Tag Archives: retail sales

Modern Monetary Insanity And The Three Stooges

James Kunstler summarized it perfectly. So rather than reinventing the wheel, here’s an excerpt from his Monday commentary:

Jerome Powell [was] wheeled out on CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday night, like a cigar store Indian at an antique fair, so vividly sculpted and colorfully adorned you could almost imagine him saying something. Maybe it was an hallucination, but I heard him say that “the economy is in a good place,” and that “the outlook is a favorable one.” Point taken. Pull the truck up to the loading dock and fill it with Tesla shares! I also thought I heard “Inflation is muted.” That must have been the laugh line, since there is almost no single item in the supermarket that goes for under five bucks these days. But really, when was the last time you saw a cigar store Indian at Trader Joes? It took seventeen Federal Reserve math PhD’s to come up with that line, inflation is muted.

What you really had to love was Mr. Powell’s explanation for the record number of car owners in default on their monthly payments: “…not everybody is sharing in this widespread prosperity we have.”

And so it went on 60 Minutes on Sunday evening. I strongly recommend reading Kunstler’s entire essay:  Ides and Tides…The Fed and the FOMC are not mandated to set monetary policy to stabilize employment and inflation. The Fed’s role is to help the banks maximize profits. That’s it in a nutshell.

The best way to fight and protect yourself from the Fed’s mandate is to own physical gold. Phil Kennedy of Kennedy Financial invited Bill “Midas” Murphy and I to discuss the gold market and where it’s going from here:

Trump’s Trade War Tweets, Buybacks And A Short-Squeeze

Someone last week suggested that Trump sees the stock market as the barometer measuring the success of his Presidency. I think his behavior, tweets, press comments, etc with respect to the stock market validates that assertion.

The Dow trended lower all week last after Monday’s close. Whenever the stock market faded from an early run-up or began a rapid sell-off, a Trump tweet or press statement would pop up proclaiming that the trade war negotiations were “progressing.” It seems, though, this manipulation tonic is starting to lose strength. The index of stocks with large buyback programs actually finished the week lower. But the “most shorted” stock index closed higher on the week again. This is why the SPX, Naz and Russell outperformed the Dow this past week.

Market tops are a process – While I’m getting impatient for this market to rollover, market tops are a process. This chart certainly provides something to contemplate:

The chart above overlays the SPX from April 2018 to present on top of a chart of the SPX over a similar period in 1936-1937. The correlation is surprisingly high up to this point. No one can predict if the SPX will follow the same path for the rest of 2019 that it took in 1937, but the two periods of time have many economic, financial and geopolitical similarities. There’s certainly a case to be made that the current stock market might unfold in a manner that “rhymes” with the large decline that occurred in 1937.

Another interesting indicator is the AAII Sentiment Survey. The AAII is the American Association of Individual Investors. The weekly survey measures the relative bullishness and bearishness of individual investors. Retail investor sentiment is considered a fairly reliable contrary indicator. Currently the bullishness is now over the 40% level and the bearish level is 20% (the rest are “neutral”) – a level of bullishness that has signaled a market top in the past. In contrast, a bullish level of 20% and a bearish level of 49% on December 13th was registered nine days before the stock market bottomed.

The highest the bullish sentiment level has reached in the last 5 months was 45% in the first week of October (25% bearish). The stock market entered a big decline on October 3rd. In isolation, this indicator may or may not be reliable. But given the number of other indicators associated with a market top, now would be a good time to take profits on any long positions you might have put on in the last 2 months. Given the deteriorating fundamentals of the economic and financial system, the probability that the market will rise a meaningful amount from here is quite low.

The “US Macro” index measures the difference between consensus expectation vs the actual number reported for a wide array of economic reports. As you can see, the stock market has dislocated from economic reality by a substantial margin. At some point, unless the economic reports begin to improve, the stock market will “catch down” to reality. How long it will take for this to occur is anyone’s guess, but it is likely that the “adjustment” will be abrupt.

Many indicators are reflecting a sharp fall-off in consumer demand. Wholesale inventories are soaring and the inventory to sales ratio is significantly higher than a year ago. The CEO of a logistics warehouse in California remarked in reference to the inventory stored in company warehouses, “in 30 years I’ve never seen anything like this.” This includes inventories of durables and non-durables targeted for domestic distribution.

Confirming the pile-up in manufactured goods relative to demand, the Cass Freight index has declined on a year-over-year basis two months in a row. The index had been rising each on month on an annual comparison basis since Trump took office.

Consumer sentiment is also falling. The latest U of Michigan consumer sentiment survey fell well below the Wall St consensus expectation, with some components falling to their lowest level since the 2016 election (recall that hope soared after the election). Apologists are blaming the trade war and the Government shutdown. However, historically there’s a near-100% correlation between the directional movement of the stock market and consumer sentiment. Any negative effect from the shutdown should have been offset by the sharp rally in the stock market. Contrary to the obligatory positive spin put on the data, the sentiment index likely reflects the fact that the average household has largely tapped out its ability to take on more debt in order to keep spending on anything above non-discretionary items.

Insider selling during February has accelerated. Insiders sold more shares in the first half of February relative to shares purchased than at any time in the last 10 years. The size and volume of insider stock sales the last three days of February – per SEC filings – was described by one analyst as “off the charts.” The Financial Times had an article discussing the fact that America’s CEOs are leaving their posts at the highest rate since 2008. It’s likely the departures reflect a bearish outlook by insiders both for business conditions and the stock market.

Homebuilders, despite the small rise in homebuilder optimism, must be sensing the fall-off in the economy and a decline the pool of potential new homebuyers. Housing starts in December dropped 11.2% from November. The decline would have been worse but November’s number was revised lower. The number reported for December was 14.4% below the consensus estimate. The numbers are SAAR (seasonally adjusted annualized rate) in case you were wondering about seasonality between November and December. But just to confirm, the December 2018 number was 11% below December 2017. Also, the Census Bureau releases the “unadjusted” monthly numbers, which showed a 12% drop in starts year-over-year.

Over the next several weeks there will be a lot of excuses for the deteriorating economic fundamentals:  trade war, Government shut-down, cold weather in January and February, low inventory in low-price homes, the dog ate my homework.

But the truth is that the average household in the U.S. is running up against debt limitations – the ability to take on and service additional debt.  Just one indicator of this is rising credit card and auto loan delinquencies.  The U.S. economy for the last 8 years has been primed and pump with printed money and debt.  Debt at every level of the system is at all time higher – both nominally and as a percentage of GDP.

The next round of QE, regardless of the scale, will do nothing to re-stimulate economic activity unless the money is used to re-set (i.e. pay-off) creditors on behalf of the debtors. This was how the last reset was engineered after the financial crisis but this time it will have to be a bailout in size that is multiples of the last one.

The stock market is beginning to rollover again, as the gravity of economic fundamentals begins to exert its “pull.”  I’m sure it won’t take long before we start to hear complaints about the hedge fund computer algos again.  But the best advice is to take your money off the table and get out of the way.

A Financial System Headed For A Collision With Debt

The retail sales report for December – delayed because of the Government shut-down – was released this morning. It showed the largest monthly drop since September 2009. Online sales plunged 3.9%, the steepest drop since November 2008. Not surprisingly, sporting goods/hobby/musical instruments/books plunged 4.9%. This is evidence that the average household has been forced to cut back discretionary spending to pay for food, shelter and debt service (mortgage, auto, credit card, student loans).

I had to laugh when Trump’s Cocaine Cowboy – masquerading as the Administration’s flagship “economist” – attributed the plunge in retail sales to a “glitch.” Yes, the “glitch” is that 7 million people are delinquent to seriously delinquent on their auto loan payments. I’d have to hazard a wild guess that these folks aren’t are not spending money on the latest i-Phone or a pair of high-end yoga pants.

Here’s the “glitch” to which Larry must be referring:

The chart above shows personal interest payments excluding mortgage debt. As you can see, the current non-mortgage personal interest burden is nearly 20% higher than it was just before the 2008 financial crisis. It’s roughly 75% higher than it was at the turn of the century. The middle class spending capacity is predicated on disposable income, savings, and borrowing capacity. Disposable income is shrinking, the savings rate is near an all-time low and many households are running out of capacity to support more household debt.

I found another “glitch” in the private sector sourced data, which is infinitely more reliable than the manipulated, propaganda-laced garbage spit out by Government agencies. The Conference Board’s measurement of consumer confidence plunged to 120.2 from 126.6 in January (December’s number was revised lower). Both the current and future expectations sub-indices plunged. Bond guru, Jeff Gundlach, commented that consumer future expectations relative to current conditions is a recessionary signal and this was one of the worst readings ever in that ratio.

This was the third straight month the index has declined after hitting 137.9 (an 18-yr high) in October. The 17.7 cumulative (12.8%) decline is the worst string of losses since October 2011 (back then the Fed was just finishing QE2 and prepping for QE3). The expectation for jobs was the largest contributor to the plunge in consumer confidence. Just 14.7% of the respondents are expecting more jobs in the next 6 months vs 22.7% in November. The 2-month drop in the Conference Board’s index was the steepest 2-month drop since 1968.

This report reflects a tapped-out consumer. It’s a great leading economic indicator because historically downturns in this report either coincide with a recession or occur a few months prior.

Further supporting my “glitch” thesis, mortgage purchase applications have dropped four weeks in row after a brief increase to start 2019. Last week purchase applications tanked 6% from the previous week. The previous week dropped 5% after two consecutive weeks of 2% drops. This plunge in mortgage purchase apps occurred as the 10yr Treasury rate – the benchmark rate for mortgage rates – fell to its lowest level in a year.

Previously we have been fed the fairy tale that housing sales were tanking because mortgage rates had climbed over the past year or that inventory was too low. Well, mortgage rates just dropped considerably since November and home sales are still declining. The inventory of existing and new homes is as high as it’s been in over a year. Why? Because of the rapidity with which number of households that can afford the cost of home ownership has diminished. The glitch is the record level of consumer debt.

The parabolic rise in stock prices since Christmas is nothing more than a bear market, short-covering squeeze triggered by direct official intervention in the markets in an attempt to prevent the stock market from collapsing. This is why Powell has reversed the Fed’s monetary policy stance more quickly than cock roaches scatter when the kitchen light is turned on. But when 7 million people are delinquent on their car loan and retail sales go straight off the cliff, we’re at the point at which stopping QT re-upping QE won’t work. The stock market will soon seek lower ground to catch down to reality. This “adjustment” in the stock market could occur more abruptly most expect.

Precious Metals, Mining Stocks, Housing Market – What’s Next?

“The housing market is 100% a function of the Fed’s money printing.  Half the money the Fed printed, $2.2 trillion, went directly into the housing market.”

Analysts and financial media meatheads look at the $4.5 trillion created by the Fed and truly believe that it wasn’t money printing because it’s “backed” by Treasury bonds and mortgages.  But this is pure ignorance.  Not taken into consideration is the amount of credit and debt issuance enabled by using the $4.5 trillion as the “reserve capital.”  It’s fractional banking on steroids.

As the U.S. financial system reaches its limit on the amount of debt that can be serviced from the current level of wealth output, what happens next?  We’re already seeing what happens in the housing market per the fact that the homebuilder  stocks are in an “official” bear market, with some of them down over 30% since late January.

Then what?  The Fed will have to print multiples of the original amount it printed or face systemic collapse. At that point the precious metals sector will soar beyond anyone’s imagination at this point in time.

Phil Kennedy (Kennedy Financial) invited me to discuss these issues on his podcast.  Phil’s podcasts blend truthseeking, facts, humor, humility and sarcasm.  It’s  well-worth the time spent to listen:

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If you are interested in ideas for taking advantage of the inevitable systemic reset that  will hit the U.S. financial and economic system, check out either of these newsletters:  Short Seller’s Journal information and more about the Mining Stock Journal here:  Mining Stock Journal information.

Gold And Silver: Similar To 2008

In 2008, gold was taken from $1020 to $700 and silver was pounded from $21 to  $7 during the period of time that Bear Stearns, Lehman and the U.S. financial system was collapsing.  The precious metals were behaving inversely to what would have been expected as the global financial system melted down.   Massive Central Bank intervention was at play.

Currently the prices of gold and silver are being dismantled by what appears to be massive hedge fund shorting of Comex paper gold.  As of last Tuesday, the “managed money” trader category as detailed in the Commitment of Traders report showed that the hedge funds were short a record amount of paper gold.

As of yesterday the open interest in Comex paper gold was about 17,000 contracts higher than the open interest shown in last week’s COT report.  This represents another 1.7 million ozs – or 48 tonnes – of paper gold that has been dumped on the market.  It is highly probable, if not a certainty, that most of the increase in short interest is attributable to hedge fund algos chasing the paper price of gold lower.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) has been actively intervening in the physical gold market during July, as detailed by Robert Lambourne, a consultant to GATA:

Use of gold swaps and gold derivatives by the Bank for International Settlements, the gold broker for most central banks, increased by about 17 percent in July, according to the bank’s monthly report…The BIS’ July Statement of Account gives summary information on its use of gold swaps and gold-related derivatives in the month. The information is not sufficient to calculate a precise amount of gold-related derivatives, including swaps, but the bank’s total estimated exposure as of July 31 was about 485 tonnes of gold versus about 413 tonnes as of June 30.

That is an increase of about 72 tonnes or 17 percent. The increase came as there increasingly appeared to be a correlation between the gold price and the valuation of the Chinese yuan, both of which fell substantially during the month.

The BIS refuses to explain what it is doing in the gold market and for whom, engendering suspicion that it is helping one or more of its members to manipulate the currency markets through deception.  To place the bank’s use of gold swaps in context, its current exposure of 485 tonnes is higher than the gold reserves of all but 10 countries. (documentation and links: BIS gold market intervention increased by 17% in July)

While visible evidence of a declining gold price can be seen with Comex futures prices and the daily London gold price “fix,” the BIS is operating in the physical market to increase the supply of physical gold available for bullion banks on the hook to deliver physical gold to the countries buying large quantities of physical gold on a daily basis.  As long as the BIS can ensure the flow of physical gold remains uninterrupted, the demand for physical gold will not offset the effort to take-down the price of gold in the paper derivatives markets.

The effort to push down  the price of gold is to silence the alarm gold provides to signal global systemic distress. It’s not just the emerging market economies  and China. The U.S. economy, based on all the private sector data I dig up an analyze on a daily basis, hit a wall sometime between March and May.

This is most evident in the housing market nationwide, which  has been rapidly deteriorating (notwithstanding a few areas that may still have some flaming embers of activity).  Just one supporting data-point is  mortgage purchase applications, which have declined each week over the past 5 weeks. This is not a good omen for the housing market during the seasonally peak selling months. We know it’s not an inventory issue because inventory across the country in all price segments has been rising in most areas and soaring in some of the hottest areas.

While today’s headline retail sales number shows a 0.5% increase in July over June, the “increase” was manufactured for headline purposes by a large downward revision of June’s retail sales numbers. Furthermore, the headline number is a nominal number. Net of true price inflation, retail sales declined. There are other problematic inconsistencies between the Census Bureau-generated numbers and the actual numbers as reported by private-sector companies.

The bottom line is that the prices of gold and silver are being systematically taken down as a mechanism to help cover up the fact that a large-scale financial crisis is going to hit the global financial system. I don’t know the timing, but I would suggest that the EM currency melt-down that began in South America and has spread to the eastern hemisphere represents a series of earthquakes that  are generating a “tsunami.”

While I’m loathe to forecast a price-bottom for gold and the timing of the forthcoming systemic crisis, I would suggest that anyone who is shaken out of their gold, silver and mining stocks right now will regret selling when looking back a year from now.

My Short Seller’s Journal subscribers and I continue to rake in easy money shorting the homebuilder sector. Two of my short-sell picks, Zillow Group and Redfin, have been annihilated in price over the last week. In the last issue I also laid out why Tesla is technically insolvent and likely will be irrelevant as a company within 12-18 months. You can learn more about this weekly newsletter here: Short Seller’s Journal information.

Retail Sales: Inflation Plus Extrapolation

The footnotes are the most interesting section of every financial and economic reports.  They also happens to be least studied section of these reports.  Those who prepare these reports rely on this fact.

The monthly headline retail sales is based to a large extent on estimates, guesswork, invalid assumptions and statistical magic.  Examine the line-item details in this retail sales report link. Note the numerous lines for the May “estimate” that contain “(*).” Then scroll down to the footnotes.

“(*)” indicates, per the footnotes, that “advance estimates are not available for this kind of business.” Footnote 3 further explains that “Advance estimates are based on early reports obtained from a small number of firms…”.   In other words, a significant percentage of the retail sales are based on guesswork and inference.

Scroll further down the retail sales report and Table 2 shows the summary table (Table 2) which presents the month to month percentage change comparison for the latest month’s report.  The data in first four lines in this table is the data used for the headline reports.

Everyone uses these numbers, most without any knowledge whatsoever about the degree to which the data “behind” the numbers is comprised of highly questionable guesswork and unsubstantiated, if not entirely problematic, statistical inference and  adjustment calculus.

Additionally,  there’s a section in the report that explains methodology for the guesswork.  “Advance estimates are computed using a link relative estimator.”  A “link relative estimator” is a polite descriptor that basically means, “we assume that the historical growth rates implied by our historical reports can be applied to growth rate we assume in  this month from the previous month.”  On top of all of that, the Census Bureau then applies its nefarious “seasonal adjustment” factors to the data.  Keep in mind that a significant portion of the data is pulled out their ass.

All of this methodology is explained in further detail in the tabs on the main Monthly Retail Trade page of the Census Bureau. The information spread out in this section substantiates every assertion I have put forth above. It requires sifting through the “how data are collected,” “definitions” and “FAQs.”  I’m probably one of the few analysts curious enough to subject myself to this brain damage.

By the Census Bureau’s own trumped up numbers, most of the “gain” in retail sales from April to May, if indeed a bona fide gain occurred, was from gasoline and clothing inflation.   The numbers in the report are expressed in nominal terms.  They are not adjusted for the effects of price inflation.  Removing the effect of price inflation would yield the change in “unit” volume of retail sales.  This would be the number of true interest.

Finally, the estimated change in retail sales is not consistent with the patterns in consumer credit.  Based on the Fed’s consumer credit report, the use of revolving credit (credit cards, checking overdraft accounts, etc) has been contracting.  With the savings rate at an all-time low, the only way that retail sales unit volume could possibly increase is through the use of credit.  Thus, while guesswork and inflation is driving today’s headline report, in all likelihood unit volume of sales declined.  This latter assertion is indeed supported by recent manufacturing, factor order, durable goods and wage growth data.

Consumer Spending Contraction: Two Charts That Horrify Keynesians

“While the decline in housing activity has been significant and will probably continue for a while longer, I think the concerns we used to hear about the possibility of a devastating collapse—one that might be big enough to cause a recession in the U.S. economy—have been largely allayed…” – Janet Yellen 1/22/07

The propaganda is always laid on the heaviest just ahead of The Fall.  The employment report showing sub-4%, with nearly 96 million working age people not considered part of the labor Force, is possibly the penultimate fabrication.

Consumer spending is more than 70% of the GDP.  A toxic consequence of the Fed’s money printing and near-zero interest rate policy over the last 10 years is the artificial inflation of economic activity fueled by indiscriminate credit creation.

But now the majority of American households, over 75% of which do not have enough cash in the bank to cover an emergency expense, have become over-bloated from gorging at the Fed’s debt trough.

As credit usage slows down or contracts, the economy will go off Bernank’s Cliff much sooner than Helicopter Ben’s 2020 forecast.

The chart above is the year-over-year percentage change in total consumer credit outstanding. Not only is the growth rate decelerating, credit card debt usage is beginning to contract. This the collective prose from the mainstream media is that households are paying down credit card debt with tax savings. But, again, this is a lie. For most households, the increase in the cost of gasoline more than offsets the $90/month the average taxpayer is saving in taxes.

The second chart shows that the growth rate in auto debt fell off Bernanke’s Cliff in early 2017. While the growth rate in the amount of auto debt has appeared to have stabilized – for now – there’s been  a decline in the underlying growth rate in unit sales. This is because the mix of vehicles sold has shifted toward more trucks, which carry a higher sticker price and thus require a bigger auto loan.  Larger loans per vehicle sold, less total units sold.

The Keynesian economic model – as it is applied in the current era to stimulate consumer spending – requires debt issuance to increase at an increasing rate. But as you can see, the rate of credit usage is decreasing. The affects are already reflected by a rapid slow-down in retail, auto and home sales. Most American households are saturated with debt.

The real fun begins as many of these households begin to default. In fact, the delinquency and default rate, in what is supposed to be a healthy economy, on subprime credit card loans and auto debt already exceeds the delinquency/default rate in 2008. Perhaps Bernanke’s Cliff is just around the next bend in the trail…

Is It The Trade War Threats Or Extreme Overvaluation?

The stock market is is more overvalued now than at any time in U.S. history. Sure, permabulls can cherry pick certain metrics that might make valuations appear to be reasonable. But these metrics rely on historical comparisons using GAAP accounting numbers that simply are not remotely comparable over time. Because of changes which have liberalized accounting standards over the last several decades, current GAAP EPS is not comparable to GAAP EPS at previous market tops. And valuation metrics based on revenue/earnings forecasts use standard Wall Street analyst “hockey stick” projections. Perma-bullishness in Wall Street forecasts has become institutionalized. The trade war threats may be the proverbial “final straw” that triggers a severe market sell-off, but the stock market could be cut in half and still be considered overvalued.

The market action has been fascinating. I noticed an interesting occurrence that did not receive any attention from market commentators. Every day last week the Dow/SPX popped up at the open but closed well below their respective highs of the day. Each day featured a pre-market ramp-up in the Dow/SPX/Naz futures. However, the Dow closed lower 3 out of the 5 days and the SPX closed lower 4 out of 5 days. All three indices, Dow/SPX/Naz, closed the week below the previous week’s close.

My point here is that the stock market is still in a topping process. The 10% decline that occurred in late January/February was followed by a rebound that seems to have sucked all of of hope and bullishness back into the market. This is reflected in some of the latest sentiment readings like the Investors Intelligence percentage of bears index, which is still at an all-time low. I also believe that some hedge fund algos are being programmed to sell rallies and buy dips. We’ll have a better idea if this theory is valid over the next couple of months if the market continues to trend sideways to lower.

Deteriorating real economic fundamentals – The most important economic report out last week was retail sales for February, which showed at 0.1% decline from January. This was a surprise to Wall Street’s brain trust, which was expecting a 0.4% gain. Keep in mind the 0.1% decline is nominal. After subtracting inflation, the “unit” decline in sales is even worse. This was the third straight month retail sales declined. The decline was led by falling sales of autos and other big-ticket items. In addition, a related report was out that showed wholesale inventories rose more than expected in January as wholesale sales dropped 0.2%, the biggest monthly decline since July 2016.

Retail and wholesale sales are contracting. What happened to the tax cut’s boost to consumer spending? Based on the huge jump in credit card debt to an all-time high and the decline in the savings rate to a record low in Q4 2017, it’s most likely that the average consumer “pre-spent” the anticipated gain from Trump’s tax cut. Now, consumers have to spend the $95/month on average they’ll get from lower paycheck withholdings paying down credit card debt. As such, retail sales have tanked 3 months in a row.

In fact, the consumer credit report for January, released the week before last, showed a sharp slow-down in credit card usage. In December, credit card debt jumped $6.1 billion. But the January report showed an increase of $780 million. Yes, this is seasonal to an extent. But this was 16.4% below the January 2017 increase of $934 million.

Further reinforcing my thesis that the average household has largely reached a point of “saturation” on the amount of debt that it can support, the Federal Reserve reported that credit card delinquencies on credit cards issued by small banks have risen sharply over the last year. The charge-off rate (bad debt written off and sold to a collection company) soared to 7.2% in Q4 2017, up from 4.5% in Q4 2016. “Small banks” are defined as those outside of the 100 largest banks measured by assets. The charge-off rate at small banks is at its highest since Q1 2010.

Any strength in retail and auto sales related to the replacement cycle from the hurricanes last year are largely done. If you strip out “inconsistent seasonal adjustments,” the decline in February retail sales was 0.48% (John Williams, Shadowstats.com). Given the degree to which the Government agencies tend to manipulate economic statistics, it’s difficult for me to say that the three-month drop in retail sales will continue. However, I suspect that spending by the average household, strapped with a record level of debt, will continue to contract – especially spending on discretionary items.

A portion of the commentary above is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal, a weekly newsletter that provides insight on the latest economic data and provides short-sell ideas, including strategies for using options. You can learn more about this newsletter here: Short Seller’s Journal information.

The Slow Death Of The U.S. Economy

Deteriorating real economic fundamentals – The most important economic report out last week was retail sales for February, which showed at 0.1% decline from January. This was a surprise to Wall Street’s brain trust, which was expecting a 0.4% gain. Keep in mind the 0.1% decline is nominal. After subtracting inflation, the “unit” decline in sales is even worse. This was the third straight month retail sales declined. The decline was led by falling sales of autos and other big-ticket items. In addition, a related report was out that showed wholesale inventories rose more than expected in January as wholesale sales dropped 0.2%, the biggest monthly decline since July 2016.

Retail and wholesale sales are contracting. What happened to the tax cut boost to spending? Based on the huge jump in credit card debt to an all-time high and the decline in the savings rate to a record low in Q4 2017, it’s most likely that the average consumer “pre-spent” the anticipated gain from Trump’s tax cut. Now, consumers have to spend the $95/month on average they’ll get from lower paycheck withholdings paying down credit card debt. As such, retail sales have tanked 3 months in a row.

Paul Craig Roberts published a must-read essay on the slow death of the U.S. economy:

As for the full employment claimed by US government reporting agencies, how does full employment coexist with this reported fact from the Dallas Morning News: 100k Applications For 1000 jobs.

Toyota Motor Company advertised the availability of 1,000 new jobs associated with moving its North American headquarters from southern California to Texas and received 100,000 applications. Where did these applications come from when the US has “full employment?”

Clearly, the US does not have full employment. The US has an extremely low rate of labor force participation, because there are no jobs to be had, and discouraged workers who cannot find jobs are not measured in the unemployment rate. Not measuring the unemployed is the basis of the low reported unemployment rate. The official US unemployment rate is just a hoax.

You can read his full commentary here:    America Is Losing Its Economy

Navin R. Johnson Goes To The White House

(Note: with apologies to Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, who directed and co-wrote “The Jerk,” respectively)

Just when you thought Trump’s “leadership” could not get any more insane, he adds a third ring to the circus going on at 1600 Pennsylvania by hiring “economist,” Larry Kudlow to be the head of his economic advisors.

For those of you not familiar with financial market history beyond the last 10 years, which includes the majority of money managers and other sundry financial “professionals,” Kudlow was the chief economist at Bear Stearns from 1987 to 1994.  His tenure at Bear ended infamously when it was revealed that he had developed a nasty cocaine and alcohol addiction at some point in his career.

Prior to Bear, Kudlow began his post-college career as a Democratic political operative.  He parlayed his political connections to get a job as a junior staff “economist” at the Fed.  I use quotations marks around the term “economist” in reference to Kudlow because he does not have a degree beyond undergrad  from the University of Rochester, where he majored in history.

At some point Kudlow, likely for political expedience given the political “winds” of the country in the early 1980’s, became a Republican. He wheeled his political connections into a job in Reagan’s OMB (David Stockman was the Director).  From there, he moved on to Bear Stearns.  The rest is history.

I thought  it would be interesting to peer into the mind of an untrained economist to examine the thought process.  Clearly Kudlow excelled at wheeling and dealing his political connections.  But is he qualified to be the president’s chief economic advisor, especially at a time when the U.S. is systemically collapsing?

In November 2007, Trump’s new Chief Economic Advisor, Larry “Señor Snort” Kudlow wrote an article about the economy titled, “Three More Years of Goldilocks” for which he should receive the Darwin Award (credit goes to @RudyHavenstein for posting the article).  Let’s examine some excerpts – keep in mind Kudlow wrote this about 5 months before Bear Stearns collapsed, triggering a financial crisis that anyone with more than two brain cells could see coming:

“I think the election-year economy will be stronger than the Fed’s estimate — closer to 3 percent. Too much is being made of both the sub-prime credit problem and the housing downturn.” IRD note: Many of us predicted and made big bets on the outcome of “too much being made of the sub-prime credit problem;” a caveman could see what was coming.

“What’s more, the entire market in sub-prime debt is just 1.4 percent of the global equity market.” – IRD note: Maybe 1.4% of a global stock bubble – but that’s like saying a small nuclear bomb in the hands of a madman is just 1.4% of the total stockpile of nuclear weapons. Notice that Kudlow overlooks the $10’s of trillions of OTC derivatives connected to the sub-prime debt, something that was obvious to many.

In issuing a forecast for 2008, Kudlow goes on to say:  “Both consumer spending and business capital investment are advancing…Right now, stocks are in a classic declining-profits correction. This downward trend has so far reduced the Dow by roughly 8 percent. As a rough guess, a 10 percent correction ought to spell the end to the Dow’s slump. And Fed rate cuts should be a big booster for stocks.” IRD note – Where on earth was he getting his data on consumer spending? By November 2007, households that weren’t living in fear of foreclosure were living in fear of losing their job. Between October 2007 and March 2009, the S&P 500 collapsed 58%.

Kudlow’s assertions back in 2007 were a joke.  What happened to Kudlow’s “Goldilocks economy?”  This is the person who is now Trump’s lead economic advisor.   Now Kudlow once again is asserting that, “the profit picture is good. It’s looking real good, and growth is not inflationary just let it rip for heaven’s sakes. The market is going to take care of itself.”

Based on his track record of issuing bullish forecasts right before a collapse,  I’d suggest that the economy and financial system is closer to taking care of itself by  “ripping” off a cliff without a parachute than it is to producing real growth. Retail sales have tanked three months in a row, the housing market appears to be headed south, auto sales plummeting, restaurant sales have dropped 19 out of the last 20 months. Where is this growth you seeing, Larry? Please do tell…