Tag Archives: online sales

How To Go Bankrupt: Slowly Then Suddenly

In Hemingway’s, “The Sun Also Rises,” one of the characters, Bill, asks his friend, “Mike,” how he went bankrupt. Mike replied, “I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors…” This passage from the novel comes to mind when I hear ads during the local sports radio programming from mortgage brokers urging listeners to use a cash-out refi or home equity loan to take care of credit card debt that piled up during the holidays.  Beneath the surface is the message, “c’mon in, the water is fine, go ahead and take on even more debt.”

If in fact the retail sales turn out to be as strong as projected, it’s because the average household has tapped into its savings and used an unusually large amount of credit card debt to fund holiday spending this year:

The chart on the left shows the 13-week annualized percentage change in household credit card debt. The data comes from the Fed. As you can see, the use of credit cards to fund spending has soared. Further compounding potential household financial stress, the personal savings rate in November dropped to 2.9% from 3.2% in October. It’s the lowest personal savings rate since November 2007. November 2007 is one month before an official recession was declared back then.

The 18% spike in credit card debt is perhaps more troubling than the plunge in the savings rate. It’s been theorized that consumers may have used credit cards to “pre-spend” an anticipated savings in taxes from the tax legislation. Unfortunately, the changes to the tax code will be neutral at best for the average middle class household.

Furthermore, borrowing to fund current consumption in the absence of future income growth or capital gains received from monetizing assets (stocks, homes, etc) merely shifts future consumption into the present. If retail sales come in “hot” for Q4 because of strong holiday sales fueled by credit card debt, it will be offset by a steep decline in consumer spending in 2018. This is because the rate at which consumer credit is rising at more than double the rate of growth in wages. The “cherry” on top of this scenario is that there will likely be an acceleration in the rate of credit card and auto loan delinquencies and defaults.  This latter development would a continuation of the rising trend in credit delinquencies and defaults that emerged during 2017.  Mortgage payment problems are sure to follow.

The “feel good about the economy” propaganda has been over-the-top this year.  Trump has been the primary cheerleader as he extols the virtues of a soaring stock market that he labeled “a massive bubble” when he was begging for votes on the campaign trail.  Now he points to the stock market as an indicator that the country is better off since he became president.

In truth, the middle class continues to be hollowed-out from an increasing need to assume more debt in order to maintain its lifestyle. More debt is necessitated by an income level that is not keeping up with the ravages of the inflation that the Government can’t seem to find in its CPI report.  “Middle class”  includes everyone who requires a mortgage to claim “ownership” on their home plus anyone not rich enough to pay for self-enriching legislative policy at the State and Federal levels of Government.  If you fit either of those of those or both,  you are strictly speaking “middle class.”

2018 is going to be a difficult year for most Americans.  I have no idea how much longer the stock market can continue transmitting the illusion that every one is becoming more prosperous.  I have a gut feeling that real inflation, resulting from the inexorable devaluation of the dollar since 1971, will rip through the system sometime in the next year or two and drive interest rates to a level that could bankrupt a major portion of the economy.  It really won’t take much of a bump in rates for this to occur…slowly, then suddenly.

Retail Sales: It’s Going To Be A Slaughter

The Goldman Sachs ICSC chain store sales plunged 6.3% for the week ending December 5 (measured through Saturday each week).  The index measures same-store sales for retail chains.   A small decline is expected, as this is the week that follows Black Friday week. But I pulled up the data from last year and the same metric declined only 1.8%.  And, in 2013 chain store comp sales actually rose 1.5% for the week following Black Friday week.

The economy is collapsing.  This is evident from the ongoing crash in commodities, especially the price of oil and natural gas.  The consumer is tapped out.   There’s a law of economics called the Law of Diminishing Returns.   It says that if one input in the production of a commodity is increased while all other inputs are held fixed, a point will eventually be reached at which additions of the input yield progressively smaller, or diminishing, increases in output.

Traditionally this law would apply to production and manufacturing.  But in an economy based on the digital printing press, this law applies to money printing and credit creation. At a certain point, the ability of money printing and credit creation reaches a limit at which it can no longer stimulate consumption.  Consumption of homes, cars and discretionary purchases.

Retail sales this holiday season will reflect this law as it applies to retail spending.   We’ve already seen credit card data from Bank of America that indicates a 10% drop in spending for the November holiday season for through the first three weeks.  Goldman’s chain store sales indicator reinforces this stunning fall-off in holiday spending.

Do not get fooled into thinking that online sales will make up for the big decline in brick and mortar store sales.  Online sales represent just 6% of total retail sales. Even if online sales tick up to 7 or 8% of total sales, the increase of a few $100 million million will barely dent the decline in total sales, which will be in the billions.

One more point, November retail sales are due out this Friday at 8:30 a.m. EST.  The data is compiled and constructed by the Census Bureau.  There is no doubt in my mind that they will do their best to manipulate the data into showing an unexpected gain.  Consider the source when you see the report.

Next up we will see the application of the Law of Diminishing Returns as it applies to auto and home sales.  The Government is already trying to defer the onset of this law in housing as it is now rolling negative down payment, low interest rate mortgages for people with low credit scores.  The “negative down payment” is derived from the fact that the homebuyer can borrow money from others to fund the 3% down payment OR take a loan from the community.   Sheer insanity.