The Beginning Of The End
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Economists: The U.S. Economy Shrank In Q1, But Better Days Are Just Around The Corner

Smiley Face - Photo by FlyingtigersiteDuring the first three months of this year, the U.S. economy contracted at a 1 percent annual rate.  Despite this, mainstream economists flooded the mainstream media with assurances that much better days are just around the corner on Thursday.  In fact, many of them boldly predicted that U.S. GDP would grow at a 3 or 4 percent annual rate in the second quarter.  None of them seem the least bit concerned that another major recession is rapidly approaching.  Instead, they just blamed the bad number for the first quarter on a “severe winter“, and the financial markets responded to the GDP news quite cheerfully.  In fact, the S&P 500 soared to another brand new record high.  No matter how bad the numbers get, almost everyone in the financial world seems quite optimistic.  But is there actually good reason to have such optimism?

As Zero Hedge has pointed out, if it wasn’t for dramatically increased healthcare spending due to the implementation of Obamacare, U.S. GDP would have actually dropped at a 2 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2014.

That would have been an absolutely disastrous number.

But within a very short time of the revised U.S. GDP number being released, the mainstream media was inundated with positive stories about the news.

For example, CNN published a story entitled “U.S. economy shrinks, but it’s not a big deal” and CNBC released a survey of nine prominent economists that showed that their consensus forecast for the second quarter of 2014 is GDP growth at a 3.74 percent annual rate.

It just seems like almost everyone wants to forget about what happened during the first quarter and wants to look ahead to a great number for quarter two.

Joseph Lavorgna, the chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, is boldly forecasting a 4 percent growth rate for the second quarter.  So is Jim O’Sullivan.  In fact, it is hard to find any “expert” in the mainstream media that does not expect rip-roaring economic growth this quarter.

For example, just check out these quotes…

-Stuart Hoffman, the chief economist for PNC Bank: “The first quarter was disappointing, but rather than view that as an omen of a recession or the first of a down leg in the economy, I see the seeds of a big bounce back in spring.”

-Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics: “For those worried about a recession, it’s worth remembering that employment increased by nearly 300,000 in April.”

-The Bank of Tokyo’s Chris Rupkey: “2Q growth seen at nearly 4%… Weak 1Q is stone cold dead as an indicator of where the economy is headed.”

-Jan Hatzius of Goldman Sachs: “Because of weaker inventory investment in Q1, we increased our Q2 GDP tracking estimate by two-tenths to 3.9%.”

-Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. CEO Jeffrey Stibel: “Using an alternative model for projecting job growth, we see an entirely different scenario, one in which the U.S. unemployment rate will fall below 5 percent by no later than the middle of next year.”

Hopefully they are right.

Hopefully we are not heading into another recession.

But as I discussed in an article earlier this week, evidence continues to mount that another recession has already begun for much of the country.

And there was another number that was released today that seems to confirm this.  According to CNBC, there was a 6 percent drop in exports in the first quarter of 2014 when compared to the first quarter of 2013…

The U.S. economic reversal was led by a 6 percent drop in exports year over year, until recently hailed as a key driver of the U.S. recovery, and which had risen 9.5 percent in the last three months of 2013.

The slackening of trade has spread to the developing world, where emerging economies are seeing less demand from the U.S., Europe and China for raw materials and other exports.

We saw a similar decline happen in mid-2008 as the U.S. economy plunged into recession.

And Bloomberg’s Consumer Comfort index has fallen to the lowest level that we have seen in six months.  U.S. consumers are increasingly tapped out, and the ongoing “retail apocalypse” is evidence of that fact.

A declining middle class simply cannot support the massive retail infrastructure that America has developed.  As the middle class has fallen to pieces, it was just a matter of time before big trouble started erupting for the retail industry.  This is something that David Stockman recently wrote about…

It does not take much analysis to see that these bell ringers do not represent sustainable prosperity unfolding across the land. For example, around 1990 real median income was $56k per household and now, 25 years later, its just $51k—-meaning that main street living standards have plunged by about 9% during the last quarter century. But what has not dropped is the opportunity for Americans to drop shopping: square footage per capita during the same period more than doubled, rising from 19 square feet per capita at the earlier date to 47 at present.

This complete contradiction—declining real living standards and soaring investment in retail space—did not occur due to some embedded irrational impulse in America to speculate in real estate, or because capitalism has an inherent tendency to go off the deep-end. The fact that in equally “prosperous” Germany today there is only 12 square feet of retail space per capita is an obvious tip-off, and this is not a teutonic aberration. America’s prize-winning number of 47 square feet of retail space per capita is 3-8X higher than anywhere else in the developed world!

Without middle class jobs, you can’t have a middle class.  That is why our employment crisis is at the very heart of our economic problems.  Even using the government’s highly manipulated unemployment figures, there are still quite a few cities out there that have official unemployment rates in the double digits

The unemployment rate in Yuma, Ariz., is 23.8%. In El Centro, Calif., it is 21.6%. El Centro sits in an area of California in which unemployment in many metro areas is double the national average. In Merced the figure is 14.3%, in Yuba City the figure is 14.5%, in Hanford it is 13.1% and in Visalia it is 13.4%. In several metros close to these, the figure is above 10%. Most of them are inland from San Francisco and the area just south of it, which also happens to be among the nation’s most drought-plagued regions. This means jobs recovery is highly unlikely.

But of course the truth is that if the government actually used honest numbers, the unemployment rate for the entire nation would be in double digits.

And as I like to remind people, according to the government’s own numbers approximately 20 percent of the families in the entire nation do not have a single member that is employed.

So how is it possible that the “unemployment rate” is just a little above 6 percent?

It is a giant sham.

But that is what they want.

They want us feeling good and thinking that everything is going to be okay.

Unfortunately, they used the same approach back in 2007 and 2008, and we all remember how that turned out.

Share This Chart With Anyone That Believes The U.S. Economy Is Not Going To Crash

Total Debt Growth vs. GDP GrowthAnyone that thinks that the U.S. economy can keep going along like this is absolutely crazy.  We are in the terminal phase of an unprecedented debt spiral which has allowed us to live far, far beyond our means for the last several decades.  Unfortunately, all debt spirals eventually end, and they usually do so in a very disorderly manner.  The chart that you are about to see is one of my favorite economic charts.  It compares the growth of U.S. GDP to the growth of total debt in the United States.  Yes, U.S. GDP has certainly grown at a decent pace over the years, but our total debt has absolutely exploded.  40 years ago, the total amount of debt in our system (government debt + corporate debt + consumer debt, etc.) was about 2 trillion dollars.  Today it has grown to more than 56 trillion dollars.  Our debt has grown at a much, much faster rate than our economy has, and there is no way in the world that we will be able to continue to do that for long.

Posted below is the chart that I was talking about.  The blue line is our total debt, and the red line is our GDP.  As you can see, this chart kind of speaks for itself…

Total Debt Growth vs. GDP Growth

So how did we get here?

Well, of course the federal government has been the biggest offender.  It would be a tremendous understatement to say that the politicians in Washington D.C. have been reckless.  Since the year 2000, the size of the U.S. national debt has grown by more than 11 trillion dollars.

Posted below is a chart that demonstrates the dramatic growth of the national debt as a percentage of GDP.  In particular, our debt has absolutely exploded as a percentage of GDP since the financial crisis of 2008…

National Debt As A Percentage Of GDP

Does that look sustainable to you?

Of course it isn’t.

Right now, the mainstream media is very excited that the federal budget deficit for this year might be less than a trillion dollars, but they are really missing the point.  The debt of the U.S. government is still growing much, much faster than the economy is, and the United States already has more government debt per capita than Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain.

What we are doing to future generations is absolutely criminal.  We are piling up mountains of debt that will haunt them for the rest of their lives just so that we can make the present a little bit more pleasant for ourselves.

As I noted in another article, during Obama’s first term the federal government accumulated more debt than it did under the first 42 U.S presidents combined.  And now we are entering a time period when demographic forces are going to put a tremendous amount of pressure on the finances of the federal government.

The Baby Boomers have started to retire, and they are going to want to start collecting on all of the financial promises that we have made to them.

As I have written about previously, the number of Americans on Medicare is projected to grow from a little bit more than 50 million today to 73.2 million in 2025.

The number of Americans collecting Social Security benefits is projected to grow from about 56 million today to 91 million in 2035.

Where are we going to get the money to pay for all of that?

Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff has calculated that the U.S. government is facing unfunded liabilities of 222 trillion dollars in the years ahead.

There is no simply no way that the U.S. government is going to be able to meet those obligations without wildly printing up money.

And of course the federal government is not the only one with massive debt problems.  We just saw the city of Detroit go bankrupt, and there are lots of other communities all over the nation that could soon follow.

Posted below is a chart that shows the growth of state and local government debt over the years.  In particular, please take note that the total amount of state and local government debt has grown from about 1.2 trillion dollars in the year 2000 to about 3 trillion dollars today…

State And Local Government Debt

But the chart posted above does not even take into account the massive unfunded pension obligations that state and local governments are facing.  According to the Detroit Free Press, state governments are facing unfunded pension obligations of nearly a trillion and a half dollars…

From Baltimore to Los Angeles, and many points in between, municipalities are increasingly confronted with how to pay for these massive promises. The Pew Center for the States, in Washington, estimated states’ public pension plans across the U.S. were underfunded by a whopping $1.4 trillion in 2010.

And many large cities are dealing with similar situations.  Detroit was the first to go down, but could Chicago or Los Angeles eventually be forced to declare bankruptcy too?…

Chicago recently saw its credit rating downgraded because of a $19-billion unfunded pension liability that the ratings service Moody’s puts closer to $36 billion. And Los Angeles could be facing a liability of more than $30 billion, by some estimates.

According to a report that was released earlier this year, the largest U.S. cities are facing hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities at this point…

Early this year, the Pew Center released a survey showing that 61 of the nation’s largest cities — limiting the survey to the largest city in each state and all other cities with more than 500,000 people — had a gap of more than $217 billion in unfunded pension and health care liabilities. While cities had long promised health care, life insurance and other benefits to retirees, “few … started saving to cover the long-term costs,” the report said.

So where will all of that money come from?

That is a good question, and nobody has an easy answer at this point.

Meanwhile, U.S. consumers have been racking up staggering amounts of debt over the past several decades.  Just consider the following numbers…

-Total home mortgage debt in the United States is now about 5 times larger than it was just 20 years ago.

-Car loans just keep getting longer and longer, and approximately 70 percent of all car purchases in the United States now involve an auto loan.

-The total amount of student loan debt in America recently surpassed the one trillion dollar mark.

-One study discovered that approximately 41 percent of all working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt, and according to a report published in The American Journal of Medicine medical bills are a major factor in more than 60 percent of the personal bankruptcies in the United States.

-Consumer debt in the United States has risen by a whopping 1700% since 1971, and 46% of all Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month.

Sadly, most people don’t realize how damaging credit card debt can be.  If you just carry an “average balance” on your credit cards each month, and those credit cards have just an “average” interest rate, you could end up paying millions of dollars to the credit card companies by the end of your life…

Let’s say you are an average American household, and you carry an average balance of $15,956 in credit card debt.

Also, as an average American household, let’s assume you pay an average current rate of 12.83%.

Finally, let’s assume you carry this average balance for 40 years, between ages 25 and 65.  How much did your credit card company make off of you and your extreme averageness?

Answer: $2,629,618.64

Incredibly, a large percentage of the population does not seem to understand these things.  An astounding 43 percent of all American families spend more than they earn each year.

Are you starting to understand why approximately half of all Americans die broke?

We are a nation that is completely and addicted to debt.

If you do not believe that it will ever catch up with us you are being delusional.

We have piled up the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the planet, and a day of reckoning is fast approaching.

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