues to get even worse.  In fact, we just learned that the unemployment rate in Italy has shot above 13 percent for the first time ever recorded.

In addition, it is important to remember that the “real economy” in the United States is in far worse shape than it was just prior to the last financial crash.  Just consider these numbers…

-In the United States today, the number of payday lending locations is greater than the number of McDonald’s and the number of Starbucks.

-One recent survey found that about 22 percent of all Americans have had to turn to a church food panty for assistance.

-This year, almost one out of every five households in the United States celebrated Thanksgiving on food stamps.

-The rate of government dependence in America is at an all-time high and approximately 60 percent of U.S. households get more in transfer payments from the government than they pay in taxes.

-According to a report that was just released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has soared to a new all-time record high of 2.5 million.

If things are this bad now, what are they going to look like after the next great financial crash?

And without a doubt, the next crash is coming.  Hopefully we have at least a couple more months of relative stability, but many experts are now urgently warning that time is quickly running out.

By this time next year, Black Friday may look a whole lot different than it does today.

 

Are You Better Off This Thanksgiving Than You Were Last Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Dinner - Photo by Marcus QuiqmireAre you in better shape financially than you were last Thanksgiving?  If so, you should consider yourself to be very fortunate because most Americans are not.  As you chow down on turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce this Thursday, please remember that there are millions of Americans that simply cannot afford to eat such a meal.  According to a shocking new report that was just released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has reached a new all-time high of 2.5 million.  And right now one out of every seven Americans rely on food banks to put food on the table.  Yes, life is very good at the moment for Americans at the top end of the income spectrum.  The stock market has been soaring and sales of homes worth at last a million dollars are up 16 percent so far this year.  But most Americans live in a very different world.  The percentage of Americans that are employed is about the same as it was during the depths of the last recession, the quality of our jobs continues to go down, the rate of homeownership in America has fallen for seven years in a row, and the cost of living is rising much faster than paychecks are.  As a result, the middle class is smaller this Thanksgiving than it was last Thanksgiving, and most Americans have seen their standards of living go down over the past year.

In 2014, there are tens of millions of Americans that are anonymously leading lives of quiet desperation.  They are desperately trying to hold on even though things just keep getting worse.  For example, just consider the plight of 49-year-old Darrell Eberhardt.  Once upon a time, his job in a Chevy factory paid him $18.50 an hour, but now he only makes $10.50 an hour and he knows that he probably would not be able to make as much in a new job if he decided to leave…

For nearly 20 years, Darrell Eberhardt worked in an Ohio factory putting together wheelchairs, earning $18.50 an hour, enough to gain a toehold in the middle class and feel respected at work.

He is still working with his hands, assembling seats for Chevrolet Cruze cars at the Camaco auto parts factory in Lorain, Ohio, but now he makes $10.50 an hour and is barely hanging on. “I’d like to earn more,” said Mr. Eberhardt, who is 49 and went back to school a few years ago to earn an associate’s degree. “But the chances of finding something like I used to have are slim to none.”

Of course you can’t support a family on $10.50 an hour.

You can barely support one person on $10.50 an hour.

But there are many men out there that would absolutely love to switch positions with Darrell Eberhardt.  At this point, one out of every six men in their prime working years (25 to 54) does not have a job.  That is an absolutely crazy number.

And of course just because you “have a job” does not mean that things are going well.  The number of Americans that are “working part-time involuntarily” has risen by over 50 percent since the beginning of the last recession.  There are millions of hard working Americans that would love to get a full-time job if they could land one.  But these days “decent jobs” are in short supply.

For example, CNN recently profiled the story of college graduate Meghan Brachle…

Meghan would love to be a music teacher or play full-time in an orchestra. She studied music at Loyola University in New Orleans and plays the flute.

Instead, Meghan works a slew of part-time jobs and receives no benefits.

She is a cashier at Whole Foods, a substitute teacher, a flute tutor and an administrative assistant at a non-profit.

Even with all of her hard work, Brachle and her husband often really struggle to pay the bills

With inconsistent hours, Meghan monthly income fluctuates between $1,000 and $3,000. Even with her husband’s teaching salary, the couple sometimes struggles to cover the $3,600 of monthly expenses they have.

“It’s very stressful,” Meghan, a college graduate, says. “I think about all the job applications I’ve turned in and all the interviews I’ve been on and all the other people who are in the same situation, looking for those same [full-time] jobs. It’s frustrating.”

Sadly, a lot of these part-time employers know that their employees desperately need these jobs and are using that leverage to treat them very poorly.

For example, it is being reported that any KMart employees that do not show up for work on Thanksgiving will be automatically fired.

What kind of nonsense is that?

And around the country at Wal-Mart stores, food drives are being held for “needy employees“.

So why wouldn’t Wal-Mart just pay their workers enough so that they could afford to take care of themselves in the first place?

Most people don’t realize this, but approximately one out of every four part-time workers in America is currently living below the poverty line.  Many of them are working as hard as they can and still can’t make enough to take care of themselves.

Meanwhile, our paychecks are getting stretched further and further with each passing month.

When you don’t make much money, every dollar is precious.  And when food prices go up substantially, it can be very painful.  Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening right now…

-From September to October, the price of a pound of Turkey rose from $1.58 to $1.66.  That represents a 5.2 percent price increase in just one month.

-The price of a pound of ground beef has just risen to a brand new record high of $4.15 a pound, and more price increases are on the way.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting that U.S. beef production will drop by another 1 billion pounds next year due to a variety of factors including the horrific multi-year drought out west.

-The entire planet is bracing for a huge chocolate shortage, and this threatens to push the price of chocolate beyond the reach of many American families…

Start hoarding those Hershey’s Kisses and stockpile your Snickers: The world could soon experience a chocolate shortage.

Mars Inc. and Barry Callebaut, two of the world’s largest chocolate makers, say that’s the path we’re headed down. They cite a perfect storm of factors: Less cocoa is being produced as more and more people are devouring chocolate.

In 2013, consumers ate about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than was produced, The Washington Post reports, and that deficit could go up to 1 million metric tons by 2020. The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce more than 70 percent of the world’s cacao beans, and both countries are experiencing dry weather that limits growth. To make things worse, a fungal disease called frosty pod has destroyed 30 to 40 percent of global cocoa production.

As a result of all of the things that I have just discussed above, more Americans than ever are being forced to turn to the government for assistance.  Today, the number of Americans getting a check from the government each month is at an all-time high, and at this point Americans collectively get more money from the government than they pay in taxes.  For much, much more on this, please see my recent article entitled “21 Facts That Prove That Dependence On The Government Is Out Of Control In America“.

So if things are going well for you this Thanksgiving, you should be truly thankful.

For most of the country, things just continue to get even worse.  And if the next major wave of our economic crisis arrives next year like many are projecting, this may just be the beginning of our economic pain.

If Everything Is Just Fine, Why Are So Many Really Smart People Forecasting Economic Disaster?

Apocalyptic Disaster - Public DomainThe parallels between the false prosperity of 2007 and the false prosperity of 2014 are rather striking.  If we go back and look at the numbers in the fall of 2007, we find that the Dow set an all-time high in October, margin debt on Wall Street had spiked to record levels, the unemployment rate was below 5 percent and Americans were getting ready to spend a record amount of money that Christmas season.  But then the very next year the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression shook the entire planet and everyone wondered why most people never saw it coming.  Well, now a similar pattern is unfolding right before our eyes.  The Dow and the S&P 500 both hit record highs on Monday, margin debt on Wall Street is hovering near record levels, the unemployment rate has ticked down a little bit and Americans are getting ready to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season.  The truth is that the economy seems pretty stable for the moment, and most people cannot even imagine that an economic collapse is coming.  So why are so many really smart people forecasting economic disaster in the near future?

For example, just consider what the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center is saying.  This is an organization with a tremendous economic forecasting record that goes all the way back to the Great Depression.  In fact, it predicted ahead of time the financial trouble and the recession that would happen in 2008.  Well, now this company is forecasting that there is a 65 percent chance that there will be a global recession by the end of next year…

In 1929, a businessman and economist by the name of Jerome Levy didn’t like what he saw in his analysis of corporate profits. He sold his stocks before the October crash.

Almost eight decades later, the consultancy company that bears his name declared “the next recession will be caused by the deflating housing bubble.” By February 2007, it predicted problems in the subprime-mortgage market would spread “to virtually all financial markets.” In October 2007, it saw imminent recession — the slump began two months later.

The Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, based in Mount Kisco, New York, and run by Jerome’s grandson David, is again more worried than its peers. Its half-dozen analysts attach a 65 percent probability of a worldwide recession forcing a contraction in the U.S. by the end of next year.

Could they be wrong?

It’s certainly possible.

But I wouldn’t bet against them.

John Hussman is another expert that is warning of financial disaster on the horizon.  He believes that we are experiencing a massive stock market bubble right now and that stocks are approximately double the value that they should be

If you look at corporate profits and especially corporate profit margins, they’re one of the most cyclical and mean-reverting series in economics. Right now, we have corporate profits that are close to about 11% of GDP, but if you look at that series you will find that corporate profits as a share of GDP have always dropped back to about 5.5% or below in every single economic cycle including recent decades, including not only the financial crisis but 2002 and every other economic cycle we have been in.

Right now stocks as a multiple of last year’s expected earnings may look only modestly over valued or modestly richly valued. Really if you look at the measures of valuation that are most correlated to the returns that stocks deliver over time say over seven years or over the next 10 years the S&P 500 in our estimation is about double the level of valuation that would give investors a normal rate of return.

Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if stocks really did drop by 50 percent?

Well, Hussman says that this is precisely what must happen in order for stock prices to return to historical norms…

Right now, like I say, we are looking at stocks that have been pressed to long-term expected returns that are really dismal. But more important than that, in every market cycle that we’ve seen with the mild exception of 2002, we’ve seen stocks price revert back to normal rates of return. In order to get to that point from here, we would have to have equities drop by about half.

If that does happen, it will make the crisis of 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.

Meanwhile, other very prominent thinkers are also warning that an economic nightmare is rapidly approaching.

Economic cycle theorist Martin Armstrong foresees major economic problems in 2015 which will ultimately lead to “civil unrest”  in 2016

It looks more and more like a serious political uprising will erupt by 2016 once the economy turns down. That is the magic ingredient. Turn the economy down and you get civil unrest and revolution.

And of course there are a whole lot of other economic cycle theorists that are forecasting that we are about to experience a massive economic downturn as well.  For much more on this, please see this article and this article.

What is truly frightening is that we have never even come close to recovering from the last economic crisis.  One poll that was taken just prior to the recent election found that only 28 percent of Americans said that their families were doing better financially.  In addition, here are some more survey numbers about how Americans are feeling about the economy

According to voter exit polls conducted by CNN, 78% said they are worried about the economy, with 69% saying that, in their view, economic conditions are not good. 65% responded that the country is on the wrong track vs. only 31% who believed that it is headed in the right direction.

Even though we are repeating so many of the same patterns that we experienced back in 2007, we are doing so with a fundamentally weaker economy.  The last crisis did a tremendous amount of permanent damage to us.  For an extensive look at this, please see my previous article entitled “12 Charts That Show The Permanent Damage That Has Been Done To The U.S. Economy“.

And there are lots of signs that much of the planet is already entering another major economic slowdown.  In a recent article, Brandon Smith summarized some of these.  He says that we are currently witnessing “the last gasp of the global economy“…

Global exports, and thus consumer demand, are plunging. Germany, the only pillar left to prop up the failing European Union, has experienced a severe decline in exports not seen since 2009.

China, the largest exporter and importer in the world, and Chinese companies, have been caught in a number of instances using fraudulent invoices to artificially inflate their own export numbers, in some cases reporting 50% more exported goods than had actually existed.

China’s manufacturing has also declined for the past five months, exposing the nature of its inflated export stats and indicating a global slowdown.

The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of global shipping rates for raw goods, and thus a measure of demand for shipping, continues to drag along near historic lows.

The U.S. consumer (the only economic asset the U.S. has besides the dollar’s world reserve status), has seen declines in spending as well as wages.

In the meantime, long term jobless Americans continue to fall off welfare rolls by the millions, making unemployment numbers look good, but the overall future picture look terrible as participation rates dissolve into the ether of government statistics.

How is such poverty being hidden? Foodstamps. Plain and simple. Nearly 50 million Americans now subsist on food stamp programs today, and this number shows no signs of dropping. In states like Illinois, two people sign up for food assistance for every citizen that happens to find a job.

From time to time, I get accused of “spreading fear” and of being obsessed with “doom and gloom”.

But that is not the case at all.

I actually want our economy to stay stable for as long as possible.  Many Americans don’t realize this, but even the poorest of us live in luxury compared to much of the rest of the world.  It would be wonderful if we could all live out our lives in peace and quiet and safety.

Unfortunately, it is simply not going to happen.

And it does not take an expert to see what is coming.

Anyone with half a brain should be able to see the economic disaster that is approaching.

There is hope in understanding what is happening and there is hope in getting prepared.  Millions of Americans that are willingly blind to our problems are going to have their lives absolutely destroyed when they get blindsided by the coming crisis.  So please use this brief period of relative stability to get prepared and to warn others.

Once this false bubble of hope runs out, all of our lives are going to dramatically change.

Most People Cannot Even Imagine That An Economic Collapse Is Coming

Thinking - Public DomainThe idea that the United States is on the brink of a horrifying economic crash is absolutely inconceivable to most Americans.  After all, the economy has been relatively stable for quite a few years and the stock market continues to surge to new heights.  On Friday, the Dow and the S&P 500 both closed at brand new all-time record highs.  For the year, the S&P 500 is now up 9 percent and the Nasdaq is now up close to 11 percent.  And American consumers are getting ready to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season.  That is an amount of money that is larger than the entire economy of Sweden.  So how in the world can anyone be talking about economic collapse?  Yes, many will concede, we had a few bumps in the road back in 2008 but things have pretty much gotten back to normal since then.  Why be concerned about economic collapse when there is so much stability all around us?

Unfortunately, this brief period of stability that we have been enjoying is just an illusion.

The fundamental problems that caused the financial crisis of 2008 have not been fixed.  In fact, most of our long-term economic problems have gotten even worse.

But most Americans have such short attention spans these days.  In a world where we are accustomed to getting everything instantly, news cycles only last for 48 hours and 2008 might as well be an eternity ago.

In the United States today, our entire economic system is based on debt.

Without debt, very little economic activity happens.  We need mortgages to buy our homes, we need auto loans to buy our vehicles and we need our credit cards to do our shopping during the holiday season.

So where does all of that debt come from?

It comes from the banks.

In particular, the “too big to fail banks” are the heart of this debt-based system.

Do you have a mortgage, an auto loan or a credit card from one of these “too big to fail” institutions?  A very large percentage of the people that will read this article do.

And a lot of people might not like to hear this, but without those banks we essentially do not have an economy.

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, it almost resulted in the meltdown of our entire system.  The stock market collapsed and we experienced an absolutely wicked credit crunch.

Unfortunately, that was just a small preview of what is coming.

Even though a few prominent “experts” such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman have declared that the “too big to fail” problem is “over”, the truth is that it is now a bigger crisis than ever before.

Compared to five years ago, the four largest banks in the country are now almost 40 percent larger.  The following numbers come from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times

Just before the financial crisis hit, Wells Fargo & Co. had $609 billion in assets. Now it has $1.4 trillion. Bank of America Corp. had $1.7 trillion in assets. That’s up to $2.1 trillion.

And the assets of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation’s biggest bank, have ballooned to $2.4 trillion from $1.8 trillion.

At the same time that those banks have been getting bigger, 1,400 smaller banks have completely disappeared from the banking industry.

That means that we are now more dependent on these gigantic banks than ever.

At this point, the five largest banks account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks account for 67 percent of all assets in our financial system.

If someone came along and zapped those banks out of existence, our economy would totally collapse overnight.

So the health of this handful of immensely powerful banking institutions is absolutely critical to our economy.

Unfortunately, these banks have become deeply addicted to gambling.

Have you ever known people that allowed their lives to be destroyed by addictions that they could never shake?

Well, that is what is happening to these banks.  They have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the world.  Most of the time, their bets pay off and they make lots of money.

But as we saw back in 2008, when they miscalculate things can fall apart very rapidly.

The bets that I am most concerned about are known as “derivatives“.  In essence, they are bets about what will or will not happen in the future.  The big banks use very sophisticated algorithms that are supposed to help them be on the winning side of these bets the vast majority of the time, but these algorithms are not perfect.  The reason these algorithms are not perfect is because they are based on assumptions, and those assumptions come from people.  They might be really smart people, but they are still just people.

If things stay fairly stable like they have the past few years, the algorithms tend to work very well.

But if there is a “black swan event” such as a major stock market crash, a collapse of European or Asian banks, a historic shift in interest rates, an Ebola pandemic, a horrific natural disaster or a massive EMP blast is unleashed by the sun, everything can be suddenly thrown out of balance.

Acrobat Nik Wallenda has been making headlines all over the world for crossing vast distances on a high-wire without a safety net.  Well, that is essentially what our “too big to fail” banks are doing every single day.  With each passing year, these banks have become even more reckless, and so far there have not been any serious consequences.

But without a doubt, someday there will be.

What would you say about a bookie that took $200,000 in bets but that only had $10,000 to cover those bets?

You would certainly call that bookie a fool.

But that is what our big banks are doing.

Right now, JPMorgan Chase has more than 67 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 2.5 trillion dollars in assets.

Right now, Citibank has nearly 60 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 1.9 trillion dollars in assets.

Right now, Goldman Sachs has more than 54 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it has less than a trillion dollars in assets.

Right now, Bank of America has more than 54 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 2.2 trillion dollars in assets.

Right now, Morgan Stanley has more than 44 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it has less than a trillion dollars in assets.

Most people have absolutely no idea how incredibly vulnerable our financial system really is.

The truth is that these “too big to fail” banks could collapse at any time.

And when they fail, our economy will fail too.

So let us hope and pray that this brief period of false stability lasts for as long as possible.

Because when it ends, all hell is going to break loose.

From This Day Forward, We Will Watch How The Stock Market Performs Without The Fed’s Monetary Heroin

Money - Public DomainMark this day on your calendars.  The Dow is at 16974, the S&P 500 is at 1982 and the NASDAQ is at 4549.  From this day forward, we will be looking to see how the stock market performs without the monetary heroin that the Federal Reserve has been providing to it.  Since November 2008, the Fed has created about 3.5 trillion dollars and pumped it into the financial system.  An excellent chart illustrating this in graphic format can be found right here.  Pretty much everyone agrees that this has been a tremendous boon for the financial markets.  As you will see below, even former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan says that quantitative easing was “a terrific success” as far as boosting stock prices.  But he also says that QE has not been very helpful to the real economy at all.  In essence, the entire quantitative easing program was a massive 3.5 trillion dollar gift to Wall Street.  If that sounds unfair to you, that is because it is unfair.

So why is the Federal Reserve finally ending quantitative easing?

Well, officially the Fed says that it is because there has been so much improvement in the labor market

The Fed’s language, however, did suggest that they were getting more comfortable with the economy’s improvement. It cited “solid job gains,” citing a “substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market,” as well as pointing out that “underutilization” of labor resources is “gradually diminishing.”

But that is not true at all.

The percentage of Americans that are working right now is about the same as it was during the depths of the last recession.  Just check out this chart…

Employment Population Ratio 2014

So there has been no “employment recovery” to speak of at all.

And as I wrote about yesterday, the percentage of Americans that are homeowners has been steadily falling throughout the quantitative easing era…

Homeownership Rate 2014

So let’s put the lie that quantitative easing helped the “real economy” to rest.  It did no such thing.

Instead, what QE did do was massively inflate stock prices.

The following is an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal report about a speech that former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan made to the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday

Mr. Greenspan’s comments to the Council on Foreign Relations came as Fed officials were meeting in Washington, D.C., and expected to announce within hours an end to the bond purchases.

He said the bond-buying program was ultimately a mixed bag. He said that the purchases of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities did help lift asset prices and lower borrowing costs. But it didn’t do much for the real economy.

Effective demand is dead in the water” and the effort to boost it via bond buying “has not worked,” said Mr. Greenspan. Boosting asset prices, however, has been “a terrific success.”

Moving forward, what did Greenspan tell the members of the Council on Foreign Relations that they should do with their money?

This might surprise you…

Mr. Greenspan said gold is a good place to put money these days given its value as a currency outside of the policies conducted by governments.

Wow.

It almost sounds like Greenspan has been reading the Economic Collapse Blog.

Since November 2008, every time there has been an interruption in the Fed’s quantitative easing program, the stock market has gone down substantially.

Will that happen again this time?

Well, the market is certainly primed for it.  We are repeating so many of the very same patterns that we saw just prior to the last two financial crashes.

For example, there have been three dramatic peaks in margin debt in the last twenty years.

One of those peaks came early in the year 2000 just before the dotcom bubble burst.

The second of those peaks came in the middle of 2007 just before the subprime mortgage meltdown happened.

And the third of those peaks happened earlier this year.

You can view  a chart that shows these peaks very clearly right here.

The Federal Reserve appears to be confident that the stock market will be okay without the monetary heroin that it has been supplying.

We shall see.

But it should be deeply troubling to all Americans that this unelected, unaccountable body of central bankers has far more power over our economy than anyone else does.  During election season, our politicians get up and give speeches about what they will “do for the economy”, but the truth is that they are essentially powerless compared to the immense power that the Federal Reserve wields.  Just a few choice words from Janet Yellen can cause the financial markets to rise or fall dramatically.  The same cannot be said of any U.S. Senator.

We are told that monetary policy is “too important” to be exposed to politics.

We are told that the independence of the Federal Reserve is “sacred” and must never be interfered with.

I say that is a bunch of nonsense.

No organization should have the power to print up trillions of dollars out of thin air and give it to their friends.

The Federal Reserve is completely and totally out of control, and Congress needs to start exerting power over it.

The first step is to get in there and do a comprehensive audit of the Fed’s books.  This is something that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz called for in a recent editorial for USA Today

Americans are seeing near-zero interest rates on their savings accounts while median incomes are falling, and millions of people are facing higher gas prices, food prices, electricity prices, health insurance prices. Enough is enough, the Federal Reserve needs to open its books — Americans deserve a sound and stable dollar.

Whether you agree with Ted Cruz on other issues or not, this is one issue that all Americans should be able to agree on.

If you study any of our major economic problems, usually you will find that the Federal Reserve is at the heart of that problem.

So if we ever hope to solve the issues that are plaguing our economy, the Fed is going to need to be dealt with.

Hopefully the American people will start to send more representatives to Washington D.C. that understand this.

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