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The Tens Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans That The U.S. Economy Has Left Behind May 21, 2017

The evidence that the middle class in America is dying continues to mount.  As you will see below, nearly half the country would be unable “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”, and about two-thirds of the population lives paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time.  Of course the economy has not been doing that well overall in recent years.  Barack Obama was the only president in all of U.S. history not to have a single year when the economy grew by at least 3 percent, and U.S. GDP growth during the first quarter of 2017 was an anemic 0.7 percent.  During the Obama era, it is true that wealthy enclaves in New York, northern California and Washington D.C. did thrive, but meanwhile most of the rest of the country has been left behind.

Today, there are approximately 205 million working age Americans, and close to half of them have no financial cushion whatsoever.  In fact, a new survey conducted by the Federal Reserve has found that 44 percent of Americans do not even have enough money “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”

Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it.

Not only that, the same survey discovered that 23 percent of U.S. adults will not be able to pay their bills this month

Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.

But just because you can pay your bills does not mean that you are doing well.  Tens of millions of Americans barely scrape by from paycheck to paycheck each and every month.

In fact, a survey by CareerBuilder discovered that 75 percent of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time…

Three-quarters of Americans (75 percent) are living paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. Thirty-eight percent of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 15 percent said they usually do and 23 percent said they always do. While making ends meet is a struggle for many post-recession, those with minimum wage jobs continue to be hit the hardest. Of workers who currently have a minimum wage job or have held one in the past, 66 percent said they couldn’t make ends meet and 50 percent said they had to work more than one job to make it work.

So please don’t be fooled into thinking that the U.S. economy is doing well because the stock market has been hitting new record highs.

The stock market was soaring just before the financial crisis of 2008 too, and we remember how that turned out.

The truth is that the long-term trends that have been eating away at the foundations of the U.S. economy continue to accelerate, and the real economy is in substantially worse shape this year than it was last year.

Just about everywhere you look, businesses are struggling and stores are shutting down.  Yes, there are a few wealthy enclaves where everything seems wonderful for the moment, but for most of the country it seems like the last recession never ended.

In a desperate attempt to stay afloat, a lot of families have been turning to debt to make ends meet.  U.S. household debt has just hit a brand new all-time record high of 12.7 trillion dollars, but we are starting to see an alarming rise in auto loan defaults and consumer bankruptcies.  This is precisely what we would expect to see if the U.S. economy was moving into another major recession.

In fact, we are seeing all sorts of signs that point to a major economic slowdown right now.  Just check out the following from Wolf Richter’s latest article

Over the past five decades, each time commercial and industrial loan balances at US banks shrank or stalled as companies cut back or as banks tightened their lending standards in reaction to the economy they found themselves in, a recession was either already in progress or would start soon. There has been no exception since the 1960s. Last time this happened was during the Financial Crisis.

Now it’s happening again – with a 1990/91 recession twist.

Commercial and industrial loans outstanding fell to $2.095 trillion on May 10, according to the Fed’s Board of Governors weekly report on Friday. That’s down 4.5% from the peak on November 16, 2016. It’s below the level of outstanding C&I loans on October 19. And it marks the 30th week in a row of no growth in C&I loans.

Perhaps we will be very fortunate and break this pattern that has held up all the way back to the 1960s.

But I wouldn’t count on it.  Here is what Zero Hedge has to say about this alarming contraction in commercial and industrial loans…

Here’s the bottom line: unless there is a sharp rebound in loan growth in the next 3-6 months – whether due to greater demand or easier supply – this most accurate of leading economic indicators guarantees that a recession is now inevitable.

We are way overdue for a recession, the hard economic numbers are screaming that one is coming, and the financial markets are absolutely primed for a major crash.

As Americans, we tend to have such short memories.  Every time a new financial bubble starts forming, a lot of people out there start behaving as if it can last indefinitely.

But of course no financial bubble is going to last forever.  They all burst eventually, and now the biggest one in U.S. history is about to end in spectacular fashion.

Trump will get a lot of the blame since he is the current occupant of the White House, but the truth is that the conditions for the next crisis have been building up for many years, and the horrors that the U.S. economy is heading for were entirely predictable.

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Financial Weapons Of Mass Destruction: The Top 25 U.S. Banks Have 222 Trillion Dollars Of Exposure To Derivatives May 15, 2017

The recklessness of the “too big to fail” banks almost doomed them the last time around, but apparently they still haven’t learned from their past mistakes.  Today, the top 25 U.S. banks have 222 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  In other words, the exposure that these banks have to derivatives contracts is approximately equivalent to the gross domestic product of the United States times twelve.  As long as stock prices continue to rise and the U.S. economy stays fairly stable, these extremely risky financial weapons of mass destruction will probably not take down our entire financial system.  But someday another major crisis will inevitably happen, and when that day arrives the devastation that these financial instruments will cause will be absolutely unprecedented.

During the great financial crisis of 2008, derivatives played a starring role, and U.S. taxpayers were forced to step in and bail out companies such as AIG that were on the verge of collapse because the risks that they took were just too great.

But now it is happening again, and nobody is really talking very much about it.  In a desperate search for higher profits, all of the “too big to fail” banks are gambling like crazy, and at some point a lot of these bets are going to go really bad.  The following numbers regarding exposure to derivatives contracts come directly from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report (see Table 2), and as you can see the level of recklessness that we are currently witnessing is more than just a little bit alarming…

Citigroup

Total Assets: $1,792,077,000,000 (slightly less than 1.8 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $47,092,584,000,000 (more than 47 trillion dollars)

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,490,972,000,000 (just under 2.5 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $46,992,293,000,000 (nearly 47 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $860,185,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,227,878,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,189,266,000,000 (a little bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $33,132,582,000,000 (more than 33 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $814,949,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $28,569,553,000,000 (more than 28 trillion dollars)

Wells Fargo

Total Assets: $1,930,115,000,000 (more than 1.9 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $7,098,952,000,000 (more than 7 trillion dollars)

Collectively, the top 25 banks have a total of 222 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.

If you are new to all of this, you might be wondering what a “derivative” actually is.

When you buy a stock you are purchasing an ownership interest in a company, and when you buy a bond you are purchasing the debt of a company.  But when you buy a derivative, you are not actually getting anything tangible.  Instead, you are simply making a side bet about whether something will or will not happen in the future.  These side bets can be extraordinarily complex, but at their core they are basically just wagers.  The following is a pretty good definition of derivatives that comes from Investopedia

A derivative is a security with a price that is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets. The derivative itself is a contract between two or more parties based upon the asset or assets. Its value is determined by fluctuations in the underlying asset. The most common underlying assets include stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates and market indexes.

Those that trade derivatives are essentially engaged in a form of legalized gambling, and some of the brightest names in the financial world have been warning about the potentially destructive nature of these financial instruments for a very long time.

In a letter that he wrote to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway in 2003, Warren Buffett actually referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”…

The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts. In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.

Warren Buffett was right on the money when he made that statement, and of course the derivatives bubble is far larger today than it was back then.

In fact, the total notional value of derivatives contracts globally is in excess of 500 trillion dollars.

This is a disaster that is just waiting to happen, and investors such as Buffett are quietly positioning themselves to take advantage of the giant crash that is inevitably coming.

According to financial expert Jim Rickards, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is hoarding 86 billion dollars in cash because he is likely anticipating a major stock market downturn…

Far from a bullish sign, Buffett’s cash hoard could mean he’s preparing for a market crash. When the crash comes, Buffett can walk through the wreckage with his checkbook open and buy great companies for a fraction of their current value.

That’s the real Buffett style, but you won’t hear that from your broker or wealth manager. If Buffett has a huge cash allocation, shouldn’t you?

He knows what’s coming. Now you do too.

Warren Buffett didn’t become one of the wealthiest men in the entire world by being stupid.  He knows that stocks are ridiculously overvalued at this point, and he is poised to make his move after the pendulum swings in the other direction.

And he might not have too long to wait.  In recent weeks I have been writing about many of the signs that the U.S. economy is slowing down substantially, and today we received even more bad news

Despite high levels of economic confidence expressed by business owners and consumers, one key indicator shows that it has not translated into much action yet.

Loan issuance declined in the first quarter from the previous three-month period, the first time that has happened in four years, according to an SNL Financial analysis of bank earnings reports filed for the period. The total of recorded loans and leases fell to $9.297 trillion from $9.305 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2016.

This is precisely what we would expect to see if a new economic downturn was beginning.  Our economy is very highly dependent on the flow of credit, and when that flow begins to diminish that is a very bad sign.

For the moment, financial markets continue to remain completely disconnected from the hard economic data, but as we saw in 2008 the markets can plunge very rapidly once they start catching up with the real economy.

Warren Buffett is clearly getting prepared for the crisis that is ahead.

Are you?

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The Federal Reserve Must Go May 14, 2017

If you want to permanently fix America’s economy, there really is no other choice.  Even before Ron Paul’s rallying cry of “End The Fed” shook America during the peak of the Tea Party movement, I was a huge advocate of shutting down the Federal Reserve.  Because no matter how hard we try to patch it up otherwise, the truth is that our debt-based financial system has been fundamentally flawed from the very beginning, and the Federal Reserve is the very heart of that system.  The following is a free preview of an upcoming book that I am working on about how to turn this country is a more positive direction…

*****

As the publisher of The Economic Collapse Blog, there have been times when I have been criticized for focusing too much on our economic problems and not enough on the solutions.  But I believe that in order to be willing to accept the solutions that are necessary, people need to have a full understanding of the true severity of our problems.  It isn’t by accident that we ended up 20 trillion dollars in debt.  In 1913, a bill was rushed through Congress right before Christmas that was based on a plan that had been secretly developed by very powerful Wall Street bankers.  G. Edward Griffin did an amazing job of documenting the development of this plan in his groundbreaking book “The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve”.  At that time, most Americans had no idea what a central bank does or what one would mean for the U.S. economy.  Sadly, even though more than a century has passed since that time, most Americans still do not understand the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve was designed to create debt, and of course the Wall Street bankers were very excited about such a system because it would make them even wealthier.  Since the Fed was created in 1913, the U.S. national debt has gotten more than 5000 times larger and the value of the U.S. dollar has declined by about 98 percent.  So the Federal Reserve is doing what it was originally designed to do.  In fact, it has probably worked better than the original designers ever dreamed possible.

There is often a lot of confusion about the Federal Reserve, because a lot of people think that it is simply an agency of the federal government.  But of course that is not true at all.  In fact, as Ron Paul likes to say, the Federal Reserve is about as “federal” as Federal Express is.

The Fed is an independent central bank that has even argued in court that it is not an agency of the federal government.  Yes, the president appoints the leadership of the Fed, but the Fed and other central banks around the world have always fiercely guarded their “independence”.  On the official Fed website, it is admitted that the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks are organized “much like private corporations”, and they very much operate like private entities.  They even issue shares of stock to the private banks that own them.

In case you were wondering, the federal government has zero shares.

The American people are constantly being told that Fed decisions must be “above politics” because they are “too important” to be politicized.  So even though everything else in our society is up for political debate, somehow we have become convinced that the Federal Reserve should be off limits.

Today, the Federal Reserve has more power over the performance of the U.S. economy than anyone else does, and that includes the president.  The Fed has become known as “the fourth branch of government”, and a single statement from the chairman of the Fed can send global financial markets soaring or tumbling.

So even though presidents tend to get most of the credit or most of the blame for how the U.S. economy is doing, the truth is that the Fed is actually the one pulling most of the strings.  In conjunction with Congress, presidents can monkey around with regulations and tax rates, but at the end of the day their influence over the economy pales in comparison to what the Fed is able to do.

For those that have never encountered this material before, this can be difficult to grasp at first, so let’s start with something very simple.

Go to your wallet or purse and pull out a dollar bill.

At the very top, you will notice that it says “Federal Reserve Note” in big, bold letters.

If you ask 99 percent of the people in the United States where money comes from, they will not be able to tell you.  Our money is actually created and issued by the Federal Reserve, but that is not what our founders intended.  According to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress was expressly given the authority to “coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures”.

So why is the Federal Reserve doing it?

Many Americans are still operating under the assumption that the federal government has a “printing press” and that if we ever get into too much debt trouble the government could simply create and spend lots more money into circulation.

But that is not the way that our system currently operates.

Instead, it is the Federal Reserve that creates all new money.  Once that new money is created, the federal government then borrows it and spends it into circulation.

Previously, I have written about how this works…

When the U.S. government decides that it wants to spend another billion dollars that it does not have, it does not print up a billion dollars.

Rather, the U.S. government creates a bunch of U.S. Treasury bonds (debt) and takes them over to the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve creates a billion dollars out of thin air and exchanges them for the U.S. Treasury bonds.

(http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/why-donald-trump-must-shut-down-the-federal-reserve-and-start-issuing-debt-free-money)

This doesn’t seem to make any sense at all.

Why does the U.S. government have to borrow money that the Federal Reserve creates?  Why can’t they just create the money themselves?

This is the big secret that nobody is supposed to know about.

Theoretically, the federal government doesn’t have to borrow a penny.  Instead of borrowing money the Federal Reserve creates, it could just create money directly and spend it into circulation.

But then we wouldn’t be 20 trillion dollars in debt.

Once the Federal Reserve has received U.S. Treasury bonds in exchange for the “Federal Reserve Notes” that the federal government has requested, the Fed auctions off those bonds to the highest bidder.  But as I have noted so many times before, this process always creates more debt than it does money…

The U.S. Treasury bonds that the Federal Reserve receives in exchange for the money it has created out of nothing are auctioned off through the Federal Reserve system.

But wait.

There is a problem.

Because the U.S. government must pay interest on the Treasury bonds, the amount of debt that has been created by this transaction is greater than the amount of money that has been created.

So where will the U.S. government get the money to pay that debt?

Well, the theory is that we can get money to circulate through the economy really, really fast and tax it at a high enough rate that the government will be able to collect enough taxes to pay the debt.

But that never actually happens, does it?

And the creators of the Federal Reserve understood this as well. They understood that the U.S. government would not have enough money to both run the government and service the national debt. They knew that the U.S. government would have to keep borrowing even more money in an attempt to keep up with the game.

(http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/why-donald-trump-must-shut-down-the-federal-reserve-and-start-issuing-debt-free-money)

Beginning in 1913, this process has created an endless debt spiral that has resulted in the U.S. being 20 trillion dollars in debt.  It is the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the world, and it didn’t have to happen.

In fact, if we had been using debt-free money all this time we could theoretically be completely out of debt.

A lot of conservatives out there are still under the illusion that if we could just grow the economy fast enough that we could possibly pay back all of this debt someday, but as I have demonstrated in a previous article, this is mathematically impossible.  (http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/it-is-mathematically-impossible-to-pay-off-all-of-our-debt)

All of this debt threatens to destroy the bright future that our children and our grandchildren were supposed to have.  It is absolutely immoral to pass such a large debt on to future generations, but we are doing it anyway.

Of course the United States is far from alone in this regard.  Today, more than 99.9% of the population of the world lives in a country that has a central bank.

There is literally nothing else that the entire planet agrees upon almost unanimously, and yet somehow virtually the whole globe has chosen to adopt debt-based central banking.

Do you think that this is just a coincidence?

A handful of extremely small nations such as the Federated States of Micronesia still do not have a central bank, but the only large country not to have one is North Korea.

I don’t understand why more people are not talking about this.  If we really want to reform how things are done economically, it should start with central banking.

The truth is that we do not need a central bank.

Let me say that again.

We do not need a central bank.

The greatest period of economic growth in all of U.S. history was when there was no income tax and no central bank. (http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/during-the-best-period-of-economic-growth-in-u-s-history-there-was-no-income-tax-and-no-federal-reserve)

Such a system would be unimaginable to many people today, but it is entirely possible.

Instead of a central bank creating debt-based currency for us, the federal government could create debt-free money directly.

And instead of socialist central planners setting our interest rates for us, we could allow the free market to set our interest rates.

We are supposed to be a free market nation with a free market economy, and so we don’t need Fed bureaucrats to run it for us.

The free market will always do a better job in the long run then bureaucrats will.  As I noted earlier, the greatest period of economic growth in U.S. history was right before the Federal Reserve was created in 1913, but since that time there have been 18 distinct recessions or depressions: 1918, 1920, 1923, 1926, 1929, 1937, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1958, 1960, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1981, 1990, 2001, 2008.

Now we stand poised on the brink of another major downturn, and people still aren’t getting it.

As long as the Federal Reserve exists, there will be “booms” and “busts” like this.

It is time for a change.

During the good times, criticism of the Fed tends to subside.  And without a doubt, the bubble following the end of the last recession lasted much longer than a lot of people initially would have thought, but all Fed-created bubbles eventually end.

We desperately need to get free from this system, and a huge step in that direction would be a rejection of debt-based currency.

If you don’t think that this can happen, you should consider what happened in 1963.  President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 11110 which authorized the U.S. Treasury to issue debt-free “United States Notes” which were directly created by the federal government.

Unfortunately, he was assassinated shortly after that executive order was signed.

You can still find debt-free “United States Notes” in circulation today, and they are often for sale on auction sites such as eBay because people like to collect them.

At any time, the White House could do something similar today.

All it takes is the willingness to do so.

The borrower is the servant of the lender, and the debt-based Federal Reserve system has turned all of us into debt slaves.

If we do not want future generations of Americans to be enslaved to debt, we need to shut down the Federal Reserve and start using debt-free currency.  Any essential functions that the Fed is currently performing can ultimately be taken over by the U.S. Treasury, and of course we can make the transition gradual so that we don’t completely panic global financial markets.

The global elite are using central banking and debt-based currencies to dominate the planet.  Today, the total amount of debt in the world has shot past 150 trillion dollars, and it will only continue to grow until humanity wakes up and realizes the insanity of using a debt-based financial system.

Here in the United States, we need people in government that understand these things and that are willing to do something about it.

The Federal Reserve must go, and I will never make any apologies for saying that.

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