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 … Read More
Last week, at the end of its regularly scheduled meeting, the Federal Reserve said:
1) It would continue to reduce the amount of money it creates each month. The Fed said it will be out of the money printing business by the end of this year. By that time, the Federal Reserve will have created more than $4.0 trillion new American dollars (out of thin air).
2) And when the Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities the Fed has bought mature, they will roll them over—which means they will just continue collecting interest on the securities they bought as opposed to taking the cash when they mature. (Source: “Press Release,” Federal Reserve, September 17, 2014.) I doubt the Fed has any choice on this. If the Fed doesn’t roll over the Treasuries it has bought, who would buy them when they hit the market?
The Federal Reserve also provided its economic projection on where it expects the federal funds rate, the key U.S. interest rate, to be down the road:
1) The central bank believes the U.S. economy will grow between two percent and 2.2% in 2014, then grow in the range of 2.6% to three percent in 2015. From there, it goes downhill. In 2016, the Federal Reserve projects more of the same—U.S. economic growth of between 2.6% and 2.9%. In 2017, the U.S. growth rate is projected to be sluggish and in the range of 2.3% to 2.5%. (Source: “Economic Projections,” Federal Reserve, September 17, 2014.) Hence, we are looking at four more years of slow growth.
2) A majority of the members of the Federal … Read More
Since May, when it was near an all-time low, the U.S. dollar has rallied. Compared to other major currencies of the world, the greenback is up five percent since July, as the chart below illustrates.
The question: should investors get into this U.S. dollar rally?
Dear reader, the U.S. dollar is not moving higher because the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are getting better. It’s moving higher because other parts of the global economy are doing worse than the U.S.
The eurozone economy is so weak that the European Central Bank has lowered interest rates again, pushing the value of the euro lower. In the United Kingdom, Scotland is looking for independence. The crisis between Russia and Ukraine continues without resolution. New troubles are brewing in the Middle East. China reported yesterday it would start pumping money into its largest banks.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Right now, with the majority of major world central banks either printing more of their paper money or bringing interest rates even lower, the U.S. is the best of the worst.
But I believe the rally in the U.S. dollar will be short-lived.
Central banks are trying to move away from the U.S. dollar as their reserve currency. At one point, trade in the global economy was dominated by the U.S. dollar. This is changing, slowly but surely.
Consider just one of many recent examples; the Chinese and Argentinian central banks will be doing an $11.0-billion currency swap operation. This will allow Argentina to increase its reserves and pay for Chinese imports in yuan—the deal was signed in July. (Source: Reuters, September 7, 2014.)
Putting … Read More
A week ago today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its jobs market report for the month of August. To say the very least, there was nothing in that report that says the labor market in the U.S. economy is back on its feet. In fact, the report painted a gruesome image of employment in this country.
In August, 142,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy—the lowest monthly pace in 2014. And the jobs market numbers previously released for June and July were revised lower. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 5, 2014.)
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Americans who have been out of work for more than six months continue to make up a significant portion of the total unemployed population—31.2% of all unemployed to be exact. Over the past few years, this number hasn’t really come down much.
What’s worse is that the labor force participation rate, that is the rate of those who are in the working-age population and are looking for work, stood at 62.8% in August. This is the lowest rate of labor force participation in the U.S. economy seen since the late 1970s! (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed September 5, 2014.)
Adding to the misery, and as I have reported many times in these pages, we are seeing more part-time jobs created than ever and job creation remains concentrated in the low-wage-paying sectors, like service and retail.
There’s another problem that doesn’t get much attention. Incomes in the U.S. economy are falling. According to a report by the Federal Reserve, median household … 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…. Read More
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