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How To Identify Economic Zombies – Monty Pelerin’s World

How To Identify Economic Zombies – Monty Pelerin’s World.

 February 25, 2014

apocalypsezombie-apocalypse

Economics is not a difficult subject, unless you try to learn it from an economist. As described by John Kenneth Galbraith, who posed as an economist but was far better as a critic:

Economics is a subject profoundly conducive to cliche, resonant with boredom. On few topics is an American audience so practiced in turning off its ears and minds. And none can say that the response is ill advised.

Common sense is all that is required to be a good economist. Unfortunately, in order to get your union card, you must pretend to have none. Belief in fairy tales like more spending and “free lunches” is also necessary.

But that is of little import in regard to the title – How to identify economic zombies.  

What Is A Zombie?

Webster defines zombie as

… a will-less and speechless human in the West Indies capable only of automatic movement who is held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated

An economic zombie can speak and is not dead in any physical sense. His defining feature is a focus almost solely on the present. He assumes tomorrow will be just like today. If his current behavior has not created trouble or hardship thus far, then it won’t tomorrow or on into the future. Linearity describes his thinking and world. The future will be just like today.

A Simple Test For Economic Zombie Determination

The test to determine whether you or your friends are zombies is simple. Answer the following question: How would you live if debt/credit were outlawed? The economic zombie has difficulty comprehending the question, no less answering it. If you or your friends do, then you are well on your way toward full zombie-hood, if in fact you are not already there.

The question is relevant because it identifies those too ignorant to comprehend the fact that you cannot consume more than your income will support, at least not forever.

Income for a period determines the amount you can spend that period, or it would in the absence of debt or savings. Borrowing this period enables spending to exceed income this period. But borrowing is nothing but advancing consumption that otherwise would occur in a later period. Whatever is borrowed raises consumption this period but reduces it next period when some of the income earned then cannot be spent because it must be used to service the prior debt. Total consumption for both periods is lower than it would have been without the borrowing. That is due to the paying the carrying cost of debt, interest.

If you cannot understand this concept or you believe that you can nullify it by borrowing again next period, you qualify as an economic zombie. If you answered that you could not live if debt/credit were outlawed, you are an economic zombie, and perhaps also an economic idiot. Osavi Osar-Emokpae colorfully described debt:

And don’t tell me debt is not a big deal. Debt will cut off your legs and laugh at you as you grovel in the dirt begging for mercy. If you don’t need it, don’t get it. If you can’t afford it, don’t get it. If you’re already in debt, get out quickly. If you think you’ll never get out, you’re right, you won’t.

If you are using your credit cards as loans (i.e., you are not paying in full the balance each month) then you are zombie-qualified.

Economic zombies are not born. They are made. They choose their lifestyle. Behind every economic zombie is someone who believes he should live better than his abilities allow. That may work for a time. Then the Osar-Emokpae quote takes over.

The reality is that negative borrowing, saving, should be occurring every year. Man has a finite lifespan and a finite earning career. The latter is shorter than the former. Part of life is to be responsible enough to prepare for the future when income stops. Borrowing is a sign of immaturity and ignorance. Occasionally borrowing is necessary to meet an unforeseen emergency. If it is routine, then you are an economic zombie!

How Central Banks Cause Income Inequality – Frank Hollenbeck – Mises Daily

How Central Banks Cause Income Inequality – Frank Hollenbeck – Mises Daily.

The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. The wealthiest 1 percent held 8 percent of the economic pie in 1975 but now hold over 20 percent. This is a striking change from the 1950s and 1960s when their share of all incomes was slightly over 10 percent. A study by Emmanuel Saez found that between 2009 and 2012 the real incomes of the top 1 percent jumped 31.4 percent. The richest 10 percent now receive 50.5 percent of all incomes, the largest share since data was first recorded in 1917. The wealthiest are becoming disproportionally wealthier at an ever increasing rate.

Most of the literature on income inequalities is written by professors from the sociology departments of universities. They have identified factors such as technology, the reduced role of labor unions, the decline in the real value of the minimum wage, and, everyone’s favorite scapegoat, the growing importance of China.

Those factors may have played a role, but there are really two overriding factors that are the real cause of income differentials. One is desirable and justified while the other is the exact opposite.

In a capitalist economy, prices and profit play a critical role in ensuring resources are allocated where they are most needed and used to produce goods and services that best meets society’s needs. When Apple took the risk of producing the iPad, many commentators expected it to flop. Its success brought profits while at the same time sent a signal to all other producers that society wanted more of this product. The profits were a reward for the risks taken. It is the profit motive that has given us a multitude of new products and an ever-increasing standard of living. Yet, profits and income inequalities go hand in hand. We cannot have one without the other, and if we try to eliminate one, we will eliminate, or significantly reduce, the other. Income inequalities are an integral outcome of the profit-and-loss characteristic of capitalism; they cannot be divorced.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher understood this inseparability well. She once said it is better to have large income inequalities and have everyone near the top of the ladder, than have little income differences and have everyone closer to the bottom of the ladder.

Yet, the middle class has been sinking toward poverty: that is not climbing the ladder. Over the period between 1979 and 2007, incomes for the middle 60 percent increased less than 40 percent while inflation was 186 percent. According to the Saez study, the remaining 99 percent saw their real incomes increase a mere .4 percent between 2009 and 2012. However, this does not come close to recovering the loss of 11.6 percent suffered between 2007 and 2009, the largest two-year decline since the Great Depression. When adjusted for inflation, low-wage workers are actually making less now than they did 50 years ago.

This brings us to the second undesirable and unjustified source of income inequalities, i.e., the creation of money out of thin air, or legal counterfeiting, by central banks. It should be no surprise the growing gap in income inequalities has coincided with the adoption of fiat currencies worldwide. Every dollar the central bank creates benefits the early recipients of the money—the government and the banking sector — at the expense of the late recipients of the money, the wage earners, and the poor. Since the creation of a fiat currency system in 1971, the dollar has lost 82 percent of its value while the banking sector has gone from 4 percent of GDP to well over 10 percent today.

The central bank does not create anything real; neither resources nor goods and services. When it creates money it causes the price of transactions to increase. The original quantity theory of money clearly related money to the price of anything money can buy, including assets. When the central bank creates money, traders, hedge funds and banks — being first in line — benefit from the increased variability and upward trend in asset prices. Also, future contracts and other derivative products on exchange rates or interest rates were unnecessary prior to 1971, since hedging activity was mostly unnecessary. The central bank is responsible for this added risk, variability, and surge in asset prices unjustified by fundamentals.

The banking sector has been able to significantly increase its profits or claims on goods and services. However, more claims held by one sector, which essentially does not create anything of real value, means less claims on real goods and services for everyone else. This is why counterfeiting is illegal. Hence, the central bank has been playing a central role as a “reverse Robin Hood” by increasing the economic pie going to the rich and by slowly sinking the middle class toward poverty.

Janet Yellen recently said “I am hopeful that … inflation will move back toward our longer-run goal of 2 percent,” demonstrating her commitment to an institutionalized policy of theft and wealth redistribution. The European central bank is no better. Its LTRO strategy was to give longer term loans to banks on dodgy collateral to buy government bonds which they promptly turned around and deposited with the central bank for more cheap loans for more government bonds. This has nothing to do with liquidity and everything to do with boosting bank profits. Yet, every euro the central bank creates is a tax on everyone that uses the euro. It is a tax on cash balances. It is taking from the working man to give to the rich European bankers. This is clearly a back door monetization of the debt with the banking sector acting as a middle man and taking a nice juicy cut. The same logic applies to the redistribution created by paying interest on reserves to U.S. banks.

Concerned with income inequalities, President Obama and democrats have suggested even higher taxes on the rich and boosting the minimum wage. They are wrongly focusing on the results instead of the causes of income inequalities. If they succeed, they will be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If they are serious about reducing income inequalities, they should focus on its main cause, the central bank.

In 1923, Germany returned to its pre-war currency and the gold standard with essentially no gold. It did it by pledging never to print again. We should do the same.

Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

Comment on this article. When commenting, please post a concise, civil, and informative comment.
Frank Hollenbeck teaches finance and economics at the International University of Geneva. He has previously held positions as a Senior Economist at the State Department, Chief Economist at Caterpillar Overseas, and as an Associate Director of a Swiss private bank. See Frank Hollenbeck’s article archives.

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oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: After Seven Lean Years, Part 2: US Commercial Real Estate: The Present Position and Future Prospects

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: After Seven Lean Years, Part 2: US Commercial Real Estate: The Present Position and Future Prospects.

The fundamentals of demographics, stagnant household income and an overbuilt retail sector eroded by eCommerce support only one conclusion: commercial real estate in the U.S. will implode as retail sales and profits weaken.

 
The first installment of our series on U.S. real estate by correspondent Mark G.focused on residential real estate. In Part 2, Mark explains why the commercial real estate (CRE) market is set to implode.
 

In the early stages of the sub-prime mortgage crisis it was widely believed that US commercial real estate (CRE) would manage to dodge the bullets. In the end CRE was found to be as vulnerable as anything else.
© 2014 Real Capital Analytics, Inc. All rights reserved. Source: Real Capital Analytics and Moody’s Investors Service. http://www.rcanalytics.com Used by permission.

These three graphs of relative prices show that in CRE the “core” is doing better than the “periphery”. The gap in relative price performance of major metro CRE over smaller cities and towns has approximately doubled from where it was in 2008.

And as with residential real estate, some CRE sub-sectors and cities are obtaining far greater benefit from bailout, stimulus and quantitative easing programs than other areas:


© 2014 Real Capital Analytics, Inc. All rights reserved. Source: Real Capital Analytics and Moody’s Investors Service. http://www.rcanalytics.com Used by permission.

Commercial real estate has a more complex structure than residential real estate. There is greater specialization in function. For instance strip shopping centers and indoor malls are generally not exchangeable with warehouse facilities.

We can simplify this a bit by classifying CRE by consumer sector and function. Industrial real estate will not be considered in detail. Current industrial construction spending is near a record high. But the value of current industrial CRE can still be depressed due to existing plant obsolescence and rapid shifts in activity location.

This leaves us to consider consumer retail and consumer service CRE.

Consumer Retail Spending & Retail CRE

The value of commercial real estate is driven by the revenues and profits earned by the businesses occupying CRE. This relationship is similar to the relationship between residential real estate prices and average household income.

The Two Drivers of Consumer Spending: Population Size and Average Household Income:

These two parameters show continuously increasing population size and declining average household incomes. The subsequent data shows this is resulting in a small increase in total consumer spending and also large shifts in spending patterns.

Real inflation adjusted total retail spending has increased slightly over its peak in 2007.



Essentially all of this increase has occurred in food spending. (A smaller portion has gone into clothing). And this is the only reasonable expectation given the twin conditions of an increasing total population and a declining average income per consumer. We can also note that “food” is a minuscule part of eCommerce. The retail food trade occurs almost entirely in neighborhood groceries, markets and convenience stores. The other non-food retail sectors are flat to declining. But within these sectors there is a large zero-sum game being played out between eCommerce and local bricks ‘n mortar stores:

The Rise of eCommerce

Since 2008 eCommerce retail sales have nearly doubled. But as we just saw, the entire increase in total consumer spending since 2008 is accounted for by the increased food sales which occur at local markets. “eCommerce” is therefore taking sales away from other local retail sectors. And the biggest single loser is:

Local Retail Department Stores

This macroeconomic data is well-supported by the current financials of both Sears and JC Penney. Sears’ trailing twelve month (ttm) earnings per share are – $14.11. This loss will increase once Sears reports its fourth quarter earnings at the end of February, 2014. Sears is widely expected to lose one billion dollars in 2014. J.C. Penney meanwhile is currently reporting ttm losses of -$7.32 per share.

One or both of these chains will be in bankruptcy by 2015 even if the current “recovery” continues. And outright liquidation of one or both companies is at least as likely as reorganization. There is little reason to believe either of these companies would be more viable following mere debt reduction.

The third major department store chain is Macy’s, which is still reporting profits. Oddly enough Macy’s management celebrated their 2013 holiday season by announcing 2,500 permanent layoffs from their local retail department stores. This was paired with a mid-December announcement of an increase of 1,500 employees in a new eCommerce fulfillment center in Oklahoma.

In these circumstances it is unsurprising that retail CRE prices are showing weak recovery.


© 2014 Real Capital Analytics, Inc. All rights reserved. Source: Real Capital Analytics and Moody’s Investors Service. http://www.rcanalytics.com Used by permission.

The Coming Implosion of the Regional Indoor Shopping Mall
(and adjacent strip shopping centers)


There are approximately 1,100 indoor shopping malls in the USA. Sears has about 2,000 stores. JC Penney’s has almost exactly 1,100 stores. There are very few malls that don’t have at least one of these chains. The vast majority of malls have both as major anchor stores. Macy’s is typically the third major anchor now. A regional department store chain or two round out the large anchor stores.

A virtual stroll down the typical mall concourse will reveal plenty of other money losing chain retailers with names like Radio Shack et al. Adjacent strip shopping centers
This should not be surprising. The regional indoor mall is a middle class income institution. It grew up with the post-WWII rise in average incomes. As middle class incomes now disappear so are the former favorite shopping venues of the middle class.

Every time a mall store closes shoppers lose another reason to go to the mall. “Dead mall” syndrome will soon afflict most of this sector.

In addition to decaying tenant revenues the mall owning Real Estate Investment Trusts are dangerously overleveraged with low-cost to free ZIRP and QE funding. Now that the Federal Reserve is tapering QE their financing costs will be rising as commercial balloon mortgages come due and have to be rolled over. And since the typical commercial mall mortgage does carry a large balloon payment at the end they have to be refinanced. Assuming honest loan underwriting a higher risk premium will also be attached due to the deteriorating retail fundamentals of the tenants.

General Growth Properties (GGP) is probably in the best condition. This is because GGP just exited a Chapter 11 reorganization in 2010. It was placed into involuntary bankruptcy in 2009 by two mortgagors holding matured recourse balloon mortgages. GGP was understandably unable to refinance these balloons in the spring of 2009.

This entire sector will collapse when the next recession appears.

And since history hasn’t ended, the next recession will appear at some point. It may be appearing already. At the beginning of October, 2013 the analyst consensus for retail profit growth for the strongest October – December holiday quarter was 5.5%. At the beginning of the reporting cycle in January expectations were down to 0.5% profit growth. That is a 90% reduction in analyst expectations in just three months.

Barring a turnaround, many retail chains still reporting profits will be reporting quarter-on-quarter profit declines in April. And by the end of the third quarter more will start reporting outright losses.

Part 3 will examine the other major part of local consumer oriented CRE. These are consumer services like neighborhood banking, investment, insurance and other services. Experience to date demonstrates that in the next few years the internet, expert software systems and robotics/automation will eliminate 50% and more of the jobs formerly associated with these businesses. These same trends will also shift most of the surviving positions away from the traditional storefront strip center and local office park locations.


 
Thank you, Mark, for this comprehensive analysis. We look forward to reading Part 3.

The Day After Chaos | project chesapeake

The Day After Chaos | project chesapeake.

By: Tom Chatham

So, you’ve got your food all stored away to last the next several years. You have your fuel barrel full and your generator and solar panels ready for the end of the power grid. You have enough weapons and ammo to deal with anything. You are mentally and physically prepared for the long hard days ahead.

You are prepared to fight the war that will eventually show up at your front door someday in some form and for an unknown length of time. You are prepared for the chaos, but are you prepared for the eventual peace?

At some point, the situation will stabilize in some form. It will become possible to walk down the street without being shot at. It will become possible to reopen businesses or to barter. It will become possible to breathe a sigh of relief.

When that day comes, how will you survive? You probably have your stash of silver or gold and some barter items but how long will that last? When the system goes down it will take most peoples jobs, their savings, their retirement accounts and pensions and much of the property they thought they owned.

Everyone will be forced to start over again. It could be years before the job market is functioning again. Until then, how do you plan to take care of yourself and your family? What is your plan to generate some income to live on and acquire the things you need?

Surviving the chaos will be a full time job but when it’s over, then what? Your gold and silver will take you a long ways but they only provide you with a temporary solution to your future needs. At some point you will need to start saving for the day when you are no longer able to do useful work.

Most people are busy preparing to just survive the coming chaos but some thought needs to be given to the day after it all ends. Even a few minutes spent now developing a basic plan will be critical to helping you transition to the new normal. A basic idea and the acquisition of a few basic tools or supplies to help you develop your new income stream will help you leverage your time and supplies to get by in the future.

Knowledge is the primary tool you need to navigate the future. Knowing how to make physical things or repair things will help you meet the future needs of society. Next to that, the storage of tools, machines, raw materials and information relevant to start a new business needed by the community will give you an edge.

In a prolonged period of chaos much of our infrastructure will likely be destroyed. In the aftermath, those with the skills and tools to rebuild will be a valuable asset to society. The ability to repair vehicles or machines, carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical, healthcare, farming and skills to build physical products will all be needed by a populace that wishes to regain some of the creature comforts they have lost in past years.

The more skills and materials you have when that day comes the sooner recovery can happen. Some may say it is a bit presumptive to plan for a day when things get better but if you feel things will never get better then why prepare to get through the worst of times at all? If you have the courage to plan for difficult times then you should also give yourself the ability to enjoy the day when things get better. Planning ahead for the distant future was never more important than it is right now.

Chart Of The Day: Greek Poverty | Zero Hedge

Chart Of The Day: Greek Poverty | Zero Hedge.

And now, the saddest chart of the day: Greek poverty since the crisis, and in 2013, when the so-called “Grecovery” arrived.

Here is how Greek Kathimerini describes the fact that nearly half of all Greek incomes, some 44%, had an income below the poverty line in 2013 according to estimates by the Public Policy Analysis Group of the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB).

The poverty threshold is measured as 60 percent of the price-adjusted average income in 2009, or up to 665 euros per person per month and up to 1,397 for a couple supporting two underage children. The AUEB researchers also found that last year 14 percent of Greeks earned below the adequate living standards, compared with 2 percent of the population four years ago.

The blame, of course, was placed squarely on austerity, or the fact that Greece, whose epic socio-economic problems stem primarily from its massive overleveraging leading up to 2008, did notleverage some more to “fix” itself.

The group’s report, published last week, suggested that during the crisis instead of strengthening support to the unemployed – which is one of the most efficient methods to rekindle demand – the state was forced to reduce it.

Well, not all the blame: some was reserved for where it rightfully resides: an incompetent, corrupt, crony and quite criminal political system:

… besides the austerity policies of the last few year, the inability of the state to contain the collapse of social structures is due to the lack of targeted strategies and to the inefficient use of resources, problems that dogged Greece even before the onset of the crisis.

No mention that Greece was merely a pawn in the “political capital” invested in the failed Eurozone experiment, in which the main thing at stake is the vested interest of the legacy oligarchs and, of course, the bankers.

As for the Greece: don’t cry for it – it still has the euro – that symbol of successful European integration – so all is well.

“The Biggest Redistribution Of Wealth From The Middle Class And Poor To The Rich Ever” Explained… | Zero Hedge

“The Biggest Redistribution Of Wealth From The Middle Class And Poor To The Rich Ever” Explained… | Zero Hedge.

While the growth of inequality in America has been heavily discussed here, it was Stan Druckenmiller’s outbursts (and warnings that “from beginning to end – once markets adjust from these subsidized prices – that the wealth effect of QE will have been negative not positive”) that brought it more broadly into the average American’s mind. QE, taxes, income disparity, and entitlements are four major means by which wealth is transferred from the poor and the middle class to the richThe following simple chart explains it all…

Via Shane Obata-Marusic ( @sobata416)

A – “the rich hold assets, the poor have debt” is how Citi’s Matt King described the distribution of wealth in the US.

B – QE has resulted in a loss of purchasing power for the US dollar. Faced with this problem, consumers in the middle class are taking on more non-housing debt in order to maintain the same standard of living. In addition, the US government – which continues to run a deficit year after year – continues to accumulate debt. Due to these facts, total debt outstanding – aka credit market instruments for all sectors – is at all time highs. More debt means more interest payments and lower savings rates. These trends do not bode well for the middle class consumer.

C – On the other hand, QE has been great for the rich. QE has inflated the prices of assets such as property, bonds, stocks, and non-home real estate:

Home prices in Detroit are going up despite the fact that the city is bankrupt. The “housing occupancy” table is meant to show what appears to be a higher than average amount of speculative demand i.e. lower than average owner occupancy rates.

The rich have most of the assets which is why the average family income of the top 0.01% increased by 76.2% from 2002 to 2012. In contrast, the average family income of the bottom 90% decreased by 10.7% over that same period.

D – Taxes as a percentage of real disposable income have more than doubled since 1980. This trend has not been kind to the bottom 90%.

Conversely, favourable tax rates on dividends and capital gains have allowed the rich to become wealthier over time.

E – Median household income has been in a downtrend since the late 90s.

In opposition, corporate profits are at all-time highs.

F – The entitlement problem is only going to get worse as more baby boomers leave the work force. Future generations will have to pay for the debt that the old and rich continue to take on.

Growing benefits and sympathetic tax rates on investments enabled the old to increase consumption by 164% from 1960-1991 .

G – In conclusion, QE, taxes, income disparity, and entitlements are contributing to “the biggest redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich ever” If things continue the way they are going, then millennials and future generations will pay the price:

Despite the fact that inequality in the US is nothing new:

Today, it might be worse than it ever has been:

Unless the distribution of wealth in America begins to change for the better, assets will continue to benefit the rich and debt will continue to burden the middle class and the poor.

For an economy that’s largely based on consumption, excess debt only serves to reduce expenditures and to slow economic growth over time.

Quality of life for the median American household is only going to get better if the issues associated monetary policy, entitlements, taxes, and income are addressed and dealt with.

For now, the best thing that you can do is to discuss these issues with your friends, family and colleagues and try to come up with solutions.

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