Category Archives: Economy

Total Eclipse, by James Howard Kunstler

The moon of lunacy passes in front of the sunlight of reason and truth, producing a total eclipse of sanity. From James Howard Kunstler at kunstler.com:

First they came for the statues….

What do you know, long about Wednesday, August 16, 2017, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal) discovered that the United States Capitol building was infested with statues of Confederate dignitaries. Thirty years walking those marbled halls and she just noticed? Her startled announcement perked up Senator Cory Booker (D- NJ) who has been navigating those same halls only a few years. He quickly introduced a bill to blackball the offending statues. And, of course, the congressional black caucus also enjoyed a mass epiphany on the bronze and stone delegation of white devils.

I’d like to hear to hear an argument as to why the Washington Monument should remain dedicated to that vicious slave-driver and rebellious soldier, and indeed the name of the city that is the federal seat of government. Or the District of Columbia (after Columbus, who initiated the genocide of Native Americans). Or America, cribbed out of Amerigo Vespucci, the wicked Florentine cartographer who ascertained that the place called Brazil today was not the east coast of Asia but actually a New World — and so all our troubles began!

Well, there has been a lot of idle chatter the past half-century about the root causes of this-and-that, and it seems that we have located one at last. I expect that scientific studies out of our best universities will soon confirm that occult transmissions from the statue of Jefferson Davis (a double-devil named after an earlier devil) are responsible for the murder rate in Chicago.

Just as empires tend to build their most grandiose monuments prior to collapse, our tottering empire is concocting the most monumentally ludicrous delusions before it slides down the laundry chute of history. It’s as if the Marx Brothers colluded with Alfred Hitchcock to dream up a melodramatic climax to the American Century that would be the most ridiculous and embarrassing to our posterity.

To continue reading: Total Eclipse

 

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Rogoff, Orwell and Kafka, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Raúl Ilargi Meijer cuts to the immoral insanity of central banking. From Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

Harvard professor and chess grandmaster Kenneth Rogoff has said some pretty out there stuff before, in his role as self-appointed crusader against cash, but apparently he’s not done yet. In fact, he might just be getting started. This time around he sounds like a crossover between George Orwell and Franz Kafka, with a serving of ‘theater of the absurd’ on top. Rogoff wants to give central banks total control over your lives. They must decide what you do with your money. First and foremost, they must make it impossible for you to save your money from their disastrous policies, so they are free to create more mayhem.

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession Says Top Economist

Negative interest rates will be needed in the next major recession or financial crisis, and central banks should do more to prepare the ground for such policies, according to leading economist Kenneth Rogoff. Quantitative easing is not as effective a tonic as cutting rates to below zero, he believes. Central banks around the world turned to money creation in the credit crunch to stimulate the economy when interest rates were already at rock bottom.

Central banks create recessions and crises. Not people, and not economies. Central banks. The next recession, which is inevitable, that’s the one thing Rogoff has right, will come when the bubbles in housing, stocks, bonds, etc., created by central banks’ QE, ZIRP, NIRP, start to pop. And there’s nothing worse than giving central banks even more tools for creating crises. We should take away the tools they have now, not hand them more sledgehammers.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives the professor of economics at Harvard University argues that central banks should start preparing now to find ways to cut rates to below zero so they are not caught out when the next recession strikes. Traditionally economists have assumed that cutting rates into negative territory would risk pushing savers to take their money out of banks and stuff the cash – metaphorically or possibly literally – under their mattress. As electronic transfers become the standard way of paying for purchases, Mr Rogoff believes this is a diminishing risk.

To continue reading: Rogoff, Orwell and Kafka

Conspiracy or Chaos? by Jim Quinn

SLL leans towards chaos. From Jim Quinn at theburningplatform.com:

“The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually chaotic. The truth is that it is not The Iluminati, or The Jewish Banking Conspiracy, or the Gray Alien Theory. The truth is far more frightening – Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.” – Alan Moore

Alan Moore, the renowned graphic novel writer, and author of the dystopian classic V for Vendetta, politically identifies as an anarchist. His view that all political states are an outgrowth of anarchy, with the biggest gang taking control and dictating how things will be run, is manifested in V for Vendetta. As an anarchist, you can understand why he is doubtful of conspiracy theories and an all-powerful entity controlling the world. He believes in a chaotic world competing gangs position themselves to gain power and control.

“We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation – that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice.”- Alan Moore

The Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta has been adopted by anarchist groups around the world, including: Anonymous, WikiLeaks, and the Occupy protestors. Moore’s positive view of the Occupy movement was based on his belief ordinary people had the right to reclaim what had been taken from them by criminal bankers. The initial impetus for the Occupy protests was the destruction of Main Street USA by Wall Street sociopaths, who not only escaped prosecution for their crimes, but were bailed out by the taxpayers they had pillaged and further enriched as captured politicians enabled them to get even bigger.

To continue reading: Conspiracy or Chaos?

State of Retail: JCPenny Plunges, Now a “Penny” Stock; Amazon to Blame? by Mike Mish Shedlock

The retail sector is undergoing a huge and painful transformation, not all of which is driven by Amazon. From Mike Mish Shedlock at mishtalk.com:

JCPenney announced a $62 million dollar loss for the quarter. With the announcement, its share price plunged 16% breaking the $4 barrier for the first time. Stocks under $5 are considered “penny” stocks.

Please consider JCPenney Nosedives to All-Time Low on Big Loss.

Yup. JCPenney is now a penny stock — a Wall Street term for a company trading under $5. JCPenney (JCP) said it lost $62 million in its second quarter. That’s more than a year ago. The retailer also said that same store sales — a measure of how well stores open at least a year are doing — fell more than 1% during the quarter.

JCPenney is the latest department store chain to announce dismal results. Macy’s (M), Kohl’s (KSS) and Dillard’s (DDS) all reported a decline in same store sales on Thursday as they struggle to compete against Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) and Walmart (WMT).

The massive shift in the retail landscape has led many chains to shut down underperforming stores.
JCPenney is one of them, announcing earlier this year it would be closing 138 stores. JCPenney wound up delaying the closings by a month though after consumers rushed to many of the stores to take advantage of the massive liquidation sales.

Ellison also said during the analyst call that JCPenney expects many retailers to ramp up promotions and discounts to try and lure shoppers into their stores. The CEO warned these sales may be even more aggressive than “what we’ve traditionally seen.”

Don’t Blame Amazon

Amazon is not to blame, but Amazon sure does not help either.

Retail is massively overbuilt. That’s the big problem. And it’s not just the box retailers. The fast food restaurants are all cannibalizing each other’s sales too.

To continue reading: State of Retail: JCPenny Plunges, Now a “Penny” Stock; Amazon to Blame?

Are We Already in Recession? by Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith argues the US economy is already in a recession. He’ll get no argument from SLL. From Smith at oftwominds.com:

If we stop counting zombies, we’re already in recession.
How shocked would you be if it was announced that the U.S. had just entered a recession, that is, a period in which gross domestic product (GDP) declines (when adjusted for inflation) for two or more quarters?
Would you really be surprised to discover that the eight-year long “recovery,” the weakest on record, had finally rolled over into recession?
Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the statistical pulse of the real-world economy knows the numbers are softening.
— Auto/light truck sales: either down or off a cliff, depending on how much lipstick has been applied to the pig.
— Restaurant/dining sales: down.
— Tax receipts: down.
— Retail sales: flat, stagnant or down, depending on the sector and if the numbers have been adjusted for inflation/loss of purchasing power.
— Rents in high-rent regions: finally softening after years of relentless increases.
— Consumer debt: hitting new highs.
— Corporate profits: stripped of gimmickry, stagnant or down.
Those who study recessions know that employment often tops out just before the economy rolls over into recession. Strong employment is the last gasp of an expansionary phase.
There are several fundamental reasons why we might be in a recession that manages to avoid the official definition. The starting place is the artificial nature of the eight-year long “recovery” since 2009; in the view of many observers, the economy never really exited the 2008-09 recession.
Those in this camp look at fundamentals, not the stock market, which has been held up as a proxy for the real economy, when in fact it is only a proxy for financialization and official selection of the market as the (easily manipulated) signifier of economic vitality and prosperity.
To continue reading: Are We Already in Recession?

Amazon Online Grocery Boom? Not So Fast… by Wolf Richter

A lot of money gets spent on groceries, but the percentage that falls to grocers bottom lines is surprisingly small. Now, with Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and its intention to expand online grocery shopping, that percentage will probably get even smaller. A shakeout is coming. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

All big gorillas have been trying, but consumers just don’t want to.

Maybe Amazon has figured out that you’re not the only one who isn’t buying groceries online. Maybe it has figured out, despite all the money it has thrown at it, that selling groceries online is a very tough nut to crack. And no one has cracked it yet.

Numerous companies have been trying. Safeway started an online store and delivery service during the dotcom bubble and has made practically no headway. A plethora of startups, brick-and-mortar retailers, and online retailers have tried it, including the biggest gorillas of all — Walmart, Amazon, and Google. Google is trying it in conjunction with Costco and others. It just isn’t catching on.

And this has baffled many smart minds. Online sales in other products are skyrocketing and wiping out the businesses of brick-and-mortar retailers along the way. But groceries?

That’s one of the reasons Amazon is eager to shell out $14.7 billion to buy Whole Foods, its biggest acquisition ever, dwarfing its prior biggest acquisition, Zappos, an online shoe seller, for $850 million. Amazon cannot figure out either how to sell groceries online though it has tried for years. Now it’s looking for a new model — namely the old model in revised form?

This is why everyone who’s online wants to get a piece of the grocery pie: The pie is big. Monthly sales at grocery stores in June seasonally adjusted were $53 billion. For the year 2016, sales amounted to $625 billion:

But it’s going to be very tough for online retailers to muscle into this brick-and-mortar space, according to Gallup, based on its annual Consumption Habits survey, conducted in July. Consumers just aren’t doing it:

  • Only 9% of US households say they order groceries online at least once a month, either for pickup or delivery.
  • Only 4% do so at least once a week.
  • By contrast, someone in nearly all households (98%) goes to brick-and-mortar grocery stores at least once a month, and 83% go at least once a week.

To continue reading: Amazon Online Grocery Boom? Not So Fast…

This Hits the Wheezing Commercial Real Estate Bubble at Worst Possible Time, by Wolf Richter

Are the Chinese withdrawing from the US commercial real estate market. If so, that’s not bullish for real estate prices. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

The last big enthusiastic buyer, China, is leaving the party.

Commercial real estate, such as office and apartment towers, in trophy cities in the US and Europe has been among the favorite items on the long and eclectic shopping lists of Chinese companies. At the forefront are the vast, immensely indebted, opaquely structured conglomerates HNA, Dalian Wanda, Anbang Insurance, and Fosun International. In terms of commercial real estate, the party kicked off seriously in 2013. Over the two years in the US alone, according to Morgan Stanley, cited by Bloomberg, Chinese firms have acquired $17 billion worth of commercial properties.

In the second quarter in Manhattan, Chinese entities accounted for half of the commercial real estate purchases. This includes the $2.2 billion purchase in May of the 45-story office tower at 245 Park Avenue, the sixth largest transaction ever in Manhattan. At $1,282 per square foot, the price was also among the highest ever paid for this type of property.

Most of HNA’s funding for this deal — one of its 30 major acquisitions since the beginning of 2016 — was borrowed from China’s state-owned banks. But HNA also borrowed $508 million from JPMorgan Chase, Natixis, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and Societe Generale. This has been the hallmark for all Chinese acquirers: a lot of borrowing from China and some funding from offshore sources.

Similarly, Chinese acquirers accounted for about one-quarter of commercial property transactions in central London in 2016, according to the Morgan Stanley report. In Australia, over the past few years, Chinese firms accounted for 12% to 25% of all office transactions by value.

But now these conglomerates and other Chinese firms engaging in outbound acquisitions have run into a veritable buzz saw of regulatory efforts by Chinese authorities designed to accomplish two things: slow down these capital outflows; and keep the Chinese banks from getting perforated by their exposure to the overleveraged conglomerates.

The authorities put the banks under intense pressure to deleverage. And the banks put the conglomerates under pressure to deleverage. A number of deals have already gotten scuttled.

To continue reading: This Hits the Wheezing Commercial Real Estate Bubble at Worst Possible Time