April 27, 2016

Economy In Decline: Apple Reports Massive Revenue Decline As iPhone Sales Plummet Dramatically

Corporate revenues in the United States have been falling for quite some time, but now some of the biggest companies in the entire nation are reporting extremely disappointing results.  On Tuesday, Apple shocked the financial world by reporting that revenue for the first quarter had fallen 7.4 billion dollars compared to the same quarter last year.  That is an astounding plunge, and it represents the very first year-over-year quarterly sales decline that Apple has experienced since 2003.  Analysts were anticipating some sort of drop, but nothing like this.  And of course last week we learned that Google and Microsoft also missed revenue and earnings projections for the first quarter of 2016.  The economic crisis that began during the second half of 2015 is really starting to take hold, and even our largest tech companies are now feeling the pain.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to Apple.  No matter what else has been going on with the U.S. economy, Apple has always been unshakeable.  Even during the last recession we never saw a year-over-year decline like this

Apple today announced financial results for the second fiscal quarter (first calendar quarter) of 2016. For the quarter, Apple posted revenue of $50.6 billion and net quarterly profit of $10.5 billion, or $1.90 per diluted share, compared to revenue of $58 billion and net quarterly profit of $13.6 billion, or $2.33 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. As expected, the year-over-year decline in quarterly revenue was the first for Apple since 2003.

I think that this announcement by Apple is waking a lot of people up.  The global economic slowdown is real, and we can see this in iPhone sales.  During the first quarter, Apple sold 16 percent fewer iPhones than it did during the same quarter in 2015.  This is the very first year-over-year quarterly sales decline for the iPhone ever.  Here are some of the specific sales figures from the Apple announcement…

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April 26, 2016

"The Men Behind The Curtain Are Being Revealed" – CEO Says Real-World Pricing To Return To Gold & Silver Markets

Astute observers of financial markets, especially in the precious metals sector, have long argued that small concentrations of major market players have been manipulating asset prices. Last week those suspicions were confirmed when Deutsche Bank, one of the world’s leading financial institutions, not only admitted to regulators that they have been involved in the racket, but that they were prepared to turn over records implicating many of their cohorts in a global scheme to suppress prices.

In his latest interview with SGT Report, straight-shooting Callinex Mines CEO Max Porterfield explains that now that the men behind the curtain are being revealed, asset prices in precious metals, base metals and other commodities will return to more natural pricing mechanisms based on core supply and demand fundamentals.

They are being revealed, most certainly… whether anybody actually takes a fall for it is a whole ‘nother discussion in its own right.. It’s good someone is being held accountable in some form or fashion and at least we understand what we’re dealing with.

… The real world pricing is being seen not only in the precious metals space, but it’s being played out in other base metals as well… Underlying all this manipulation is really the supply demand fundamentals for all these commodities…

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April 25, 2016

In 1 Out Of Every 5 American Families, Nobody Has A Job

If nobody is working in one out of every five U.S. families, then how in the world can the unemployment rate be close to 5 percent as the Obama administration keeps insisting? The truth, of course, is that the U.S. economy is in far worse condition than we are being told. Last week, I discussed the fact that the Federal Reserve has found that 47 percent of all Americans would not be able to come up with $400 for an unexpected visit to the emergency room without borrowing it or selling something. But Barack Obama and his minions never bring up that number. Nor do they ever bring up the fact that 20 percent of all families in America are completely unemployed. The following comes directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

In 2015, the share of families with an employed member was 80.3 percent, up by 0.2 percentage point from 2014. The likelihood of having an employed family member rose in 2015 for Black families (from 76.4 percent to 77.7 percent) and for Hispanic families (from 85.9 percent to 86.4 percent). The likelihood for White and Asian families showed little or no change (80.1 percent and 88.6 percent, respectively).
For purposes of this study, families “are classified either as married-couple families or as families maintained by women or men without spouses present” and they include households without children as well as children under the age of 18.

Digging into the numbers, we find that there were a total of 81,410,000 families in America during the 2015 calendar year.

Of that total, 16,060,000 families did not have a single member employed.

So that means that in 19.7 percent of all families in the United States, nobody has a job.

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April 22, 2016

Pimco Economist Has A Stunning Proposal To Save The Economy: The Fed Should Buy Gold

Back in December 2014, just before the ECB officially launched its initial phase of QE in which it would monetize government bonds, Mario Draghi was asked a very direct question: what types of assets could the ECB buy as part of its quantitative easing program. He responded, "we discussed all assets but gold."

The reason for his tongue in cheek response was because over the prior few weeks speculation had arisen that gold could be part of the central bank’s asset purchases after Yves Mersch, a member of the ECB executive board and former Governor of the Central Bank of Luxembourg, said on November 17 that "theoretically the ECB could purchase other assets such as gold, shares, ETFs to fulfill its promise of adopting further unconventional measures to counter a longer period of low inflation."

Mario Draghi promptly shot down that idea.

But according to a provocative paper released by none other than Pimco's strategist Harley Bassman, Yves Mersch's inadvertent peek into what central bankers are thinking, may have been on to something. 

In "Rumpelstiltskin at the Fed", Bassman goes down the well-trodden path of proposing Fed asset purchases as the last ditch panacea for the US economy, however instead of buying bonds, or stocks, or crude oil, Bassman has a truly original idea: "the Fed should unleash a massive Fed gold purchase program that could echo a Depression-era effort that effectively boosted the U.S. economy."

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April 21, 2016

Soros Warns of 2008-Like Debt Growth in China. How Risky are Its Banks?

The lead story at Bloomberg is George Soros’ dire warnings about China a speech yesterday. He is talking his book; he’s short the renminbi, and pumped for China to float the Chinese currency against a broader basket of currencies, which would also lead it to decline against the dollar.

Soros made a doomsday call against Europe in 2012 that did not pan out, and he has been aggressive there in trying to influence policy, both on economics and on Ukraine. And he acknowledged that the timing of ugly end games is uncertain. Key sections from the Bloomberg story:

China’s March credit-growth figures should be viewed as a warning sign, Soros said at an Asia Society event in New York on Wednesday. The broadest measure of new credit in the world’s second-biggest economy was 2.34 trillion yuan ($362 billion) last month, far exceeding the median forecast of 1.4 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey and signaling the government is prioritizing growth over reining in debt.

What’s happening in China “eerily resembles what happened during the financial crisis in the U.S. in 2007-08, which was similarly fueled by credit growth,” Soros said…

Capital outflows from China are a growing phenomenon driven by the nation’s anti-corruption campaign, which makes people nervous and spurs them to pull money out, Soros said. While China’s reserves swelled by $10.3 billion in March to $3.21 trillion, they’re down by $517 billion from a year earlier.

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April 20, 2016

China Launches Yuan Gold Fix To "Exert More Control Over Price Of Gold"

Overnight a historic event took place when China, the world's top gold consumer, launched a yuan-denominated gold benchmark as had been previewed here previously, in what Reuters dubbed "an ambitious step to exert more control over the pricing of the metal and boost its influence in the global bullion market." Considering the now officially-confirmed rigging of the gold and silver fix courtesy of last week's Deutsche Bank settlement, this is hardly bad news and may finally lead to some rigging cartel and central bank-free price discovery. Or it may not, because China would enjoy nothing more than continuing to accumulate gold at lower prices.

The first Chinese benchmark price, derived from a 1 kg-contract traded by 18 participants on the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE), was set at 256.92 yuan ($39.69) per gram on Tuesday, equivalent to $1,234.50/ounce.

China's gold benchmark is the culmination of efforts by China over the last few years to reform its domestic gold market in a bid to have a bigger say in the bullion industry, long dominated by London where the global spot benchmark price is currently set. As is well known, as the world's top producer, importer and consumer of gold, China has balked at having to depend on a dollar price in international transactions, and believes its market weight should entitle it to set the price of gold.

The new benchmark may not be an immediate threat to London, but industry players say over time China could set the price of the metal, especially if the yuan become fully convertible.

Cited by Reuters, Pan Gongsheng, deputy governor of the People's Bank of China which has been disclosing gold purchases every month since last summer, said that "the Shanghai gold benchmark will provide a fair and tradable yuan-denominated gold fix price ... will help improve yuan pricing mechanism and promote internationalization of the Chinese gold market."

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April 19, 2016

Corporations Are Defaulting On Their Debts Like It’s 2008 All Over Again

The Dow closed above 18,000 on Monday for the first time since July.  Isn’t that great news?  I truly wish that it was.  If the Dow actually reflected economic reality, I could stop writing about “economic collapse” and start blogging about cats or football.  Unfortunately, the stock market and the economy are moving in two completely different directions right now.  Even as stock prices soar, big corporations are defaulting on their debts at a level that we have not seen since the last financial crisis.  In fact, this wave of debt defaults have become so dramatic that even USA Today is reporting on it

Get ready to step over some landmines, investors. The number of companies defaulting on their debt is hitting levels not seen since the financial crisis, and it’s not just a problem for bondholders.

So far this year, 46 companies have defaulted on their debt, the highest level since 2009, according to S&P Ratings Services. Five companies defaulted this week, based on the latest data available from S&P Ratings Services. That includes New Jersey-based specialty chemical company Vertellus Specialties and Ohio-based iron ore producer Cliffs Natural. Of the world’s defaults this year, 37 are of companies based in the U.S.

Meanwhile, coal producer Peabody Energy (BTU) and surfwear seller Pacific Sunwear (PSUN) this week filed plans for bankruptcy protection. Shares of Peabody have dropped 97% over the past year to $2 a share and Pacific Sunwear stock is off 98% to 4 cents a share.

A lot of big companies in this country have fallen on hard times, and it looks like bankruptcy attorneys are going to be absolutely swamped with work for the foreseeable future.

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April 18, 2016

What Is The Worst-Case Outcome Of Helicopter Money: Deutsche Bank Explains

In other words, at one extreme, if the market perceives the policy as a failure, credit risk and demand/supply imbalances are likely to dominate, putting even further downward pressure on yields. At the other extreme, if the policy is perceived as a loss of monetary discipline, inflation expectations would spike, leading to an aggressive re-pricing of yields higher.

Simply said: too little, and the deflationary vortex will swallow all; too much, and yields will explode.  DB continues:

A “successful” helicopter drop may therefore be easier said than done given the non-linearities involved: it needs to be big enough for nominal growth expectations to shift higher and small enough to prevent an irreversible dis-anchoring of inflation expectations above the central bank’s target. Either way, the behavior of the latter is the key defining variable both for the policy’s success as well as the asset market reaction.

Which brings us to DB's politically correct conclusion: "under the assumption of policy “success” without fears of hyperinflation, we would conclude that bond yields rise"... the same success which DB also says "will be easier said than done", which then means, drumroll, that the dominant outcome will be one in which "fears" of hyperinflation are justified.

In which case, please go ahead and sell your gold to Goldman: the vampire squid has repeatedly said it will buy everything you have to sell.

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April 15, 2016

U.S. Economy 2016: 3 Classic Recession Signals Are Flashing Red

Those that were hoping for an “economic renaissance” in the United States got some more bad news this week.  It turns out that the U.S. economy is in significantly worse shape than the experts were projecting.  Retail sales unexpectedly declined in March, total business sales have fallen again, and the inventory to sales ratio has hit the highest level since the last financial crisis.  When you add these three classic recession signals to the 19 troubling numbers about the U.S. economy that I wrote about last week, it paints a very disturbing picture.  Virtually all of the signs that we would expect to pop up during the early chapters of a major economic crisis have now appeared, and yet most Americans still appear to be clueless about what is happening.

Even I was surprised when the government reported that retail sales had actually fallen in March.  Consumer spending is a very large part of our economy, and so if consumer spending is slowing down already that certainly does not bode well for the rest of 2016.  The following comes from highly respected author Jim Quinn

The Ivy League educated “expert” economists expected March retail sales to increase by 0.1%. They only missed by $6 billion, as retail sales FELL by 0.3%. They have fallen for three straight months. At least gasoline sales were strong, as prices have risen 22% since mid-February. That should do wonders for the finances of American households. If you exclude gasoline sales, retail sales fell by 0.4%. As the chart below reveals, the year over year change in retail sales has been at or near recessionary levels for most of 2015, and into 2016.

You can view the chart that he was referring to right here.  In addition to a decline in retail sales, total business sales have also been falling, and this is another classic recession signal.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

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April 14, 2016

Five Big Banks Get Bad Grades on Living Wills, No One Gets Clean Pass; Admission That “Too Big to Fail” is Alive and Well

Eight big banks got their living will grades announced yesterday. Five, Bank of America, JP Morgan, Bank of New York Mellon, State Street, and Wells Fargo, were told if they didn’t submit better plans by October, they’d face sanctions, like restrictions on dividends and acquisitions. Two got split grades. The Fed thought Goldman’s plan was fine, but the FDIC disagreed, and the two regulators had the opposite view of Morgan Stanley. Citigroup, which fared the best, was nevertheless told its scheme had shortcomings. Citigroup, Goldman, and Morgan Stanley have until July 2017 to fix their living wills.

Yellen probably felt cornered into taking this step and it also may have been one of the big reasons for meeting with Obama and Biden earlier in the week. Elizabeth Warren had earlier called the Fed chair out over her failure to take the living wills seriously. Yellen didn’t give a good answer because she had not good answer. Worse, Neal Kashkari at the Minneapolis Fed is putting the “too big to fail” issue front and center in a series of conferences and is seeking broad public input. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are whacking each other almost daily about their plans to tame what Bill Black calls systemically dangerous financial institutions.

But the Fed’s move, while consequential, is certain to make almost no-one unhappy.

These measures are more serious than a wet-noodle lashing. Even though curbs on growth via acquisitions and dividends may sound like a trivial punishment, it hits banks, and more important, bank executives where they care most, in their stock prices. Why own a bank stock unless it is too big to fail, pays dividends, buy back stock, or buy other players to as least look like they are growing? And CEO, particularly those former Master of the Universe bank CEOs, take particular umbrage at being told what to do. So trust us, there was plenty of consternation in the executive suites of the banks that were fingered.

Now the banks did a good job of being contrite and persuading their shareholders that they could get everything fixed by October. but if they have overpromised, the stocks will take a hit and the CEOs will find their halos more than a bit tarnished.

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April 13, 2016

SocGen: "Now We Know Why The Fed Desperately Wants To Avoid A Drop In Equity Markets"

With the ECB now unabashedly unleashing a bond bubble in Europe of which it has promised to be a buyer of last resort with the stronly implied hint that European IG companies should issue bonds and buy back shares, and promptly leading to the biggest junk bond issue in history courtesy of Numericable, it will come as no surprise that the world once again has a debt problem.

For the best description of just how bad said problem is we go to SocGen's Andrew Lapthorne, one of last few sane analyzers of actual data, a person who first reveaked the stunning fact that every dollar in incremental debt in the 21st century has gone to fund stock buybacks, and who in a note today asks whether "central bank policies going to bankrupt corporate America?"

His answer is, unless something changes, a resounding yes.

Here are the key excerpts:

Sensationalist headlines such as the one above are there to grab the reader’s attention, but the question is nonetheless a serious one. Aggressive monetary policy in the form of QE and zero or negative interest rates is all about encouraging (forcing?) borrowers to take on more and more debt in an attempt to boost economic activity, effectively mortgaging future growth to compensate for the lack of demand today. These central bank policies are having some serious unintended consequences, particular on mid cap and smaller cap stocks.

Aggressive central bank monetary policies have created artificial demand for corporate debt which we think companies are exploiting by issuing debt they do not actually need. The proceeds of this debt raising are then largely reinvested back into the equity market via M&A or share buybacks in an attempt to boost share prices in the absence of actual demand. The effect on US non-financial balance sheets is now starting to look devastating. We’re not the only ones to be worried. The Office of Financial Research (OFR), a body whose function is to assess financial stability for the US Treasury, highlights corporate debt issuance as their primary threat to financial stability going forward.

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April 12, 2016

Former IMF Chief Economist Admits Japan's "Endgame" Scenario Is Now In Play

Back in October 2014, just after the BOJ drastically expanded its QE operation, we warned that the biggest risk facing the BOJ (and the ECB, and the Fed, and all other central banks actively soaking up securities from the open market) was a lack of monetizable supply. We cited Takuji Okubo, chief economist at Japan Macro Advisors in Tokyo, who said that at the scale of its current debt monetization, the BOJ could end up owning half of the JGB market by as early as in 2018. He added that "The BOJ is basically declaring that Japan will need to fix its long-term problems by 2018, or risk becoming a failed nation."

Which is why 17 months ago we predicted that, contrary to expectations of even more QE from Kuroda, we said "the BOJ will not boost QE, and if anything will have no choice but to start tapering it down - just like the Fed did when its interventions created the current illiquidity in the US govt market - especially since liquidity in the Japanese government market is now non-existent and getting worse by the day."

As part of our conclusion, we said we do not "expect the media to grasp the profound implications of this analysis not only for the BOJ but for all other central banks: we expect this to be summer of 2016's business."

Since then, the forecast has panned out largely as expected: both the ECB and BOJ, finding themselves collateral constrained, were forced to expand into other, even more unconventional methods of easing, whether it be NIRP in the case of the BOJ, or the outright purchases of corporate bonds as the ECB did a month ago.

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April 11, 2016

Economic Collapse Is Erupting All Over The Planet As Global Leaders Begin To Panic

Mainstream news outlets are already starting to use the phrase “economic collapse” to describe what is going on in some areas of our world right now.  For many Americans this may seem a bit strange, but the truth is that the worldwide economic slowdown that began during the second half of last year is starting to get a lot worse.  In this article, we are going to examine evidence of this from South America, Europe, Asia and North America.  Once we are done, it should be obvious that there is absolutely no reason to be optimistic about the direction of the global economy right now.  The warnings of so many prominent experts are now becoming a reality, and what we have witnessed so far are just the early chapters of a crushing economic crisis that will affect every man, woman and child in the entire world.

Let’s start with Brazil.  It has the 7th largest economy on the entire planet, and it is already enduring its worst recession in 25 years.  In fact, at the end of last year Goldman Sachs said that what was going on down there was actually a “depression“.

But now the crisis in Brazil has escalated significantly.

I want to share with you an excerpt from a recent article entitled “Brazil: Economic collapse worse than feared“.  I know, that title sounds like it comes directly from The Economic Collapse Blog, but I didn’t write it.

It actually comes from CNN

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April 8, 2016

Lost Faith In Central Banks And The Economic End Game

We live in strange economic times, stranger perhaps than at any other point in history. Since 2007-2008, the globally intertwined and dependent fiscal system has suffered considerable declines in every conceivable area. Manufacturing around the world is in a slump, from Japan to China to Europe, with the minimal manufacturing accomplished in the U.S. also fading. Consumption is falling, most notably in petroleum and raw materials. Employment is truly dismal, with the U.S. posting over 94 million people as “non-participants” in the national work force.

High paying jobs are disappearing, and the only jobs replacing them are in the low wage service sector. This problem is becoming so pervasive that certain more socialist states including California and New York are attempting to offset the loss of sustainable income jobs by forcing retail and service companies into paying an inflated minimum wage. That is to say, states hope to stop the bloodletting in wages by magically turning low paying jobs into high paying jobs.

As anyone with any economic sense knows, you cannot have a faltering consumer sector in which people are buying less and force service based companies to pay their employees far more per hour than the job is worth. Those companies will simply lay off more employees, cut hours or shut down entire branches of their operations in order to maintain their profit margins. Either that, or those companies will go out of business.

One sector, though, has continued to reap certain benefits (for now), and that is equities. There is a good reason for this.

The stock market is a kind of Pavlovian control mechanism, a mental trigger in the minds of the masses that dominates their perceptions of the world’s financial health. The drooling public sees green lines and they hail impending “recovery;” they see red lines and suddenly they begin to wonder if all is not well. As the former head of the Federal Reserve Dallas branch, Richard Fisher admitted in an interview with CNBC, the U.S. central bank in particular has made its business the manipulation of the stock market to the upside since 2009:

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April 7, 2016

Treasury Implements New Rules Aimed at Inversions, Other Tax Strategies, Scuttling Pfizer-Allergan Deal and Evoking Howls from Pharma

Surprisingly, the Treasury Department took aggressive action to make it much more difficult to do corporate inversions, a recently-popular strategy by which a US company was acquired by a smaller firm in a lower-tax foreign jurisdiction. Voila! The new home country is where the taxes are filed, lowering the tax rate. The merged companies would engage in additional strategies to further lower the tax bill. Within hours of the announcement, Pfizer executives had decided to scupper their $150 billion merger with Allergan, which would have moved Pfizer’s headquarters to Ireland.

It seems out of character for a business-friendly Administration to take this tack. Last year, the Treasury announced some measures intended to curb inversions, which had recently become both visible and controversial. Yet almost immediately after the rule change, the widely-discussed Hortons-Burger King merger took place, which arguably was not driven mainly by tax considerations. That may have been seen as an embarrassment. Moreover, as the planned Pfizer-Allergan deal illustrates, many of the inversions were being done by pharmaceutical companies, which are deservedly unpopular right now. Drug companies overall have been pushing through price increases at rates well in excess of the inflation rate, and the proceeds have gone for stock buybacks, dividends, executive pay, and marketing over R&D. And to add insult to injury, US pharmaceutical companies get considerable subsidies in the form of large amounts of government-funded research. And companies like Valeant represent the McKinsey vision for what the industry should look like: patent trolls who maximize the value of their intellectual property, rather than having any real interest in combatting disease.

So the open question is whether Treasury intended its rule changes last year to be a warning shot, and the parties that should have gotten the message decided to ignore it, or that the Administration was particularly offended or embarrassed by the Pfizer-Allergan merger and decided to rouse itself.

One reason the Administration could act is that countries in advanced economies are coming to the point of view that corporate tax minimization has gone to far. Admittedly, the austerian policies of the Eurozone are no doubt a big driver: countries that are budget-starved and squeezing their own citizens can’t afford to let big corporations be the equivalent of tax scofflaws, even if their moves are kosher under the current tax codes. From a European Commission press release this January:

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