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Retail Apocalypse Gains Momentum As David Stockman Warns ‘Everything Will Grind To A Halt’ After March 15th

Retail Apocalypse 2017 - Public DomainJ.C. Penney and Family Christian Stores are the latest retail giants to announce widespread store closings. As you will see below, J.C. Penney plans to close between 130 and 140 stores, and Family Christian is closing all of their 240 stores. In recent months the stock market has been absolutely soaring, and so most people have simply assumed that the “real economy” must be doing well. But that is not the case at all. In fact, the retail apocalypse that I have been documenting for quite some time appears to be gaining momentum.

J.C. Penney is not in as rough shape as Sears is just yet, but it is definitely on a similar trajectory. In the end, they are both headed for bankruptcy. That is why it wasn’t too much of a surprise when J.C. Penney announced that they are getting rid of about 6,000 workers and closing at least 130 stores

J.C. Penney (JCP) plans to close 130 to 140 stores and offer buyouts to 6,000 workers as the department-store industry sags in competition with online sellers and nimble niche retailers.

The company said Friday that it would shutter 13% to 14% of its locations and introduce new goods and services aimed at the shifting preferences of its customer base.

Meanwhile, many observers were quite surprised when Family Christian Stores decided to fold up shop for good. They were known as the largest Christian retailer on the entire planet, but now after 85 years they are going out of business forever

Family Christian, which bills itself as the “world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise,” announced Thursday it is closing after 85 years.

The non-profit company, employing more than 3,000 people in 240 stores in 36 states, said in a brief statement that the retailer had been facing declining sales since filing for bankruptcy protection in 2015 and had no choice but to shut down.

These two announcements are part of larger trend that we have been witnessing all over the country. As I have documented previously, Macy’s announced that it would be closing 100 stores earlier this year, and about the same time Sears said that it would be closing another 150 stores.

Back in 2010, Sears had a staggering 3,555 stores.

Before their recent announcement, Sears was down to 1,503 stores, and now this latest round of cuts will leave them with somewhere around 1,350.

Of course it won’t be too long before Sears has zero stores, and my regular readers know that I have been talking about the demise of Sears for a very long time.

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that the “real economy” is a total mess, and that is one of the primary reasons why these ridiculous stock market valuations that we are seeing right now are not sustainable.

One expert that agrees with my assessment is former Reagan Administration White House Budget Director David Stockman. In a recent interview, he explained why he believes that “everything will grind to a halt” after March 15th…

Stockman, who wrote a book titled “Trumped” predicting a Trump victory in 2016, says, “I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in the hot place that’s going to happen. This is delusional. This is the greatest suckers’ rally of all time. It is based on pure hopium and not any analysis at all as what it will take to push through a big tax cut. Donald Trump is in a trap. Today the debt is $20 trillion. It’s 106% of GDP. . . .Trump is inheriting a built-in deficit of $10 trillion over the next decade under current policies that are built in. Yet, he wants more defense spending, not less. He wants drastic sweeping tax cuts for corporations and individuals. He wants to spend more money on border security and law enforcement. He’s going to do more for the veterans. He wants this big trillion dollar infrastructure program. You put all that together and it’s madness. It doesn’t even begin to add up, and it won’t happen when you are struggling with the $10 trillion of debt that’s coming down the pike and the $20 trillion that’s already on the books.”

Then, Stockman drops this bomb and says:

“I think what people are missing is this date, March 15th 2017. That’s the day that this debt ceiling holiday that Obama and Boehner put together right before the last election in October of 2015. That holiday expires. The debt ceiling will freeze in at $20 trillion. It will then be law. It will be a hard stop. The Treasury will have roughly $200 billion in cash. We are burning cash at a $75 billion a month rate. By summer, they will be out of cash. Then we will be in the mother of all debt ceiling crises. Everything will grind to a halt. I think we will have a government shutdown. There will not be Obama Care repeal and replace. There will be no tax cut. There will be no infrastructure stimulus. There will be just one giant fiscal bloodbath over a debt ceiling that has to be increased and no one wants to vote for.”

In that same interview, Stockman also predicted that “markets will easily correct by 20% and probably a lot more“, and he noted the glaring disconnect between current stock prices and how the U.S. economy is actually performing

“The S&P 500 has been trading at 26 times earnings while earnings have been dropping for the past six or seven quarters. There is no booming recovery coming. There is going to be a recession and there will be no stimulus baton to bail it out. That is the new fact that neither Trump nor the Wall Street gamblers remotely understand.”

It is very difficult to argue with Stockman on this.

There are some people out there that seem to think that Donald Trump can miraculously turn the U.S. economy around just because he is Donald Trump.

It doesn’t work that way.

We are 20 trillion dollars in debt, and we are currently adding about a trillion dollars a year to that total. There is no possible way that Trump can cut taxes, increase military spending, build a border wall, spend much more on veterans and spend an extra trillion dollars on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.

We are flat broke as a nation and there simply is not money available to do everything that Donald Trump wants to do.

So we shall see what happens after March 15th.  Unfortunately, I happen to agree with Stockman that economic reality is about to come knocking and Trump and his supporters are about to get a very rude wake up call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2010, Sears had 3,555 stores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

American malls just got emptier.

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

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

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

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

So why is this happening?

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

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

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

The Retail Apocalypse Accelerates: Collapsing Holiday Sales Are A Signal That A Recession Is Coming

Retail Apocalypse - Photo by Justin CozartRetail sales during the four day Thanksgiving weekend were down a whopping 11 percent from last year.  This is a “make or break” time of the year for many retailers, and if things don’t turn around during the coming weeks we could see a tsunami of store closings in January and February.  As you read this article, there is already more than a billion square feet of retail space sitting empty in the United States.  Many have described the ongoing collapse of the retail industry as an “apocalypse”, and this apocalypse appears to be accelerating.  Yes, the shift to online retailers is a significant factor, but as you will see below even online retailers struggled over the holiday weekend.  The sad truth of the matter is that U.S. consumers are tapped out and are drowning in debt at this point, so they simply do not have as much money to spend as they once did.

According to the National Retail Federation, 5.2 percent fewer Americans shopped online or at retail stores over the past weekend.  Those that did shop spent an average of 6.4 percent less money than consumers did last year.

So if less people shopped, and they spent less money on average, that means that total retail sales must have been way down.

And indeed they were.  As the New York Times has reported, total retail sales were down an astounding 11 percent…

Sales, both in stores and online, from Thanksgiving through the weekend were estimated to have dropped 11 percent, to $50.9 billion, from $57.4 billion last year, according to preliminary survey results released Sunday by the National Retail Federation. Sales fell despite many stores’ opening earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day.

And though many retailers offered the same aggressive discounts online as they did in their stores, the web failed to attract more shoppers or spending over the four-day holiday weekend than it did last year, the group said. The average person who shopped over the weekend spent $159.55 at online retailers, down 10.2 percent from last year.

No wonder there was less violence on Black Friday this year.

Traffic at retailers was way down.

Of course some analysts are trying to put a positive spin on all of this.  For example, the CEO of the National Retail Federation says that this could actually be a sign that the economy is improving

As the WSJ reports, NRF’s CEO Matt Shay attributed the drop to a combination of factors, including the fact that retailers moved promotions earlier this year in attempt to get people out sooner and avoid what happened last year when people didn’t finish their shopping because of bad weather.

Also did we mention the NRF is perpetually cheery and always desperate to put a metric ton of lipstick on a pig? Well, hold on to your hats folks:

He also attributed the declines to better online offerings and an improving economy where “people don’t feel the same psychological need to rush out and get the great deal that weekend, particularly if they expected to be more deals,” he said.

And of course the sprint vs marathon comparisons, such as this one: “The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon not a sprint,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. Odd how that metaphor is never used when the (seasonally-adjusted) sprint beats the marathoners.

So there you have it: a 11% collapse in retail spending has just been spun as super bullish for the US economy, whereby US consumers aren’t spending because the economy is simply too strong, and the only reason they don’t spend is because they will spend much more later. Or something.

The retail industry is absolutely brutal at this point.  It is flooded with very large competitors that are chasing fewer and fewer disposable dollars.

In order to thrive, retailers need financially healthy consumers.  But over time, U.S. consumers have been getting deeper and deeper into debt.  The chart posted below shows that consumer credit in the United States has doubled since the year 2000…

Consumer Credit 2014

Meanwhile, the long-term trend for real median household income since the year 2000 has been down…

Real Median Household Income 2014

In order for Americans to spend money, they have to make money first.

Unfortunately, the quality of our jobs continues to plummet.

As I have written about previously, 50 percent of all American workers currently make less than $28,031 a year at their jobs.  And here are some more numbers from a report that the Social Security Administration recently released…

-39 percent of American workers made less than $20,000 last year

-52 percent of American workers made less than $30,000 last year

-63 percent of American workers made less than $40,000 last year

-72 percent of American workers made less than $50,000 last year

So in order for a typical American family to bring in $50,000 a year or more both parents usually have to work.

Sometimes they both have to work more than one job.

And with the cost of living constantly rising, family budgets are being squeezed more than ever.  That is why families have less money to spend at retail stores these days.  For even more on the current financial condition of American families, please see my previous article entitled “Are You Better Off This Thanksgiving Than You Were Last Thanksgiving?

It is time for retailers in America to face the fact that economic conditions have fundamentally changed.  U.S. consumers simply are not in as good shape as they used to be.

In addition, online retailers are going to continue to steal sales from traditional retail locations.  This means that more stores are going to close and more retail space is going to be abandoned.

As I mentioned above, more than a billion square feet of retail space is aleady sitting vacant in the United States.  And retail consultant Howard Davidowitz is projecting that up to half of all shopping malls in the U.S. may shut down within the next couple of decades

Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America’s shopping malls to fail. He predicts that only upscale shopping centers with anchors like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus will survive.

In the years ahead, it is going to become normal to see boarded up strip malls and abandoned shopping centers all over the country.

The golden age of retail is over, and now most retailers will have to work incredibly hard to survive the apocalypse that is unfolding right before our eyes.

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