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Why The Damage To The Economy Caused By The Oil Crash Is Going To Get Progressively Worse

Oil Price Crash - Public DomainWe are really starting to see the price of oil weigh very heavily on the economy and on the stock market.  On Tuesday, the Dow was down 291 points, and the primary reason for the decline was disappointing corporate sales numbers.  For example, heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar is blaming the “dramatic decline in the price of oil” for much lower than anticipated sales during the fourth quarter of 2014.  Even though Caterpillar is not an “energy company”, the price of oil is critical to their success.  And the same could be said about thousands of other companies.  That is why I have repeatedly stated that anyone who believes that collapsing oil prices are good for the U.S. economy is crazy.  The key to how much damage this oil collapse is going to do to our economy is not how low prices ultimately go.  Rather, the key is how long they stay at these low levels.  If the price of oil went back to $80 a barrel next week, the damage would be fairly minimal.  But if the price of oil stays at this current level for the remainder of 2015, the damage will be absolutely catastrophic.  Just think of the price of oil like a hot iron.  If you touch it for just a fraction of a second, it won’t do too much damage.  But if you press it against your skin for an hour, you will be severely damaged for the rest of your life at the very least.

So the damage that we are witnessing right now is just the very beginning unless the price of oil goes back up substantially.

When the price of oil first started crashing, most analysts focused on the impact that it would have on energy companies.  And without a doubt, quite a few of them are likely to be wiped out if things don’t change soon.

But of even greater importance is the ripple effects that the price of oil will have throughout our entire economy.  The oil price crash is not that many months old at this point, and yet big companies are already blaming it for causing significant problems.  The following is how Caterpillar explained their disappointing sales numbers on Tuesday

The recent dramatic decline in the price of oil is the most significant reason for the year-over-year decline in our sales and revenues outlook.  Current oil prices are a significant headwind for Energy & Transportation and negative for our construction business in the oil producing regions of the world.  In addition, with lower prices for copper, coal and iron ore, we’ve reduced our expectations for sales of mining equipment.  We’ve also lowered our expectations for construction equipment sales in China.  While our market position in China has improved, 2015 expectations for the construction industry in China are lower”

We also learned on Tuesday that orders for durable goods were extremely disappointing.  Many analysts believe that this is another area where the oil price crash is having an impact

Orders for business equipment unexpectedly fell in December for a fourth month, signaling a global growth slowdown is weighing on American companies. Bookings for non-military capital goods excluding aircraft dropped 0.6 percent for a second month, data from the Commerce Department showed. Demand for all durable goods − items meant to last at least three years − declined 3.4 percent, the worst performance since August.

Let’s keep an eye on the durable goods numbers in coming months.  Usually, when the economy is heading into a recession durable goods numbers start declining.

Meanwhile, a bunch of other big companies reported disappointing sales numbers on Tuesday as well.  The following summary comes from the Crux

Microsoft lost 9.9 percent as software-license sales to businesses were below forecasts. Caterpillar plunged 7.3 percent after forecasting 2015 results that trailed estimates as plunging oil prices signal lower demand from energy companies. DuPont Co. dropped 2.8 percent as a stronger dollar cuts into the chemical maker’s profit. Procter & Gamble Co. and United Technologies Corp. declined at least 2 percent after saying the surging greenback will lower full-year earnings.

What the economy could really use right now is a huge rebound in the price of oil.

Unfortunately, as I wrote about the other day, that is not likely to happen any time soon.

In fact, a top executive for Goldman Sachs recently told CNBC that he believes that the price of oil could ultimately go as low as 30 dollars a barrel.

And hedge fund managers are backing up their belief that oil is heading even lower with big money

Hedge funds boosted bearish wagers on oil to a four-year high as US supplies grew the most since 2001.

Money managers increased short positions in West Texas Intermediate crude to the highest level since September 2010 in the week ended January 20, US Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Net-long positions slipped for the first time in three weeks.

US crude supplies rose by 10.1 million barrels to 397.9 million in the week ended January 16 and the country will pump the most oil since 1972 this year, the Energy Information Administration says. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, the new ruler of the world’s biggest oil exporter, said he will maintain the production policy of his predecessor despite a 58 percent drop in prices since June.

Sadly, the truth is that anyone that thought that the stock market would go up forever and that the U.S. economy would be able to avoid a major downturn indefinitely was just being delusional.

Our economy goes through cycles, and every financial bubble eventually bursts.

For example, did you know that the S&P 500 has never had seven up years in a row?  The following comes from a CNBC article that was posted on Tuesday…

Doubleline Capital founder Jeff Gundlach, more known for his bond prowess than as an equity market expert, pointed out that the S&P 500 has never had seven consecutive up years.

Of course, records are made to be broken, and each year is supposed to stand on its own.

But in a market that faces an uncertain future regarding monetary policy, the specter of a global economic slowdown, and an oil price plunge that is dampening capital investment, Gundlach’s little factoid sparked a lot of chatter at ETF.com’s InsideETFs conference in Hollywood, Florida.

Hmm – that reminds me of the seven year cycles that I discussed in my article yesterday.

If the price of oil stays this low for the rest of 2015, there is no way that we are going to avoid a recession.

If the price of oil stays this low for the rest of 2015, there is no way that we are going to avoid a stock market crash.

So let’s hope that the price of oil starts going back up.

If it doesn’t, the damage that is inflicted on our economy is going to get progressively worse.

This Is Exactly How Markets Behave Right Before They Crash

Roller Coaster - Photo by NeukolnWhen the stock market starts to behave like a roller coaster, that is a sign that a major move to the downside is right around the corner.  As I have stated repeatedly, when the market is very calm it tends to go up.  But when the waters start getting really choppy, that is a clear indication that stocks are about to plummet.  In early 2015, volatility has returned to Wall Street in a big way.  At one point on Tuesday, the Dow was up more than 300 points.  But then the bottom dropped out.  From the peak on Tuesday, the Dow plunged nearly 700 points in less than 30 hours before recovering more than 100 points at the end of the day.  The Dow has now experienced the longest losing streak that we have seen in 3 months, but that is not that big of a deal.  Of much greater concern is the huge price swings that we have been seeing. Remember, the three largest single day stock market increases in history were right in the middle of the financial crisis of 2008.  So if stocks go up 400 points tomorrow that is NOT a good sign.  What we really need is a string of days when stocks move less than 100 points in either direction.  If stocks keep making dramatic moves up and dramatic moves down, history tells us that it is only a matter of time before they collapse.  Any student of stock market history knows that what we are witnessing right now is exactly how markets behave right before they crash.

Examine the chart below very carefully.  It is a chart of the CBOE Volatility Index from 2006 to 2008.  As you can see, volatility was very low as stocks soared during 2006.  Then things started to get a bit choppy in 2007, and investors should have recognized this as a warning sign.  Finally, you can see that the VIX absolutely skyrocketed during the financial crisis of 2008…

VIX 2006 to 2008

Looking back, it seems so obvious.

So why aren’t more people alarmed this time around?

As CNN is reporting, the VIX is up almost 20 percent so far in 2015…

Volatility has returned with a vengeance this January. The Dow has been moving up or down by at least 100 points nearly every day this year.

CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index is showing signs of Extreme Fear again. And a volatility gauge known as the VIX, which is one of the components in our index, is up nearly 20% so far this year.

Meanwhile, there are lots of other signs of trouble on the horizon as well.

For example, the price of copper got absolutely hammered on Wednesday.  As I write this, it has fallen more than 5 percent and it has not been this low in more than five years.

In financial circles, it is referred to as “Dr. Copper” because it is such a valuable indicator regarding where the global economy is heading next.

For example, in 2008 the price of copper was close to $4.00 before plummeting to below $1.50 by the end of that year as the global financial system fell apart.

Now the price of copper is plunging again, and many analysts are becoming extremely concerned

One growing global worry is the steep decline in copper, which is used in many products and is often viewed as good gauge on how China is doing. The price of copper hit its lowest price since 2009 on Wednesday at $2.46. Copper is down nearly 7% this week alone.

Meanwhile, the recession (some call it a depression) in Europe continues to get even worse, and the euro continues to plunge.

On Wednesday, the euro declined to the lowest level that we have seen in nine years, and Goldman Sachs is now saying that the euro and the U.S. dollar could be at parity by the end of next year.

That is amazing considering the fact that it took $1.60 to get one euro back in July 2008.

Personally, I am fully convinced that Goldman Sachs is right on this one.  I believe that the euro is going to all-time lows that we have never seen before, and this is going to create massive problems for the eurozone.

With all of these signs of trouble out there, the smart money is rapidly pulling their money out of stocks and putting it into government bonds.  This usually happens when a crisis is looming.  It is called a “flight to safety”, and it pushes government bond yields down.

On Wednesday, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries fell beneath the important 1.8 percent barrier.  We will probably see it go even lower in the months ahead.

As the rest of the world economy crumbles, the remainder of the globe is looking to America to be the rock in the storm.  For example, the following quote that I found today comes from a British news source

The global economy is running on a single engine… the American one,’ the World Bank’s chief economist, Kaushik Basu, said. ‘This does not make for a rosy outlook for the world.’

Well, they may not want to rely on us too much, because there are plenty of signs that our economy is slowing down too.  For example, we learned today that December retail sales were down 0.9% from a year ago, and this is being called “an unmitigated disaster“.  Americans were supposed to be taking the money that they were saving on gasoline and spending it, but that apparently is not happening.

Back on October 29th, I wrote an article entitled “From This Day Forward, We Will Watch How The Stock Market Performs Without The Fed’s Monetary Heroin“.  In that article, I warned that the end of quantitative easing could have dire consequences for the financial system as bubbles created by the Fed began to burst.

And that is precisely what is happening.  In fact, many analysts are now pinpointing the end of QE as the exact moment when our current troubles began.  For instance, check out this excerpt from a CNBC article that was published on Wednesday

Stuff happens when QE ends,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group. “It’s no coincidence that the market started going into a higher volatility mode, it’s no coincidence that the decline in commodity prices accelerated, it’s no coincidence that the yield curve started flattening when QE ended.”

Indeed, the increase in volatility and its effect on prices across the capital market spectrum was closely tied to the Fed ending the third round of QE in October.

We are moving into a time of great danger for Wall Street and for the global economy as a whole.

If we continue to see a tremendous amount of volatility, history tells us that it is only a matter of time before the markets implode.

Hopefully you will be ready when that happens.

10 Key Events That Preceded The Last Financial Crisis That Are Happening Again RIGHT NOW

10 Key Events That Preceded The Last Financial CrisisIf you do not believe that we are heading directly toward another major financial crisis, you need to read this article.  So many of the exact same patterns that preceded the great financial collapse of 2008 are happening again right before our very eyes.  History literally appears to be repeating, but most Americans seem absolutely oblivious to what is going on.  The mainstream media and our politicians are promising them that everything is going to be okay somehow, and that seems to be good enough for most people.  But the signs that another massive financial crisis is on the horizon are everywhere.  All you have to do is open up your eyes and look at them.

Bill Gross, considered by many to be the number one authority on government bonds on the entire planet, made headlines all over the world on Tuesday when he released his January Investment Outlook.  I don’t know if we have ever seen Gross be more negative about a new year than he is about 2015.  For example, just consider this statement

“When the year is done, there will be minus signs in front of returns for many asset classes. The good times are over.”

And this is how he ended the letter

And so that is why – at some future date – at some future Ides of March or May or November 2015, asset returns in many categories may turn negative. What to consider in such a strange new world? High-quality assets with stable cash flows. Those would include Treasury and high-quality corporate bonds, as well as equities of lightly levered corporations with attractive dividends and diversified revenues both operationally and geographically. With moments of liquidity having already been experienced in recent months, 2015 may see a continuing round of musical chairs as riskier asset categories become less and less desirable.

Debt supercycles in the process of reversal are not favorable events for future investment returns. Father Time in 2015 is not the babe with a top hat in our opening cartoon. He is the grumpy old codger looking forward to his almost inevitable “Ides” sometime during the next 12 months. Be cautious and content with low positive returns in 2015. The time for risk taking has passed.

So why are Gross and so many other financial experts being so “negative” right now?

It is because they can see what is happening.

They can see the same patterns that we saw in early 2008 unfolding again right in front of us.  I wanted to put these patterns in a single article so that they will be easy to share with people.  The following are 10 key events that preceded the last financial crisis that are happening again right now…

#1 A really bad start to the year for the stock market.  During the first three trading days of 2015, the S&P 500 was down a total of 2.73 percent.  There are only two times in history when it has declined by more than three percent during the first three trading days of a year.  Those years were 2000 and 2008, and in both years we witnessed enormous stock market declines.

#2 Very choppy financial market behavior.  This is something that I discussed yesterday.  In general, calm markets tend to go up.  When markets get choppy, they tend to go down.  For example, the chart that I have posted below shows how the Dow Jones Industrial Average behaved from the beginning of 2006 to the end of 2008.  As you can see, the Dow was very calm as it rose throughout 2006 and most of 2007, but it got very choppy as 2008 played out…

The Dow 2006 to 2008

As I also mentioned yesterday, it is important not to get fooled if stocks soar on a particular day.  The three largest single day stock market gains in history were right in the middle of the financial crisis of 2008.  When you start to see big ups and big downs in the market, that is a sign of big trouble ahead.  That is why it is so alarming that global financial markets have begun to become quite choppy in recent weeks.

#3 A substantial decline for 10 year bond yields.  When investors get scared, there tends to be a “flight to safety” as investors move their money to safer investments.  We saw this happen in 2008, and that is happening again right now.

In fact, according to Bloomberg, global 10 year bond yields have already dropped to low levels that are absolutely unprecedented…

Taken together, the average 10-year bond yield of the U.S., Japan and Germany has dropped below 1 percent for the first time ever, according to Steven Englander, global head of G-10 foreign-exchange strategy at Citigroup Inc.

That’s not good news. The rock-bottom rates, which fall below zero when inflation is taken into account, show “that investors think we are going nowhere for a long time,” Englander wrote in a report yesterday.

#4 The price of oil crashes.  As I write this, the price of U.S. oil has dipped below $48 a barrel.  But back in June, it was sitting at $106 at one point.  As the chart below demonstrates, there is only one other time in history when the price of oil has declined by more than $50 in less than a year…

Price Of Oil 2015

The only other time there has been an oil price collapse of this magnitude we experienced the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression shortly thereafter.  Are we about to see history repeat?  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “Guess What Happened The Last Time The Price Of Oil Crashed Like This?

#5 A dramatic drop in the number of oil and gas rigs in operation.  Right now, oil and gas rigs are going out of operation at a frightening pace.  During the fourth quarter of 2014, 93 oil and gas rigs were idled, and it is being projected that another 200 will shut down this quarter.  As this Business Insider article demonstrates, this is also something that happened during the financial crisis of 2008 and it continued well into 2009.

#6 The price of gasoline takes a huge tumble.  Millions of Americans are celebrating that the price of gasoline has plummeted in recent weeks.  But they were also celebrating when it happened back in 2008 as well.  But of course it turned out that there was really nothing to celebrate in 2008.  In short order, millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes.  So the chart that I have posted below is definitely not “good news”…

Gas Price 2015

#7 A broad range of industrial commodities begin to decline in price.  When industrial commodities go down in price, that is a sign that economic activity is slowing down.  And just like in 2008, that is what we are watching unfold on the global stage right now.  The following is an excerpt from a recent CNBC article

From nickel to soybean oil, plywood to sugar, global commodity prices have been on a steady decline as the world’s economy has lost momentum.

For an extended discussion on this, please see my recent article entitled “Not Just Oil: Guess What Happened The Last Time Commodity Prices Crashed Like This?

#8 A junk bond crash.  Just like in 2008, we are witnessing the beginnings of a junk bond collapse.  High yield debt related to the energy industry is on the bleeding edge of this crash, but in recent weeks we have seen investors start to bail out of a broad range of junk bonds.  Check out this chart and this chart in addition to the chart that I have posted below…

High Yield Debt 2015

#9 Global inflation slows down significantly.  When economic activity slows down, so does inflation.  This is something that we witnessed in 2008, this is also something that is happening once again.  In fact, it is being projected that global inflation is about to fall to the lowest level that we have seen since World War II

Increases in the prices of goods and services in the world’s largest economies are slowing dramatically. Analysts are predicting that inflation will fall below 2pc in all of the countries that make up the G7 group of advanced nations this year – the first time that has happened since before the Second World War.

Indeed, Japan was the only G7 country whose inflation rate was above 2pc last year. And economists believe that was because its government increased sales tax which had the effect of artificially boosting prices.

#10 A crisis in investor confidence.  Just prior to the last financial crisis, the confidence that investors had that we would be able to avoid a stock market collapse in the next six months began to decline significantly.  And guess what?  That is something else that is happening once again…

Investor confidence that the US will avoid a stock-market crash in the next six months has dropped dramatically since last spring.

The Yale School of Management publishes a monthly Crash Confidence Index. The index shows the proportion of investors who believe we will avoid a stock-market crash in the next six months.

Yale points out that “crash confidence reached its all-time low, both for individual and institutional investors, in early 2009, just months after the Lehman crisis, reflecting the turmoil in the credit markets and the strong depression fears generated by that event, and is plausibly related to the very low stock market valuations then.”

Are you starting to get the picture?

And of course I am not the only one warning about these things.  As I wrote about earlier in the week, there are a whole host of prominent voices that are now warning of imminent financial danger.

Today, I would like to add one more name to the list.  He is respected author James Howard Kunstler, and what he predicts is coming in 2015 is absolutely chilling

*****

Here are my financial forecast particulars for 2015:

  • Early in 2015 the ECB proposes a lame QE program and is laughed out of the room. European markets tank.
  • Greek elections in January produce a government that stands up to the EU and ECB and causes a fatal slippage of faith in the ability of that project to continue.
  • Second half of 2015, the rest of the world gangs up and counter-attacks the US dollar.
  • Bond markets in Europe implode in first half and the contagion spreads to the US as fear and distrust rises about viability of US safe haven status.
  • Derivatives associated with currencies, interest rates, and junk bonds trigger a bloodbath in credit default swaps (CDS) and the appearance of countless black holes through which debt and “wealth” disappear forever.
  • US stock markets continue to bid upward in the first half of 2015, crater in Q3 as faith in paper and pixels erodes. DJA and S & P fall 30 to 40 percent in the initial crash, then further into 2016.
  • Gold and silver slide in the first half, then take off as debt and equity markets craters, faith in abstract instruments evaporates, faith in central bank omnipotence dissolves, and citizens all over the world desperately seek safety from currency war.
  • Goldman Sachs, Citicorp, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, DeutscheBank, SocGen, all succumb to insolvency. American government and Federal Reserve officials don’t dare attempt to rescue them again.
  • By the end of 2015, central banks everywhere stand in general discredit. In the US, the Federal Reserve’s mandate is publically debated and revised back to its original mission as lender of last resort. It is forbidden to engage in further interventions and a new less-secretive mechanism is drawn up for regulating basic interest rates.
  • Oil prices creep back into the $65 – $70 range by May 2015. It is not enough to halt the destruction in the shale, tar sand, and deepwater sectors. As contraction in the failing global economy accelerates, oil sinks back to the $40 range in October…
  • …unless mischief in the Middle East (in particular, the Islamic State messing with Saudi Arabia) leads to gross and perhaps fatally permanent disruption in world oil markets — and then all bets are off for both the continuity of advanced economies and for peace between nations.

*****

Personally, I don’t agree with Kunstler on all of the particulars and the timing of certain events, but overall I think that we are going to look back when the year is done and say that he was a lot more right than he was wrong.

We are moving into a time of extreme danger for the global economy.  There has never been a time when I have been more concerned about a new year since I began The Economic Collapse Blog back in 2009.

Over the past couple of years, we have been very blessed to be able to enjoy a bubble of relative stability.  But this period of stability also fooled many people into thinking that our economic problems had been fixed, when in reality they have only gotten worse.

We consume far more wealth than we produce, our debt levels are at record highs and we are at the tail end of the largest Wall Street financial bubble in all of history.

It is inevitable that we are heading for a tragic conclusion to all of this.  It is just a matter of time.

 

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.

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