The Beginning Of The End
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The Retail Apocalypse Accelerates: Collapsing Holiday Sales Are A Signal That A Recession Is Coming

Retail Apocalypse - Photo by Justin CozartRetail sales during the four day Thanksgiving weekend were down a whopping 11 percent from last year.  This is a “make or break” time of the year for many retailers, and if things don’t turn around during the coming weeks we could see a tsunami of store closings in January and February.  As you read this article, there is already more than a billion square feet of retail space sitting empty in the United States.  Many have described the ongoing collapse of the retail industry as an “apocalypse”, and this apocalypse appears to be accelerating.  Yes, the shift to online retailers is a significant factor, but as you will see below even online retailers struggled over the holiday weekend.  The sad truth of the matter is that U.S. consumers are tapped out and are drowning in debt at this point, so they simply do not have as much money to spend as they once did.

According to the National Retail Federation, 5.2 percent fewer Americans shopped online or at retail stores over the past weekend.  Those that did shop spent an average of 6.4 percent less money than consumers did last year.

So if less people shopped, and they spent less money on average, that means that total retail sales must have been way down.

And indeed they were.  As the New York Times has reported, total retail sales were down an astounding 11 percent…

Sales, both in stores and online, from Thanksgiving through the weekend were estimated to have dropped 11 percent, to $50.9 billion, from $57.4 billion last year, according to preliminary survey results released Sunday by the National Retail Federation. Sales fell despite many stores’ opening earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day.

And though many retailers offered the same aggressive discounts online as they did in their stores, the web failed to attract more shoppers or spending over the four-day holiday weekend than it did last year, the group said. The average person who shopped over the weekend spent $159.55 at online retailers, down 10.2 percent from last year.

No wonder there was less violence on Black Friday this year.

Traffic at retailers was way down.

Of course some analysts are trying to put a positive spin on all of this.  For example, the CEO of the National Retail Federation says that this could actually be a sign that the economy is improving

As the WSJ reports, NRF’s CEO Matt Shay attributed the drop to a combination of factors, including the fact that retailers moved promotions earlier this year in attempt to get people out sooner and avoid what happened last year when people didn’t finish their shopping because of bad weather.

Also did we mention the NRF is perpetually cheery and always desperate to put a metric ton of lipstick on a pig? Well, hold on to your hats folks:

He also attributed the declines to better online offerings and an improving economy where “people don’t feel the same psychological need to rush out and get the great deal that weekend, particularly if they expected to be more deals,” he said.

And of course the sprint vs marathon comparisons, such as this one: “The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon not a sprint,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. Odd how that metaphor is never used when the (seasonally-adjusted) sprint beats the marathoners.

So there you have it: a 11% collapse in retail spending has just been spun as super bullish for the US economy, whereby US consumers aren’t spending because the economy is simply too strong, and the only reason they don’t spend is because they will spend much more later. Or something.

The retail industry is absolutely brutal at this point.  It is flooded with very large competitors that are chasing fewer and fewer disposable dollars.

In order to thrive, retailers need financially healthy consumers.  But over time, U.S. consumers have been getting deeper and deeper into debt.  The chart posted below shows that consumer credit in the United States has doubled since the year 2000…

Consumer Credit 2014

Meanwhile, the long-term trend for real median household income since the year 2000 has been down…

Real Median Household Income 2014

In order for Americans to spend money, they have to make money first.

Unfortunately, the quality of our jobs continues to plummet.

As I have written about previously, 50 percent of all American workers currently make less than $28,031 a year at their jobs.  And here are some more numbers from a report that the Social Security Administration recently released…

-39 percent of American workers made less than $20,000 last year

-52 percent of American workers made less than $30,000 last year

-63 percent of American workers made less than $40,000 last year

-72 percent of American workers made less than $50,000 last year

So in order for a typical American family to bring in $50,000 a year or more both parents usually have to work.

Sometimes they both have to work more than one job.

And with the cost of living constantly rising, family budgets are being squeezed more than ever.  That is why families have less money to spend at retail stores these days.  For even more on the current financial condition of American families, please see my previous article entitled “Are You Better Off This Thanksgiving Than You Were Last Thanksgiving?

It is time for retailers in America to face the fact that economic conditions have fundamentally changed.  U.S. consumers simply are not in as good shape as they used to be.

In addition, online retailers are going to continue to steal sales from traditional retail locations.  This means that more stores are going to close and more retail space is going to be abandoned.

As I mentioned above, more than a billion square feet of retail space is aleady sitting vacant in the United States.  And retail consultant Howard Davidowitz is projecting that up to half of all shopping malls in the U.S. may shut down within the next couple of decades

Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America’s shopping malls to fail. He predicts that only upscale shopping centers with anchors like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus will survive.

In the years ahead, it is going to become normal to see boarded up strip malls and abandoned shopping centers all over the country.

The golden age of retail is over, and now most retailers will have to work incredibly hard to survive the apocalypse that is unfolding right before our eyes.

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

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