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Why Are Wal-Mart And Boeing Laying Off Workers If The U.S. Economy Is In Good Shape?

wal-mart-photo-by-mikemozartjeepersmediaThe stock market has been on quite a roll in recent weeks, but signs of trouble continue to plague the real economy.  Earlier this week, I talked about the “retail apocalypse” that is sweeping America.  Major retail chains such as Sears and Macy’s are closing stores and laying off workers, but I didn’t think that Wal-Mart would be feeling the pain as well.  Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening.  USA Today is reporting that approximately 1,000 jobs will be cut at Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas by the end of this month…

Walmart’s plan to lay off of hundreds of employees is the latest ripple in a wave of job cuts and store closures that are roiling the retail industry.

The world’s largest retailer is cutting roughly 1,000 jobs at its corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., later this month, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak about it.

The company is saying that these cuts are necessary because Wal-Mart is always “looking for ways to operate more efficiently and effectively“.  But something doesn’t smell right here.  You don’t get rid of 1,000 employees at your corporate headquarters if everything is just fine.

I have driven past Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville a number of times, and it is in a beautiful part of the country.  Bentonville and the surrounding areas had been booming, but it looks like times may be changing.

Meanwhile, there are signs of trouble out on the west coast as well.  The Los Angeles Times is reporting that there is going to be a new round of engineering job cuts at Boeing…

Boeing Co. has internally announced a new round of employee buyouts for engineers companywide, including in Southern California, and warned that layoff notices will follow later this month to engineers in Washington state, where the company has a large presence.

Management did not cite a target for the number of projected job cuts.

The news comes after company Vice Chairman Ray Conner and the new chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, or BCA, Kevin McAllister, warned in December of the need to aim for further cuts in 2017.

And according to Boeing spokesperson Doug Alder, similar job cut announcements are coming for other classes of workers as well.

So why is Boeing getting rid of so many employees?

Well, the truth is that Boeing’s business is way down.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

Business has been tough. In 2016, deliveries fell by 14 jets from a year ago, to 748. Net orders dropped 13% from an already rotten level in 2015, to just 668, down 53% from 2014. And the lowest level since 2010!

When the economy is doing well, air traffic tends to rise, and when the economy is doing poorly it tends to go down.

Needless to say, the fact that Boeing is doing so poorly does not bode well for the future.

In addition to Wal-Mart, another major retailer that is letting people go is Petco

Petco is cutting 180 positions with about 50 at its San Diego headquarters, the pet supply retailer confirmed Wednesday.

The company made the cuts across its workforce and include both existing and open positions.

Petco has about 650 workers at its headquarters in Rancho Bernardo. It employs 27,000 in the U.S.

My wife and I have three cats, and even though Petco tends to be a bit overpriced we have always appreciated the work that they do.

Unfortunately, when the economy gets tough spending on pets tends to be one of the first things to get cut back, and this current trouble at Petco could be a sign that rough sledding is ahead for the entire economy.

Of course your personal perspective on these things is likely to be very heavily influenced by your immediate surroundings.  Those that live in wealthy enclaves of major cities such as San Francisco, New York City or Washington D.C. may be wondering how anyone could possibly be talking about economic trouble right now.

But if you live in economically depressed areas of Appalachia or the upper Midwest, it may seem like the last economic recession never even ended.

There have been pockets of economic prosperity in recent years, and this has resulted in some people becoming exceedingly wealthy.  Meanwhile, things have just continued to become even tougher for millions of other families as the cost of living always seems to grow faster than their paychecks do.

If you are in the top one percent of all income earners, maybe to you it seems like things have never been better.  But most of the country is living paycheck to paycheck and is just struggling to survive from month to month.  The following comes from CNN

The rich are money-making machines. Today, the top mega wealthy — the top 1% — earn an average of $1.3 million a year. It’s more than three times as much as the 1980s, when the rich “only” made $428,000, on average, according to economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the American population earned an average of $16,000 in pre-tax income in 1980. That hasn’t changed in over three decades.

The workers being laid off at the companies discussed above are real people with real hopes and real dreams.  Perhaps many of them will be able to land other employment fairly soon, but the truth is that the job market is really tough in many areas of the country right now.

Finding a good job that will allow you to pay the bills and support your family is not easy.  You may find that out the hard way if you end up losing your current job during the economic troubles that will come in 2017.

Earlier today, I came across an excellent article by Gail Tverberg that detailed a whole bunch of reasons why a significant economic downturn appears to be imminent in 2017.  If you would like to read it, you can find it here.  She points to many of the same things that I have been pointing to for a very long time.

Even though economic conditions were fairly stable throughout 2016, our long-term problems just continued to get even worse.  So the truth is that we are more primed for a major crisis today than we have been at any point since the last recession.

My hope is that things will not be nearly as bad in 2017 as Gail Tverberg and others are projecting that they could be, but the warning signs are definitely there, and it isn’t going to take much to push the U.S. economy off the rails.

The Election Of Donald Trump Is Already Having An Enormous Impact On The Economy

donald-trump-and-barack-obama-in-the-oval-office-public-domainThe election of Donald Trump has sent shockwaves through the U.S. economy and the U.S. financial system.  Since November 8th, the Dow has hit a brand new all-time record high, the U.S. dollar has strengthened greatly, and bank stocks are way up.  But not all of the economic news is good news.  Unlike stocks, bonds have reacted very negatively to Trump’s election victory.  The past week has been an absolute bloodbath for bond traders, and as you will see below this is going to have dramatic implications for all U.S. consumers moving forward.

Over just a two day period, more than a trillion dollars was wiped out as bond yields spiked all over the globe.  As CNN has noted, this type of “violent reaction” in the bond market has only happened three other times within the past ten years…

The rate on 10-year Treasury notes has surged to 2.3%, from 1.77% before the election. Last week’s spike in Treasury rates was so big, that it had only happened three times before in the last decade.

BlackRock’s Russ Koesterich called it a “violent reaction.”

The move stands to have broad repercussions for all Americans. Not only will the U.S. government have to pay more to borrow money, but mortgage rates and car loan costs should also rise. That’s because Treasuries are used as the benchmark for many other forms of credit.

As interest rates rise, virtually everyone in our society is going to feel the pain.

Those that need an auto loan in order to purchase a vehicle are going to find that loan payments are significantly higher than they were before.

Credit card rates will also go up, and those just getting out of school will discover that their student loan payments are even more suffocating.

But the biggest impact will be felt in the housing market.  The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage just hit the psychologically-important 4 percent barrier, and that could mean big trouble for the housing market in 2017

The average contract rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage hit 4 percent, according to Mortgage News Daily, a level most didn’t expect to see until the middle of next year. Rates have now moved nearly a half a percentage point higher since Donald Trump was elected president.

“The situation on the ground is panicked. Damage control,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “People were trying to lock loans quickly last week and are now facing a tough choice to lock today or hope for a bounce. Many hoped for a bounce last week heading into the long weekend and we obviously didn’t get it.”

Rising interest rates was one of the key factors that precipitated the financial crisis of 2008, and many fear that it could happen again.

And without a doubt, this rise in rates is going to affect the affordability of homes that are already on the market

“If you’re going to buy a house and your mortgage payment went up by $200 or $300, you may buy a smaller house. There’s impact on interest rate sensitive sectors, like autos and housing, and also corporate bonds themselves, where financial engineering has helped juice up the equity market,” said George Goncalves, head of rate strategy at Nomura.

In addition, rising rates will make it more difficult for those with adjustable rate mortgages to keep their homes.  Foreclosure activity was already up 27 percent during the month of October, and many are projecting that we could see another giant spike in foreclosures during the months ahead that is similar to what we saw during the last financial crisis.

Many Trump supporters don’t really care what the rest of the world thinks of our new president, but this is an area where what the rest of the world thinks really, really matters.

The truth is that the rest of the planet is not all too fond of Trump, and if that makes them a lot less eager to lend us money that is a major problem.

The only way that we can maintain our massively inflated debt-fueled standard of living is to continue to borrow gigantic mountains of money from the rest of the world at ultra-low interest rates.

If the rest of the world starts demanding higher rates of return now that Trump is president, we are going to experience economic pain on a scale that most Americans don’t believe is possible.

One of our big lenders has been China, and right now they are deeply concerned about what a Trump presidency might mean.  Trump has talked very tough about trade with China, and the Chinese are gearing up for a major trade war.  The following comes from CNBC

During his election campaign this year, Trump spoke of a 45 percent import tariff on all Chinese goods while failing to outline how it would work. Should any such policy come into effect, China will take a “tit-for-tat approach”, according to an opinion piece in the Global Times, a newspaper backed by the Communist party.

“A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. U.S. auto and iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and U.S. soybean and maize imports will be halted. China can also limit the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S.,” the Global Times article read.

Most Trump supporters assume that since Trump has been a very successful businessman that he will be able to strengthen the U.S. economy.

But it isn’t that simple.

The only reason we are able to live the way that we live today is because we have been able to borrow trillions upon trillions of dollars at irrationally low interest rates.

The moment the rest of the world decides that they are not going to loan us money at irrationally low interest rates any longer the game is over, and it won’t really matter who is in the White House at that point.

So watch interest rates very carefully.  If they keep going up, it is inevitable that a major economic slowdown will follow no matter what economic policies the new Trump administration implements.

Desperately Poor Teens In America’s Impoverished Inner Cities Are Trading Sex For Food

sad-girl-public-domainWhen people get hungry enough, they will do just about anything for some food.  According to brand new research that was just released this week from Feeding America and the Urban Institute, there are millions of teenagers in America that live in “food insecure” households, and researchers were stunned to learn what some of these teens are willing to do to feed themselves.  Some resort to shoplifting, others deal drugs, and there were a surprising number of participants in the study that actually admitted to trading sex for food.  It wouldn’t be a shock to hear that these kinds of things are going on in an economically-depressed nation such as Venezuela, but this is the United States of America.  We are supposed to be the wealthiest nation on the entire planet.  Sadly, even while the stock market has been soaring in recent years, poverty in America has been on the rise.  For those on the low end of the economic scale, things have gone from bad to worse since the end of the last recession, and millions of children are deeply suffering as a result.

Let’s start with some of the hard numbers.  The following comes directly from the Urban Institute website

An estimated 6.8 million people ages 10 to 17 are food insecure, meaning they don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. Another 2.9 million are very food insecure, and roughly 4 million live in marginally food secure households, where the threat of running out of food is real.

Food insecurity takes a tremendous toll on teenagers. Poor nutrition—and the stress of hunger and poverty—can jeopardize their physical and mental health and development and their academic success. But despite the gravity and prevalence of teen food insecurity, we know very little about how these young people experience and cope with hunger.

The researchers already knew that lots of young people were hungry in America.  But what surprised them were the lengths that many of these youngsters said that they would go to in order to get food

Some of the youths said they or someone they know — mostly young men — have turned to shoplifting food, selling drugs or stealing items to sell.

The teens also reported knowing young women who have sold their bodies for food or had sex for money so they could buy food for their families.

Going to jail or failing a class in order to have to attend summer school were also some of the lengths teens went to.

Could you imagine your daughter or your granddaughter exchanging her body for food?

For most of us that is absolutely unthinkable, but the truth is that this is taking place on the streets of America every single day.

And this wasn’t just some blind random phone survey.  The researchers conducted personal interviews with focus groups, and what these kids were willing to admit doing was absolutely astounding.  Here is another excerpt directly out of the report

  • When faced with acute food insecurity, teens in all but two of the communities said that youth engage in criminal behavior, ranging from shoplifting food directly to selling drugs and stealing items to resell for cash. These behaviors were most common among young men in communities with the most limited job options.
  • Teens in all 10 communities and in 13 of the 20 focus groups talked about some youth selling sex for money to pay for food. These themes arose most strongly in high-poverty communities where teens also described sexually coercive environments. Sexual exploitation most commonly took the form of transactional dating relationships with older adults.
  • In a few communities, teens talked about going to jail or failing school (so they could attend summer classes and get school lunch) as viable strategies for ensuring regular meals.

Many of these young people understand that what they are doing is wrong.  Just consider what some of them told the researchers

A girl in Portland, Oregon told researchers: “It’s really like selling yourself. Like you’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.”

Another comment from Portland: “You’re not even dating … they’ll be like … ‘I don’t really love him, but I’m going to do what I have to do.’”

Many prefer to rationalise what they are doing as dating of sorts. A boy in rural North Carolina said: “When you’re selling your body, it’s more in disguise. Like if I had sex with you, you have to buy me dinner tonight … that’s how girls deal with the struggle … That’s better than taking money because if they take money, they will be labeled a prostitute.”

When I read the information in this report, I was stunned.  Yes, I write about our economic decline and the rise in poverty all the time, but I didn’t know that things were this bad.

And the researchers were surprised by what they were hearing as well.  One of them said that the fact that girls are trading their bodies for food “was really shocking to me”, and she believes that things are “just getting worse over time”

“I’ve been doing research in low-income communities for a long time, and I’ve written extensively about the experiences of women in high poverty communities and the risk of sexual exploitation, but this was new,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the report, Impossible Choices.

“Even for me, who has been paying attention to this and has heard women tell their stories for a long time, the extent to which we were hearing about food being related to this vulnerability was new and shocking to me, and the level of desperation that it implies was really shocking to me. It’s a situation I think is just getting worse over time.”

But aren’t we being told that things are getting better?

Aren’t we being told that our leaders “fixed” the economy?

Of course the truth is that America is mired in a long-term economic decline that stretches back for decades.  With each passing year the middle class gets smaller as a percentage of the population, and poverty continues to grow.  Last year the middle class became a minority of the population for the first time ever, and a lot of formerly middle class Americans are now among those that aren’t sure that they are going to have enough food to eat this month.

Hunger in America is a major crisis and it is growing.  Just because you may live in a comfortable home in a wealthy neighborhood does not mean that this problem is not real.

Tonight there are millions of Americans that do not know where their next meal is going to come from, and they deserve our love and compassion.

Tent Cities Full Of Homeless People Are Booming In Cities All Over America As Poverty Spikes

HomelessJust like during the last economic crisis, homeless encampments are popping up all over the nation as poverty grows at a very alarming rate.  According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than half a million people are homeless in America right now, but that figure is increasing by the day.  And it isn’t just adults that we are talking about.  It has been reported that that the number of homeless children in this country has risen by 60 percent since the last recession, and Poverty USA says that a total of 1.6 million children slept either in a homeless shelter or in some other form of emergency housing at some point last year.  Yes, the stock market may have been experiencing a temporary boom for the last couple of years, but for those on the low end of the economic scale things have just continued to deteriorate.

Tonight, countless numbers of homeless people will try to make it through another chilly night in large tent cities that have been established in the heart of major cities such as Seattle, Washington, D.C. and St. Louis.  Homelessness has gotten so bad in California that the L.A. City Council has formally asked Governor Jerry Brown to officially declare a state of emergency.   And in Portland the city has extended their “homeless emergency” for yet another year, and city officials are really struggling with how to deal with the booming tent cities that have sprung up

There have always been homeless people in Portland, but last summer Michelle Cardinal noticed a change outside her office doors.

Almost overnight, it seemed, tents popped up in the park that runs like a green carpet past the offices of her national advertising business. She saw assaults, drug deals and prostitution. Every morning, she said, she cleaned human feces off the doorstep and picked up used needles.

“It started in June and by July it was full-blown. The park was mobbed,” she said. “We’ve got a problem here and the question is how we’re going to deal with it.”

But of course it isn’t just Portland that is experiencing this.  The following list of major tent cities that have become so well-known and established that they have been given names comes from Wikipedia

Most of the time, those that establish tent cities do not want to be discovered because local authorities have a nasty habit of shutting them down and forcing homeless people out of the area.  For example, check out what just happened in Elkhart, Indiana

A group of homeless people in Elkhart has been asked to leave the place they call home. For the last time, residents of ‘Tent City’ packed up camp.

City officials gave residents just over a month to vacate the wooded area; Wednesday being the last day to do so.

The property has been on Mayor Tim Neese’s radar since he took office in January, calling it both a safety and health hazard to its residents and nearby pedestrian traffic.

“This has been their home but you can’t live on public property,” said Mayor Tim Neese, Elkhart.

If they can’t live on “public property”, where are they supposed to go?

They certainly can’t live on somebody’s “private property”.

This is the problem – people don’t want to deal with the human feces, the needles, the crime and the other problems that homeless people often bring with them.  So the instinct is often to kick them out and send them away.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t fix the problem.  It just passes it on to someone else.

As this new economic downturn continues to accelerate, our homelessness boom is going to spiral out of control.  Pretty soon, there will be tent cities in virtually every community in America.

In fact, there are people that are living comfortable middle class lifestyles right at this moment that will end up in tents.  We saw this during the last economic crisis, and it will be even worse as this next one unfolds.

Just like last time around, the signs that the middle class is really struggling can be subtle at first, but when you learn to take note of them you will notice that they are all around you.  The following comes from an excellent article in the New York Post

Do you see grocery stores closing? Do you see other retailers, like clothing stores and department stores, going out of business?

Are there shuttered storefronts along your Main Street shopping district, where you bought a tool from the hardware store or dropped off your dry cleaning or bought fruits and vegetables?

Are you making as much money annually as you did 10 years ago?

Do you see homes in neighborhoods becoming run down as the residents either were foreclosed upon, or the owner lost his or her job so he or she can’t afford to cut the grass or paint the house?

Did that same house where the Joneses once lived now become a rental property, where new people come to live every few months?

Do you know one or two people who are looking for work? Maybe professionals, who you thought were safe in their jobs?

Don’t look down on those that are living in tents, because the truth is that many “middle class Americans” will ultimately end up joining them.

The correct response to those that are hurting is love and compassion.  We all need help at some point in our lives, and I know that I am certainly grateful to those that have given me a helping hand at various points along my journey.

Sadly, hearts are growing cold all over the nation, and the weather is only going to get colder over the months ahead.  Let us pray for health and safety for the hundreds of thousands of Americans that will be sleeping in tents and on the streets this winter.

Donald Trump Warns Americans To Get Out Of The Stock Market As The Dow Falls For A 7th Day In A Row

Donald Trump - VOA Public DomainOne thing that you have to appreciate about Donald Trump is that unlike most politicians, he actually says what is on his mind.  On Tuesday, Trump told Fox Business that he had already gotten out of the stock market, and that he foresees “very scary scenarios” ahead for investors.  And of course things have already started to get a bit ominous for those holding stocks over the last week and a half.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average has now closed down for seven days in a row, and that is the longest losing streak that we have seen since the panic of last August.  Over the past 12 months we have seen virtually every other major global stock market experience at least one major crash.  Could the U.S. markets be next?

What Trump told Fox Business earlier today was actually right on the money.  Our financial markets have been artificially inflated by the Federal Reserve, and all artificial bubbles of this nature eventually burst.  The following comes from a Bloomberg article that was posted on Tuesday entitled “Trump Urges Exit From Market Boosted by ‘Artificially Low’ Rates“…

Donald Trump on Tuesday said interest rates set by the Federal Reserve are inflating the stock market and recommended 401(k)-holders to get out of equities, just like he did.

“I did invest and I got out, and it was actually very good timing,” the Republican presidential nominee said in a phone interview with Fox Business. “But I’ve never been a big investor in the stock market.”

“Interest rates are artificially low,” Trump said. “The only reason the stock market is where it is is because you get free money.”

Trump’s comments come at a time when we are getting a whole host of bad news about the U.S. economy.  We just learned that U.S. GDP grew at a meager 1.2 percent annual rate during the second quarter, the rate of homeownership in the United States just hit an all-time record low, and corporate earnings have now been falling for five quarters in a row.

But perhaps most alarming of all is what is happening to the price of oil.  As I discussed yesterday, the price of oil has plunged well over 20 percent since June 8th, and it was down again on Tuesday.

As I write this article, the price of U.S. oil is sitting at just $39.66.  The psychologically-important 40 dollar barrier has been broken, but the price of oil doesn’t even have to go down another penny to do immense damage to the U.S. economy.  If it just stays at this price, we are going to bleed more energy industry jobs, more energy companies are going to default on their debts, and more financial institutions that are exposed to the energy industry are going to get into serious trouble.

All the ingredients are there for a major financial crisis, and perhaps that explains why so many investors are flocking to precious metals such as gold and silver right now.

The price of gold has gone up for six trading days in a row, and silver is approaching 21 dollars an ounce.

Meanwhile, things continue to unravel on the other side of the planet.  In Europe, let’s just say that the recent bank stress tests did not go as well as many were hoping

If the goal of the EBA Stress Tests was to reassure investors and regain confidence that ‘all is well’ in Europe’s increasingly fragile and systemically interconnected banking system, then it has utterly failed. The broadest European bank stock index is now down 7% from the post-stress-test spike highs, Italian banks are at record lows and being halted (despite Renzi’s promises), Commerzbank is struggling with capital raise chatter, and Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse are tumbling after being booted from the Stoxx 50.

It is funny – every time I write a major article about Deutsche Bank, their stock goes to a new record low.

And it has just happened again.  Less than a week ago, I posted this article, and on Tuesday Deutsche Bank plummeted to a brand new record low as renewed fears about the health of the bank spooked investors.

Problems at Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse are now becoming so obvious that even mainstream analysts are admitting that they are “causing some anxiety”

Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse … are dropping to where they were after the Brexit vote,” said Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist at Baird. “That’s causing some anxiety.”

Deutsche and Credit Suisse’s U.S.-listed shares closed down 3.75 percent and 4.67 percent, respectively.

In Europe nobody is waiting for financial stocks to crash, because they are already crashing.

A “too big to fail” crisis is rapidly unfolding across the entire continent, but most Americans are totally oblivious to what is going on over there.  Instead, our major news outlets are feeding us an endless barrage of negative headlines about Donald Trump and a steady stream of positive headlines about Hillary Clinton.

I wonder who they want to win the election?

Of course I am being sarcastic.  The days when the mainstream media at least pretended to be “independent” are long gone.

But as far as the stock market is concerned, I am quite confident that Donald Trump will be vindicated.

And if you don’t want to believe Donald Trump, I would encourage you to consider what Jeffrey Gundlach, the chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, has been saying.  He has been right about the markets in recent years over and over again, and just a few days ago he publicly stated that “stocks should be down massively” and that now is the time to “sell everything“.

Unfortunately, very few people are likely to change course at this stage.  Most of those that could see the warning signs have already gotten out of the market, and those that prefer to have blind faith in the system are not likely to listen to warnings from men like Trump and Gundlach.

So now it is just a waiting game.

We shall see if Trump and Gundlach are right, and those that end up on the correct side of the equation are probably going to make a boatload of money during the months ahead.

War Is Coming And The Global Financial Situation Is A Lot Worse Than You May Think

city skyscrapers clock time stopwatch seconds - public domainOn the surface, things seem pretty quiet in mid-July 2016.  The biggest news stories are about the speculation surrounding Donald Trump’s choice of running mate, the stock market in the U.S. keeps setting new all-time record highs, and the media seems completely obsessed with Taylor Swift’s love life.  But underneath the surface, it is a very different story.  As you will see below, the conditions for a “perfect storm” are coming together very rapidly, and the rest of 2016 promises to be much more chaotic than what we have seen so far.

Let’s start with China.  On Tuesday, an international tribunal in the Hague ruled against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.  The Chinese government announced ahead of time that they do not recognize the jurisdiction of the tribunal, and they have absolutely no intention of abiding by the ruling.  In fact, China is becoming even more defiant in the aftermath of this ruling.  We aren’t hearing much about it in the U.S. media, but according to international news reports Chinese president Xi Jinping has ordered the People’s Liberation Army “to prepare for combat” with the United States if the Obama administration presses China to abandon the islands that they are currently occupying in the South China Sea…

“Chinese president Xi Jinping has reportedly ordered the People’s Liberation Army to prepare for combat,” reports Arirang.com. “U.S.-based Boxun News said Tuesday that the instruction was given in case the United States takes provocative action in the waters once the ruling is made.”

A U.S. aircraft carrier and fighter jets were already sent to the region in anticipation of the ruling, with the Chinese Navy also carrying out exercises near the disputed Paracel islands.

Last October, China said it was “not frightened” to fight a war with the U.S. following an incident where the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen violated the 12-nautical mile zone China claims around Subi and Mischief reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

Meanwhile, the relationship between the United States and Russia continues to go from bad to worse.  The installation of a missile defense system in Romania is just the latest incident that has the Russians absolutely steaming, and during a public appearance on June 17th Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to get western reporters to understand that the world is being pulled toward war…

“We know year by year what’s going to happen, and they know that we know. It’s only you that they tell tall tales to, and you buy it, and spread it to the citizens of your countries. You people in turn do not feel a sense of the impending danger – this is what worries me. How do you not understand that the world is being pulled in an irreversible direction? While they pretend that nothing is going on. I don’t know how to get through to you anymore.

And of course the Russians have been feverishly updating and modernizing their military in preparation for a potential future conflict with the United States.  Just today we learned that the Russians are working to develop a hypersonic strategic bomber that is going to have the capability of striking targets with nuclear warheads from outer space.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration does not feel a similar sense of urgency.  The size of our strategic nuclear arsenal has declined by about 95 percent since the peak of the Cold War, and many of our installations are still actually using rotary phones and the kind of 8 inch floppy disks for computers that were widely used back in the 1970s.

But I don’t expect war with China or Russia to erupt by the end of 2016.  Of much more immediate concern is what is going on in the Middle East.  The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, but it is Israel that could soon be the center of attention.

Back in March, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration wanted to revive the peace process in the Middle East before Obama left office, and that a UN Security Council resolution that would divide the land of Israel and set the parameters for a Palestinian state was still definitely on the table…

The White House is working on plans for reviving long-stalled Middle East negotiations before President Barack Obama leaves office, including a possible United Nations Security Council resolution that would outline steps toward a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, according to senior U.S. officials.

And just this week, the Washington Post reported that there were renewed “rumblings” about just such a resolution…

Israel is facing a restive European Union, which is backing a French initiative that seeks to outline a future peace deal by year’s end that would probably include a call for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the creation of a Palestinian state. There are also rumblings that the U.N. Security Council might again hear resolutions about the conflict.

For years, Barack Obama has stressed the need for a Palestinian state, and now that his second term is drawing to a close he certainly realizes that this is his last chance to take action at the United Nations.  If he is going to pull the trigger and support a UN resolution formally establishing a Palestinian state, it will almost certainly happen before the election in November.  So over the coming months we will be watching these developments very carefully.

And it is interesting to note that there is an organization called “Americans For Peace Now” that is collecting signatures and strongly urging Obama to support a UN resolution of this nature.  The following comes from their official website

Now is the time for real leadership that can revive and re-accredit the two-state solution as President Obama enters his final months in office. And he can do this – he can lay the groundwork for a two-state agreement in the future by supporting an Israeli-Palestinian two-state resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

Such a resolution would restore U.S. leadership in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. It would preserve the now-foundering two-state outcome. And it would be a gift to the next president, leaving her or him constructive options for consequential actions in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, in place of the ever-worsening, politically stalemated status quo there is today.

Sadly, a UN resolution that divides the land of Israel and that formally establishes a Palestinian state would not bring lasting peace.  Instead, it would be the biggest mistake of the Obama era, and it would set the stage for a major war between Israel and her neighbors.  This is something that I discussed during a recent televised appearance down at Morningside that you can watch right here

At the same time all of this is going on, the global economic crisis continues to escalate.  Even though U.S. financial markets are in great shape at the moment, the same cannot be said for much of the rest of the world.

Just look at the country that is hosting the Olympics this summer.  Brazil is mired in the worst economic downturn that it has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and Rio de Janeiro’s governor has declared “a state of financial emergency“.

Next door, the Venezuelan economy has completely collapsed, and some people have become so desperate that they are actually hunting cats, dogs and pigeons for food.

Elsewhere, China is experiencing the worst economic downturn that they have seen in decades, the Japanese are still trying to find the end of their “lost decade”, and the banking crisis in Europe is getting worse with each passing month.

In quite a few articles recently, I have discussed the ongoing implosion of the biggest and most important bank in Germany.  But I am certainly not the only one warning about this.  In one of his recent articles, Simon Black also commented on the turmoil at “the most dangerous bank in Europe”…

Well-capitalized banks are supposed to have double-digit capital levels while making low risk investments.

Deutsche Bank, on the other hand, has a capital level of less that 3% (just like Lehman), and an incredibly risky asset base that boasts notional derivatives exposure of more than $70 trillion, roughly the size of world GDP.

But of course Deutsche Bank isn’t getting a lot of attention from the mainstream media right now because of the stunning meltdown of banks in Italy, Spain and Greece.  Here is more from Simon Black

Italian banks are sitting on over 360 billion euros in bad loans right now and are in desperate need of a massive bailout.

IMF calculations show that Italian banks’ capital levels are among the lowest in the world, just ahead of Bangladesh.

And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of problems in other banking jurisdictions.

Spanish banks have been scrambling to raise billions in capital to cover persistent losses that still haven’t healed from the last crisis.

In Greece, over 35% of all loans in the banking system are classified as “non-performing”.

Even though U.S. stocks are doing well for the moment, the truth is that trillions of dollars of stock market wealth has been lost globally since this time last year.  If you are not familiar with what has been going on around the rest of the planet, this may come as a surprise to you.  During my recent appearance at Morningside, I shared some very startling charts which show how dramatically global markets have shifted over the past 12 months.  You can view the segment in which I shared these charts right here

I would really like it if the rest of 2016 was as quiet and peaceful as the past couple of days have been.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that is going to be the case at all.

The storm clouds are rising and the conditions for a “perfect storm” are brewing.  Sadly, most people are not going to understand what is happening until it is far too late.

Corporations Are Defaulting On Their Debts Like It’s 2008 All Over Again

Corporate Debt Defaults - Public DomainThe Dow closed above 18,000 on Monday for the first time since July.  Isn’t that great news?  I truly wish that it was.  If the Dow actually reflected economic reality, I could stop writing about “economic collapse” and start blogging about cats or football.  Unfortunately, the stock market and the economy are moving in two completely different directions right now.  Even as stock prices soar, big corporations are defaulting on their debts at a level that we have not seen since the last financial crisis.  In fact, this wave of debt defaults have become so dramatic that even USA Today is reporting on it

Get ready to step over some landmines, investors. The number of companies defaulting on their debt is hitting levels not seen since the financial crisis, and it’s not just a problem for bondholders.

So far this year, 46 companies have defaulted on their debt, the highest level since 2009, according to S&P Ratings Services. Five companies defaulted this week, based on the latest data available from S&P Ratings Services. That includes New Jersey-based specialty chemical company Vertellus Specialties and Ohio-based iron ore producer Cliffs Natural. Of the world’s defaults this year, 37 are of companies based in the U.S.

Meanwhile, coal producer Peabody Energy (BTU) and surfwear seller Pacific Sunwear (PSUN) this week filed plans for bankruptcy protection. Shares of Peabody have dropped 97% over the past year to $2 a share and Pacific Sunwear stock is off 98% to 4 cents a share.

A lot of big companies in this country have fallen on hard times, and it looks like bankruptcy attorneys are going to be absolutely swamped with work for the foreseeable future.

So why are stock prices soaring right now?  After all, it doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever.

And it isn’t just a few bad apples that we are talking about.  All across the spectrum, corporate revenues and corporate earnings are down.  At this point, earnings for companies on the S&P 500 have plunged a total of 18.5 percent from their peak in late 2014, and it is being projected that corporate earnings overall will be down 8.5 percent for the first quarter of 2016 compared to one year ago.

As earnings decline, a lot of big companies are getting into trouble with debt, and we have already seen a very large number of corporate debt downgrades.  In recent interviews, I have been bringing up the fact that the average rating on U.S. corporate debt has now fallen to “BB”, which is already lower than it was at any point during the last financial crisis.

A lot of people don’t seem to believe me when I share that fact, but it is absolutely true.

One of the big reasons why corporate debt is being downgraded is because a lot of these big companies have been going into enormous amounts of debt in order to buy back their own stock.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

Downgrades ascribed to “shareholder compensation,” as Moody’s calls share buybacks and dividends, have been soaring, according to John Lonski, Chief Economist at Moody’s Capital Markets Research. The moving 12-month sum of Moody’s credit rating downgrades of US companies, jumped from 32 in March 2015, to 48 in December 2015, and to 61 in March 2016, nearly doubling within a year.

The last time the number of downgrades attributed to financial engineering reached 61 was in early 2007. It would hit its peak of 79 in mid- 2007, a few months before the beginning of the Great Recession in Q4 2007. At the time, stocks were on the verge of commencing their epic crash.

When corporations go into the market and buy back their own stock, they are slowly cannibalizing themselves.  But we have seen these stock buybacks soar to record levels for a couple of reasons.  Number one, big investors want to see stock prices go up, and so big investors tend to really like these stock buybacks and will generally support corporate executives that wish to engage in doing this.  Number two, if you are a greedy corporate executive that is heavily compensated by stock options, you very much want to see the stock price go up as well.

So the name of the game is greed, and stock buybacks have been fueling much of the rise in U.S. stock prices that we have been seeing recently.

However, the truth is that nothing in the financial world lasts forever, and this irrational bubble will ultimately come to an end as well.

Earlier today, I am across an article that included a comment from Michael Hartnett of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.  He believes that there are a lot of parallels between what is happening today and the period of time that immediately preceded the bursting of the dotcom bubble

Back then, as could be the case today, a bull market & a US-led economic recovery was rudely interrupted by a crisis in Emerging Markets. The crisis threatened to hurt Main Street via Wall Street (the Nasdaq fell 33% between Jul-Oct 1998, when [Long-Term Capital Management] went under). Policy makers panicked and monetary policy was eased (with hindsight unnecessarily). Fresh liquidity combined with apocalyptic investor sentiment very quickly morphed into a violent but narrow equity bull market/bubble in 1998/99, one which ultimately took valuations & interest rates sharply higher to levels that eventually caused a “pop”.

Like Hartnett, I definitely believe that a major “pop” is on the way, although I would like for it to be delayed for as long as possible.

Someday we will look back on these times with utter amazement.  It has been absolutely incredible how the financial markets have been able to defy economic reality for so long.

But they can’t do it forever, and according to a brand new CNN survey Americans are becoming increasingly pessimistic about where the real economy is heading…

In a new CNNMoney/E*Trade survey of Americans who have at least $10,000 in an online trading account, over half (52%) gave the U.S. economy as a “C” grade. Another 15% rated the economy a “D” or “F.”

This gloom persists despite the fact that the stock market is on the upswing again. The Dow topped 18,000 Monday for the first time since July 2015.

If some Americans think that the U.S. economy deserves a “D” or an “F” grade right now, just wait until they see what is in our immediate future.

Personally, I give our economy an “A” for being able to maintain our unsustainable debt-fueled standard of living for as long as it has.  Somehow we have managed to consume far more than we produce for decades, and the largest debt bubble in the history of the planet just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Of course we are very much living on borrowed time at this point, but I truly hope that the bubble economy can keep going for at least a little while longer, because nobody should want to see what is coming afterwards.

*About the author: Michael Snyder is the founder and publisher of The Economic Collapse Blog. Michael’s controversial new book about Bible prophecy entitled “The Rapture Verdict” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.*

19 Facts That Prove Things In America Are Worse Than They Were Six Months Ago

American Flag Map - Public DomainHas the U.S. economy gotten better over the past six months or has it gotten worse?  In this article, you will find solid proof that the U.S. economy has continued to get worse over the past six months.  Unfortunately, most people seem to think that since the stock market has rebounded significantly in recent weeks that everything must be okay, but of course that is not true at all.  If you look at a chart of the Dow, a very ominous head and shoulders pattern is forming, and all of the economic fundamentals are screaming that big trouble is ahead.  When Donald Trump told the Washington Post that we are heading for a “very massive recession“, he wasn’t just making stuff up.  We are already seeing lots of things happen that never take place outside of a recession, and the U.S. economy has already been sliding downhill fairly rapidly over the past several months.  With all that being said, the following are 19 facts that prove things in America are worse than they were six months ago…

#1 U.S. factory orders have now declined on a year over year basis for 16 months in a row.  As Zero Hedge has noted, in the post-World War II era this has never happened outside of a recession…

In 60 years, the US economy has not suffered a 16-month continuous YoY drop in Factory orders without being in recession. Moments ago the Department of Commerce confirmed that this is precisely what the US economy did, when factory orders not only dropped for the 16th consecutive month Y/Y, after declining 1.7% from last month

#2 Factory orders have now reached the lowest level that we have seen since the summer of 2011.

#3 It is being projected that corporate earnings will be down 8.5 percent for the first quarter of 2016 compared to one year ago.  This will be the fourth quarter in a row that we have seen year over year declines, and the last time that happened was during the last recession.

#4 Total business sales have fallen 5 percent since the peak in mid-2014.

#5 S&P 500 earnings have now fallen a total of 18.5 percent from their peak in late 2014.

#6 Corporate debt defaults have soared to the highest level that we have seen since 2009.

#7 The average rating on U.S. corporate debt has fallen to “BB”, which is lower than it has been at any point since the last financial crisis.

#8 The U.S. oil rig count just hit a 41 year low.

#9 51 oil and gas drillers in North America have filed for bankruptcy since the beginning of last year, and according to CNN we could be on the verge of seeing the biggest one yet…

Shale oil driller SandRidge Energy (SD) warned there was “substantial doubt” it would survive the oil downturn. The Oklahoma City company said this week it is exploring a potential Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Based on its $3.6 billion of debt, SandRidge would be the biggest North American oil-focused company to go bust during the current downturn, according to a CNNMoney analysis of stats compiled by law firm Haynes and Boone.

#10 According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, job cut announcements by major firms in the United States were up 32 percent during the first quarter of 2016 compared to the first quarter of 2015.

#11 Consumers in the United States accumulated more new credit card debt during the 4th quarter of 2015 than they did during the entire years of 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined.

#12 Existing home sales in the U.S. were down 7.1 percent during the month of February, and this was the biggest decline that we have witnessed in six years.

#13 Subprime auto loan delinquencies have hit their highest level since the last recession.

#14 The Restaurant Performance Index in the U.S. recently dropped to the lowest level that we have seen since 2008.

#15 Major retailers all over the country are shutting down hundreds of stores as the “retail apocalypse” accelerates.

#16 If you take the number of working age Americans that are officially unemployed (8.1 million) and add that number to the number of working age Americans that are considered to be “not in the labor force” (93.9 million), that gives us a grand total of 102 million working age Americans that do not have a job right now

#17 Since peaking during the 3rd quarter of 2014, U.S. exports of goods and services have been steadily declining.  This is something that we never see outside of a recession…

Exports Of Goods And Services - Public Domain

#18 The cost of everything related to medical care just continues to skyrocket even though our wages are stagnating.  According to the Social Security Administration, 51 percent of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year, and yet the cost of medical care just hit a brand new all-time high…

Medical Care Services

#19 Our government debt continues to spiral out of control.  At this point it is sitting at a staggering total of $19,218,516,838,306.52, but when Barack Obama first entered the White House it was only 10.6 trillion dollars.  That means that our government has been stealing an average of more than 100 million dollars an hour from future generations of Americans every single hour of every single day since Barack Obama was inaugurated…

Federal Debt

How in the world can anyone look at those numbers and suggest that everything is okay?

I simply do not understand how that could be possible.

Part of the problem is that Americans have been trained to be irrationally optimistic.  It is fine to have an optimistic outlook on life, but when it causes you to throw logic and reason out the window that is not good.

For example, you can be “optimistic” about your ability to fly all you want, but if you step off a 10 story building you are going to take a very hard fall to the ground.

Similarly, you can ignore all of the facts and pretend that our economic prosperity is sustainable all you want, but it won’t change the fundamental laws of economics.

On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone that has helped make my new book the #1 new release in Christian eschatology on Amazon.com.  I understand that a lot of my secular readers are not going to understand my fascination with Bible prophecy, and that is okay.  I felt that I needed to write this book to address some very serious errors that are being taught in churches all over America today, and I also wanted to inspire believers to face the great hardships and persecution that are coming.

Just because very difficult times are approaching does not mean that it will be time to run and hide.  My wife and I always live our lives with no fear, and when things get crazy we believe that it will be an opportunity to do even more good.  We believe that the greatest chapters of our lives are still ahead of us, and we want people to understand why they can look forward to the future even though great darkness is rising all around us.

So yes, I definitely carry a message of warning.

But I also bring a message of hope.

As we look toward the future, there is much to be concerned about, but there are also things happening that are worth getting extremely excited about.

It is when times are the darkest that the light is needed the most, and very soon light will be greatly, greatly needed in the United States of America.

Bear Market: The Average U.S. Stock Is Already Down More Than 20 Percent

Angry BearThe stock market is in far worse shape than we are being told.  As you will see in this article, the average U.S. stock is already down more than 20 percent from the peak of the market.  But of course the major indexes are not down nearly that much.  As the week begins, the S&P 500 is down 9.8 percent from its 2015 peak, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 10.7 percent from its 2015 peak, and the Nasdaq is down 11.0 percent from its 2015 peak.  So if you only look at those indexes, you would think that we are only about halfway to bear market territory.  Unfortunately, a few high flying stocks such as Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google have been masking a much deeper decline for the rest of the market.  When the market closed on Friday, 229 of the stocks on the S&P 500 were down at least 20 percent from their 52 week highs, and when you look at indexes that are even broader things are even worse.

For example, let’s take a look at the Standard & Poor’s 1500 index.  According to the Bespoke Investment Group, the average stock on that index is down a staggering 26.9 percent from the peak of the market…

Indeed, the Standard & Poor’s 1500 index – a broad basket of large, mid and small company stocks – shows that the average stock’s distance from its 52-week high is 26.9%, according to stats compiled by Bespoke Investment Group through Friday’s close.

“That’s bear market territory!” says Paul Hickey, co-founder of Bespoke Investment Group, the firm that provided USA TODAY with the gloomy price data.

So if the average stock has fallen 26.9 percent, what kind of market are we in?

To me, that is definitely bear market territory.

The rapid decline of the markets last week got the attention of the entire world, but of course this current financial crisis did not begin last week.  These stocks have been falling since the middle part of last year.  And what Bespoke Investment Group discovered is that small cap stocks have been hurt the most by this current downturn

Here’s a statistical damage assessment, provided by Bespoke Investment Group, of the pain being felt by the average U.S. stock in the S&P 1500 index:

* Large-company stocks in the S&P 500 index are down 22.6%, on average, from peaks hit in the past 12 months.

* Mid-sized stocks in the S&P 400 index are sporting an average decline of 26.5% since hitting 52-week highs.

* Small stocks in the S&P 600 index are the farthest distance away from their recent peaks. The average small-cap name is 30.7% below its high in the past year.

After looking at those numbers, is there anyone out there that still wants to try to claim that “nothing is happening”?

Over the past six months or so, the sector that has been hit the hardest has been energy.  According to CNN, the average energy stock has now fallen 52 percent…

And then there’s energy. The dramatic decline in crude oil prices rocked the energy space. The average energy stock is now down a whopping 52% from its 52-week high, according to Bespoke. The only thing worse than that is small-cap energy, which is down 61%.

If you go up to an energy executive and try to tell him that “nothing is happening”, you might just get punched in the face.

And it is very important to keep in mind that stocks still have a tremendous distance to fall.  They are still massively overvalued by historical standards, and this is something that I have covered repeatedly on my website in recent months.

So how far could they ultimately fall?

Well, Dr. John Hussman is convinced that we could eventually see total losses in the 40 to 55 percent range…

I remain convinced that the U.S. financial markets, particularly equities and low-grade debt, are in a late-stage top formation of the third speculative bubble in 15 years.

On the basis of the valuation measures most strongly correlated with subsequent market returns (and that havefully retained that correlation even across recent market cycles), current extremes imply 40-55% market losses over the completion of the current market cycle, with zero nominal and negative real total returns for the S&P 500 on a 10-to-12-year horizon.

These are not worst-case scenarios, but run-of-the-mill expectations.

If the market does fall about 40 percent, that will just bring us into the range of what is considered to be historically “normal”.  If some sort of major disaster or emergency were to strike, that could potentially push the market down much, much farther.

And with each passing day, we get even more numbers which seem to indicate that we are entering a very, very deep global recession.

For instance, global trade numbers are absolutely collapsing.  This is a point that Raoul Pal hammered home during an interview with CNBC just the other day…

Looking at International Monetary Fund data, “the year-over-year change in global exports is at the second lowest level since 1958,” Raoul Pal, Publisher of the Global Macro Investor told CNBC’s”Fast Money”this week.

Basically, it means economies around the world are shipping their goods at near historically low levels. “Something massive is going on in the global economy and people are missing it,” Pal added.

The steep decline in 2015 exports is second only to 2009, when the global recession led to a 37 percent drop in export growth.

We have never seen global exports collapse this much outside of a recession.

Clearly we are witnessing a tremendous shift, and it boggles my mind that more people cannot see it.

As for this current wave of financial turmoil, it is hard to say how long it will last.  As I write this article, markets all over the Middle East are imploding, stocks in Asia are going crazy, currencies are crashing, and carry trades are being unwound at a staggering pace.  But at some point we should expect the level of panic to subside a bit.

If things do temporarily calm down, don’t let that fool you.  Global financial markets have not been this fragile since 2008.  Any sort of a trigger event is going to cause stocks all over the world to slide even more.

And let us not minimize the damage that has already been done one bit.  As you just read, the average stock on the Standard & Poor’s 1500 index is already down 26.9 percent.  The financial crisis that erupted during the second half of 2015 has already resulted in trillions of dollars of wealth being wiped out.

When people ask me when the “next financial crisis” is coming, I have a very simple answer for them.

The next financial crisis is not coming.

The next financial crisis is already here.

An angry bear has been released after nearly seven years in hibernation, and the entire world is going to be absolutely shocked by what happens next.

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