How the Balance of 2012 Will Go

consumer spendingU.S. consumer credit jumped in March 2012 by the most in over a decade (source: Bloomberg, May 7, 2012).

Sure, we heard the usual bullish economists and election-hungry politicians say, “Here’s proof that consumer spending and consumer confidence is improving.”

But a look closer look at the number reveals more of the same for consumer confidence and what’s ahead for the remainder of 2012…

The big jump in U.S. consumer credit in March didn’t come because of consumer spending; the big jump came as a result of more student loans and more car loans.

With the U.S. unemployment rate high and youth unemployment at 13.2% here in the U.S. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics), it is no wonder people who cannot find work are returning to school. This doesn’t feel like consumer confidence to me. (Also see: U.S. Durable Goods an Ominous Sign.)

Congress is thinking of raising interest rates dramatically on new student loans taken after July of this year; hence people are jumping on the “go back to school” bandwagon now.

As for those car loans, financial company Nomura Group just released a research note stating that the average age of cars on the road in the U.S. is more than 10 years old—the oldest on record!

The research goes on to say that strong buying of new cars is probably a necessity and not a reflection of true consumer demand, because the old clunkers will simply give out at some point.

Doesn’t sound like a vote for consumer confidence or for consumer spending going forward.

I have written in these pages about multiple studies here in the U.S. that have detailed the plight of the average American; namely, dipping into their savings or borrowing to make ends meet.

There is another study that has just been released that puts a damper on the supposed consumer confidence and consumer spending recovery.

Connecticut-based LIMRA Research conducted a survey the results of which found that 49% of Americans were not saving for retirement. More than half of those who weren’t contributing said they couldn’t afford to. An incredible 56% of those surveyed, from the ages of 18 to 34, said they were currently not contributing to a pension plan.

This is a retirement crisis, as these people will have to work during their retirement to make ends meet. How can we get consumer confidence going under this scenario?

Forget what the mainstream media and politicians are telling you; this is not a sign of consumer confidence, but consumer distress. This is not a sign of future consumer spending, but of spending contraction. (See: Economic Recovery” Theory Debunked.)

How will the balance of 2012 go? Terrible. If the economic statistics are any indication, consumer confidence seems to be an illusion. As I have been predicting, the economy will deteriorate as we move along in 2012.

A recession is sailing into America. I just can’t figure out if it coming across the Atlantic from recession-ridden Europe or across the Pacific from economically slowing China.

Michael’s Personal Notes:

Do the politicians really have any idea what is going on?

It was only a few weeks ago that the prime minister of Spain said the country’s banks were so sound that they required no government bailouts.

Fast forward…

Last week, the government of Spain was forced to provide a government bailout for Spain’s third-largest bank; the bank with the greatest exposure to the collapsing Spanish housing market.

The problem is that Spain’s economic expansion prior to 2008 was based on a housing market boom. Spain’s banks were overleveraged in their lending practices. That is, for example, they lent out $6.00 for very $1.00 of money they actually had on their books.

In good times (like in the U.S. prior to 2007), the banks can handle this leverage, because the housing market is moving up. But when the market collapses, there is no money to pay for that debt; hence the government bailouts.

Unfortunately, unlike the U.S. that can print money to bail out its banks, Spain cannot provide the government bailout money required, because it simply doesn’t have the money to do so. The (central) Bank of Spain is saying that the amount that Spain would need to put aside to help its troubled banks is €175 billion. But what the government bailout provision leaves out is that there is €1.4 trillion in loans that are vulnerable (source: Bloomberg, May 10, 2012).

A staggering amount of corporate and housing market debt is in jeopardy, because the Spanish banks are in trouble. The main reason why Spain’s banks are not making money is that Spain is in a recession. In the first two quarters of 2012, Spain’s GDP contracted 0.3%.

While the Spanish economy contracts, one-in-four people in Spain are unemployed and one-in-two young people are unemployed!

With the government admitting that economic growth is continuing to fall, this puts pressure on corporations in Spain and on their debt, which the Spanish banks are exposed to, potentially requiring further government bailouts.

The Spanish housing market has lost 30% since 2008 and shows no signs of slowing as more homes are left empty and the high unemployment rate is pushing prices lower. This means the housing market debt on the books of Spain’s banks is worth less and less.

Although the Spanish government is putting on a brave front, the only way it can support the €1.4 trillion in debt is if its revenues increase or it prints money. With one in four people unemployed in Spain, government revenues are falling, not rising. As for money printing, Spain is part of the eurozone. Germany is steadfastly against printing euros because of the inflation risk money printing presents.

If this seems like a perfect death spiral, wait; there’s more!

Germany understands what is occurring and realizes that the Spanish government is going to need a government bailout from Europe, because the Spanish government doesn’t have enough money.

Germany wants Spain to stick to the austerity measures and so reduce its budget deficit. With a contracting economy and high unemployment and with government bailouts of the banks, this will not be possible.

Yes, it is a perfect death spiral. The European Union is falling apart at the seams. This will put further pressure on the earnings of American corporations and on the U.S. stock market.

Where the Market Stands; Where it’s Headed:

We are in a bear market rally in stocks that started in March of 2009. The rally is now more than three years old, so I would classify it as a typical post-crash rally. However, the bear market rally is getting old and tired.

While the purpose of a bear market rally is to lure investors back into stocks (this rally has done an excellent job of it), there are now clear signs that economies worldwide are slowing. We are getting close to a top for stocks unless the Fed drops QE3 on us faster than we thought it would.

What He Said:

“I’m getting very worried about the state of the U.S. housing market and its ramifications on the economy. The U.S. could be headed for its first outright annual decline in home prices on record, adjusted for inflation. And I really believe this could be a catastrophe for the U.S. economy.” Michael Lombardi in PROFIT CONFIDENTIAL, August 2, 2006. Michael started talking about and predicting the financial catastrophe we began experiencing in 2008 long before anyone else.