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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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12 Reasons Why The Federal Reserve May Have Just Made The Biggest Economic Mistake Since The Last Financial Crisis March 15, 2017

Wrong Way Signs - Public DomainHas the Federal Reserve gone completely insane?  On Wednesday, the Fed raised interest rates for the second time in three months, and it signaled that more rate hikes are coming in the months ahead.  When the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, it becomes less expensive to borrow money and that tends to stimulate more economic activity.  But when the Federal Reserve raises rates , that makes it more expensive to borrow money and that tends to slow down economic activity.  So why in the world is the Fed raising rates when the U.S. economy is already showing signs of slowing down dramatically?  The following are 12 reasons why the Federal Reserve may have just made the biggest economic mistake since the last financial crisis…

#1 Just hours before the Fed announced this rate hike, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s projection for U.S. GDP growth in the first quarter fell to just 0.9 percent.  If that projection turns out to be accurate, this will be the weakest quarter of economic growth during which rates were hiked in 37 years.

#2 The flow of credit is more critical to our economy than ever before, and higher rates will mean higher interest payments on adjustable rate mortgages, auto loans and credit card debt.  Needless to say, this is going to slow the economy down substantially

The Federal Reserve decision Wednesday to lift its benchmark short-term interest rate by a quarter percentage point is likely to have a domino effect across the economy as it gradually pushes up rates for everything from mortgages and credit card rates to small business loans.

Consumers with credit card debt, adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit are the most likely to be affected by a rate hike, says Greg McBride, chief analyst at Bankrate.com. He says it’s the cumulative effect that’s important, especially since the Fed already raised rates in December 2015 and December 2016.

#3 Speaking of auto loans, the number of people that are defaulting on them had already been rising even before this rate hike by the Fed…

The number of Americans who have stopped paying their car loans appears to be increasing — a development that has the potential to send ripple effects through the US economy.

Losses on subprime auto loans have spiked in the last few months, according to Steven Ricchiuto, Mizuho’s chief US economist. They jumped to 9.1% in January, up from 7.9% in January 2016.

“Recoveries on subprime auto loans also fell to just 34.8%, the worst performance in over seven years,” he said in a note.

#4 Higher rates will likely accelerate the ongoing “retail apocalypse“, and we just recently learned that department store sales are crashing “by the most on record“.

#5 We also recently learned that the number of “distressed retailers” in the United States is now at the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

#6 We have just been through “the worst financial recovery in 65 years“, and now the Fed’s actions threaten to plunge us into a brand new crisis.

#7 U.S. consumers certainly aren’t thriving, and so an economic slowdown will hit many of them extremely hard.  In fact, about half of all Americans could not even write a $500 check for an unexpected emergency expense if they had to do so right now.

#8 The bond market is already crashing.  Most casual observers only watch stocks, but the truth is that a bond crash almost always comes before a stock market crash.  Bonds have been falling like a rock since Donald Trump’s election victory, and we are not too far away from a full-blown crisis.  If you follow my work on a regular basis you know this is a hot button issue for me, and if bonds continue to plummet I will be writing quite a bit about this in the weeks ahead.

#9 On top of everything else, we could soon be facing a new debt ceiling crisis.  The suspension of the debt ceiling has ended, and Donald Trump could have a very hard time finding the votes that he needs to raise it.  The following comes from Bloomberg

In particular, the markets seem to be ignoring two vital numbers, which together could have profound consequences for global markets: 218 and $189 billion. In order to raise or suspend the debt ceiling (which will technically be reinstated on March 16), 218 votes are needed in the House of Representatives. The Treasury’s cash balance will need to last until this happens, or the U.S. will default.

The opening cash balance this month was $189 billion, and Treasury is burning an average of $2 billion per day – with the ability to issue new debt. Net redemptions of existing debt not held by the government are running north of $100 billion a month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has acknowledged the coming deadline, encouraging Congress last week to raise the limit immediately.

If something is not done soon, the federal government could be out of cash around the beginning of the summer, and this could create a political crisis of unprecedented proportions.

#10 And even if the debt ceiling is raised, that does not mean that everything is okay.  It is being reported that U.S. government revenues just experienced their largest decline since the last financial crisis.

#11 What do corporate insiders know that the rest of us do not?  Stock purchases by corporate insiders are at the lowest level that we have seen in three decades

It’s usually a good sign when the CEO of a major company is buying shares; s/he is an insider and knows what’s going on, so their confidence is a positive sign.

Well, according to public data filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, insider buying is at its LOWEST level in THREE DECADES.

In other words, the people at the top of the corporate food chain who have privileged information about their businesses are NOT buying.

#12 A survey that was just released found that corporate executives are extremely concerned that Donald Trump’s policies could trigger a trade war

As business leaders are nearly split over the effectiveness of Washington’s new leadership, they are in unison when it comes to fears over trade and immigration. Nearly all CFOs surveyed are concerned that the Trump administration’s policies could trigger a trade war between the United States and China.

A decline in global trade could deepen the economic downturns that are already going on all over the planet.  For example, Brazil is already experiencing “its longest and deepest recession in recorded history“, and right next door people are literally starving in Venezuela.

After everything that you just read, would you say that the economy is “doing well”?

Of course not.

But after raising rates on Wednesday, that is precisely what Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told the press

“The simple message is — the economy is doing well.” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said at a news conference. “The unemployment rate has moved way down and many more people are feeling more optimistic about their labor prospects.”

However, after she was challenged with some hard economic data by a reporter, Yellen seemed to change her tune somewhat

Well, look, our policy is not set in stone. It is data- dependent and we’re — we’re not locked into any particular policy path. Our — you know, as you said, the data have not notably strengthened. I — there’s noise always in the data from quarter to quarter. But we haven’t changed our view of the outlook. We think we’re on the same path, not — we haven’t boosted the outlook, projected faster growth. We think we’re moving along the same course we’ve been on, but it is one that involves gradual tightening in the labor market.

Just like in 2008, the Federal Reserve really doesn’t understand the economic environment.  At that time, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke assured everyone that there was not going to be a recession, but when he made that statement a recession was actually already underway.

And as I have said before, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it is ultimately announced that GDP growth for the first quarter of 2017 was negative.

Whether it happens now or a bit later, the truth is that the U.S. economy is heading for a new recession, and the Federal Reserve has just given us a major shove in that direction.

Is the Fed really so clueless about the true state of the economy, or could it be possible that they are raising rates just to hurt Donald Trump?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but clearly something very strange is going on…

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$21,714 For Every Man, Woman And Child In The World – This Global Debt Bomb Is Ready To Explode March 12, 2017

Debt Bomb Globe - Public DomainAccording to the International Monetary Fund, global debt has grown to a staggering grand total of 152 trillion dollars.  Other estimates put that figure closer to 200 trillion dollars, but for the purposes of this article let’s use the more conservative number.  If you take 152 trillion dollars and divide it by the seven billion people living on the planet, you get $21,714, which would be the share of that debt for every man, woman and child in the world if it was divided up equally.

So if you have a family of four, your family’s share of the global debt load would be $86,856.

Very few families could write a check for that amount today, and we also must remember that we live in some of the wealthiest areas on the globe.  Considering the fact that more than 3 billion people around the world live on two dollars a day or less, the truth is that about half the planet would not be capable of contributing toward the repayment of our 152 trillion dollar debt at all.  So they should probably be excluded from these calculations entirely, and that would mean that your family’s share of the debt would ultimately be far, far higher.

Of course global debt repayment will never actually be apportioned by family.  The reason why I am sharing this example is to show you that it is literally impossible for all of this debt to ever be repaid.

We are living during the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world, and our financial engineers have got to keep figuring out ways to keep it growing much faster than global GDP because if it ever stops growing it will burst and destroy the entire global financial system.

Bill Gross, one of the most highly respected financial minds on the entire planet, recently observed that “our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road”.

And he is precisely correct.  Everything might seem fine for a while, but one day we are going to hit the wrong bump at the wrong time and the whole thing is going to go KA-BOOM.

The financial crisis of 2008 represented an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, but instead we just papered over our errors and cranked up the global debt creation machine to levels never seen before.  Here is more from Bill Gross

My lesson continued but the crux of it was that in 2017, the global economy has created more credit relative to GDP than that at the beginning of 2008’s disaster. In the U.S., credit of $65 trillion is roughly 350% of annual GDP and the ratio is rising. In China, the ratio has more than doubled in the past decade to nearly 300%. Since 2007, China has added $24 trillion worth of debt to its collective balance sheet. Over the same period, the U.S. and Europe only added $12 trillion each. Capitalism, with its adopted fractional reserve banking system, depends on credit expansion and the printing of additional reserves by central banks, which in turn are re-lent by private banks to create pizza stores, cell phones and a myriad of other products and business enterprises. But the credit creation has limits and the cost of credit (interest rates) must be carefully monitored so that borrowers (think subprime) can pay back the monthly servicing costs. If rates are too high (and credit as a % of GDP too high as well), then potential Lehman black swans can occur. On the other hand, if rates are too low (and credit as a % of GDP declines), then the system breaks down, as savers, pension funds and insurance companies become unable to earn a rate of return high enough to match and service their liabilities.

There is always a price to be paid for going into debt.  It mystifies me that so many Americans seem to not understand this very basic principle.

On an individual level, you could live like a Trump (at least for a while) by getting a whole bunch of credit cards and maxing all of them out.

But eventually a day of reckoning would come.

The same thing happens on a national level.  In recent years we have seen examples in Greece, Cyprus, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and various other European nations.

Here in the United States, more than 9 trillion dollars was added to the national debt during the Obama years.  If we had not taken more than 9 trillion dollars of consumption and brought it into the present, we would most assuredly be in the midst of an epic economic depression right now.

Instead of taking our pain in the short-term, we have sold future generations of Americans as debt slaves, and if they get the chance someday they will look back and curse us for what we have done to them.

Many believe that Donald Trump can make short-term economic conditions even better than Obama did, but how in the world is he going to do that?

Is he going to borrow another 9 trillion dollars?

A big test is coming up.  A while back, Barack Obama and the Republican Congress colluded to suspend the debt ceiling until March 15th, 2017, and this week we are going to hit that deadline.

The U.S. Treasury will be able to implement “emergency measures” for a while, but if the debt ceiling is not raised the U.S. government will not be able to borrow more money and will run out of cash very quickly.  The following comes from David Stockman

The Treasury will likely be out of cash shortly after Memorial Day. That is, the White House will be in the mother of all debt ceiling battles before the Donald and his team even see it coming.

With just $66 billion on hand it is now going to run out of cash before even the bloody battle over Obamacare Lite now underway in the House has been completed. That means that there will not be even a glimmer of hope for the vaunted Trump tax cut stimulus and economic rebound on the horizon.

Trump is going to find it quite challenging to find the votes to raise the debt ceiling.  After everything that has happened, very few Democrats are willing to help Trump with anything, and many Republicans are absolutely against raising the debt ceiling without major spending cut concessions.

So we shall see what happens.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, it will almost certainly mean that a major political crisis and a severe economic downturn are imminent.

But if the debt ceiling is raised, it will mean that Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress are willingly complicit in the destruction of this country’s long-term economic future.

When you go into debt there are consequences.

And when the greatest debt bubble in human history finally bursts, the consequences will be exceedingly severe.

The best that our leaders can do for now is to keep the bubble alive for as long as possible, because what comes after the bubble is gone will be absolutely unthinkable.

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