Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why Not Stop Taxation Altogether? Just End It!

Anticipated Reaction To Ending Taxation
It occurred to me that with so many people thinking that deficit government spending helps drive the economy at some point our leaders might want to give us taxpayers a break. Why Not Stop Taxation Altogether? Just End It! Such a policy would go a long way to diminish the divide polarizing our nation. I do not know anyone who likes to pay taxes or go through hours and hours of record keeping and filling out forms in order to comply with our complex tax system.

Over the years Washington and governments in many countries have shown little in the way of financial restraint. If deficits don't matter it seems logical that spreading the wealth around by something other than policies focused on redistribution through such a complicated system has merit. Both economists and politicians have considered many over the top solutions to resolve the problem of slow economic growth in a global economy mired in debt. In the past, cutting taxes has been a favorite method to spur consumer spending and pump up growth. The suggestion of placing taxation in the dustbin of history is merely an extension of this idea.

No Taxation Means More Money For Everyone!
If indeed cutting the ties binding us to responsible budgets is the solution to our economic woes and holds the key to prosperity being timid may not have served us well. Forget all the previously considered outlandish ideas, such as a war on cash, forgiving debt through a debt jubilee, giving everyone a guaranteed income, and even injecting money into the economic system by dropping it from a helicopter. Ending taxation in many ways can be seen as having the same effect of economic stimulation.

This is only one in a series of  easy plans to jump-start the economy, the next part when I get around to writing it will be titled, "Just Print More Money." Both plans constitute a better alternative than going to war to kill off excess labor while ramping up production of self-exploding equipment or building bridges to nowhere. If history is any indication wealth and jobs flow into any country that has low tax rates so why not take it to the next level. While I could parade slew of complex figures and calculations before you proving all this will work please just show me the same kind of trust we give to those leading us from Washington.

My proposal should make everyone happy, it should please both Trump voters who claim enough is enough as well as Hillary supporters who can't get enough. So I say, eat your heart out Paul Krugman and you too Ben Bernanke, with all the time both of you have spent pondering the economy in the ivory halls of academia you have come close but it is I who have proposed the next step in our financial evolution.  Ending all taxation of any kind will not render the laws of economics moot or move us much further into the false state of modern voodoo economics than we have already traveled and it is guaranteed to work until it no longer does.

Footnote;  Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for post that may be of interest to you. Below is another post related to this subject,

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

China, Real Reform Or Just Spinning Its Wheels?

China Continues Expanding Liquidity
Recently China has been on a tear to add liquidity to its flagging financial system. Liquidity should by all rights stem its economic descent, however, China's central bank is in the unenviable position of filling a leaky bucket. While they have made every effort to plug the leaks and halt the flow of money across its borders it is finding just how porous the financial dikes around modern day economies has become. We have witnessed massive monthly outflows of wealth and capital that have continued to flee China even after efforts to plug the fractures and cracks. Cross-border money flows is a strong and important force that disrupts markets and effects the ability of central banks to isolate and control problems within their borders.

Chinese Money Is Distorting Markets
Well documented is how money flowing out of China has affected housing prices in Vancouver and driven them into bubble territory. It is estimated that $700 billion to $1 trillion have fled China last year. This sum is more than the entire economy of Switzerland. China now claims the cross-border capital flows are expected to stabilize in the fourth quarter and major capital flight is unlikely because the country's economic fundamentals are strong. On Friday the nation's foreign exchange regulator claimed. Official data released on Wednesday showed overall economic growth at 6.7 percent, with some signs of strength  appearing in the industrial sectors.

More important to many China watchers than what is said or government numbers is that on Friday, the People's Bank of China (PBoC) set the central parity rate at 6.7558 hitting a six-year low. They claim depreciation of the yuan is natural in light of the recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar, noting that the dollar index, which is the trade-weighted value of the dollar against a basket of major currencies, rose by 2.99 percent since the beginning of the month. The dollar has strengthened mainly due to the rising expectation of an interest rate hike by the United States Federal Reserve by year's end.

All in all the events unfolding are directly responsible and feeding into several trends. One noticeable trend is that Chinese companies are expanding investment in overseas acquisitions, this is a way to move money out of the country while not upsetting the apple-cart. Also, China has embarked on an unprecedented spending spree, rebuilding the infrastructure both in China and across the world. Another area where money continues to flow is into housing. New home prices in 63 out of 70 cities that the National Bureau of Statistics monitors gained in September. This has raised enough concern to caused the central bank, the China Banking Regulatory Commission and other bodies to draft new rules barring developers, peer-to-peer networks, and other non-banks from offering down-payment loans to people buying houses.

By the end of September, financial institutions in China had lent 25.33 trillion yuan ($3.74 trillion) to the property sector, up 25.2 percent year on year, according to a report from the People's Bank of China. It is important to note housing prices are again on the rise in China as if they were not high enough. Indications that China’s hundreds of P2P lenders allowing home buyers to seek down-payment loans online are a sign of shadow-banking leverage creeping into China’s housing market and similar to what drove the margin financing that fueled last year’s stock market bubble. Concerns of a damaging housing crisis like the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S. are very real.

Chinese Ghost Town built in Angola, Africa
The so-called re-balancing of the Chinese economy is multi-pronged and not free of risk. As they try to diversify away from exports toward a consumer economy and shift from domestic investment toward international investment we may see inexperience and greed take a backseat to good sense. Much of this is taking place at an astonishing speed. Not only is China building infrastructure projects for near neighbors such as a mega-pipeline project in Russia for natural gas and making plans to help refurbish Europe’s aging infrastructure. They are also doing work in nations throughout Latin America and Africa. Like the Chinese ghost town built on the outskirts of Angola's capital city, in the end, many of these may turn out to be nothing more than glorious bridges to nowhere.

The Bank for International Settlements says much of the capital outflow from China has been to pay down dollar debt and is largely benign and indicated foreign reserve depletion has subsided. Still, a debate rages on as to whether the Chinese economy really bottomed in mid-2015 and has been slowly recovering. It remains clear even with the banks already holding a lot of bad debt we are again seeing credit growing at unhealthy double-digit rates. The Communist Party may have put off the day of reckoning by pulling the levers of stimulus but when that moment comes it will be even harder to deal with as  trade tensions continue to grow.

Footnote;  As always comments are welcomed and please feel free to scan the archives for other article that may interest you. Above I mentioned an earlier post that explored the rather strange customs and how houses are sold in China, the link to that post can be found below.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Trumps Reluctance To Accept Defeat

Are the political polls so far off that they do not reflect reality? With so many blatant lies in the air, what are the American people to believe? Trump's reluctance to accept what is generally called the "election results" if they come in against him has some justification and merit. We should expect no less from this Washington outsider shunned by many of those within his own party. Considering the contentiousness of this contest coupled with the media bias and a White House hell-bent on swaying the election results the idea Trump is somewhat dubious of the establishment is understandable. One thing is clear and that is Trump is a fighter and not a man who goes quietly into the night. Trump has shown the spine to stand up to Washington and galvanized the angst that has bubbled up through the electorate.

Even Springfield Occasionally Shows A Spine
America was formed by people speaking up and letting their voices be heard, this tradition should not be squelched. Many of us cite Al Gore's challenge following the 2000 election as an example of our right, no our obligation. to question the results of an election when the outcome is razor close or fraud is suspected. Not only is it our right it is our duty. When it is a case of handing over the reigns of leadership to someone in the same party that is currently in power, even more, diligence is in order, especially when evidence of collusion exist.

The facade of legitimacy surrounding Hillary Clinton is beginning to crumble as more and more leaks continue to drip out exposing her for what she is. To those supporting her who claim the source of this information is more important than what it reveals, I say not. As to claims made by Hillary during the third debate and many times before and after, that it was the work of the Russians, the National review has come out and said "No, Hillary, seventeen US intelligence agencies did not say Russia hacked Dem e-mails" pointing to the fact that just saying something does not make it true. Like in many highly contested and fiercely heated elections conspiracy theories, spoofs, false stories and scams fill the airwaves making the truth difficult to find.

Of the myths that have crashed to the ground are those that the media is fair and Washington is for and by the people. When it comes to giving tit for tat the media does not even come close in treating Trump the way it has treated Democrats. An example is how Vice President Biden's comment yesterday, “The press always ask me don’t I wish I were debating him? No, I wish we were in high school I could take him behind the gym — that’s what I wish,” were not taken as promoting or condoning violence but instead hailed as a statement of standing up for those who could not defend themselves. The media did not call this controversial nor did comments by Hillary taking about the "basket of deplorables" that support Trump have the affect that cost Romney the last election when he stated that 47% of Americans would never vote for him. 

While many people feel Donald Trump is an asshole, which is defined in the dictionary as a "stupid, incompetent, or detestable person" it must be noted many of us see his detractors as a bit bias and even if it proves to be true, he is our asshole. While Trump is flawed he has not draped himself in the guise of a public servant and fleeced the people for which he served of their trust and wealth. He does not stand before us as a symbol of corruption, he is not guilty of the same kind of lies and broken laws that would have put the average American in prison. So to those who say not pledging to accept defeat is both dangerous and further proof that Trump is unfit I say, methinks you doth protest too much.

Monday, October 17, 2016

White House Propaganda Machine Set On High!

Biden proved he is the "quintessential" politician during an interview on Meet the Press yesterday. Do not get me wrong this is not necessarily a good thing but he did show that if he had been rejected as a politician he would have excelled in a career as a snake oil salesman. Biden came across as both polished and proper while displaying a solid ability to empathize with the average American working hard to put bread and butter on the table. Looking at Biden spewing out his well-scripted answers it is little wonder that people across the world hold politicians in such low esteem.

Biden All Polished And Proper
Biden is another facet of the White House propaganda machine that has been cranked up to full speed in an effort to make Hillary Clinton the next President. Blame for the negative information about Hillary focused again on the source rather than on the damaging revelations revealed. Washington insiders supporting Clinton have blamed the Russians for hacking into Democratic computers and trying to interfere with the election in an effort to help Trump and discredit Hillary.

Little time was spent on what has come out in the way of leaked E-mails, however, some of the questions and attempts to discount the validity of the information made it clear media bias is well and thriving. This was in sharp contrast to how every and any allegation thrown at Trump has been instantly accepted as true. The theatrics of this  forced me to question the definition of "is" while I struggled to understand how we as a country ever got to such a place.

Michelle, "It has shaken me to my core"
This dovetails well with a great deal of coverage First lady Michelle Obama received after what has been called a rousing speech hammering Donald Trump for vulgar comments he has made about women. Campaigning for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, Obama also addressed new allegations that Trump inappropriately touched women. "It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted," Obama said about Trump's comments, including those made in a 2005 video that surfaced late last week.

In covering events of the WikiLeaks about what would constitute criminal action and corruption on the part of Clinton over the awarding of contracts in Haiti were quickly discounted. The media seemed to be ignoring and oblivious to the avalanche of substantiated  claims against Hillary, the Clinton Foundation and a slew of their cronies, serious claims where a "public servant" violated both the power of their office and public trust. These are criminal offenses that go far beyond anything Trump is alleged to have done.

The net result of all this is that any viewer seeking real news may find their head left spinning. Indeed no stone has been left unturned when it comes to enabling those in the Clinton camp to justify her actions while Trump supporters faced awkward and thorny questions. This extended into the subject of treason in regard to his statements the election is "rigged" and whether Trump would support the results of the election if and when Hillary wins. One thing is certain and that is more than one group is throwing poison in the well and after the election, a price will be paid.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Is it time to bury your wealth then bury the shovel?

For those of us who have felt the market has been disconnecting from the real economy the events as of late make it appear the market is jacked up, so distorted and whacked it can go no further before melting down. Every day new articles surface declaring how it is different this time and how the Dow will soon hit 20,000 or may even soar to 50,000 while often, adjacent articles detail that Macy's has reported how it will be closing 100 stores. Another huge concern should be just how much of what we see is the result of a big boost in spending by the Federal Government. History shows economy pumping before an election is not an uncommon practice and nothing trumps the games we have witnessed played during this election.

Is It Coming To This?
All this may leave investors wondering if it is it time to bury your wealth then bury the shovel? This reference, of course, has to do with hiding or putting something in a place where no evidence of it exist. In regard to wealth, I'm talking about safety whether it be from falling markets or seizure. Many ways exist to  confiscate our wealth such as massive taxation, bank "bail-ins" or changes in currency valuation that result in inflation. Sadly, while determining where to best put your assets is not easy it is perfectly clear that with or without your voluntary participation the game will go on and economic readjustments will take place.

We must face the question of where exactly is a good place to dig, or in other words, where is the best place to hide or squirrel away what they have worked so hard to save. Savers who have been hurt by low-interest rates will be the first to testify to the pain they have had to endure during recent years. Since we do not have the ability or power to simply freeze in place the value of what we own in relationship to other assets we should at least try to minimize harm to ourselves by avoiding economic black holes. Many of these are akin to what is generally known as a "Ponzi scheme" and they exist everywhere, just because they hide behind a solid sounding moniker designed to conjure up images of stability should not fool us into thinking the promises they make will be fulfilled even when they are guaranteed.

Correctly predicting the form a future crisis might take and your preparations prior to it are particularly important in determining how you might fare economically at a time others are brutalized. Another key issue is how best and broadly you might want to hedge your bets, my personal history has shown that diversification often fails to meet expectations, while it is a great concept it does not always save your wealth. How diversified and into what areas you shift your savings, however, is the most important decision you can make when it comes to capital preservation.

The fact that certain asset classes will wildly outperform others is defiantly an issue and so is the matter of inflation.  I continue to contend that a primary reason that inflation has not raised its ugly head or become a major economic issue is because we are pouring such a large  percentage of wealth into intangible products or goods. If faith is lost in these intangible "promises" and money begins flowing into tangible goods seeking a safe haven inflation will soar. It should be noted that during times of inflation the effect on values is not even across sectors. In times of massive flooding a large rubber raft is quite valuable, but in times of drought not so much. The sad reality is there is no place to hide when it comes to avoiding how different assets react and change in value depending on supply and demand.

Years ago the common wisdom is that if you saved enough money you would be able to live comfortably off the interest in later years, currently that scenario appears to have vanished. Today a person holding a half million dollar savings account receives a paltry twenty-five hundred dollars in interest compared to ten times that before the 2008 financial crisis. To those of us who feel the world economy is a house of cards teetering on the edge of an abyss it is only a matter of time before a major reset begins that realign asset values to reflect the reality of today, this does not necessarily mean restoring them to historic norms. When this occurs those trapped in the wrong investments will pay a heavy price.

Because people often want to know if you are eating your own cooking I will tell you now, the answer is yes. A few of my favored investments fall into the category of paid for real estate, the real gems being those that are leased and returning a solid cash flow. I think bulk silver coins that can be purchased at a coin store for their silver content are also interesting over the long term, I also have a strange affinity for pennies, old copper ones are greatly preferred. I love collectibles bought on the cheap, they seem available everywhere these days as Americans often desperate for cash rid themselves of clutter. I find people will often gladly take a few dollars for high-quality items their parents bought. What I don't like is the ever growing number of paper promises like stock, annuities, and money put into a system dependent on computer kept records. 

For example, a real Black Swan event not taken seriously enough would be a devastating cyber-attack on America's power grid. This is not only possible but more likely than most people realize.  As both a country and as a culture we are shockingly unprepared for such an occurrence and one lasting for an extended time would leave many financial instruments in shambles. While the media paints both the financial system and our economy with a broad brush accepting and even promoting the idea those in power have control over what they have created remember just because someone says something does not mean it is true. An honest evaluation shows that many of the economic options and strategies open to the financial elite are unavailable to the masses or come only in some costly stripped-down form. I'm not advocating that people panic but it would be wise to remain cautious, plan ahead, and have at least some assets tucked away in a safe place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Short Sale Rule Change Red Flag Warning Of Trouble!

Just how worried are those currently in charge when it comes to the stock market? If the E-mail I received this morning is any indication I would say very! Shorts play a very valuable role in keeping markets honest and by changing the rules to make shorting a stock more expensive or difficult a barrier to market price discovery is removed. When you add this to recent rumblings by Janet Yellen that the Federal Reserve might at some time consider buying stocks I see a red flag waving right in front of my face and it screams danger ahead.


Dear Client,

Effective 10/19/2016 , Scottrade will begin assessing short sale fees to your account.

Short sale fees represent the market cost of borrowing shares from external counter-parties or from internal inventory to facilitate a short sale position, and may be applicable when you sell a security short or when an option transaction results in a short position. The amount of the fee is based on the supply and demand for the security and may change over the duration of the short position, sometimes on a daily basis. Short sale fees will begin to accrue upon settlement of the short sale and will cease upon settlement of the covering purchase. The short sale fee will be assessed to your account on a daily basis and will be reflected in your account activity as “Short Sale Fee.” All short positions may be subject to a buy-in at any time, including, but not limited to, if Scottrade is unable to borrow shares to keep your short position open.

A review of your account activity indicates you will be assessed this fee should you maintain your short position after the effective date listed above. This provides one calendar week to close your short position(s) with no charges assessed to your account. Please contact us at 800.619.7283 if you have any questions about short sale fees.


Scottrade, Inc.
Please do not reply to this message – contact your local Scottrade team for assistance. Brokerage products and services offered by Scottrade, Inc. - Member FINRA/SIPC.

 It should be noted that this is not the first time governments and those in power have altered the rules to support a market, we have seen it done many times before and in many countries. In this case, I would like to suggest however, the small trader will be the player most affected and shoved out of this market. As you know this means that as shorts leave or flee the market they have to buy stock to cover their position. This means an influx of buyers to drive an already high market even higher. A degree of suspicion might be in order, if not it will in the least make bears a bit more apprehensive.

Footnote; It is Friday afternoon and the markets just closed,  a Scottrade rep just called to inform me this fee was only on my short Tesla positions. He did not know if other companies are also doing this but it is likely they are. This makes it no big deal, however, it is an example of how rules can be changed in the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hypocrisy In America Reaches New Heights!

BREAKING NEWS: Today, Hypocrisy In America Has Reaches New Heights!

America Shocked-Reaction Caught On Tape
Trump said some stuff many of us hear every day so the reaction of horror and shock is a bit over the top. In a sane world, voters would be showing a little more interest in what issues are really important going forward. The Washington establishment and the crony capitalist who have made it their life raping and plundering the country for their own gain are giddy over the idea voters can so easily be distracted from the big picture. By shining the spotlight on Trump's flaws, that we knew existed all along, they seek to avoid being rejected and cast into the street.

Unfortunately, highlighting Trump's flaws do little to make a lying opportunist like Hillary Clinton easier to stomach. We can blame our poorly crafted primary process and the flawed system by which we choose our political leaders for much of this. To those of us who have grown cynical the timing of this release is also suspect. It is indeed very fortunate it comes just as a huge new batch of information is released about Hillary's speech transcripts and how and what she told bankers and Wall Street insiders conflicts with her public and election campaign persona. Trump is Trump, what is harder to define is the core beliefs of Clinton and who she will represent if elected.  

Like him or loathe him it has become clear Trump is not a part of the political elite and as a populist figure railing against the establishment, he has not been constrained by political correctness. Call what he said "locker room talk" or the words of an alpha male boasting, the words may not have been nice but the fact is most voters never viewed him as a choir boy.  Trump is the head of a political movement more than he is a product of the Republican party and he now heads a movement or shall we say, a popular uprising against failed politics and policies. The over touted benefits of globalization are now being questioned on a global scale and he has become a voice of the opposition. 

In regard to his "trashy trailer talk," it is said that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Today the sound of glass breaking and falling to the floor can be heard all across America. The sweet voices of innocent women mouth's agape declaring, "why I never" and men standing tall and denouncing Trump. It is both amusing and amazing to see so many saints and so few sinners in a land where lies are spun like cotton candy and our window to the world is a television screen where "sex sells" and violence is as common as sand in an hourglass. Below for your inspection, I submit a few of the reactions from well-known stone throwers as well as some over the top more outrageous comments that may "protest too much," no further comment is necessary.


Clinton surrogates portray Trump’s lewd comments as fitting broad pattern of behavior

Clinton surrogates portray Trump’s lewd comments as fitting broad pattern of behavior

Washington Post · 53 minutes ago
Hillary Clinton’s running mate and senior campaign aides sought to portray lewd comments by Donald Trump about women as part of a broader …

 Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who is locked in a tough re-election race, announced Saturday that she will "not be voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and instead will be writing in Governor [Mike] Pence on Election Day."

 Carly Fiorina, who faced off with Trump several times during the GOP presidential primary and was later picked to be Ted Cruz's running mate, said Trump should step aside so that he could make way for Pence, Trump's running mate.

This latest revelation about Trump is a real setback to the four branches of our military. They've been fighting the sexual assault problem tooth and nail for years. This is truly heartbreaking. That said, the RNC did a bang-up job of selecting the candidate that best represents the GOP. Trump is the predatory poster boy; he covers the bases - both a sexual and an economic predator.

Donald Trump is a deplorable and filthy old man who has no shame.
 Trump has so much to offer! A pu$$y in every pot; or while snorting coke; or while tweeting at 3 am in the morning?

The GOP has officially endorsed a racist and justified it somehow. It looks like the current avalanche is for their own good because a lot of burden has been taken off them. They can now start plotting on how to purge the party of the deplorable alternate-right Trumpsters before they end up groping and molesting more GOP women.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Government Spending Is Boosting Growth

Workers Building Humvee Undercarriage
A few months from now expect to see a slew of news stories about how spending by the Federal Government boosted the economy and the GDP in the third quarter. While doing a bit of manual labor the other day I was thinking about the economy and the continuing debate over the strength of the economy. I remembered that just prior to the last Presidential election the economy got a little boost and being a bit suspicious of the games Washington plays I'm forced to wonder how strong this has been in this cycle. On October 26th of 2012, I published the following article and added a footnote to it in early 2013.

        GDP up 2.0% because of Government spending

The GDP came out this morning, up 2.0% rather than the 1.8% that was expected. This is still very slow growth. What should be noted is that Government spending on defense outlays jumped 3.7%, the biggest increase since mid-2009. In all spending by the Federal Government was up a whopping 9.6%, this was responsible for the growth. Again this economy is being held up by the government, strange timing right before the election?

Another thing that should be called to our attention is inflation is again approaching the 3% area. With consumer spending around 2%, we still see no real growth. Business investment outside the residential sector fell 1.3%, the biggest drop since late 2009. Disposable income moved up 2.6%, but that was down from a 3.8% increase in the second quarter. The personal savings rate fell to 3.7% from 4.0%. A celebration is not in order.

FOOTNOTE; entered mid-January, 2013-------- Now that the holiday retail sales have been weighed and measured, they have come up short. Rolling into the fall many called for the best retail sales ever and imagined increases of around 5%.  After quietly tamping down their expectations, just yesterday it came out that sales beat expectations, with a gain of 0.3% excluding auto. This is pretty sad when you factor in inflation. I do love the way the media can spin a story.

Economy pumping is not an uncommon practice before an election but it is important we factor in its influence when attempting to determine the true strength of the economy. We should be careful not to allow GDP pumping to skew our vision as to where the economy is really headed what we really need is a catalyst or spark that builds upon itself to carry us forward and sadly, none have materialized while others such as auto sales have reached a peak. It has become clear that low-interest rates and central banks pumping money into the system can carry the economy only so far. Both these policies carry side-effects that can come back and haunt us such as encouraging over-leverage and poor allocation of capital. Today we are mired in slow growth for as far as the eye can see.

Capital is being poorly allocated and markets being distorted with money flowing into risky assets in search of higher yields. Over the last few years, many large companies have cut their workforce and replaced higher paid workers with lower paid employees. We have also seen production continuing to be outsourced to offshore factories to increase profits. In some cases where margins have been squeezed stock buybacks and cost cutting have been the only driver of higher profits. This has occurred as sales have been propelled forward by cheap money rather than by real or pent up demand. Sadly, it is year after year of massive government deficits that are also a driving us forward and propping up spending. The puzzle we now face is how this will play out going forward and what constitutes a reasonable expectation for future growth.

Slow Growth And Growing Debt!
America continues to rack up a deficit each year of nearly $2,500 for every man woman and child in the country, such deficits were unheard of in the past unless it was during a major war. Deficit spending has been accomplished by borrowing money that will become a long-term drag on the economy going forward. To make matters worse much of this money has been poorly spent, it was to be used to buy us time in which to address many of the structural problems that plague our economic future. Unfortunately, this has not been done, instead, the government has fiddled away the time in deadlock. Even the tailwind of lower energy cost through the massive expansion of oil and natural gas supplies has not been enough to move the economy forward. Much of what we have seen should be considered a one off that is behind us. Bottom-line all this trickles down to job growth, and it could be argued this is nothing to brag about because the jobs being created are not "quality" or even full-time jobs.

While many people feel the tremors that ran through the economy during the 2008 financial crisis cleansed the system the manner in which central bankers and politicians addressed the problems did little to resolve the key drivers that created them. A strong case can be made that the economy is about to be tested and encounter strong headwinds that will result in a major reset. Expect the burden of past debts and future promises made to those retiring to grow and weigh heavily upon society. Tensions have become elevated in many parts of the world as ISIS continues its campaign of terror causing a flood of refugees to flee war-torn areas. We cannot rule out the possibility that a major war is not on the horizon. It is clear the world is rapidly changing and nobody has a crystal ball predicting how this will all play out, but one thing is certain, and that is storm clouds do exist. This leaves the possibility that at any time the markets could morph into a "realizing market" grinding slowly downward or that at some point the wisdom of buying every pullback might change and the market simply drops like a stone.

Speculation based on mere hope is not a solution to our complex problems, silly talk that Washington has the deficit under control ignores reality. How America and countries across the world react to the stress that comes from slow economic growth and how it will affect our budget and culture as the long-term cost burden of carrying the unemployed builds has yet to be determined. However, the logic and motives of those forecasting a bright and robust economy need to be scrutinized. The reality is our America's future cannot be sustained on just the exports of Boeing aircraft, the manufacture of some kind of computer tablet, or internet usage. We need to look at more substantial and broader based benchmarks. It is not realistic to think the American consumer can continue to support exporting countries like China and Japan by racking up a 600 billion trade deficit year after year.

Footnote;  It is no secret that Washington tends to spin the news, they tell us the deficit is under control and all is well. Fact is the leap from 18 to 19 trillion in government didn't take long. Many people have looked away but the National Debt Clock has not stopped ticking and today it has solidly passed the 19 trillion dollar threshold by 647 billion dollars.
One thing is crystal clear, it is far easier to run up debt than to pay it off. The truth is in 2017 entitlements are poised to balloon causing a massive spike in government spending. More on the true numbers and this growing problem below.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Obama Draws A Flag For Driving America Apart

I have to scream foul and say there is something very wrong when Americans are encouraged to base their vote on the color of their skin. This is a most polarizing development and when the President comes out and encourages it we have a bigger problem. In doing so he raises the ire and resentment of many Americans that carry no racial malice but are struggling to survive financially. To these, and most other Americans race is not the "big issue" or even a major issue, they simply want to get along and by elevating the matter of race he drives an unnecessary wedge into an already troubled nation. This has flowed straight into politics where Obama has been less than kind with over the top attacks on Trump and belittling him at every opportunity.

Obama Has Focused On What Divides Us
In my opinion, this was all elevated to a new level at an event reported on Meet The Press last month. During a speech Obama gave at the Congressional Black Caucus he stated he would consider it “a personal insult, an insult to my legacy” if black turnout falters for Hillary Clinton. This is reminiscent of his actions two years ago, in the heat of midterm elections in which growing disdain for him was the defining force. “My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot,” Obama said as his voice grew to a shout. Hope and change were his campaign slogan eight years ago. This year, Obama said, Trump presents a nightmarish vision of change that he urged the country to reject. “Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Ending mass incarceration, that’s on the ballot right now.”

During his speech, Obama attempted to ratchet emotions even higher than he did at his fall campaign launch event for Clinton in Philadelphia the week before when he let loose a barrage at Trump and presented him as an existential threat to black America. The president sneered at Trump’s supposed appeal to African-Americans, being delivered at a campaign event in Colorado where the Republican ticked through a list of endemic problems faced by black communities and claimed the Democratic party had failed to deliver on promises made over the years. “We do have challenges,” Obama said, rebutting him, “but we’re not stupid.” Noting that Trump tells people that African-Americans have never had it worse Obama said Trump “missed that whole civics lesson about slavery and Jim Crow,” then gave a plug to the new Smithsonian African-American Museum opening on the Mall this week. “We’ve got a museum for him to visit. So he can tune in.”

It is not a secret that President Obama and Donald Trump have more than a strained relationship. Many people place the blame squarely on Trump who picked up the ball and moved it down the field when it comes to the "birther movement" that questions whether Obama was born in America and legally eligible to hold the office of president. No matter how much it is denied by the media the movement did originate near or within the Clinton camp during the tough 2008 Democratic primary. It is a fact that Trump did to many become the flag bearer of the movement, however, this is not necessarily an attack based on race. It should be noted that since that time it has been used in questioning where more than one white candidate has been born and if they can legally run for the office.

This Presidential campaign has been marred by more than a few ugly attacks and this latest effort to keep African-American voters in lines may be the result of Clinton's flagging poll numbers. How bad is the situation and concern Hillary has not been able to gain traction and put Trump away? The New York Times in a lead article not long ago pointed to how polls were creating a panic in the Clinton campaign, this could be what has unleashed an all out no holds barred attack on Trump. The influence from both the White House and much of the Washington establishment can be seen within the rumors and stories circulating everywhere that mainstream media has been told in no uncertain terms to censor positive stories about Trump and kill any negative articles about Clinton.

This article has been a long time coming and delayed by my trepidation to address the idea that our first black President has not only failed in bring us together but hindered the process. I suspect that Trump is no more race oriented and driven than most of us who just want to get along and go about their day trying to treat others the way they would like to be treated. Clinton said at a fundraiser recently, "I'm the only thing standing between you and the abyss." Ironically, it is becoming clear many Americans would rather hurl themselves into the abyss than to vote for her. Returning to the crux of this article, the bottom-line is that if Politics were a sport played on a field a red flag would have been thrown and Obama would have drawn a penalty for promoting racism. Maybe inciting racial angst would be a better term it is a sad day when skin color trumps government policy in determining how we vote.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Housing Sector Shows Little Promise

The housing picture is not brightening and most likely will not because the benefits of historically low interest rates are mainly behind us. The future of the housing market is a topic that has been subject to a great deal of debate and can be somewhat confusing. Those controlling the narrative, big builders and realtor associations wishing to drive sales, often fail to tell us that much of the new construction is in apartments and not single family dwellings. In much of the country, units are being built using cheap money flowing from the Fed and Wall Street under the idea that if it is built "they will come." This article is written in an effort to dispel some of the myths that have been generated and add some clarity to the discussion.

The reason housing values are so important to many Americans is because their home is often the largest asset most people will ever own, this makes it the vessel where they store the bulk of their wealth. When looking at the chart below we see new construction continues far below the level prior to 2008 despite all efforts of our government to light a fire under housing values thus elevating the so-called wealth effect. While many people claim the formation of new households and pent-up demand drives home construction I beg to differ. I contend that over the last several years in many parts of America it has been a combination of too much money looking for a place to hide and buyers looking for a safe place to put their money. If I'm correct it has again put housing prices on a weak footing, this will become evident when mortgage rates begin to rise.

Home Ownership Continues To Decline
As I write this post I tried to do a bit of additional research to supplement what I know as a contractor and Apartment owner but what I found was more like a pack of lies and half-truths spun to fit an agenda. In America the government has joined those wishing to paint a pretty picture of the building sector. A major issue is that huge discrepancies exist in the cost of housing in the various markets across America and while price variations are not uncommon they should be seen as a red flag and reason for caution. Many of the messages being promoted as common knowledge do not pass serious scrutiny. Those of us in the trenches and with our boots on the ground often see things from a different perspective than the economist in their ivory towers, Washington politicians, Wall Street elite, or the media. Home ownership in America is in decline and demographics are not shaping up as a factor to drive prices higher.

Chart Shows Single Family Starts Remain Weak
A close look at the number of permits and  housing starts shows many of the future housing units being built are multi-family units, these are being built with cheap "Wall Street" money for the markets of tomorrow with little regard for the realities of today. It is a fact that single-family housing starts languish at 1991 levels and the percentage of multi-unit buildings under construction has risen to a 29-year high of about 35%. Shortly before the onset of the last recession, multifamily units accounted for only about 20% of all new housing stock. Call theses condos if you want, but another name for an unsold condo that is being leased is "apartment."  Let us call a spade a spade, this is not a housing market, it is a place where too much money has gone to hide under the impression and hope it will pay off when inflation awakes and comes out roaring from its quiet slumber.

 The apartment complex that I own in the Midwest is currently experiencing the largest number of vacancies we have ever had. Potential tenants are returning applications that indicate it is better to leave a unit empty than dealing with eviction in just a few months. Many houses in the area are empty or under leased. In 2005 and 2006 prior to the housing collapse, many people were looking at second homes, today not only have they shed the extra home many have doubled up with family or friends reducing the need for housing. This has left me busy trying to sort out and make sense of the current economy. This is no easy task, it seems we are pushing on a string and calling it demand when someone who can barely pay the rent is encouraged by the government to buy a house they can neither afford or maintain. Currently, we have a shortage of "qualified" buyers and renters.

A person financially qualified to lease an apartment need only apply at one complex while those who are rejected go from complex to complex creating the illusion the market is stronger than it really is. Government subsidized housing through programs such as section 8 have cannibalized the market often taking the "best of the worse" and leaving those landlords who choose not to participate with a rather unsavory lot that often includes those thrown off the program, near bankrupt, and/or chronically unemployed. This market continues to be driven by the FHA issuing and guaranteeing risky mortgages written by thinly capitalized non-banks. In 2012 the large Wall Street banks represented over 65% of FHA-backed loans, today that number is under 30%. Even they have realized loaning money to people that won't pay it back is a recipe for disaster.

Our current policies create a questionable base for higher home prices when we consider the low end of the market is driven by Fannie, Freddie, and the FHA all insuring 3.5% down payments from borrowers that often have a weak credit history. This begs people who are currently renting to rush into buying homes they cannot afford. It is important to remember that low-interest rates do not necessarily bring about quality growth or prosperity, decades of slow growth in Japan has proven this. America is preparing for a replay of the 2008 housing crisis.  Our politically motivated government has insured subprime mortgages with down payments of as little as 3.5% while using weak underwriting standards. We are even seeing restrictions raised on borrowers with past foreclosures in a housing market that may drop 20% when this Fed Wall Street bubble pops. One of the sad realities of the current Fed policy is that by creating false demand today we are not creating more sales over the long-term we are simply moving them forward.

Years ago Lee Iacocca who brought Chrysler back from the brink and made the company viable said something to the effect of when you special out all your cars on Monday you have no sales for the rest of the week. This brings me to my next point, when it comes to real estate, low-interest rates at some point becomes a double edge sword, that affects both the value by making it easier to purchase thus driving up prices, and at the same time allowing more building to take place and increasing the supply. Often we reach or exceed demand, this eventually has a dampening effect on rents and people stop buying it as an "investment". Rents from real estate and the prices it brings when sold must appreciate more than the natural depreciation from the wear and tear from age or the main driver for owning it vanishes. Oversupply is the bane of real estate and crushes the value of this hard and expensive to maintain commodity.  

How does the reality of a half empty apartment complex and a slew of empty houses gel with what we hear about soaring rents, the demand for more housing, and more affordable housing? If you call this a recovery at least admit housing prices vary greatly across the nation. Only politicians in Washington would be silly enough to think that landlords who have to compete against subsidized housing would be eager to remain in the game or that someone working for a living enjoys paying more for an older apartment than someone on the dole who moves into a brand new unit for a fraction of the cost. By not rewarding those who do the right thing our current policies have a corrosive effect on both housing and society.

The fact is prices vary drastically throughout America  and weak pricing in many markets should be viewed as proof that what many see as a "boom" is far from spectacular. To further confuse and complicate matters a Bloomberg article titled "Wall Street Unlocks Profits From Distress With Rental Revolution" looked behind the curtain and revealed that a great deal of this housing recovery that has driven the average home price upward since 2012 has been the result of Wall Street hedge funds buying in bulk foreclosed houses in order to turn them into rentals. Like many people I find it totally objectionable these deals were "bundled" and offered in such a way that allowed big business to crowd the average American out of the housing market. In parts of the country cash fleeing China and Russia has also flowed into housing and lifted the market higher.

Instead of creating policies to rebuild our cities and housing Washington has doled out low-interest money to Wall Street and home builders in an effort to kick-start the economy this has generated the illusion of growth and rising prices oblivious to the new problems these policies create. When people enticed by current artificially low-interest rates leave older neighborhoods and move to a new house in the suburbs they in effect hollow out our cities. America has built a lot of housing units over the years, now we must face the fact that they need to be maintained. The policy of putting people in older houses that they have no interest or knowledge in how to maintain causes those living around them to flee the area and brings about further decay. When offered the choice many people find moving easier than repairing and maintaining their homes or neighborhoods and low-interest rates power this trend forward.

Housing policies should be geared toward creating jobs that maintain and encourage the upgrading of existing units rather than making them prematurely obsolete. This is a flashing red light warning of danger ahead. By choosing the easy answers America has not faced its housing problems with long term solutions and encouraging this bodes poorly for the future. One of my readers commented on a prior article about housing by writing; The artificial housing market has always been driven by malinvestment. The mistaken investment in wrong lines of production inevitably leads to wasted capital and economic losses and subsequently requires the reallocation of resources to more productive uses. Artificiality low-interest rates created by the Fed and Government backstopping housing purchases distort price signals and lead to malinvestment. 

The bottom-line is we continue to have a shortage of "qualified" buyers and renters and it seems that government policies are pushing on a string and calling it demand. The low end of this market is driven by Fannie, Freddie, and the FHA all insuring 3.5% down payments from borrowers that lack substantial collateral. We have a situation where when someone who can barely pay the rent is encouraged by the government to buy a house they can neither afford or maintain.  History shows homes that are paid for and unleveraged can be a better than average place to store wealth when purchased for a good price, as to whether now is a good time to buy that is difficult to say. Currently, we are in uncharted waters and where this market is headed is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain it is not straight up. Decades ago I remember reading how in some countries because of inflation and high-interest rates little financing was available, thus the only houses being built were those financed by cash, this may someday be the situation here in America,

Footnote; A while back I wrote a piece delving into some very real numbers concerning housing. The link to that article can be seen below. It may surprise those who see housing as a strong market. Also is a link to an article about what drives the kind or type of housing we are seeing built today.