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We Just Witnessed The Worst Week For Global Financial Markets In 3 Years

Global Financial Markets Crash - Public DomainIs this the start of the next major financial crisis?  The nightmarish collapse of the price of oil is creating panic in financial markets all over the planet.  On June 16th, U.S. oil was trading at a price of $107.52.  Since then, it has fallen by almost 50 dollars in less than 6 months.  This has only happened one other time in our history.  In the summer of 2008, the price of oil utterly collapsed and we all remember what happened after that.  Well, the same patterns that we witnessed back in 2008 are happening again.  As the price of oil crashed in 2008, so did prices for a whole host of other commodities.  That is happening again.  Once commodities started crashing, the market for junk bonds started to implode.  That is also happening again.  Finally, toward the end of 2008, we witnessed a horrifying stock market crash.  Could we be on the verge of another major one?  Last week was the worst week for the Dow in more than three years, and stock markets all over the world are crashing right now.  Bad financial news continues to roll in from the four corners of the globe on an almost hourly basis.  Have we finally reached the “tipping point” that so many have been warning about?

What we witnessed last week is being described as “a bloodbath” that was truly global in scope.  The following is how Zero Hedge summarized the carnage…

  • WTI’s 2nd worst week in over 3 years (down 10 of last 11 weeks)
  • Dow’s worst worst week in 3 years
  • Financials worst week in 2 months
  • Materials worst week since Sept 2011
  • VIX’s Biggest week since Sept 2011
  • Gold’s best week in 6 months
  • Silver’s last 2 weeks are best in 6 months
  • HY Credit’s worst 2 weeks since May 2012
  • IG Credit’s worst week in 2 months
  • 10Y Yield’s best week since June 2012
  • US Oil Rig Count worst week in 2 years
  • The USDollar’s worst week since July 2013
  • USDJPY’s worst week since June 2013
  • Portugal Bonds worst week since July 2011
  • Greek stocks worst week since 1987

The stock market meltdown in Greece is particularly noteworthy.  After peaking in March, the Greek stock market is down 40 percent since then.  That includes a 20 percent implosion in just the past three trading days.

And it isn’t just Greece.  Financial markets all over Europe are in turmoil right now.  In addition to crashing oil prices, there is also renewed concern about the fundamental stability of the eurozone.  Many believe that it is inevitable that it is headed for a break up.  As a result of all of this fear, European stocks also had their worst week in over three years

European stock markets closed sharply lower on Friday, posting their biggest weekly loss since August 2011, as commodity prices continued to fall and and shares in oil-related firms came under renewed pressure from the weak price for crude.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 unofficially ended 2.6 percent lower, down 5.9 percent on the week as the energy sector once again weighed heavily on wider benchmarks, falling over 3 percent.

But despite all of the carnage that we witnessed in the U.S. and in Europe last week, things are actually far worse for financial markets in the Middle East.

Just check out what happened on the other side of the planet on Sunday

Stock markets in the Persian Gulf got drilled Sunday as worries about further price declines grew. The Dubai stock index fell 7.6% Sunday, the equivalent of a 1,313-point plunge in the Dow Jones industrial average. The Saudi Arabian market fell 3.3%.

Overall, Dubai stocks are down a whopping 23 percent over the last two weeks, and full-blown stock market crashes are happening in Qatar and Kuwait too.

Like I said, this is turning out to be a truly global financial panic.

Another region to keep an eye on is South America.  Argentina is a financial basket case, the Brazilian stock market is tanking big time, and the implied probability of default on Venezuelan debt is now up to 93 percent

Swaps traders are almost certain that Venezuela will default as the rout in oil prices pressures government finances and sends bond prices to a 16-year low.

Benchmark notes due 2027 dropped to 43.75 cents on the dollar as of 11:35 a.m. in New York, the lowest since September 1998, as crude extended a bear market decline. The upfront cost of contracts to insure Venezuelan debt against non-payment for five years is at 59 percent, bringing the implied probability of default to 93 percent, the highest in the world.

So what does all of this mean for the future?

Are we experiencing a repeat of 2008?

Could what is ahead be even worse than that?

Or could this just be a temporary setback?

Recently, Howard Hill shared a few things that he looks for to determine whether a major financial crisis is upon us or not…

The first condition is a serious market sector correction.

According to some participants in the market for energy company bonds and loans, such a correction is already underway and heading toward a meltdown (the second condition). Others are more sanguine, and expect a recovery soon.

That smaller energy companies have issued more junk-rated debt than their relative size in the economy isn’t under debate. Of a total junk bond market estimated around $1.2 trillion, about 18% ($216 billion, according to a Bloomberg estimate) has been issued by energy-related companies. Yet those companies represent a far smaller share of the economy or stock market capitalization among the universe of junk-rated companies.

If the beaten-down prices for junk energy bonds don’t stabilize or recover a bit, we might see the second condition: a spiral of distressed sales of bonds and loans. This could happen if junk bond mutual funds or other large holders sell into an unfriendly market at low prices, and then other holders of those bonds succumb to the pressure of fund redemptions or margin calls and sell at even lower prices.

The third condition, which we can’t determine directly, would be pressure on Credit Default Swap dealers or hedge funds to make deposits as the prices of the CDS move against them. AIG was taken down when collateral demands were made to support existing CDS agreements, and nobody knew it until they were going under. There simply isn’t a way to know whether banks or dealers are struggling until the effect is already metastasizing.

I think that he makes some really good points.

In particular, I think that watching how junk bonds perform over the next few weeks will be extremely telling.

Last week was truly a bloodbath for high yield debt.

But perhaps things will stabilize this week.

Let’s hope so, because this is the closest that we have been to another major financial crisis since 2008.

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.

If A Few Ebola Cases Can Make The Stock Market Crash This Much, What Would A Full-Blown Pandemic Mean?

Stock Market Crash Ebola - Public DomainIs Ebola going to cause another of the massive October stock market crashes that Wall Street is famous for?  At one point on Wednesday, the Dow was down a staggering 460 points.  It ultimately closed down just 173 points, but this was the fifth day in a row that the Dow has declined.  And of course Ebola is one of the primary things that is being blamed for this stunning stock market drop.  Since September 19th, we have seen the S&P 500 fall about 7 percent and the Nasdaq fall nearly 10 percent.  The VIX (the most important measure of volatility on Wall Street) shot up an astounding 22 percent on Wednesday.  So many of the ominous signs for the markets that I wrote about on Tuesday are now even worse.  If a handful of Ebola cases in the United States can cause this much panic in the financial world, what would a full-blown pandemic look like?

Of course Ebola is not the only reason why stocks are declining.  Just look at what is happening over in Europe.  The European Stoxx 600 index is already down a whopping 11.4 percent from the high that it hit just 18 days ago.  That is officially considered to be “correction” territory.

And Greece experienced a full-blown stock market collapse on Wednesday

As if the world didn’t have enough to be worried about (ISIS, Ebola, slowing China, Ukraine, slowing Germany, Fed tightening, etc.) now look what’s back: Greece. And in a big way.

The stock market is down over 9% on Wednesday, which is about as big as crashes come.

And the banks are getting absolutely smashed.

In general, markets tend to fall faster than they rise.

When there is a sudden downturn, the price action can be violent.  And just like we saw back in 2008, financial stocks are leading the way.  Just check out what happened to some of the biggest banks in America before the final bell sounded…

Volume leader Bank of America, down 5%, Citigroup, off 5.5%, and JP Morgan, down 4.6%, were particularly hard hit.

And thanks to Ebola fears, airline stocks plummeted as well

Airline stocks were roiled by the prospects of curtailed travel due to the spreading Ebola virus. United Continental fell 4% and American Airlines was off 4.3%. Among tech stocks, Intel lost 3.3%. Apple fell 1.7% and Microsoft slipped 2.3%.

An increasing number of voices are concerned that we could be on the verge of a repeat of what happened back in 2008.

For example, Professor Steve Keen, the head of Economics, History & Politics at Kingston University in London, wrote the following in a piece for CNN entitled “Brace yourself for another financial crash“…

My acceleration indicator has been flagging that the stock market was due for a fall since mid-2013.

It’s a tribute to the power of the Fed’s Quantitative Easing that the market continued to defy the gravity of decelerating debt for so long. QE was really a program to inflate asset prices since, as my colleague Michael Hudson puts it, “the Fed’s helicopter money fell on Wall Street, not Main Street”.

But with QE being unwound, the stock market is now back under the control of the not so tender mercies of excessive private debt.

So welcome to the New Crisis — same as the Old Crisis. The roller coaster ride is likely to continue.

Others are even more pessimistic.  For example, just check out what Daniel Ameduri of Future Money Trends recently told his readers

“If it drops below 15,000 points I would suggest people start buying food and ammo, because this depression is about to turn nasty.”

However, keep in mind that not that much has really changed from a month or two ago.

Yes, we now have had three confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, but this could be just the beginning.

At first, the fear of Ebola will be worse than the disease.

But if a worst-case scenario does develop in the United States where hundreds of thousands of people are getting the virus, the fear such a pandemic will create will be off the charts.

In the midst of a full-blown Ebola pandemic, we wouldn’t just be talking about a 10 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent stock market decline.

Rather, we would be talking about the greatest stock market collapse in the history of stock market collapses.  In essence, there would not be much of a market at all at that point.

And if Ebola does start spreading wildly in this country, we would have a credit crunch that would make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.

During times of extraordinary fear, financial institutions do not want to lend money to each other or to consumers.  But our economy is entirely based on debt.  If credit were to stop flowing, we would essentially not have an economy.

That is why we need to pray that this Ebola crisis stops here.  But thanks to the incompetence of Barack Obama and the CDC, there has been a series of very grave errors in trying to contain this disease.  This display of incompetence would be absolutely hilarious if we weren’t talking about a disease that could potentially kill millions of us.

Let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst.  That means stocking up on the food and supplies that you will need to stay isolated for an extended period of time.  As we have seen so many times in the past, basic essentials fly off of store shelves during any type of an emergency.  During an extended Ebola pandemic, those essentials would be in very short supply and prices on the basics would absolutely skyrocket.  Those that have taken the time to get prepared now will be way ahead of the game.

And if there were dozens or hundreds of people in your community that were contagious, you would definitely not want to go to a grocery store or anywhere else where large numbers of people circulate.

The key during any major pandemic is to keep yourself and your family isolated from the virus.  This is basic common sense, but it is something that Barack Obama does not seem to understand.  As I write this, he still has not done anything to restrict air travel between the United States and West Africa.  Hopefully this very foolish decision will not result in scores of dead Americans.

The Dow And S&P 500 Soar To Irrational Heights – Meanwhile The Ultra-Wealthy Rush To Buy Gold Bars

Gold Bars - Public DomainDid you know that the number of gold bars being purchased by ultra-wealthy individuals has increased by 243 percent so far this year?  If stocks are just going to keep soaring, why are they doing this?  On Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 both closed at record highs once again.  It is a party that never seems to end, and there are a lot of really happy people on Wall Street these days.  But those that are discerning realize that we witnessed the exact same kind of bubble behavior during the dotcom boom and during the run up to the last financial crash in 2007.  The irrational exuberance that we are witnessing right now cannot go on forever.  And the bigger that this bubble gets, the more painful that it is going to be when it finally bursts.  Those that get out at the peaks of the market are the ones that usually end up making lots of money.  Those that ride stocks all the way up and all the way down are the ones that usually end up getting totally wiped out.

To get an idea of how irrational the markets have become, all one has to do is to look at Twitter.

Would you value “a horribly mismanaged company” that is less than 10 years old and that has never made a yearly profit at 31 billion dollars?

Well, that is precisely how much the financial markets say that Twitter is worth at this moment.

Even though Twitter will probably never be much more popular than it is right now, it continues to bleed money profusely.  On a GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) basis, Twitter lost an astounding 145 million dollars during the second quarter of 2014…

Twitter’s GAAP net loss totaled $145 million, up from $42 million a year ago. On a GAAP basis, Twitter lost $0.24 per share. Investors, however, were not expecting Twitter to be profitable by GAAP measurements, so the loss isn’t too much of a drag.

Why would anyone want to invest in such a money pit?

Here are some more disturbing financial numbers about Twitter from David Stockman

Currently, Twitter (TWTR) is valued at $31 billion.That’s 18X revenue, but the catch is that the revenue in question is it’s lifetime bookings over the 18 quarters since Q1 2010.

When it comes to profits, the numbers are not nearly so promising!  For the LTM period ending in June, TWTR booked $974 million of revenue and $1.7 billion of operating expense. That why “NM” shows up in its LTM ratio of enterprise value to EBITDA. It turns out that its EBITDA was -$704 million. In fact, its R&D expense alone was 83% of revenues.

Of course the truth is that Twitter should be able to make money.

And it probably would be making money if it was being managed better.

The following is what Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel said about Twitter on CNBC the other day…

“It’s a horribly mismanaged company — probably a lot of pot-smoking going on there.”

But because Twitter is a “hot tech stock” investors are literally throwing money at it.

And there are many other tech companies that have similar stories.  Off the top of my head, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Yelp and Pinterest come to mind.

Fueled by the quantitative easing policies of the Federal Reserve, U.S. stocks have enjoyed an unprecedented joy ride.

However, as David Stockman recently told Yahoo Finance, the subsequent crash is likely to be enormously painful…

“I think what the Fed is doing is so unprecedented, what is happening in the markets is so unnatural,” he said. “This is dangerous, combustible stuff, and I don’t know when the explosion occurs – when the collapse suddenly is upon us – but when it happens, people will be happy that they got out of the way if they did.”

The behavior that we are observing in the stock market simply does not reflect what is happening in the economy overall whatsoever.

In many ways, U.S. economic fundamentals just continue to get even worse.  Small business ownership in the United States is at an all-time low, the labor force participation rate is the lowest that it has been in 36 years, and the U.S. national debt has grown by more than a trillion dollars over the past 12 months.

But on Wall Street right now, there is very little fear that the party is going to end any time soon.

The following is how Seth Klarman recently described the market complacency that he is seeing at the moment…

To put it a bit differently, writer and investor John Mauldin is right when he says that there is “a bubble in complacency.” Fear has effectively been banished. The members of the Fed know it. Stock traders who chase the market to new highs almost daily know it. Implied volatilities (and realized volatilities) are historically low (the VIX Index recently hit a seven-year low), and falling. The Bank for International Settlements recently cautioned that financial markets are euphoric and in the grip of an aggressive search for yield. The S&P has gone over 1,000 days without a 10% decline, according to Birinyi Associates. Dutch and French 10-year government bond yields are at 500 and 250 year lows, respectively; Spain, 225 years. Spanish debt yields were recently inside of U.S. levels.

But as Klarman also observed, just because “investors have been seduced into feeling good” does not mean that this current bubble is any different from what we witnessed back in 2007…

It’s not hard to reach the conclusion that so many investors feel good not because things are good but because investors have been seduced into feeling good—otherwise known as “the wealth effect.” We really are far along in re-creating the markets of 2007, which felt great but were deeply unstable when shocks started to pile up. Even Janet Yellen sees “pockets of increasing risk-taking” in the markets, yet she has made clear that she won’t raise rates to fight incipient bubbles. For all of our sakes, we really wish she would.

Meanwhile, the ultra-wealthy are making moves to protect themselves from the inevitable chaos that is coming.

For example, the Telegraph recently reported that sales of gold bars to wealthy customers are up 243 percent so far in 2014…

The super-rich are looking to protect their wealth through buying record numbers of “Italian job” style gold bars, according to bullion experts.

The number of 12.5kg gold bars being bought by wealthy customers has increased 243 percent so far this year, when compared to the same period last year, said Rob Halliday-Stein founder of BullionByPost.

“These gold bars are usually stored in the vaults of central banks and are the same ones you see in the film ‘The Italian Job’,” added David Cousins, bullion executive from London based ATS Bullion.

Do they know something that we don’t?

The ultra-wealthy are able to stay ultra-wealthy for a reason.

They are usually a step or two ahead of most of the rest of us.

And any rational person should be able to see that this financial bubble is going to end very, very badly.

The Stock Market In Japan Is COLLAPSING

Stock Market Collapse In JapanDid you see what just happened in Japan?  The stock market of the 3rd largest economy on the planet is imploding.  On Tuesday, the Nikkei fell by more than 610 points.  If that sounds like a lot, that is because it is.  The largest one day stock market decline in U.S. history is only 777 points.  So far, the Dow is only down about 1000 points during this “correction”, but the Nikkei is down more than 2,300 points.  The Nikkei has dropped more than 14 percent since the peak of the market, and many analysts believe that this is only just the beginning.  Those that have been waiting for a full-blown stock market collapse may be about to get their wish.  Japan is absolutely drowning in debt, their central bank is printing money like crazy and the Japanese population is aging rapidly.  As far as economic fundamentals go, there is very little good news as far as Japan is concerned.  So will an Asian financial collapse precede the next great financial crisis in the United States?  That is what some have been predicting, and it starting to look increasingly likely.

What happened to the Nikkei early on Tuesday was absolutely breathtaking.  The following is how Bloomberg described the carnage…

At the end of January 2013, Japanese stocks trailed only Portugal for the biggest rally among developed markets. Now the Nikkei 225 Stock Average is leading declines, slumping 8.5 percent last month and today capping a 14 percent drop from its Dec. 30 peak.

Losses snowballed in Tokyo during a global retreat that has erased $2.9 trillion from equity values worldwide this year amid signs of slower growth in China and stimulus cuts by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

As Bloomberg noted, much of the blame for the financial problems that we are seeing all over the planet right now is being placed on the Federal Reserve.

The Fed created this bubble by pumping trillions of fresh dollars into the global financial system, and now they are bursting this bubble by starting to cut off the flow of easy money.

This is something that I warned would happen when the Fed decided to taper, and now RBS is warning of a “market bloodbath” unless the Federal Reserve immediately stops tapering.

Most Americans simply do not realize that our financial markets no longer resemble a free market system.  Instead, they are highly manipulated and distorted by the central banks, and the trillions of dollars of “hot money” that the Fed has poured into the global financial system has infected virtually every financial market on Earth

On Wall Street they call it “hot money”—that seemingly endless flow of cash that goes to the most profitable country du jour—but in the real economy it’s gone cold.

That hot money has come mostly in the form of a low-yielding U.S. dollar, which investors have borrowed en masse to fund investments in other higher-yielding currencies across the globe. The so-called carry trade has helped fuel an investment bonanza across the world that has boosted risk assets thanks primarily to the U.S. Federal Reserve‘s easy-money policy.

But with the Fed tiptoeing away from what initially was an $85 billion-a-month infusion of liquidity, investors are beginning to prepare themselves for a world of rising rates in which the endless cash flow to emerging market economies begins to ebb, then cease.

We never fixed any of the fundamental problems that caused the last financial crisis.  Instead, the Fed seemed to think that the solution to any problem was just to create more money.

It was an incredibly stupid approach, and now our fundamental problems are worse than ever as Marc Faber recently noted

“Total credit as a percent of the global economy is now 30 percent higher than it was at the start of the economic crisis in 2007, we have had rapidly escalating household debt especially in emerging economies and resource economies like Canada and Australia and we have come to a point where household debt has become burdensome on the system—that is, where an economic slowdown follows.”

So what comes next?

Well, unless the Fed or other central banks intervene, we are probably going to have even more carnage.

At least that is what Dennis Gartman, the editor and publisher of “The Gartman Letter”, told CNBC on Tuesday

“I just think you’re going to have a very severe, very substantive and really quite ugly correction that will probably make a lot of people wail and gnash their teeth before it’s done.”

Other analysts share his pessimism.  According to Doug Short, the vice president of research at Advisor Perspectives, the U.S. stock market “still looks 67% overvalued“.

Most sobering of all is what Richard Russell is saying.  In his 60 years of writing about financial issues, he has never been “so filled with foreboding regarding what lies ahead”

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about the way things are going.  Frankly, I’m truly scared for myself, my family and the nation.  I have the sinking feeling that the stock market is on the edge of a crash.  If that happens, investor sentiment will turn quickly bearish.  And the bear market will start feeding on itself.  Ironically, the recent action occurred in the face of almost insane bullishness on the part of the crowd and on the part of investors.

Obviously smart heads and institutional money managers know that the US is semi dead in the water.  And all the talk about an improving economy is just wishes and hopes.  Bernanke’s dream of a flourishing new economy, improving without the need of the Fed’s help, is an idle dream.

I’ve been writing about the stock market for over 60 years and I can’t remember a time when I was so filled with foreboding regarding what lies ahead.  The primary trend of the market, like the tide of the ocean, is irresistible, and waits for no man.  What scares me the most in this current situation is that I see no clear island of safety.

You can read the rest of his very disturbing remarks right here.

U.S. stocks may not totally crash this week, this month or even this year, but without a doubt a day of reckoning is coming.  As a society, our total consumer, business and government debt is now equivalent to approximately 345 percent of GDP.

The only way that the game can continue is to keep pumping up the debt bubble even more.

Once the debt bubble stops expanding, it will start collapsing very rapidly.

Those that foolishly still have lots of money in the stock market better hope that the Federal Reserve decides to intervene in a major way very soon.

Because if they don’t, there is a very good chance that we could indeed have a “market bloodbath” on our hands.

The Dow Has Already Fallen More Than 1000 Points From The Peak Of The Market

Stock Market Decline - Photo by NodulationThat didn’t take long.  On Monday, the Dow was down another 326 points.  Overall, the Dow has now fallen more than 1000 points from the peak of the market (16,588.25) back in late December.  This is the first time that we have seen the Dow drop below its 200-day moving average in more than a year, and there are many that believe that this is just the beginning of a major stock market decline.  Meanwhile, things are even worse in other parts of the world.  For example, the Nikkei is now down about 1700 points from its 2013 high.  This is causing havoc all over Asia, and the sharp movement that we have been seeing in the USD/JPY is creating a tremendous amount of anxiety among Forex traders.  For those that are not interested in the technical details, what all of this means is that global financial markets are starting to become extremely unstable.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be much hope on the horizon for investors.  In fact, troubling news just continues to pour in from all over the planet.  Just consider the following…

-Major currencies all over South America continue to collapse.

-Massive central bank intervention has done little to slow down the currency collapse in Turkey.

-Investors pulled more than 6 billion dollars out of emerging market equity funds last week alone.

-The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has risen above 20 for the first time in four months.

-Last month, new manufacturing orders in the United States declined at the fastest pace that we have seen since December 1980.

-Real disposable income in the United States has just experienced the largest year over year drop that we have seen since 1974.

-In January, vehicle sales for Ford were down 7.5 percent and vehicle sales for GM were down 12 percent.  Both companies are blaming bad weather.

-A major newspaper in the UK is warning that “growing problems in the Chinese banking system could spill over into a wider financial crisis“.

-U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is warning that the federal government could hit the debt ceiling by the end of this month if Congress does not act.

-It is being reported that Dell Computer plans to lay off more than 15,000 workers.

-The IMF recently said that the the probability that the global economy will fall into a deflation trap “may now be as high as 20%“.

-The Baltic Dry Index is now down 50 percent from its December highs.

If our economic troubles continue to mount, could we be facing a global “financial avalanche” fairly quickly?

That is what some very prominent analysts believe.

Below, I have posted quotes from five men that are greatly respected in the financial world.  What they have to say is quite chilling…

#1 Doug Casey: “Now is a very good time to start thinking financially because I’m afraid that this year, in 2014, we’re going to go back into the financial hurricane. We’ve been in the eye of the storm since 2009, but now we’re going to go back into the trailing edge of the storm, and it’s going to be much longer lasting and much worse and much different than what we had in 2008 and 2009.”

#2 Bill Fleckenstein: “The [price-to-earnings ratio] is 16, 17 times earnings,” Fleckenstein said on Tuesday’s episode of “Futures Now.” “Why would you pay 16 times for an S&P company? I don’t care about where rates are, because rates are artificially suppressed. Why isn’t that worth 11 or 12 times? Just by that analysis, you’d be down by a quarter or 30 percent. So there’s a huge amount of downside.”

#3 Egon von Greyerz of Matterhorn Asset Management: “Nothing goes (down) in a straight line, but the emerging market problems will accelerate and it will spread to the very overbought and the very overvalued stock markets and economies in the West.

So stock markets are now starting a secular bear trend which will last for many years, and we could see falls of massive proportions. At the end of this, the wealth that has been created in the last few decades will be destroyed.”

#4 Peter Schiff: “The crisis is imminent,” Schiff said.  “I don’t think Obama is going to finish his second term without the bottom dropping out. And stock market investors are oblivious to the problems.”

“We’re broke, Schiff added.  “We owe trillions. Look at our budget deficit; look at the debt to GDP ratio, the unfunded liabilities. If we were in the Eurozone, they would kick us out.”

#5 Gerald Celente: “This selloff in the emerging markets, with their currencies going down and their interest rates going up, it’s going to be disastrous and there are going to be riots everywhere…

So as the decline in their economies accelerates, you are going to see the civil unrest intensify.”

—–

Those that do not believe that we could ever see “civil unrest” on the streets of America should take note of what just happened in Seattle.

After the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, fans celebrated by “lighting fires, damaging historic buildings and ripping down street signs“.

If that is how average Americans will behave when something good happens, how will they act when the economy totally collapses and nobody can find work for an extended period of time?

We are rapidly approaching another great financial crisis.  Unfortunately, we didn’t learn any of the lessons that we should have learned last time.  It is being projected that the debt of the federal government will more than double during the Obama years, the “too big to fail banks” have collectively gotten 37 percent larger over the past five years, and the big banks have become more financially reckless than ever before.

When the next great financial crisis arrives (and without a doubt it is inevitable), millions more Americans will lose their jobs and millions more Americans will lose their homes.

Now is not the time to be buying lots of expensive new toys, going on expensive vacations or piling up lots of debt.

Now is the time to build up an emergency fund and to do whatever you can to get prepared for the great storm that is coming.

As you can see from the financial headlines, time is rapidly running out.

NASDAQ MarketSite TV studio - Photo by Luis Villa del Campo

Are We On The Verge Of A Massive Emerging Markets Currency Collapse?

Currency CollapseThis time, the Federal Reserve has created a truly global problem.  A big chunk of the trillions of dollars that it pumped into the financial system over the past several years has flowed into emerging markets.  But now that the Fed has decided to begin “the taper”, investors see it as a sign to pull the “hot money” out of emerging markets as rapidly as possible.  This is causing currencies to collapse and interest rates to soar all over the planet.  Argentina, Turkey, South Africa, Ukraine, Chile, Indonesia, Venezuela, India, Brazil, Taiwan and Malaysia are just some of the emerging markets that have been hit hard so far.  In fact, last week emerging market currencies experienced the biggest decline that we have seen since the financial crisis of 2008.  And all of this chaos in emerging markets is seriously spooking Wall Street as well.  The Dow has fallen nearly 500 points over the last two trading sessions alone.  If the Federal Reserve opts to taper even more in the coming days, this currency crisis could rapidly turn into a complete and total currency collapse.

A lot of Americans have always assumed that the U.S. dollar would be the first currency to collapse when the next great financial crisis happens.  But actually, right now just the opposite is happening and it is causing chaos all over the planet.

For instance, just check out what is happening in Turkey according to a recent report in the New York Times

Turkey’s currency fell to a record low against the dollar on Friday, a drop that will hit the purchasing power of everyone in the country.

On a street corner in Istanbul, Yilmaz Gok, 51, said, “I’m a retiree making ends meet on a small pension and all I care about is a possible increase in prices.”

“I will need to cut further,” he said. “Maybe I should use my natural gas heater less.”

As inflation escalates and interest rates soar in these countries, ordinary citizens are going to feel the squeeze.  Just having enough money to purchase the basics is going to become more difficult.

And this is not just limited to a few countries.  What we are watching right now is truly a global phenomenon

“You’ve had a massive selloff in these emerging-market currencies,” Nick Xanders, a London-based equity strategist at BTIG Ltd., said by telephone. “Ruble, rupee, real, rand: they’ve all fallen and the main cause has been tapering. A lot of companies that have benefited from emerging-markets growth are now seeing it go the other way.”

So why is this happening?  Well, there are a number of factors involved of course.  However, as with so many of our other problems, the actions of the Federal Reserve are at the very heart of this crisis.  A recent USA Today article described how the Fed helped create this massive bubble in the emerging markets…

Emerging markets are the future growth engine of the global economy and an important source of profits for U.S. companies. These developing economies were both recipients and beneficiaries of massive cash inflows the past few years as investors sought out bigger returns fostered by injections of cheap cash from the Federal Reserve and other central bankers.

But now that the Fed has started to dial back its stimulus, many investors are yanking their cash out of emerging markets and bringing the cash back to more stable markets and economies, such as the U.S., hurting the developing nations in the process, explains Russ Koesterich, chief investment strategist at BlackRock.

“Emerging markets need the hot money but capital is exiting now,” says Koesterich. “What you have is people saying, ‘I don’t want to own emerging markets.'”

What we are potentially facing is the bursting of a financial bubble on a global scale.  Just check out what Egon von Greyerz, the founder of Matterhorn Asset Management in Switzerland, recently had to say…

If you take the Turkish lira, that plunged to new lows this week, and the Russian ruble is at the lowest level in 5 years. In South Africa, the rand is at the weakest since 2008. The currencies are also weak in Brazil and Mexico. But there are many other countries whose situation is extremely dire, like India, Indonesia, Hungary, Poland, the Ukraine, and Venezuela.

I’m mentioning these countries individually just to stress that this situation is extremely serious. It is also on a massive scale. In virtually all of these countries currencies are plunging and so are bonds, which is leading to much higher interest rates. And the cost of credit-default swaps in these countries is surging due to the increased credit risks.

And many smaller nations are being deeply affected already as well.

For example, most Americans cannot even find Liberia on a map, but right now the actions of our Federal Reserve have pushed the currency of that small nation to the verge of collapse

Liberia’s finance minister warned against panic today after being summoned to parliament to explain a crash in the value of Liberia’s currency against the US dollar.

“Let’s be careful about what we say about the economy. Inflation, ladies and gentlemen, is not out of control,” Amara Konneh told lawmakers, while adding that the government was “concerned” about the trend.

Closer to home, the Mexican peso tumbled quite a bit last week and is now beginning to show significant weakness.  If Mexico experiences a currency collapse, that would be a huge blow to the U.S. economy.

Like I said, this is something that is happening on a global scale.

If this continues, we will eventually see looting, violence, blackouts, shortages of basic supplies, and runs on the banks in emerging markets all over the planet just like we are already witnessing in Argentina and Venezuela.

Hopefully something can be done to stop this from happening.  But once a bubble starts to burst, it is really difficult to try to hold it together.

Meanwhile, I find it to be very “interesting” that last week we witnessed the largest withdrawal from JPMorgan’s gold vault ever recorded.

Was someone anticipating something?

Once again, hopefully this crisis will be contained shortly.  But if the Fed announces that it has decided to taper some more, that is going to be a signal to investors that they should race for the exits and the crisis in the emerging markets will get a whole lot worse.

And if you listen carefully, global officials are telling us that is precisely what we should expect.  For example, consider the following statement from the finance minister of Mexico

“We expected this year to be a volatile year for EM as the Fed tapers,” Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray said, adding that volatility “will happen throughout the year as tapering goes on”.

Yes indeed – it is looking like this is going to be a very volatile year.

I hope that you are ready for what is coming next.

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