The American Dream Is Getting Smaller, And The Reason Why Is Painfully Obvious…

Over the past decade, an unprecedented stock market boom has created thousands upon thousands of new millionaires, and yet the middle class in America has continued to shrink.  How is that even possible?  At one time the United States had the largest and most vibrant middle class in the history of the planet, but now the gap between the wealthy and the poor is the largest that it has been since the 1920s.  Our economy has been creating lots of new millionaires, but at the exact same time we have seen homelessness spiral out of control in our major cities.  Today, being part of the middle class is like playing a really bizarre game of musical chairs.  Each month when the music stops playing, those of us still in the middle class desperately hope that we are not among the ones that slip out of the middle class and into poverty.  Well over 100 million Americans receive money or benefits from the federal government each month, and that includes approximately 40 percent of all families with children.  We are losing our ability to take care of ourselves, and that has frightening implications for the future of our society.

One of the primary reasons why our system doesn’t work for everyone is because virtually everything has been financialized.  In other words, from the cradle to the grave the entire system has been designed to get you into debt so that the fruits of your labor can be funneled to the top of the pyramid and make somebody else wealthier.  The following comes from an excellent Marketwatch article entitled “The American Dream is getting smaller”

More worrying, perhaps: 33% of those surveyed said they think that dream is disappearing. Why? They have too much debt. “Americans believe financial security is at the core of the American Dream, but it is alarming that so many think it is beyond their reach,” said Mike Fanning, head of MassMutual U.S.

Almost everyone that will read this article will have debt.  In America today, we are trained to go into debt for just about everything.

If you want a college education, you go into debt.

If you want a vehicle, you go into debt.

If you want a home, you go into debt.

If you want that nice new pair of shoes, you don’t have to wait for it.  Just go into more debt.

As a result, most Americans are currently up to their necks in red ink

Some 64% of those surveyed said they have a mortgage, 56% said they had credit-card debt and 26% said they have student-loan debt. Many surveyed said they don’t feel financially secure. More than a quarter said they wish they had better control of their finances.

You would have thought that we would have learned from the very hard lessons that the crisis of 2008 taught us.

But instead, we have been on the greatest debt binge in American history in recent years.  Here is more from the Marketwatch article

It makes sense that debt is on Americans’ minds. Collectively, Americans have more than $1 trillion in credit-card debt, according to the Federal Reserve. They have another $1.5 trillion in student loans, up from $1.1 trillion in 2013. Motor vehicle loans are now topping $1.1 trillion, up from $878.5 billion in 2013. And they have another nearly $15 trillion in mortgage debt outstanding.

That is one huge pile of debt.

We criticize the federal government for running up 21 trillion dollars in debt, and rightly so, but American consumers have been almost as irresponsible on an individual basis.

As long as you are drowning in debt, you will never become wealthy.  In order to build wealth, you have got to spend less than you earn, but most Americans never learn basic fundamentals such as this in our rapidly failing system of public education.

Many Americans long to become financially independent, but they don’t understand that our system is rigged against them.  The entire game is all about keeping consumers on that debt wheel endlessly chasing that piece of proverbial cheese until it is too late.

Getting out of debt is one of the biggest steps that you can take to give yourself more freedom, and hopefully this article will inspire many to do just that.

To end this article today, I would like to share 14 facts about how the middle class in America is shrinking that I shared in a previous article

#1 78 million Americans are participating in the “gig economy” because full-time jobs just don’t pay enough to make ends meet these days.

#2 In 2011, the average home price was 3.56 times the average yearly salary in the United States.  But by the time 2017 was finished, the average home price was 4.73 times the average yearly salary in the United States.

#3 In 1980, the average American worker’s debt was 1.96 times larger than his or her monthly salary.  Today, that number has ballooned to 5.00.

#4 In the United States today, 66 percent of all jobs pay less than 20 dollars an hour.

#5 102 million working age Americans do not have a job right now.  That number is higher than it was at any point during the last recession.

#6 Earnings for low-skill jobs have stayed very flat for the last 40 years.

#7 Americans have been spending more money than they make for 28 months in a row.

#8 In the United States today, the average young adult with student loan debt has a negative net worth.

#9 At this point, the average American household is nearly $140,000 in debt.

#10 Poverty rates in U.S. suburbs “have increased by 50 percent since 1990”.

#11 Almost 51 million U.S. households “can’t afford basics like rent and food”.

#12 The bottom 40 percent of all U.S. households bring home just 11.4 percent of all income.

#13 According to the Federal Reserve, 4 out of 10 Americans do not have enough money to cover an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing the money or selling something they own.

#14 22 percent of all Americans cannot pay all of their bills in a typical month.

This article originally appeared on The Economic Collapse Blog.  About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is publisher of The Most Important News and the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

The Number Of Americans Living In Their Vehicles “Explodes” As The Middle Class Continues To Disappear

If the U.S. economy is really doing so well, then why is homelessness rising so rapidly?  As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase, the middle class is steadily eroding.  In fact, I recently gave my readers 15 signs that the middle class in America is being systematically destroyed.  More Americans are falling out of the middle class and into poverty with each passing day, and this is one of the big reasons why the number of homeless is surging.  For example, the number of people living on the street in L.A. has shot up 75 percent over the last 6 years.  But of course L.A. is far from alone.  Other major cities on the west coast are facing similar problems, and that includes Seattle.  It turns out that the Emerald City has seen a 46 percent rise in the number of people sleeping in their vehicles in just the past year

The number of people who live in their vehicles because they can’t find affordable housing is on the rise, even though the practice is illegal in many U.S. cities.

The number of people residing in campers and other vehicles surged 46 percent over the past year, a recent homeless census in Seattle’s King County, Washington found. The problem is “exploding” in cities with expensive housing markets, including Los Angeles, Portland and San Francisco, according to Governing magazine.

Amazon, Microsoft and other big tech companies are in the Seattle area.  It is a region that is supposedly “prospering”, and yet this is going on.

Sadly, it isn’t just major urban areas that are seeing more people sleeping in their vehicles.  Over in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, many of the homeless sleep in their vehicles even in the middle of winter

Stephanie Monroe, managing director of Children Youth & Family Services at Volunteers of America, Dakotas, tells a similar story. At least 25 percent of the non-profit’s Sioux Falls clients have lived in their vehicles at some point, even during winter’s sub-freezing temperatures.

“Many of our communities don’t have formal shelter services,” she said in an interview. “It can lead to individuals resorting to living in their cars or other vehicles.”

It is time to admit that we have a problem.  The number of homeless in this country is surging, and we need to start coming up with some better solutions.

But instead, many communities are simply passing laws that make it illegal for people to sleep in their vehicles…

A recent survey by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), which tracks policies in 187 cities, found the number of prohibitions against vehicle residency has more than doubled during the last decade.

Those laws aren’t going to solve anything.

At best, they will just encourage some of the homeless to go somewhere else.

And if our homelessness crisis is escalating this dramatically while the economy is supposedly “growing”, how bad are things going to be once the next recession officially begins?

We live at a time when the cost of living is soaring but our paychecks are not.  As a result, middle class families are being squeezed like never before.

A recent Marketwatch article highlighted the plight of California history teacher Matt Barry and his wife Nicole…

Barry’s wife, Nicole, teaches as well — they each earn $69,000, a combined salary that not long ago was enough to afford a comfortable family life. But due to the astronomical costs in his area, including real estate — a 1,500-square-foot “starter home” costs $680,000 — driving for Uber was a necessity.

“Teachers are killing themselves,” Barry says in Alissa Quart’s new book, “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America” (Ecco), out Tuesday. “I shouldn’t be having to drive Uber at eight o’clock at night on a weekday. I just shut down from the mental toll: grading papers between rides, thinking of what I could be doing instead of driving — like creating a curriculum.”

Home prices are completely out of control, but that bubble should soon burst.

However, other elements of our cost of living are only going to become even more painful.  Health care costs rise much faster than the rate of inflation every year, food prices are becoming incredibly ridiculous, and the cost of a college education is off the charts.  According to author Alissa Quart, living a middle class life is “30% more expensive” than it was two decades ago…

“Middle-class life is now 30% more expensive than it was 20 years ago,” Quart writes, citing the costs of housing, education, health care and child care in particular. “In some cases the cost of daily life over the last 20 years has doubled.”

And thanks to the trade war, prices are going to start going up more rapidly than we have seen in a very long time.

On Tuesday, we learned that diaper and toilet paper prices are rising again

Procter & Gamble said on Tuesday that it was in the process of raising Pampers’ prices in North America by 4%. P&G also began notifying retailers this week that it would increase the average prices of Bounty, Charmin, and Puffs by 5%.

P&G is raising prices because commodity and transportation cost pressures are intensifying. The hikes to Bounty and Charmin will go into effect in late October, and Puffs will become more expensive beginning early next year.

I wish that I had better news for you, but I don’t.  We are all going to have to work harder, smarter and more efficiently.  And we are definitely going to have to tighten our belts.

Many middle class families are relying on debt to get them from month to month, and consumer debt in the United States has surged to an all-time high.  But eventually a day of reckoning comes, and we all understand that.

The U.S. economy is not going to be getting any better than it is right now.  So it is time to be a lean, mean saving machine, because it will be important to have a financial cushion for the hard times that are ahead of us.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is publisher of The Most Important News and the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos And Warren Buffett Have More Money Than The Poorest 50% Of The U.S. Population Combined

The problem is not that we have a few people that are rich – the problem is that we have so many that are poor.  As you will see below, three extremely wealthy individuals have as much money as the poorest half of the nation combined.  In a free market capitalist society, there are always going to be some that do better than others, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But in our society today, there are so few that are doing well.  At this point a majority of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and “one in five households have zero or negative net worth”

In the United States, the 400 richest individuals now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population and the three richest own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent, while pervasive poverty means one in five households have zero or negative net worth.

Those are just several of the striking findings of Billionaire Bonanza 2017, a new report (pdf) published Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) that explores in detail the speed with which the U.S. is becoming “a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power.”

That means that if you have no debt and a single dime in your pockets, you have more wealth than one-fifth of the entire country.

Okay, so let’s talk about the three men that have more wealth than the poorest 50 percent of the U.S. population combined.  Those three men are Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, and Warren Buffett.  I don’t want to take anything away from what those three have accomplished, because we need more risk takers and entrepreneurs.

Sadly, the level of small business creation has fallen in every presidential administration going all the way back to George H.W. Bush, and the percentage of Americans that are self-employed is hovering near all-time record lows.

As a nation, we desperately need to return to a culture that encourages free market capitalist thinking.  We want young men and women to create, invent, innovate and start new ventures.  But instead, today our culture encourages young people to become dependent on the government and on the big corporations, and as a result the middle class is evaporating.

As I discussed above, at this point 20 percent of all U.S. households have “either zero or negative wealth”

The rise at the wealthiest end of society comes as one in five US households live in what the report’s authors call the “underwater nation”, with either zero or negative wealth. Inequality is even more stark among minorities. Three in 10 black households and 27% of Latino ones have zero or negative wealth, compared with 14% of white families.

In recent years, unprecedented intervention by global central banks has created an absolutely enormous stock market bubble, but the real economy has continued to struggle.

Just look at what is happening to Sears.  This week they announced that they lost between $525 million and $595 million during the 3rd quarter of 2017.

How in the world do you do that?

If they had their employees doing nothing all day but flushing one dollar bills down the toilet, I still don’t think that they could lose that much money in three months.

Sears is going to sell 140 stores in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, but many believe that this is simply delaying the inevitable.  In fact, one prominent analyst named Bill Dreher believes that Sears will never be profitable again

One Wall Street analyst is beginning to doubt whether Sears Holdings will ever be profitable again, as the 124-year-old retailer struggles for liquidity and same-store sales evaporate.

“Sears’ operational performance is clearly NOT improving, and we grow increasingly concerned whether the company will ever return to profitability,” wrote Susquehanna analyst Bill Dreher in a note to clients Wednesday. “Further highlighting the company’s weakened position is the reality that manufacturers are increasingly demanding tighter payment and/or withholding products.”

Once upon a time, Sears was the number one shopping destination for the middle class.

But like the middle class in America, the best days for Sears are now long gone.

If we want to restore our economy to greatness, we need a vibrant middle class.

And in order to have a vibrant middle class, we need to have a system that encourages entrepreneurs and small businesses.  Free markets work if you allow them to, but unfortunately today we are strangling our entrepreneurs and small businesses with rules, regulations, red tape and oppressive levels of taxation, and until we change our ways we are going to continue to get the same very poor results.

Michael Snyder is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website. His new book entitled “Living A Life That Really Matters” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

2016 Market Meltdown: We Have Never Seen A Year Start Quite Like This…

Time Abstract - Public DomainWe are about three weeks into 2016, and we are witnessing things that we have never seen before.  There were two emergency market shutdowns in China within the first four trading days of this year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has never lost this many points within the first three weeks, and just yesterday we learned that global stocks had officially entered bear market territory.  Overall, more than 15 trillion dollars of global stock market wealth has been wiped out since last June.  And of course the markets are simply playing catch up with global economic reality.  The Baltic Dry Index just hit another new all-time record low today, Wal-Mart has announced that they are shutting down 269 stores, and initial jobless claims in the U.S. just surged to their highest level in six months.  So if things are this bad already, what will the rest of 2016 bring?

The Dow was up just a little bit on Thursday thankfully, but even with that gain we are still in unprecedented territory.  According to CNBC, we have never seen a tougher start to the year for the Dow than we have in 2016…

The Dow Jones industrial average, which was created in 1896, has never begun a year with 12 worse trading days. Through Wednesday’s close, the Dow has fallen 9.5 percent. Even including the 1.3 percent gains as of noon Thursday, the Dow is still down nearly 8 percent in 2016.

But even with the carnage that we have seen so far, stocks are still wildly overpriced compared to historical averages.  In order for stocks to no longer be in a “bubble”, they will still need to decline by about another one-third.  The following comes from MarketWatch

Data from the U.S. Federal Reserve, meanwhile, say U.S. nonfinancial corporate stocks are now valued at about 90% of the replacement cost of company assets, a metric known as “Tobin’s Q.” But the historic average, going back a century, is in the region of 60% of replacement costs. By this measure, stocks could fall by another third, taking the Dow all the way down toward 10,000. (On Wednesday it closed at 15,767.) Similar calculations could be reached by comparing share prices to average per-share earnings, a measure known as the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio, commonly known as CAPE, after Yale finance professor Robert Shiller, who made it famous.

Of course the mainstream media doesn’t seem to understand any of this.  They seem to be under the impression that the bubble should have lasted forever, and this latest meltdown has taken them totally by surprise.

Ultimately, what is happening should not be a surprise to any of us.  The financial markets always catch up with economic reality eventually, and right now evidence continues to mount that economic activity is significantly slowing down.  Here is some analysis from Brandon Smith

Trucking freight in the U.S. is in steep decline, with freight companies pointing to a “glut in inventories” and a fall in demand as the culprit.

Morgan Stanley’s freight transportation update indicates a collapse in freight demand worse than that seen during 2009.

The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of global freight rates and thus a measure of global demand for shipping of raw materials, has collapsed to even more dismal historic lows. Hucksters in the mainstream continue to push the lie that the fall in the BDI is due to an “overabundance of new ships.” However, the CEO of A.P. Moeller-Maersk, the world’s largest shipping line, put that nonsense to rest when he admitted in November that “global growth is slowing down” and “[t]rade is currently significantly weaker than it normally would be under the growth forecasts we see.”

In addition, another very troubling sign is the fact that initial jobless claims are starting to surge once again

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits in mid-January reached seven-month highs, perhaps a sign that the rate of layoffs in the U.S. has risen slightly from record lows.

Initial jobless claims climbed a seasonally adjusted 10,000 to 293,000 in the seven days stretching from Jan. 10 to Jan 16, the government said Thursday. That’s the highest level since last July.

Since the last recession, the primary engine for the creation of good jobs in this country has been the energy industry.

Unfortunately, the “oil boomtowns” are now going bust, and workers are being laid off in droves.  As I mentioned the other day42 North American oil companies have filed for bankruptcy and 130,000 good paying energy jobs have been lost in this country since the start of 2015.  And as long as the price of oil stays in this neighborhood, the worse things are going to get.

A lot of people out there still seem to think that this is just going to be a temporary downturn.  Many are convinced that we will just go through another tough recession and then we will come out okay on the other side.  What they don’t realize is that a number of long-term trends are now reaching a crescendo.

For decades, we have been living wildly beyond our means.  The federal government, state and local governments, corporations and consumers have all been going into debt far faster than our economy has been growing.  Of course this was never going to be sustainable in the long run, but we had been doing it for so long that many of us had come to believe that our exceedingly reckless debt-fueled prosperity was somehow “normal”.

Unfortunately, the truth is that you can’t consume far more than you produce forever.  Eventually reality catches up with you.  This is a point that Simon Black made extremely well in one of his recent articles…

Economics isn’t complicated. The Universal Law of Prosperity is very simple: produce more than you consume.

Governments, corporations, and individuals all have to abide by it. Those who do will thrive. Those who don’t will fail, sooner or later.

When the entire financial system ignores this fundamental rule, it puts us all at risk.

And if you can understand that, you can take simple, sensible steps to prevent the consequences.

Sadly, the time for avoiding the consequences of our actions is now past.

We are now starting to pay the price for decades of incredibly bone-headed decisions, and anyone that is looking to Barack Obama, the Federal Reserve or anyone else in Washington D.C. to be our savior is going to be bitterly disappointed.

And as bad as things have been so far, just wait until you see what happens next.

2016 is the year when everything changes.

Welcome To The New Normal: The Dow Crashes Another 390 Points And Wal-Mart Closes 269 Stores

Welcome to the new normalDid you know that 15 trillion dollars of global stock market wealth has been wiped out since last June?  The worldwide financial crisis that began in the middle of last year is starting to spin wildly out of control.  On Friday, the Dow plunged another 390 points, and it is now down a total of 1,437 points since the beginning of this calendar year.  Never before in U.S. history have stocks ever started a year this badly.  The same thing can be said in Europe, where stocks have now officially entered bear market territory.  As I discussed yesterday, the economic slowdown and financial unraveling that we are witnessing are truly global in scope.  Banks are failing all over the continent, and I expect major European banks to start making some huge headlines not too long from now.  And of course let us not forget about China.  On Friday the Shanghai Composite declined another 3.6 percent, and overall it is now down more than 20 percent from its December high.  Much of this chaos has been driven by the continuing crash of the price of oil.  As I write this article, it has dipped below 30 dollars a barrel, and many of the big banks are projecting that it still has much farther to fall.

The other night, Barack Obama got up in front of the American people and proclaimed that anyone that was saying that the economy was not recovering was peddling fiction.  Well, if the U.S. economy is doing so great, then why in the world has Wal-Mart decided to shut down 269 stores?…

Walmart (WMT) will close 269 stores around the world in a strategic move to focus more on its supercenters and e-commerce business, the company said Friday.

The closures include 154 U.S. locations, encompassing Walmart’s entire fleet of 102 ‘Express’ format stores, its smallest stores that have been in pilot testing since 2011. Some supercenters, Sam’s Club locations and Neighborhood Markets will also close, plus 115 stores in Latin American markets. The closures were decided based on financial performance and how well the locations fit with Walmart’s broader strategy, says Greg Hitt, a company spokesman.

We have grown accustomed to other major retailers shutting down stores, but this is Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart doesn’t retreat.  For decades, Wal-Mart has been on a relentless march forward.  They have been an unstoppable juggernaut that has expanded extremely aggressively and that has ruthlessly crushed the competition.

I was absolutely stunned when I saw that they were going to close down 269 stores.  If you want to know if your local store is in danger, you can view the full list right here.

Overall, 10,000 Wal-Mart employees will be affected.  I could understand closing down a few underperforming stores, but if the U.S. economy truly is in great shape then it wouldn’t make any sense at all to shut down hundreds of stores.

What in the name of Sam Walton is going on out there?

The truth, of course, is that the U.S. economy is in great danger.  We have now entered the next great crisis, but most communities around the country never even recovered from the last one.  In fact, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a whopping 93 percent of all counties in the United States “have failed to fully recover” from the last recession…

More than six years after the economic expansion began, 93% of counties in the U.S. have failed to fully recover from the blow they suffered during the recession.

Nationwide, 214 counties, or 7% of 3,069, had recovered last year to prerecession levels on four indicators: total employment, the unemployment rate, size of the economy and home values, a study from the National Association of Counties released Tuesday found.

The next few weeks are going to be very interesting to watch.  The economic fundamentals continue to deteriorate, and the financial markets are finally starting to catch up with economic reality.

As the collapse on Wall Street accelerates, we are going to increasingly see panic selling and forced liquidations.  In the past, it was mostly humans that had their hands on the controls during market crashes, but today the machines are making more of the decisions than ever before.  The following comes from CNBC

The new market age is decidedly different: Rather than that seething cacophony, aggressive corrections like the current ones are directed by a faceless metronome of computer-generated orders, triggering irresistible momentum and trillions in losses.

Amid it all, market veterans are left to ponder when the script will flip and market direction will turn not by newfound optimism among traders in the pits, but rather by algorithms that generate “buy” rather than “sell” signals.

It feels like sell program after sell program,” said Michael Cohn, chief market strategist at Atlantis Asset Management, a boutique firm in New York. “It seems to happen first thing in the morning, and then however the market transpires during the day is how they close it. If it looks like it’s coming back, they’ll take it at the end. If if looks like it’s heading lower, they’ll slam it at the end of the day.”

Earlier today, an article authored by Michael Pento entitled “A recession worse than 2008 is coming” was posted on CNBC.  Here is a short excerpt…

But a recession has occurred in the U.S. about every five years, on average, since the end of WWII; and it has been seven years since the last one — we are overdue.

Most importantly, the average market drop during the peak to trough of the last 6 recessions has been 37 percent. That would take the S&P 500 down to 1,300; if this next recession were to be just of the average variety.

But this one will be worse.

If stocks do drop a total of 37 percent, that would just bring them back to levels that would be considered “normal” or “average” by historical standards.  There is certainly the possibility that they could fall much farther than that.

And of course the markets are so incredibly fragile at this point that any sort of a “trigger event” could cause a collapse of epic proportions.

All it is going to take is a major disaster or emergency of some sort.

Do you have a feeling that something really bad is about to happen?  This is something that I have been hearing from people that I respect, and I would like to know if it is a phenomenon that is more widespread.  If you have been feeling something like this, please feel free to share it with us by posting a comment below…

The Dow Falls Another 364 Points And We Are Now Down 2200 Points From The Peak Of The Market

Falling - Public DomainIt was another day of utter carnage on Wall Street.  The Dow was down another 364 points, the S&P 500 broke below 1900, and the Nasdaq had a much larger percentage loss than either of them.  The Russell 2000 has now fallen 22 percent from the peak, and it has officially entered bear market territory.  After 13 days, this remains the worst start to a year for stocks ever, and trillions of dollars of stock market wealth has already been wiped out globally.  Meanwhile, junk bonds continue their collapse.  JNK got hammered all the way down to 33.06 as bond investors race for the exits.  In case you were wondering, this is exactly what a financial crisis look like.

Many of the “experts” had been proclaiming that “things are different this time” and that stocks could defy gravity forever.

Now we seeing that was not true at all.

So how far could stocks ultimately fall?

I have been telling my readers that stocks still need to fall about another 30 percent just to get to a level that is considered to be “normal” be historical standards, but the truth is that they could eventually fall much farther than that.

Just this week, Societe Generale economist Albert Edwards made headlines all over the world with his prediction that we could see the S&P 500 drop by a total of 75 percent…

If I am right and we have just seen a cyclical bull market within a secular bear market, then the next recession will spell real trouble for investors ill-prepared for equity valuations to fall to new lows. To bottom on a Shiller PE of 7x would see the S&P falling to around 550.

I will repeat that: If I am right, the S&P would fall to 550, a 75% decline from the recent 2100 peak. That obviously will be a catastrophe for the economy via the wealth effect and all the Fed’s QE hard work will turn dust.

That is why I believe the Fed will fight the next bear market with every weapon available including deeply negative Fed Funds rates in addition to more QE. Indeed, negative policy rates will become ubiquitous.

Most believe a 75% equity bear market to be impossible. But those same people said something similar prior to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. They, including the Fed, failed to predict the vulnerability of the US economy that would fall into deep recession, well before Lehman’s went bust in September 2008.

Other than stocks, there are three key areas that I want my readers to keep an eye on during the weeks ahead…

1. The Price Of Oil – The price of oil doesn’t have to go one penny lower to continue causing catastrophic damage in the financial world.  If we hover around 30 dollars a barrel, we will see more bankruptcies, more defaults, more layoffs and more carnage for energy stocks.  But of course it is quite conceivable that the price of oil could easily slide a lot farther.  Just check out some of the predictions that some of the biggest banks in the entire world are now making

Just this week Morgan Stanley warned that the super-strong U.S. dollar could drive crude oil to $20 a barrel. Not to be outdone, Royal Bank of Scotland said $16 is on the horizon, comparing the current market mood to the days before the implosion of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Standard Chartered doesn’t think those dire predictions are dark enough. The British bank said in a new research report that oil prices could collapse to as low as $10 a barrel — a level unseen since November 2001.

2. Junk Bonds – This is something that I have written about repeatedly.  Right now, we are witnessing an epic collapse of the junk bond market, just like we did just prior to the great stock market crash of 2008.  As I mentioned above, Wednesday was a particularly brutal day for junk bonds, and Jeffrey Gundlach seems convinced that the worst is still yet to come…

He seemed to leave his most dire predictions for junk bonds, a part of the market he’s been bearish on for years. Gundlach believes hedge funds investing in risky debts face major liquidity risks if they are forced to exit positions amid investor redemptions. “We could be looking at a real ugly situation in the first quarter of 2016,” Gundlach said on a Tuesday call with investors, when referring to redemptions.

Because many hedge funds operate with leverage, he raised an alarming prospect that those who don’t redeem could be left with losses far more severe than their marks indicate. As the Federal Reserve raises rates, redemptions combined with tightening credit conditions could create major pricing dislocations.

3. Emerging Markets – We have not seen money being pulled out of emerging markets at this kind of rate in decades.  We are seeing a repeat of the conditions that caused the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s and the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s.  Only this time what we are witnessing is truly global in scope, and central bankers are beginning to panic.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

Last year was a terrible year, probably worse than 2009,” the head of Mexico’s central bank told a conference of central bankers in Paris on Tuesday. It was the first year since 1988 that emerging markets saw net capital outflows, according to the Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based association of global banks and finance houses.

In December more than $3.1 billion fled emerging market funds. If anything, the New Year has been worse.

“I don’t have any data yet for the first week of 2016 but it’s probably going to be very, very, very bad,” Carstens said. If conditions do not improve, he warned, central banks in emerging markets may have little choice but to adopt a more “radical” approach to monetary policy, including intervening in domestic bonds and securities markets.

In addition to everything that I just shared with you, we got several other very troubling pieces of news on Wednesday…

-Canadian stocks continued their dramatic plunge and have now officially entered a bear market.

-PC sales just hit an eight year low.

-GoPro just announced that it is getting rid of 7 percent of its total workforce.

The bad news is coming fast and furious now.  The snowball that started rolling downhill about halfway last year has set off an avalanche, and panic has gripped the financial marketplace.

But my readers knew all of this was coming in advance.  What we are witnessing right now is simply the logical extension of trends that have been building for months.  The global financial crisis that started during the second half of 2015 is now bludgeoning Wall Street mercilessly, and investors are in panic mode.

So what comes next?

We have never seen a year start like this, so it is hard to say.  And if there is some sort of a major “trigger event” in our near future, we could see some single day crashes that make history.

Either way, the hounds have now been released, and it is going to be exceedingly difficult to get them back into the barn.

What Really Happened In 2015, And What Is Coming In 2016…

2015 2016 - Public DomainA lot of people were expecting some really big things to happen in 2015, and most of them did not happen.  But what did happen?  It is my contention that a global financial crisis began during the second half of 2015, and it threatens to greatly accelerate as we enter 2016.  During the last six months of the year that just ended, financial markets all over the planet crashed, trillions of dollars of global wealth was wiped out, and some of the largest economies in the world plunged into recession.  Here in the United States, 2015 was the worst year for stocks since 2008, nearly 70 percent of all investors lost money last year, and it is being projected that the final numbers will show that close to 1,000 hedge funds permanently shut down within the last 12 months.  This is what the early stages of a financial crisis look like, and the worst is yet to come.

If we were entering another 2008-style crisis, we would expect to see junk bonds crashing.  When financial trouble starts, it usually doesn’t start with the biggest and strongest companies.  Instead, it usually starts percolating on the periphery.  And right now bonds of firms that are considered to be on the risky side of things are rapidly losing value.

In the chart below, you can see that a high yield bond ETF that I track very closely known as JNK started crashing in the middle of 2008.  This crash began to unfold before the horrific crash of stocks in the fall.  Investors that saw junk bonds crashing in advance and pulled their money out of stocks in time saved an enormous amount of money.

Now, for the very first time since the last financial crisis, we are seeing junk bonds crash again.  In December, there was finally a sustained crash through the psychologically-important 35.00 level, and at this point JNK is sitting a bit below 34.00.  This stunning decline is a giant red flag that tells us that stocks will soon follow in the exact same direction…

JNK

In 2015, Third Avenue Management shocked Wall Street when they froze withdrawals from a 788 million dollar mutual fund that was highly focused on junk bonds.  Investors that couldn’t get their money out began to panic, and other mutual funds now find themselves under siege.  If junk bonds continue to crash, this will just be the beginning of the carnage.

One of the big reasons why junk bonds are crashing is because of the crash in the price of oil.  Over the past 18 months, the price of oil has plummeted from $108 a barrel to $37 a barrel.

There has only been one other time in all of history when we have ever seen an oil price crash of this magnitude. That was in 2008 – just before the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression…

Oil - Federal Reserve

Why can’t people see the parallels?

Crashes are happening all around us, and yet so many of the “experts” seem completely blind to what is going on.

Unlike 2008, the price of oil is not expected to rapidly rebound any time soon.  The following comes from CNN

Crude prices dropped a whopping 35% last year and are hovering around $37 a barrel. That’s a level not seen since the global financial crisis.

It won’t get better any time soon. Most oil experts believe prices will bounce back in late 2016, but they expect more pain first.

Goldman Sachs forecasts that oil will average about $38 a barrel in February, even lower than for most of 2015.

Meanwhile, the prices of industrial commodities have been crashing as well.  For example, the chart below shows that the price of copper started crashing hard just before the great financial crisis of 2008, and the exact same thing is happening once again right before our very eyes…

Price Of Copper

Things are unfolding just as we would expect they would during the initial stages of a new global financial crisis.

And we have already seen a full blown stock market crash in many of the largest economies around the planet.  For instance, just look at what has been happening in Brazil.  The Brazilians have the 7th largest economy in the world, and Goldman Sachs says that they have plunged into an “outright depression“.  In the chart below, you can see the sharp downturn that took place in August, and Brazilian stocks actually kept falling all the way through the end of 2015…

Brazil Stock Market

We see a similar thing when we look at our neighbor to the north.  Canada has the 11th largest economy on the entire planet, and I recently wrote a lengthy article about the economic difficulties that the Canadians are now facing.  2015 was a very bad year for Canadian stocks as well, and they just kept falling steadily all the way through December…

Canada Stock Market

Of course nobody can forget what happened to China.  The Chinese have the second largest economy on the globe, and news about their economic slowdown in making headlines almost every single day now.

Last summer, Chinese stocks crashed about 40 percent, and they did manage to bounce back just a bit since then. But they are still down about 30 percent from the peak of the market…

China Stock Market

And there is plenty more that we could talk about.  European stocks just had their second worst December ever, and Japanese stocks are down about 500 points in early trading as I write this article.

Here in the United States, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Dow Transports, the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 all had their worst years since 2008.  As I mentioned the other day674 hedge funds shut down during the first nine months of 2015, and it is being projected that the final total for the year will be up around 1000.

But we aren’t hearing much about this financial carnage on the news yet, are we?

Many people that I talk to still think that “nothing is happening”, but don’t you dare say that to Warren Buffett.

He lost 7.8 billion dollars in 2015.

How would you feel if you lost 7.8 billion dollars in a single year?

The truth, of course, is that signs of financial chaos are erupting all around us.  Corporate profits are plunging, the bond distress ratio just hit the highest level that we have seen since the last financial crisis, and corporate debt defaults have risen to the highest level that we have seen in about seven years.

If you run a business, you may have noticed that fewer people are coming in and it seems like those that do come in have less money to spend.  Economic activity is slowing down, and inventories are piling up.  In fact, wholesale inventories have now risen to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession…

Inventory To Sales Ratio - Federal Reserve

Do you notice a theme?

So many things that have not happened in six or seven years are now happening again.

History may not repeat, but it sure does rhyme, and it astounds me that more people cannot see that 2015/2016 is looking eerily similar to a replay of 2008/2009.

Another number that I watch closely is the velocity of money.  When an economy is running well, money tends to circulate efficiently through the system.  But when an economy gets into trouble, people get scared and start holding on to their money.  As you can see from the chart below, the velocity of money declined during every single recession since 1960.  This is precisely what one would expect.  And of course during the recession that started in 2008, the velocity of money plunged precipitously.  But then a funny thing happened when that recession supposedly “ended”.  The velocity of money just kept going down, and now it has fallen to an all-time record low…

Velocity Of Money M2

A big reason for this is the ongoing decline of the middle class.  In 2015, we learned that middle class Americans now make up a minority of the population for the first time ever.

But if you go back to 1971, 61 percent of all Americans lived in middle class households.

Meanwhile, the share of the income pie that the middle class takes home has also continued to shrink.

In 1970, the middle class brought home approximately 62 percent of all income. Today, that number has fallen to just 43 percent.

As the middle class is systematically destroyed, the number of Americans living in poverty just continues to grow. And those that often suffer the most are the children.  It may be hard for you to believe, but the number of homeless children in the U.S. has increased by 60 percent over the past six years.

60 percent!

How in the world can anyone dare to claim that “things are getting better”?

Anyone that says that should be ashamed of themselves.

We are in the midst of a long-term economic collapse that is now accelerating once again.

Anyone that tries to tell you that “things are getting better” and that 2016 is going to be a better year than 2015 is simply not being honest with you.

A new global financial crisis erupted during the last six months of 2015, and this new financial crisis is going to intensify throughout the early months of 2016.  Financial institutions will begin falling like dominoes, and this will result in a great credit crunch around the world.  Businesses will fail, unemployment will skyrocket and millions will suddenly be faced with economic despair.

By the time it is all said and done, this new financial crisis will be even worse than what we experienced back in 2008, and the suffering that we will see around the world will be off the charts.

So does that mean that I am down about this year?

Not at all.  In fact, my wife and I are greatly looking forward to 2016.  In the midst of all the chaos and darkness, there will be great opportunities to do good and to make a difference.

What a great shaking comes, people go looking for answers.  And I think that this will be a year when millions of people start to understand that our politicians and the mainstream media are not telling them the truth.

Yes, great challenges are coming.  But now is not a time to dig a hole and try to hide from the world.  Instead, this will be a time for those that have prepared in advance to love others, help others and show them the truth.

What about you?

Are you ready to be a light during the dark times that are coming?

Please feel free to join the conversation by posting a comment below…