20 Signs That The U.S. Economy Is Heading For Big Trouble In The Months Ahead

20 Signs That The U.S. Economy Is Heading For Big Trouble In The Months Ahead - Photo by Frank KovalchekIs the U.S. economy about to experience a major downturn?  Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of signs that economic activity in the United States is really slowing down right now.  Freight volumes and freight expenditures are way down, consumer confidence has declined sharply, major retail chains all over America are closing hundreds of stores, and the “sequester” threatens to give the American people their first significant opportunity to experience what “austerity” tastes like.  Gas prices are going up rapidly, corporate insiders are dumping massive amounts of stock and there are high profile corporate bankruptcies in the news almost every single day now.  In many ways, what we are going through right now feels very similar to 2008 before the crash happened.  Back then the warning signs of economic trouble were very obvious, but our politicians and the mainstream media insisted that everything was just fine, and the stock market was very much detached from reality.  When the stock market did finally catch up with reality, it happened very, very rapidly.  Sadly, most people do not appear to have learned any lessons from the crisis of 2008.  Americans continue to rack up staggering amounts of debt, and Wall Street is more reckless than ever.  As a society, we seem to have concluded that 2008 was just a temporary malfunction rather than an indication that our entire system was fundamentally flawed.  In the end, we will pay a great price for our overconfidence and our recklessness.

So what will the rest of 2013 bring?

Hopefully the economy will remain stable for as long as possible, but right now things do not look particularly promising.

The following are 20 signs that the U.S. economy is heading for big trouble in the months ahead…

#1 Freight shipment volumes have hit their lowest level in two years, and freight expenditures have gone negative for the first time since the last recession.

#2 The average price of a gallon of gasoline has risen by more than 50 cents over the past two months.  This is making things tougher on our economy, because nearly every form of economic activity involves moving people or goods around.

#3 Reader’s Digest, once one of the most popular magazines in the world, has filed for bankruptcy.

#4 Atlantic City’s newest casino, Revel, has just filed for bankruptcy.  It had been hoped that Revel would help lead a turnaround for Atlantic City.

#5 A state-appointed review board has determined that there is “no satisfactory plan” to solve Detroit’s financial emergency, and many believe that bankruptcy is imminent.  If Detroit does declare bankruptcy, it will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

#6 David Gallagher, the CEO of Town Sports International, recently said that his company is struggling right now because consumers simply do not have as much disposable income anymore…

“As we moved into January membership trends were tracking to expectations in the first half of the month, but fell off track and did not meet our expectations in the second half of the month. We believe the driver of this was the rapid decline in consumer sentiment that has been reported and is connected to the reduction in net pay consumers earn given the changes in tax rates that went into effect in January.

#7 According to the Conference Board, consumer confidence in the U.S. has hit its lowest level in more than a year.

#8 Sales of the Apple iPhone have been slower than projected, and as a result Chinese manufacturing giant FoxConn has instituted a hiring freeze.  The following is from a CNET report that was posted on Wednesday…

The Financial Times noted that it was the first time since a 2009 downturn that the company opted to halt hiring in all of its facilities across the country. The publication talked to multiple recruiters.

The actions taken by Foxconn fuel the concern over the perceived weakened demand for the iPhone 5 and slumping sentiment around Apple in general, with production activity a leading indicator of interest in the product.

#9 In 2012, global cell phone sales posted their first decline since the end of the last recession.

#10 We appear to be in the midst of a “retail apocalypse“.  It is being projected that Sears, J.C. Penney, Best Buy and RadioShack will also close hundreds of stores by the end of 2013.

#11 An internal memo authored by a Wal-Mart executive that was recently leaked to the press said that February sales were a “total disaster” and that the beginning of February was the “worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”

#12 If Congress does not do anything and “sequestration” goes into effect on March 1st, the Pentagon says that approximately 800,000 civilian employees will be facing mandatory furloughs.

#13 Barack Obama is admitting that the “sequester” could have a crippling impact on the U.S. economy.  The following is from a recent CNBC article

Obama cautioned that if the $85 billion in immediate cuts — known as the sequester — occur, the full range of government would feel the effects. Among those he listed: furloughed FBI agents, reductions in spending for communities to pay police and fire personnel and teachers, and decreased ability to respond to threats around the world.

He said the consequences would be felt across the economy.

“People will lose their jobs,” he said. “The unemployment rate might tick up again.”

#14 If the “sequester” is allowed to go into effect, the CBO is projecting that it will cause U.S. GDP growth to go down by at least 0.6 percent and that it will “reduce job growth by 750,000 jobs“.

#15 According to a recent Gallup survey, 65 percent of all Americans believe that 2013 will be a year of “economic difficulty“, and 50 percent of all Americans believe that the “best days” of America are now in the past.

#16 U.S. GDP actually contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2012.  This was the first GDP contraction that the official numbers have shown in more than three years.

#17 For the entire year of 2012, U.S. GDP growth was only about 1.5 percent.  According to Art Cashin, every time GDP growth has fallen this low for an entire year, the U.S. economy has always ended up going into a recession.

#18 The global economy overall is really starting to slow down

The world’s richest countries saw their economies contract for the first time in almost four years during the final three months of 2012, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said.

The Paris-based thinktank said gross domestic product across its 34 member states fell by 0.2% – breaking a period of rising activity stretching back to a 2.3% slump in output in the first quarter of 2009.

All the major economies of the OECD – the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK – have already reported falls in output at the end of 2012, with the thinktank noting that the steepest declines had been seen in the European Union, where GDP fell by 0.5%. Canada is the only member of the G7 currently on course to register an increase in national output.

#19 Corporate insiders are dumping enormous amounts of stock right now.  Do they know something that we don’t?

#20 Even some of the biggest names on Wall Street are warning that we are heading for an economic collapse.  For example, Seth Klarman, one of the most respected investors on Wall Street, said in his year-end letter that the collapse of the U.S. financial system could happen at any time

“Investing today may well be harder than it has been at any time in our three decades of existence,” writes Seth Klarman in his year-end letter. The Fed’s “relentless interventions and manipulations” have left few purchase targets for Baupost, he laments. “(The) underpinnings of our economy and financial system are so precarious that the un-abating risks of collapse dwarf all other factors.”

So what do you think is going to happen to the U.S. economy in the months ahead?

Please feel free to express your opinion by leaving a comment below…

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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 Sovereign Debt Bubble Will Continue To Expand Until – BANG – The System Implodes

The Sovereign Debt Bubble Will Continue To Expand Until - BANG - The System Implodes - Photo by Jeff KubinaWhy are so many politicians around the world declaring that the debt crisis is “over” when debt to GDP ratios all over the planet continue to skyrocket?  The global economy has never seen anything like the sovereign debt bubble that we are experiencing today.  The United States, Japan, and nearly every major nation in Europe are absolutely drowning in debt.  We have heard a lot about “austerity” over in Europe in recent years, but debt to GDP ratios continue to rise in Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal.  In general, most economists consider a debt to GDP ratio of 100% to be a “danger level”, and most of the economies of the western world have either already surpassed that level or are rapidly approaching it.  Of course the biggest debt offender of all in many ways is the United States.  The U.S. debt to GDP ratio has risen from 66.6 percent to 103 percent since 2007, and the U.S. government accumulated more new debt during Barack Obama’s first term than it did under the first 42 U.S. presidents combined.  This insane sovereign debt bubble will continue to expand until a day of reckoning arrives and the system implodes.  Nobody knows exactly when that moment will be reached, but without a doubt it is coming.

But if you listen to the mainstream media in the United States, you would be tempted to think that this giant bubble of debt is not much of a concern at all.  For example, in a recent article in the Washington Post entitled “The case for deficit optimism“, Ezra Klein wrote the following…

“Here’s a secret: For all the sound and fury, Washington’s actually making real progress on debt.”

How many times have we heard that before?

About a decade ago, government officials were projecting that we would be swimming in gigantic government surpluses by now.

Instead, we are running trillion dollar deficits.

But right now there is a lot of optimism about the economy.  The stock market recently hit a 5 year high and the business community is loving all of the false prosperity that all of this debt is buying us.

Even Warren Buffett does not really seem concerned about the exploding U.S. government debt.  He recently made the following statement

“It is not a good thing to have it going up in relation to GDP.  That should be stabilized. But the debt itself is not a problem.”

Oh really?

A debt of 16 trillion dollars “is not a problem”?

Perhaps we should all run our finances that way.

Why don’t we all go out and open up 20 different credit cards, run them all up to the max, and then tell the credit card companies that we can’t pay them back but that it “is not a problem”.

Of course real life does not work that way.

The truth is that government debt is becoming a monstrous problem all over the globe.  Just check out how debt to GDP ratios all over the planet have grown over the past five years

United States

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 66.6 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 103 percent

United Kingdom

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 43.4 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 85.0 percent

France

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 63.7 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 86 percent

Germany

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 67.6 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 80.5 percent

Spain

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 39.6 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 69.3 percent

Ireland

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 24.8 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 106.4 percent

Portugal

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 63.9 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 108.1 percent

Italy

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 106.6 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 120.7 percent

Greece

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 106.1 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 170.6 percent

The Eurozone As A Whole

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 68.4 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 87.3 percent

Japan

Debt to GDP ratio in 2007: 172.1 percent

Debt to GDP ratio in 2012: 211.7 percent

So how does all of this end?

Well, it is going to be messy, but it is very difficult to say exactly when the system will collapse under the weight of too much debt.  Some nations, such as Japan, are able to handle very high debt loads because they have a very high level of domestic saving.  Up to this point, an astounding 95 percent of all Japanese government bonds have been purchased domestically.  But other nations collapse under the weight of government debt even before they reach a debt to GDP ratio of 100%.  The following is an excerpt from a recent Congressional Research Service report

It is hard to predict at what point bond holders would deem it to be unsustainable. A few other advanced economies have debt-to-GDP ratios higher than that of the United States. Some of those countries in Europe have recently seen their financing costs rise to the point that they are unable to finance their deficits solely through private markets. But Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any advanced economy, and it has continued to be able to finance its debt at extremely low costs.

When a government runs up massive amounts of debt, it is playing with fire.  You can pile up mountains of government debt for a while, but eventually it catches up with you.

Over the past 10 years, the U.S. national debt has grown by an average of 9.3 percent per year, but the overall U.S. economy has only grown by an average of just 1.8 percent per year.  That is unsustainable by definition.

There is going to be a tremendous price to pay for the debt binge that the U.S. government has indulged in over the past decade.  During Barack Obama’s first term, the amount of new debt accumulated by the federal government breaks down to about $50,521 for every single household in the United States.  That is utter insanity.

If you can believe it, we have accumulated more new government debt under Obama than we did from the inauguration of George Washington to the end of the Clinton administration.

And most Americans realize that something is seriously wrong.  One recent poll found that only 34 percent of all Americans believe that the country is heading in the right direction, and 60 percent of all Americans believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction.

If we keep piling up so much debt, at some point a moment of great crisis will arrive.  When that moment arrives, we could see havoc throughout the entire global financial system.  For instance, most people don’t really understand the key role that U.S. Treasuries play in the derivatives market.  The following is from a recent article posted on Zero Hedge

This time around, things will be far worse if nothing is solved. If the US loses another AAA rating, then the financial markets could face systemic risk. The reason for this is that US Treasuries are one of the senior most forms of collateral used by the banks to backstop the $600+ trillion derivatives market.

As any trader who trades on margin can tell you, when the value of your collateral is called into question, those on the other side of the trade come looking for you to put up more capital on your trades. This can result in assets being sold en masse (similar to what happened after Lehman failed) and things can get very ugly very fast.

For much more on the danger that derivatives pose to our financial system, please see this article: “The Coming Derivatives Panic That Will Destroy Global Financial Markets“.

Once again, nobody knows exactly when the sovereign debt bubble will burst, but if we continue down the path that we are currently on, it will inevitably happen at some point.

And according to Professor Carmen Reinhart, when this bubble does burst things could unravel very rapidly…

“These processes are not linear,” warns Prof. Reinhart. “You can increase debt for a while and nothing happens. Then you hit the wall, and—bang!—what seem to be minor shocks that the markets would shrug off in other circumstances suddenly become big.”

At some point the global financial system will hit the wall that Professor Reinhart has warned about.

Are you ready?

When Will The Bubble Burst?

The Economic Collapse