There are thousands of banks in the U.S., but only a few “big banks.” These big banks are of such size and market share penetration that they have a dominant position in the markets in which they are active. Big banks tend to cover the entire nation, including an international presence. They also provide services in all areas of the financial industry, whereas a small bank might only cover a certain subset of services.
Six years ago this month, in the midst of the Great Recession, Lehman Brothers, one of the most well-known investment banks in the U.S. economy, filed for bankruptcy.
At the time, Lehman’s bankruptcy sparked widespread worries…and the U.S. financial system teetered on the verge of collapse. For those of us who remember that time, there was too much uncertainty.
So, the Federal Reserve and the government stepped in to help the crumbling U.S. economy. Loans were made to companies that were “too big to fail,” interest rates fell to historic lows, and trillions of dollars in new money was printed (out of thin air).
Six years later, is the U.S. economy better off now?
Looking at Wall Street today, it looks like things couldn’t be better. The markets are close to all-time highs. The big banks are in better shape; their profits are rising and executives’ incomes and bonuses are big once again.
And speculation is back, big-time. As just one example, Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ/FB) recently reached a market capitalization of more than $200 billion in hopes that the company will be able to make more money on mobile ads. Facebook is trading at a price-to-earnings multiple of 100!
The luxury market is hot again. Exotic cars are being sold at record prices. Sales of million-dollar-plus mansions are on the rise.
Sadly, on the other side of the coin, there have never been so many poor people in the U.S. economy, and the middle class hasn’t seen a return to the wealth and income they had before the Credit Crisis.
In 2013, 14.5% of the U.S. population was living at … Read More
A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta has set a new record selling for $38.1 million at an auction in Pebble Beach, California. News of the sale was all over the Internet and made it into major newspapers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times.
But it’s not just old, rare cars that are selling. The high-end luxury car market is also booming. For example, Maserati sold 6,573 cars this past July, compared to only 1,536 cars a year ago. (Source: Motor Intelligence web site, last accessed September 2, 2014.)
The markets for high-end real estate and high-end fashion goods are hot in the U.S. economy, too.
The mainstream is looking at the boom in various luxury markets and calling it economic growth. Truth be told, only a very small fraction of Americans can afford to live a lavish lifestyle and buy expensive cars, homes, and other gadgets.
The other side of the story—the story of the 99%-plus—usually goes untold.
What follows below is a picture (I personally took) of a sign posted in every grocery store I went into in a prominent town very close to New York City. The picture not only shows how the average American is struggling, but it also puts a big dent in the theory of economic growth in the U.S. economy.
Americans are using food stamps and other government assistance programs like never before. The truth is that if the U.S. economy was witnessing economic growth, we wouldn’t have 46.25 million Americans and 22.5 million households using food stamps in the U.S. economy.
Not … Read More
The burning question that’s facing economists like me today and that will only be answered in the future: did creating $3.0 trillion in new money out of thin air really make things better or worse for America?
My personal view, as expressed in these pages, is that the rich (the big banks and Wall Street) got richer from the “printing press” era, while the average American did not directly benefit from the Fed’s actions.
In fact, in America today, the spread in wealth between the rich and the poor has never been so great. As for the middle class, they are becoming extinct.
The “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2013,” recently published by the Federal Reserve, says 34% of Americans feel they are worse off today than they were five years ago, and 42% said they are holding back on the purchase of major or expensive items. (Source: Federal Reserve, August 7, 2014.)
But the data gets worse…
Of those Americans who had savings prior to the 2008 recession, 57% of them say they have used up some or all of their savings in order to combat the after-effects of the Great Recession.
Only 48% of Americans said that they would be able to cover a “hypothetical emergency expense” that costs $400.00 without selling something or borrowing money. Simply put, about half of Americans have less than $400.00 in emergency funds!
Meanwhile, 31% of Americans say they do not have any retirement savings or pension. Of those who are between the ages of 55 and 64, 24% of them expect to work as long as possible, … Read More
I have been saying this for a while: You can’t have a housing recovery unless actual home buyers are involved.
We are very far away from seeing the housing market reach its 2005 highs…and as time passes, it becomes clearer that this generation may never see them again.
How can I say that?
What we have seen in the housing market since then, but mostly since 2012, in my opinion, is nothing more than a dead-cat bounce scenario—an increase in prices after a massive decline. The chart below shows how far off we are from the housing prices of 2005.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
One of the key indicators I follow in respect to the state of the housing market is mortgage originations. This data gives me an idea about demand for homes, as rising demand for mortgages means more people are buying homes. And as demand increases, prices should be increasing.
But the opposite is happening…
In the first quarter of 2014, mortgage originations at Citigroup Inc. (NYSE/C) declined 71% from the same period a year ago. The bank issued $5.2 billion in mortgages in the first quarter of 2014, compared to $8.3 billion in the previous quarter and $18.0 billion in the first quarter of 2013. (Source: Citigroup Inc. web site, last accessed April 14, 2014.)
Total mortgage origination volume at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE/JPM) declined by 68% in the first quarter of 2014 from the same period a year ago. At JPMorgan, in the first quarter of 2014, $17.0 billion worth of mortgages were issued, compared to $52.7 billion in the same period a year ago. … Read More
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