Showing posts with label federal government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label federal government. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Why An Hourly Wage Is Such a Bad Idea

Let's talk about money, your work experience, and taxes, just what you want to think about this morning, right?

It is an important topic, however, just because so many people avoid thinking about their work and its relation to taxation and general well-being.

Right from jump street, if you're working for an hourly wage, everybody's getting cheated. You, your employer, even the government which takes part of your pay before you even see it is getting a raw deal, though it could be argued that the government, which has little to no "skin in the game" when it comes to your income, your employment, and your work habits, has nothing to lose and so much to gain.

By taking a job or a position in exchange for so form of compensation based on time, you've rendered yourself about as useful or resourceful as a drone. You show up, you punch the clock, you perform your duties, you go home. Nothing more, nothing less. It's a dreadful condition, draining the life force out of you on a regularly scheduled basis. Making matters even worse, your boss probably thinks you aren't working hard enough and the government takes a percentage of everything - before you even see it - and wants more.

The concept of hourly wages is a relatively recent development in the great pantheon of civilization and labor. Prior to 1900, workers were paid by the day, week, or month, or by the task, which, being that much of the labor of the era was performed on farms, often included lodging and/or meals. This made sense because the world was a hard-scrabble place, weather took its toll on the amount and quality of work performed over days and even weeks, and it was generally well-known that workers wore down after six to eight hours on a particular job and the quality might suffer as the day wore away at their muscles and bones.

It wasn't until the industrial revolution and the great immigration from Europe to America that hourly wages became established. Employers and unions established scales of wages and requirements for work-weeks (a typical week of work was from 50 to 60 hours). In the early days of industrialization, unions became necessary because naturally, employers wanted to pay as little as possible, but workers needed to earn a decent living, provide for their families, and maybe have a little left over for savings.

It wasn't until 1938 - in the throes of the Great Depression - that minimum wage laws were established, at the time, a necessary evil, because not just workers, but employers as well, were suffering from the maladies of slack demand and massive deflation. During that developmental period and since then, the hourly wage became the standard compensation for menial tasks and the government didn't miss the opportunity to get its unfair share, beginning in the early 1940s, when they imposed payroll deductions as a means to fund the war effort incurred during world War II.

When the war was over, the feds didn't stop there, they just kept taking part of everybody's pay, increasing their percentage over the years. States jumped on that bandwagon as well, many imposing their own income taxes. Many still believe that income tax or any tax on wages is unconstitutional. They're actually right, and why the IRS calls income tax "voluntary," but try not paying your share and see what happens. There's nothing voluntary about wage taxes and deductions from your paycheck. It's theft on a grand scale.

It's a crying shame that somebody making $15 per hour only gets to take home about $12 of that hourly rate after the feds take their withholding amount, Social Security (FICA) and Medicaid "contribution" and the state piles in for another piece of your pie. People making more are penalized even further. That's the government side of the equation. Making it all the more unbearable, the various governments waste what they take from you and have to borrow even more and still can't manage to balance their budget. It's like throwing money down a black hole, this one lined with $26 trillion in federal debt which will never be repaid.

Getting back to the hourly wage and why it makes everybody a crook, you're probably not happy about the government taking 12-20% or more right out of your paycheck. You may decide to work 12-20% less or slow your productivity because of that unfair practice. That, in effect, steals from your employer, who isn't at fault for the government's intrusion into an agreement made between you and your boss' company, but it is he who pays for lost productivity, slack standards, theft, and the other unintended consequences of hourly wages.

Because, like you, the employer feels threatened by both sides - workers and the government - he cuts hours, or lays off unproductive employees, putting more strain on those that remain. He or she might also makes use of accountants and any other tricks available to limit his contributions to the government. It's the employer who writes the checks after all, and it is the employer who must remit to the government. Many have tried to cheat the government. Many have failed. Many are out of business, but the point is that the hourly wage and payroll deductions have spawned all sorts of bad behavior by employees and employers alike. More often than not, it's payments made to the "silent partners" - governments - that bankrupt businesses and put people out of work through no faults of their own.

The other major problem with a hourly wage it that it stifles productivity and efficiency. Maybe you can produce six widgets an hour, but everybody else on your shift can only produce four. If you're all making the same wage, there's absolutely no upside for you to work more efficiently than your peers unless you believe you'll get a raise, which, in a union setting, would be impossible. Even then, if you were to get a raise for your more efficient use of time, when your fellow workers find out, they'll castigate you and tell you you're making their lives more difficult. It's a no win condition.

If you get paid $15 an hour to do a job in five hours, but you could do it in four, why would you? The hourly wage not only does not encourage efficiency, it retards it. Or, would you rather make $60 instead of $75 for the same job?

The hourly wage is one of the worst inventions ever created in terms of labor effectiveness and efficiency. It stifles creativity, encourages bad behavior and spawns more government rules, regulations, and taxes. It reduces an erstwhile valuable human being to little more than a punch-press machine. It's degrading and demoralizing and nearly universal. Anything that becomes that widespread without competition - like a monopoly - should be done away with, the sooner the better.

As much as we'd all like to believe that everybody is created equal, it just isn't the case. In the eyes of the law, maybe. Hours and days are not created equally either. It's a proven fact that less work gets done after two o'clock than before noon; Fridays are radically different from Mondays.

Maybe some good will come from the lockdowns and stay-at-home impositions caused by the coronavirus. If anything, it's given people the opportunity to work from home, unsupervised, and maybe given everybody a chance to ponder the value of work versus an hourly wage. Hopefully, this time will encourage people to do their own thing, to start a home-based business, or at least look into alternatives to the time-worn nine-to-five practice.

The main beneficiaries of standardized hourly wages seem to be governments and their tax regimes. Might a return to the sanity of daily or weekly wages, piece work, or by-the-job work become reasonable alternatives?

We can only hope.

The Markets:

Gold futures soared on Monday, peaking at $1765 before being knocked down to just under $1755 an ounce at the New York close. Silver reached out above $18 an ounce prior to a late-morning smackdown, closing at the regrettable - an utterly unrealistic - price of $17.68.

While goldbugs continue to cry about manipulation, it seems obvious that any continuing control over precious metals markets is about keeping the gold to silver ratio near the historical absurdity of 100 and the forces in opposition to real money at the futures windows. After all, silver is more plentiful, more affordable to everybody and much more divisible than gold. Remember, prior to the Crime of 1873, silver was money, but the banking elite of the day wanted to establish a gold standard, and did, impoverishing many independent businesspeople and farmers in the process.

Now that the entire planet is on a fiat standard, which is no standard at all, it's time for silver to take its rightful place as the money of gentlemen and of the world. It can start with a readjustment to a reasonable gold:silver ratio of 20, eventually to 16 or 12. If gold is to persist at $1750 or higher, silver should be at least $85 an ounce. Market forces are at work. Prices for single ounce coins and bars on eBay are routinely over $30, and dealers are charging $23 and upwards for the same, if they can get their hands on it.

With eBay charging a ten percent fee on all bullion sales, the actual price of physical silver in one ounce increments is realistically approaching $32 to $35 per ounce. That's Troy ounces, and Troy approves (joke).

Silver may be kept down in the spot and futures markets, to the detriment of dealers and paper-pushers worldwide. In the meantime, the actual, true, honest, real physical market is exploding and will continue to until such a time that silver holders will be satisfactorily compensated.

Fight the Fed. Buy silver.

Bonds: eh, who needs them? The Fed wants to control the curve to keep short term rates near zero forever. Let them. It can only serve to hasten the return to real money.

Oil prices continue to be inflated, serving only the needs of drillers, shippers, and distillers. When the price of WTI crude falls back to realistic levels around $24-30 a barrel and states begin reducing their onerous gasoline taxes, the economy can begin recovering. Until then, we're stuck in an artificial stagflationary environment.

Stocks gained. They always do. Shares of public companies have never been as expensive.

At the Close, Monday, June 22, 2020:
Dow: 26,024.96, +153.50 (+0.59%)
NASDAQ: 10,056.47, +110.35 (+1.11%)
S&P 500: 3,117.86, +20.12 (+0.65%)
NYSE: 12,028.91, +48.79 (+0.41%)

Thursday, April 9, 2020

US Federal Government Disrespects Its People; $2 Trillion To Wall Street While Citizens Wait for Checks

At 8:30 am ET Thursday morning, April 9, 2020, the Labor Department announced that 6.6 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week. That's in addition to the nearly 10 million who applied for benefits the prior two weeks.

Have you received your $1200 check from the government yet?

Didn't think so. You are aware that Wall Street had access to $2 trillion weeks ago, right?

That's the number TWO (2) with twelve zeroes behind it. Like this: $2,000,000,000,000.

Bear in mind, the corporate money is coming to corporations via the Federal Reserve, which is not part of the federal government. It is and always has been a private bank, so there's really nothing "federal" about it. As far as the "reserve" portion of their name, they have no money in reserve. They have a balance sheet of nearly $6 trillion, all in various bonds or notes or obligations, otherwise known as debt. Much of it is not worth the paper its printed on or the electrons holding it in cyberspace.

There's no "reserves" at the Federal Reserve. They whip up currency out of thin air. A few keystrokes on their computer and viola! currency at their pleasure. The currency is represented by Federal Reserve Notes, or those pieces of paper some people carry around with pictures of dead presidents on them. Those are the ones, fives, 10s, 20s, 50s and 100-dollar bills floating around in the economy. There is only $1.75 trillion in actual printed currency according to the Federal Reserve. That's a little less than $6000 for every man, woman, and child in America.

The rest of the currency is in electronic form. The currency in your bank account is not really there. Try going to a bank branch and asking for $40,000 in cash, even if you have $100,000 in your account. First, you'd have to fill out IRS form 8300, because any transaction of $10,000 or more, the federal government wants to know about it. They think you might be a drug dealer, human trafficker, money launderer, or maybe a terrorist. It's all part of the Bank Secrecy Act, officially known as the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act. Then, after you've filled out the form, the bank's branch manager will likely tell you that they don't have that much money on hand. After that, you might have to come back on a later date to get some of it, make multiple trips, and go through a lot of hassle to get your hands on your currency.

This seems an appropriate place to explain the difference between money and currency. Here's Mike Maloney (an expert on the subject) to explain in less than three minutes:

The great financier, J.P. Morgan, put it in even simpler terms: Gold is money. Everything else is credit.

With that out of the way, have you received your $1200 yet?

No. Of course not. But Wall Street has already gotten theirs, and probably already spent it too. The stock market has been mostly up lately, the Dow Jones Industrial Average having risen from a close of 18,591.93 on March 23 to close at 23,433.57 Wednesday.

On March 17, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said President Trump would like to get money into the hands of people within two weeks. That was more than three weeks ago. Now, Mnuchin says the first direct deposits will be going out some time next week.

In other words, continue to wait. The government will be here to help in moments, er, days, er, weeks, maybe.

While Wall Street is open for business as usual, millions of Americans - roughly three quarters of the country - is under some form of stay-at-home or lockdown restriction. Ordinary people can't go to work, send their kids to school (they're closed), or venture beyond the boundaries of their own homes without some express, immediate need, like getting groceries, or picking up a prescription drug.

It's a shame. It's also likely unconstitutional. Americans are supposed to have the right to freely assemble. It's in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

So, not only does the federal government not want you to have any money, they also don't want you going anywhere or associating with other citizens. Because of COVID-19, the government has "suggested" people congregate at distances of six feet apart. Many states have outlawed meetings or congregations of 10 or more people, some, five or more. They don't want you to get together with your fellow citizens, either.

As you wait for your money from the government, ask yourself if $1200 is worth having your first amendment rights taken away. As with anything else that sounds too good to be true, like free money from the government, there are strings attached.

And, while you're pondering that, how about those small business loans that are supposed to help businesses that have been forced to close so that the coronavirus doesn't spread. Those non-essential businesses are getting the run-around from the very same banks (JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Wells Fargo) that were bailed out in 2009, continued to get favors from the Federal Reserve and the federal government since then, and have been getting oodles of cash over the past six months, even before the COVID-19 crisis.

Those loans are full of boondoggles and conditions that limit how much a business qualifies for and what they have to do in order to receive a loan and more conditions for loan forgiveness. It's likely that most small businesses would be better off not taking the loans, toughing it out, filing for reorganization under bankruptcy laws and moving forward without inept government assistance.

The American public is being conned and abused by the very people they voted into office along with the media, the banks, and the Federal Reserve. State and local governments are only marginally less disrespectful. It all stinks to high heaven.

They don't respect you. They don't care about you. They want to control you. That should be obvious to everybody by now.

At the Close, Wednesday, April 8, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 23,433.57, +779.71 (+3.44%)
NASDAQ: 8,090.90, +203.64 (+2.58%)
S&P 500: 2,749.98, +90.57 (+3.41%)
NYSE: 10,902.59, +365.54 (+3.47%)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

US Equites In Danger Zone After Very Volatile Week

The US economy isn't exactly on its back, but it also isn't growing by the phony 3+ percent the government reported in the past two quarters.

Speaking strictly from an economist's perspective, the US government GDP figures include grossly-inflated government spending and just about every spare dollar their statisticians can unearth from the mainland, Alaska and Hawaii.

GDP-watching is a Wall Street phenomena, serving the interests of the corporatists who need to return dividends or share growth to stockholders. Thus, it adds impetus to the argument that investing in US corporations is a good idea. That may or may not be true, depending largely upon which corporation is attracting the investing dollars.

Obviously, the FAANGs (Facebook (FB), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Netflix (NFLX), and Google (Alphabet, GOOG) have been the most attractive of the past six to eight years, while quite a few have faltered. Most of the stocks making gains since the GFC of 2007-09 have been the result of massive stock buybacks, a dubious distinction, as these high-fliers are the ones most prone to collapse in the case of a market rout.

They've diluted their shares and have deployed capital in one of the worst ways, buying back shares in order to boost EPS (earnings per share). Having fewer shares available while keeping profits at roughly the same level improves EPS, but it does not expand the business potential. Banks and financials are especially guilty in this regard. They're over-leveraged and will pay a price, but their executives and shareholders are happy little clams, for now.

When the share price falls, and dividends are slashed, the shareholders will be singing a different tune. The executives will be long gone because they've proven to care only about their own pockets and bonuses.

In any case, stocks ran through a very volatile week, punctuated by a massive dead-cat-bounce rally on Thursday which stanched some of the losses incurred since all-time highs the previous Tuesday.

There could be a waterfall effect developing, because confidence is waning. The holiday shopping season - which is demonstrably longer than last year's - should provide a boost, but the economy is lurching closer to two important events: the December Fed meeting and the expected rate hike, and another round of negotiations in congress over the debt ceiling limit, both mid-month.

Elsewhere, oil remains at elevated levels, above $55/barrel for WTI crude, gold and silver were bounced around but appear ready for a breakout (as they have too many times in the past four years, with nothing to show), bonds were flatter still.

At the Close, Friday, November 17, 2017:
Dow: 23,358.24, -100.12 (-0.43%)
NASDAQ 6,782.79, -10.50 (-0.15%)
S&P 500: 2,578.85, -6.79 (-0.26%)
NYSE Composite: 12,302.89, -0.39 (0.00%)

For the Week:
Dow: -63.97 (-0.27%)
NASDAQ: +31.85 (+0.47%)
S&P 500: -3.45 (-0.13%)
NYSE Composite: -19.71 (-0.16%)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Wall Street Frowns Over No Government Shutdown, 0.7% GDP Growth

The morons elected officials occupying the nation's capitol decided to punt on Friday, issuing a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating for another week, rather than risk a government shutdown (which isn't really a shutdown), but Wall Street seemed unimpressed by their shenanigans.

Stocks closed lower on Friday, possibly as a form of relief after massive gains earlier in the week, finishing with minor losses, but with their second straight weekly gain.

After what promised to be a week of rancor and argument turned into a mere smattering of name-calling and finger-pointing, investors seemed unfazed by what didn't happen in Washington. The first estimate of first quarter GDP also added to the disappointment, coming in at the worst in three years, showing paltry 0.7% growth. That probably had more to do with Friday's decline than anything the government did or did not do.

The poor reading on the economy follows a similarly bad reading in the March non-farm payroll report, which showed the US economy stalling out a bit, adding just 98,000 jobs, a big miss on rosy estimates.

If the overall economic figures continue to flag, it will be difficult for the Fed to raise interest rates any further and probably not at the May FOMC meeting, which happens to be this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, May 2 and 3. A stalled-out economy may also keep the Fed on hold until the fall. The FOMC meets on June 13-14 and again on July 25-26. After that, they don't meet again until September.

The politicians have failed to pass any meaningful legislation, ObamaCare is still the law of the land, the congress continues to borrow money despite the highest tax receipts in history, and, if not for steady winnings in stocks, the American people would be up in arms over the lack of purpose and dignity in the halls of congress.

If, by some stroke of good fortune, the government would cease to exist on a semi-permanent basis, it might spark a rally on Wall Street the likes of which have never been seen. Since what the current federal government consists of does nothing for the betterment of the American citizen, perhaps it should declare itself ineffective and incompetent, and finally shut itself down.

We can only hope...

At the Close, 4/28/17:
Dow: 20,940.51, -40.82 (-0.19%)
NASDAQ: 6,047.61, -1.33 (-0.02%)
S&P 500: 2,384.20, -4.57 (-0.19%)
NYSE Composite: 11,536.08, -42.44 (-0.37%)

For the week:
Dow: +392.75 (1.91%)
NASDAQ: +137.08 (2.32%)
S&P 500: +35.53 (1.51%)
NYSE Composite: +146.95 (1.29%)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wall Street Has a Problem, So Everybody Will Suffer; Stocks Smashed on Yellen's 1st Day

Fed Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, is just about to head home from her first day as head of the US Federal Reserve System. Judging by what happened on Wall Street, she's probably not going to cook herself a wholesome meal, but rather will order out, Chinese the most likely choice.

Stocks went absolutely South on the first day of February, largely in response to the Fed's decision to continue their asset purchase tapering, but moreso on US and China economic weakness.

China's PMI for January edged down to 50.5, the lowest level in six months, not exactly the kind of news Ms. Yellen was seeking. Making matters worse for the new Fed head, US ISM fell from 56.5 to 51.3, sending stocks, already down on the session, into a tailspin after their release at 10:00 am ET.

The lethal combination of the Fed cutting back on bond purchases, in the face of weakening data from the world's two largest economies, set the stage for a massive selloff on Wall Street and a flight to the safety of US treasury bonds, which closed at their lowest yield level - on the benchmark 10-year note - in three months.

The carnage on Wall Street was not isolated to just today, however. Stocks have been performing poorly all year, and the level of fear is perceptibly rising, with the Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all closing down more than 2%, after the Nikkei fell 295 points and officially into a correction, down 10% off the recent highs.

The losses on Wall Street were monumental. For the Dow, it was the worst start to a month since 1982; for the NASDAQ, the losses were the worst since the inception of the index (1972).

Auto sales were down for January, with weather blamed for sluggish sales. Bond funds saw 20-30 time normal volume of inflows. The VIX has gone from the mid-12s to over 21 in a month, a 70%-plus rise in risk perception. Not only were stocks down, but volume was large, and has been throughout the slide which began in January.

The reaction in bond markets - sending the 10-year down to a yield of 2.58% - was perfectly rational. As risk assets (stocks) deteriorate, safety is sought, and there's nothing safer than US treasuries, or, maybe, German bunds, also lower during the past month and today.

Looking forward, Ms. Yellen should have expected this, or worse. After all, history tells us that all new Fed chairs inherit crises. as did Volker, Greenspan and Bernanke before her. Surely, the shared wisdom of decades of Federal Reserve actions will guide Ms. Yellen to a logical solution, stopping the slide in stocks while keeping the US economy growing.

Or will it?

Yellen is trapped. QE tapering is already the de facto standard policy. To reverse it would be to admit defeat, and possibly undermine any confidence left in the institution of the Federal Reserve, which, admittedly, isn't much. The true solution is for the Fed to stand back, watch the markets deteriorate, witness the destruction of the US and global economy over the near term and hope that people, individuals and businesses, will have enough of their wits remaining to muddle through a few years of truly hard times.

The Fed has no choice. Interest rates are already at zero and QE has had limited effect. It's time for the Fed to turn its back on the economy and the markets and let chips fall where they may. Any other action will only result in more asset dislocations, of which there are already too many.

For those of us who are not heavily invested in stocks (that leaves out anybody depending upon a pension, either now or in the future), SHORT AT WILL. This downward thrust will eventually manifest itself into a correction (the Dow is less than 500 points from it) and, by May or June or July, at the latest, a fully-blown bear market.

Bull markets do not last forever, and this current bull, which began in March, 2009, has reached its end. If proof is needed, check the highs on the indices from December and see how long it takes to get back to those levels. A reasonable guess, at this juncture, would be seven to ten years, maybe as long as 20.

The globalization experiment, as it always does, is failing. Economies must begin to fend for themselves and become more localized. Faith in Wall Street, which took a severe blow in 2008-09, will lose all credibility in coming months. Already, there are hordes of individuals who do not trust the wizards of Wall Street, as it was in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.

Wall Street will not respond well. Stocks will fall. Bond yields and mortgages will be even lower than in recent years. While those who have bought into the system - government employees, pensioners of many stripes, plain idiots and "investors" - will suffer, the prudent, the goldbugs, silverbugs and savers will eventually be rewarded for their patience and their frugality.

Put one's faith not in the data and derivatives of Wall Street, but in the strength of individuals, work ethic and survivability. That's a trade which has stood the test of time.

Note to Dan K (who may or may not be interested), and Adam Smith theorists, corn was up 0.40% today; silver gained 1.51%. Deflation.

DOW 15,372.80, -326.05 (-2.08%)
NASDAQ 3,996.96, -106.92 (-2.61%)
S&P 1,741.89, -40.70 (-2.28%)
10-Yr Note 101.48, +1.21 (+1.21%) Yield: 2.58%
NASDAQ Volume 2.41 Bil
NYSE Volume 4.72 Bil
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 839-4976 (extreme)
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 83-197 (trending)
WTI crude oil: 96.43, -1.06
Gold: 1,259.90, +20.10
Silver: 19.41, +0.289
Corn: 435.75, +1.75

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why the Boom Went Bust Today; Stocks Rocked; Gold, Silver, Bonds Higher

Despite a pair of great earnings reports after the bell Wednesday - Netflix and eBay - stocks sold off dramatically on Thursday, starting even before the opening bell, as futures pointed to a grim opening.

When trading began, the Dow slumped an immediate 135 points, while the S&P and NASDAQ took on deep losses. The negative condition persisted throughout the day, actually getting worse in the afternoon.

While stocks have already begun the year on a less-than-enthusiastic note, today's drops were the worse seen since last August and quite possibly are foretelling of further declines to come.

Commentators in the financial media mostly failed to comprehend the causes for today's collapse in equities, which were, in no particular order, the Chinese banking system becoming unglued, Turkey's economy falling apart at the seams, heightened tensions in the Ukraine, fear over terrorist attacks at the Olympics in Soshi, Russia, continuing civil war in Syria and 1.37 million people dropping off of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation roles.

Let's examine this last bit of news first, because it is so US-centric and is a troubling sign of the ongoing impotence of the federal government. Recall, the noises out of Washington, DC, earlier this month about restoring the aid to the people whose 99 weeks of unemployment were ending. Democrats were screaming "unfair," and that we need to help these people, as the money for these continuing unemployment benefits was eliminated by the widely-hailed budget "deal" that passed through congress in December.

Recall, also, that pension and benefits for military retirees and disabled vets was also slashed by that budget and roundly criticized by congress-people on the left and the right. The cuts were said to be "unpatriotic", and many vowed to restore them. A month has gone by and those cuts are still in place. Veterans are getting the shaft, and now, the long-term unemployed, without the media (controlled by the government) raising as much as an eyebrow over these issues, proving, without any shadow of a doubt, that the politicians in Washington have not only lost all sense of justice, decency or propriety, but they are also quickly losing their ability to make coherent policy.

What politicians in Washington, DC, have accomplished, however, is the uncanny ability to lie ruthlessly about anything at all, and to now lose what little support remained from the people of the United States. With the approval rating of congress already at multi-generational lows, it's about to go even lower. People should have been in the streets already, but their voices have been silenced by the Federal Reserve, together with the false statistics about the "improving economy" bantered about the past four to five years.

What will be lost next by the politicians is their ability to rule. They have lost all credibility and the consent of the people has long since been quietly withdrawn by many. The federal government, either by design or incompetence, has been failing and is about to fail completely. Without somebody stepping up to right the ship - and don't count on it - the ship of state, already rudderless and with torn sails, has begun to sink. Special interests to which the politicians have catered, have blown a hole in the hull, and it's not readily repairable. The United States is rapidly devolving into a fascist, welfare/police state, and, making matters worse and more worrisome, this is only the beginning.

Other than the United States collapsing in a major hurry, the rest of the world doesn't look much rosier. If nobody gets killed at the Olympics - if they even go off as planned - it will be nothing short of a miracle.

The other major events of the day were the widespread devaluation in the value of the Turkish Lira and a bank failure in China, also just beginning.

Turkey's currency fell three percent against the dollar, the most of any currency outside of Argentina (already a basket case, down 14% just today), despite intervention by the central bank, which was reportedly in the process of unloading $3 billion in foreign reserves.

In China, the evolving shadow banking crisis just went from bad to worse as it was reported today that some rural credit unions have been unable to pay back depositors for over a year. This would, in most countries, have been major news, prompting a flight of money from banks (bank run), but the circumspect Chinese media suppresses most of this kind of information from the outside world. In a nutshell, China's dubious "boom" economy may be going bust, or, realistically, may already be well down the path of self-immolation.

Taking just these few "newsy" items into perspective, it just might be time to return to "clinging to their guns and bibles," for more than just a few Americans. As for the rest of the world, well, their guns have largely already been confiscated and bibles don't offer much protection. Pitchforks and torches, anyone? God save them.

Others may be taking some time to polish up the gold and silver, which were the main winners on the day, along with the 10-year note, which fell to 2.80, the lowest yield in roughly two months.

As if that wasn't enough, teen idol, Justin Beiber, was arrested last night for DUI. Oh, the horror!... and, no, we're not linking to that story.

DOW 16,197.35, -175.99 (-1.07%)
NASDAQ 4,218.87, -24.13 (-0.57%)
S&P 1,828.46, -16.40 (-0.89%)
10-Yr Note 99.56, +1.25 (+1.27%) Yield: 2.80%
NASDAQ Volume 2.00 Bil
NYSE Volume 3.91 Bil
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1829-3918
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 196-62
WTI crude oil: 97.32, +0.59
Gold: 1,262.30. +23.70
Silver: 20.01, +0.171
Corn: 429.00, +2.75

Monday, January 13, 2014

Markets Respond Suddenly to Structural Deficiencies in Global Economy

In case anybody was not noticing, stocks haven't exactly been on fire through the first few sessions of 2014 (eight of them, including today), but, apparently, a solid number of investors have been taking note and today decided to take action.

Friday's non-farm payrolls report may have been the initial impetus to really kick off today's selling spree, which accelerated throughout the session with stocks ending near the lows of the day on the major indices, sending all of the major exchanges into the red for the year.

Beyond the horrifying labor situation outlined by the aforementioned December payroll report, retail holiday sales figures have been coming in at well below anybody's best guesses and many retailers are now forecasting less-than-optimistic projections for January and beyond.

A few of today's highlights from the retail field (in addition to the meltdowns already underway via Sears and JC Penny) are Express (EXPR 18.15, -0.87(4.57%)) and Lululemon (LULU 49.70, -9.90(16.61%)), bot of which lowered their guidance on Monday. Others on the retail decliners' hit list include Coach (COH 54.30, -1.78(3.17%)), Gap (GPS 38.25, -1.59(3.99%)), and Michael Kors (KORS 76.67, -3.13(3.92%)).

Multi-faceted are the reasons for poor performances in stocks, from a stalled-out labor market to continued de-leveraging by consumers to the Obamacare fiasco to rising college tuition costs, these are just a few of the market-roiling scenarios playing out in the US and global economy.

There's more to today's selling than meets the eye, however, because there are serious cracks in the facade that is the US government, the status of the dollar as the world's reserve currency and the generally-frayed fabric of the Federal Reserve. Those in the know realize that time may be running short on fiat currency, of which all of the world's currencies are concurrently backed by nothing more than people's blind willingness to accept paper money in exchange for real goods and services.

That's at the root of the world's worries, but it is gaining prominence because individuals and businesses continue to shed debt, while the Fed, the Bank of Japan and the Eu monetary masters continue in their vain attempts to create more debt, which is, after all, their lifeblood. The only entities continuing to create debt are governments, making theirs and the days of their central bankers, numbered and in decline.

Losing faith completely in a particular government, national currency or system of exchange takes time, and when it comes to global currencies, such as the US dollar, even more time, but, as the events of 2007-2009 showed with sensational alarm, when faith becomes frayed in the minds of investors and speculators, events can spiral out of control, and, while that may not be precisely what's happening at present, it sure has the allure and feel of a full-blown currency/competency/confidence crisis in the making, one which actually started five to seven years ago, depending on which aspect one assigns as the starting point.

Demographically, the planet's population is aging and retiring; the current crop of up-and-coming youths don't inspire much in terms of leadership skills and a world dependent on handouts from government programs when the government itself is the main culprit and cause of the deterioration of global society is not a model upon which any sentient, thinking being would wager to last very long.

Gloom and doom scenarios such as this have roots in reality, though the psychological paradigms of cognitive dissonance and normalcy bias keep the general population in a state of suspended stupidity, though even the dullest among us can see the writing on the wall. Acceptance of such a harsh reality is not ready-made. It takes time, fear, and eventually, lots and lots of pain.

The time is growing short, the pain increasing (Have your wages gone up lately, while your costs continue higher and government regulations gain in stupidity, complexity and lack of enforceability?) and the fear, finally making a grand appearance at Wall Street, is beginning to spread.

Best to be prepared, and keep one's head while all about are panicking, because the panic is about to go mainstream.

As for the Fed, and how they create debt-money out of thin air, this brief, four-second clip should sufficiently explain:

DOW 16,257.94, -179.11 (-1.09%)
NASDAQ 4,113.30, -61.36 (-1.47%)
S&P 1,819.20, -23.17 (-1.26%)
10-Yr Note 99.20, +1.15 (+1.17%) Yield: 2.83%
NASDAQ Volume 2.17 Bil
NYSE Volume 3.58 Bil
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1526-4234
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 325-42
WTI crude oil: 91.80, -0.92
Gold: 1,251.10, +4.20
Silver: 20.38, +0.162
Corn: 434.50, +1.75

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dow Fades Into Close for 5th Straight Losing Session

Issues persist in global financial markets and investors are beginning to shift assets back into fixed income, since yields are rising and should continue to do so, though chances that the Fed will begin tapering in September appear to be diminishing as economic data and corporate reports are not suggestive of a strengthening economy.

The Dow, which, along with the other major indices, was positive all session long, finally succumbed to selling pressure in the final minutes of trading, ending the day with a minor loss, though still the fifth straight session in the red.

What's not being talked about much is where the Dow Industrials currently are settled, well below the 50-day moving average (roughly 15,275) and in danger of sparking another rout in stocks. Additionally, Dow stocks are largely among the best dividend-payers, just the kind of risk asset that investors are shunning, with interest rates on the rise and fixed income carrying much less perceived risk than even blue chip stocks.

The Dow components aren't exactly going to be sold off in wholesale fashion - there's too many diversified investors in them - but they have obviously been under pressure since the start of August, despite Fed incantations and deliberations over QE tapering beginning sometime in the near future.

For gambling types, the biggest question is whether the Fed will actually begin tapering its bond-buying in September, or, at some later date. Some suggest that the economy is so weak, and the Fed terrified of causing a market panic, that tapering will not and cannot occur in the current environment. The secondary issue of by how much the Fed will taper is also in play. Being that the Fed is now so trapped and dovish, the tapering might be an inconsequential number, like $10 billion, reducing their total bond purchases to $75 billion a month, still an enormous liquidity lift.

In such a case, wherein the Fed reduces QE by a mere $10 billion a month, in either September or October, and then continues to cut down on bond purchases at a rate of around $10 billion a month every two to three months, would probably be enough to rattle markets a bit without causing a correction or crash. Of course, the US and global economies are currently in such a weakened state that markets may crash and burn on their own, despite what the Fed and other central banks conspire in their rigging.

The outlook remains the same, with the bias toward the downside. September, with the Federal government politicians back from their extended, annual August recess, is shaping up to be momentous, what with budget negotiations and an expected fight over raising the debt ceiling again, with the outlier that the Republican Tea Partiers may be so inclined as to stall negotiations on both issues to a point at which the government is shut down. On top of the already-expanding sequester, these kind of childish hissy fits from our political elite might be enough to topple the markets into bear territory.

It's an eventuality, as the bull market is approaching the 54-month mark, which it will reach on September 9. The week of September 8-15 figures to be dramatic, with the anniversary of 9/11 and expected hijinks in the corridors of power.

One thing is for sure: the housing market is already under stress and, unless interest rates suddenly reverse course (unlikely), the so-called recovery in housing is over, dead and done. Real estate prices nationwide should experience a fairly sharp pullback over the next three to 12 months, because there are not enough qualified purchasers out there, interest rates are driving up the cost of buying and carrying a mortgage, and, the number of homes still held off the market by the banks continues to be an enormous, unseen force driving down real estate. Bargains are out there, but one has to look hard and long for the right ones at the right entry price. This is not a market for bold speculation, but rather for considered, strategic purchasing of the right property, be it for housing, farming or simply to escape the madness which is headed toward everyone within 10 miles of a major population center.

Major shifts in the economies of billions of people are underway and will play out over the next five to seven years, transforming the economic landscape beyond what most people can imagine.

Dow 15,002.99, -7.75 (0.05%)
NASDAQ 3,613.59, +24.50 (0.68%)
S&P 500 1,652.35, +6.29 (0.38%)
NYSE Composite 9,421.56, +35.67 (0.38%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,285,024,000
NYSE Volume 3,266,316,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4827-1777
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 75-316
WTI crude oil: 104.96, -2.14
Gold: 1,372.60, +6.90
Silver: 23.07, -0.095

Friday, August 9, 2013

More Churning as Stocks End Week Lower

Stocks disappointed this week, but after all was said and done, the damage was, at worst, marginal, or as Chairman Bernanke and his crony capitalists might call it, modest.

The same pattern of trading appeared every day of the week, typified by a weak start, a bottoming out before noon and a half-hearted rally - on exceptionally-low volume - into the close.

All said, the major indices barely budged.

For the week, the Dow was the biggest loser, down 233 points. The NASDAQ shed all of 29 points, while the S&P dropped a whole 18 points. All this may be indicative of is rotation out of dividend-payers to more speculative stocks, a kind of reverse shoot-the-generals move which is about as back-asswards as this market can get. On the other hand, why should it be any different? Even though the Fed has signaled - with both hands and feet and the waving of other extremities, ear-pulling, farting and goofy faces - that they're going to taper bond-buying in September, why should traders care. It's still a month away, more than ample time to do some shorting, dip-buying and re-selling.

Like a freight train without a locomotive, the market, and the economy, are going nowhere fast.

The whole enterprise is pretty damned stupid.

Meanwhile, silver had made a nice move over the past two days, up more than 4%.

Here's a re-posting of a comment left on another site:

Bravo to all who participate in keeping the spirit of America alive, while the government tears it down.

I should say that I think the tide is turning. These a-holes are visibly shaken on a daily basis and it's only a matter of time before the hackers, the self-employed, the thinking people in America bring this system crashing to its core.

Wall Street and the government (and I mean government at all levels, right down to towns and villages) are beyond corrupt. They are now so transparently out-of-touch and ugly to be contemptible. On a daily basis, I meet more and more people who are just refusing to play along any further, from the contractors who give discounts for cash payments, to landlords of homes in foreclosure, to simple, everyday working people whose loathing for this broken system has turned to disgust and disobedience.

Americans are a rare breed. We'll play along for a while, but, in the meantime, we work our own plans, and eventually there's a clash. Governments always fall. Free people who are willing to fight - by whatever means necessary - will always be free. Few are afraid any longer. The bogeymen of terrorism and national security are being laughed at by the masses.

Sure, there's still a lot of sheeple out there, but there are now enough people with backbone who are unafraid because they no longer want to endure this madness from people like Obama, Hayden, McCain, the banksters, etc., who will actually protect the sheeple from themselves and their nanny state government.

There used to be a poster here with the moniker, "CrashIsOptimistic," and that's now the status quo. The elites - fuck-ups that they are - will cause their own demise, hastened by the very people they wish to subjugate.

Grow your own, run your own, mind your business, and when the tax man or the repo man comes calling, play dumb. My experience with a bad mortgage has now run beyond four years and it's been a valuable learning experience, so much so, that other people are asking my advice, which, is simply, FIGHT.

Carry on. They can kill us all, but seriously, who wants to live under the thumb of tyrants?

Dow 15,425.51, -72.81 (0.47%)
NASDAQ 3,660.11, -9.02 (0.25%)
S&P 500 1,691.42, -6.06 (0.36%)
NYSE Composite 9,622.11, -12.59 (0.13%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,524,848,625
NYSE Volume 3,203,273,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3006-3470
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 249-131
WTI crude oil: 105.97, +2.57
Gold: 1,312.20, +2.30
Silver: 20.41, +2.14

Thursday, January 31, 2013

UPDATE: Stocks Near Record Highs as GDP Goes Negative

Editor's Note: We're back up and running with a new computer, after ten days of muddling through with three old Macs.

Wednesday was a pivotal day for US stocks as the government reluctantly reported that GDP shrank in the fourth quarter (remember, hurricane Sandy will be blamed for disappointing holiday retail sales) as defense spending fell by the largest amount in 40 years and inventory growth lagged.

The talking heads across the CNBC and Bloomberg networks blamed the "unexpected" decline of 0.1% mostly on the defense spending, a result of congress' inaction on the budget process and potential for sequester cuts to kick in shortly.

Federal Reserve officials, completing a two-day meeting, noted the economy had "paused" due to weather-related disruptions and other "transitory factors." Nothing like a Fed Open Market Committee that continues to furiously pump dollars into the coffers of the banks and keep interest rates artificially low calling climate change "disruptions" and employing the "transitory" verbiage to mask an incredibly weak nominal economy.

What is not so well hidden in the report is the lack of replenishment of inventories. Through the holiday season, retailers were adamant about reducing overhead, slashing prices and keeping costs to bare-bones levels, opting to wait until later to order new goods. The lack of confidence going forward exacerbates the slow "recovery" further, putting pressure on manufacturers (those few remaining on US shores) to cut prices and make concessions on delivery and payment dates and rates.

The setup is deflationary at worst, erratic at best, but continues to point up issues developing from the federal government's plan to kick the fiscal can down the road a bit further instead of tackling the nation's debt and deficit problems head-on.

As for stocks, they did an about-face after the Fed's afternoon announcement that they would change absolutely nothing, reiterating their intent to purchase $85 billion a month in MBS and Treasury issuance, the inflationary frontage against the winds of stagnation. The Fed also will keep rates artificially low, boosting home sales, but doing little for bank profits. Their attack on the monetary system continues to hamper business investment while inflating real estate through low interest rates. With no exit strategy in place, the only place the Federal Reserve and the government are kicking that can of deflation is directly into a brick wall of deflation and recession. The negative GDP print for the fourth quarter of 2012 is exactly what their policies will produce down the road, though the decline will be vastly greater.

It's important to note that with one quarter of negative GDP already on the books (though revisions will likely change that to a positive integer), another consecutive quarter in the red is the textbook definition of a recession. Regardless of whether the downturn is isolated in one or two areas, the overall picture remains clouded, manipulated and quietly desperate.

There's no good way out of a financial crisis, such as that which occurred in 2008, but the Keynesians in Washington have kept the plates spinning, frantically turning the sticks of quantitative easing and heavy-handed deficit spending. These policies have an end at some point, the question being whether the end will come by their own hands or be forced by the merciless invisible one of Mr. Market.

Optimists will point out - correctly so - that even though the economy is staggering along, it is still vibrant and productive. However, to think that corporate profits are a one-way street to the heavens is a folly on par with thinking the sub-prime housing bubble would never burst.

There's going to be a short-term pullback in both housing and stocks, both having been bid up too high, too fast, on artificial stimulus, a condition approaching that of 2005-07. While the near term cannot be characterized as horrifying, it is most certainly unstable and unsure, and profits will be taken at nose-bleed levels. The chances of a short duration correction are high, those of a cyclical turn to a bear market less likely, though the current bull is now entering its 48th month, worth noting that the turn in 2007, which led directly to a crash in the fall of 2008, was on the heels of a 53-week-long bull run.

Out in the fantasy land known as economic and stock market predictions, the sounds are of quiet groaning accompanied by squeamish forecasts of 2% growth in GDP for 2013 and an S&P ramping toward 1550. While the general public and regional economies twist in the wind under the thumb of higher taxes and tighter regulations, making business development a non-starter, Wall Street will continue to binge on the Fed's free money, the punch bowl that Chairman Bernanke will not take away, and the government debt will continue to be monetized by that same Fed.

Both of these conditions cannot continue indefinitely, but those in control continue to deny the possibility that anyone will feel any economic pain, no matter how slight.

Thus, it would not be at all surprising to see stocks continue to rise in the face of stagnant or deteriorating conditions in the real economy. Either the stock market wakes up to reality or the current bull trend will wind up being the longest in recorded history, all built on an inflationary bubble of the Fed's creation.

It is false to believe that these conditions can continue indefinitely. There is a price to be paid for every manipulation and falsehood presented to the markets and the fallacy of current policies suggests that the price will be enormous.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

It's Not Just Stocks; Americans Are Rising Again

If one were to look just the US stock markets, the assumption would likely be that all is well and good with the US economy.

The major averages are at multi-year highs, with the Dow less than 600 points from its all-time high (Oct. 9, 2007: 14,164.53 close) and the S&P 500 a mere 100 points away from its all-time closing high set on October 9, 2007, at 1565.15.

A peek under the hood, so to speak, would reveal a different reality, with unemployment above eight percent for nearly four years running, massive stimulus programs by the government and the Federal Reserve boosting stock prices but sparking inflation and leaving middle class America and small business seething through high gas prices, slack demand, virtually no job creation, a shrinking work force and record numbers of Americans receiving government assistance through food stamps, welfare and a variety of other programs.

The impression that all is apparently just fine is touted by the media to a largely unsuspecting public, though that aspect of life in America is changing. More and more people distrust government at all levels, actually understanding that the Federal Reserve is willfully destroying the value of the US dollar, engaging in all manner of underground economics, from backyard gardens to unreported side job incomes, leaving the "system" to fend for itself without public support.

Government, especially at the federal level, continues to parade about their so-called "expertise," knowing what's "good for the American people" while doing little to nothing to remedy the conditions which plague middle-to-low income families. The rapidity by which independent thinkers are withdrawing the consent to be governed is startling when one examines Americans up close.

While the economists and analysts look at largely massaged, incorrect and inconclusive numbers on jobs, spending, inflation, productivity and income, they entirely miss the now massive, unreported, burgeoning economics taking place in small towns and large cites across the expanse of the continent. Certainly, there are minions still without knowledge or understanding of the extent of the financial crisis - now nearly four years old and running - still willing to rely on government help, but a growing number of people have come to the realization that government today exists only to self-perpetuate and serve the needs of a greedy, cumbersome system of enormous public corporations and government regulations designed to stifle competition, crush creativity and retard personal growth.

Such people are increasingly taking matters into their own hands, purposely defaulting on fraudulent mortgage loans, making do with less, and living more off the land than having to depend on the corporate food chain of genetically-modified foods, products stuffed with hormones, sugars and high fructose corn syrup that are unhealthy but still promoted by government officials.

These people are eating better, more nutritious, healthier foods, avoiding government regulations in quiet protest and operating in a largely cash economy that will continue to grow and flourish because it is too big, too diverse and too pervasive for regulators and prosecutors to effectively control.

From the government's perspective, such actions by individuals and families in the private sector are viewed as counter-productive to their aim of the perfect welfare state. In the minds of the actual practitioners of this "new economy" it is a necessity of survival. They are finding like-minded individuals in their friends and neighbors, spreading the word to others who seek to escape the all-seeing eyes and ears of a tyrannical elite, and prospering while the government stumbles, bumbles and eventually will self-destruct.

When the invisible secondary economy becomes so large that it mirrors the "official "GDP," as occurred during the oppressive days of prohibition, radical change will certainly follow, as it did then. The people shall rise, not all as one, but in various pockets of defiance, from urban strongholds to rural outliers. For many, especially those which have not seen the light, chaos will prevail. For those who have been silently proactive in the management of their livelihoods and self-sufficiency, it shall be a time of prosperity and freedom.

America has been and will be a country based upon principles of personal liberty and economic freedom. If the government is ill-equipped to support these values or even to go so far as to attempt to deprive citizens of their rights under the constitution and other prevailing, fair, tested laws, then the people will withdraw their consent and forge a new era irrespective of government policy and procedure.

The process of reformation and recovery from a top-down, repressive, centrally-planned society and economy to one from which the nation was formed: individual, self-sustaining, resourceful and fiercely independent, will take years, even decades to come to fruition, but come it will, come it must.

American people of good conscience and knowledge have had nearly enough from a government that refuses to protect and promote the interests of its citizens. While a day of reckoning may never be realized, small steps forward by individuals and like-minded groups are already well underway and will continue until the jackals, thieves and miscreants who call themselves our "leaders" are swept away by a tidal wave of public discontent.

America - at least its spirit - will forever live in the hearts and minds of true patriots who will always choose to fight rather than to take flight.

Those who wish to limit freedoms and curtail the liberties which made the nation the greatest in the history of mankind will find their tenure short-lived and their efforts fruitless.

This post was inspired by a true American.

Dow 13,593.37, +53.51 (0.40%)
NASDAQ 3,183.95. +28.12 (0.89%)
S&P 500 1,465.77, +5.78 (0.40%)
NYSE Composite 8,458.88, +51.85 (0.62%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,028,686,500
NYSE Volume 5,067,050,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3749-1817
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 749-31 (absurd)
WTI crude oil: 99.00, +3.78
Gold: 1,772.70, +31.50
Silver: 34.66, -0.12

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Commodities, Stocks Continue to Slide in Deflationary Downturn

It's time to look at some numbers in a broad macro view to get a handle of where the global economy is heading over the next six to twelve months.

In less than six months, Americans will head to the polls to either elect a new president or give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt and return him for a second term. There are also key Senate races and all members of the House of Representatives are up for re-election. The implications of who becomes president and which party controls congress will have profound implications for the US economy going forward.

However, the presidency is the most important piece of the puzzle. In a nutshell, if Obama wins, we will have a continuation of the descent into a welfare state. If Romney takes it, bet on police state, with brutal, militarized police forces mobilized to quell citizen uprisings throughout the country.

Either way, the USA is in a tough spot, because neither the Republicans or Democrats will do anything remotely positive to improve conditions for millions of Americans.

Let's look at the numbers:

America's current deficit is $1.3 trillion for 2012.

The total US debt is beyond $15 trillion, and, if you add in unfunded liabilities - pensions, Social Security and Medicare - that number grows to somewhere between $125 and $150 trillion. That's a number that cannot be paid out or paid back easily.

In just the past 15 days, reality seems to have struck all the way from Washington to Wall Street. The economy is just barely limping along; in some areas of the country, local economies are dead or nearing a fatal state. More than half the US states face budget shortfalls for fiscal 2013 (starting July 1), the worst being California, Massachusetts (thank you, Mitt!), Illinois and Louisiana. The total gap for the states is estimated at $49 billion and that may be low.

Since the states have to balance their budgets, there will be layoffs and cuts in services. These will be anything but bullish for the general economy.

Retail sales have slowed for four straight months. In related news, JC Penny's (JCP) just today reported second quarter (non) earnings. They lost 0.25 cents per share on estimates of an 11-cent loss. Top-line revenue also missed the projected target of $3.41 billion, coming in at a squeamish $3.15 billion.

CEO Ron Johnson, who took over the reigns of the struggling merchandiser recently and had been widely praised as the master planner of Apple's signature stores, has a difficult road ahead. His Apple experience cannot be rightly compared to what he is dealing with at JC Penny's . Apple's stores were designed to sell only Apple products, which are unique and the envy of the retail world. Penny's deals with thousands of products from a multitude of vendors. It's not the same, and, even though Mr. Johnson is a bright fellow, he's in over his head in an environment that is not favorable to retailers.

Penny's also announced they were discontinuing their dividend of 80 cents per share. The stock was trading down more than 10% in the after-hours.

There are more than 44 million Americans - nearly one in six - receiving food stamps.

New home sales in 2011 had their worst year since 1961.

Stocks on the major averages are down between 4.5 and 5% in just the last 10 trading days. The Dow lost ground on nine of the last ten days; the S&P and NASDAQ have finished in the red eight of the last 10 sessions.

Meanwhile, the dollar index has soared, from 78.71 on April 27, to 81.26 at the close today. Meanwhile the Euro has collapsed to under 1.28 against the US dollar, finishing at 1.2729 at today's close. The move up in the value of the dollar has sent commodities screaming lower, with gold, oil and silver all suffering steep losses in the month of May. That's actually good news for Americans, particularly because lower oil prices eventually will translate into lower gas prices at the pump.

So, what is all of this data telling us? Surprisingly, despite tens of trillions of dollars pumped into the economy since 2008 by the Fed and the federal government, the wailing tone of deflation is unmistakable. Prices are falling rapidly, though incomes are stagnant or declining. There simply are not enough people working and making sufficient money to keep price levels high.

Anecdotally, food prices are coming down. Real estate remains in a moribund, deep slump and home foreclosures are once again rising. Everything will get cheaper as the economy continues down the inescapable path of deflation because the Federal Reserve's money spigot has directed all the flows to the banks, and they are not lending, mainly because they're still repairing their badly damaged balance sheets, and, even when they do cough up some dough, the borrower has to have absolutely pristine credit, a circumstance which is becoming something of a rarity.

Some say the US economy will be destroyed because its unpayable debts will undermine the value of the dollar and cause hyper-inflation. That may be so, though it's difficult to see inflation in anything when 15-20% of Americans are living in what's essentially a day-to-day fight for survival.

If hyper-inflation does one day come about and the dollar is smashed to a fraction of its former value, a deflationary depression will occur first. The government needs low interest rates to continue paying off the massive debt it has created, and will do everything it can to keep rates low.

But, because the Federal reserve has failed so miserably on the second part of its mandate - employment - all the money in the world (and the Fed has most of it now) cannot make people spend when they have no jobs, no prospects, and are worried about having enough food to eat tomorrow. Food prices are likely to stabilize, but, for the most part, the rest of the economy is toast, though it is still marginally better than that of Europe, of which half the countries are already in recession.

The money that was furnished to the banks by the American taxpayer, courtesy of the Fed and Treasury, went straight to financial institutions, and we know that they are profligate gamblers and thieves who will only enrich themselves, leaving Main Street, small business and the American public to fend for themselves in a mostly cash system which is quietly, albeit quickly, turning into a massive black market, underground economy.

Eventually, the government will fail horribly, and many will suffer. Those with wits, skills, cunning and a propensity to see the future and break rules, will prosper. Europe will fall first, but you can bet your bottom dollar (if you still have any) that their problems will come to roost on the shimmering shores of America.

Dow 12,632.00, -63.35 (0.50%)
NASDAQ 2,893.76, -8.82 (0.30%)
S&P 500 1,330.66, -7.69 (0.57%)
NYSE Composite 7,635.81, -69.64 (0.90%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,835,801,375
NYSE Volume 4,114,145,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2214-3408
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 77-236 (gap widening)
WTI crude oil: 93.98, -0.80
Gold: 1,557.10, -3.90
Silver: 28.08, -0.27

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fed to Keep Rates Low Through Late 2014; Most Investors Pleased

Ending the first FOMC rate policy meeting of 2012 with a bang, the Federal Reserve announced today no change in their target federal funds rate of 0-0.25%, but the major announcement was that they would keep this same, historically-low rate in effect through "late 2014." The rapid results of the Fed's announcement that they would keep monetary policy ridiculously easy for the next three years were felt immediately in all markets.

The dollar dropped like a rock against most other currencies, especially the Euro.

Bond yields fall dramatically.

Stocks turned from mildly negative to ferociously positive.

Gold, silver, crude oil and most other commodities spiked higher.

Those were the winners. The losers were just about anybody on a fixed income, which includes not only those on Social Security or retirement pensions, but also most workers in the private sector, which has experienced flat to lower labor prices for most of the past decade.

Therein lies the fallacy of the Fed's dual mandate of providing stable prices and full employment. Obviously, on both measures, the Fed has failed badly over recent years and is now in a no-win situation without much flexibility to react to real-time events and unforeseen circumstances.

With yields on money market funds and certificates of deposit at or near record lows, the Fed is encouraging risk, though Americans, still saddled with too much household debt, many with underwater mortgages to go along with stagnant wages, still aren't fully in the mood - nor do many have the wherewithal - to spend freely and get the economy out of the dolorous regime of 1-3% growth.

Business, generally, though there are pockets of severe conditions, are content to keep grinding on, though innovation and new enterprise creation has been somewhat stifled, though not to the degree it has been, especially during the forlorn days of late 2008 and early 2009.

Conditions are generally much better than back then, as major banks have largely re-capitalized, households have paid down a good portion of debt and governments - outside of the petulant federal one - have tightened budgets though labor reductions, better spending discipline and capital controls. The final pieces to the puzzle of a sustained, vibrant recovery rest squarely upon the shoulders of the federal government, which must seriously tackle the issues of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reducing the annual deficit (a balanced budget, or something close to it, would be a welcome change), restructuring the tax code, reducing needless regulations and implementing fundamental changes in entitlement programs.

The federal government's list of dirty laundry is long and unlikely to be resolved to any great extent in the background of a presidential election year. That is not the Fed's problem, just as the profligate spending of many of the European nations should not be an epidemic for the ECB, though that is exactly what it has become.

The Fed is doing just about everything it can to make the business environment friendly and accommodative while the federal government, though gridlock and ideological differences, fights, kicking and screaming at any and every notion of change.

Americans, on the other hand, are ready for change in a more positive direction, a theme repeatedly stressed in Tuesday night's State of the Union address by President Obama, who outlined a number of measures to get government working for the people again at the federal level, such notions quickly dismissed by political commentators and opponent Republicans as mere politicking.

Sadly, the politics of Washington, DC will not allow for any substantive changes for at least another year, meaning that Americans are stuck with what they've been handed, like it or not, making the matter of improving one's economic conditions a paramount requirement for each individual and family.

How, though can individuals help the economy grow?

Perhaps through being wiser shoppers, better disciplined managers of their own finances and smarter stewards of their own assets, which is not limited to just stocks, bonds, retirement accounts and real estate, but must include a dedication to some basic American principles, such as working hard, saving (though that is tough, but necessary), and making progress and innovation in one's chosen career path.

Working Americans, must shoulder much of the burden, as usual, though the lot of most working Americans (the 80-90% of the labor force with jobs) isn't really all that bad presently, it's the future - along with the repayment of past debts - about which most are overly concerned.

Considering that the worst of the recession is well behind us by now and that the Fed has signaled that conditions are unlikely to change much in the coming three years, the real issue is that of confidence, in one's job, one's future and in America.

It is up to everyone to see to it that the federal government is brought into line with the wishes of the middle class. It's not enough to deride the rich for not paying their fair share of taxes. More emphasis must be placed upon the well-entrenched welfare state. The poor aren't pulling their weight very well, either.

It's not enough to vote for the candidates of choice in November. It is the duty of all Americans to inquire and to become informed about government policies, resist them if necessary, protest them if they are wrong and change them if possible.

The Federal Reserve or the federal government will not make the needed changes to bring America back to a system of individual rights and fairness without hearing from each of us, all of us. It is long past time for Americans to take matters into their own hands, deal with the vagueries and inconsistencies of institutions and turn the tide. We are at an important point of change in our history and individuals must make the difference.

Dow 12,758.85, +83.10 (0.66%)
NASDAQ 2,818.31, +31.67 (1.14%)
S&P 500 1,326.06, +11.41 (0.87%)
NYSE Composite 7,914.81, +74.16 (0.95%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,954,827,375
NYSE Volume 4,410,711,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4049-1578
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 239-20
WTI crude oil: 99.40, +0.45
Gold: 1,710.90, +46.40
Silver: 33.28, +1.30

Friday, December 2, 2011

Stocks Finish Flat After Suspect Non-Farm Payroll Data; Super Week for Stocks

By now, the "official" BLS non-farm payroll figures for November have been digested, sliced, diced and regurgitated by radio talk shows, blogs and financial news outlets.

While the headline numbers of 8.6% unemployment - a big drop from last month's 9.0 - and a gain of 120,000 net new jobs created (140,000 in the private sector) looked good on the surface, a peek under the hood revealed that the unemployment rate did not drop due to new jobs, but rather on the scurrilous assertion that 315,000 people dropped out of the civilian labor force.

These 315,000 are often described as "discouraged" workers, who have fallen off the unemployment roles and are no longer seeking employment. Of course, this assumption that just because your unemployment benefits have run out you're no longer seeking employment is nearly a complete fantasy. The truth of the matter is that many of these people will be filling up the welfare and food stamp roles in a New York minute, while others will take menial day jobs, work off the books, move in with friends or relatives or join the swelling ranks of the homeless.

Additionally, the BLS reported that the participation rate (the percentage of adults in the labor force) fell from 64.2% to 64.0%, with those not in the labor force growing by 487,000. That number includes retirees (a number that will only continue to grow as Baby Boomers begin to retire), long term disabled and, supposedly, lottery winners who no longer have to toil for a wage.

So, while the White House does a victory lap, claiming unemployment at its lowest rate in more than 2 1/2 years, the reality of working in America is vastly different from what the media would have one believe.

More than eight million fewer people are employed than before the last recession began in the 4th quarter of 2007. Employment is at levels last seen in 2000. Long-term unemployment remains a persistent problem. The average time out of work is now over 40 weeks, the highest in history.

That's why Wall Street was not wowed with the report. The statistically-misleading headline 8.6% unemployment was achieved primarily due to a faltering workforce and over 300,000 falling off the roles. Stocks began the day with healthy gains, but after a week full of encouraging and cheerleading, profit-taking was the order of the day and volume was a mere dribble.

Still, the week as a whole was impressive for equity investors. The Dow rang up a gain of 788 points, one of the best weeks ever. The S&P 500 gained 85 points and the NASDAQ was up a whopping 187 points.

Wall Street can cheer for now, as the economy seems to be limping steadily along, but longer term problems remain, especially in the middle class, where the general result of a layoff or firing and subsequent successful job search results in working for less and a lower standard of living.

Politicians may crow about the continued "job creation," but the hard truth is that America is not creating enough jobs to satisfy the needs of what used to be a robust, mobile labor force. Adjustments are being made, as unreported income and cash transactions in the so-called "underground economy" are on the rise. What's keeping America going is, as usual, not the jury-rigging of the political class, but the ingenuity of the American populace and their will to live free and unfettered by the rigors of an oppressive federal government.

The long and short of it is that for all the official numbers and statistics the government produces, they don't add up to a strong economy. It is what lies underneath that is really making a difference. At some point, government must admit that they cannot create jobs or centrally plan the economy and the size and scope of the governments at all levels must be reduced. The US economy is too big, too diverse and too dynamic for it to be controlled from Washington, DC or even state capitols. People work, get paid and maybe, pay taxes, though how they go about those various processes is of too much complexity and granularity for government statisticians to capture.

There's a lot of untapped wealth and resource in the United States, mostly in the hands and minds of American workers. Government needs only to get out of the way and allow Americans to live and earn honestly and with hope for the future.

Dow 12,019.42, -0.61 (0.01%)
NASDAQ 2,626.93, +0.73 (0.03%)
S&P 500 1,244.28, -0.30 (0.02%)
NYSE Composite 7,453.55, +3.12 (0.04%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,656,224,750
NYSE Volume 4,137,980,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3407-2204
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 158-56
WTI crude oil: 100.96, +0.76
Gold: 1,751.30, +11.50
Silver: 32.69, +0.07