The Beginning Of The End
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Retail Apocalypse: Why Are Major Retail Chains All Over America Collapsing?

Why Are Major Retail Chains All Over America Collapsing? -  Photo by Gars129If the economy is improving, then why are many of the largest retail chains in America closing hundreds of stores?  When I was growing up, Sears, J.C. Penney, Best Buy and RadioShack were all considered to be unstoppable retail powerhouses.  But now it is being projected that all of them will close hundreds of stores before the end of 2013.  Even Wal-Mart is running into problems.  A recent internal Wal-Mart memo that was leaked to Bloomberg described February sales as a “total disaster”.  So why is this happening?  Why are major retail chains all over America collapsing?  Is the “retail apocalypse” upon us?  Well, the truth is that this is just another sign that the U.S. economy is falling apart right in front of our eyes.  Incomes are declining, taxes are going up, government dependence is at an all-time high, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the percentage of the U.S. labor force that is employed has been steadily falling since 2006.  The top 10% of all income earners in the U.S. are still doing very well, but most U.S. consumers are either flat broke or are drowning in debt.  The large disposable incomes that the big retail chains have depended upon in the past simply are not there anymore.  So retail chains all over the United States are now closing up unprofitable stores.  This is especially true in low income areas.

When you step back and take a look at the bigger picture, the rapid decline of some of our largest retail chains really is stunning.

It is happening already in some areas, but soon half empty malls and boarded up storefronts will litter the landscapes of cities all over America.

Just check out some of these store closing numbers for 2013.  These numbers are from a recent Yahoo Finance article

Best Buy

Forecast store closings: 200 to 250

Sears Holding Corp.

Forecast store closings: Kmart 175 to 225, Sears 100 to 125

J.C. Penney

Forecast store closings: 300 to 350

Office Depot

Forecast store closings: 125 to 150

Barnes & Noble

Forecast store closings: 190 to 240, per company comments

Gamestop

Forecast store closings: 500 to 600

OfficeMax

Forecast store closings: 150 to 175

RadioShack

Forecast store closings: 450 to 550

The RadioShack in a nearby town just closed up where I live.  This is all happening so fast that it is hard to believe.

But the truth is that those store closings are not the entire story.  When you dig deeper you find a lot more retailers that are in trouble.

For example, Blockbuster recently announced that this year they will be closing about 300 stores and eliminating about 3,000 jobs.

Toy manufacturer Hasbro recently announced that they will be reducing the size of their workforce by about 10 percent.

Even Wal-Mart is going through a tough stretch right now.  According to documents that were leaked to Bloomberg, Wal-Mart is having an absolutely disastrous February…

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had the worst sales start to a month in seven years as payroll-tax increases hit shoppers already battling a slow economy, according to internal e-mails obtained by Bloomberg News.

“In case you haven’t seen a sales report these days, February MTD sales are a total disaster,” Jerry Murray, Wal- Mart’s vice president of finance and logistics, said in a Feb. 12 e-mail to other executives, referring to month-to-date sales. “The worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”

So what in the world is going on here?

The mainstream media continues to proclaim that we are experiencing a robust “economic recovery”, but at the same time there are a whole host of indications that things are continually getting worse.

Even global cell phone sales actually declined slightly in 2012.  That was the first time that has happened since the last recession.

Perhaps it is time that we faced the truth.  The middle class is shrinking, incomes are declining and there are not nearly as many jobs as there used to be.

Mort Zuckerman pointed this out in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal

The U.S. labor market, which peaked in November 2007 when there were 139,143,000 jobs, now encompasses only 132,705,000 workers, a drop of 6.4 million jobs from the peak. The only work that has increased is part-time, and that is because it allows employers to reduce costs through a diminished benefit package or none at all.

So how can the mainstream media be talking about how “good” things are if we still have 6.4 million fewer jobs than we had back in November 2007?

And sadly, things may soon be getting a lot worse.  If Congress does not do anything about the “sequester”, millions of federal workers may shortly be facing some very painful furloughs according to CNN

Federal workers could start facing furloughs as early as April, according to federal agencies trying to prepare for the worst.

Unless Congress steps in, some $85 billion in massive spending reductions will hit the federal government, doling out furloughs to much of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workforce, experts say.

If you still live in an area of the country where the stores and the restaurants are booming, you should be very thankful because that is not the reality for most of the country.

I often write about the stunning economic decline of major cities such as Detroit, but there are huge sections of rural America that are in even worse shape than Detroit in many ways.

For example, many Indian reservations all over America have been shamefully neglected by the federal government and have become hotbeds for crime, drugs and poverty.

Business Insider recently profiled the Wind River Indian reservation in western Wyoming.  The following is a brief excerpt from that outstanding article

The Wind River Indian Reservation is not an easy place to get to, but I had to see it for myself.

Thirty-five-hundred square miles of prairie and mountains in western Wyoming, the reservation is home to bitter ancestral enemies: the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

Even among reservations, it’s renowned for brutal crime, widespread drug use, and legal dumping of toxic waste.

You can see some amazing photos of the Wind River Indian reservation right here.

It is hard to believe that there are places like that in America, but the truth is that conditions like that are spreading to more U.S. communities with each passing day.

We are a nation that is in an advanced state of decline.  But as long as the financial markets are okay, our leaders don’t seem too concerned about the suffering that everyone else is going through.

In fact, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan essentially admitted as much during a recent interview with CNBC.  The following is how a Zero Hedge article summarized that interview…

Starting at around 1:50, Greenspan states the odds of sequester occurring are very high – in fact, the playdough-faced ex-Chair-head notes, “I find it very difficult to find a scenario in which [the sequester] doesn’t happen” But when asked how this will affect the economy, Awkward Alan is unusually clearly spoken – “the issue is how does it affect the stock market.”

While not so many of our leaders have taken the path to direct truthiness, Greenspan somewhat shocks a Botox’d and babbling Bartiromo when he admits “the stock market is the key player in the game of economic growth.”

Bartiromo shifts uncomfortably in her seat, strokes her imaginary beard and stares blankly as Greenspan explains that while the sequester will have a real effect on the real economy, “if the stock market can hold up through this, then the effect will be rather minor.”

Do you see?

As long as the stock market is moving higher they think that everything is just fine and dandy.

And the Obama administration?

They continue to pursue the same policies that got us into this mess.

Their idea of “economic reform” is to threaten to sue businesses that do not hire ex-convicts.

And of course now that Obama has been re-elected he is putting a tremendous amount of effort into “stimulating the economy”.

For example, he spent this weekend golfing in Florida, and the Obamas recently spent about 20 million taxpayer dollars vacationing in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is getting worse with each passing day.

If you doubt that economic conditions are getting worse, please read this article: “Show This To Anyone That Believes That ‘Things Are Getting Better’ In America“.

When you look at the cold, hard numbers, it is undeniable what is happening to America.

And our leaders are not doing anything to fix our problems.  In fact, most of the time they are just making things worse.

So buckle up and get prepared.  We are in for very bumpy ride, and this is only just the beginning.

Store Closed Until Further Notice - Photo by Gryllida

The Corn Is Dying All Over America

All over America the corn is dying.  If drought conditions persist in the middle part of the country, wheat and soybeans will be next.  Weeks of intense heat combined with extraordinarily dry conditions have brought many U.S. corn farmers to the brink of total disaster.  If there is not significant rainfall soon, many farmers will be financially ruined.  This period of time is particularly important for corn because this is when pollination is supposed to happen.  But the unprecedented heat and the extremely dry conditions are playing havoc with that process.  With each passing day things get even worse.  We have seen the price of a bushel of corn soar 41 percent since June 14th.  That is an astounding rise.  You may not eat much corn directly, but it is important to realize that corn or corn syrup is just about in everything these days.  Just look at your food labels.  In the United States today, approximately 75 percent of all processed foods contain corn.  So a huge rise in the price of corn is going to be felt all over the supermarket.  Corn is also widely used to feed livestock, and if this crisis continues we are going to see a significant rise in meat and dairy prices as well.  Food prices in America have already been rising at a steady pace, and so this is definitely not welcome news.

The weather conditions in the middle part of the country during the last couple of months have been highly unusual.  The following is from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times….

It’s not that the Midwest hasn’t been extremely hot before, and it’s not that it hasn’t been incredibly dry.

But it’s unusual for a vast swath of the Midwest to be so very hot and so very dry for so very long — particularly this early in the summer.

The current heat wave — which is spurring comparisons to the catastrophic heat of 1936 —  is “out of whack,” meteorologist Jim Keeney said Friday in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Corn crops typically pollinate and mature in June and early July.  That is why this time of the year is so vitally important for corn.  We have reached a make it or break it moment.

The following is how an Accuweather.com report described what is happening right now….

Either heat or drought can stress the stalks, but both can basically shut down the pollination process. When this happens few, small or no ears of corn form.

According to AccuWeather.com Agricultural Meteorologists, you can’t raise a corn crop with less than an inch of rain over six weeks, combined with 100-degree and higher temperatures. However, these conditions have taken place in much of the southern corn belt through the week of July 4, 2012.

If pollination does not happen, corn farmers might as well give up.

Just check out what agricultural economist Chris Hurt said the other day….

“Pollination problems just can’t be overcome, even if the weather turns. There’s no turning back. There’s just failure.”

At this point, half of all corn in the state of Indiana is already in poor shape.

With each passing day, the condition of the corn gets even worse.

As a recent article in the Chicago Tribune detailed, many farmers feel completely helpless at the moment….

Dave Kestel, who farms about 1,300 acres in Manhattan about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, said he feels helpless.

“Every day you get out there and it’s the same heat and cloudless sky,” he said. “You see your corn just withering out there, knowing you can’t do anything about it.”

The United States is suffering from a severe lack of rain.  Just look at the chart posted below.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the country is experiencing drought conditions right now….

These drought conditions have also played a major role in the huge number of wildfires that we have seen lately.

There are a few northern states that are not feeling the drought right now, but otherwise the rest of the country is extremely dry.

So what does all of this mean for you and I?

A recent article by Holly Deyo summarized why we should all be praying for rain….

Since 75% of grocery store products use corn as a key ingredient, expect food prices to skyrocket. Corn is also a staple in many fast foods. Corn is in ethanol and the main food source or chickens. In addition to this, maize is in many things that aren’t obvious like adhesives, aluminum, aspirin, clothing starch, cosmetics, cough syrup, dry cell batteries, envelopes, fiberglass insulation, gelatin capsules, ink, insecticides, paint, penicillin, powders, rugs and carpets, stamps, talcum, toothpaste, wallpaper, and vitamins. That’s just for starters…

This is a huge heads up for you to purchase corn-using products NOW before these conditions reflect in grocery goods. It will be a narrow window of opportunity.

These thoughts are being echoed by many agricultural economists as well.  According to Businessweek, the outlook for U.S. food prices is bleak….

“When people look at rising prices for hamburger, butter, eggs and other protein sources from higher corn costs, that’s when more money ends up in the food basket,” said Minneapolis- based Michael Swanson, a senior agricultural economist at Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. farm lender. “We were hoping for a break, and we aren’t going to get it.”

Unfortunately, the fact that the corn is dying all over America is not just a problem for the United States.

As Businessweek also recently noted, the fate of U.S. corn affects the entire globe….

When rain doesn’t fall in Iowa, it’s not just Des Moines that starts fretting. Food buyers from Addis Ababa to Beijing all are touched by the fate of the corn crop in the U.S., the world’s breadbasket in an era when crop shortages mean riots.

This year they have reason to be concerned. Stockpiles of corn in the U.S. tumbled 48 percent between March and June, the biggest drop since 1996, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week. And that was before drought hit the Midwest.

The United States is the world’s biggest exporter of corn by far, and if there is a massive corn crop failure in America it is going to be felt to the four corners of the earth.

Just check out what Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization, said the other day….

“Everyone watches the U.S. because they can rely on it. Without it, the world would starve.”

Back in February, I wrote an article that suggested that we could see dust bowl conditions return to the middle part of this country in the years ahead.

A lot of people were skeptical of that article.

Not quite as many people are skeptical today.

The following is from a recent article posted on MSNBC entitled “Fears of new Dust Bowl as heat, drought shrivel corn in Midwest“….

Crop insurance agents and agricultural economists are watching closely, a few comparing the situation with the devastating drought of 1988, when corn yields shriveled significantly, while some farmers have begun alluding, unhappily, to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Far more is at stake in the coming pivotal days: with the brief, delicate phase of pollination imminent in many states, miles and miles of corn will rise or fall on whether rain soon appears and temperatures moderate.

As I wrote about last week, if the weather does not turn around soon the implications are going to be staggering.

Even if we got some significant rainfall at this point a tremendous amount of damage has already been done according to the Washington Post….

Jay Armstrong, owner and operator of Armstong Farms in Kansas, flew his small plane over a portion of the affected area and landed with the impression that the potential damage is far worse than is commonly understood.

“At this time of year, when you look down in a place like Indiana or Illinois, you should see just lush green fields,” Armstrong said. “I saw bare soil. I just thought to myself, the market has no idea what’s coming.”

So is there significant rain in the forecast?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

The National Weather Service says that the corn belt will experience “above-normal temperatures” and “below-normal rainfall” over the next week.

At this point it does not look like there will be any significant rainfall for the foreseeable future….

“We got a break in the temperatures over the weekend but no rain of significance is in sight for next seven days,” said Jim Keeney, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service the US central region based in Kansas City, Missouri.

Needless to say, that is really bad news.

Right now we just have more heat and more dryness to look forward to.  The skies are like iron and the earth is like brass.  We like to think that we have conquered nature, but at moments such as these we see that is not true at all.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about all of the reasons why we should be concerned about the second half of 2012.  In that article I did not even mention drought and crop failures.  Sometimes major problems have a way of piling on top of themselves.

The U.S. economy is already in bad enough shape without adding major crop failures to the mix.  This is something that we just don’t need right now.

But it looks like we are going to have to deal with it.  Unless there is a major change in the weather, food prices are going to go up even more and large numbers of farmers and ranchers are going to be absolutely devastated.

Let us all pray for rain.  We desperately need it.

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