The American Dream Has Retired

This what you had in mind for your retirement? Think again. (Photo by kenteegardin/Flickr)

It has always been an essential part of the modern American Dream that after you have put in 20 years of work, your company rewards your loyalty with a pension, to keep the gold in your Golden Years. Like most promises of the Industrial Age, it was a wonderful dream as long as no one did the math. What would happen, no one asked, when there were more pensioners than workers? Nothing, the answer would have been, because funds for each and every pension were set aside as the worker worked, and invested wisely, so that there would be plenty of money for each and every retiree.

But what would happen, no one thought to ask, if American industry and government lost their basic decency, and sacrificed the welfare of future pensioners to swell the fortunes of the current Masters of the Universe? What would happen, no one wondered, if the managers of the pension funds were so incompetent that instead of fattening the accounts, they starved them. Now we know what would happen.    Continue reading

Global Cooling Threatens Life on Earth

ice-age

I know. Not what you were expecting. (Photo by Serendigity/Flickr)

While the planet’s air, water and land are heating to dangerous levels because of human pollution, the world’s trade is cooling off, slowing down and coagulating in the deepening chill, threatening the well-being of every country and virtually every person. I remember very well in 2008 watching the most powerful members of Congress emerge from a come-to Jesus meeting conducted by the Treasury Secretary on what was about to happen to the world’s financial institutions and America’s economy. They had the pale faces and staring eyes of people who had just been introduced to the angel of death.

The world of trade and finance is confronting such a moment now, and is every bit as much in denial as it was in 2008. This time it’s not America’s Lehman Brothers tottering into an early grave and pulling half the world in with it; it’s Deutsche Bank. Continue reading

One Nation, Under Water, with Penury and Indigence for All (*)

debt(* that is, the 99 per cent.)

I was there when a furniture-store owner I’ll call Chuck introduced, to a certain British-ruled, sub-tropical, behind-the-times island, the concept of hire-purchase — or, in American, rent-to-own. He started selling furniture on credit, for a small down payment and a contract to repay the balance at an astronomical interest rate. His policy scandalized everyone on the island who was rich enough not to need credit for such purposes; and was insanely popular with everyone else. Continue reading

The Search for the Crash of 2015

Plane-Crash The later it gets in the year, the more pointed become the questions: “So. Where’s your Crash of 2015, eh?” (Some of the questioners are Canadian.) Reminds me of a story. I was in a strange city, to meet a person very important to my future, and had been given directions to, let’s call it the Metropolis Building. “Huge building, right on Main Street, you can’t miss it.” I followed the directions, but could not find the building. Increasingly frantic as the appointed time drew near, I gave myself a time out, letting a granite wall alongside the sidewalk support me as I gathered my wits. I decided desperate measures were called for. “Excuse me, sir,” I asked a passerby, “Can you direct me to the Metropolis Building?” The reply was accompanied by a withering look. “You’re leaning on it.”

And that, dear interlocutor, is my answer to you. Look no further for the Crash of 2015; you’re standing in the rubble. And if you are going to disagree with me, based on the fact that CNBC and the Wall Street Journal have not yet described what you’re standing in as rubble, then let’s just agree that we reside on different planets, rely on different sources of information and part company. Continue reading

The War on Cash

dollar decimated

I’m sorry, sir, your cash has expired and we are obliged to confiscate it. (Photo by photosteve101/Flickr)

For a couple of years now the Masters of the Universe have been massing their armored laptops on the borders of insanity to conduct a blitzkrieg against physical cash, to wipe every vestige of paper money and coinage from the face of the earth. Mutterings about the offensive began, as far as I know, six months or so ago on the financial-conspiracy and -contrarian websites. And now Lo! and Behold! the Plastic Curtain is on the verge of falling over two whole countries, Sweden and Denmark. And the softening-up process, the preliminary bombardments of explosive factoids,  and the eruption of fifth columns, is well under way around the world. Continue reading

When This Caterpillar Dies, We Don’t Get a Butterfly [UPDATE]

Unsold Caterpillar bulldozers lined up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. These are the caterpillars that signal what the financial winter is going to be like. (Photo by Roger W/Flickr)

Unsold Caterpillar bulldozers lined up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. These are the caterpillars that signal what the financial winter is going to be like. (Photo by Roger W/Flickr)

In order to have an industrial economy you have to build industrial things — roads, ports, buildings, power stations and their grids, airports, houses and shopping centers — and you have to replace them when they wear out. Such building is the activity on which an industrial society rests, the primary source of jobs and all the consequent economic activity that flows from people with jobs. What every one of these building projects needs, in addition to capital and workers, is heavy machinery. That is why the health of Caterpillar, the world’s dominant manufacturer of heavy equipment, and to a lesser extent England”s JCB, are taken as precursors of the world’s financial health.

Call hospice. Continue reading

The Crash of 2015: It’s Here

A CNBC anchor after trying to explain hedging against the volatility of stocks indexed to the Volatility Index.

A CNBC anchor after trying to explain hedging against the volatility of stocks indexed to the Volatility Index. The end is near now.

Screw it, I’m calling it. I’ve been watching the so-called “markets” of China, the United States and a couple dozen other countries fall off a cliff, get up, stagger upward, fall off another cliff, and repeat. I’ve been listening to the chattering class say over and over again, this is normal, seen this before, everybody buy the dip. I’ve been watching the zombie oil-fracking revolution in this country go into spasms, jerking a few feet forward, a few feet back, gasping for breath, while the cheerleaders agree: perfectly normal, blood pressure okay, reflexes good, lend them more money. This is not normal, it is not okay, it is the Crash of 2015. Continue reading

Financial Doomsday Clock “One Minute to Midnight”

Midnight in the Market

Watching the Great Bubble of China deflate. What happens in China does not stay in China.

The hair-on-fire headline reads, in full: “Doomsday clock for global market crash strikes one minute to midnight as central banks lose control.” But here’s the thing — the headline does not appear in a hair-on-fire, Chicken-Little website such as (one might slanderously call) Zero Hedge, David Stockman’s Contra Corner, Wolf Street or (dare I append this name to the list of Titans?) The Daily Impact. It appears on the website of  one of the world’s top mainstream newspapers, Britain’s  The Daily Telegraph. And here’s the subhead: “China currency devaluation signals endgame leaving equity markets free to collapse under the weight of impossible expectations.”

Worried yet? Don’t be. It’s way too late. Continue reading

The Crash of 2015: Now Arriving at Gates 3,7,12,19…..

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, turn your screen upside down.

This is where every component of the world economy is going. To see the panic index, look at your screen in a mirror.

If the world economy were an airline, what we’d be seeing now is hundreds of late and cancelled flights, missing airplanes, bankruptcies, thousands of staff layoffs and millions of unhappy customers. (Whoa, that was supposed to be a metaphor!) If we were in a hub airport of this airline, every incoming flight would be a tattered, smoking airplane with flat tires and bullet holes bearing more bad news from shell-shocked passengers. Some examples:

International Arrivals:

From China: The Shanghai Composite Index lost 13.4 percent of its value in July. That’s more than a correction and would have been a crash if the government had not a) halted trading in half the stocks listed, b) forbade the selling of large blocks of shares, and c) bought most of the shares that were sold. Continue reading

The Crash of 2015: On Track, Behind Schedule

As demonstrated in Paris in 1895, what matters is not whether the train wreck was on time. What matters is that it’s a wreck. (Wikipedia Photo)

As demonstrated in Paris in 1895, what matters is not whether the train wreck was on time. What matters is that it’s a wreck. (Wikipedia Photo)

The dominoes are toppling, just as we have been expecting for nearly a year now, but slower than we thought. The fact-resistant strain of humans (Thank you, Borowitz Report) now in charge of the world are trying to use vast amounts of money to counteract gravity, and, counterintuitively, succeeded in slowing the dominoes’ fall. But not for long.

To review our expectations of last summer: the hideous decline rate of fracking wells (of up to 90% in three years) was forcing frackers to borrow huge amounts of money to put up large numbers of new wells at a breakneck pace in order to preserve the illusion (it was always an illusion) of a revolution in American oil leading to prosperity and “energy independence.” On average, it cost the frackers over $4 to get $1 of revenue in the door during the first quarter of this year. A year ago, with oil commanding $100 a barrel, they were still spending $2. As the old joke goes, the only way to make any money when you’re losing on every transaction is to make up for it with volume. But since most of the money spent was capital expenditure — i.e. new wells — their operating statements showed profits and nobody looked at the balance sheets. Continue reading