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

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

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

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

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

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

Could they be wrong?

It’s certainly possible.

But I wouldn’t bet against them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is not the case at all.

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

Unfortunately, it is simply not going to happen.

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

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

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

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

Most People Cannot Even Imagine That An Economic Collapse Is Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does all of that debt come from?

It comes from the banks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, these banks have become deeply addicted to gambling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But without a doubt, someday there will be.

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

You would certainly call that bookie a fool.

But that is what our big banks are doing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when they fail, our economy will fail too.

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

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

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

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

So why is the Federal Reserve finally ending quantitative easing?

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

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

But that is not true at all.

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

Employment Population Ratio 2014

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

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

Homeownership Rate 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This might surprise you…

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

Wow.

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

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

Will that happen again this time?

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

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

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

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

And the third of those peaks happened earlier this year.

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

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

We shall see.

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

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

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

I say that is a bunch of nonsense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Stock Market Has Officially Entered Crazytown Territory

Looney Tunes - Photo by Ramon F VelasquezIt is time to crank up the Looney Tunes theme song because Wall Street has officially entered crazytown territory.  Stocks just keep going higher and higher, and at this point what is happening in the stock market does not bear any resemblance to what is going on in the overall economy whatsoever.  So how long can this irrational state of affairs possibly continue?  Stocks seem to go up no matter what happens.  If there is good news, stocks go up.  If there is bad news, stocks go up.  If there is no news, stocks go up.  On Thursday, the day after Christmas, the Dow was up another 122 points to another new all-time record high.  In fact, the Dow has had an astonishing 50 record high closes this year.  This reminds me of the kind of euphoria that we witnessed during the peak of the housing bubble.  At the time, housing prices just kept going higher and higher and everyone rushed to buy before they were “priced out of the market”.  But we all know how that ended, and this stock market bubble is headed for a similar ending.

It is almost as if Wall Street has not learned any lessons from the last two major stock market crashes at all.  Just look at Twitter.  At the current price, Twitter is supposedly worth 40.7 BILLION dollars.  But Twitter is not profitable.  It is a seven-year-old company that has never made a single dollar of profit.

Not one single dollar.

In fact, Twitter actually lost 64.6 million dollars last quarter alone.  And Twitter is expected to continue losing money for all of 2015 as well.

But Twitter stock is up 82 percent over the last 30 days, and nobody can really give a rational reason for why this is happening.

Overall, the Dow is up more than 25 percent so far this year.  Unless something really weird happens over the next few days, it will be the best year for the Dow since 1996.

It has been a wonderful run for Wall Street.  Unfortunately, there are a whole host of signs that we have entered very dangerous territory.

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

And of course the most troubling sign is that even as the stock market soars to unprecedented heights, the state of the overall U.S. economy is actually getting worse…

-During the last full week before Christmas, U.S. store visits were 21 percent lower than a year earlier and retail sales were 3.1 percent lower than a year earlier.

-The number of mortgage applications just hit a new 13 year low.

-The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries just hit 3 percent.

For many more signs like this, please see my previous article entitled “37 Reasons Why ‘The Economic Recovery Of 2013′ Is A Giant Lie“.

And most Americans don’t realize this, but the U.S. financial system and the overall U.S. economy are now in much weaker condition than they were the last time we had a major financial crash back in 2008.  Employment is at a much lower level than it was back then and our banking system is much more vulnerable than it was back then.  Just before the last financial crash, the U.S. national debt was sitting at about 10 trillion dollars, but today it has risen to more than 17.2 trillion dollars.  The following excerpt from a recent article posted on thedailycrux.com contains even more facts and figures which show how our “balance sheet numbers” continue to get even worse…

Since the fourth quarter of 2009, the U.S. current account deficit has been more than $100 billion per quarter. As a result, foreigners now own $4.2 trillion more U.S. investment assets than we own abroad. That’s $1.7 trillion more than when Buffett first warned about this huge problem in 2003. Said another way, the problem is 68% bigger now.

And here’s a number no one else will tell you – not even Buffett. Foreigners now own $25 trillion in U.S. assets. And yet… we continue to consume far more than we produce, and we borrow massively to finance our deficits.

Since 2007, the total government debt in the U.S. (federal, state, and local) has doubled from around $10 trillion to $20 trillion.

Meanwhile, the size of Fannie and Freddie’s mortgage book declined slightly since 2007, falling from $4.9 trillion to $4.6 trillion. That’s some good news, right?

Nope. The excesses just moved to a new agency. The “other” federal mortgage bank, the Federal Housing Administration, now is originating 20% of all mortgages in the U.S., up from less than 5% in 2007.

Student debt, also spurred on by government guarantees, has also boomed, doubling since 2007 to more than $1 trillion. Altogether, total debt in our economy has grown from around $50 trillion to more than $60 trillion since 2007.

So don’t be fooled by this irrational stock market bubble.

Just because a bunch of half-crazed investors are going into massive amounts of debt in a desperate attempt to make a quick buck does not mean that the overall economy is in good shape.

In fact, much of the country is in such rough shape that “reverse shopping” has become a huge trend.  Even big corporations such as McDonald’s are urging their employees to return their Christmas gifts in order to bring in some much needed money…

In a stark reminder of how tough things still are for low-income families in America, McDonalds has advised workers to dig themselves “out of holiday debt” by cashing in their Christmas haul.

“You may want to consider returning some of your unopened purchases that may not seem as appealing as they did,” said a website set up for employees.

“Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash.”

This irrational stock market bubble is not going to last for too much longer.  And a lot of top financial experts are now warning their clients to prepare for the worst.  For example, David John Marotta of Marotta Wealth Management recently told his clients that they should all have a “bug-out bag” that contains food, a gun and some ammunition…

A top financial advisor, worried that Obamacare, the NSA spying scandal and spiraling national debt is increasing the chances for a fiscal and social disaster, is recommending that Americans prepare a “bug-out bag” that includes food, a gun and ammo to help them stay alive.

David John Marotta, a Wall Street expert and financial advisor and Forbes contributor, said in a note to investors, “Firearms are the last item on the list, but they are on the list. There are some terrible people in this world. And you are safer when your trusted neighbors have firearms.”

His memo is part of a series addressing the potential for a “financial apocalypse.” His view, however, is that the problems plaguing the country won’t result in armageddon. “There is the possibility of a precipitous decline, although a long and drawn out malaise is much more likely,” said the Charlottesville, Va.-based president of Marotta Wealth Management.

So what do you think is coming in 2014?

Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…

18 Signs That Global Financial Markets Are Entering A Horrifying Death Spiral

The spiral staircase at the Lighthouse in Mitchell Lane, Glasgow - Photo by George GastinYou can see it coming, can’t you?  The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is skyrocketing, the S&P 500 has been down for 9 of the last 11 trading days and troubling economic news is pouring in from all over the planet.  The much anticipated “financial correction” is rapidly approaching, and investors are starting to race for the exits.  We have not seen so many financial trouble signs all come together at one time like this since just prior to the last major financial crisis.  It is almost as if a “perfect storm” is brewing, and a lot of the “smart money” has already gotten out of stocks and bonds.  Could it be possible that we are heading toward another nightmarish financial crisis?  Could we see a repeat of 2008 or potentially even something worse?  Of course a lot of people believe that we will never see another major financial crisis like we experienced in 2008 ever again.  A lot of people think that this type of “doom and gloom” talk is foolish.  It is those kinds of people that did not see the last financial crash coming and that are choosing not to prepare for the next one even though the warning signs are exceedingly clear.  Let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst, and right now things do not look good at all.  The following are 18 signs that global financial markets are entering a horrifying death spiral…

#1 The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has risen for 5 of the past 6 days, and it briefly touched the 2.90% level on Monday.

#2 Rapidly rising interest rates are spooking investors and causing them to pull money out of bonds at a very rapid pace

Investors have yanked nearly $20 billion from bond mutual funds and exchange traded funds so far in August. That’s the fourth highest pullback ever, according to TrimTabs data. In June, investors took out $69.1 billion — the highest on record.

#3 The sell-off of U.S. Treasuries is being led by foreigners.  In particular, China and Japan have been particularly aggressive in selling off bonds…

China and Japan led an exodus from U.S. Treasuries in June after the first signals the U.S. central bank was preparing to wind back its stimulus, with data showing they accounted for almost all of a record $40.8 billion of net foreign selling of Treasuries.

The sales were part of $66.9 billion of net sales by foreigners of long-term U.S. securities in June, a fifth straight month of outflows and the largest since August 2007, U.S. Treasury Department data showed on Thursday.

China, the largest foreign creditor, reduced its Treasury holdings to $1.2758 trillion, and Japan trimmed its holdings for a third straight month to $1.0834 trillion. Combined, they accounted for about $40 billion in net Treasury outflows.

#4 Thanks to rapidly rising bond yields, some of the largest exchange-traded bond funds are getting absolutely hammered right now

• The $18 billion iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond fund (ticker: LQD) has fallen 7.94% since May 2, according to S&P Capital IQ. That’s including reinvested interest from the fund’s bond holdings.

• The 3.7 billion iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT) has plunged 15.9% the same period. Longer-term bonds typically get hit harder when rates rise than shorter-term bonds. For example, the iShares Barclays 3-7 Year Treasury Bond fund (IEI) has fallen 3.2% since May 2.

• PowerShares Emerging Markets Sovereign Debt (PCY), which invests in government bonds issued in developing countries, has fallen 12.7%. The fund has $1.8 billion in assets.

#5 In recent weeks we have witnessed the largest cluster of Hindenburg Omens that we have seen since prior to the last financial crisis.

#6 George Soros has bet a tremendous amount of money that the S&P 500 is going to be heading down.

#7 At this point, the S&P 500 has fallen for 9 out of the last 11 trading days.

#8 Margin debt has spiked to extremely dangerous levels.  This is a pattern that we also saw just before the last financial crash and just before the dotcom bubble burst…

The exuberant mood comes as margin debt on Wall Street hovers near $377bn, just below its all-time high and well above peaks before the dotcom crash and the Lehman crisis.

“Investors have rarely been more levered than today,” said Deutsche Bank, warning that the spike in margin debt is a “red flag” and should be watched closely.

#9 The growth rate of new commercial bank loans and leases is now the slowest that it has been since the end of the last financial crisis.

#10 According to a shocking new report, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are masking “billions of dollars” in losses.  Will they need to be bailed out again just like they were during the last financial crisis?

#11 Wal-Mart reported very disappointing sales numbers for the second quarter.  Sales at stores open at least a year were down 0.3%.  This is a continuation of a trend that has been building for years.

#12 U.S. consumer bankruptcies just experienced their largest quarterly increase in three years.

#13 The velocity of money in the United States has hit another stunning new low.

#14 The massive civil unrest in Egypt threatens to disrupt the steady flow of oil out of the Middle East…

After last week’s bloody crackdown by the Egyptian army, fears of a disruption of oil supplies to the West have boosted the oil price. Brent crude prices were propelled to a four-month high of $111.23 on Thursday. If the turmoil gets worse – or unrest spreads to other countries – the risk premium currently factored into the price of crude is likely to increase further.

#15 European stocks just experienced their biggest decline in six weeks.

#16 The Japanese national debt recently crossed the quadrillion yen mark, and many are expecting the Japanese financial system to start melting down at any time.

#17 In Indonesia, the stock market is “cratering“.

#18 In India, the yield on their 10 year government bonds has skyrocketed from 7.1 percent in May to 9.25 percent now.

As the coming months unfold, keep a close eye on the “too big to fail” banks both in Europe and in the United States.  When the next great financial crisis strikes, they will play a starring role once again.  They have been incredibly reckless, and as James Rickards told Greg Hunter during an interview the other day, we are in much worse shape to deal with a major banking crisis than we were back in 2008…

What’s going to cause the next crisis?  Rickards says, “The problem in 2008 was too-big-to-fail banks.  Well, those banks are now bigger.  Their derivative books are bigger.  In other words, everything that was wrong in 2008 is worse today.” Rickards goes on to warn, “The last time, in 2008 when the crisis started, the Fed’s balance sheet was $800 billion.  Today, the Fed’s balance sheet is $3.3 trillion and increasing at $1 trillion a year.”  Rickards contends, “You’re going to have a banking crisis worse than the last one because the banking system is bigger without the resources because the Fed is tapped out.”  As far as the Fed ending the money printing, Rickards predicts, “My view is they won’t.  The economy is fundamentally weak.  We have 50 million on food stamps, 24 million unemployed and 11 million on disability, and all these numbers are going up.”

We never even came close to recovering from the last financial crisis and the last recession.

Now the next major wave of the economic collapse is coming up quickly.

I hope that you are taking this time to prepare for the approaching storm, because it is going to be very painful.

Federal Reserve Money Printing Is The Real Reason Why The Stock Market Is Soaring

Federal Reserve Money Printing Is The Real Reason Why The Stock Market Is SoaringYou can thank the reckless money printing that the Federal Reserve has been doing for the incredible bull market that we have seen in recent months.  When the Federal Reserve does more “quantitative easing”, it is the financial markets that benefit the most.  The Dow and the S&P 500 have both hit levels not seen since 2007 this month, and many analysts are projecting that 2013 will be a banner year for stocks.  But is a rising stock market really a sign that the overall economy is rapidly improving as many are suggesting?  Of course not.  Just because the Federal Reserve has inflated another false stock market bubble with a bunch of funny money does not mean that the U.S. economy is in great shape.  In fact, the truth is that things just keep getting worse for average Americans.  The percentage of working age Americans with a job has fallen from 60.6% to 58.6% while Barack Obama has been president, 40 percent of all American workers are making $20,000 a year or less, median household income has declined for four years in a row, and poverty in the United States is absolutely exploding.  So quantitative easing has definitely not made things better for the middle class.  But all of the money printing that the Fed has been doing has worked out wonderfully for Wall Street.  Profits are soaring at Goldman Sachs and luxury estates in the Hamptons are selling briskly.  Unfortunately, this is how things work in America these days.  Our “leaders” seem far more concerned with the welfare of Wall Street than they do about the welfare of the American people.  When things get rocky, their first priority always seems to be to do whatever it takes to pump up the financial markets.

When QE3 was announced, it was heralded as the grand solution to all of our economic problems.  But the truth is that those running things knew exactly what it would do.  Quantitative easing always pumps up the financial markets, and that overwhelmingly benefits those that are wealthy.  In fact, a while back a CNBC article discussed a very interesting study from the Bank of England which showed a clear correlation between quantitative easing and rising stock prices…

It said that the Bank of England’s policies of quantitative easing – similar to the Fed’s – had benefited mainly the wealthy.

Specifically, it said that its QE program had boosted the value of stocks and bonds by 26 percent, or about $970 billion. It said that about 40 percent of those gains went to the richest 5 percent of British households.

Many said the BOE’s easing added to social anger and unrest. Dhaval Joshi, of BCA Research wrote that  “QE cash ends up overwhelmingly in profits, thereby exacerbating already extreme income inequality and the consequent social tensions that arise from it.”

So should we be surprised that stocks are now the highest that they have been in more than 5 years?

Of course not.

And who benefits from this?

The wealthy do.  In fact, 82 percent of all individually held stocks are owned by the wealthiest 5 percent of all Americans.

Unfortunately, all of this reckless money printing has a very negative impact on all the rest of us.  When the Fed floods the financial system with money, that causes inflation.  That means that the cost of living has gone up even though your paycheck may not have.

If you go to the supermarket frequently, you know exactly what I am talking about.  The new “sale prices” are what the old “regular prices” used to be.  They keep shrinking many of the package sizes in order to try to hide the inflation, but I don’t think many people are fooled.  Our food dollars are not stretching nearly as far as they used to, and we can blame the Federal Reserve for that.

For much more on rising prices in America, please see this article: “Somebody Should Start The ‘Stuff Costs Too Much’ Party“.

Sadly, this is what the Federal Reserve does.  The system was designed to create inflation.  Before the Federal Reserve came into existence, the United States never had an ongoing problem with inflation.  But since the Fed was created, the United States has endured constant inflation.  In fact, we have come to accept it as “normal”.  Just check out the amazing chart in the video posted below

The chart in that video kind of reminds me of a chart that I shared in a previous article

Hyperinflation Weimar Republic

Not that I expect the United States to enter a period of hyperinflation in the near future.

Actually, despite all of the reckless money printing that the Fed has been doing, I expect that at some point we are going to see another wave of panic hit the financial markets like we saw back in 2008.  The false stock market bubble will burst, major banks will fail and the financial system will implode.  It could unfold something like this…

1 – A derivatives panic hits the “too big to fail” banks.

2 – Financial markets all over the globe crash.

3 – The credit markets freeze up.

4 – Economic activity in the United States starts to grind to a halt.

5 – Unemployment rises above 20 percent and mortgage defaults soar to unprecedented levels.

6 – Tax revenues fall dramatically and austerity measures are implemented by the federal government, state governments and local governments.

7 – The rest of the globe rapidly loses confidence in the U.S. financial system and begins to dump U.S. debt and U.S. dollars.

I write about derivatives a lot, because they are one of the greatest threats that the global financial system is facing.  In fact, right now a derivatives scandal is threatening to take down the oldest bank in the world

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, was making loans when Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were young men and before Columbus sailed to the New World. The bank survived the Italian War, which saw Siena’s surrender to Spain in 1555, the Napoleonic campaign, the Second World War and assorted bouts of plague and poverty.

But MPS may not survive the twin threats of a gruesomely expensive takeover gone bad and a derivatives scandal that may result in legal action against the bank’s former executives. After five centuries of independence, MPS may have to be nationalized as its losses soar and its value sinks.

So when you hear the word “derivatives” in the news, pay close attention.  The bankers have turned our financial system into a giant casino, and at some point the entire house of cards is going to come crashing down.

In response to the coming financial crisis, I believe that our “leaders” will eventually resort to money printing unlike anything we have ever seen before in a desperate attempt to resuscitate the system.  When that happens, I believe that we will see the kind of rampant inflation that so many people have been warning about.

So what do you think about all of this?

Do you believe that Federal Reserve money printing is the real reason why the stock market is soaring?

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

How Much Money Will They Print?

The Worst Economic Numbers In More Than A Year

With everything else that is going on in the world, a lot of people have failed to notice that we are seeing some of the worst economic numbers that we have seen in more than a year.  For example, it was announced on Thursday that initial claims for unemployment benefits have hit their highest level in a year and a half.  Hopefully this is just a temporary blip in the data, because initial unemployment claims tend to have a very strong correlation with the overall performance of the economy.  We also continue to see poverty statistics rise.  According to government statistics released earlier this month, the number of Americans living in poverty and the number of Americans on food stamps are both at all-time record highs.  Meanwhile, the Dow and the S&P 500 are both down more than 5 percent since the election and the U.S. government rolled up 22 billion dollars more debt in October 2012 than it did in October 2011.  The unfortunate truth is that things are not getting better.  The U.S. economy continues to become weaker and more unstable, and there are a whole lot of reasons to be very pessimistic about our economic situation as we move into the winter months.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the troubling economic numbers that have been released in recent days…

Initial Claims For Unemployment Benefits

The optimism that many analysts had about jobs is rapidly dissipating.  Over the past few weeks there has been a huge wave of companies announcing layoffs.  Just check out this article and this article.

But now we are actually seeing a significant rise in the number of American workers applying for unemployment benefits.  Initial claims for unemployment benefits soared to 439,000 for the week ending November 10th.  This is the highest level that we have seen in more than a year.  The last time initial claims were this high was April 2011.  It is interesting to note that the largest numbers of new unemployment claims came from the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Record Food Stamp Numbers

In dozens of articles I have carefully documented the steady rise of poverty in America and the steady decline of the middle class.

Even though our politicians insist that we are in the middle of an “economic recovery”, the number of Americans dependent on the government for their very survival just continues to keep going up.

A few days ago, the latest food stamp numbers were released.  It turns out that the number of Americans on food stamps increased by 420,947 from July to August.  That was the largest one month increase that we have seen in a year.  At this point, an all-time record 47.1 million Americans are enrolled in the food stamp program.  What would that look like if all of those people had to actually stand outside in bread lines like in the old days?

Stunning Stock Market Declines

A few days ago, I wrote about how many wealthy Americans are dumping stocks and other financial assets in anticipation of the looming “fiscal cliff”.

Well, if things get much worse we may soon have a “market crash” on our hands.

The Dow and the S&P 500 are both down by more than 5 percent since the election and many are wondering if things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Shares of Apple are down by 25 percent since late September.  Some analysts are actually using the term “panic selling” to describe what is happening to the stock.

Slowing Economic Activity

All over America there are indications that economic activity is starting to slow down.  Is Superstorm Sandy responsible for this, or are there other factors at work?

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, economic activity appears to be contracting in areas that were hit particularly hard by Superstorm Sandy…

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s general economic index was minus 5.2 this month after minus 6.2 in October. Readings of less than zero signal contraction in New York, northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut.

Things appear to be slowing down in the mid-Atlantic region as well.  According to CNBC, manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region has contracted much faster than analysts were projecting…

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index slumped to -10.7 from 5.7 the month before. The fall was much steeper than economists’ expectations for slippage to a reading of 2.0, according to a Reuters poll.

Any reading above zero indicates expansion in the region’s manufacturing. The survey covers factories in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware.

New Poverty Numbers

More American families are falling out of the middle class every single day.

New numbers that were just released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the number of Americans living in poverty rose to a new all-time record of 49.7 million last year.

Once upon a time, people would have laughed at you if you suggested that someday 50 million Americans would be living in poverty.

But here we are.

Soaring Government Debt

Anyone that follows my columns on a regular basis knows that government debt is one of my major pet peeves.

Well, despite all of the “budget deals” that have been made between the Republicans and the Democrats, the amount of debt that we are accumulating just continues to balloon in size.

The federal budget deficit for October 2012 was 120 billion dollars.  That was a huge increase over the October 2011 federal budget deficit of 98 billion dollars.

How long can we possibly continue to do this?

Things In Europe Are Getting Worse Too

In case you had not noticed, the economic situation in Europe continues to unravel as well.  The eurozone is officially in a recession once again, and unemployment in the eurozone is at an all-time record high.  Violent protests and rioting happen on an almost daily basis over in Europe now.  The largest economy on the planet continues to implode right in front of our eyes, and this is another factor that will continue to drag down the U.S. economy.

So is there anyone out there that actually still believes that things are “getting better”?

The brief period of economic stability that we have been experiencing is rapidly coming to an end.  The “recovery” turned out to be extremely disappointing, and now the next major downturn is almost here.

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