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Why Are Wal-Mart And Boeing Laying Off Workers If The U.S. Economy Is In Good Shape? January 11, 2017

wal-mart-photo-by-mikemozartjeepersmediaThe stock market has been on quite a roll in recent weeks, but signs of trouble continue to plague the real economy.  Earlier this week, I talked about the “retail apocalypse” that is sweeping America.  Major retail chains such as Sears and Macy’s are closing stores and laying off workers, but I didn’t think that Wal-Mart would be feeling the pain as well.  Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening.  USA Today is reporting that approximately 1,000 jobs will be cut at Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas by the end of this month…

Walmart’s plan to lay off of hundreds of employees is the latest ripple in a wave of job cuts and store closures that are roiling the retail industry.

The world’s largest retailer is cutting roughly 1,000 jobs at its corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., later this month, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak about it.

The company is saying that these cuts are necessary because Wal-Mart is always “looking for ways to operate more efficiently and effectively“.  But something doesn’t smell right here.  You don’t get rid of 1,000 employees at your corporate headquarters if everything is just fine.

I have driven past Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville a number of times, and it is in a beautiful part of the country.  Bentonville and the surrounding areas had been booming, but it looks like times may be changing.

Meanwhile, there are signs of trouble out on the west coast as well.  The Los Angeles Times is reporting that there is going to be a new round of engineering job cuts at Boeing…

Boeing Co. has internally announced a new round of employee buyouts for engineers companywide, including in Southern California, and warned that layoff notices will follow later this month to engineers in Washington state, where the company has a large presence.

Management did not cite a target for the number of projected job cuts.

The news comes after company Vice Chairman Ray Conner and the new chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, or BCA, Kevin McAllister, warned in December of the need to aim for further cuts in 2017.

And according to Boeing spokesperson Doug Alder, similar job cut announcements are coming for other classes of workers as well.

So why is Boeing getting rid of so many employees?

Well, the truth is that Boeing’s business is way down.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

Business has been tough. In 2016, deliveries fell by 14 jets from a year ago, to 748. Net orders dropped 13% from an already rotten level in 2015, to just 668, down 53% from 2014. And the lowest level since 2010!

When the economy is doing well, air traffic tends to rise, and when the economy is doing poorly it tends to go down.

Needless to say, the fact that Boeing is doing so poorly does not bode well for the future.

In addition to Wal-Mart, another major retailer that is letting people go is Petco

Petco is cutting 180 positions with about 50 at its San Diego headquarters, the pet supply retailer confirmed Wednesday.

The company made the cuts across its workforce and include both existing and open positions.

Petco has about 650 workers at its headquarters in Rancho Bernardo. It employs 27,000 in the U.S.

My wife and I have three cats, and even though Petco tends to be a bit overpriced we have always appreciated the work that they do.

Unfortunately, when the economy gets tough spending on pets tends to be one of the first things to get cut back, and this current trouble at Petco could be a sign that rough sledding is ahead for the entire economy.

Of course your personal perspective on these things is likely to be very heavily influenced by your immediate surroundings.  Those that live in wealthy enclaves of major cities such as San Francisco, New York City or Washington D.C. may be wondering how anyone could possibly be talking about economic trouble right now.

But if you live in economically depressed areas of Appalachia or the upper Midwest, it may seem like the last economic recession never even ended.

There have been pockets of economic prosperity in recent years, and this has resulted in some people becoming exceedingly wealthy.  Meanwhile, things have just continued to become even tougher for millions of other families as the cost of living always seems to grow faster than their paychecks do.

If you are in the top one percent of all income earners, maybe to you it seems like things have never been better.  But most of the country is living paycheck to paycheck and is just struggling to survive from month to month.  The following comes from CNN

The rich are money-making machines. Today, the top mega wealthy — the top 1% — earn an average of $1.3 million a year. It’s more than three times as much as the 1980s, when the rich “only” made $428,000, on average, according to economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the American population earned an average of $16,000 in pre-tax income in 1980. That hasn’t changed in over three decades.

The workers being laid off at the companies discussed above are real people with real hopes and real dreams.  Perhaps many of them will be able to land other employment fairly soon, but the truth is that the job market is really tough in many areas of the country right now.

Finding a good job that will allow you to pay the bills and support your family is not easy.  You may find that out the hard way if you end up losing your current job during the economic troubles that will come in 2017.

Earlier today, I came across an excellent article by Gail Tverberg that detailed a whole bunch of reasons why a significant economic downturn appears to be imminent in 2017.  If you would like to read it, you can find it here.  She points to many of the same things that I have been pointing to for a very long time.

Even though economic conditions were fairly stable throughout 2016, our long-term problems just continued to get even worse.  So the truth is that we are more primed for a major crisis today than we have been at any point since the last recession.

My hope is that things will not be nearly as bad in 2017 as Gail Tverberg and others are projecting that they could be, but the warning signs are definitely there, and it isn’t going to take much to push the U.S. economy off the rails.

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It’s A Retail Apocalypse: Sears, Macy’s And The Limited Are All Closing Stores January 8, 2017

retail-apocalypse-public-domainIt has only been two weeks since Christmas, and already we are witnessing a stunning bloodbath of store closings.  Macy’s shocked the retail industry by announcing that they will be closing about 100 stores.  The downward spiral of Sears hit another landmark when it was announced that another 150 Sears and Kmart stores would be shutting down.  And we have just learned that The Limited is immediately closing all stores nationwide.  If the U.S. economy is doing just fine, then why are we experiencing such a retail apocalypse?  All over America, vast shopping malls that were once buzzing with eager consumers now resemble mausoleums.  We have never seen anything quite like this in our entire history, and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen next.

Not too long ago I walked into a Macy’s, and it was eerily quiet.  I stumbled around the men’s department looking for something to buy, but I was deeply disappointed in what was being offered.  After some time had passed, an employee finally noticed me and came over to help, but they didn’t have anything that I was looking for.

And it is a sad thing, because over the past several years when I have gone into Macy’s looking to spend money, most of the time I have come out of there without spending a penny.  Macy’s has made some very bad decisions recently, and I am hoping that they can still turn things around.  But for the moment, they are closing stores and cutting jobs.  The following comes from the New York Times

Struggling with sagging sales over another crucial holiday shopping season, Macy’s announced on Wednesday that it was eliminating more than 10,000 jobs as part of a continuing plan to cut costs and close 100 stores.

Macy’s, the country’s largest department store chain, said sales at its stores had fallen 2.1 percent in November and December compared with the same period in 2015. Terry J. Lundgren, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement that while the trend was “consistent with the lower end of our guidance, we had anticipated sales would be stronger.”

Another legendary retailer that really does not have any hope left is Sears.  Every year they just keep closing even more stores, and because they are losing so much money they don’t have anything to invest in the stores that remain.  As a result, the state of many Sears locations is downright embarrassing at this point

But the retailer, famous for selling everything from shoes to vacuum cleaners to whole houses, is facing its biggest crisis ever. It’s closing hundreds of stores. Others are in shambles, with leaking ceilings and broken escalators. In some, employees hang bedsheets to shield shoppers from sections that stand empty.

Since the early portion of 2013, sales are down an astounding 37 percent for the company.  Sears is currently more than 1.6 billion dollars in debt, and they are losing more than a billion dollars a year.

They keep closing stores in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding, but it hasn’t worked.

In 2010, Sears had 3,555 stores.

Last year, Sears had 1,503 stores, and now a whole bunch more are being shut down.

But everyone can see where this is going.  As I have stated repeatedly, Sears is going to zero, and many of the experts completely agree with me

“They are going out of business,” said Van Conway, an expert in bankruptcy and debt restructuring and CEO of Van Conway & Partners. “This snowball is 90% of the way to the bottom of the hill.”

Of course Sears is still surviving for the moment, and that is more than can be said for The Limited.

Back in the old days, it seemed like every mall had one of their stores.  I remember passing it on my way to Orange Julius and Herman’s World of Sporting Goods.

But now they are shutting down every single location and will be online only

American malls just got emptier.

The Limited, a once-popular women’s clothing brand that offers casual attire and workwear, no longer has any storefronts.

On Saturday, a message on the store’s website read, “We’re sad to say that all The Limited stores nationwide have officially closed their doors. But this isn’t goodbye.” The website will still be up and running and will continue to ship nationwide, the company said.

In addition to Macy’s, Sears and The Limited, other huge names in the retail industry have also fallen on hard times and have had to shut stores over the past 12 months.  The following comes from the Washington Post

The retail environment has proved challenging for a variety of stores: Sports Authority went out of business in 2016, shuttering more than 460 locations in U.S. malls and strip malls. PacSun, Aeropostale and American Apparel each have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past year and are aiming to reorganize and revive their businesses.

So why is this happening?

Without a doubt, our shopping habits have changed.  And in the online world, many of these retailers are being absolutely crushed by competition from Amazon and other tech companies that developed online infrastructure before they did.  I know that my wife and I actually prefer to shop online for many things when possible, and I anticipate that the share of retailing done online will only continue to grow in this country.

But let us also not underestimate the impact that the stagnating economy is having on ordinary consumers.  Thanks to the last eight years, approximately two-thirds of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.  More than a third of all Americans have a debt that is at least 180 days past due, and the rate of homeownership has been hovering near the lowest level that we have seen in about 50 years.  As you read this article, more than 95 million Americans are not in the labor force, and that number has grown by 18 percent under Barack Obama.  Homelessness in New York City and other major cities is at a record high, and as a nation we have accumulated the largest mountain of debt in the history of the world.

Let us hope that things can be turned around, but if current trends continue the retail apocalypse is just going to go from bad to worse, and we will continue to see lots of headlines about more stores closing down.

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