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Retail Death Rattle Grows Louder

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on May 25, 2014

Economy-Hindenburgh

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The definition of death rattle is a sound often produced by someone who is near death when fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulate in the throat and upper chest. The person can’t swallow and emits a deepening wheezing sound as they gasp for breath. This can go on for two or three days before death relieves them of their misery. The American retail industry is emitting an unmistakable wheezing sound as a long slow painful death approaches.

It was exactly four months ago when I wrote THE RETAIL DEATH RATTLE. Here are a few terse anecdotes from that article:

The absolute collapse in retail visitor counts is the warning siren that this country is about to collide with the reality Americans have run out of time, money, jobs, and illusions. The exponential growth model, built upon a never ending flow of consumer credit and an endless supply of cheap fuel, has reached its limit of growth. The titans of Wall Street and their puppets in Washington D.C. have wrung every drop of faux wealth from the dying middle class. There are nothing left but withering carcasses and bleached bones.

Once the Wall Street created fraud collapsed and the waves of delusion subsided, retailers have been revealed to be swimming naked. Their relentless expansion, based on exponential growth, cannibalized itself, new store construction ground to a halt, sales and profits have declined, and the inevitable closing of thousands of stores has begun.

The implications of this long and winding road to ruin are far reaching. Store closings so far have only been a ripple compared to the tsunami coming to right size the industry for a future of declining spending. Over the next five to ten years, tens of thousands of stores will be shuttered. Companies like JC Penney, Sears and Radio Shack will go bankrupt and become historical footnotes. Considering retail employment is lower today than it was in 2002 before the massive retail expansion, the future will see in excess of 1 million retail workers lose their jobs. Bernanke and the Feds have allowed real estate mall owners to roll over non-performing loans and pretend they are generating enough rental income to cover their loan obligations. As more stores go dark, this little game of extend and pretend will come to an end.

Retail store results for the 1st quarter of 2014 have been rolling in over the last week. It seems the hideous government reported retail sales results over the last six months are being confirmed by the dying bricks and mortar mega-chains. In case you missed the corporate mainstream media not reporting the facts and doing their usual positive spin, here are the absolutely dreadful headlines:

Wal-Mart Profit Plunges By $220 Million as US Store Traffic Declines by 1.4%

Target Profit Plunges by $80 Million, 16% Lower Than 2013, as Store Traffic Declines by 2.3%

Sears Loses $358 Million in First Quarter as Comparable Store Sales at Sears Plunge by 7.8% and Sales at Kmart Plunge by 5.1%

JC Penney Thrilled With Loss of Only $358 Million For the Quarter

Kohl’s Operating Income Plunges by 17% as Comparable Sales Decline by 3.4%

Costco Profit Declines by $84 Million as Comp Store Sales Only Increase by 2%

Staples Profit Plunges by 44% as Sales Collapse and Closing Hundreds of Stores

Gap Income Drops 22% as Same Store Sales Fall

American Eagle Profits Tumble 86%, Will Close 150 Stores

Aeropostale Losses $77 Million as Sales Collapse by 12%

Best Buy Sales Decline by $300 Million as Margins Decline and Comparable Store Sales Decline by 1.3%

Macy’s Profit Flat as Comparable Store Sales decline by 1.4%

Dollar General Profit Plummets by 40% as Comp Store Sales Decline by 3.8%

Urban Outfitters Earnings Collapse by 20% as Sales Stagnate

McDonalds Earnings Fall by $66 Million as US Comp Sales Fall by 1.7%

Darden Profit Collapses by 30% as Same Restaurant Sales Plunge by 5.6% and Company Selling Red Lobster

TJX Misses Earnings Expectations as Sales & Earnings Flat

Dick’s Misses Earnings Expectations as Golf Store Sales Plummet

Home Depot Misses Earnings Expectations as Customer Traffic Only Rises by 2.2%

Lowes Misses Earnings Expectations as Customer Traffic was Flat

Of course, those headlines were never reported. I went to each earnings report and gathered the info that should have been reported by the CNBC bimbos and hacks. Anything you heard surely had a Wall Street spin attached, like the standard BETTER THAN EXPECTED. I love that one. At the start of the quarter the Wall Street shysters post earnings expectations. As the quarter progresses, the company whispers the bad news to Wall Street and the earnings expectations are lowered. Then the company beats the lowered earnings expectation by a penny and the Wall Street scum hail it as a great achievement.  The muppets must be sacrificed to sustain the Wall Street bonus pool. Wall Street investment bank geniuses rated JC Penney a buy from $85 per share in 2007 all the way down to $5 a share in 2013. No more needs to be said about Wall Street “analysis”.

It seems even the lowered expectation scam hasn’t worked this time. U.S. retailer profits have missed lowered expectations by the most in 13 years. They generally “beat” expectations by 3% when the game is being played properly. They’ve missed expectations in the 1st quarter by 3.2%, the worst miss since the fourth quarter of 2000. If my memory serves me right, I believe the economy entered recession shortly thereafter. The brilliant Ivy League trained Wall Street MBAs, earning high six digit salaries on Wall Street, predicted a 13% increase in retailer profits for the first quarter. A monkey with a magic 8 ball could do a better job than these Wall Street big swinging dicks.

The highly compensated flunkies who sit in the corner CEO office of the mega-retail chains trotted out the usual drivel about cold and snowy winter weather and looking forward to tremendous success over the remainder of the year. How do these excuse machine CEO’s explain the success of many high end retailers during the first quarter? Doesn’t weather impact stores that cater to the .01%? The continued unrelenting decline in profits of retailers, dependent upon the working class, couldn’t have anything to do with this chart? It seems only the oligarchs have made much progress over the last four decades.

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Retail CEO gurus all think they have a master plan to revive sales. I’ll let you in on a secret. They don’t really have a plan. They have no idea why they experienced tremendous success from 2000 through 2007, and why their businesses have not revived since the 2008 financial collapse. Retail CEOs are not the sharpest tools in the shed. They were born on third base and thought they hit a triple. Now they are stranded there, with no hope of getting home. They should be figuring out how to position themselves for the multi-year contraction in sales, but their egos and hubris will keep them from taking the actions necessary to keep their companies afloat in the next decade. Bankruptcy awaits. The front line workers will be shit canned and the CEO will get a golden parachute. It’s the American way.

The secret to retail success before 2007 was: create or copy a successful concept; get Wall Street financing and go public ASAP; source all your inventory from Far East slave labor factories; hire thousands of minimum wage level workers to process transactions; build hundreds of new stores every year to cover up the fact the existing stores had deteriorating performance; convince millions of gullible dupes to buy cheap Chinese shit they didn’t need with money they didn’t have; and pretend this didn’t solely rely upon cheap easy debt pumped into the veins of American consumers by the Federal Reserve and their Wall Street bank owners. The financial crisis in 2008 revealed everyone was swimming naked, when the tide of easy credit subsided.

The pundits, politicians and delusional retail CEOs continue to await the revival of retail sales as if reality doesn’t exist. The 1 million retail stores, 109,000 shopping centers, and nearly 15 billion square feet of retail space for an aging, increasingly impoverished, and savings poor populace might be a tad too much and will require a slight downsizing – say 3 or 4 billion square feet. Considering the debt fueled frenzy from 2000 through 2008 added 2.7 billion square feet to our suburban sprawl concrete landscape, a divestiture of that foolish investment will be the floor. If you think there are a lot of SPACE AVAILABLE signs dotting the countryside, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The mega-chains have already halted all expansion. That was the first step. The weaker players like Radio Shack, Sears, Family Dollar, Coldwater Creek, Staples, Barnes & Noble, Blockbuster and dozens of others are already closing stores by the hundreds. Thousands more will follow.

This isn’t some doom and gloom prediction based on nothing but my opinion. This is the inevitable result of demographic certainties, unequivocal data, and the consequences of a retailer herd mentality and lemming like behavior of consumers. The open and shut case for further shuttering of 3 to 4 billion square feet of retail is as follows:

  • There is 47 square feet of retail space per person in America. This is 8 times as much as any other country on earth. This is up from 38 square feet in 2005; 30 square feet in 2000; 19 square feet in 1990; and 4 square feet in 1960. If we just revert to 2005 levels, 3 billion square feet would need to go dark. Does that sound outrageous?

  • Annual consumer expenditures by those over 65 years old drop by 40% from their highest spending years from 45 to 54 years old. The number of Americans turning 65 will increase by 10,000 per day for the next 16 years. There were 35 million Americans over 65 in 2000, accounting for 12% of the total population. By 2030 there will be 70 million Americans over 65, accounting for 20% of the total population. Do you think that bodes well for retailers?

  • Half of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 have no retirement savings. The other half has accumulated $52,000 or less. It seems the debt financed consumer product orgy of the last two decades has left most people nearly penniless. More than 50% of workers aged 25 to 44 report they have less than $10,000 of total savings.

  • The lack of retirement and general savings is reflected in the historically low personal savings rate of a miniscule 3.8%. Before the materialistic frenzy of the last couple decades, rational Americans used to save 10% or more of their personal income. With virtually no savings as they approach their retirement years and an already extremely low savings rate, do retail CEOs really see a spending revival on the horizon?

  • If you thought the savings rate was so low because consumers are flush with cash and so optimistic about their job prospects they are unconcerned about the need to save for a rainy day, you would be wrong. It has been raining for the last 14 years. Real median household income is 7.5% lower today than it was in 2001. Retailers added 2.7 billion square feet of retail space as real household income fell. Sounds rational.

  • This decline in household income may have something to do with the labor participation rate plummeting to the lowest level since 1978. There are 247.4 million working age Americans and only 145.7 million of them employed (19 million part-time; 9 million self-employed; 20 million employed by the government). There are 92 million Americans, who according to the government have willingly left the workforce, up by 13.3 million since 2007 when over 146 million Americans were employed. You’d have to be a brainless twit to believe the unemployment rate is really 6.3% today. Retail sales would be booming if the unemployment rate was really that low.

  • With a 16.5% increase in working age Americans since 2000 and only a 6.5% increase in employed Americans, along with declining real household income, an inquisitive person might wonder how retail sales were able to grow from $3.3 trillion in 2000 to $5.1 trillion in 2013 – a 55% increase. You need to look no further than your friendly Too Big To Trust Wall Street banks for the answer. In the olden days of the 1970s and early 1980s Americans put 10% to 20% down to buy a house and then systematically built up equity by making their monthly payments. The Ivy League financial engineers created “exotic” (toxic) mortgage products requiring no money down, no principal payments, and no proof you could make a payment, in their control fraud scheme to fleece the American sheeple. Their propaganda machine convinced millions more to use their homes as an ATM, because home prices never drop. Just ask Ben Bernanke. Even after the Bernanke/Blackrock fake housing recovery (actual mortgage originations now at 1978 levels) household real estate percent equity is barely above 50%, well below the 70% levels before the Wall Street induced debt debacle. With the housing market about to head south again, the home equity ATM will have an Out of Order sign on it.

  • We hear the endless drivel from disingenuous Keynesian nitwits about government and consumer austerity being the cause of our stagnating economy. My definition of austerity would be an actual reduction in spending and debt accumulation. It seems during this time of austerity total credit market debt has RISEN from $53.5 trillion in 2009 to $59 trillion today. Not exactly austere, as the Federal government adds $2.2 billion PER DAY to the national debt, saddling future generations with the bill for our inability to confront reality. The American consumer has not retrenched, as the CNBC bimbos and bozos would have you believe. Consumer credit reached an all-time high of $3.14 trillion in March, up from $2.52 trillion in 2010. That doesn’t sound too austere to me. Of course, this increase is solely due to Obamanomics and Bernanke’s $3 trillion gift to his Wall Street owners. The doling out of $645 billion to subprime college “students” and subprime auto “buyers” since 2010 accounts for more than 100% of the increase. The losses on these asinine loans will be epic. Credit card debt has actually fallen as people realize it is their last lifeline. They are using credit cards to pay income taxes, real estate taxes, higher energy costs, higher food costs, and the other necessities of life.

The entire engineered “recovery” since 2009 has been nothing but a Federal Reserve/U.S. Treasury conceived, debt manufactured scam. These highly educated lackeys for the establishment have been tasked with keeping the U.S. Titanic afloat until the oligarchs can safely depart on the lifeboats with all the ship’s jewels safely stowed in their pockets. There has been no housing recovery. There has been no jobs recovery. There has been no auto sales recovery. Giving a vehicle to someone with a 580 credit score with a 0% seven year loan is not a sale. It’s a repossession in waiting. The government supplied student loans are going to functional illiterates who are majoring in texting, facebooking and twittering. Do you think these indebted University of Phoenix dropouts living in their parents’ basements are going to spur a housing and retail sales recovery? This Keynesian “solution” was designed to produce the appearance of recovery, convince the masses to resume their debt based consumption, and add more treasure into the vaults of the Wall Street banks.

The master plan has failed miserably in reviving the economy. Savings, capital investment, and debt reduction are the necessary ingredients for a sustained healthy economic system. Debt based personal consumption of cheap foreign produced baubles & gadgets, $1 trillion government deficits to sustain the warfare/welfare state, along with a corrupt political and rigged financial system are the explosive concoction which will blow our economic system sky high. Facts can be ignored. Media propaganda can convince the willfully ignorant to remain so. The Federal Reserve can buy every Treasury bond issued to fund an out of control government. But eventually reality will shatter the delusions of millions as the debt based Ponzi scheme will run out of dupes and collapse in a flaming heap.

The inevitable shuttering of at least 3 billion square feet of retail space is a certainty. The aging demographics of the U.S. population, dire economic situation of both young and old, and sheer lunacy of the retail expansion since 2000, guarantee a future of ghost malls, decaying weed infested empty parking lots, retailer bankruptcies, real estate developer bankruptcies, massive loan losses for the banking industry, and the loss of millions of retail jobs. Since I always look for a silver lining in a black cloud, I predict a bright future for the SPACE AVAILABLE and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign making companies.

Wall Street has Always Been Corrupt…

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on May 14, 2014

…or about to be corrupted

Discuss this article at the Market Flambe table inside the Diner

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair – I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

“The U.S. financial markets had always been either corrupt or about to be corrupted.” Michael Lewis, Flash Boys

I finished reading Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys take-down of Wall Street banks, hedge funds, government regulators and high frequency traders last week when I had spare time created by a weeklong denial of service attack on my website. It appears to me technology is being utilized more frequently as a mechanism for malevolence rather than a mechanism for good. The smartest guys in the room are figuring out ways to steal you blind in the financial markets, pilfer your personal information, spy on your electronic communications, and censor your right to free speech by taking away your ability to communicate freely on the internet. After reading Lewis’ maddening tome and experiencing the frustration of an attack that reached 50 million hits per day on my website, I’m reminded of two quotes from the brilliant dystopian visionary Aldous Huxley.

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” ― Aldous Huxley – Ends and Means

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you mad.” Aldous Huxley

Technology has been pushed on the masses like a drug by the mega-corporation and mega-media dealers. Just walk down any city street and observe the technologically entranced zombies shuffling along the sidewalks staring blankly at a tiny screen, tapping away on an itsy bitsy keypad as if whatever they are conveying is of vital importance to the future of mankind. # Give me a break. God forbid if we had to go out in public without our iGadget attached to an appendage. We might actually have to use our brain to think. We might be able to look someone in the eye and smile. We might be able to say hello to a stranger. We might have to act like a human being.

Being connected electronically 24 hours per day is not progress. The technology being peddled to the masses by mega-corporations is designed to keep people amused, apathetic, distracted and uninterested in thinking critically. Our society has devolved into a technologically narcissistic, ego driven, submissive, trivial culture, asphyxiating in a sea of irrelevance and driven by greed and need to fulfill our every desire, rather than a technologically proficient, selfless, humble, critical thinking, civil minded society of self-reliant human beings who take responsibility for their own lives and refuse to saddle future generations with the financial consequences of living beyond their means. Our willful ignorance, misuse of technology, and inability to control our impulses and desires will be the ruin of our perverted civilization.

If the masses were capable of critical thinking and questioned the existing paradigm, they would conclude a small cadre of evil men has colluded to hijack the financial, political, and social systems in order to syphon off the nation’s wealth, while controlling the serfs through propaganda and luring them into debt servitude. Those who haven’t been brainwashed by media propaganda or amused to death by technology, are kept in check by thousands of laws, statutes, and regulations, enforced by millions of government bureaucrats and police state thugs. Technology is used by the state as a means of control, surveillance, censorship, and bilking the populace of their wealth. And if you don’t like it, the IRS, DHS, FBI, CIA, BLM, HHS, or some other three letter government agency will harass, arrest, fine, or kill you for not “cooperating”. And while the government is keeping you under their thumb, Wall Street shysters are stealing you blind.

The Truth Shall Make You Mad

“As soon as you realize that you are not able to execute your orders because someone else is able to identify what you are trying to do and race ahead of you to the other exchanges, it’s over. It really just pissed me off that people set out this way to make money from everyone else’s retirement account. I knew who was being screwed, people like my mom and pop, and I became hell-bent on figuring out who was doing the screwing.” – John Schwall – Flash Boys

As I continued reading Flash Boys I got progressively madder as more truth was revealed about the inner workings of Wall Street, the wasting of human intelligence on technological schemes to defraud the public, and the utter level of corruptness in the government agencies supposed to protect the public from the vultures in the financial industry feasting on the carcasses of dupes who still believe the “stocks for the long run” drivel regurgitated incessantly by the bimbos and slime balls on CNBC. The concepts of right and wrong, moral and immoral, honesty and dishonesty, and truth and lies are all purposefully blurred in shades of grey by those in power, in a blatant attempt to maintain and expand their vast wealth, immense power and complete governing control.

Michael Lewis focuses on our warped, rigged financial system, but his insights apply across the board to our entire society. Our economic, financial, political, regulatory, and judicial systems are all rigged. This serves the interests of the Deep State, Invisible Government, Oligarchs, Owners, or whatever other term you choose to describe the obscenely wealthy minority controlling this country. The existing establishment will never willingly change the system because it serves their myopic gluttonous interests.

“The deep problem with the system was a kind of moral inertia. So long as it served the narrow self-interests of everyone inside it, no one on the inside would ever seek to change it, no matter how corrupt or sinister it became.” Michael Lewis – Flash Boys

Flash Boys is the fourth Michael Lewis book I’ve read. I had previously read Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, and Boomerang. He is a masterful storyteller. He has the ability to humanize complicated financial concepts and cut through the purposeful complexity built into the financial system to reveal the corruption, criminality and moral degradation of Wall Street bankers and Washington DC politicians. He slices through all the spin, misinformation, and mistruths flogged by Wall Street and their paid-off media mouthpieces to reveal everyone on Wall Street to be in on the action when it comes to fleecing their customers (muppets). The stench emanating from the bowels of Wall Street banks, hedge funds, and high frequency trading bucket shops hangs like toxic smog over our bloated fetid crony capitalist corpse of a country. This cast of despicable felonious characters, scalps investors day after day, with the insiders pretending all is well and the man on the street is being protected.

“The reason is that everyone is a bad actor. There’s an ecosystem that has risen up around a broken pipe on Wall Street. You have high-frequency traders who are scalping the market. They pay exchanges for the tools they need to scalp investors; the exchanges pay banks to essentially mishandle the stock orders so high-frequency traders can maximize the take. It’s a system designed to extract taxes from investors.” – Michael Lewis –Wired

The average person believes the stock market is run on free market principles, with willing buyers and sellers paying and receiving the most efficient price with regards to their transactions. The American people have put their trust in gargantuan bureaucratic government agencies, funded with their tax dollars, to protect their interests and fight for their rights in the financial marketplace. They innocently believe a private bank – The Federal Reserve – owned and controlled by the Too Big To Trust Wall Street Mega-Banks, is actually enforcing regulations and looking out for the best interest of the small investor. They evidently haven’t been paying attention for the last fourteen years, as the Federal Reserve has purposefully created bubble after bubble with ridiculously low interest rates, money printing on an epic scale, encouraging complete deregulation of banks, inciting speculation, and ignoring criminal behavior by their Wall Street owners.

After reading Lewis’ exposes about these Wall Street scumbags, you realize Scorsese’s seemingly over the top portrayal of these people in Wolves of Wall Street is accurate. Nothing has changed since Lewis worked at Salomon Brothers in the 1980’s. The people inhabiting that culture are unscrupulous, greedy, obtuse, ignorant, and intent upon preying on the weaknesses of their “clients”, who they hold in contempt. They are the wolves and you are sheep. The comforting picture of a stock broker representing your interests on a small commission basis has been replaced by stock exchanges colluding with Wall Street banks, hedge funds and high frequency traders to fleece mom and pop out of hundreds of billions on an annual basis using their super-fast computers located within the stock exchanges. The people who know the truth have no interest in drawing the new picture because their massive paychecks depend upon not drawing the picture.

You can tell how accurate a portrayal is by the reaction of those being portrayed. Flash Boys and the subsequent interview of Lewis by 60 Minutes resulted in a broad based assault by Wall Street bankers, HFT dirt bags, corrupt stock exchange CEOs, SEC lackeys, Federal Reserve Chairwomen, bought off politicians, faux financial journalists, sellouts like Buffett, and of course the mouthpieces of Wall Street on CNBC. The oligarchs benefitting immensely from the HFT scams, Dark Pool schemes, and Stock Exchange pay to play swindles, attempted to ambush the good guys (Brad Katsuyama and Michael Lewis) on CNBC, the captured media pawn of the Wall Street ruling elite.

CNBC stacked the deck against the good guys with the President of the BATS exchange, William O’Brien, given the task of shouting the loudest in an attempt to discredit the factual assertions made in the book. The BATS exchange was founded by high frequency traders and designed to foster the predatory schemes of high frequency trading firms who paid the exchange for the privilege of swindling investors. He went berserk on-air, accusing Brad Katsuyama of lying and denying that his firm purposefully allowed high frequency traders to front run slower orders from regular investors. I guess he thought rage, fury, screaming and false accusations would convince the hoi polloi of his innocence. He was wrong. The traders on the NYSE and in trading firms across Wall Street stopped trading to watch the contest on their screens. They would cheer every time Brad Katsuyama calmly responded with truth based facts.

Michael Lewis described the encounter shortly thereafter in an interview:

“The substantial shocker from this encounter is that Katsuyama tried to get O’Brien to admit that the BATS Exchange uses one very slow data feed to give investors the prices in the market, while selling, for vast sums of money, a faster feed to high-frequency traders, the effect being that the high-frequency trader knows the prices in the exchange before your order. So he has the privilege of trading against you at an old price if he wants to. And O’Brien says no that’s not true. He lied, on national television, about a central fact about his business.” Michael Lewis –Wired

Under threat of prosecution, the BATS exchange had to admit its esteemed President blatantly lied on national TV. That seems par for the course when it comes to Wall Street executives. Deceitfulness, duplicity, and evasiveness are crucial requirements for the psychopaths occupying the corner offices in this warped world of high finance. The Wall Street Journal reluctantly revealed the truth:

BATS Global Markets Inc., under pressure from the New York Attorney General’s office, corrected statements made by a senior executive during a televised interview this week about how its exchanges work.

BATS President William O’Brien, during a CNBC interview Tuesday, said BATS’s Direct Edge exchanges use high-speed data feeds to price stock trades. Thursday, the exchange operator said two of its exchanges, EDGA and EGX, use a slower feed, known as the Securities Information Processor, to price trades.

 The distinction matters because high-speed traders can use powerful computers and superfast links between markets to outpace traders and trading venues that rely on slower market data, such as the SIP.

Would the BATS Exchange have revealed the truth if they had not been pressured by the New York Attorney General to do so? Not bloody likely. Wall Street never admits guilt for any of its crimes, wrongdoings, misconduct, deceit or deceptions. They pay $1 billion in fines to their government co-conspirators as a public relations ploy, without admitting guilt and after reaping $10 billion of criminally generated profits. Not a bad ROI. The principles of right versus wrong, moral versus immoral, honesty versus dishonesty, and clarity versus opacity are willfully evaded by the titans of Wall Street and create no dilemmas for these greed driven psychopaths. Money and power are their drugs and the Federal Reserve is their dealer.

Michael Lewis books strike a chord with the public because he chooses a good guy hero his audience can empathize with. He played the sympathetic character in Liar’sPoker. Michael Burry, the brilliant Asperger’s Syndrome suffering investment genius, plays the role in The Big Short. And Brad Katsuyama, the mild mannered good hearted hobbit-like Canadian, takes on the evil forces of Mordor in Flash Boys. These characters all have something in common. They don’t fit in. They question the existing paradigm. They refuse to give in to the depraved culture permeating Wall Street. They exhibit an inner moral strength that enables them to resist the temptation of ill-gotten riches. And they don’t surrender their principles for a buck. This passage gives you a glimpse into the soul of Brad Katsuyama:

“In America, even the homeless were profligate. Back in Toronto, after a big bank dinner, Brad would gather the leftovers into covered tin trays and carry them out to a homeless guy he saw every day on his way to work. The guy was always appreciative. When the bank moved him to New York, he saw more homeless people in a day than he saw back home in a year. When no one was watching, he’d pack up the king’s banquet of untouched leftovers after the NY lunches and walk it down to the people on the streets. “They just looked at me like, ‘What the fuck is this guy doing?’” he said. “I stopped doing it because it didn’t feel like anyone gave a shit.” –  Michael Lewis – Flash Boys

The apologists for the corrupt establishment attempted to trash Lewis and Katsuyama by contending the market has always been rigged and manipulated, therefore, the HFT embezzlement is just business as usual. Warren Buffett, king of oligarchs and apologist for the Wall Street billionaire club, assures the peasants the financial markets are fairer than ever. If Uncle Warren says it’s so to his girl Becky Quick on CNBC, how can anyone doubt him? It’s as if the supposedly mathematical genius billionaire forgot everything he learned in business school.

There is $21 trillion worth of U.S. stocks traded every year. Based upon Katsuyama’s analysis of how much high frequency traders, Wall Street dark pools, and the stock exchanges selling access were skimming on virtually every transaction, he estimated at least $160 million per day was being stolen from stock investors. That comes to a cool $40 billion per year, at a minimum. High frequency trading accounted for 25% of all stock trades in 2005. By 2008 high frequency traders accounted for 65% of all trades. They now account for in excess of 80% of all trading. The Ivy League educated Wall Street elite insist this extreme level of computer generated trading provides liquidity and efficiency for the markets. In reality, the actual trading results of the HFT firms, hedge funds and Wall Street TBTF banks prove the game is rigged. JP Morgan experienced ZERO trading loss days in 2013. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and most of the mega-banks have had virtually perfect daily trading results since 2010. If they are all winning, who is losing? Guess. Lewis provides further evidence of “investing” perfection:

“In early 2013, one of the largest high-frequency traders, Virtu Financial, publicly boasted that in five and a half years of trading it had experienced just one day when it hadn’t made money, and that the loss was caused by “human error.” In 2008, Dave Cummings, the CEO of a high-frequency trading firm called Tradebot, told university students that his firm had gone four years without a single day of trading losses. This sort of performance is possible only if you have a huge informational advantage.” – Michael Lewis – Flash Boys

Buffett, the financial “journalists” on CNBC, and all of the defenders of the Wall Street criminal cabal must have been asleep during their Stat class in college. The statistical probability of going four years or even four weeks without a losing trading day is as close to zero as you can get, unless the game is rigged and you are cheating. These results were not accomplished due to the brilliance of Wall Street big hanging dicks and their oversized brains. They were accomplished by front running stock market orders, bribing stock exchanges for first access, gaming the system with more powerful computers, ripping off clients in shadowy dark pools, and keeping the SEC at bay with promises of jobs and riches if they look the other way. This was all done under the veil of hyper-complexity designed to obscure, confuse, and cover-up the truth from unsuspecting investors.

And it is all done “legally” under the auspices of Regulation NMS, established by the SEC in 2007, to foster both competition among individual markets and competition among individual orders, in order to promote efficient and fair price formation across securities markets. As with almost every government regulation, law, or diktat, the new method of “protecting” the sheeple created fresh ways to fleece the sheeple by those who wrote the regulation. See Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act. I don’t need a law or regulation to tell me the difference between right and wrong.

When obnoxiously wealthy pricks with the ability to bribe stock exchanges to place their trading computers on the floor of the exchange and financially induce the Wall Street banks to funnel trades through their dark pools in order to know what is happening a nanosecond before everyone else, and use this information to front run unknowing investors to generate risk free profits, it’s wrong. It really is black and white. I don’t care that it is supposedly “legal”.  By complying with Regulation NMS the smart order routers of institutional investor firms like Vanguard, Fidelity and Schwab simply funneled naïve investors into various snares laid for them by the unscrupulous high frequency traders. The bad guys always win and the good guys always lose on Wall Street. And no one does anything because they are all on the take. Lewis puts it in terms the average person can understand.

“It was riskless, larcenous, and legal – made so by Reg NMS. The way Brad had described it, it was as if only one gambler were permitted to know the scores of last week’s NFL games, with no one else aware of his knowledge. He places bets in the casino on every game and waits for other gamblers to take the other side of those bets. There’s no guarantee that anyone will do so; but if they do, he’s certain to win.” – Michael Lewis – Flash Boys

If you aren’t mad yet, you will be after I go into the details of the regulatory capture, obscure deep pools within the bowels of the Too Big To Trust Banks, misuse of technology to defraud the public, and purposeful complexity built into the financial system to confuse and mislead the investing populace. I’ll tackle that in Part Two of this article.

WARPED, DISTORTED, MANIPULATED, FLIPPED HOUSING MARKET

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on February 2, 2014

house-flipping

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

The report from RealtyTrac last week proves beyond the shadow of a doubt the supposed housing market recovery is a complete and utter fraud. The corporate mainstream media did their usual spin job on the report by focusing on the fact foreclosure starts in 2013 were the lowest since 2007. Focusing on this meaningless fact (because the Too Big To Trust Wall Street Criminal Banks have delayed foreclosure starts as part of their conspiracy to keep prices rising) is supposed to convince the willfully ignorant masses the housing market is back to normal. It’s always the best time to buy!!!

The talking heads reading their teleprompter propaganda machines failed to mention that distressed sales (short sales & foreclosure sales) rose to a three year high of 16.2% of all U.S. residential sales, up from 14.5% in 2012. The economy has been supposedly advancing for over four years and sales of distressed homes are at 16.2% and rising. The bubble headed bimbos on CNBC don’t find it worthwhile to mention that prior to 2007 the normal percentage of distressed home sales was less than 3%. Yeah, we’re back to normal alright. We are five years into a supposed economic recovery and distressed home sales account for 1 out of 6 all home sales and is still 500% higher than normal.

The distressed sales aren’t even close to the biggest distortion of this housing market. The RealtyTrac report reveals that all-cash purchases accounted for 42% of all U.S. residential sales in December, up from 38% in November, and up from 18% in December 2012. Does that sound like a trend of normalization? There were five states where all-cash transactions accounted for more than 50% of sales in December – Florida (62.5%), Wisconsin (59.8%), Alabama (55.7%), South Carolina (51.3%), and Georgia (51.3%). In the pre-crisis days before 2008, all-cash sales NEVER accounted for more than 10% of all home sales. NEVER. This is all being driven by hot Wall Street money, aided and abetted by Bernanke, Yellen and the rest of the Fed fiat heroine dealers.

The fact that Wall Street is running this housing show is borne out by mortgage applications languishing at 1997 levels, down 65% from the 2005 highs. Real people in the real world need a mortgage to buy a house. If mortgage applications are near 16 year lows, how could home prices be ascending as if there is a frenzy of demand? Besides enriching the financial class, the contrived elevation of home prices and the QE induced mortgage rate increase has driven housing affordability into the ground. First time home buyers account for a record low percentage of 27%. In a normal non-manipulated market, first time home buyers account for 40% of home purchases.

Price increases that rival the peak insanity of 2005 have been manufactured by Wall Street shysters and the Federal Reserve commissars. Doctor Housing Bubble sums up the absurdity of this housing market quite well.

The all-cash segment of buyers has typically been a tiny portion of the overall sales pool.  The fact that so many sales are occurring off the typical radar suggests that the Fed’s easy money eco-system has created a ravenous hunger with investors to buy up real estate.  Why?  The rentier class is chasing yields in every nook and cranny of the economy.  This helps to explain why we have such a twisted system where home ownership is declining yet prices are soaring.  What do we expect when nearly half of sales are going to investors?  The all-cash locusts flood is still ravaging the housing market.

The Case-Shiller Index has shown price surges over the last two years that exceed the Fed induced bubble years of 2001 through 2006. Does that make sense, when new homes sales are at levels seen during recessions over the last 50 years, and down 70% from the 2005 highs? Even with this Fed/Wall Street induced levitation, existing home sales are at 1999 levels and down 30% from the 2005 highs. So how and why have national home prices skyrocketed by 14% in 2013 after a 9% rise in 2012? Why are the former bubble markets of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Phoenix seeing 17% to 27% one year price increases? How could the bankrupt paradise of Detroit see a 17.3% increase in prices in one year? In a normal free market where individuals buy houses from other individuals, this does not happen. Over the long term, home prices rise at the rate of inflation. According to the government drones at the BLS, inflation has risen by 3.6% over the last two years. Looks like we have a slight disconnect.

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2014/01-overflow/Case%20Shiller%20NSA.jpg

This entire contrived episode has been designed to lure dupes back into the market, artificially inflate the insolvent balance sheets of the Too Big To Trust banks, enrich the feudal overlords who have easy preferred access to the Federal Reserve easy money, and provide the propaganda peddling legacy media with a recovery storyline to flog to the willingly ignorant public. The masses desperately want a feel good story they can believe. The ruling class has a thorough understanding of Edward Bernays’ propaganda techniques.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”  

Ben Bernanke increased his balance sheet by $3.2 trillion (450%) since 2008, and it had to go somewhere. We know it didn’t trickle down to the 99%. It was placed in the firm clutches of the .1% billionaire club. Bernanke sold his QE schemes as methods to benefit Main Street Americans, when his true purpose was to benefit Wall Street crooks. 30 year mortgage rates were 4.25% before QE2. 30 year mortgage rates were 3.5% before QE3. Today they stand at 4.5%. QE has not benefited average Americans. They are getting 0% on their savings, mortgage rates are higher, and their real household income has fallen and continues to fall.

But you’ll be happy to know banking profits are at all-time highs, Blackrock and the rest of the Wall Street Fed front running crowd have made a killing in the buy and rent ruse, and record bonuses are being doled out to the men who have wrecked our financial system in their gluttonous plundering of the once prosperous nation. Their felonious machinations have added zero value to society, while impoverishing a wide swath of America. Bernanke, Yellen and their owners have used their control of the currency, interest rates, and regulatory agencies to create the widest wealth disparity between the haves and have-nots in world history. Their depraved actions on behalf of the .1% will mean blood.

Just as Greenspan’s easy money policies of the early 2000’s created a housing bubble, inspiring low IQ wannabes to play flip that house, Bernanke’s mal-investment inducing QEternity has lured the get rich quick crowd back into the flipping business. The re-propagation of Flip that House shows on cable is like a rerun of the pre-bubble bursting frenzy in 2005. RealtyTrac’s recent report details the disturbing lemming like trend among greedy institutions and dullard brother-in-laws across the land.

  • 156,862 single family home flips — where a home is purchased and subsequently sold again within six months — in 2013, up 16% from 2012 and up 114% from 2011.
  • Homes flipped in 2013 accounted for 4.6% of all U.S. single family home sales during the year, up from 4.2% in 2012 and up from 2.6% in 2011

The easy profits just keep flowing when the Fed provides the easy money. What could possibly go wrong? Home prices never fall. A brilliant Ivy League economist said so in 2005. The easy profits have been reaped by the early players. Wall Street hedge funds don’t really want to be landlords. Flippers need to make a quick buck or their creditors pull the plug. Home prices peaked in mid-2013. They have begun to fall. The 35% increase in mortgage rates has removed the punchbowl from the party. Anyone who claims housing will improve in 2014 is either talking their book, owns a boatload of vacant rental properties, teaches at Princeton, or gets paid to peddle the Wall Street propaganda on CNBC.

Reality will reassert itself in 2014, with lemmings, flippers, and hedgies getting slaughtered as the housing market comes back to earth with a thud. The continued tapering by the Fed will remove the marginal dollars used by Wall Street to fund this housing Ponzi. The Wall Street lemmings all follow the same MBA created financial models. They will all attempt to exit the market simultaneously when their models all say sell. If the economy improves, interest rates will rise and kill the housing market. If the economy tanks, the stock market will plunge, creating fear and killing the housing market. Once it becomes clear that prices have begun to fall, the flippers will panic and start dumping, exacerbating the price declines. This scenario never grows old.

Real household income continues to fall and nearly 25% of all households with a mortgage are still underwater. Young people are saddled with $1 trillion of government peddled student loan debt and will not be buying homes in the foreseeable future. Dodd-Frank rules will result in fewer people qualifying for mortgages. Mortgage insurance is increasing. Obamacare premium increases are sucking the life out of potential middle class home buyers. Retailers have begun firing thousands. The financial class had a good run. They were able to re-inflate the bubble for two years, but the third year won’t be a charm. In a normal housing market 85% of home sales would be between individuals using a mortgage, 10% would be all cash transactions, less than 5% of sales would be distressed, and 40% would be first time buyers. In this warped market only 40% of home sales are between individuals using a mortgage, 42% are all cash transactions, 16% are distressed sales, 5% are flipped, and only 27% are first time buyers. The return to normalcy will be painful for shysters, gamblers, believers, paid off economists, Larry Yun, and CNBC bimbos.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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