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How Will The Economy Improve In 2014 If Almost Everyone Has Less Money To Spend?

Piggybank - Photo by Damian O'SullivanIs the U.S. consumer tapped out?  If so, how in the world will the U.S. economy possibly improve in 2014?  Most Americans know that the U.S. economy is heavily dependent on consumer spending.  If average Americans are not out there spending money, the economy tends not to do very well.  Unfortunately, retail sales during the holiday season appear to be quite disappointing and the middle class continues to deeply struggle.  And for a whole bunch of reasons things are likely going to be even tougher in 2014.  Families are going to have less money in their pockets to spend thanks to much higher health insurance premiums under Obamacare, a wide variety of tax increases, higher interest rates on debt, and cuts in government welfare programs.  The short-lived bubble of false prosperity that we have been enjoying for the last couple of years is rapidly coming to an end, and 2014 certainly promises to be a very “interesting year”.

Obamacare Rate Shock

Most middle class families are just scraping by from month to month these days.

Unfortunately for them, millions of those families are now being hit with massive health insurance rate increases.

In a previous article, I discussed how one study found that health insurance premiums for men are going to go up by an average of 99 percent under Obamacare and health insurance premiums for women are going to go up by an average of 62 percent under Obamacare.

Most middle class families simply cannot afford that.

Earlier today, I got an email from a reader that was paying $478 a month for health insurance for his family but has now received a letter informing him that his rate is going up to $1,150 a month.

Millions of families are receiving letters just like that.  And to say that these rate increases are a “surprise” to most people would be a massive understatement.  Even people that work in the financial industry are shocked at how high these premiums are turning out to be…

“The real big surprise was how much out-of-pocket would be required for our family,” said David Winebrenner, 46, a financial adviser in Lebanon, Ky., whose deductible topped $12,000 for a family of six for a silver plan he was considering. The monthly premium: $1,400.

Since Americans are going to have to pay much more for health insurance, that is going to remove a huge amount of discretionary spending from the economy, and that will not be good news for retailers.

Get Ready For Higher Taxes

When you raise taxes, you reduce the amount of money that people have in their pockets to spend.

Sadly, that is exactly what is happening.

Congress is allowing a whopping 55 tax breaks to expire at the end of this year, and when you add that to the 13 major tax increases that hit American families in 2013, it isn’t a pretty picture.

This tax season, millions of families are going to find out that they have much higher tax bills than they had anticipated.

And all of this comes at a time when incomes in America have been steadily declining.  In fact, real median household income has declined by a total of 8 percent since 2008.

If you are a worker, you might want to check out the chart that I have posted below to see where you stack up.  In America today, most workers are low income workers.  These numbers come from a recent Huffington Post article

-If you make more than $10,000, you earn more than 24.2% of Americans, or 37 million people.

-If you make more than $15,000 (roughly the annual salary of a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours per week), you earn more than 32.2% of Americans.

-If you make more than $30,000, you earn more than 53.2% of Americans.

-If you make more than $50,000, you earn more than 73.4% of Americans.

-If you make more than $100,000, you earn more than 92.6% of Americans.

-You are officially in the top 1% of American wage earners if you earn more than $250,000.

-The 894 people that earn more than $20 million make more than 99.99989% of Americans, and are compensated a cumulative $37,009,979,568 per year.

It is important to keep in mind that those numbers are for the employment income of individuals not households.  Most households have more than one member working, so overall household incomes are significantly higher than these numbers.

Higher Interest Rates Mean Larger Debt Payments

On Tuesday, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries rose to 3.03 percent.  I warned that this would happen once the taper started, and this is just the beginning.  Interest rates are likely to steadily rise throughout 2014.

The reason why the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is such a critical number is because mortgage rates and thousands of other interest rates throughout our economy are heavily influenced by that number.

So big changes are on the way.  As a recent CNBC article declared, the era of low mortgage rates is officially over…

The days of the 3.5% 30-year fixed are over. Rates are already up well over a full percentage point from a year ago, and as the Federal Reserve begins its much anticipated exit from the bond-buying business, I believe rates will inevitably go higher.

Needless to say, this is going to deeply affect the real estate market.  As Mac Slavo recently noted, numbers are already starting to drop precipitously…

The National Association of Realtors reported that the month of September saw its single largest drop in signed home sales in 40 months. And that wasn’t just a one-off event. This month mortgage applications collapsed a shocking 66%, hitting a 13-year low.

And U.S. consumers can expect interest rates on all kinds of loans to start rising.  That is going to mean higher debt payments, and therefore less money for consumers to spend into the economy.

Government Benefit Cuts

Well, if the middle class is going to have less money to spend, perhaps other Americans can pick up the slack.

Or maybe not.

You certainly can’t expect the poor to stimulate the economy.  As I mentioned yesterday, it is being projected that up to 5 million unemployed Americans could lose their unemployment benefits by the end of 2014, and 47 million Americans recently had their food stamp benefits reduced.

So the poor will also have less money to spend in 2014.

The Wealthy Save The Day?

Perhaps the stock market will continue to soar in 2014 and the wealthy will spend so much that it will make up for all the rest of us.

You can believe that if you want, but the truth is that there are a whole host of signs that the days of this irrational stock market bubble are numbered.  The following is an excerpt from one of my recent articles entitled “The Stock Market Has Officially Entered Crazytown Territory“…

The median price-to-earnings ratio on the S&P 500 has reached an all-time record high, and margin debt at the New York Stock Exchange has reached a level that we have never seen before.  In other words, stocks are massively overpriced and people have been borrowing huge amounts of money to buy stocks.  These are behaviors that we also saw just before the last two stock market bubbles burst.

If the stock market bubble does burst, the wealthy will also have less money to spend into the economy in 2014.

For the moment, the stock market has been rallying.  This is typical for the month of December.  You see, the truth is that investors generally don’t want to sell stocks in December because they want to put off paying taxes on the profits.

If stocks are sold before the end of the year, the profits go on the 2013 tax return.

If stocks are sold a few days from now, the profits go on the 2014 tax return.

It is only human nature to want to delay pain for as long as possible.

Expect to see some selling in January.  Many investors are very eager to start taking profits, but they wanted to wait until the holidays were over to do so.

So what do you think is coming up in 2014?  Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…

Piggybank - Photo by Damian O'Sullivan

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly From The Fiscal Cliff Deal

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly From The Fiscal Cliff DealThe fiscal cliff deal contains more bad news than it does good news.  Yes, the tax increases on the middle class could have been much worse, and we should be thankful that Congress at least did something for the middle class.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do enough.  Every American worker is going to pay higher taxes next year as a result of this deal.  The fiscal cliff deal represents the biggest tax increase in 20 years, and it is also projected to increase the U.S. national debt by an additional 4 trillion dollars over the next decade.  In the final analysis, U.S. government finances are still wildly out of control and we are all going to be paying higher taxes.  Not a whole lot to be excited about, and nothing has really been fixed for the long-term.  Our politicians have kicked the can down the road once again, but someday they will run out of road and all of this debt will absolutely crush us.  And of course a lot of our politicians didn’t even really know what they were voting for.  The fiscal cliff bill was more than 150 pages long, and our Senators got the bill into their hands just 3 minutes before they voted on it.  So none of them actually read the bill.  But that is the way things work in America today.  The blind are leading the blind and everyone is mindlessly hoping that everything will turn out okay somehow.

For a few moments, let’s take a closer look at the fiscal cliff deal.  There are some good things in there, there are some bad things in there, and there are some things about the deal that are downright ugly.

The Good

-One of the best things about the fiscal cliff deal is that income tax rates did not rise on the poor and the middle class.  This is great news for millions of families that are struggling to make ends meet each month.  A significant rise in income tax rates would have been crippling.

-The Alternative Minimum Tax will now be permanently adjusted for inflation.  This is something that I had screamed about in previous articles.  If an AMT fix had not been passed, approximately 28 million households would have been hammered with the Alternative Minimum Tax on their 2012 earnings.

-Millions of unemployed workers will continue to receive extended federal unemployment benefits.  We probably cannot really afford to keep doing this, but at least now there won’t be millions of unemployed workers that suddenly have their only source of income shut off.  The next trick will be to find jobs for all of those workers.  Unfortunately, millions of our jobs continue to be shipped to the other side of the world.

The Bad

-Payroll taxes are going up for every American worker.  The fiscal cliff deal allows the 2 percent payroll tax cut to expire, and so now the average U.S. household bringing in about $50,000 a year will pay approximately $1,000 more per year in payroll taxes.  As a result, it is being projected that U.S. consumers will have $115 billion less in disposable income to spend in 2013.  Happy New Year American workers!

-The fiscal cliff deal did nothing about the new Obamacare taxes that went into effect on January 1st.  Many of these taxes will hurt the middle class.  To see an example of a receipt where a consumer was charged the new “medical excise tax” in Obamacare, just check out this article.

-The carried-interest deduction loophole remains intact, so incredibly wealthy hedge fund managers will continue to get away with paying very little in taxes.  If the rest of us are being taxed into oblivion, then they should share in the pain with the rest of us.  Of course I personally believe that the income tax should be abolished entirely, but none of our politicians seem interested in that idea at all.

-Income tax rates will increase for high earners.  This will hurt a lot of small businesses.  Many small businesses that earn more than $400,000 a year will now be faced with making some really tough choices.  Some may have to lay off workers.  The top rate will now be 39.6 percent, but when other federal and state taxes are factored in, many small businesses will now be paying a top marginal rate of well over 50 percent.  That is absolutely obscene.

-A compromise was reached on the estate tax.  The exemption was scheduled to fall to just $1 million and the rate was scheduled to go up to 55 percent, and fortunately Congress decided to do something about that.  As I have written about previously, that would have been a disaster for many small businesses and family farms.  As a result of the fiscal cliff deal, the estate tax will only rise from 35 percent to 40 percent.  The exemption for individuals will be about 5 million dollars and for couples it will be about 10 million dollars, and those figures will now be indexed for inflation.  A tax increase is never a good thing, but if Congress had done nothing things would have been far worse.

-The fiscal cliff deal contains a lot of pork.  In particular, it contains provisions that extend specific tax breaks related to Puerto Rican rum, electric motorcycles, biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel, the film and television business, and motorsports entertainment complexes.

The Ugly

According to the Congressional Budget Office, as a result of this deal the U.S. national debt will be about $4 trillion higher a decade from now than it would have been if Congress had done nothing.

The deficit for fiscal year 2013 alone will be about $330 billion higher than it would have been if Congress had done nothing.

So this deal has made our debt problems even worse.

Right now, the U.S. has a debt to GDP ratio of about 103 percent.  We are already well into the “danger zone”, yet most Americans still don’t seem very concerned about all of this debt.

The fiscal cliff deal contained hardly any spending cuts at all.  In fact, there was a 41 to 1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts in the deal.  The Democrats definitely won this round.  But of course they had most of the leverage.  If Congress had done nothing, the middle class would have been absolutely devastated by all of the tax increases, and the Republicans were desperate to prevent that.

But now that the battle over taxes is done, the leverage is going to shift over to the Republicans for the next big fight.

The battle over the debt ceiling is next.  If Congress does not act, the U.S. government will soon not be able to borrow any additional money.  This battle will be one of the stories that dominates the headlines over the next few months.

If the Republicans want to do something serious about spending, now is their chance.  The battle over tax rates is already over, and there is no election in November.  The Republicans could conceivably say “NO” to a debt ceiling increase if they want to.  If that happened, the federal government would only be able to spend the money that it already has.  It would not be able to borrow more.  That would mean that we would have to start living within our means.

What a novel concept.

Of course there is no reason to believe that the Republicans in the House will suddenly grow a spine.  They have folded every other time that the debt ceiling has come up.  It will probably be the same again in 2013.

And Barack Obama is already saying that there will be “no negotiations” over the debt ceiling this time.  He expects the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling for him without getting anything in return

“I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether they will pay the bills they’ve already racked up.”

But the U.S. government cannot spend a single penny or borrow a single penny without the approval of the U.S. House of Representatives.

If the Republicans in the House want to ever get serious about government spending, the upcoming battle over the debt ceiling is a golden opportunity.

They could stop the Obama administration from piling up crazy amounts of debt if they want to.  All they need is the courage to take a stand.

During the first four years of the Obama administration, the U.S. government accumulated about as much debt as it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that George W. Bush took office.

The Republicans have had control of the House for about half of that time.  That means that they have been willing accomplices.

So will they take a stand?

That is very doubtful.  Over the past few years they have exhibited the intestinal fortitude of a frightened chicken.  They will probably huff and puff a little bit, but in the end they will probably give in to Obama once again.

But what we are doing to our children and our grandchildren is so immoral that it is hard to describe.  We are stealing more than 100 million dollars from them every single hour of every single day, and we plan on leaving them with the biggest pile of debt the world has ever seen.  We should be absolutely ashamed of ourselves.

Why can’t we just spend the money that we have?

What would be so wrong with that?

Unfortunately, that would mean such a painful downward adjustment in our standard of living that most Americans would freak out.  We are addicted to debt-fueled prosperity, and so we can’t stop stealing from future generations.  We need their money to feed our addiction.

In the end, this gigantic mountain of debt is absolutely going to destroy everything that our forefathers built for us.  There have been some people that have been warning about this for decades, but the American people did not listen.

Soon enough, we will all pay the price for this foolishness.

Obama And Boehner - The Debt Ceiling Battle Comes Next

Happy New Year Middle Class: The Fiscal Cliff Is Going To Rip You To Shreds

Happy New Year Middle Class - The Fiscal Cliff Is Going To Rip You To ShredsThe middle class has quite a gift welcoming them as the calendar flips over to 2013.  Their payroll taxes are going to go up, their income taxes are going to go up, and approximately 28 million households are going to be hit with a huge, unexpected AMT tax bill on their 2012 earnings.  So happy New Year middle class!  You are about to be ripped to shreds.  In addition to the tax increases that I just mentioned, approximately two million unemployed Americans will instantly lose their extended unemployment benefits when 2013 begins, and new Obamacare tax hikes which will cost American taxpayers about a trillion dollars over the next decade will start to go into effect.  If Congress is not able to come to some sort of a deal, all middle class families in America will be sending thousands more dollars to Uncle Sam next year than they were previously.  And considering the fact that the middle class is already steadily shrinking and that the U.S. economy is already in an advanced state of decline, that is not good news.  You would think that both major political parties would want to do something to keep the middle class from being hit with this kind of tax sledgehammer.  Unfortunately, at this point it appears that our “leaders” in Washington D.C. are incapable of getting anything done.  So get ready for much smaller paychecks and much larger tax bills.  What is coming is not going to be pleasant.

So what happened?

Weren’t the tax increases only supposed to be for the wealthy?

Well, that is what the politicians always promise, but it is always the middle class that ends up getting hit the hardest.

In this day and age, the big corporations and the ultra-wealthy are absolute masters at avoiding taxes.

For example, Facebook paid approximately $4.64 million in taxes on their entire foreign profits of $1.344 billion for 2011.

That comes out to a tax rate of about 0.3 percent.

Overall, the global elite have approximately 18 trillion dollars parked in offshore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.

Keep in mind that U.S. GDP for 2011 was only slightly above 15 trillion dollars.

So the global elite have an amount of money parked in offshore banks that is substantially larger than the total value of all goods and services produced in the United States each year.

According to one estimate, a third of all the wealth in the entire world is stationed in offshore banks.  Our politicians are playing checkers and the global elite are playing chess when it comes to taxes.  Our current system of taxation is irreversibly broken and should be entirely thrown out and replaced with something else.

And of course under our current system those that are poor don’t pay much in taxes because they are just trying to survive.

So who always ends up getting the painful end of the hammer?

The middle class does, and that really stinks.

Let us hope and pray that our politicians can come together and do something for the middle class.  In particular, we should all be screaming and yelling at our politicians about the Alternative Minimum Tax.  It was originally designed as a method to “tax the rich”, but unless Congress does something the middle class is about to be ripped to shreds by it.  The following is from a recent CNBC article about the AMT…

In a cruel epilogue to 2012, roughly 28 million families would owe the IRS $86 billion more than they anticipated for this year should the country plunge off the cliff, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Those families would face the “Alternative Minimum Tax,” which was introduced in 1969 to supposedly guarantee that wealthy Americans could not elude the taxman. But the AMT not only flopped, it was never indexed to inflation. So with each passing year, it seeps away from high society and into the wallets of Target and Wal-Mart shoppers. That sets up a disaster for April 15.

So how much money are we talking about?

According to that same article, many families are about to be socked by tax bills that will be absolutely huge…

On the whole, 98 percent of those with incomes between $200,000 to $500,000 would pay an additional $11,000 in AMT this year, according to the center’s estimates. About 88 percent of those with incomes of $100,000 to $200,000 would need to fork over another $3100, and even the majority of Americans with earnings between $75,000 and $100,000 would have an AMT liability.

Most of the tax increases that will be coming as a result of the fiscal cliff will be for 2013 earnings, but the AMT tax hike will apply to 2012 earnings.  So if you end up falling under the AMT, you better get ready to write a very large check to Uncle Sam in just a couple of months.

And the AMT is only just one of the very painful tax increases that American families will be facing.  If no deal is reached in Congress, every single middle class American taxpayer will be dealing with significantly higher taxes.

A recent ABC News report entitled “Fiscal Cliff: By The Numbers” detailed some of the other tax increases that you can expect in 2013…

So why don’t our politicians do something about all of this?

What are they fighting so bitterly about anyway?

Sadly, neither side is actually serious about substantially reducing the size of government deficits or about getting government spending under control.

During a recent interview on CNBC, Ron Paul explained that “they pretend they are fighting up there, but they really aren’t. They are arguing over power, spin, who looks good, who looks bad; all trying to preserve the system where they can spend what they want, take care of their friends and print money when they need it.”

Most in the mainstream media are making it sound like some kind of a “battle royal” is going on in Washington, but as Lou Dobbs recently pointed out, the U.S. national debt is going to end up in just about the same place no matter what happens.

According to Dobbs, if we “do nothing” the U.S. national debt will be approximately 25.8 trillion dollars in 2022.

If “Obama wins”, the U.S. national debt will be approximately 25.4 trillion dollars in 2022.

If “Boehner wins”, the U.S. national debt will be approximately 25.2 trillion dollars in 2022.

You can watch the entire analysis by Lou Dobbs right here

So they are putting all of us through all of this torture even though nothing will really change in the long run no matter who wins?

What kind of a circus is this?

Meanwhile, the reckless spending continues.

Barack Obama has just issued a new executive order that ends the pay freeze for federal workers that had been in place.

So now all federal employees will be getting a nice hefty pay raise.

For example, Vice President Joe Biden brought in $225,521 this year.

Next year, he will make $231,900.

Not that our politicians really need the money.  Most members of Congress are millionaires anyway.  But if they can get us to pay for it, they might as well go for it, eh?

There are now close to half a million federal employees that bring home at least $100,000 a year.  Plus, it is important to keep in mind that the benefits that federal employees get are absolutely outstanding, and it is close to impossible to actually fire a federal worker.

Life is good if you are working for Uncle Sam.

Meanwhile, our politicians seem determined to keep draining more blood out of the middle class.  Even if a “deal” is reached, we will still be hit by some categories of tax increases.  Let’s just hope and pray that we don’t get hit by all of the tax increases that are scheduled to go into effect.  That would be a financial disaster for millions of families.

So happy New Year middle class.  Your taxes are about to go through the roof and our politicians are too busy fighting with each other to do anything about it.

What else will 2013 bring?

Funny Baby

What In The World Are Barack Obama And John Boehner Thinking?

What In The World Are Barack Obama And John Boehner Thinking?Barack Obama and John Boehner both seem absolutely determined to drive U.S. government finances off a cliff.  The mainstream media would have you believe that there are vast ideological differences between the two of them and that they are bitter enemies, but that is simply not the case.  Both of them say that tax increases are “necessary”, but they disagree over the details.  Both are seeking about a trillion dollars of spending cuts and about a trillion dollars of new “revenue”, but they don’t see eye to eye on how to get there.  But overall, they are both definitely playing in the same ballpark.  And those numbers certainly do sound impressive until you realize that they are talking about a time span of ten years.  Personally, I would love to see federal spending cut by a trillion dollars this year.  But that will never happen.  A trillion dollars over the course of a decade breaks down to about 100 billion dollars per year.  That still sounds like a lot of money until you put it up next to the trillion dollar deficits that we have been running for four years in a row.  Even if somehow those spending cuts turned out to be real (which they aren’t), they would still only put a very small dent in our yearly budget deficits.  Obama and Boehner both want to continue to have a gigantic federal government that showers people with government money, and both of them want to continue to pass much of the burden for paying for this gigantic government on to future generations.  And both of them want to continue to steal more than 100 million dollars an hour from our children and our grandchildren in order to maintain the false bubble of debt-fueled prosperity that we are enjoying right now.  This is incredibly foolish and they are leading us down a path that will lead to national ruin.

Sadly, even the pathetically small “budget cut” and “new revenue” figures that they are floating around turn out to be quite hollow when you inspect them more closely.

For example, the “new revenue” figures that both Obama and Boehner are talking about rely on extremely unrealistic assumptions about U.S. economic growth.  In order to meet their revenue projections, the U.S. economy would need to grow significantly faster than it is right now and we would need to get through the entire decade without having a single recession.

What do you think the chance of that happening is?

But that is the way that things work in Washington D.C. – our politicians function in a world where it is assumed that everything will work out just perfectly in the future.

For example, if the figures put out at the beginning of the Bush administration were to be believed, we should be absolutely swimming in government surpluses by now.

That didn’t work out too well, did it?

The “spending cuts” are even more illusory.

Obama is projecting that we will save 130 billion dollars by manipulating the way that inflation is calculated for annual increases in Social Security benefits.

But our politicians are already pretending that there is hardly any inflation when any rational person can see that prices are soaring.

So can they really manipulate the numbers to make them look even smaller?

By doing so, they would be cheating elderly Americans out of 130 billion dollars.  But I guess this is more convenient for our politicians than going after real government waste.

Obama also plans to save $290 billion by having lower interest payments on U.S. government debt.

Try not to laugh.

The average rate of interest on U.S. government debt was 2.534 percent at the end of November.  That is ridiculously low.  The only place it is going to go in future years is up.

Back in the year 2000, the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt was 6.638 percent.  If the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt rose back to that level, we would be paying out more than a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt.

So Obama’s projection that we are going to save 290 billion dollars over the next ten years by forcing interest rates on U.S. government debt even lower is insanely optimistic.  Only a delusional person would make such an assumption.

And most of the savings from the “projected spending cuts” that Obama and Boehner are proposing would not happen until later in the decade.

After all, they don’t want to “hurt the economy” right now.

In fact, Obama is actually proposing that we should increase spending by $80 billion this year so that we can encourage economic activity.

So don’t let anyone fool you with any nonsense about how Obama and Boehner are working on a plan that would get U.S. government finances in order.

No matter how their “negotiations” turn out, we will continue to run trillion dollars deficits year after year with no end in sight.

If Americans want a monstrous federal government that passes out government checks like candy, then they should pay for it.  Personally, I think that taxes are already way, way too high and that the government already brings in more than enough money.

If Americans don’t want to pay much higher taxes, then they should tell the government to quit spending money that we don’t have.

But all of this trying to have it both ways has got to stop.  We are destroying the future for our children and our grandchildren.  We have already run up 16 trillion dollars in debt and we can’t even seem to slow down our reckless debt binge.  If they get the chance, someday future generations will curse us for what we did to them.

The funny thing is that John Boehner was supposed to be a “conservative” that was going to do something about all of this debt.  But since John Boehner has been Speaker of the House, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that has increased the size of our national debt by approximately $18,944 per household.

Thanks John.

Meanwhile, our economy continues to unravel, good jobs are becoming even more scarce, and poverty continues to explode.

For example, did you know that there are now more than one million homeless students in America?  Sadly, it’s true…

The number of homeless students in America topped one million for the first time last year as a result of the economic recession, a number that has risen 57 percent since 2007.

The US Department of Education found that of these 1,065,794 children, many lived in abandoned homes, cheap hotels, stations, church basements and hospitals. Some spent their time sleeping over at the houses of various friends whenever they could. Others fell victim to drugs and sexual abuse, in some cases trading sexual acts for food, clothing and shelter or selling illegal drugs.

Even in the midst of our debt-fueled prosperity, the number of Americans that are dependent on the government just continues to rise.

According to one recent survey, 55 percent of all Americans have received money from a safety net program run by the federal government at some point in their lives.

So how bad will things get when we eventually quit borrowing so much money and we start living within our means?

Nobody is looking forward to that day.  Certainly not our politicians.  They don’t want to be blamed for all of the painful adjustments that will happen once the party ends.

So they just keep borrowing and spending.  But at some point the music will stop and the house of cards will come crashing down.

It won’t happen this week or this month, but it will happen soon enough.

I hope that you are ready.

Obama And Boehner

Will The Wealthy Race To Dump Stocks And Other Financial Assets Before The Fiscal Cliff Kicks In?

The election results made it abundantly clear that taxes are going to be going up, and right now a lot of wealthy people all over America are trying to figure out how to best position themselves for the hit that is coming.  There are a whole host of tax cuts that are set to expire on December 31st, and many analysts are now speculating that we could see a race to dump stocks and other financial assets before 2013 in order to get better tax treatment on those sales.  Of course it is still possible that Congress may reach a bargain which would avoid these tax increases, but with each passing day that appears to be increasingly unlikely – especially regarding the tax increases on the wealthy.  Whatever you may believe about this politically, the truth is that we should all be able to agree that these looming tax increases provide an incentive for wealthy people to sell off financial assets now rather than later.  After all, there are very few people out there that would actually prefer to pay higher taxes on purpose.  If the race to dump financial assets becomes a landslide, could this push stocks down significantly late in the year?  Already there are all sorts of technical signs that indicate that stocks are ready for a “correction” at the very least.  For example, the S&P 500 has already closed below its 200 day moving average for several days in a row.  Could the “sell off” that has already begun become a race for the exits?

A lot of Americans have heard about the looming “fiscal cliff”, but most don’t really understand the specifics.

For investors, there are several key changes which will happen unless Congress does something by January 1st.

First of all, the tax rate on capital gains will go from 15 percent to 20 percent.  For those with high incomes, the rate will be even higher than that thanks to a tax increase that our politicians managed to sneak into Obamacare.  So, some wealthy individuals will see their capitals gains taxed at nearly 24 percent in 2013 unless something is done.

For dividends, the outlook is even more frightening.  The tax rate on dividends will increase from 15 percent right now to over 43 percent for the highest income earners.

We have already seen these tax increases play into business decisions that have been made in recent months.  For example, it is being reported that George Lucas potentially saved hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes by selling Star Wars to Disney this year rather than next year.

Anyone out there that wants to take advantage of the current tax rates on capital gains and dividend income better do so now, because these tax rates look like they are going to go away and they probably will not be back for a very, very long time.

According to CNBC, this makes the next couple of months an ideal time to dump stocks and other financial assets…

For many of the wealthy, 2012 is becoming a good year to sell.

They’re worried about the “fiscal cliff,” which is when tax cuts expire and spending cuts are set to go into effect at the end of the year.

Fearing an increase in capital gains and dividend taxes, many of the rich are unloading stocks, businesses and homes before the end of the year.

And the truth is that stocks simply did not have much higher that they could possibly go anyway.  Anyone that is trying to “get out while the getting is good” should take heed of what Marc Faber recently told CNBC

“The market is going down because corporate profits will begin to disappoint, the global economy will hardly grow next year or even contract, and that is the reason why stocks, from the highs of September of 1,470 on the S&P, will drop at least 20 percent, in my view.”

In fact, Faber is absolutely convinced that a full-blown stock market crash is coming no matter what happens with the fiscal cliff…

“I think the whole global financial system will have to be reset and it won’t be reset by central bankers but by imploding markets — either the currency [markets, debt market or stock markets,” he said. “It will happen — it will happen one day and then we’ll be lucky if we still have 50 percent of the asset values that we have today.”

Politics and economics have always been deeply intertwined.  The results of the most recent election are going to have some very deep consequences.  Already we have seen a large number of businesses either announce layoffs or that hours for their workers will be cut back.  You can find a bunch of tweets from small business owners talking about how they won’t be hiring anyone or that they will be forced to reduce hours right here.  You can find a bunch of tweets from average citizens all over the country talking about how their hours are already being cut back right here.

With each passing day, our country is getting poorer, it is getting even deeper in debt and our economy is becoming even more unstable.  We are on a path that will only lead to total economic disaster, but the American people just voted for more of the same.

So now we will get to see how this all plays out.

Is there anyone out there that is still optimistic about what is coming next for the U.S. economy?

If You Live In California Things Just Got A Whole Lot Worse

Why does the state of California seem to be so incredibly hopeless?  These days California can’t seem to do anything right, and if you live in California things just got a whole lot worse.  Governor Brown has announced that the state budget deficit for this year is going to be much larger than projected, that more government services are going to be cut and that voters are going to vote on another round of tax increases in November.  Meanwhile, unemployment is sitting at 11 percent and extended federal unemployment benefits for workers in the state are ending.  Because California is one of the worst places in the nation to conduct business, there has been a steady flow of companies leaving the state.  Those companies have taken a whole lot of good jobs with them.  Due to the lack of jobs and a steady stream of impoverished immigrants coming in from Mexico and other countries, poverty in the state has exploded and crime is rapidly increasing.  California may be the land of “endless sunshine”, but for the California economy there are only dark clouds on the horizon.  The state is coming apart at the seams and there is not much hope that things are going to turn around any time soon.

These days, California is very similar to Greece in many ways.

Just like Greece, California has had round after round of “austerity” and yet still cannot seem to balance the budget.

Even after all of the cuts that have been implemented in recent years, the California budget deficit is still going to be far larger than originally projected this year.  The following is from the Los Angeles Times….

Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Saturday that the state’s deficit has ballooned to $16 billion, a huge increase over his $9.2-billion estimate in January.

The bigger deficit is a significant setback for California, which has struggled to turn the page on a devastating budget crisis. Brown, who announced the deficit on YouTube, is expected to outline his full budget proposal on Monday in Sacramento.

“This means we will have to go much further, and make cuts far greater, than I asked for at the beginning of the year,” Brown said in the video.

During his remarks on YouTube, Governor Brown stated that California is “still recovering from the worst recession since the 1930s” and he stressed that hard choices are ahead.

But the California state government has already cut back in so many places.  For example, back in the late 1970s the state of California was number one in per-pupil spending on education, but now California has fallen to 48th place.

Unfortunately, Governor Brown does not believe that budget cuts alone will solve the problem.

So you know what that means.

Tax increases!

The tax increases that California voters will be voting on in November were outlined in a recent Bloomberg article….

Brown this week submitted more than 1.5 million signatures to place the tax measure on the ballot. It would temporarily raise the state sales tax, already the highest in the U.S., to 7.5 percent from 7.25 percent. It would also boost rates on income starting at $250,000. The 10.3 percent levy on those making $1 million or more would rise to 13.3 percent, the most of any state.

Get ready to fire up the moving vans.

The rest of the California economy may be falling apart, but moving companies will continue to do very well.

As I have written about previously, California has already experienced a net loss of approximately four million residents to other states over the past 20 years.

If the top rate on those making a million dollars or more a year hits 13.3 percent you will see a lot more wealthy people leave.

And thousands of businesses have left California in recent years as well.  Sadly, one survey found that CEOs ranked California as the worst place in the United States to do business for seven years in a row.

You would think that the state legislature would get the message.

Unfortunately they have not.

California absolutely suffocates businesses with rules and regulations and it gets worse with each passing year.

So lots of good jobs continue to leave the state.

As mentioned earlier, the official rate of unemployment in California is sitting at 11 percent.  That is almost 3 points higher than for the nation as a whole.

Of course the “official” numbers greatly understate the true scope of the unemployment problem, but for more on that you can check out this article.

However you want to look at it, the reality is that California has a massive unemployment problem.

Sadly, a whole bunch of unemployed workers in California are about to lose their unemployment benefits.

On Saturday, more than 200,000 unemployed Americans were dumped off the unemployment rolls.  Close to half of them live in California.

Instead of 99 weeks, unemployed workers in California will now only be able to collect unemployment benefits for a maximum of 79 weeks.

It is estimated that a total of 93,000 people in California have suddenly lost their benefits as a result of this change.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the employment picture in California is not really getting any better.  It is still incredibly difficult to find a decent job.

Unless you are “connected”, it can be a horribly frustrating experience trying to find a new job in this economic environment.

But if you are truly desperate, there are some folks out there who are always hiring.

These days, “national security” is quite a growth industry.  For example, if you are currently unemployed you can always apply to work as an Internment/Resettlement Specialist for the national guard.

While the economy is going to pot, you can get paid to lock up other Americans that are protesting about the state of our country.

Doesn’t that sound fun?

But seriously, if you live in California right now you probably don’t need anyone else to tell you how bad things are.

You probably already know that the number of children living in poverty in the state of California has increased by 30 percent since 2007.

California is rapidly changing, and not for the better.

But it is not just the economy that is falling apart in California.  The truth is that there are a whole host of good reasons to move away from California.  The traffic is nightmarish, crime is on the rise, the gangs are bigger and more active than ever before, millions of illegal immigrants have poured into the state, and the control freak politicians become more insane with each passing year.

Plus there is the constant threat that your home will be destroyed by a mudslide, a wildfire or an earthquake.

One of these days the “big onewill hit California.

You do not want to be there when that happens.

But if you decide that you do want to move from California, what is the best state to move to?

That is a very good question.

The truth is that economic conditions are horrible in most of the country and are rapidly getting a whole lot worse.

According to one poll, 30 percent of all Americans described the condition of the economy as “good” back in February but only 20 percent do now.

When we enter the next major economic downturn, unemployment is going to go higher everywhere in the nation.

There will be small pockets where jobs are still plentiful (where the oil industry is strong for example) but almost everywhere else will be really hurting.

So what do all of you think?

For people looking to move away from California, where should they go?

Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below….

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