Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Rest for the Wicked; Stocks Fall Again

Conditions in Europe have not really changed much since yesterday's news of a crisis in Italy's continuing funding, except that Greece - before even receiving all of its most recent bailout money - already has put out its hand for more.

The word for the deepening debt crisis in Europe most-bantered about these days is contagion, the likelihood that issues of underfunding and failing to meet obligations by sovereign governments will spread. Here's a tip: contagion is already in effect. A few years ago Iceland defaulted on debt, refused to take austerity and cash from the IMF and is well on its way to a newfound prosperity without the rigors of international finance and fractional reserve banking.

However, on the continent, Ireland, Greece, and now Italy are suffering strains of the same disease - that of over-promising (mostly on government employee pensions and benefits) and failing to pull in enough revenue in taxes, fees and levies to pay out promptly and graciously. Portugal and Spain are not far behind, and the tiny nation of Belarus has already defaulted and devalued its currency. Belgium is also a basket case.

Contagion is here and its happening now.

What this really means is two things: 1) The European Union is in its death throes after just 11 years of existence, and, 2) Many of the largest banks in Europe are nearing the end of their government-supplied rope and will hang.

And maybe there's a third link to the disaster that is modern Europe: people will cheat, steal, riot, and eventually revolt. Forget collecting taxes. Government officials will be happy if they escape with the clothes on their backs and a few thousand Euros to see them safely out of their respective countries. Whether or not the contagion has enough virulence to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and infect the United States is a matter for politicians and their media lackeys, because the United States is the world's largest debtor with a total debt (on the books, not including the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicade and Medicare) well beyond its annual GDP, making the United States the worst of all nations with a debt-to-GDP ration of over 100%.

Not only is the USA a basket case gone full retard, the debt is growing larger every day, and every day the Obama administration and the congress dithers over raising the debt ceiling (they all agree that the US cannot default), the situation worsens. We are in the midst of the most enthralling and frightening economic condition of all time. Many, many grave errors have occured over the past thirty years, not the least of which was the hollowing out of our industrial base which provided good jobs for millions of Americans. Those jobs went to Mexico and then to Southeast Asia and China. They are gone, many for good, and there is no way to bring them back soon.

It brings up an interesting proposition, supposing that the mindless cretins we call our "leaders" in Washington haggle and argue right up to the August 2nd deadline. Who gets stiffed in the case of a default? Would the US actually stop paying its military? Social Security recipients? Food stamp mouth-breathers? How about China?

There are no good answers, only bad and horrible conclusions. The answer is China. Stiff the Chinese on their $1.8 billion or so in bond holdings and go to war, as war solves all problems in a way. Both countries get decimated in a protracted struggle or blow each other and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere away in a nuclear holocaust. The first way is slow, painful and regrettable. The second is quick and completely devastating, and since neither side would likely opt for MAD (mutually assured destruction), the first choice is rather obvious.

Will it happen? Hopefully not. And there's the very good chance that the politicians, controlled by the banking and industrialist interests, would opt on stiffing seniors. What the heck, they're old and going to die soon anyway, why not just accelerate the process. And wipe out the food stamp class as well. They contribute nothing, so starve them to death. Nice scenarios, no?

Whatever happens over the next few weeks, nothing is really going to be solved. Even if the government officials decide on a compromise of $3 trillion in budget cuts over ten years, the annual deficit will probably be close to a trillion dollars each and every year. They're only cutting $300 billion a year out of the budget. It's kind of like using a sponge to empty a bucket. It works, but not very well. By 2022, the national debt will have grown to over $24 trillion, and that's if they work out a compromise that cuts some of the deficit and tax revenues remain steady for the next ten years, two possibilities that are not very good bets.

In other words, you, me, your kids, their friends, your neighbors and their neighbors are royally screwed unless we begin taking off the rose-colored shades and rid ourselves of the infliction known as normalcy bias pretty soon. Normal is going away. Austerity, poverty and desperation will become rampant, as they're already spreading across the land and are in place in Europe.

Not to sound like the whack-job on the street corner, shouting, "prepare or die," it is time to hunker down and get serious about the issues plaguing the globe, most of which start and end at your local bank branch, which is probably a Chase, Bank of America or Wells Fargo. They're the problem, have been the problem and will continue to be the problem until they are forced to meet their realities and be broken up, though that will not happen. We're beyond that, and, with the politicians thinking more about elections in 2012 rather than whether or not there will be a nation and an engaged electorate at that time, the chances of complete systemic breakdown are greater than they were in 2008, when the unthinkable almost happened. This time, there will be no bailout, because it will be the government going under.

Whether that's a good thing or not will be for historians to judge, but one thing's for certain: we cannot continue along this path much further without some kind of catastrophe. It's coming faster than anyone can imagine.

As for the markets, the major indices bounced along the flat line for most of the session, with the NASDAQ (where the highest risk stocks reside) taking the worst of it. There was a slight bounce after the Fed released the minutes from the last FOMC meeting, in which it was revealed that the Fed governors were torn between more stimulus and raising rates. There cannot be a greater divide of opinion, which, at such a critical time, is a very, very bad omen and portends more mistakes by the Fed straight ahead.

That bounce lasted only a few minutes as stocks fell to their worst levels of the day into the close. It was truly ugly and sets up some very dicey trading for the remainder of the week. Even as earnings are rolling out from a variety of companies, interpreting economic data is going to be a challenge. PPI is out on Thursday along with initial unemployment claims, and Friday, a veritable stew of data comes forth: CPI, Industrial Production, Capacity Utilization, the Empire Index for NY state and the Michigan gauge of consumer sentiment. Things could get very messy down on the trading floors. Good time to stock up on tissues and handkerchiefs because there's likely to be a bit of sweating and some crying before the week is out.

Dow 12,446.88, -58.88 (0.47%)
NASDAQ 2,781.91, -20.71 (0.74%)
S&P 500 1,313.64, -5.85 (0.44%)
NYSE Composite 8,192.75, -35.98 (0.44%)

Declining issues outpaced advancers, 3806-2726. There were 56 new highs and 37 new lows on the NASDAQ. The NYSE showed 46 new highs and 37 new lows. Combined, there were 102 new highs and 74 new lows. Not much margin for error as the tide seems to be turning very bearish, very quickly. Today's volume was a bit perky, with much of it occurring in the final two hours' rush for the exits, another disturbing sign.

NASDAQ Volume 2,028,997,125
NYSE Volume 4,215,946,500

For those of us who drive combustion engine vehicles, another knife in the back from our friendly oil producers, who drove the price of WTI crude up another $2.28, to $97.43. Gold, however, made a new all-time high at $1,562.30, gaining $16.20 on the day. Silver added 35 cents to $36.10.

With gold and silver rising, stocks falling, and, by the way, the 10-year note down to a yield of 2.87% - from 3.12% a week ago - all signs point to a very rough patch dead ahead. The flattening of the yield curve is happening at an unprecedentedly rapid pace. The clowns in Washington better come to a deal soon, like tomorrow, because financial armageddon awaits. The same goes for the millionaire players and billionaire owners of the NFL. People are tired of gamesmanship and waiting.

Now is the time for decisive action.
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