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The Worst Retail Cataclysm Ever: Sears Warns It Is On The Verge Of Collapse As Payless Prepares To File For Bankruptcy March 22, 2017

Alarm Clock Abstract - Public DomainMore than 3,500 retail stores are going to close all across America over the next few months as the worst retail downturn in U.S. history gets even deeper.  Earlier this week, Sears shocked the world when it announced that there is “substantial doubt” that the company will be able to “continue as a going concern” much longer.  In other words, Sears has announced that it is on the verge of imminent collapse.  Meanwhile, Payless stunned the retail industry when it came out that they are preparing to file for bankruptcy.  The “retail apocalypse” that I have been warning about is greatly accelerating, and many believe that this is one of the early warning signs that the economic collapse that is already going on in other parts of the globe will soon reach U.S. shores.

I have repeatedly warned my readers that “Sears is going to zero“, and now Sears is officially saying that it might actually happen.  When you file official paperwork with the government that says there is “substantial doubt” that the company will survive, that means that the end is very near

The company that operates Sears, the department store chain that dominated retail for decades, warned Tuesday that it faces “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business unless it can borrow more and tap cash from more of its assets.

“Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” Sears Holdings said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Sears Holdings operates both Sears and Kmart stores.

In the wake of that statement, the price of Sears stock dipped 13.69% to $7.85 a share.

Personally, I am going to miss Sears very much.  But of course the truth is that they simply cannot continue operating as they have been.

For the quarter that ended on January 28th, Sears lost an astounding 607 million dollars

The company said it lost $607 million, or $5.67 per diluted share, during the quarter that ended on Jan. 28. That compared with a loss of $580 million, or $5.44 per diluted share, a year earlier. It has posted a loss in all but two of the last 24 quarters, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

How in the world is it possible for a retailer to lose that amount of money in just three months?

As I have said before, if they had employees flushing dollar bills down the toilet 24 hours a day they still shouldn’t have losses that big.

This week we also learned that Payless is heading for bankruptcy.  According to Bloomberg, the chain is planning to imminently close at least 400 stores…

Payless Inc., the struggling discount shoe chain, is preparing to file for bankruptcy as soon as next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company is initially planning to close 400 to 500 stores as it reorganizes operations, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations aren’t public. Payless had originally looked to shutter as many as 1,000 locations, and the number may still be in flux, according to one of the people.

Of course these are just two examples of a much broader phenomenon.

Never before in U.S. history have we seen such a dramatic wave of store closures.  According to Business Insider, over 3,500 retail locations “are expected to close in the next couple of months”…

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades.

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months.

Once thriving shopping malls are rapidly being transformed into ghost towns.  As I wrote about just recently, “you might be tempted to think that ‘Space Available’ was the hottest new retail chain in the entire country.”

The demise of Sears is going to be an absolute nightmare for many mall owners.  Once “anchor stores” start closing, it is usually only a matter of time before smaller stores start bailing out

When an anchor store like Sears or Macy’s closes, it often triggers a downward spiral in performance for shopping malls.

Not only do the malls lose the income and shopper traffic from that store’s business, but the closure often triggers “co-tenancy clauses” that allow the other mall tenants to terminate their leases or renegotiate the terms, typically with a period of lower rents, until another retailer moves into the anchor space.

Years ago I wrote of a time when we would see boarded-up storefronts all across America, and now it is happening.

Instead of asking which retailers are going to close, perhaps we should be asking which ones are going to survive this retail cataclysm.

In the past, you could always count on middle class U.S. consumers to save the day, but today the middle class is steadily shrinking and U.S. consumers are increasingly tapped out.

For instance, just look at what is happening to delinquency rates on auto loans

US auto loan and lease credit loss rates weakened in the second half of 2016, according to a new report from Fitch Ratings, which said they will continue to deteriorate.

“Subprime credit losses are accelerating faster than the prime segment, and this trend is likely to continue as a result of looser underwriting standards by lenders in recent years,” said Michael Taiano, a director at Fitch.

The last time so many Americans got behind on subprime auto loans was during the last financial crisis.

We are seeing so many similarities to what happened just prior to the last recession, and yet most Americans still seem to think that the U.S. economy is going to be just fine in 2017.

Unfortunately, major red flags are popping up in the hard economic numbers and in the financial markets.

The last recession probably should have started back in late 2015, but thanks to manipulation by the Fed and an unprecedented debt binge by the Obama administration, official U.S. GDP growth has been able to stay barely above zero for the last year and a half.

But just because something is delayed does not mean that it is canceled.

All along, our long-term economic imbalances have continued to get even worse, and a date with destiny is rapidly approaching for the U.S. economy.

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Debt Apocalypse Beckons As U.S. Consumer Bankruptcies Do Something They Haven’t Done In Almost 7 Years February 5, 2017

Bankrupt - Public DomainWhen debt grows much faster than GDP for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that a good portion of that debt will start to go bad at some point.  We witnessed a perfect example of this in 2008, and now it is starting to happen again.  Commercial bankruptcies have been rising on a year-over-year basis since late 2015, and this is something that I have written about previously, but now consumer bankruptcies are also increasing.  In fact, we have just witnessed U.S. consumer bankruptcies do something that they haven’t done in nearly 7 years.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

US bankruptcy filings by consumers rose 5.4% in January, compared to January last year, to 52,421 according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. In December, they’d already risen 4.5% from a year earlier. This was the first time that consumer bankruptcies increased back-to-back since 2010.

However, business bankruptcies began to surge in November 2015 and continued surging on a year-over-year basis in 2016, to reach a full-year total of 37,823 filings, up 26% from the prior year and the highest since 2014.

Of course consumer bankruptcies are still much lower than they were during the last financial crisis, but what this could mean is that we have reached a turning point.

For years, the Federal Reserve has been encouraging reckless borrowing and spending by pushing interest rates to ultra-low levels.  Unfortunately, this created an absolutely enormous debt bubble, and now that debt bubble is beginning to burst.  Here is more from Wolf Richter

The dizzying borrowing by consumers and businesses that the Fed with its ultra-low interest rates and in its infinite wisdom has purposefully encouraged to fuel economic growth, if any, and to inflate asset prices, has caused debt to pile up. That debt is now eating up cash flows needed for other things, and this is causing pressures, just when interest rates have begun to rise, which will make refinancing this debt more expensive and, for a rising number of consumers and businesses, impossible. And so, the legacy of this binge will haunt the economy – and creditors – for years to come.

Despite all of the economic optimism that is out there right now, the truth is that U.S. consumers are tapped out.

If the U.S. economy truly was doing great, major retailers would not be closing hundreds of stores.  Sears, Macy’s and a whole host of other big retailers are closing stores because those stores are losing money.  It truly is a “retail apocalypse“, and this trend is not going to turn around until U.S. consumers start to become healthier financially.

We also see signs of trouble in the auto sales numbers.  Compared to 2016, sales were way down in January this year

Compared to January last year, car sales collapsed for all three US automakers, and the largest Japanese automakers didn’t do much better:

  • GM -21.1%
  • Ford -17.5%
  • Fiat Chrysler -35.8%
  • Toyota -19.9%
  • Honda -10.7%
  • Nissan -9.0%

For all automakers combined, car sales sagged 12.2% from a year ago.

A lot of attention is given to our 20 trillion dollar national debt, and rightly so, but a similar amount of attention should be paid to the fact that U.S. households are collectively more than 12 trillion dollars in debt.

About two-thirds of the nation is essentially living paycheck to paycheck.  Most families really struggle to pay the bills from month to month, and all it would take is a major event such as a job loss or a significant illness to plunge them into financial oblivion.

In America today we are told that the secret to success is a college education, but most young Americans have to go deep into debt to afford such an education.

As a result, most college graduates start out life in the “real world” with a mountain of debt.  And since many of them never find the “good jobs” that they were promised, repayment of that debt becomes a very big issue.  In fact, the Wall Street Journal has discovered that student loan repayment rates are much worse than we were being told…

Last Friday, the Education Department released a memo saying that it had overstated student loan repayment rates at most colleges and trade schools and provided updated numbers.

When The Wall Street Journal analyzed the new numbers, the data revealed that the Department previously had inflated the repayment rates for 99.8% of all colleges and trade schools in the country.

The new analysis shows that at more than 1,000 colleges and trade schools, or about a quarter of the total, at least half the students had defaulted or failed to pay down at least $1 on their debt within seven years.

If you do find yourself deep in debt, a lot of families have found success by following a plan that was pioneered by author Dave Ramsey.  His “Debt Snowball Plan” really works, but you have to be committed to it.

Getting out of debt can be tremendously freeing.  So many people spend so many sleepless nights consumed by financial stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Most of us have had to go into debt for some reason or another, and not all debt is bad debt.  For example, very few of us would be able to own a home without getting a mortgage, and usually mortgages come with very low interest rates these days.

But other forms of debt (such as credit card debt or payday loans) can be financially crippling.  When it comes to eliminating debt, it is often a really good idea to start with the most toxic forms of debt first.

It has been said that the borrower is the servant of the lender, and you don’t want to spend the best years of your life making somebody else rich.

Whether economic conditions turn out to be good or bad in 2017, the truth is that each one of us should be trying to do what we can to get out of debt.

Unfortunately, a lot of people never seem to learn from the past, and I have a feeling that both consumer and commercial bankruptcies will continue to rise throughout the rest of this year.

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