Category Archives: Economy

Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Growth has been in a long-run downtrend, and the Chinese credit spigot that has kept the global economy afloat is running into the law of diminishing returns. From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

It’s amusing to see how views start to converge, at the same time that it’s tiresome to see how long that takes. It’s a good thing that more and more people ‘discover’ how and why austerity, especially in Europe, is such a losing and damaging strategy. It’s just a shame that this happens only after the horses have left the barn and the cows have come home, been fed, bathed, put on lipstick and gone back out to pasture again. Along the same lines, it’s beneficial that the recognition that for a long time economic growth has not been what ‘we’ think it should be, is spreading.

But we lost so much time that we could have used to adapt to the consequences. The stronger parties in all this, the governments, companies, richer individuals, may be wrong, but they have no reason to correct their wrongs: the system appears to work fine for them. They actually make good money because all corrections, all policies and all efforts to hide the negative effects of the gross ‘mistakes’, honest or not, made in economic and political circles are geared towards making them ‘whole’.

The faith in the absurd notion of trickle down ‘economics’ allows them to siphon off future resources from the lower rungs of society, towards themselves in the present. It will take a while for the lower rungs to figure this out. The St. Louis Fed laid it out so clearly this week that I wrote to Nicole saying ‘We’ve been vindicated by the Fed itself.’ That is, the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s.

To continue reading: Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing

 

Advertisements

Worse Than a Decade of Stagnation, by Wolf Richter

SLL has long maintained that the economy is in much worse shape than indicated by official statistics. With President Trump taking office, it’s a good bet the numbers will catch up with reality. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

Retail sales are held up by only two sectors. The rest are sinking.

There are two components of “retail and food services sales” that have been booming over the past few years through the fourth quarter 2016. And then there’s all the rest combined – 71% of total retail sales – that has been in decline since the third quarter of 2008. That’s the tough reality of retail sales in the US.

First the good news: e-commerce sales

In the fourth quarter, e-commerce sales soared 14.3% from a year earlier, to $123.6 billion, not adjusted for seasonality and price changes, according to the Commerce Department today. E-commerce sales for the entire year 2016 jumped 15.1% year-over-year to $394.9 billion, accounting for 8.1% of total retail and food services sales, up from 7.3% in 2015. You see where this is going.

E-commerce sales include online sales by retailers with brick-and-mortar stores, such as Walmart and Macy’s that are all trying to carve out a presence on the internet, with varying success.

This chart uses seasonally adjusted e-commerce sales to eliminate the very large seasonal fluctuations, including the spike every Q4 and plunge every Q1, but it’s not adjusted for inflation:

While e-commerce soared 14.3% year-over-year in Q4, total retail and food services sales, including e-commerce, rose only 3.9%. In all of 2016, total retail sales edged up only 2.9% from 2015. So what is left over once e-commerce is removed from the equation?

To continue reading: Worse Than a Decade of Stagnation

 

“Seriously Delinquent” Auto Loans Surge, by Wolf Richter

The latest canary in the coal mine is surging auto loan delinquencies. The upturn in the auto industry cannot withstand a credit retrenchment. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

The New York Fed, in its Household Debt and Credit Report for the fourth quarter 2016, put it this way today: “Household debt increases substantially, approaching previous peak.” It jumped by $226 billion in the quarter, or 1.8%, to the glorious level of $12.58 trillion, “only $99 billion shy of its 2008 third quarter peak.”

Yes! Almost there! Keep at it! There’s nothing like loading up consumers with debt to make central bankers outright giddy.

Auto loan balances in 2016 surged at the fastest pace in the 18-year history of the data series, the report said, driven by the highest originations of loans ever. Alas, what the auto industry has been dreading is now happening: Delinquencies have begun to surge.

This chart – based on data from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which varies slightly from the New York Fed’s data – shows how rapidly auto loan balances have ballooned since the Great Recession. At $1.112 trillion (or $1.16 trillion according to the New York Fed), they’re now 35% higher than they’d been during the crazy peak of the prior bubble. Note that during the $93 billion increase in auto loan balances in 2016, new vehicle sales were essentially flat:

No way that this is an auto loan bubble. Not this time. It’s sustainable. Or at least containable when it’s not sustainable, or whatever. These ballooning loans have made the auto sales boom possible.

To continue reading: “Seriously Delinquent” Auto Loans Surge

Made For Each Other, by James Howard Kunstler

Nobody in Eunuchville (Washington) realizes that the ship has hit an iceberg, is taking on water, and will soon sink. From James Howard Kunstler at kunstler.com:

Don’t be fooled by the idiotic exertions of the Red team and the Blue team. They’re just playing a game of “Capture the Flag” on the deck of the Titanic. The ship is the techno-industrial economy. It’s going down because it has taken on too much water (debt), and the bilge pump (the oil industry) is losing its mojo.

Neither faction understands what is happening, though they each have an elaborate delusional narrative to spin in the absence of any credible plan for adapting the life of our nation to the precipitating realities. The Blues and Reds are mirrors of each other’s illusions, and rage follows when illusions die, so watch out. Both factions are ready to blow up the country before they come to terms with what is coming down.

What’s coming down is the fruit of the gross mismanagement of our society since it became clear in the 1970s that we couldn’t keep living the way we do indefinitely — that is, in a 24/7 blue-light-special demolition derby. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with accounting fraud, but in the end it is an affront to reality, and reality has a way of dealing with punks like us. Reality has a magic trick of its own: it can make the mirage of false prosperity evaporate.

That’s exactly what’s going to happen and it will happen because finance is the least grounded, most abstract, of the many systems we depend on. It runs on the sheer faith that parties can trust each other to meet obligations. When that conceit crumbles, and banks can’t trust other banks, credit relations seize up, money vanishes, and stuff stops working. You can’t get any cash out of the ATM. The trucker with a load of avocados won’t make delivery to the supermarket because he knows he won’t be paid. The avocado grower will have to watch the rest of his crop rot. The supermarket shelves empty out. And you won’t have any guacamole.

To continue reading: Made For Each Other

Would Ayn Rand Have Cast President Trump As A Villain? by Steve Simpson

Donald Trump may have read and liked Ayn Rand, but his scattershot philosophy is light years from Rand’s carefully thought out and elucidated philosophy, reasoned from basic first premises to its revolutionary conclusions. From Steve Simpson at the Foundation for Economic Education, fee.com:

After Donald Trump announced a number of cabinet picks who happen to be fans of Ayn Rand, a flurry of articles appeared claiming that Trump intended to create an Objectivist cabal within his administration.

“Ayn Rand-acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow Objectivists,” proclaimed one article. Would that it were so. The novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand was a passionate champion of individual freedom and laissez-faire capitalism and a fierce opponent of authoritarianism. For her, government exists solely to protect our rights, not to meddle in the economy or to direct our private lives.

A president who truly understood Rand’s philosophy would not be cozying up to Putin, bullying companies to keep manufacturing plants in the United States, or promising “insurance for everybody” among many other things Trump has said and done.

And while it’s certainly welcome news that several of Trump’s cabinet picks admire Rand, it’s not surprising. Her novel Atlas Shrugged depicts a world in decline as it slowly strangles its most productive members. The novel celebrates the intelligent and creative individuals who produce wealth, many of whom are businessmen. So it makes sense that businessmen like Rex Tillerson and Andy Puzder would be among the novel’s millions of fans.

But a handful of fans in the administration hardly signals that Trump’s would be an “Ayn Rand” administration. The claims about Rand’s influence in the administration are vastly overblown.

To continue reading: Would Ayn Rand Have Cast President Trump As A Villain?

Trump In Trouble: It’s The Economy, Stupid – Not Crime and Terrorists, by David Stockman

David Stockman says Donald Trump should forget all the alt-right hot button issues and concentrate on the economy and impending fiscal catastrophe. That’s not bad advice. From Stockman at antiwar.com:

We don’t get that exercised about President’s Trump’s fondness for alternate facts – especially when they elicit coronaries among the rows of talking heads on CNN. But we do draw the line at alternate reality, as when our new President told the sheriffs’ posse visiting the White House Tuesday that the US murder rate is

“…..the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45-47 years.”

Actually, it’s still near a 45 year low!

In fact, it’s less than half the 1970 rate and two-thirds the rate during the Reagan era. The slight uptick in the national murder rate during 2015-16 (not shown below) was mostly attributable to seven urban areas – Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland,Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville and Washington DC. Even then, only 25 of the nation’s largest 100 cities saw a recent increase in violent crime, according to FBI statistics.

But our purpose is not to quibble with the Donald’s errant facts. The problem is his worldview. When he said at the Republican convention is July that the nation is faced with “a moment of crisis” caused by “violence in our streets and chaos in our communities”, he was talking alternate reality.

The truth is, the vast majority of American communities are safer today than they have been in decades and that violent crime rates have literally plunged. Thus, compared to about 750 reported violent crimes per 100,000 population in 1992, the rated in 2014 was only 375.

Likewise, when he rushed pell-mell to issue the travel ban during the first week in office, he claimed an urgency about terrorists lurking among refugees and visa-holders from the seven named countries that absolutely does not exist.

To continue reading: Trump In Trouble: It’s The Economy, Stupid – Not Crime and Terrorists

Recession 2017? Things Are Happening That Usually Never Happen Unless A New Recession Is Beginning, by Michael Snyder

Real GDP increased an estimated 1.6 percent in 2016, and for each $1 increase in growth, debt increased $5.70. If you have to borrow $5.70 to generate a buck’s worth of growth, are you even growing? Notwithstanding growth bought with debt and the official statistics, SLL argues that the economy has been in a recession, headed for depression, for several years (see Debtonomics Archive). More support from Michael Snyder at theeconomiccollapseblog.com:

Is the U.S. economy about to get slammed by a major recession? According to Gallup, U.S. economic confidence has soared to the highest level ever recorded, but meanwhile a whole host of key economic indicators are absolutely screaming that a new recession is beginning. And if the U.S. economy does officially enter recession territory in 2017, it certainly won’t be a shock, because the truth is that we are well overdue for one. Donald Trump has inherited quite an economic mess from Barack Obama, and it was probably inevitable that we were headed for a significant economic downturn no matter who won the election.

One of the key indicators to watch is average weekly hours. When the economy shifts into recession mode, employers tend to start cutting back hours, and that is happening right now. In fact, as Graham Summers has pointed out, we just witnessed the largest percentage decline in average weekly hours since the recession of 2008…

In addition to the decline in hours, Summers has suggested that there are a number of other reasons to believe that a new recession is here…

The fact is that the GDP growth of 4%-5% is not just around the corner. The US most likely slid into recession in the last three months. GDP growth collapsed in 4Q16, with a large portion of the “growth” coming from accounting gimmicks.

Consider the following:

• Tax receipts indicate the US is in recession.
• Gross private domestic investment indicates were are in a recession.
• Retailers are showing that the US consumer is tapped out (see AMZN’s recent miss).
• UPS, another economic bellweather, dramatically lowered 2017 forecasts.

To me, even more alarming is the tightening of lending standards. In our debt-based economy, the flow of credit is absolutely critical to economic growth, and when credit starts to get tight that almost always leads to a recession.

To continue reading: Recession 2017? Things Are Happening That Usually Never Happen Unless A New Recession Is Beginning