Friday, October 8, 2010

October 8 2010: Wile E.'s Suspended Reality

Chuck Jones No way but down 1971
Jones based Wile E. on Mark Twain's "a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton", "a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry"

Ilargi: If you haven't yet, don’t forget to order Stoneleigh's video presentation of "A Century of Challenges", the lecture that's made her famous across Europe and North America. There is a reason that plenty of people have driven hundreds of miles to see her live. It’s up to you to find out why, and it won't cost you much.


to order and find out (or click the button on the right hand side just below the banner), and buy a copy for someone you think needs to know what Stoneleigh has to say. What better Christmas gift can you imagine?

Ilargi: It's not the first time, guys, and it won’t be the last by the looks of it. But I do apparently have to repeat it from time to time: we're still having the wrong conversations. And I'm increasingly losing hope that we’ll switch to the right ones before it no longer matters what we talk about.

I was thinking about this the past few days looking at the gold price situation being discussed everywhere, including in the Automatic Earth comment sections. People feel smart for buying gold at the right time, and gold is at a record high (well, in US dollars; not in euro’s, it’s not), we've all seen it.

Still, the reason why The Automatic Earth doesn't focus on gold or its price is very simple: it's not the right conversation to have at this point in time. When we're done, as a society, as a national and global economy, with this round of real life Jeopardy behind us, 90-something percent of those who today see themselves as investors will no longer be that, and will have had to sell their gold and silver and most of their other possessions just to keep their families clothed, warm and fed. Unfortunately, that realization hasn't seeped through at all. First off, we're not smart enough to do the math, and second, we wish to wish it all away.

When our financial systems began to shake in 2007 and large chunks started to fall off in Jericho fashion in 2008, we were not witnessing yet another cyclical economic move, not another run of the mill thirteen in a dozen recession. We were watching the end of the financial system as we had come to know it.

And we still are. We're watching Wile E. Coyote on a broken reel.

The foundation of it all is US (un)employment and the housing market. Well, home prices have not stabilized, in the same sense that Wile E. Coyote does not stabilize in his infamous mid air moments, but is stuck in a temporary state of suspension. He only stabilizes once he hits the ground below. Physics 101, and economics 101, though you wouldn't know the latter from those who ply the trade. Wonder who’ll get the Economics Fauxbel one of these days. It’ll be hard to beat the thickness of handing the thing to Krugman last year.

Like Wile. E., US home prices today are suspended in mid air, and barely at that (they’re actually down 30%). The chances that they’ll go up from here are exceedingly small. And that is very bad news for the financial system, for the government and for all Americans, not just because everyone homeowner stands to lose another $100,000 or so in equity, but also because of the tens if not hundreds of trillions in derivatives written on the values of these homes and the mortgages they were "financed" with.

Nobody expects Wile E. to rise up once he's run off the cliff, or even linger at the same altitude for too long; yet, bizarrely and unfortunately, many do expect the US housing market, and indeed the American economy, to do just that.

It's time to stop fooling yourselves. For the US economy, housing market and labor market, like for Wile E., there’s only one way to go from here, and that is down. It's not going to come back for a very long time, if ever. And that, if nothing else, means our decisions, as a society and as individuals, will have to be radically different from what they would be if there were a chance of a recovery.

It has been entertaining to read about the foreclosure scandals lately; turns out, they were based all along on paperwork as fabricated as the mortgages that gave birth to them, and that keep on giving.

But when I see people expressing hope that this will finally stick it to the banks, and teach 'em a lesson, I despair. Look, all Washington has done over the past 2-3 years (or even 20-30 years) has been to protect the banks on Wall Street. Why would you think that will stop now? US banks as a whole are broke, broker, broken, and they wouldn't survive any major change that would imperil their revenues. In the end, they won't survive, period, but for now they're still just zombies stuck in a Wile E. moment, seemingly alive.

Yet, even as I see people applaud Obama for not signing a legal document that would make it easier for banks to throw Americans out of their homes, the overall policy direction remains the same: save the banks at all costs, wherein “all costs" means costs to taxpayers. This has been the policy all along, and it's been the wrong one all along too. And that is, once again, because we are still having the wrong conversations.

Everybody and their pet armadillos keep saying the same thing, even if it is from different viewpoints: it's either something or other will "hurt the recovery", or the opposite will. But there is no recovery, and never has been other than in funny fuzzy government stats, and despite the silly GDP data all politicians love, there won't be, not for a very long time, if ever. We need to stop seeing the world through these rosy glasses that are starting to look seriously ridiculous on our faces.

Then again, from where I’m sitting, it’s already way too late to repair the damage done by the myopic policies we've witnessed ever since the walls started crumbling.

Saving the banking system was always the wrong priority. At least from the point of view of the average American. Or Brit, or German. The crucial idea in all this that makes it all go awry is growth.

We need to get back to growth as soon as we possibly can, or we're all screwed. So screwed indeed that the very thought of a possible non-growth period has been banned from all national political and media centers. Like, to reiterate it once more, Tim Geithner telling the US Senate in 2009 that there was no need for a Plan B if his great plan, which has since failed spectacularly, might fail.

And there's something to be said for this way of looking at things, at least if you're Geithner or Obama or Jamie Dimon or any of their equivalents abroad. If these people would give up the fight for (economic) growth, and say there won't be any for years to come, they'd lose their powerful positions in an instant, only to be replaced by the next in line boyo willing to declare straight-faced that recovery is just around the corner.

There are two things that have kept up the appearance of something resembling normality, or recovery, name it what you will, so far. One is the trillions of dollars, euros, what have you, in clueless citizens' -future- tax revenues that have been thrown down the pit of financial losses -wagers- in the banking system. The second is the suspension in mid-air (Hello, Wile E.!) of accounting standards across the board.

An asset bought for $1000 that couldn't today be sold for $10, can remain on a balance sheet for the full paper value. In fact, billions of such assets do across the globe. Why? The prospect of future growth, of course. One day, they’ll be worth $1000 again, nay, $5000, and so why would we mark them to market?

That's where we get back to housing: banks, pension funds, market funds, let’s not forget the Fed, are loaded with such "assets". All, or nearly all, on balance sheets for 100 cents on the buck, and all verging on worthlessness.

Washington will try very hard, and likely succeed, to find a way to not let the banks pay for their own crimes, which is what the automated foreclosure proceedings add up to.

According to the official mantra, letting the main banks go belly-up would kill the entire system. Letting millions of Americans go belly-up, not so much. It's all a matter of priorities, don't you know, and you, yeah you, are not the priority.

But these same banks still have vaults overflowing with worthless and useless assets, and nothing has been done about that other than the Fed buying $1-2 trillion worth of them with taxpayer funds, and Mother-of-God only knows how much "money" being spilled by now between TARP and other stimuli on the one side, and on the other banks borrowing at 0% from the Fed to buy Treasuries which can be parked at 3-4% at the same Fed the same day.

They are labeled "systemically important", or Too Big to Fail, these banks. But the only system they're important for is the one that says recovery is always just around the corner, the one that controls Washington, and all politicians that reside there.

And that is simply the wrong conversation. We -pretty- desperately need to figure out what we'll do if we in fact need that Plan B. But there's nothing out there. Even George Soros talks about avoiding things that "will hurt the recovery".

In the end, the math is simple. If home prices keep falling, unemployment numbers keep rising. That correlation has been proven time and again. And if this happens (make that when), mortgage-backed securities will continue to fall in whatever "value" they still might have. That in turn means banks will need to be restructured, re-financed, re-Frankensteined.

It also means Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac become a multi-trillion dollar liability on the American people, many of whom will, the horror, the horror, by then just happen to have lost that $100,000 plus in equity on their American Dream property.

This will lead to an explosion in unemployment, since ever fewer people will have any discretionary income needed to keep stores and factories open, which will then hammer home prices even more. Consequently, tax revenues at all levels will scrape the gutters, forcing governments at all levels to lay off more workers, and so on: you can by now finish the story pourself and color the pictures. It's called debt deflation, people, and once you’re in debt way over your head as a society or as an individual there's nothing you can do but to lay low and let it run its course.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics September U3 unemployment just came in at 9.6%, unchanged from August. Curious, since Gallup put it at 10.1%. The BLS U6 number, the wider, more realistic gauge, jumped from 16.7% to 17.1%. John Williams' SGS alternate number is closing in at 23%. Only Spain resembles that in the western world.

If you can accept that 90-odd% of US banks are zombie banks (toxic assets!), that nothing has changed despite the money that was transferred from you to them, that their losses on toxic paper are far worse than anything you could ever afford, then you will have to accept that you are zombies too, zombies, not investors, and that it's immaterial whether you make a nickel or two on gold purchases, that those matter only in Wile E. Coyote's suspended cartoon reality, not in yours.

One last thing to take with you:

If time is money, we're living on borrowed time.

Chris Whalen Describes Why 2011 Could Make 2008 Look Like A Cakewalk
by Cullen Roche - TPC

Christopher Whalen makes a remarkably convincing case for why we’ve simply kicked the can down the road and why the banks could be in for a repeat of their 2008 nightmares in 2011.  If Mr. Whalen is right the banking sector is in for a whole new round of government intervention, takeovers, likely nationalizations and general disaster:

The U.S. banking industry is entering a new period of crisis where operating costs are rising dramatically due to foreclosures and defaults.  We are less than 1/4 of the way through the foreclosure process. Laurie Goodman of Amherst Securities predicts that 1 in 5 mortgages could go into foreclosure without radical action.

Rising operating costs in banks will be more significant than in past recessions and could force the U.S. government to restructure some large lenders as expenses overwhelm revenue. BAC, JPM, GMAC foreclosure moratoriums only the start of the crisis that threatens the financial foundations of the entire U.S. political economy.

The largest U.S. banks remain insolvent and must continue to shrink. Failure by the Obama Administration to restructure the largest banks during 2007?2009 period only  means that this process is going to occur over next three to five years - whether we like it or not.  The issue is recognizing existing losses, not if a loss occurred.

Impending operational collapse of some of the largest U.S. banks will serve as the catalyst for recreation of RFC-type liquidation vehicle(s) to handle the operational task of finally deflating the subprime bubble. End of the liquidation cycle of the deflating bubble will arrive in another four to five years.

Fast forward to the 1h:07 minute mark where Mr. Whalen begins.

New financial crisis = continued deflationSubprime losses have been hidden by bad accountingStress on the financial system has been kept back with stopgap measuresEfficiency ratios (the cost of generating revenue) spikes after recessions... but the trendline had already reached dangerous highs
Net interest income seems high, but this is only because of the Fed's zero interest rate policy
If zero interest rate policy continues, bank interest income (thus cash flow) will fall to inadequate levels
But the real red flag is in non-interest income, which peaked during the subprime frenzy -- and has not yet bottomedNon-interest expenses will soar as foreclosures accelerate. Non-interest income will fall as the economy stallsWith trouble ahead, banks are pulling in credit to protect themselvesNeed any more proof banks aren't lending?Big banks are already losing control of the foreclosure wave -- which may knock out as many as 1 in 5 mortgagesMany large banks will be shattered. They will survive only through further nationalization

Slides courtesy of Business Insider

Gallup Finds U.S. Unemployment at 10.1% in September
by Gallup

Unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, increased to 10.1% in September -- up sharply from 9.3% in August and 8.9% in July. Much of this increase came during the second half of the month -- the unemployment rate was 9.4% in mid-September -- and therefore is unlikely to be picked up in the government's unemployment report on Friday.

Gallup's U.S. Unemployment Rate, 30-Day Averages, January-September 2010

US Consumer Credit Takes Another Dive
by Jason Bornell -

For the 24th straight month, consumer credit card debt is down. Credit card credit, also known as revolving credit, dipped $4.99 billion in August. This after a $4.98 billion spike down the month before. The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that overall consumer borrowing fell by $3.34 billion in August. Out of the last 19 months, including August, it has fallen 18 of them. In July alone, it dropped $4.09 billion. The overall borrowing category includes everything from loans for vehicles to credit card credit.

On the non-revolving credit side, August saw an increase of $1.65 billion. That marks the fourth month in a row of modest gains. This includes one time and closed end loans for things such as cars, student loans, boats and vacations. Student loans by the federal government are responsible for nearly all of the uptick.

As consumers continue to work hard to get their personal finances and balance sheets in order, they’re spending less and extending their credit in smaller amounts. This is good for the consumer from a debt perspective, but tough on the economy as credit helps fuel economic rebounds. Until job opportunities start growing along with incomes, it’s likely we’ll continue to see households cut back. This could end up causing further delays for the recovery of our economy.

Fed's $2 Trillion May Buy Little Improvement in Jobs
by Craig Torres and Scott Lanman - Bloomberg

For $2 trillion, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke may buy little improvement in growth, employment or inflation over the next two years. Firms with large-scale models of the U.S. economy such as IHS Global Insight, Moody’s Analytics Inc. and Macroeconomic Advisers LLC project only a moderate impact from additional Fed asset purchases. The firms estimate that the unemployment rate will remain around 9 percent or higher next year whether the Fed buys $500 billion or $2 trillion of U.S. Treasuries in a second round of unconventional stimulus.

“This is not a game changer for the economic outlook,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, whose models show that $500 billion of purchases would boost growth 0.1 percentage point in 2011 and leave the unemployment rate at 9 percent or above for the next two years. “There is clearly a risk that people start to perceive monetary policy as impotent.”

The meager impact shows the conundrum U.S. central bankers face. Interest rates near zero have failed to produce the intended cycle of borrowing and spending among consumers and businesses. Unemployment hovering near a 26-year high, partly a symptom of weak demand, keeps downward pressure on prices, and further declines in inflation would raise borrowing costs in real terms, making credit more expensive. “The danger of not doing anything would be pretty high,” said Antulio Bomfim, managing director at Macroeconomic Advisers in Washington. “Expanding the balance sheet might actually help reduce the risk of deflation.”

September Statement
Yields on U.S. 10-year notes have fallen to 2.39 percent from 2.7 percent on Sept. 20, the day before the Federal Open Market Committee said it was prepared to ease policy further to support the recovery. The two-year note yield fell 2 basis points to 0.359 percent at 10:58 a.m. in New York trading and touched 0.3513 percent, the lowest ever. Fed watchers expect the Fed will take further action at its next meeting Nov. 2-3. Economists predict unemployment will rise to 9.7 percent when the Labor Department releases its September report tomorrow, from 9.6 percent in August.

U.S. central bankers have kept their benchmark lending rate near zero for almost two years. In March, they finished $1.7 trillion in purchases of Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities, and housing agency bonds. A slowdown in growth in the middle two quarters of this year prompted the FOMC last month to warn that inflation rates were “somewhat below” its mandate to achieve stable prices and full employment.

‘Inflation Unacceptable’
New York Fed President William Dudley, who is also vice chairman of the FOMC, was more blunt in an Oct. 1 speech in New York, calling current levels of unemployment and inflation “unacceptable.” Bomfim and Laurence Meyer, co-founder of St. Louis-based Macroeconomic Advisers, predict the Fed will begin with purchases of close to $100 billion a month starting in November, boosting the balance sheet by as much as $1.5 trillion if necessary.

Purchases of up to $2 trillion would raise the annual growth rate of gross domestic product by 0.3 percentage point in 2011 and by 0.4 percentage point in 2012, Macroeconomic Advisers estimates. Yields on U.S. 10-year notes could fall by as much as half a percentage point. The unemployment rate would finish at 9.2 percent next year and at 7.7 percent in 2012, the firm estimates. Inflation would only be slightly higher than their current forecast for the personal consumption expenditures price index, minus food and energy, remaining below 1% in both 2011 and 2012. The price gauge rose 1.4 percent rate for the 12 months ending August.

Limits of Policy
Economists say further asset purchases could underscore the limits of monetary policy, which is hobbled by consumers’ desire to pay down debt and the reluctance of Congress to approve additional fiscal stimulus.

“At the zero boundary on interest rates, the burden shifts to fiscal policy, and fiscal policy is immobile because of the politics,” said Meyer. “So now, the burden has shifted back to monetary policy. You have to hope the economy’s own resilience and underlying strength is going to be enough to have growth a little bit above 3 percent.” Dudley on Oct. 1 said that if the Fed were successful in reducing long-term borrowing costs through efforts such as asset purchases, it would have a “significant” effect on the economy. Homeowners would refinance their mortgages at lower rates, increasing disposable income.

Big Impact
An increase in refinancing isn’t likely to have a big impact on the housing market or consumer spending, said Joseph Murin, who was chief executive officer of Ginnie Mae, a federal agency that securitizes home loans, from 2008 to 2009. “The theory is good,” said Murin, now chairman of Collingwood Group LLC, a consultant in Washington. “Practically speaking, I’m not sure.”

Homeowners who refinance are getting less money from cashing out home equity because property values have declined, Freddie Mac said in a July report. In some cases, homeowners are forced to increase their equity to qualify for new loans at lower interest rates. That’s a change from the years of the housing boom, when homeowners used growing home-equity to finance spending on consumer goods. Twenty-two percent of homeowners who refinanced in the second quarter paid money to reduce their principal, the third- highest rate since Freddie Mac, the home-finance provider taken over by the government, started keeping the records in 1985.

Mortgage Refinancing
Also, the net cash provided from converting home equity through mortgage refinancing was $8.3 billion in the second quarter, the lowest level in 10 years, according to the same July report. That compares with an average of $80 billion per quarter in 2006. The cash generated by mortgage refinancing “will probably remain relatively low for the next couple of quarters,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac in McLean, Virginia. “Many families are taking this opportunity to deleverage.”

Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages fell to 4.27 percent in the week ended today, a record low, according to Freddie Mac. The 30-year rate reached a 2010 high of 5.21 percent in April and was 6.46 percent in October 2008, the month before the Fed announced it would start purchasing mortgage-backed securities. Lower home-loan rates may fail to spur additional refinancing because lenders are reluctant to give loans to people who are unemployed or have low credit scores, said Paul Havemann, vice president at HSH Associates, a publisher of consumer-loan data in Pompton Plains, New Jersey.

Fed Action
“We know the Fed is going to be doing something,” said David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff and Associates Inc. in Toronto. “The question is, in a cycle of contracting credit, how far will it work,” he said. “If taking rates to zero didn’t work, and if QE1 didn’t work, then the question, legitimately, is QE2 going to work?”

Quantitative easing refers to large-scale asset purchases as a tool of monetary policy. Bernanke has said the purchases support growth by lowering borrowing costs across a broad spectrum of debt as investors reallocate money they would normally invest in Treasuries into mortgage bonds, corporate notes, and other securities. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania, says $1 trillion in Fed Treasury purchases will boost growth by about 0.15 percentage point next year. As growth picks up, more people will enter the labor force, keeping the unemployment rate high. Inflation remains relatively unchanged in his model, he says.

Help Needed
“It is a small but meaningful benefit and the recovery can take all the help it can get,” Zandi said. Because purchases could have such a low medium-term impact, Fed officials may recast the strategy in terms of aiming at a level on an inflation index rather than the rate of change on the index, Zandi said. The Fed “really doesn’t have any alternative but to give this thing a whirl,” former Fed Governor Lyle Gramley, now senior economic adviser at Potomac Research Group in Washington. “It has a mandate to create maximum employment and price stability. It has to try.”

Insider Selling To Buying: 2,341 To 1
by Tyler Durden - Zero Hedge

Sorry kids, we just report the news... as ugly as they may be. After last week saw an insider selling to buying ratio of 1,411 to 1, this week the ratio has nearly doubled, hitting a ridiculous 2,341 to 1.

And while Wall Street's liars and CNBC's clowns will have you throw all your money into "leading" techs like Oracle and Google, insiders in these names sold a combined $200 million in stock in the last week alone (following Oracle insider sales of $223 million in the prior week). Insiders can. not. wait. to. get. out. fast. enough. This Fed-induced rally is nothing short of a godsend for each and every corporate executive.

But yes, there may be value: there was insider buying in 2 (two) companies last week: General Dynamics and Best Buy, for a whopping total of $177,064. At the same time sales were a total of $414 million: so is anyone wondering why JPMorgan is reopening its gold vault... Anyone left holding the bag on this market when the FRBNY props are taken away, will be left with the same return as all those investors who entrusted their money with Madoff. Guaranteed.

12 Ominous Signs For World Financial Markets
by Michael Snyder - Economic Collapse

Can anyone explain the very strange behavior that we are seeing in world financial markets right now?  Corporate insiders are bailing out of the U.S. stock market at a very alarming rate.  Investors are moving mountains of money into gold and other commodities.  In fact, there is such a rush towards gold that shortages are starting to be reported in some areas.  Meanwhile, some very, very unusual option activity has started to show up. 

In particular, someone is making some incredibly large bets that the S&P 500 is going to absolutely tank during the month of October.  Central banks around the world have caught a case of "loose money fever" and are apparently hoping that a new flood of paper money will shock the global economy back to life.  Meanwhile, the furor over the foreclosure procedure abuses of the major U.S mortgage companies threatens to bring even more turmoil to the U.S. housing industry.

There are some very ominous signs that something is just not right in world financial markets right now.  Some of the signs listed below may be related.  Others may not be.  That is for you to decide.

Often, just before something really bad happens, you can actually see the rats leaving a sinking ship if you know where to look.  The truth is that if things are going to go south it is the insiders who know before anyone else.

So are some of the signs below actually clues for what we should expect in the months ahead?


Maybe not.

You make your own call.

But it is becoming hard to deny that there are some serious danger signs out there at this point....    

#1 Corporate insiders are getting out of the U.S. stock market at an absolutely blinding pace.  It is being reported that the ratio of corporate insider selling to corporate insider buying last week was 1,411 to 1, and this week the ratio has soared even higher and is at 2,341 to 1.

#2 Many of the world's wealthiest people are buying absolutely massive quantities of gold right now.

#3 It is being reported that J.P. Morgan is gobbling up the rights to as much physical gold as it possibly can.

#4 The United States Mint has announced that it has run out of 1-ounce, 24-karat American Buffalo gold bullion coins and that it will not be selling any more of them in 2010.

#5 It is becoming increasingly difficult to explain the unusually high option volume that we are witnessing right now.

#6 Some very large investors are making massive bets that the S&P 500 is going to take a serious tumble during the month of October.

#7 On Tuesday, the Bank of Japan shocked world financial markets by cutting interest rates even closer to zero and by setting up a 5 trillion yen quantitative easing fund.

#8 The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago are both publicly urging the Fed to do much more to stimulate the U.S. economy, including beginning a new round of quantitative easing, even if it means a significant rise in the U.S. inflation rate.

#9 Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told reporters on Tuesday that the loose monetary policies of the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank are throwing the world into "chaos".

#10 At the end of September, federal regulators announced a $30 billion bailout of the U.S. wholesale credit union system.

#11 Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage have all suspended foreclosures in many U.S. states due to serious concerns about foreclosure procedures.  Now, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is actually demanding that all mortgage servicing companies in the state of Texas immediately suspend all foreclosures, the selling of foreclosed properties and the eviction of people living in foreclosed properties until they have completed a review of their foreclosure procedures.

#12 Not only that, but Nancy Pelosi and 30 other members of Congress are requesting a federal investigation of the foreclosure practices of U.S. mortgage lenders.  Needless to say, this controversy has the potential to turn the entire U.S. mortgage industry into an absolute quagmire.

So are dark days ahead for world financial markets?

Well, yeah, but it is incredibly hard to predict exactly when things are going to fall apart.

The truth is that there are going to be a whole lot more "crashes" and "collapses" in the years ahead.

The important thing, as discussed yesterday, is to keep your eye on the long-term trends.

The U.S. economy is undeniably in decline.  The only thing keeping the economy going at this point is a rapidly growing sea of red ink.  Debt is literally everywhere.  It is what our entire financial system is based on in 2010. 

In the months and years to come, the major players are going to try very hard to keep all the balls in the air and to continue the massive shell game that is going on, but in the end the whole thing is going to collapse like a house of cards.

Unfortunately, we have been destroying the U.S. economy for decades and there is simply not going to be a happy ending to this story.

Property Rights Gone Wrong
by Dylan Ratigan - Huffington Post

Most mortgages in America are now backed by our government. And in order for a bank to get that backing from our government it must fill two criteria:

  1. The borrowers must be verified by the banks and their agents as qualified.

  2. Lenders must fill out paperwork accurately and make sure that when the home's title changes hands, so does the documentation.

But in the past two decades, a whole lot of the time, that never happened.


For banks and servicers, the motive was money. Banks profited by packaging and selling those toxic home loans. Then they profited again by betting against those same securities. A bet, in essence, that a fraudulent loan wouldn't be paid back.

But why would politicians allow this?

The simple answer is to stay in office.

Giving people huge government incentives to buy houses made them happier and thus made their politicians more likely to keep their jobs. And at the same time, the financial services sector -- the banks making all the money -- were donating to their political campaigns.

In 2008, the financial sector was the top donor to both the Democratic and Republican candidates.

So where are all these toxic loans now? We own them! At the Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

And the banks and politicians will do whatever it takes to prevent a legitimate foreclosure which would easily reveal the lack of qualifications and bad documentation in the loans sold to the government.

Finally, the last and most important why:

Why isn't the government dealing with it now?

Simply because it could reveal systematic criminal and civil fraud at the highest levels of America's banks and in its political corridors.

The Foreclosure Mess Could Last for Years
by Margaret Cronin Fisk and Kathleen M. Howley - BusinessWeek

The dimensions of the foreclosure crisis keep expanding. Lenders and loan servicers including JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial are facing an explosion in homeowner lawsuits and state attorney general investigations of claims of falsified mortgage documents. Lawmakers in both houses of Congress have called for investigations. And procedural mistakes in the handling of mortgage documents have clouded titles establishing ownership of the homes, a problem that could plague both buyers and sellers for years.

"This is going to become a hydra," says Peter J. Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit. "You've got so many potential avenues of liability. You don't even know the parameters of this yet."

JPMorgan and Ally's GMAC Mortgage unit have delayed foreclosures in 23 states where courts have jurisdiction over home seizures. Bank of America suspended foreclosures as well, pending a review of documents. In December 2009, a GMAC employee said in a deposition that his team of 13 people signed about 10,000 documents a month without verifying their accuracy. "My suspicion is that this will wind up being an industrywide issue," says Patrick Madigan, Iowa assistant attorney general. "Many companies were using robo-signers."

Homeowners in class actions and individual lawsuits across the U.S. claim lenders and servicers have used falsified documents to foreclose on homes, sometimes when the banks didn't hold titles to the properties. Attorneys general in at least seven states are investigating foreclosure practices, and the number of these probes may grow. "You're going to see a tremendous amount of activity with all the AGs in the U.S.," says Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who has sued Ally over foreclosures. "We have a high degree of skepticism that the corners that were cut are truly legal."

"We don't believe the procedural errors in these affidavits led to inappropriate foreclosures," Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for Ally, says. "We believe the accuracy of the factual loan information contained in the affidavits was not affected by whether or not the signer had personal knowledge of the precise details," JPMorgan says in a statement.

Lawsuits Over Sales Practices
For lenders and loan servicers, civil lawsuits claiming deceptive sales practices or violations of consumer protection laws may be more troubling than claims brought by homeowners, says Christopher L. Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Homeowners who were in default and lost their homes may not be able to prove losses, despite faulty documentation. "The attorneys general can just sue over deceptive sales practices and get penalties," he says.

The Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems is facing its own legal challenges. MERS, based in Reston, Va., was created by the mortgage banking industry to handle mortgage transfers between member banks. A lawsuit filed on Sept. 28 in federal court in Louisville on behalf of all Kentucky homeowners claims that MERS was part of a conspiracy to create false promissory notes, affidavits, and mortgage assignments to be used in mortgage foreclosures. Similar class actions have been filed on behalf of homeowners in Florida and New York. Karmela Lejarde, a MERS spokeswoman, declined to comment on any pending litigation.

Title insurers will also be in court bringing and defending lawsuits, says Henning: "They'll be on the hook if foreclosures are reopened. The title insurers will be going after the banks or whoever assured them there was a clear title." The costs for title insurers to defend customers and reimburse for lost properties rose 14 percent, to $480.5 million, in 2010's first half from the previous year, according to American Land Title Assn., a Washington-based industry group. "Questionable foreclosures will ultimately have little adverse impact" on new owners of properties or title insurance claims, the association said in an Oct. 1 press release.

Defective Titles
People who bought homes in foreclosure face their own worries, as paperwork errors raise questions about the validity of the titles needed to prove ownership. "Defective documentation has created millions of blighted titles that will plague the nation for the next decade," says Richard Kessler, an attorney in Sarasota, Fla., who conducted a study that found errors in about three-fourths of court filings related to home repossessions.

A defective title means the person who paid for and moved into a house may not be the legal owner. "This is the most important issue of the whole mortgage mess," says Glenn Russell, a Fall River (Mass.) real estate attorney who won a case last year that reversed a foreclosure because of faulty paperwork. "Families are being thrown out of their homes by people who may not have the right to do that."

Almost one-fourth of U.S. home sales in the second quarter involved properties in some stage of mortgage distress, according to data firm RealtyTrac. Ownership questions may not arise until a home is under contract and the potential purchaser applies for title insurance or even decades later as one deed researcher catches errors overlooked by another. "It's a nightmare scenario," says John Vogel, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. "There are lots of land mines related to title issues that may come to light long after we think we've solved the housing problem."

Mortgage Investors Are Set for More Pain
by Robbie Whelan and Ruth Simon - Wall Street Jornal

For mortgage investors, the recent suspension of foreclosures could potentially cause further losses in the already-battered $2.8 trillion market for residential mortgage-backed securities. In the past two weeks, three major loan-servicing companies put thousands of foreclosure sales and evictions on hold in the 23 U.S. states where foreclosures are handled by the courts. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a federal investigation into the issue. 

"We urge you and your respective agencies to investigate possible violations of law or regulations by financial institutions in their handling of delinquent mortgages, mortgage modifications, and foreclosures," Ms. Pelosi and 30 other California House Democrats said in a letter sent to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Attorney General Eric Holder and John Walsh, the acting comptroller general of the Treasury.

[Robobonds]The stoppage is but the latest frustration for bond investors, who have wrestled for more than three years with a market in disarray. "It's symptomatic of sloppy servicing and a lack of adherence to contract and property law, which we've seen examples of over and over again in the last two years," said Scott Simon, a managing director at Pacific Investment Management Co., or Pimco, a unit of Allianz SE.

While it is unclear whether the delays will have a deep impact on the market for bonds, the changes are already creating some unexpected outcomes, say investors. When houses that have been packaged into a mortgage bond are liquidated at a foreclosure sale—the very end of the foreclosure process—the holders of the junior, or riskiest debt, would be the first investors to take losses. But if a foreclosure is delayed, the servicer must typically keep advancing payments that will go to all bondholders, including the junior debt holders, even though the home loan itself is producing no revenue stream. 

The latest events thus set up an odd circumstance where junior bondholders—typically at the bottom of the credit structure—could actually end up better off than they expected. Senior bondholders, typically at the top, could end up worse off. Not surprisingly, senior debt holders want banks to foreclose faster to reduce expenses. Junior bondholders are generally happy to stretch things out. What is more, it isn't entirely clear how the costs of re-processing tens of thousands of mortgages will be allocated. Those costs could be "significant" said Andrew Sandler, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents mortgage companies.

"This is sort of an extraordinary situation," said Debashish Chatterjee, a vice president for Moody's Investors Service who covers structured finance. By delaying foreclosures, "it means the subordinate bondholders don't get written down for a much longer period of time, and they keep getting payments." Typically, mortgage servicers enter into contracts called pooling and servicing agreements with bondholders that spell out the servicers' obligations to manage the loans in the best interests of the investors.

These agreements provide that the servicers be reimbursed by funds in the trust for all costs related to litigation and extra processing of foreclosures, provided they follow standard industry practices. Servicing companies hope the reviews will be quick. At GMAC Mortgage, a unit of Ally Financial Inc., the vast majority of these affidavits will be resolved in the coming weeks and before the end of the year," a spokeswoman for the company said. A spokesman for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. said the company's review process is expected to take "a few weeks."

But the problems could be magnified if the reviews uncover a lack of proper documentation or other substantive problems rather than simple procedural errors. The furor over servicer practices is also likely to trigger additional legal challenges from borrowers facing foreclosure and more judicial scrutiny, which could further slow the process and increase foreclosure costs. The Association of Mortgage Investors, a trade association, has called on trustees, who oversee loan pools on behalf of investors, to demand that loans be repurchased by their originators if required documents are missing.

Typically, sellers have 90 days to fix such problems or buy back the loan. The group has also asked trustees to audit and hold servicers accountable for any losses due to improper servicer practices. "It's very hard to see how the servicers can avoid reimbursing the trusts for losses caused by taking short cuts," said David J. Grais, an attorney in New York who represents investors. Investors could press trustees to investigate servicer conduct, sue the servicers to recoup damages or replace a servicer, he said.

Bank foreclosure cover seen in bill at Obama's desk
by Scot J. Paltrow - Reuters

A bill that homeowners advocates warn will make it more difficult to challenge improper foreclosure attempts by big mortgage processors is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature after it quietly zoomed through the Senate last week. The bill, passed without public debate in a way that even surprised its main sponsor, Republican Representative Robert Aderholt, requires courts to accept as valid document notarizations made out of state, making it harder to challenge the authenticity of foreclosure and other legal documents.

The timing raised eyebrows, coming during a rising furor over improper affidavits and other filings in foreclosure actions by large mortgage processors such as GMAC, JPMorgan and Bank of America. Questions about improper notarizations have figured prominently in challenges to the validity of these court documents, and led to widespread halts of foreclosure proceedings. The legislation could protect bank and mortgage processors from liability for false or improperly prepared documents. The White House said it is reviewing the legislation.

"It is troubling to me and curious that it passed so quietly," Thomas Cox, a Maine lawyer representing homeowners contesting foreclosures, told Reuters in an interview. A deposition made public by Cox was what first called attention to improper affidavits by GMAC. Since then, GMAC, JPMorgan and others have halted foreclosure actions in many states after acknowledging that they had filed large numbers of affidavits in which their employees falsely attested that they had personally reviewed records cited to justify the foreclosures.

Cox said the new obligation for courts to recognize notarizations of documents filed by big, out-of-state companies, would make it more difficult and costly to challenge the validity of the documents. The law, the "Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act," requires all federal and state courts to recognize notarizations made in other states. The law specifically includes "electronic" notarizations stamped en masse by computers. Currently, only about a dozen states allow electronic notarizations, according to the National Notary Association.

"Constituents" Pressed For Passage
After languishing for months in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill passed the Senate with lightning speed and with hardly any public awareness of the bill's existence on September 27, the day before the Senate recessed for midterm election campaign. The bill's approval involved invocation of a special procedure. Democratic Senator Robert Casey, shepherding last-minute legislation on behalf of the Senate leadership, had the bill taken away from the Senate Judiciary committee, which hadn't acted on it. The full Senate then immediately passed the bill without debate, by unanimous consent.

The House had passed the bill in April. The House actually had passed identical bills twice before, but both times they died when the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to act. Some House and Senate staffers said the Senate committee had let the bills languish because of concerns that they would interfere with individual state's rights to regulate notarizations.

Senate staffers familiar with the judiciary committee's actions said the latest one passed by the House seemed destined for the same fate. But shortly before the Senate's recess, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pressed to have the bill rushed through the special procedure, after Leahy "constituents" called him and pressed for passage. The staffers said they didn't know who these constituents were or if anyone representing the mortgage industry or other interests had pressed for the bill to go through.

These staffers said that, in an unusual display of bipartisanship, Senator Jeff Sessions, the committee's senior Republican, also helped to engineer the Senate's unanimous consent for the bill. Neither Leahy's nor Session's offices responded to requests for comment Wednesday. In background interviews, several Senate staffers denied that it would have any adverse effect on the legal rights of homeowners contesting foreclosures, and said the law was intended only to remove an impediment to interstate commerce.

"Suspicious" Timing
Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner told Reuters in an interview that the law would weaken protection of homeowners by requiring many states to accept lower standards for notarizations. She said it was "suspicious" that the law unexpectedly passed just as the mortgage industry is facing possible big costs from having filed false or improperly notarized documents.

Notarizations are made by notaries licensed by individual states. The purpose of notarizations is to attest to the identity of the person whose signature is on a legal document.
For affidavits -- sworn statements filed in court cases -- the person who made the affidavit also is required to swear under oath before a notary that the affidavit is true. In recent depositions in several foreclosure cases, GMAC and other mortgage processors' employees have testified that they signed large numbers of affidavits without ever appearing before the individuals who notarized them.

The bill was first sponsored by Aderholt in 2006. He told Reuters in an interview that he proposed it because a court stenographer in his district had asked for it due to problems with getting courts in other states to accept depositions notarized in Alabama. Aderholt said organizations of court stenographers supported the bill, but said he wasn't aware of any backing by banks or other business groups. Aderholt said that he hadn't expected the Senate to pass the bill, and "we were surprised that it came through at the eleventh hour there."

US Housing Inventory Climbs Again In September
by Dawn Wotapka - Wall Street Journal

Housing inventories, which typically dip as the summer ends, rose for the ninth straight month in September, indicating that sales remain weak as the downturn drags on. (See the data.) Listings–including single-family homes, condos and townhomes–in 26 major metro markets spiked 13.5% from a year ago, reports ZipRealty Inc., a real-estate brokerage firm based in Emeryville, Calif.

When compared to a month earlier, September’s inventory rose 0.6%, data pulled from local multiple-listing services Oct. 1 shows. In addition to sluggish sales, the increase comes from lenders dumping foreclosed homes on the market, short sale offers and sellers who can no longer put off listing a home, says Leslie Tyler, ZipRealty’s vice president of marketing.

More inventory is the last thing housing needs. Current sellers face a bleak picture: Despite record-low interest rates and falling prices, some home shoppers remain fearful of signing contracts as unemployment remains elevated. Those ready to buy may think that prices will fall further, providing little incentive to act quickly. Given tightened lending restrictions, others want to buy but cannot. Some sellers, meanwhile, can’t trim prices any further without selling for less than they owe. And the foreclosure crisis continues–and some banks have halted foreclosures, further gumming up the works.

According to ZipRealty, the biggest inventory gains came in California, where little inventory was available last year because sellers were unwilling to accept low prices, Ms. Tyler said. San Diego surged 68.2% from a year ago, while the San Francisco Bay area saw a 51.5% jump. Los Angeles’ inventory spiked 36.9%. “The people who were putting their homes on the market in 2009 were people who had to move,” Ms. Tyler said. “Now what’s happening is sellers are adjusting” to the new price reality.

The number of listings also rose in the nation’s most notorious boom-to-bust markets: Las Vegas (up 33.6%) and Phoenix (up 24.7%). Texas, which withstood the housing crash only to weaken in recent months, also has more homes up for grabs. Houston’s count jumped 25.3%, Austin gained 18.3% and Dallas added 15.6% from a year earlier. Ms. Borden, who sells in the Katy area west of Houston, says she “can’t point to anything negative that’s causing us to have an increase in inventory.”

Florida, one of the states most affected by the housing bubble, was relatively stable. Miami saw a 4.9% drop from a year ago, while Orlando edged up a modest 1.1%. The monthly changes were 0.4% and 0%, respectively. “Florida has a lot of homes for sale,” Ms. Tyler says. “Having inventory go down there is a good sign.”

Feldstein Says Home Prices May Fall Again Without U.S. Aid
by Steve Matthews and Margaret Brennan - Bloomberg

U.S. home prices may fall again unless the government provides new aid that would enable owners to refinance mortgages, Harvard University economics professor Martin Feldstein said. “The danger is house prices are going to start falling again because of the end of the first-time homebuyer credit,” Feldstein said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “That fall in house prices,” coupled with a lack of equity in homes, “could lead to a big increase in defaults and foreclosures, putting more homes on the market driving prices down.”

A government tax credit of as much as $8,000 gave housing a temporary lift in late 2009 and early this year and helped stop a fall in property values. A new housing program would need to focus on reducing the principal in mortgages, allowing refinancing of mortgages whose values exceed what the homes would sell for, said Feldstein, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Reagan administration.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values increased 3.2 percent from July 2009, the smallest year-over-year gain since March, the group said Sept. 28. Feldstein, a member of President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, told Obama yesterday that extending income tax cuts for two years would stimulate demand and boost the recovery. He is a former president of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a member of the NBER committee that last month declared the worst U.S. recession since the Great Depression ended in June 2009.

“It would be a mistake to raise any taxes at the current time,” Feldstein said. “The economy is very weak.” Obama wants to extend the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush for American households earning less than $250,000 and individuals earning up to $200,000. The cuts would be allowed to lapse on Dec. 31 for those earning more.

Las Vegas new-home prices fall to levels of 10 years ago
by Hubble Smith - Las Vegas Review-Journal

Facing increased competition from foreclosures and short sales, Las Vegas homebuilders have not only had to cut production, but keep prices around $100 a square foot, the standard from about 10 years ago. Signature Homes built the least-expensive home at an average of $84.64 a square foot from January through July, Las Vegas housing analyst Larry Murphy reported Friday. The most expensive average was $137.28 from Toll Bros.

Some builders produce primarily single-story homes, which carry a higher average cost per square foot than two stories, the president of Las Vegas-based research firm SalesTraq said. Also, homes built in master-planned communities and on larger lots are likely to cost more. Builders such as Signature, Adaven and Beazer target entry-level buyers, while Toll Bros. and Del Webb go after luxury and move-up buyers, Murphy said.

Other data from SalesTraq showed American West building the largest homes at an average of 2,586 square feet, while Adaven built the smallest homes at 1,578 square feet. All things being equal, it costs less per square foot to build a larger home than it does a smaller one, Murphy noted. The top builder for the first seven months of the year was KB Home, with 384 single-family home closings at an average price of $184,496, or $101.28 a square foot.

Murphy said he wouldn't have believed three years ago that builders would be selling new homes for $100 a square foot in 2010. "Builders are able to sell homes for less money than I ever anticipated," he said. "The reason is all the builders who lost their lots to the bank ... Kimball Hill and Engle Homes. Harmony bought lots from Pardee. Warmington gave up lots at Mountain's Edge and bought in Providence. They had a chance to get into Providence for less land basis than Mountain's Edge."

Unfinished residential lots aren't as cheap as they were a year ago, but some are available for as low as $26,000, Murphy said. "Bottom line is builders have been able to find land really cheap and consequently sell cheap because vertical construction cost has gone down as well," he said.

The market does not appear to be getting better. The number of available real estate-owned, or bank-owned homes, in Las Vegas exceeded 3,000 in August, although values have continued to hold relatively steady for nearly 18 months, a report from Equity Title of Nevada shows. For the rolling 12-month period ending in August, the title company reported 36,594 single-family home sales at a median price of $138,550 and average price of $167,363. The largest segment of sales (8,731) was for homes priced at less than $100,000.

SalesTraq showed 3,923 new-home closings and 3,458 new-home building permits through August, both numbers on pace to beat last year. The median new-home price of $218,000 is up 3.3 percent from a year ago. Murphy said he's received negative feedback on his new-home report, including a Realtor who said it's a "crime" that new homes are still being built at any price considering excess inventory of more than 22,000 homes on the Multiple Listing Service.

"Some people feel home builders should disband and shut down completely and not give people a chance to buy a new home, even though there's evidence that people still want a new home as 5,000 or 6,000 of them will buy this year," the analyst said. "Last time I looked, it's not a crime to sell newspapers or to sell new cars and it shouldn't be a crime to sell new homes."

UK house prices fall record 3.6% in one month
by Jill Insley - Guardian

House prices fell 3.6% in September – the biggest drop for a single month since the Halifax started collecting data in 1983. But although the bank described the sharp fall as an "intake of breath" moment, it is urging homeowners not to panic about an impending house price crash, saying that the quarterly figures are a much better measure of the underlying trend. Although quarterly figures are also dropping, the decline is less severe at -0/9% for the three months to the end of September, down from -0.4% at the end of August.

Martin Ellis, housing economist for the Halifax, said: "Looking at quarterly figures … this rate of decline is significantly slower than the quarterly changes of between -5% and -6% that we're seen in the second half of 2008. It is therefore far too early to conclude that September's monthly 3.6% fall is the beginning of a sustained period of declining house prices."

He said the sudden monthly fall had been partly caused by an increase in the number of properties available for sale in recent months. At the same time renewed uncertainty about the economy and jobs has caused consumer confidence to falter recently, dampening the demand for home purchase. He warned that the low levels of house sales across the market meant there could be further volatility in house price movements, both up and down, underlining the difficulty of getting a clear reading on the current state of the housing market.

"Prospects for the housing market remain uncertain. Earnings growth is expected to be very modest over the next year, tax rises are on the way and more people are putting their homes on the market. These will all be constraints on the market, dampening house prices," Ellis said. "On the positive side, we expect interest rates to remain very low for some time, which will underpin the improved affordability position for homeowners."

Bank of England figures show that demand for mortgages has fallen four months in a row, and Ellis said first time buyers in particular are still struggling to obtain mortgages, and are now being deterred by the uncertainty over jobs and the economy. But he does not believe these figures herald a continual decline in house prices, much less a crash: "It's too early to take such a view. We've seen a downwards movement but what is key is what happens to the economy over the next six to 12 months. Our view is that the economy is going to continue to improve."

Howard Archer, the chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight who normally takes a bearish stance on prospects for the housing market, said that while house prices were now clearly in reverse, the September price drop should not be taken out of context. "The Halifax data is at face value an absolute shocker," he said. "While a drop in house prices always seemed probable in September after Halifax had reported price rises in August and July that conflicted with other surveys, a plunge of 3.6% month-on-month was off everybody's radar."

He added: "The Halifax data will undoubtedly raise fears of a housing market crash. However, it is important to put the data into perspective. The data highlights how volatile housing market data can be on a month-to-month basis and from survey to survey, so it is best not to attach too much importance to one piece of data. It is clear that the 3.6% plunge in house prices reported by the Halifax in September is partly a correction to the surprising rises reported in August and July which conflicted with other data and surveys."

He said the quarterly drop of 0.9% was very similar to the 1% drop reported by the Nationwide, but the monthly figure was different: the Nationwide reported that house prices edged up by just 0.1% in September after dropping 0.8% in August and 0.5% in July. The Halifax data show annual house price inflation slowed to 2.6% in the three months to September from 4.6% in the three months to August and a peak of 6.9% in the three months to May. The Nationwide data show that the year-on-year rise in house prices slowed to 3.1% in September from 3.9% in August and a peak of 10.5% in April.

Yesterday the International Monetary Fund warned there may be a double dip in the UK property market when it said house prices were overvalued and vulnerable to a fall.

Consumer Deleveraging = Commercial Real Estate Collapse
by Jim Quinn - Burning Platform

There is a Part 2 to the story of  Consumer Deleveraging that will play out over the next decade. Consumers will deleverage because they must. They have no choice. Boomers have come to the shocking realization that you can’t get wealthy or retire by borrowing and spending. As consumers buy $500 billion less stuff per year, retailers across the land will suffer. To give some perspective on our consumer society, here are a few facts:
  • There are 105,000 shopping centers in the U.S. In comparison, all of Europe has only 5,700 shopping centers.
  • There are 1.2 million retail establishments in the U.S. per the Census Bureau.
  • There is 14.2 BILLION square feet of retail space in the U.S. This is 46 square feet per person in the U.S., compared to 2 square feet per capita in India, 1.5 square feet per capita in Mexico, 23 square feet per capita in the United Kingdom, 13 square feet per capita in Canada, and 6.5 square feet per capita in Australia.

Despite the ongoing recession and the fact that consumers must reduce their spending over the next decade, irrationally exuberant retail CEOs continue their death march of store openings. Below are announced expansion plans for some major retailers:
  • GameStop – 400 new stores
  • Walgreens – 350 new stores
  • Dollar General – 315 new stores
  • Ashley Furniture – 300 new stores
  • Target – 128 new stores
  • Starbucks – 100 new stores
  • Best Buy – 55 new stores
  • Kohl’s – 50 new stores
  • Lowes – 45 new stores

Retailers expanding into an oversaturated retail market in the midst of a Depression, when anyone without rose colored glasses can see that Americans must dramatically cut back, are committing a fatal mistake. The hubris of these CEOs will lead to the destruction of their companies and the loss of millions of jobs. They will receive their fat bonuses and stock options right up until the day they are shown the door.

All of the happy talk from the Wall Street Journal, CNBC and the other mainstream media about commercial real estate bottoming out is a load of bull. It seems these highly paid “financial journalists” are incapable of doing anything but parroting each other and looking in the rearview mirror. Sound analysis requires you to look at the facts, make reasonable assumptions about the future and report the likely outcome. Based on this criteria, there is absolutely no chance that commercial real estate has bottomed. There are years of pain, writeoffs and bankruptcies to go.

Let’s look at some facts about the commercial real estate market and then assess the future:

  • The value of all commercial real estate in the U.S. was approximately $6 trillion in 2007 (book value, not market value).
  • There is approximately $3.5 trillion of debt financing these commercial properties.
  • Approximately $1.4 trillion of this debt comes due between now and 2014.
  • The delinquency rate for all commercial backed securities exceeded 9% for the 1st time in history last month and has more than doubled in the last 12 months.
  • Non-performing loans are close to 16%, up from below 1% in 2007.

Do these facts lead you to believe that the commercial real estate sector has bottomed, as stated in the Wall Street Journal? The Federal Reserve realized the danger of a commercial real estate collapse to the banking system over a year ago. They have encouraged banks to extend and pretend. The website describes in detail what has occurred:

What has happened is the Fed has allowed this shadow monetization of the debt and banks let borrowers roll over CRE debt without even making payments in many cases!  Think of an empty shopping mall.  There is no buyer for this in the current market.  So why would a bank want to foreclose on the borrower?  Instead, they pretend the asset is worth $10 million while the borrower makes no payment and the Fed keeps funneling money into the banking system.  In the end, the value of the dollar gets crushed and you end up bailing out the banking system. Commercial real estate has collapsed even harder than residential real estate.  This market is enormous in terms of actual debt.  There is no official bailout on the books but it is occurring through a slow and deliberate process.  Banks know that they are essentially insolvent and they are dumping this junk onto the taxpayer.

 This grim story began between 2004 and 2007. The horrifying ending will be written between 2011 and 2014. Commercial real estate loans for office buildings, malls, apartment buildings and hotels usually have 5 to 7 year terms. If you thought the debt induced bubble in real estate only affected residential real estate, you are badly mistaken. Before the boom, a normal year would see $100 billion in commercial real estate transactions. Between 2004 and 2007 there were $1.4 trillion of deals done, with 2007 reaching a peak of $522 billion of commercial real estate deals. Shockingly, the Wall Street banks, run by MBA geniuses, loaned developers a half trillion dollars at the very peak in the market. Sounds familiar. Thank God the taxpayer has bailed these Einsteins out so they could live to make more bad loans and collect big fat bonuses.

Commercial real estate prices rose 90% between 2001 and 2007, driven by the loose monetary policies of the Fed and complete lack of risk management on the part of the banks making the loans. Knuckle dragging mouth breather developers built malls, apartments, offices and hotels with abandon as billions of dollars rained down on them from Wall Street. The consumer delusion of debt financed wealth led to the developer delusion that 100% occupancy and increasing rents for all eternity were guaranteed.

Commercial real estate prices have dropped 42% in just over a year. This means that the $6 trillion value of all the commercial real estate in the country has dropped to $3.5 trillion. The debt remained in place. The billions in debt issued in 2003 – 2005 is coming due between 2010 and 2012. The underlying assets are worth billions less than the debt that must be refinanced. Commercial loan payments by owners can only be made from cash flow generated by rental income. A key requirement in generating rental income is tenants.


Let’s examine the current state of vacancy rates for offices, shopping malls and rental properties. The current office vacancy rate of 17.5% is the highest since 1993 and is just below the all-time high 18.7% in 1992. The WSJ has concluded, with no data or analysis, that the vacancy rate has bottomed. As the employment data proves, companies are not hiring employees. New companies are not being formed. Government mandates and regulations regarding healthcare and uncertainty about taxes will keep the formation of new small companies at a minimum. Conglomerates continue to ship jobs overseas. Part 2 of this Depression will drive more companies out of business. Office vacancies will remain at record levels for the next five years. 

Office Vacancy Rate Q3 2010

Mall vacancies between 9% and 11% are at record levels. There is absolutely no chance that these vacancy rates decline over the next few years. With consumers deleveraging, wages stagnant, unemployment high, and retail oversaturation, there are thousands of retail stores destined to close up shop. Ghost malls are in our future. They will come in handy as homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Mall developers will be defaulting in record numbers.

Mall Vacancy Rate Q2 2010

Apartment vacancy rates peaked at 11% in 2009, the highest level in history. With millions of vacant homes and millions of available rental units, rental rates will stay low for years. The cashflow of apartment developers will under stress and will lead to more loan defaults.

Rental Vacancy Rate Q2 2010

Based upon the current rising delinquency rates of 15.7% for commercial real estate loans and 9.05% for CMBS, there is no bottom in sight. Only raging mindless optimists like Larry Kudlow could ignore the facts and conclude that all is well in commercial real estate world. Banks pretending that the loans on their books aren’t worth 40% to 50% less, while also pretending that borrowers with negative cash flow can make loan payments, is not a solution. It is a Federal Reserve encouraged fraud. Allowing loans to be rolled over with no hope of ever being repaid will only prolong the pain and delay the inevitable. 

The facts are that hundreds of billions in commercial loans are coming due, with a peak not being reached until 2013. If banks were to properly account for the true value of these loans, hundreds of regional banks would be forced to fail. This is unacceptable to government authorities. They will insist that the fantasy continue. Banks and real estate developers will pretend to be solvent, hoping the economy will miraculously repair itself and eventually make them whole. I understand these bank CEOs and delusional developers also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Efficient Market theory. It seems our entire financial system is based upon debt, fantasy, fraud, and delusion.

Nassim Taleb Says Dubai More Robust Than U.S.
by Camilla Hall - Bloomberg

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose book “The Black Swan” described how unforeseen events can roil global markets, said Dubai’s economy is more robust than that of the U.S. as its debt problem can be “controlled.”

“Even if you take perhaps the worst of emerging markets, a place like Dubai, you realize Dubai is more robust than the United States,” Taleb said at a mutual funds conference in Manama, Bahrain today. “Dubai has been borrowing to put buildings on postcards. It can stop that, but America needs to borrow just to open the doors in the morning. That’s why I’m not comfortable with the United States.”

Prior to the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008, Taleb warned that bankers were relying too much on probability models and were disregarding the potential for unexpected catastrophes. His book labeled these events black swans, referring to the widely held belief that only white swans existed until black ones were discovered in Australia in 1697, and said that they were becoming more severe.

“Dubai, they’re not depending on debt, it’s not a chronic debt, it’s not like the American person who has this dependency on debt and has been building it since the 80s,” Taleb, a former derivatives trader, said. “It’s not a great model but it’s more robust than the United States, simply because their debt situation can be controlled a lot better than the U.S.”

Repay Debt
U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration weakened the country’s economy by seeking to foster growth instead of paying down the federal debt, Taleb, said in Montreal on Sept. 24. Governments globally need to cut debt and avoid bailing out struggling companies because that’s the only way they can shield their economies from the negative consequences of erroneous budget forecasts, Taleb said then.

Dubai has faced a debt crisis since November when Dubai World, one of its three main state-owned holding companies, said it would delay payments on about $26 billion of debt. The second-biggest of seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates and its state-owned companies have borrowed $109.3 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund estimates, as the emirate strove to transform itself into a financial, logistic and tourism hub. That is 133 percent of its gross domestic product of $82 billion in 2008, as reported in its bond prospectus published last month.

Obama in September proposed a package of $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure outlays to boost spending and job growth on top of the $814 billion stimulus measure enacted last year. The U.S. government’s total outstanding debt is about $13.5 trillion, according to U.S. Treasury Department figures. That is 94 percent of its 2009 GDP of $14.3 trillion, according to Bloomberg data.

Real Estate Collapse Spells Havoc in Dubai
by Liz Alderman - New York Times

On a sultry June evening in 2007, more than 100 people camped out at the offices of Emaar, a prestigious Dubai property developer, to ensure that they would land a coveted spot in a gleaming new skyscraper scheduled to open this year near the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Today, the property, designed by the New York architect Frank Williams (who died in February), is like a number of others around Dubai — little more than a rotting foundation. Its value has plunged by more than 40 percent since 2008, after the collapse of Dubai’s real estate boom.

“It’s really a disaster, the situation in Dubai,” said Silvia Turrin, a real estate agent who bought into the property, 29 Boulevard, and has been unable to get her money out. “It’s not like in Western countries. It’s very difficult to exit here if there’s a problem. And we’ll never get our money back, but now we’re stuck dealing with this hole.”

Dubai lured people to a gold rush in properties at the height of its real estate boom — including business and political leaders from Afghanistan who invested the deposits from Kabul Bank, one of the country’s largest. The near-collapse of the bank in September was largely a result. At the time, few asked if there was a legal framework for resolving potential disputes. Now, with the glitter gone, interviews with investors, legal specialists and real estate analysts here show that many who bought in are finding it hard to get out.

Despite the construction delay, Emaar is still holding the down payments of as much as 80 percent that were required to secure an apartment, Ms. Turrin and other property holders said. And Dubai’s opaque property laws have made it virtually impossible for those who bought in to walk away, even as interest accumulates on their construction loans. In a statement, Emaar acknowledged that 29 Boulevard was still “under construction” but said that it upheld transparency standards and had “taken several proactive measures to address the concerns of investors on developments that are in the pipeline.”

It said those measures included the option of buying other completed properties. Investors, however, say the properties being offered are in some cases smaller, less attractive and more expensive than those they had agreed to buy. Emaar is not the only developer with such problems. Scores of other buildings around Dubai are well past their delivery dates, or have yet to be started.

Apartment buyers who made down payments for property construction cannot find what is happening with their money, these people said. Bank loans held on undelivered property often cannot be forfeited, and borrowers have had to pay higher interest rates even as banks have not let them walk away from the mortgages.

“The rules of the game are definitely opaque here,” said an investor who has bought several properties in Dubai and who insisted on anonymity because of delicate talks with developers and regulators. “In the United States, I would know my legal position much more clearly and could take actions if necessary.“ Most developers have also thwarted the formation of owners’ associations that could take control of building finances and ensure the transparent management of condo fees, which many owners say developers use to take in more money.

Dubai has compressed decades’ worth of real estate development into the last 15 years. But the legal framework for resolving property disputes, and the nature of the contracts themselves, are still as incomplete as many of the buildings, analysts said. “Dubai has evolved rapidly in just a short time,” said Graham Coutts, who is in charge of Middle East management services at Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate services firm. “The legal system is evolving with it.”

Still, concerns about resolving disputes here are mounting, even as developers struggle to find foreign and domestic investors for what has become one of the largest property surpluses in the world. Commercial real estate vacancies in particular are still rising.

Although about 70 percent of empty lots from three years ago have been filled, real estate construction since then has far exceeded the purchases, more than doubling the amount of vacant space available, said Timothy Trask, the director of corporate ratings at Standard & Poor’s in Dubai. Dubai is not the first place where soaring ambitions outpaced reality. Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong all were overbuilt in relatively short time frames. But these cities were able to trim their real estate surpluses by greatly reducing construction until demand picked up.

Building is continuing in Dubai, however, even though potential corporate tenants are showing little interest in developments like the Dubai Silicon Oasis or the Jumeirah Lake Towers, a complex of more than 85 buildings that looks like a Las Vegas version of Lower Manhattan planted on the fringes of the desert. Jones Lang LaSalle recently proposed that some buildings should simply be sealed for the next five years, until buyers return.

Even if investors eventually respond to slumping prices, they would still have to be wary of contracts and vigilant about how legal disputes in Dubai are resolved, said Ludmila Yamalova, a managing partner at the law firm HPL Plewka & Coll, who handles lawsuits for individual and commercial property investors.

She recently sued Damac Properties, one of Dubai’s biggest builders, on behalf of a German investor who claimed that from 2006 on, he invested nearly $10 million in five properties that were not delivered on time. The investor, Lothar Hardt, also contends that the developer mismanaged escrow accounts related to the properties and that he lost money by signing contracts with retailers who planned to set up shop in the buildings.

Ms. Yamalova is now trying to bring suit in a court run by the Dubai International Financial Center, a government body set up to attract investors, which operates largely on British-based law and is independent of the opaque Dubai court system, where cases are conducted in Arabic and plaintiffs must go through local Emirati representatives.

Dubai’s real estate regulators have issued a flurry of rules since 2008 to clarify the situation in Dubai and to comfort potential investors. But new rules sometimes contradict others issued just months earlier, often in ways that leave developers with the advantage and property buyers in a legal limbo, making many wary of ever investing in Dubai again, Ms. Yamalova said.

Mr. Coutts, the Jones Lang LaSalle executive, said that because Dubai had grown so fast, the government was learning on the job. In more mature markets, “you had 200 years to develop a legal framework,” he said. “It’s now becoming clearer what kind of a legal framework is needed to regulate development here.”

Inflation Expectation Noise
by Mike Shedlock - Global Economic Analysis

Scott Grannis on Seeking Alpha has written a pair of interesting articles regarding inflation expectations and Quantitative Easing. Grannis thinks that Quantitative Easing is working. I don't, but that debate depends on the definition of "work".

In regards to inflation expectations as measured from TIPS, Grannis says Bond Market Bracing for Return of Inflation
Lots of important action in the bond market these days. 10-yr Treasury yields have plunged to a mere 2.36%. Recall that they hit a generational low of 2.05% at the end of 2008, when the entire world was terrified of impending economic death and destruction. Are yields today telling us that doom is just around the corner? Absolutely not. This time around things are very, very different.

The interesting part of the bond market action is in the TIPS market, where yields have plunged by much more than Treasury yields, and in the long end of the Treasury curve, where the spread between 10 and 30-yr Treasuries has widened to its steepest level ever. Since the end of August, when QE2 expectations started to heat up, 10-yr Treasury yields have declined by 10 bps, whereas 10-yr TIPS real yields have dropped by 50 bps. That's a 40 bps increase in annual inflation expectations over the next 10 years. Using the more sensitive measure of inflation expectations—the 5-yr, 5-yr forward breakeven rate—inflation expectations have jumped almost 50 bps since the end of August. The spread between 10- and 30-yr Treasuries has shot up to a record-breaking high of 127 bps, up from 105 bps at the end of August.

Note in the chart above how the drop in Treasury yields in late 2008 reflected deflationary fears (with inflation expected to average zero over the subsequent 10 years), whereas the current drop reflects inflationary fears.

So the market is saying that it has little doubt that the Fed will ramp up its quantitative easing efforts, and almost no doubt that this will prove inflationary in the years to come. The plunging dollar and the soaring price of gold fully support this interpretation.

This is the best evidence you can find that deflation risk has evaporated. The question now is not how low inflation will be, it's how high it will be in the years to come.

If the prospects for the economy are improving and inflation expectations are rising, why in the world would the Fed proceed with QE2, when it would only complicate things in the long run? This is really important stuff, and I get the feeling that Bernanke & Co. have not yet thought through all the ramifications of what they are planning, nor have they paid sufficient attention to market-based signals.
Deflation Risk Very Much Alive

For starters, deflation risk has not evaporated. Rather deflation expectations as measured by TIPS have fallen, which is a decidedly different thing. Moreover, and more importantly, those deflation expectations pertain to prices, specifically the CPI (which is an extremely poor measure of inflation).

As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, prices are not what is at risk. The risk is of a credit collapse, a far different (and far more important thing).

What's Really Important?

In case you missed it, please consider Myths About "What's Economically Important"
Day in and day out I hear it from readers who insist that we are not in deflation and will not be in deflation because prices are rising and continue to rise.

Still others tell me it is illogical for a deflationist to like gold.

When I counter with a discussion about credit conditions I tend to get a blank stare or a comment like "I do not care about credit conditions. I own my home. What I care about are rising prices of food and energy."

When I counter with falling asset prices and zero percent interest rates on savings accounts I am likely to get as statement like "Who cares, I rent?", or perhaps "The poor have no assets or savings, all they care about is food prices."


Such comments come from those who are not thinking clearly about what's important. Here's why:

  • In a fiat credit-based financial system, when credit is plunging businesses are not hiring. There are currently 14.9 million unemployed who want a job but do not have a job because businesses are not hiring. There are 2.4 million "marginally attached" persons who do not have a job yet want a job, but are not considered unemployed because they stopped looking. There are 8.9 million part-time workers who want a full time job but cannot get one because businesses are not hiring. There are countless millions of college graduates who are underemployed, working at WalMart, delivering pizzas, or attempting to sell trinkets on eBay, because businesses are not hiring. There a still millions more in college hoping for a job upon graduation who will not get one because businesses are not hiring. This is all related to the ongoing credit contraction.

  • When credit is plunging so do yields on treasuries and in turn yields on savings accounts. Those on fixed incomes attempting to live off interest income are screwed. Indeed, many are rapidly draining their principal because they collect no interest.

  • Those who have a job, pay for those who don't. Food stamp usage is soaring and now costs over $60 billion dollars a year.

  • When credit is plunging, consumers are not shopping, business earnings are under pressure, and wages stagnate or in many cases outright decline. Even those with jobs and no debt have been affected by deteriorating credit conditions. Public employees had escaped this debacle so far, but that is about to change in a big way, with huge implications.

  • When business earnings are under pressure or when business owners face uncertainty over consumer spending trends, businesses cut back on benefits, especially health care. Those with health cares benefits are asked to chip in more of the costs. This too is a function of deflation.

  • When profits are weak and business uncertainty high, stock prices do not act well (at least in the long run). Those with 401Ks or personal investments are affected.

  • With credit falling and wages stagnant or falling, anyone in debt is likely to have a harder time paying back that debt. Foreclosures rise so do bankruptcies and divorces. Entire families have gone homeless.

So, What's Really More Important?

Expanding credit (inflation) created an enormous housing bubble, a commercial real estate boom, a rising stock market, and an enormous number of jobs.

Contracting credit (deflation), burst the housing bubble, burst the commercial real estate bubble, burst the stock market bubble, resulting in millions of foreclosures and bankruptcies, millions of broken homes, millions on food stamps, 26.2 million unemployed or partially employed, and countless additional millions who are underemployed.

People notice food and energy prices because they tend to be somewhat sticky. Everyone has to eat, heat their homes, and take some form of transportation at times, but is that what's important?


In the grand scheme of things, nominal increases in food and energy prices are but a few grains of salt in the world's largest salt-shaker compared to the massive effects of rising or falling credit conditions.

Yet, every day, someone writes to me complaining about the price of milk (or something else) going up 30 cents or whatever telling me that is "inflation" or that is what is most important. ....
What About Housing?

If one wants to claim risk of falling prices as measured by the CPI is behind us, I beg to differ, while admitting I can easily be wrong. However, the CPI is fatally flawed in that it ignores housing prices and I am quite sure housing prices are headed for another plunge.

General prices (especially 2% CPI inflation expectations) are meaningless compared to housing prices, credit conditions, and defaults.

If there was one price Bernanke could force up if he could, it would be housing prices. Does anyone disagree?

Demographics Important Too!

These inflation expectation measurements ignore not only housing, but also demographics and other investment cycles. As I see it, Long-Wave, Fixed Investment, Inventory, and Demographic Cycles all Downwardly Converging and the implications are anything but inflationary.

Inflation Expectation Flaws

In light of the above, modest inflation expectations are essentially meaningless.

For the sake of completeness of this discussion, however, there is considerable debate as to whether or not it's as simple as subtracting 10-Year TIPS from 10-Year Treasuries to arrive at "inflation expectations".

Cleveland Fed Estimates of Inflation Expectations

Inquiring minds are reading Cleveland Fed Estimates of Inflation Expectations
News Release: September 17, 2010

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland reports that its latest estimate of 10-year expected inflation is 1.54 percent. In other words, the public currently expects the inflation rate to be less than 2 percent on average over the next decade.

The Cleveland Fed’s estimate of inflation expectations is based on a model that combines information from a number of sources to address the shortcomings of other, commonly used measures, such as the "break-even" rate derived from Treasury inflation protected securities (TIPS) or survey-based estimates.

The Cleveland Fed model can produce estimates for many time horizons, and it isolates not only inflation expectations, but several other interesting variables, such as the real interest rate and the inflation risk premium.
Inflation Expectations Trendline

click on chart for sharper image

Over a long horizon, one can see inflation expectations have been on a downtrend for 20 years!

Inflation: Noise, Risk, and Expectations

For an explanation of the Cleveland Fed Methodology, please see Inflation: Noise, Risk, and Expectations
The Cleveland Fed model of inflation expectations provides a simple measure of expected inflation that has two advantages over the break-even rate derived from TIPS. The first is that the measure is adjusted for the inflation risk premium. Because people don’t like the risk associated with inflation, they pay less for a nominal, unprotected bond, which means it has a higher interest rate. Thus the difference between nominal bonds and TIPS overstates the expected inflation rate. And because the model does not use the difference between TIPS and Treasuries, it does not capture liquidity differences along with inflation expectations.

Figure 1 [Mish Note: Same Chart as Above Trendline Chart] shows the model’s estimate of 10-year expected inflation. Expectations show a gradual decline from the early 1980s to about 2003, after which they fluctuate in the neighborhood just north of 2 percent. The financial crisis coincided with very low expectations.

It’s tempting to think that inflation risk is simply the risk of high inflation, but it is rather associated with inflation deviating from expectations, whether higher or lower. Put another way, people anticipate that $10,000 will buy less in 10 years, but they are unsure exactly how much less it will buy.

The inflation risk premium fluctuates around half a percent.

Removing Short-term Effects

Even “purified” expectations of inflation are not always the most useful indicators for monetary policy. In the short run, there are price pressures, unemployment effects, and shifts in money demand that move the price level around in ways that are out of the control of the central bank. What’s needed is a longer-term measure of inflation expectations that purges out the short-term effects.

The forward inflation rate (figure 3) does that.

Figure 3 shows what a difference the approach makes: the Cleveland model shows a lower rate than the other two series over the past several quarters. It stays near 2 percent, while the other measures show a potentially worrying increase. This implies that longer-term inflation expectations are still well anchored and the time for tightening has not yet come.
Self-Serving Claptrap from the Fed

I am certainly not one to give praise to self-serving claptrap from the Fed. Unfortunately, if you read the complete text of those articles you will likely be as nauseated as I was about the glorious praise the Fed heaped upon itself about inflation.

However, what the article says about risk premiums makes quite a bit of sense.

Yet, even if one assumes the model used by Scott Grannis is correct, those expectations are at the lower end of the range for the last 7-years, discounting panic action in late 2008.

Confusing Expectations and Reality

Grannis asks "If the prospects for the economy are improving and inflation expectations are rising, why in the world would the Fed proceed with QE2, when it would only complicate things in the long run?"

The above question seems to confuse expectations with reality. Does anyone remember the expectation (and all the models built on that expectation) that housing prices would never decline nationally? Yet it happened, didn't it?

While I am one to give credence to the bond market (especially over equities), it is important not to make too much ado over short-term fluctuations, especially when the long-term trendline is crystal clear.

Nonetheless, I agree with Grannis that the Fed's actions needlessly complicate things for the simple reason the Fed is making its exit strategy worse, while not doing a damn thing to stimulate lending.

Prospects Worsening

Returning to the phrase "If the prospects for the economy are improving ..." I suggest the prospects are clearly not improving. Indeed, the odds that the economy is already back in recession have risen from 1% in April to 20% in July (the latest month available).

Please see Real Time Probabilities of Recession Above 20% Second Consecutive Month for details.

Moreover, in spite of heroic buying of mortgage backed securities by the Fed and mortgage rates at all time lows, housing has fallen into the gutter with new home sales and housing starts also at all time lows.

Now, indications are that inventory rebuilding is nearly complete and unemployment is about to tick up. By what measure is any of this improving?

Is Quantitative Easing Working?

Grannis says Quantitative Easing Is Working: A Look at Action in the Markets.
The steepness of the long end of the Treasury yield curve reached another all-time high today of 126 bps. 10-year Treasury yields have fallen to their lows for the year, but investors in longer maturities are balking — the steepening of the curve is coming mainly from rising yields on 30-year Treasury bonds, which are up 20 bps since the end of August. That's a sign that the Fed's quantitative easing program is working.
A Debate Over the Word "Working"

The steepening spread is not a sign QE is working. It is a sign that investors, hedge funds, and banks are plowing into the central part of the yield curve because that is the part of the yield curve they think the Fed will buy.

Bear in mind that I do not think such actions can work against the trend except in the short-term. The implications of that statement are that treasury yields would be falling on their own accord.

However, the Fed certainly can goose the market in the direction of the trend, and that it has done. I wish I could quantify exactly how much, but I can't, nor can anyone else.

That said, before we can debate whether or not a policy is working, we must define what "work" means. If "work" means steepening the yield curve or getting commodity prices to rise, then one can indeed make a case that QE worked.

Grannis also says "The Fed can pin the 10-year Treasury yield at artificially low levels, but easy money can't make an economy grow, except to the extent that the prospect of inflation causes people to invest money they would rather just keep in cash. Shoveling money into the economy mostly results in higher prices, and there is growing evidence that this is occurring."

I essentially agree with that paragraph, especially the part "easy money can't make an economy grow."

However, this is NOT about inducing rising prices per se (except perhaps housing prices). I do not believe the Fed wants rising commodity prices unless they are accompanied by more bank lending, rising employment, and increased economic activity.

If the goals were to jump-start lending, spur the economy, and reduce the unemployment rate, (I am quite certain those were the goals), then QE did not "work", rather it failed miserably.

Finally, unless and until the Fed jump-starts lending, inflation expectations can go to the moon but there will not be significant inflation.

Please see Are we "Trending Towards Deflation" or in It? for further discussion regarding deflation trends.

Inflation Expectations Be Damned

Because the Fed has not stirred bank lending, the best way of looking at the current environment is that we are in a temporary inflation scare, similar to the inflation scare that we saw when oil touched $140, with talk of inflation expectations not much more than noise, at least for now.

ADP Estimates U.S. Companies Cut 39,000 Jobs in September
by Timothy R. Homan - Bloomberg

Companies in the U.S. unexpectedly cut jobs in September, data from a private report based on payrolls showed today. Employment decreased by 39,000, the biggest drop since January, after a revised 10,000 rise in August, according to figures from ADP Employer Services. The median estimate of 37 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a 20,000 gain. Forecasts ranged from a decline of 44,000 to a 75,000 increase.

A loss of jobs raises the risk that consumer spending, the largest part of the economy, will retrench and halt the recovery. A Labor Department report in two days will show companies added 75,000 workers last month, economists project. “It’s more evidence of a lousy labor market,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. in New York. “Here we are, 18 months into a recovery and we’re not doing much on the job front. Until we digest the excesses built up over decades, you’re not going to see sustained gains in jobs or the overall economy.”

Most stocks dropped and Treasury securities rose as the report raised concern over the outlook for employment. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.1 percent to 1,159.97 at the 4 p.m. close in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to prices, dropped to 2.39 percent from 2.47 percent late yesterday.

Prior Misses
Over the previous six reports, ADP’s initial figures were closest to the Labor Department’s first estimate of private payrolls in May, when it overestimated the gain in jobs by 14,000. The estimate was least accurate in April, when it underestimated the employment gain by 199,000. ADP’s initial August estimate showed a 10,000 drop in private employment compared with the government’s estimate of a 67,000 increase.

“This is a disappointing result,” Joel Prakken, chairman of St. Louis-based Macroeconomic Advisers LLC, which produces the figures with ADP, said of today’s figures on a conference call with reporters. “It’s going to be a while before employment really perks up.” High unemployment, public debt and fragile banking systems pose risks to global prosperity, according to a report today from the International Monetary Fund, which urged policy makers to take bolder steps to assure a sustained recovery. The Washington-based fund lowered its forecast for U.S. growth this year and 2011, predicting a “slow” rebound restrained by a lack of consumer spending.

Geithner’s Outlook
Countries that rely on exports to help lift their economies must change policies or “global growth will slow and all of us will be worse off,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said today in advance of this week’s meeting in Washington of the IMF, World Bank and Group of 20 nations. Global exchange-rates are a source of contention heading into the meetings.

“It is very important to see more progress by the major emerging economies to more flexible, more market-oriented exchange-rate systems,” Geithner said at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “This is particularly important for those countries whose currencies are significantly undervalued.” Geithner said the “greatest risk to the world economy today is that the largest economies underachieve on growth.”

Voter Discontent
The economy is a top issue for voters in the November congressional elections and polls show the public is increasingly skeptical of President Barack Obama’s performance. His job approval over a three-day period that ended Oct. 4 was 45 percent, compared with 53 percent at the same time last year, according to a poll from Princeton, New Jersey-based Gallup Inc.

Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said the U.S. economy will be “fairly bad” or “very bad” over the next six to nine months. “We see two main scenarios,” analysts led by Jan Hatzius, the New York-based chief U.S. economist at the company, wrote in an e-mail to clients dated yesterday. “A fairly bad one in which the economy grows at a 1 1/2 percent to 2 percent rate through the middle of next year and the unemployment rate rises moderately to 10 percent, and a very bad one in which the economy returns to an outright recession.”

Hatzius placed the odds of a renewed recession at 25 percent to 30 percent, up from 15 percent to 20 percent at the start of the year. The Labor Department’s report on Oct. 8 will also show the jobless rate increased to 9.7 percent from 9.6 percent, according to the survey median. Overall payrolls were probably unchanged in September, reflecting the winding down of cutting federal census workers who participated in the decennial population count, according to the Bloomberg survey median.

Today’s ADP report showed payrolls decreased among all companies, small, median and large, which are those employing more 499 workers. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., the New York-based drugmaker, said last month that it will cut 3 percent of its global workforce, about 840 jobs, during the next six months. The company previously announced plans to slash more than $2.5 billion in expenses by 2012, and eliminated 7,000 jobs last year. The ADP report is based on data from about 340,000 businesses with more than 21 million workers on payrolls.

Congress Will Have 7 Days To Reauthorize Jobless Aid; It Took 50 Last Time
by Arthur Delaney - Huffington Post

When it returns from its mid-term break in mid-November, Congress will have only two weeks and seven voting days to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits before they expire at the end of the month. That's not much time, as the previous reauthorization consumed the Senate for 50 days this summer.

"This is going to be a really hard fight but it's a crucial issue and it is clear the congressional leadership understands that this is a top-tier, must-do item as soon as the lame duck session convenes," said Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project who is in frequent contact with key staffers. "While the fight won't be any easier than in the past, advocates and workers are already mobilizing and will be sure to make their demands heard."

Congress has blown reauthorization deadlines for extended unemployment benefits three times already this year. The first two lapses were brief; they happened because of obstruction by Senate Republicans. The third lapse lasted for nearly two months, however, as Democratic leadership in the House and Senate fought Republicans and a handful of deficit hawk Dems over whether or not the $33 billion cost of the reauthorization should be offset with spending cuts.

HuffPost asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday if she expects the upcoming reauthorization to be less difficult than the last one. "Well I hope so, because it's certainly going to be harder for the people whose benefits are expiring," Pelosi said. "So many people have come up to me to say 'thank you,' whether it's in airports, or just working people in different situations or not-working people saying, 'We're professionals, we've always worked. We were desperate, and then we got that unemployment insurance.' They weren't even people who were used to getting unemployment, but it really saved a lot of people."

The reauthorization that finally made it through the Senate in July, after a lapse in benefits that affected 2.5 million people, expires at the end of November instead of at the end of the year. That's because of a May bargain between Democratic leaders in the House and deficit-weary Blue Dogs and Democrats from low-unemployment districts. Leaving off a month saved $7 billion, and it was the first in a series of nickel-and-dime cuts: Leadership also sacrificed health insurance subsidies for layoff victims to continue coverage through COBRA, saving $7 billion, and a Senate deal to cut $25 per week from every unemployment check saved $6 billion.

Whether that kind of nickel-and-diming will be necessary to appease deficit hawks post-election remains to be seen. The White House has already signaled that it will support another reauthorization of the extended benefits, which give the unemployed in hardest-hit areas up to 73 weeks of federally-funded aid on top of the 26 weeks provided by states. Though bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to provide additional weeks of benefits for "99ers" -- people who've exhausted all help available and still haven't found work -- the uncertainty of preserving the existing help doesn't bode well for another 20 weeks of aid.

IMF chief warns on exchange rate wars
by Alan Beattie - Financial Times

Governments are risking a currency war if they try to use exchange rates to solve domestic problems, the head of the International Monetary Fund has warned. The comments by Dominique Strauss-Kahn came before the yen fell as a result ofthe Bank of Japan shifting towards quantitative monetary easing, cutting its key interest rate and proposing a new fund to buy government bonds and other assets. 

“There is clearly the idea beginning to circulate that currencies can be used as a policy weapon,” Mr Strauss-Kahn told the Financial Times on Monday. “Translated into action, such an idea would represent a very serious risk to the global recovery . . . Any such approach would have a negative and very damaging longer-run impact.” The yen dropped against the dollar on Tuesday after the BoJ announced its decision. Government bonds, stocks and gold prices all rose on the expectation that central banks of the world’s biggest economies would embark on a round of quantitative easing.

In recent weeks several major economies have taken measures to relieve upward pressure on their currencies. Japan intervened in the currency markets to sell yen for the first time in six years. Brazil has threatened intervention to hold down the real, and on Monday doubled a tax on foreign purchases of bonds in an attempt to reduce inflows. Last week Guido Mantega, Brazil’s finance minister, warned of a currency war. “We have seen reports that some emerging countries whose economies face big capital inflows are saying that maybe it is time to use their currencies to try to gain an advantage, particularly on the trade side,” Mr Strauss-Kahn said.

“I don’t think that is a good solution.” Mr Strauss-Kahn was speaking ahead of the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington this weekend, at which the troubled global economy and the imbalances in current account deficits are likely to feature prominently. European policymakers said they had disagreed with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, after meetings in Brussels. 

Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the group of eurozone finance ministers, said there was a “divergence of analysis” between the Chinese and the European authorities. “We think the Chinese currency is broadly undervalued,” he said. This week Mr Wen said China would buy Greek government bonds as a sign of confidence in the country’s ability to escape default. But economists said Chinese purchases of bonds would also push up the euro against the renminbi.

Food Stamps Went to Record 41.8 Million Americans in July
by Alan Bjerga - Bloomberg

The number of Americans receiving food stamps rose to a record 41.8 million in July as the jobless rate hovered near a 27-year high, the government said. Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program subsidies for food purchases jumped 18 percent from a year earlier and increased 1.4 percent from June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a statement on its website.

Participation has set records for 20 straight months. Unemployment in September may have reached 9.7 percent, according to a Bloomberg News survey of analysts in advance of the release of last month’s rate on Oct. 8. Unemployment was 9.6 percent in July, near levels last seen in 1983. An average of 43.3 million people, more than an eighth of the population, will get food stamps each month in the year that began Oct. 1, according to White House estimates.

Barbarians at the gates of complexity
by John Kay

I don’t know how much time Lehman Brothers’ traders spent reading the bank’s copy of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which raised £2,375 for creditors at Christie’s last weekend. I recommend the much shorter The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter, which might have helped them understand their own decline and fall.

The sack of Rome, who’s 1,600-year anniversary also occurred last month, was of course, perpetrated by the “barbarians at the gate”. But the fact does not explain why the sophisticated society of ancient Rome, with its advanced weaponry and powerful armies, fell victim to a less developed people.

Jared Diamond’s book Collapse links civilisational decline to external disasters. But natural calamities are commonplace, and societies mostly cope. The chaos in New Orleans was, in a sense, caused by hurricane Katrina, but that misses the point: why was America unable to cope with a contingency that not only could have been foreseen, but was in fact foreseen, and could have been contained by available technologies?

Tainter treats the fall of Rome as only one instance of civilisational collapse, which he defines as the replacement of complex structures of social and economic organisation by much simpler ones. He lists more than a dozen such collapses, examining not just Rome but the failure of the Mayans in Central America and the disappearance of the Chacoan government in New Mexico. The defining characteristic of civilisation is the complexity of its organisation. But complexity breeds complexity, and is subject to diminishing returns. Eventually the costs of increased complexity exceed the benefits.

The greatest achievement of the Romans was territorial conquest. The peoples of the empire initially benefited from law and order and technology. But as the empire grew, the costs of central organisation rose and the benefits of further expansion became ever more marginal.

The Mayans were accomplished engineers and architects. The number and scale of their projects amid the rainforests of Guatemala increased steadily, with increasing cost and diminishing benefit. The Chacoans developed a sophisticated economy, with extensive trading networks; but as these networks expanded, the gains from further expansion fell. In Central America and New Mexico, as in Rome, the complexity of social organisation developed to the point that it no longer benefited most of society.

The phenomenon of multiplying complexity is not confined to ancient civilisations. The nature of bureaucracy is to generate work for other bureaucrats to do. C. Northcote Parkinson describes how the number of people in the British Admiralty increased faster than the number of ships, and continued to increase even after the number of ships declined.

The Christian religion began with a few people breaking bread in a back room. By the time the Roman Catholic Church had reached the height of its power in the 16th century, the spiralling costs of building the religious establishment, and the corruption engendered, had led to the Reformation. The British empire also expanded until the burden of maintaining it exceeded its benefits. If Britain averted societal collapse, it was because British social organisation was sufficiently robust to give empire away at that point – though the struggle over the current defence review demonstrates how difficult such decisions are.

What of today’s barbarians at the gate? Trading in securities naturally invites trading in derivatives. Wherever there is a collateralised debt obligation there will soon be a CDO squared. The volume of activity, and the number of people employed in financial services, increases more rapidly than the number of people employed in the underlying trade in goods and services. For Tainter, the fall of Rome was principally an economic phenomenon. For Gibbon, it followed the decline of civic virtue. So much changes, yet so much remains the same.

Stranded on the Sidelines of a Jobs Crisis
by Andy Kroll - Tomdispatch

Sometime in early June -- he's not exactly sure which day -- Rick Rembold joined history. That he doesn't remember comes as little surprise: Who wants their name etched into the record books for not having a job?

For Rembold, that day in June marked six months since he'd last pulled a steady paycheck, at which point his name joined the rapidly growing list of American workers deemed "long-term unemployed" by the Department of Labor. In the worst jobs crisis in generations, the ranks of Rembolds, stranded on the sidelines, have exploded by over 400% -- from 1.3 million in December 2007, when the recession began, to 6.8 million this June. The extraordinary growth of this jobless underclass is a harbinger of prolonged pain for the American economy.

This summer, I set out to explore just why long-term unemployment had risen to historic levels -- and stumbled across Rembold. A 56-year-old resident of Mishawaka, Indiana, he caught the unnerving mix of frustration, anger, and helplessness voiced by so many other unemployed workers I'd spoken to. "I lie awake at night with acid indigestion worrying about how I’m going to survive," he said in a brief bio kept by the National Employment Law Project, which is how I found him. I called him up, and we talked about his languishing career, as well as his childhood and family. But a few phone calls, I realized, weren't enough. In early August I hopped a plane to northern Indiana.

In job terms, my timing couldn't have been better. I arrived around lunchtime, and was driving through downtown South Bend, an unremarkable cluster of buildings awash in gray and brown and brick, when my cell phone rang. Rembold's breathless voice was on the other end. "Sorry I didn't pick up earlier, man, but a friend just called and tipped me off about a place up near the airport. I'm fillin' up my bike and headin' up there right now." I told him I'd meet him there, hung a sharp U-turn, and sped north.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of a modest-sized aircraft parts manufacturer tucked into a quiet business park. Ford and Chevy trucks filled the lot, most backed in. Rembold roared up soon after on his '99 Suzuki motorcycle. Barrel-chested with a thick neck, his short black hair was flecked with gray, and he was deeply tanned from long motorcycle rides with his girlfriend Terri. "They didn't even advertise this job," he told me after a hearty handshake. Not unless you count the inconspicuous sign out front, a jobless man's oasis in the blinding heat: "NOW HIRING: Bench Inspector."

His black leather portfolio in hand, Rembold took a two-sided application from a woman who greeted us inside the tiny lobby. He filled it out in minutes, the phone numbers, names, dates, and addresses committed to memory, handed it to the secretary, and in a polite but firm tone asked to speak with someone from management. While we waited, he pointed out the old Studebaker factories in a black-and-white sketch of nineteenth century South Bend on the wall, launching into a Cliffs Notes history of industry in this once-bustling corner of the Midwest.

A manager finally emerges with Rembold's application in hand. Rembold rushes to explain away the three jobs he had listed in the “previous employers” section -- stints at a woodworking company, motorcycle shop, and local payday lender.  They’re not, he assures the man, indicative of his skills; they're not who he is. You see, he rushes to add, he's been in manufacturing practically his entire life, a hard and loyal worker who made his way up from the shop floor to salecs and then to management. That kind of experience won't fit in three blank spots on a one-page form. Unswayed, the manager thanks him formulaically for applying.

If the company's interested, the manager says -- and it feels like a kiss-off even to me -- they'll be in touch, and before we know it we’re back out in the smothering heat of an Indiana summer. Rembold tucks his portfolio into one of the Suzuki's leather saddlebags. "Well, that's pretty standard," he says, his tone remarkably matter-of-fact. "At least I got to talk to somebody. You're lucky to get that anymore."

A Perfect Storm Hits American Labor

The numbers tell so much of the story. The 6.76 million Americans -- or 46% of the entire unemployed labor force -- counted as long-term unemployed in June were the most since 1948, when the statistic was first recorded, and more than double the previous record of 3 million in the recession of the early 1980s. (The numbers have since dipped slightly, with a total of 6.2 million long-term unemployed in August.) These are people who, despite dozens of rejections, leave phone messages, send emails, tweak their cover letters, and toy with resume templates in Microsoft Word, all in the search for a job.

Not counted in this figure are so-called "discouraged workers," including plenty of former searchers who have remained on the unemployment sidelines for six months or more. In August of this year, 1.1 million Americans had simply stopped looking and so officially dropped out of the workforce. They are essentially not considered worth counting when the subject of unemployment comes up. Nonetheless, that 1.1 million figure represents an increase of 352,000 since 2009. In effect, the real long-term unemployment figure now may be closer to 7.5 million Americans.

So who are these unfortunate or unlucky people? Long-term unemployment, research shows, doesn't discriminate: no age, race, ethnicity, or educational level is immune. According to federal data, however, the hardest hit when it comes to long-term unemployment are older workers -- middle aged and beyond, folks like Rick Rembold who can see retirement on the horizon but planned on another decade or more of work. Given the increasing claims of age discrimination in this recession, older Americans suffering longer bouts of joblessness may not in itself be so surprising. That education seemingly works against anyone in this older cohort is. Nearly half of the long-term unemployed who are 45 or older have "some college," a bachelor's degree, or more. By contrast, those with no education at all make up just 15% of this older category. In other words, if you're older and well educated, the outlook is truly grim.

As for the causes of long-term unemployment, there's the obvious answer: there simply aren't enough jobs. Before the Great Recession, there were 1.5 workers in the U.S. for every job slot; today, that ratio is 4.8 to one. Put another way, with normal growth instead of a recession, we’d have 10 million more jobs than we currently do. Closing that gap would require adding 300,000 jobs every month for the next five years. In August 2010, the economy shed 54,000 jobs. You do the math.

Worse yet, if you imagine five workers queued up for that single position, the longer you're unemployed, the further back you stand. Economists have found that long-term unemployment dims a worker’s prospects with each passing day. "This pattern suggests that the very-long-term unemployed will be the last group to benefit from an economic recovery," Michael Reich, an economist at the University of California-Berkeley, told Congress in June.

But when you consider the plight of the long-term unemployed, don’t just think jobs. The 2008 recession was a housing-driven crisis, thanks to the rise of subprime mortgage lending, government policy, and greed. As a result, 11 million borrowers -- or nearly 23% of all homeowners with a mortgage -- now find themselves "underwater": that is, owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. Negative equity at those levels creates what Harvard economist Lawrence Katz calls a "geographic lock-in effect," stifling jobs recovery. Typically, American workers are a mobile bunch, willing to bounce from one city to the next for new jobs, but not when homeowners are staying put to avoid selling their underwater houses for a loss.

Another factor in the explosion of long-term unemployment lies in a shift away from temporary layoffs. In the recessions of 1975, 1980, and 1982, 20% of unemployed workers had been only temporarily laid off; as of August of this year, just 10% had. In their heyday, automakers and steel companies laid off workers as demand dipped, but backstopped by powerful labor unions, those workers were regularly recalled as demand and production revved up again. No more. Now, if you’re long-term unemployed, you’re undoubtedly trying to find a new job with a new employer, a more daunting process. Add it all up and you have Rick Rembold.

"Feast or Famine" in RV Land

Rembold calls himself a Democrat -- "not the peace sign, hit-the-bong type," he hastens to add, but "a tear-off-your-head-and-shit-down-your-neck Democrat." He can't stomach Glenn Beck or talk radio here in the Land of Limbaugh, and with equal zeal he watches MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and FX's "Sons of Anarchy," a gritty, violent series about outlaw motorcycle gangs.

It was a Friday morning, and we were in Rembold's kitchen, drinking coffee and talking politics. He wore jeans and a black polo shirt, and paced as he spoke. Ideas and frustrations poured out of him like water from an open spigot; the man had a lot on his mind. The night before, I had asked him to show me around the area, especially the economic engine that sustains it: the recreational vehicle, or RV, industry. Once the coffee ran dry, we piled into my car and set off.

Cities such as Elkhart and Middlebury and Mishawaka and Wakarusa are the cradle of the RV industry. Headquartered here are major manufacturers like Jayco and Forest River. At its peak, northern Indiana churned out three-quarters of all RVs on the road -- motor homes and fifth-wheels, pop-up campers, travel trailers, and toy haulers. Producing them was grueling work, but you could fashion a middle-class lifestyle out of what it paid. "Workin' in the RV industry, they'll work you to death," Rembold said. "People would literally be sprintin' from one place to the next with power tools in their hands."

Then came "the Panic of '08," as one RV salesman put it to me. Teetering banks choked off consumer lending as credit markets froze. The downturn pummeled the industry. In 2009, sales of fifth-wheels, a smaller trailer you hitch to a truck or SUV, plummeted by 30%, travel trailers by 23.5%, campers by 28%. Manufacturers like Jayco, Monaco Coach, and others collectively laid off thousands, and the region's unemployment rate spiked by more than 10% in a year. When a newly elected Barack Obama arrived in Elkhart in February 2009 to tout his stimulus plan, the jobless rate was 15.3%; a month later, it reached 18.9%, more than twice the national rate. At one point, Elkhart County, with a population of 200,000, was shedding 95 jobs a day.

In the 1990s and first years of the new century, RV manufacturers couldn't hire enough workers. They ran ads in regional and national newspapers looking for more bodies. "We couldn't even get people to drive over from South Bend to work in Elkhart," a sales rep for Jayco told me.

By the time I arrived, though, the industry had left its feast years, hit the famine ones fast, and was showing the first signs of crawling back. Driving through Middlebury, a town of 3,200 east of Elkhart, I saw a few carrier trucks hustling in or out of plants, some full employee parking lots, and rows of gleaming new RVs dotting the green landscape like herds of boxy cattle.

Whether the industry will ever fully recover, however, is unclear. The manufacturers I spoke to were optimistic about future sales. "Despite the logic of what's going on in the economy, the buyers are still there," said Jerimiah Borkowski, a spokesman for Thor Motor Coach. But a 2009 analysis by Indiana University's Business Research Center projected that by 2013 annual RV shipments still won't have returned to their 2006 peak. "I personally don't think it'll ever rebound to pre-2008 levels," says Bill Dawson, vice president and general manager of Clean Seal Inc., a South Bend-based supplier of parts to the RV industry. Dawson points to industry contractions -- Thor's $209 million acquisition of Heartland RV, the Damon Motor Coach-Four Winds merger, as well as numerous factory closings -- and says, "Fewer players mean fewer units and fewer people making them."

Rembold knows the RV industry's ebb and flow all too well. He's lived in its shadow for the majority of his working career, including 18 years with Architectural Wood Company (AWC), an Elkhart-based manufacturer of wood products used to outfit RVs and conversion vans. He's made handcrafted tables, faceplates, valences, and overhead consoles, usually from oak or maple, finishing them with the gloss that gives Kimball grand pianos and Fender guitars their shine.

But by the 1990s and 2000s, his line of work looked to be headed the way of the 8-track tape. The conversion van industry was sinking. RV manufacturers had begun replacing wood with cheaper plastics and vinyl-wrapped plywood. (At an RV show we visited, Rembold could step inside a vehicle and determine by smell alone if the manufacturer used the real thing or not.) Orders plummeted at AWC. By early 2006, the company's financial health was so dire that the owner, a good friend of Rembold's, let him go. A few years later, the company itself folded.

Rembold then caromed from one job to the next: selling used cars and motorcycles, driving a semi truck, working behind six inches of bulletproof glass as a teller at Check$mart. He briefly ended up back in RVs, supervising employees sewing tents for campers, and then, last winter, temped at a struggling wood shop. That was his last job.  After the holidays, he was never called back.

Like millions in his predicament, Rembold knows his chances of finding a decent-paying job doing what he loves decrease with each temporary, non-manufacturing job he’s taken. What doesn't fit on a resume -- and so frustrates him most -- is his adaptability, if only he could convince an employer of it.  College degree or not, certification or not, he insists, he's always adapted to new settings. "Could I do construction? Hell, yeah, I could do it. I could measure in metric, in standard; I'd correct cutting mistakes, do it all. I just can't get anyone to let me do it."

As we talked, the RV plants gave way to lush farmland and we found ourselves driving through Amish country, sharing quiet two-lane roads with horse-drawn buggies. By early afternoon we rolled into the town of Topeka (pop. 1,200), past the Seed and Stove store and the Do-It Better hardware shop. Then Rembold's cell phone buzzed, a rare break in the conversation. It was his daughter, Angie, 28, the youngest of his three kids.

He listened, then yanked off his sunglasses. "You what?"

Angie managed the Check$mart in Goshen, the check-cashing outfit Rembold once worked for, and she was good at her job, Rembold had told me earlier. Now she was agitated, talking so loudly that I caught bits and pieces of the conversation over the din of the radio. Something about a bonus owed that she didn't receive. When Rembold abruptly hung up, he muttered, "Jesus H. Christ."

Later, over lunch at what looked to be Topeka's lone diner, he explained that Angie planned to quit her job over the unpaid bonus. After a full morning telling me about the nightmare of being out of work, he looked stunned. "You'd think she'd have learned from my situation. I don't think she realizes how her life is going to change."

The Trauma of Long-Term Unemployment

It’s hard, even for the long-term unemployed, to grasp just how drastically life can change without work. Studying past recessions to discover just what does happen, researchers often focus on the collapse of the steel industry in Pennsylvania in the late 1970s that would turn a once-thriving region into a landscape of shuttered factories and ghost towns. Eighty thousand people worked in steel in the 1940s; by 1987, 4,000 remained.

In one study, male Pennsylvania workers with high seniority experienced a 50% to 100% spike in mortality rate in the first year after job loss. The life expectancies of those laid off after age 40 decreased by one to one-and-a-half years. In the long run, these laid-off Pennsylvanians suffered a 15% to 20% reduction in earnings. Those hardest hit in terms of lifelong earnings, economists found, were not low-skilled laborers or highly skilled wealthy elites, but workers who had managed to forge a middle-class lifestyle.

Suicide rates also increase, researchers have found, when unemployment rises. (In Elkhart County, near where Rembold lives, suicides exceeded the annual average by 40% last year.)

The 1980s recession in Pennsylvania was no outlier either, economic researchers have discovered, and the effects of long-term unemployment spread well beyond directly afflicted workers. In the short run, for instance, a child whose parent loses his or her job is 15% more likely to repeat a grade year in school, according to University of California-Davis economists Ann Huff Stevens and Jessamyn Schaller. This is especially true for children with less-educated parents.

Over their lifetime, the children of jobless fathers earn, on average, 9% less each year than similar children without laid-off dads, and are more likely to receive unemployment insurance and social welfare support at some point in their lifetimes. New research also suggests that the children of laid-off parents may have lower homeownership rates and higher divorce rates.

"I'm Not Competing With Some College Kid"

In the early evening, Rembold and I holed up in his office, a small room off the main hallway with a computer, two desks, and countless framed photos. Rembold clicked open a folder on his Internet browser labeled "Careers" and walked me through his daily online job-hunting routine. He checks half-a-dozen job boards regularly, though openings tend to pay only in the $8- to $10-an-hour range. He rejects most of those out of hand.

"Wouldn’t that be better than no job at all?" I ask.

Rembold gnaws on the question. "I can't afford my home at $8 or $10 an hour," he finally replies. Right now, he’s getting by on unemployment checks, a small inheritance from his mother that's rapidly dwindling, and loans from family members. Still, he'd rather keep trolling the job boards in the hopes of finding something offering a living wage. "I've got a mortgage to pay, for Christ's sake," he told me. The few openings he sees with good pay, however, involve odd hours, dusk-to-dawn shifts that would mean he'd almost never see Terri, whose schedule at an aluminum company in Elkhart is early morning to mid-afternoon.

And then, under the dollar signs lurks something else: self-respect. Unlike his father, Rembold never went to college, and doesn't consider himself too good for service-sector jobs.  But he visibly agonizes over the fact that, as a 56-year-old man with decades of experience, he's competing with people half his age for low-wage jobs. After all, as a machine operator fresh out of high school at White Farm Equipment, he earned $8.64 an hour. That was 1976. Adjusted for inflation, that's equivalent to $42.42 today. No wonder the man's reluctant to flip burgers or trim hedges for $9 an hour.

His friends have suggested selling his house and moving somewhere smaller and cheaper, maybe renting for a while, but that's the last thing he wants. It’s that self-respect again. He's already sold off one motorcycle and various musical instruments, and he and Terri now skip the big vacations that were part of their past life. Which isn't to say that Rembold currently lives like a monk.  He still has the big screen in the basement, the DVD collection, the video-game systems for when the grandkids visit, a life's worth of possessions from decades of earning good money. "Why should you have to give up your home?" he wanted to know. "It's so unbelievable to me that I don't even want to think about it. I'm in denial."

A Lost Generation?

What's to be done for people like Rick Rembold? As in most economic debates, the answer to this question divides economists and policymakers. On the left are those who lobby for more aid to jobless Americans, including another extension of unemployment insurance beyond the present cut-off date of 99 weeks. (In normal times, laid-off workers once got 26 weeks of unemployment insurance.) Some Democrats in the Senate had hoped to extend unemployment insurance by another 20 weeks up to 119 weeks, an effort spearheaded by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) that ultimately failed last week in the face of Republican opposition. That same camp supports a one-time “reemployment bonus,” a lump-sum payment that unemployed workers would receive to reward them for finding a new job and leaving the unemployment rolls.

Another idea gaining traction in policy circles is "wage insurance," in which the government would supplement the income of workers rehired at lower-paying jobs. Consider Rembold who, in his prime, earned $25 an hour. He says can't live on a $10-an-hour job, but if that were to become $12 or $15 an hour, thanks to a government subsidy, he'd be much more interested.

More conservative voices believe cutting jobless benefits -- a bitter pill, to be sure -- will force people back into the workforce. The Rembolds of America will then scramble harder and take those low-wage jobs faster. Of course, those who can't find work at all will be left adrift with no safety net. What's more, the cost of such cuts to taxpayers might actually prove higher, economists note, because without those benefits the jobless might instead apply for disability or other support programs and give up the search altogether.

Ideally, of course, employers and governments should avoid widespread layoffs altogether. One option sometimes suggested would be a "work-share" program. Imagine a factory of 100 workers with a boss looking to cut costs. Instead of laying off 25 workers, he would reduce all of his workers' hours by 25%. The government would then step in to fill the earnings gap. Think of it as the equivalent of collecting unemployment before you're laid off, a preventive measure to avoid the trauma -- to income, health, family -- of job loss.

None of this is likely to happen soon which is little consolation for the long-term unemployed like Rembold. Unfortunately, there are few proven solutions to their situation. Job retraining programs for unemployed workers are all the rage these days, touted by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and President Obama as a transition to a new line of work. But a 2008 study commissioned by the Labor Department found minimal-to-no gains for 160,000 workers who went through retraining, concluding that the "ultimate gains from participation are small or nonexistent."

In the end, facing an economy that may never again generate in such quantity the sorts of "middle class" jobs Rembold was used to, what we may be seeing is the creation of a graying class of permanently unemployed (or underemployed) Americans, a genuine lost generation who will never recover from the recession of 2008. As Mike Konczal and Arjun Jayadev of the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning think tank, recently wrote, unemployed workers today are more likely to abandon the workforce than find work -- something never before seen in four decades' worth of labor data. "These workers need targeted intervention," they concluded, "before they become completely lost to the normal labor market."

"All I Need Is One Chance"

I first noticed Rembold’s tic on Sunday, my last day in Indiana. Out of nowhere, without provocation, he'd suddenly say things like "Man, I just need a job," or "All I need is a chance," or "I wanna work, make stuff with my hands." He’d been filling the lulls in our conversations with these little outbursts, symptoms, I assumed, of the worry and anxiety that never left his side. Which is why I called a few weeks after my visit, hoping for good news.

And there was, after a fashion.  Angie, his daughter, had ended up sticking with Check$mart, much to his relief. But for him, the leads were sparser than ever. "There's this neighbor here,” he said, “her son's a shift manager at the Walmart, so he's gonna see what they might have." He also mentioned an electronic wire and cable manufacturer with openings in Bremen, a half-hour south. He'd recently applied there for the third time this year. This time around, he went on, he planned to march in and demand the interview he’d never gotten. "I mean, what's it take to get in to see someone there?" he asked me.

Rembold doesn't have time on his side. Unlike the now-famous "99ers," the folks who received nearly two years' worth of unemployment benefits, his will expire sometime this winter, short of the 99-week mark. He's not sure what he'll do by then if he can't find work. Maybe take one of those $8-an-hour jobs after all. For now, though, he's just checking the job boards each morning, shipping off resumes and cover letters, firing up the Suzuki, chasing leads.

I asked if he still had any hope left that something good would happen. "I don't know," he replied. " 'Course if ya don't go, ya don't know."

US Must Maintain Confidence in Dollar: Volcker
by Reuters

The United States must preserve confidence in the dollar even as it looks at ways to combat the sluggish economy, Paul Volcker, a special economics adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, said Wednesday. The former Federal Reserve chairman said it is difficult to find any sector of the U.S. economy that has any "spark," and authorities should be examining what fiscal and monetary tools they have available.

"The challenge now is we have intervened, it becomes more and more difficult in the future, the monetary policy ... the fiscal policy. We sure have to maintain some confidence in the dollar or none of this would work," Volcker, who is chairman of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, told a business audience in Toronto. "Some people would say there's no possibility of a further stimulus program, but the risk is of course that would make things worse and you're going get a reaction that's unmanageable."

The dollar on Wednesday tumbled to a 15-year low against the yen and an eight-month trough against the euro on expectations the Federal Reserve will further ease monetary policy to jump-start the economy. Volcker declined to comment on whether Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke should ease monetary policy further, though he said it is the kind of debate Fed officials ought to be having.

The Fed has kept interest rates near zero since December 2008 and pumped $1.7 trillion into the financial system through purchases of longer-term Treasury securities and mortgage-related debt. Most analysts expect the U.S. central bank will launch a renewed round of bond buying, or quantitative easing, as soon as its next policy meeting on Nov. 2-3. Volcker painted a bleak outlook for the U.S. economy, saying it was hard to find any kind of development that promises to produce a lot of expansionary momentum "in coming months, in coming quarters, even in coming years."

"It's very unlike an ordinary recession. This has not been an ordinary recession. This is an important shift in economic affairs around the world and it's going to take some time to get over it," he said. "We all face a problem of prolonged unemployment in the developed world." Still, Volcker said that over time the United States must reduce consumption relative to production as a percentage of its economy and bring down its current account deficit.

Known for slaying inflation in the 1980s by hiking interest rates well into the double digits, Volcker said the rise of the price of gold to a record high was partly due to inflation fears, but he noted that inflation fears were not being reflected in bond markets. "The markets for bonds and inflation-protected bonds don't show that at all. There is a lot of concern about possibly returning to inflation," he said. "I think it's reflected in the gold price."

Gold on Wednesday rose to a record high for a second straight day. "I can't fully explain this dichotomy," Volcker said, "but I think part of it is the gold market after all is not a very big market."

The Sovereign Debt Problem
by George Soros - Columbia Lecture

As you know I have written several books which serve to explain the crash of 2008. Two years have elapsed since then - it is time to bring the story up to date. That is what I propose to do today.
The theory I shall use is the same as in my previous books, so I shall not repeat it here. The main points to remember are, first, that rational human beings do not base their decisions on reality but on their understanding of reality and the two are never the same - although the extent of the divergence does vary from person to person and from time to time - and it is the variance that matters. This is the principle of fallibility. Second, the participants' misconceptions, as expressed in market prices, affect the so-called fundamentals which market prices are supposed to reflect. This is the principle of reflexivity. The two of them together assure that both market participants and regulators have to make their decisions in conditions of uncertainty. This is the human uncertainty principle. It implies that outcomes are unlikely to correspond to expectations and markets are unable to assure the optimum allocation of resources. These implications are in direct contradiction to the theory of rational expectations and the efficient market hypothesis.
The extent and degree of uncertainty is itself uncertain and variable. Conditions may range from near-equilibrium to far from equilibrium. Again, it is the variance that matters. In practice markets have a tendency to move towards one of these extremes rather than to hover near a historical or theoretical midpoint between them. In evolutionary systems theory these extremes are called "strange attractors". My contention is that financial markets tend towards these strange attractors, not to equilibrium. So much for theory.  Now for the actual course of events.
In the crash of 2008 the uncertainties reached such an extreme that the markets actually collapsed.  But that was a short lived phenomenon. The authorities intervened and managed to keep the markets functioning by putting them on artificial life support. In retrospect, the momentary collapse may seem like a bad dream, but it was real enough and two years later we still suffer from its consequences.
Let me explain why.
When a car is skidding you have to turn the wheel in the direction of the skid to prevent the car from crashing. Only when you have regained control can you correct the direction of the car. That is how the financial authorities had to deal with the crash. The underlying cause of the crash was the excessive use of credit and leverage. To prevent a catastrophe they had to avoid a sharp contraction of credit. The only way to do it was to replace the private credit that lost credibility with the credit of the state which still commanded respect. Only after financial markets resumed functioning could they hope to reverse course and reduce the outstanding credit and leverage. This meant that they had to do in the short term the exact opposite of what would be needed in the long term.
The first phase of this delicate maneuver has now been successfully completed. Financial markets are functioning more or less normally with toxic credit instruments replaced or guaranteed by sovereign credit. But the second phase is running into difficulties. Before the economy has recovered and unemployment has fallen, the credibility of sovereign credit has come into question. If governments are now forced to pursue fiscal discipline and tighten monetary and fiscal policy too soon there is a danger that the recovery will stall. That is because the imbalances that have accumulated over a quarter of a century have not yet been corrected. The US still consumes too much and China is still running an unsustainable export surplus vis-à-vis the US. A similar imbalance prevails within the eurozone, with Germany in the surplus position. In addition, the housing and commercial real estate bubbles in the US have not yet been fully deflated and in the eurozone the banks have not yet been properly recapitalized. The deleveraging of the private sector is underway, but it is far from complete. In the US it applies to banks, corporations and households alike. In Europe it is heavily concentrated in the banking sector.
Because the global imbalances which were at the root of the financial crisis still remain to be corrected, the question arises: How much government debt is too much? That is one of the central questions confronting policymakers today.
The discussion is eerily reminiscent of the 1930s. Then the fiscal conservatives led by Andrew Mellon and Irving Fisher were confronted by rebels led by John Maynard Keynes.  Now, the division of opinion is more along national lines. The center of fiscal conservatism is Germany, while those who have rediscovered Keynes are located mainly in the United States.
The clash of views has led to a drama which is unfolding differently in different parts of the world. The remarkable unanimity that prevailed in the first phase of the crisis and culminated in the one trillion dollar rescue package that was put together for the London meeting of the G20 in April 2009 has dissipated and political and ideological differences have arisen. Misconceptions are rampant.  They complicate matters enormously because it would require global cooperation to correct the global imbalances.
I shall briefly review how the credibility of sovereign credit came to be questioned in various parts of the world and then I shall address the question - how much debt is too much?
Doubts concerning sovereign credit first reached a crisis point in Europe and they revolved around the euro. But what appeared to be a currency crisis was in reality more a banking crisis and a clash of economic philosophies.
The euro was an incomplete currency to start with. The Maastricht Treaty established a monetary union without a political union. The euro boasted a common central bank but it lacked a common treasury.
So even though member countries share a common currency, when it comes to sovereign credit they are on their own.  Unfortunately, this fact was obscured until recently by the willingness of the European Central Bank to accept the sovereign debt of all member countries on equal terms at its discount window.  This allowed the member countries to borrow at practically the same interest rate as Germany and the banks were happy to earn a few extra pennies on supposedly risk-free assets by loading up their balance sheets with the government debt of the weaker countries.  For instance, European banks hold more than a trillion euro's of Spanish debt of which more than half is held by German and French banks. The large positions came to endanger the creditworthiness of the European banking system, depriving them of the capacity to add to their positions.
Although it was the inability of the banks to continue accumulating the government debt of the heavily indebted countries that precipitated the crisis, but it was the introduction of the euro and ECB's willingness to refinance sovereign debt that got the banks weighed down with these large positions in the first place.  It led to a radical narrowing of interest rate differentials and that, in turn, generated real estate bubbles in countries like Spain, Greece, and Ireland. Instead of the convergence prescribed by the Maastricht Treaty, these countries grew faster and developed trade deficits within the eurozone, while Germany reigned in its labor costs, became more competitive and developed a chronic trade surplus. The discount facility of the ECB allowed the deficit countries to continue borrowing at practically the same rates as Germany, relieving them of any pressure to correct their excesses. So the introduction of the euro was indirectly responsible for the development of internal imbalances within the eurozone.
The first clear reminder that the euro lacked a common treasury came after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. The finance ministers of the European Union promised that no other financial institution whose failure could endanger the system would be allowed to default.  But Angela Merkel opposed a joint Europe-wide guarantee; each country had to take care of its own banks.
At first, the financial markets were so impressed by the guarantee that they hardly noticed the difference.  Capital fled from the countries which were not in a position to offer similar guarantees pushing the countries of Eastern Europe, notably Hungary and the Baltic States into difficulties. But interest rate differentials within the eurozone remained minimal.
It was only this year that financial markets started to worry about the accumulation of sovereign debt within the eurozone. Greece started the process when the newly elected government revealed that the previous government had lied and the deficit for 2009 was much larger than indicated.
Markets panicked and interest rate differentials widened dramatically. But the European authorities were slow to react because member countries held radically different views.   Germany, which had been traumatized by two episodes of runaway inflation, was adamantly opposed to any bailout. France was more willing to show its solidarity. Since Germany was heading for elections, it was unwilling to act, and nothing could be done without Germany. So the Greek crisis festered and spread.  When the authorities finally got their act together they had to offer a much larger rescue package than would have been necessary if they had acted earlier.
In the meantime, doubts about the creditworthyness of sovereign debt spread to the other deficit countries and, in order to reassure the markets, the authorities had to put together a €750 billion European Financial Stabilization Fund, €500 billion from the member states and €250 billion from the IMF.  The turning point came when China re-entered the market and bought Spanish bonds and the euro.
So, under duress, the euro has begun to remedy its main shortcoming, the lack of a common treasury. The Stabilization Fund is very far from a unified fiscal policy, but it is a step in that direction. Member countries are now a little bit pregnant and they will be obliged to take additional steps if necessary. So the crisis has passed its high water mark and the euro is here to stay. But it is far too early to celebrate because the emerging common fiscal policy is dictated by Germany and Germany is wedded to a false doctrine of macro-economic stability which recognizes only the threat of inflation and ignores the possibility of deflation.
This misconception is incorporated in the constitution of the euro. When Germany agreed to substitute the euro for Deutschmark it insisted on strong safeguards to maintain the value of the currency. As a result, the ECB was given an asymmetric directive. Moreover, the Maastricht Treaty contains a clause that expressly prohibits bailouts and the ban has been reaffirmed by the German Constitutional Court. It is this clause that has made the crisis so difficult to deal with.
This brings me to the gravest defect in the euro's design; it does not allow for error. It expects member states to abide by the Maastricht criteria without establishing an adequate enforcement mechanism. And now, when practically all member countries are in violation of the Maastricht criteria, there is neither an adjustment mechanism nor an exit mechanism.
Now these countries are expected to return to the Maastricht criteria in short order. What is worse, Germany is not only insisting on strict fiscal discipline for the weaker countries but is also reducing its own fiscal deficit. When both creditor and debtor countries are reducing deficits at a time of high unemployment they set in motion a deflationary spiral in debtor countries.

Reductions in employment, tax receipts, and consumption reinforce each other and are not offset by exports, raising the prospect that deficit reduction targets will not be met and further reductions will be required. And even if budgetary targets were met, it is difficult to see how the weaker countries could regain their competitiveness vis-à-vis Germany and start growing again because, in the absence of exchange rate depreciation, they need to cut wages and prices, creating deflation. And deflation renders the burden of accumulated debt even heavier.
Deficit reduction by a creditor country such as Germany is in direct contradiction of the lessons learnt from the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is liable to push Europe into a period of prolonged stagnation or worse. That may, in turn, produce social unrest and, since the unpopular policies are imposed from the outside, turn public opinion against the European Union. So the euro, with its asymmetric directive, may endanger the social and political cohesion of Europe.
Unfortunately, Germany is unlikely to realize that it is following the wrong macroeconomic policy because that policy is actually working to its advantage. Germany is the shining star in the economic firmament. It dealt with the burden of reunification by reducing its labor costs becoming more competitive and developing a chronic trade surplus.  And the euro-crisis brought about a decline in the value of the euro. This favored Germany against its main competitor, Japan. In the second quarter of 2010 the GDP jumped by 9% annualized.
Germany believes it is doing the right thing. It has no desire to impose its will on Europe; all it wants to do is to maintain its competitiveness and avoid becoming the deep pocket to the rest of Europe. But as the strongest and most creditworthy country it is in the driver's seat. As a result Germany objectively determines the financial and macroeconomic policies of the Eurozone without being subjectively aware of it.  And the policies it is imposing on the eurozone are liable to send the eurozone into a deflationary spiral.  But people in Germany are unlikely to recognize this because they are doing much better than the others and the difficulties of the others can be blamed on structural rigidities.
The German commitment to fiscal rectitude is also gaining the upper hand in the rest of the world. Angela Merkel went into the recent G20 meeting in the minority and - with the help of the host country, Canada, and the newly elected Conservative British Prime Minister, David Cameron - came out as the winner. Prior to the meeting President Obama publicly appealed to Chancellor Angela Merkel to change her ways, but at the meeting the US yielded to the majority and agreed that budget deficits should be cut in half by 2013. This may be the right policy but it comes at the wrong time.
The policies of the Obama administration are dictated not by financial necessity but by political considerations. The US is not under the same pressure from the bond markets as the heavily indebted states of Europe. European debtor countries have to pay hefty premiums over the price at which Germany can borrow. By contrast, interest rates on US government bonds have been falling and are near record lows. This means that financial markets anticipate deflation not inflation.
The pressure is entirely political. The public is deeply troubled by the accumulation of public debt. The Republican opposition has succeeded in blaming the Crash of 2008 and the subsequent recession and persistent high unemployment on the ineptitude of government and in claiming that the stimulus package was largely wasted.
There is an element of truth in this narrative but it is far too one sided. The Crash of 2008 was primarily a market failure and the fault of the regulators was that they failed to regulate. Without a bailout the financial system would have stayed paralyzed and the subsequent recession would have been much deeper and longer.  It is true that the stimulus was largely wasted but that was because most of it went to sustain consumption and did not correct the underlying imbalances.  As I explained earlier, the government was obliged to do in the short run the exact opposite of what is needed in the long run.  Now consumption still needs to fall as a percentage of the GDP and fiscal and monetary stimulus are still needed to keep the GDP from falling and to prevent a deflationary spiral.
Where the Obama administration did go wrong, in my opinion, was in the way it bailed out the banking system: it helped the banks earn their way out of a hole by supplying them with cheap money and relieving them of some of their bad assets. But this was an entirely political decision; on a strictly economic calculation it would have been more effective to inject new equity into the balance sheets of the banks. But the Obama administration considered that politically unacceptable because it would amounted to nationalizing the banks and it would have been called socialism.
That political decision backfired and caused a serious political backlash. The public saw the banks earning bumper profits and paying large bonuses while they were badly squeezed by their credit card charges jumping from 8% to nearly 30%. That was the source of the resentment that the Tea Party exploited so successfully.  In addition, the administration had deployed the so-called "confidence multiplier" to restore confidence and that turned to disappointment when unemployment failed to fall.
The Administration is now on the defensive. The Republicans are campaigning against any further stimulus and they seem to be winning the argument. The administration feels that it has to pay lip service to fiscal rectitude even if it recognizes that the timing may be premature.
I disagree.  I believe there is a strong case for further stimulus.  Admittedly, consumption cannot be sustained indefinitely by running up the national debt. The imbalance between consumption and investment needs to be corrected. But to cut back on government spending at a time of large-scale unemployment would ignore all the lessons learned from the Great Depression.
The obvious solution is to draw a distinction in the budget between investments and current consumption and increase the former while reducing the latter. But that seems unattainable in the current political environment. A large majority of the population is convinced that the government is incapable of efficiently managing an investment program aimed at improving the physical and human infrastructure. Again, this belief is not without justification: a quarter of a century of agitation calling the government bad has resulted in bad government. But the argument that stimulus spending is inevitably wasted is patently false: the New Deal produced the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Triborough Bridge.
It is the Obama administration that has failed to make a convincing case. There are times like the present when we cannot count on the private sector to employ the available resources. The Obama administration has in fact been very friendly to business. Corporations operate very profitably, but instead of investing their profits, they are building up their liquidity. Perhaps a Republican victory will give them more confidence; but in its absence investment and employment needs to be stimulated by the government.  I do not believe that monetary policy can be successfully substituted for fiscal policy.  Quantitative easing is more likely to stimulate corporations to devour each other than to create employment.  We shall soon find out.
This brings us to the question I raised earlier. How much room does the government have for fiscal stimulus? How much public debt is too much? This is not the only unresolved question but it is at the center of political debate and the debate is riddled with misconceptions. That is because the question does not have a hard and fast answer. In saying this I am not being evasive; on the contrary, I am making an important assertion. The tolerance for public debt is highly dependent on the participants' perceptions and misconceptions. In other words it is reflexive.
There are a number of variables involved. To start with, the debt burden is not an absolute amount but a ratio between the debt and the GDP. The higher the GDP the smaller the burden represented by a given amount of debt. The other important variable is the interest rate: the higher the interest rate the heavier the debt burden. In this context the risk premium attached to the interest rate is particularly important: once it starts rising, the prevailing rate of deficit financing becomes unsustainable and needs to be reigned in. Exactly where the tipping point is located remains uncertain because it is dependent on prevailing attitudes.
Take the case of Japan: its debt ratio is approaching 200%, one of the highest in the world. Yet ten year bonds yield little more than 1%. Admittedly, Japan used to have a high savings rate but it has an ageing and shrinking population and its current savings rate is about the same as the US. The big difference is that Japan has a trade surplus and the US a deficit. But that is not such a big difference as long as China does not allow its currency to appreciate because that policy obliges China to finance the deficit one way or another.
The real reason why Japanese interest rates are so low is that the private sector - individuals, banks and corporations - have little appetite for investing abroad and prefer ten year government bonds at a 1% to cash at zero percent.  With the price level falling and the population aging, the real return on such instruments is considered attractive by the Japanese.  As long as US banks can borrow at near zero and buy government bonds without having to commit equity and the dollar is not allowed to depreciate against the renminbi, interest rates on US government bonds may well be heading in the same direction.
That is not to say that it would be sound policy for the US to maintain interest rates at zero and preserve the current imbalances by issuing government debt indefinitely. Once the economy starts growing again interest rates will rise and if the accumulated debt is too big it may rise precipitously, choking off the recovery. But premature fiscal tightening may choke off the recovery prematurely.
The right policy is to reduce the imbalances as fast as possible while keeping the increase in the debt burden to a minimum. This can be done in a number of ways but cutting the budget deficit in half by 2013 while the economy operating far below capacity is not one of them. Investing in infrastructure and education makes more sense. So does engineering a moderate rate of inflation by depreciating the dollar against the renminbi. What stands in the way are misconceptions about budget deficits exploited for partisan and ideological purposes.  There is a real danger that the premature pursuit of fiscal rectitude may wreck the recovery.

Clean and Open American Elections
by Editorial - New York Times

For at least 44 years, it has been illegal for foreign corporations, countries and individuals to make political contributions in the United States for any election, either directly or indirectly. It is even against the law to solicit such contributions. But in this Wild West year of political money, that longstanding ban is being set aside. The United States Chamber of Commerce — one of the biggest advertisers in midterm races around the country — is actively soliciting foreign money, and government enforcers seem to be doing nothing to stop it.

According to a report issued Tuesday by the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group in Washington, the chamber is getting “dues” payments of tens of thousands of dollars from foreign companies in countries such as Bahrain, India and Egypt, and then mingling the money with its fund to advocate for or against candidates in the midterm races. The chamber firmly denies the charge, saying its internal accounting rules prevent any foreign money from being used for political purposes. Money, however, is fungible, and it is impossible for an outsider to know whether the group is following its rules.

The chamber has vowed to spend more than $75 million before the November election, and it has already run 8,000 ads, most of which support Republican candidates. The ads do not urge a vote for or against a specific candidate, but when they accuse Senator Barbara Boxer of California of “destroying jobs,” or call Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut “the worst attorney general in the nation,” no one can mistake the intent. (The two candidates, both Democrats, are in tight Senate races.)

Because the United States Chamber is organized as a 501(c)(6) business league under the federal tax code, it does not have to disclose its donors, so the full extent of foreign influence on its political agenda is unknown. But Tuesday’s report sheds light on how it raises money abroad. Its affiliate in Abu Dhabi, for example, the American Chamber of Commerce, says it has more than 450 corporate and individual members in the United Arab Emirates who pay as much as $8,500 a year to join.

Because of a series of court decisions that culminated in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling earlier this year, these and similar 501(c) nonprofits have become huge players in the year’s election, using unlimited money from donors who have no fear of disclosure. (Not surprisingly, the chamber has been a leading opponent of legislation to require disclosure.) One such group, American Crossroads, organized by Karl Rove, announced on Tuesday a $4.2 million ad buy to support Republican candidates, bringing the group’s total spending to about $18 million so far.

The possible commingling of secret foreign money into these groups raises fresh questions about whether they are violating both the letter and spirit of the campaign finance laws. The Federal Election Commission, which has been rendered toothless by its Republican members, should be investigating possible outright violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act by foreign companies and the chamber.

The Internal Revenue Service, which is supposed to ensure that these nonprofit groups are not primarily political, has fallen down on the job. Last week, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, demanded that the I.R.S. look into whether the tax code was being misused for political purposes, and, on Tuesday, two watchdog groups made the same request of the agency. The government needs to make sure that the tax code — and American control of American elections — is not being violated.

Gulf oil spill: White House blocked and put spin on scientists' warnings
by Suzanne Goldenberg - Guardian

The White House blocked government scientists from warning the American public of the potential environmental disaster caused by BP's broken well in the Gulf of Mexico, a report released by the national commission investigating the oil spill said yesterday.

The report, produced by a panel appointed by Barack Obama to investigate the spill, said that about two weeks after the BP rig exploded scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asked the White House for permission to release their models showing their worst case scenarios for the spill. The White House office of management and budget, which is a traditional clearing house for decisions, turned down the request, the report said, quoting interviews with administration officials.

The report, one of four released today by the commission, provides the most compelling evidence to date of direct attempts by the White House to spin the BP oil spill disaster. The White House disputed the commission's findings. "Senior government officials were clear with the public what the worst-case flow rate could be," the acting director of the OMB, Jeffrey Zients and the NOAA adminstrator, Jane Lubchenco, said in a statement. The commission report does not explore why the White House sought to block the worst-case scenarios for the spill.

The report amplifies scathing criticism last week by the commission's co-chairs, Bob Graham and William Reilly, of the Obama administration's handling of the disaster. It goes on to catalogue other lapses by the administration, including repeated underestimates of the size of the spill, and downplaying the environmental damage after the BP well was capped.

The report found particular fault with the White House energy adviser, Carol Browner, who appeared on television on 4 August and said: "The vast majority of oil was gone." It said Browner was overstating the findings of a NOAA analysis of the fate of the oil. "By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem," the report said.

The documents for the first time put the White House at the centre of the long running dispute between the administration and independent scientists about how much oil was discharged into the Gulf, and how much remains in the water. At first, BP claimed the well was leaking 1,000 barrels a day. By early May, the administration had revised its estimate upwards to 5,000 barrels a day, but based its assessment on the work of a single NOAA scientist using "overly casual" analysis of satellite images of oil on the surface of the ocean.

The administration clung to that estimate – which turned out to be 12 times lower than the actual spill size – despite known inaccuracies in the scientists' work, the report said. It went on: "Loss of the public trust during a disaster is not an incidental public relations problem."


John said...

We.. "are not the priority." Very profound statement. For the few of us who read and work to understand the receeding horizon that eludes the masses, it does not come as a suprise. However, for those still trying to live the "American Dream", whatever that is, such recognition would create much more than a single Prozac moment. Thanks for the work you two do. I appreciate the ongoing reading and education. John

Mike said...

Another Great post Ilargi, the only thing missing was the music choice, which should be a mandatory Friday offering.

Allow me to suggest this Richard & Linda Classic: "Borrowed Time"

Richard&Linda: Borrowed Time

jal said...

You are right on

D. Benton Smith said...
“Any puny little one-shot new law trying to change centuries of legal precedent would be challenged in every case... and LOSE.

They are crafty. They are crooked. And they are desperate. (Hell, the whole thing is a dark comedy of desperate stupidity) and so they will come up with something... and whatever it is will be both absurd and really really bad for us.”
What ever they do must meet the following criteria

Finally, it must be recognized that clarity and precision are indispensable for creating credit and capital through paper.

Two things must be done.

The banks must look at ALL the sliced and diced salad.

Admit to the good stuff that is still performing and get the paperwork in order.

Admit to the bad stuff that is none performing and pass it down to the originators and everyone takes the loss.

Its not going to be pretty to see the unwinding of the scam but it must be done.
Some will not survive some will end up with no profit for years. Pension funds will need to be restructured.
Oct 06, 2010
Feds to investigate foreclosures

The Justice Department will investigate foreclosure procedures after reports of incomplete or inaccurate paperwork, Attorney General Eric Holder says.
Holder said the investigation will be handled by the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which includes officials from more than 20 federal agencies plus state and local authorities.

ned said...

I read that M2 is up in the last couple of months. How is that possible if consumer credit continues to contract?

jal said...

You might want more info by reading the following.

Janet Tavakoli On The "Biggest Fraud In The History Of Capital Markets"

EK: My understanding is that this now pits the banks against the investors they sold these products too. The investors are going to court to argue that the products were flawed and the banks need to take them back.
JT: Many investors now are waking up to the fact that they were defrauded. Even sophisticated investors. If you did your due diligence but material information was withheld, you can recover. It’ll be a case-by-by-case basis.

ric2 said...

@Virginia (from previous post)

Goodbye Head-And-Shoulders Pattern

The technicals have spoken and their saying goodbye to that doom-centric head-and-shoulders pattern. We're definitely going to test the 1220 high on the S&P 500.

Anybody who is short this market is going to need to put wax in their ears for the next few months. We're headed higher through Christmas.

Check back after the new year.

Charles Hugh Smith disagrees on your interpretation of the technicals:

Look Out Below (I've got a bad feeling about this)

I've got a bad feeling about this market. I was pointing out the technical reasons to be long all summer, but those have vanished. Now there is the stink of fear in the air, the whiff of desperate men (and a very few women) trying futilely to maintain the illusion that "everything's normal now" and most absurdly, "this recovery is tracking previous recoveries." Yeah, if you turn the charts upside down so "down" becomes "up."

It's an excellent post and I recommend you read it in its entirety.

Here's another post of his that reviews his analysis of the stock market for the past few months and contains links to previous posts of his with his technical analysis:

The Bullish and Bearish Cases for Stocks

He ends that post echoing Stoneleigh:

The market isn't rational; its "job" is to thwart any and all consensus predictions, and take along the fewest possible participants.

Edmund said...

Ilargi, it's just astounding, that for all your able interpretations of the financial world you persist in thinking that: “We need to get back to growth as soon as we possibly can, or we're all screwed.”

What is it about limits to growth you do not understand? Gaia is tapped out! There will never be more “growth!” We need to recognize this, understand that all future visions must will revolve around a no-growth, fixed-size, much lower-power cultural system.

Over the next century the human presence will likely shrink to perhaps 10% of its present size. As net energy declines, so will humanity’s way over-shot population.

Growth is dead. It is, like Wile, still suspended from the lips of the hubric knuckle-draggers who inhabit the halls of grandeur, but they are the last to recognize their folly.


soundOfSilence said...

The headline over on Yahoo Finance reads:

Dow Tops 11,000 for First Time Since May, Stocks Creep Higher on Expectations of Fed Move- AP

Stocks are edging up after another weak report on unemployment added to expectations that the Federal Reserve will step in to prop up the economy.

I can't decide if this is the definition of moral hazard or of shear stupidity.

bart said...

what about gold? your deflation argument isn't reflecting in the price of gold.

soundOfSilence said...

Linda from last time on silver coins...

Missed your question. I wouldn't look at them as an investment. Perhaps something as an attempt to preserve something of value at some point down the road.

I've got my own thoughts and no I don't disagree with anything I&s have said on the subject... one of the things I've found interesting is that as the price goes up the minimum purchase has gone up at number of places (including Colorado Gold... although I believe he did drop back down to 100oz on "generic silver" the Eagles and Maples remain at 500oz minimum purchase). Along with the increase in price ... it's just another way the little guy is priced out of the market.

Avoid places like Goldline. Turn around and walk in the other direction at the mention of old/rare coins. Stick to the well know stuff - 1OZ Eagles/Maples if you do decide to buy any. allows you to buy small quantities and "store" it till you have enough to make shipping worth while.

On that note enough on that whole topic of metal.

bluebird said...

Great post Ilargi. I think most of the people who read TAE, know we need 'Plan B'. But when the majority think a recovery is in process, sometimes it's hard not to party with them and enjoy these last few celebrations. I know I sometimes feel like a zombie stuck in a Wiley Coyote moment, but I've learned a lot from reading you and Stoneleigh to prepare for the next phase. Appreciate what you both are doing to educate us.

Twilight said...

@Edmund - you misread it. Ilargi was criticizing that position, not advocating it.

Anonymous said...


You clearly misunderstood Ilargi. He was writing about how the bankers and fraudsters on Wall Street think. I admit that I took a second look at that sentence too but knowing Ilargi and reading the sentence in context clarified it for me. Perhaps Ilargi can clarify that sentence in the original article.

@Everyone else:

I laugh at how many of you screamed at me for asserting that cuts to social security, medicare, and all the other entitlements are coming. Either cuts are coming or total social collapse is coming and you are not getting what you think you should be getting in either case.

Down this road lies ruin, death, decay, collapse, and destruction. I fervently wish it were not so but that is where we are headed, at a rapid clip, in some form.

No matter how this plays out, it's going to be ugly for at least 99% of us, if not all of us. And no, I am not trying to be callous to those of you on pensions, social security, medicare, etc. I am being realistic. It's unfortunate but promises were made that never could have been kept in the first place. Your refusal to accept this is part of this denial about which Ilargi writes. Like he said, you are zombies too.

Anonymous said...

A few months back, I wrote that Gold is not an investment. The same can be said of silver.

DO NOT INVEST IN PRECIOUS METALS. Investment implies that you are looking for a return on your investment.

Only buy precious metals as a store of value. If you can buy a particular tool today for 1 oz of gold (about $1350), you can probably buy that same tool in 10 years for 1 oz of gold. But by then the dollar may not even exist.

If you are "investing" in precious metals, then you deserve whatever pain comes your way over the next few years. If you buy precious metals as stores of value, they will very probably serve you well.

EconomicDisconnect said...

Excellent piece, thanks for the great read.

VK said...

@ Edmund

I think you're taking Ilargi's point on growth out of context. Ilargi understands Limits to Growth very well, after all he was an editor on TOD Canada :)

perry said...

Still little or no talk about FOOD here...

Do TAE'ers eat something else?


VK said...

Re: Technical analysis

Too many gaps on the downside to fill, about 7 on the SPX in just the last few weeks, those have to be filled by a downside move. Too little volume on the upside so far and the VIX has been too high to confirm this anything more than a headfake rally.

If it does go to 1,220 it'll crash much harder because the social mood has clearly turned.

Hombre said...

Ilargi - Thanks for posting my picture at the top! ;-)
I haven't read all the articles yet, just got back home to my laptop, but I will, and as for the frequency of your posts, I also vote for no sooner than every other day. My financial digestive system requires a little time for yours and the StoneLady's very articulate posts.

Anonymous said...

@Greyzone - Who fails to recognize that assets are just as ephemeral as liabilities?

If homes were 'purchased' with promises to pay, ie mortgages, and those notes were bundled into MBS which were then sold to pensions & institutional funds (401k, etc), what is their value when debtors default?

It's amazing how many people do not see the whole picture. To make matters worse (if possible), our vaunted $USD is backed by the same vapor, whether MBS, Ts or who-knows-what.

Which makes flight into Ts and dollars poor risks as well; hence gold. But, as Ilargi correctly points out, gold ain't gonna help you in the end. What ever value is being ascribed to it today is merely a function of overall economic values which themselves are based on the paper mill propping up the entire edifice.

To wit, what is the true underlying value of any asset given that everything has been corrupted by the ponzi? I guess we're all going to find out.

rapier said...

If the stock market had not crashed there would have been no consensus that we are in crisis. The seemingly permanent 10% UE number, once thought impossible has smoothly been incorporated into a status quo situation.

The market crashed because the Fed screwed up and starved the primary dealers. We will never know if by error or design.

Now not only are they flush with Fed supplied liquidity there are trillions more on the way.

Absent a crisis in the financial markets the slow bleeding of the bottom half of US society will not be portrayed as a crisis but rather an unfortunate situation. Thus the frog in the heating pot analogy should apply to the political and social situation.

My point is we all tend to look for some sharp breaking point in the American political economy and that could happen but more likely is a slow boil. Unfortunate for those in the pot but otherwise just a curiosity.

In addition it seems likely the 'emerging market' states and societies may very well do better for hundreds of millions of humans for some time to come.

I intend no final point or even counterpoint to the authors work except to say for most who follow it consider yourself not strapped to a bomb but sitting in a pot.

Hombre said...

Ilargi - " If these people would give up the fight for (economic) growth, and say there won't be any for years to come, they'd lose their powerful positions in an instant, only to be replaced by the next in line (by one) willing to declare straight-faced that recovery is just around the corner."
You bet they would!
This is a key element in why it is difficult for a democracy or republic to repair itself when in dire circumstances. Truthtellers don't win votes! And, this may well give a more closed society... dare I say it... er... China, an advantage as to controlling this monumental predicament on their home front.
Complexity multiplies this because it is very difficult for even a serious, honest leader to EXPLAIN IN DETAIL WHAT IS WRONG to the electorate. That cannot be done in 15 second sound bites!

Phlogiston Água de Beber said...


A great post today. Another valiant effort to change the conversation. I'm sorry to say that there is little chance of getting very many people to engage in that conversation. Oh, not quite so many politely excuse themselves and go looking for a more congenial conversation, but actual engagement is rare.

Dmitry Orlov addressed the *flation question today in a comment to his post about his interview by Mike Ruppert. I happen to agree with his view and have previously cited a, for instance, on this forum. Here is a snippet of what Dmitry wrote.

But then it turns out that fewer and fewer people are willing to part with something useful in exchange for mere money, and this renders the currency impotent. The term I prefer is not inflation or hyperinflation but devaluation: not cheap money or expensive money, but no money at all. Everyone seems to think that "the rich people will still have plenty of money." Sure enough, they will have... plenty of nothing.

The goldbugs loudly proclaim that will not apply to their PM's. Oh certainly, gold and silver are useful things and therefore, if you can hookup with someone that has use for them, the wheels of trade can be greased. IMHO, post-collapse most people that accept PM's in trade will fairly quickly realize there are far more useful things they could ask for.

The Mayans were apparently incredibly prescient. The world is going to be a far different place. Whether that will be suddenly noticeable on December 22, 2012 is I think quite unlikely. I don't see how they could have been that good. But, Wile E. has that Road Runner locked in his sights and a match ready to touch to the fuse on that big rocket strapped to his ass. He'll be levitating over that canyon dead ahead rather soon. At the bottom of the canyon is a different world.

Edmund said...

@ Greyzone, et al. Yes, I see I did not read that paragraph carefully enough. Thanks for your correction.


Unknown said...

Great rant Illargi, all that was missing was all text in caps! I find your writing styles quite complimentary to one another, as well as your rebuttals to those such as the likes of Cheryl.

bluebird said...

Spouse is addicted to fast food, junk food. I think he would prefer to die first than to eat anything grown in a garden. :(

So I have a small garden, and neighbors do too. As long as we save some seeds for future plantings, we should have food for awhile. Daughter has chickens and goats, but we don't live close enough, yet.

Another concern is availability of electricity for preserving food by canning or freezing, also availability of electricity for everything, actually. Having a few hours of electric every day would be really nice, but there are no guarantees.

I have Big Berkey for water purification, and a nearby pond for water. Stocking up on other supplies. Short term, we should be ok. Long term? Does it matter with what is coming?

VK said...

@ Rapier

My point is we all tend to look for some sharp breaking point in the American political economy and that could happen but more likely is a slow boil. Unfortunate for those in the pot but otherwise just a curiosity.

I suggest you take a look at Chris Whalen's piece in the TAE blogpost today as well as his presentation. By his calculations and IRA is one of the best firms out there, the next banking crisis is less than 6 months away. His basic premise is that banks are short on cash, their costs are rising sharply while incomes are declining.

This will not end well and will end rapidly.

EconomicDisconnect said...

When I was in college I had NO money (worked two night shift jobs at two convenience stores!) just to get by and not much left after rent, tuition, books,gas,car insurance etc. I ate on Wednesday and Sunday when my older cousin who had a small baby at the time would get her food stamps. Even now so may years after that I still cannot eat more than twice a day (or I feel ill). Still, I love a great steak!

Ilargi said...

"Twilight said...
@Edmund - you misread it. Ilargi was criticizing that position, not advocating it."

The saddest thing is that my point, as weirdly misread as it may be, is simply dead true. If this thing stops growing, most of us will be gone.


Frank said...

@Bluebird cook with propane. You should have a month window to make a buy each time. Sure it's still an outside supply, but doesn't have to be 'always on' like electricity. It's less expensive than electricity most places, and IMO better to cook on. Keep a hot plate and your microwave just in case.

EBrown said...

Another by my name! I've not met many other people who share my name...

I've spent this past year working pretty stinking hard to build a doomstead for what we are jokingly calling 'farmaggedon'. The work involved is simply endless, and now that I've embarked on this process I will throw out my two cents.

TAE has long acquiring direct control over the essentials of daily life - potable water, heat (depending on climate), and food. I couldn't agree more and starting two or three years ago would have been a better time than now. Starting now would be better than waiting any longer.

We have now put in about 1/8 acre garden and it is set to double next year. We figure we'll be able to grow roughly 50% of the calories required for four adults (my wife, my brother and his wife) from this plot, assuming we plant a lot of potatoes. Establishing and maintaining a good garden is a pleasant, peaceful endevour. It could easily be the difference between constant nagging hunger and being fed well enough to carrying on other useful tasks. On that note, the best book on gardening I've ever read and HIGHLY recommend for anyone setting out to start growing is "Gardening When It Counts" by Steve Solomon. The author doesn't lurk here as far as I know, but his basic theses on how the world operates synchronizes with the view at TAE.

Starcade said...

"If home prices keep falling, unemployment keeps rising..."

Well, you know that's right -- and, you know what that means...

#1) It means that a greater share than the 10% of the US adult population who has already lost their jobs since the Fannie/Freddie nationalization relied on house-as-ATM.

#2) The whole shit-fest is coming down.

With B of A's announcement suspending all foreclosures in America under B of A, I think that's the death clock for Bank of America.

I give it 180 days before someone has to absorb that poisonous monstrosity.

B of A is dead.

Starcade said...

jal: There's one problem:



Sorry for that all-caps, but there it is for you. If there is a good mortgage still out there in this country, between the fraud to get it, the fraud to cover up the destruction of the paper, the fraud of execution, or the fraud of non-payment, I'm all ears to it.

Draft said...

Great post.

One thing that frustrates me is authors / columnists / journalists who don't know basic chronology. The Obama administration could not have taken action from 2007-2009 (as Whalen writes) - they only came to power in late January 2009. It's like folks who talk about TARP being Obama's creation when it happened in late 2008 before he was elected.

This is not to excuse any faults of the administration, but as a rule folks who can't get simple things like that right - basic chronology of actual events - don't get the larger things right.

jal said...

Starcade, back on Leviathan said...
jal: There's one problem:


If it is in the sliced and diced salad it will make it very difficult to get a clear title in your name. Who will have the authority to sign off for everyone who bought the salad.

Hombre said...

Greyzone - "I laugh at how many of you screamed at me for asserting that cuts to social security, medicare, and all the other entitlements are coming."
Not many "regulars" at TAE would crack a smile at that--a foregone conclusion, at least it is with this ole doomsdog.
On metals, agreed! Not an investment.
@ Bluebird - From the "discovery" of fire until, oh, calendar date 1900, humans cooked with wood (well... buffalo chips, etc.) From 1900 til... the great collapse 2012-2030?) first worlders cooked with gas and electric. Premise: preparing to return to a woodburner should not be off the table. IMO

Ventriloquist said...

Draft said...

This is not to excuse any faults of the administration, but as a rule folks who can't get simple things like that right - basic chronology of actual events - don't get the larger things right.


You have hit the nail upon its head.

There are so, so many people blogging and responding to blogs who have their facts entirely incorrect.

This is due to insufficient research. As a start.

The business I am in includes spending a part of my time in a retail environment. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with the retail environment except for only one thing --

You are exposed to "the general public".

For example, most people in a situation that they know absolutely nothing about, somehow feel compelled to offer an opinion.

An opinion so ill-informed that it begs the question of whether a 5-year-old would be more profound. ("Kids say the darned'st things!"}

It is as if the average middle/upper-middle class American, when confronted by something they do not understand at all, simply blurts out of their mouths the very first neural connection that the synapse was able to jump.

Remember the old saying that put it so eloquently, "The mouth spoke, before the mind was engaged."

It is absolutely amazing how many unbelievably stupid comments an uniformed person will make when confronted with something that they have no previous knowledge about.

I'm sure that most of the people on this forum, when confronted with a new piece of knowledge that they had no previous exposure to, would hold their tongue with an observation until such time as they had educated themselves to such a point as to offer an informed opinion.


You are correct.

"folks who can't get simple things like that right - don't get the larger things right"



scrofulous said...


Whalen's bit in video is 1 'hour' 7 min in. Right after Nouriel.

A Fall Guy said...

The problem with gold part 1.

Imagining that gold will retain value FOR YOU through the storm heading our way requires a very specific kind of future.

If things become very turbulent, consider practical aspects of how you might spend it. Would you (could you) spend it openly while almost everyone else in your community is destitute? Would you share it to build community resilience? If you traded it on the black market, how would you avoid drawing attention of those who would happily relieve you of your stash? Would you live in fear with a gun under your pillow? Do you imagine having enough wealth to pay for security? If things become very hard, holding gold will be of little practical utility (even if it holds value), except for the very rich (and not even for many of those).

If, on the other hand, somehow the future storm plays out slowly (say over decades), a semblance of stability could form for a time (at least a façade to calm the herd). It’s not hard to imagine long-term oscillations in the value of gold, on a time frame in which you may eventually have to sell it for less than you paid. False recoveries and volatility could lead to large swings in gold prices and no guaranteed wealth retention.

That is, the envisioned future for goldbugs is not too hot, not too cold. A Goldilocks fantasy. Looking forward at the hammer of debt crushing down on the anvil of depleted resources, I find it hard to imagine that "just right" scenario has a very high probability, where gold holds value and can be safely used in commerce. While it was easy to get on, there is no easy exit off the fiat roller coaster.

Another angle is that gold prices are possibly easier to manipulate than fiat currency by powers other than central banks. As has been discussed, market manipulations serve to concentrate wealth. Perhaps the long-term prospects are for gold to hold high value, but maybe not until the "large holders" have more of it, to the detriment of the “small holders”. I have no more confidence in gold than in the stock market.

A Fall Guy said...

The problem with gold part 2.

I do have a lot more confidence in soil, fresh water, trees and community. The arguments in favour of gold seem to stem from a “passive” approach to retaining personal well-being. An “active” approach means investing in the means of taking care of your family and community: becoming active in a local Transition initiative, engaging in municipal politics, setting up a rural homestead, learning valuable skills, etc. Your value to your family and community should be because of what you know and can do (and have done), and not because you have something that can be easily taken away. If you have enough wealth to invest in both, fine, but the opportunity cost of investing in gold to the detriment of active preparation is risky.

Further, I cannot justify destroying the planet to hedge my future. The level of environmental destruction needed to get an ounce of gold from a diluted ore is horrendous. Sure there are some "ethical" mines. Even then, given the energy-poor future awaiting us, it doesn’t strike me as very wise to use loads of energy just to put a soft shiny metal in a vault.

PS I've been following TAE for quite a while, but am kept busy "balancing" my normal at-home work/office and our homestead. I would like to thank Stoneleigh and Ilargi for keeping up with this community service. It is my reference point against which I compare other arguments.

Anonymous said...

Sentimentally speaking, yes the US markets are expecting more buckets of bail.

Nathaniel Popper of the Los Angeles Times reports, "Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists said in a note Friday that they expect an initial bond-purchase program of $500 billion over six months, beginning in November."
(Stocks rise, oddly, on bleak jobs report)

The first step is to admit you have a problem...

The second step is to remember who it is you are accountable to.

ben said...

"I have been coming to this site daily- for well over a year and I still cannot determine what, if any, schedule there is for publication of articles.

Is it simply "whenever you feel like it, or when you have the time?"

If that is indeed the case, then I'm not sure if I get the point of having a website..."

i can get tea service with that blog? home, then, James! and don't spare the horses!


greetings from northern cyprus. rest assured there are empty developments galore and half finished buildings more. even here, in this forgotten little annex. i was and wasn't surprised. i'll be in istanbul tomorrow to confirm that there was simply no more space to build.

it's been fun trying to keep up, while traveling, with the dormant discord and exuberance around here.

Bigelow said...

In the Mad Max world barter is the only means of exchange going. Dmitry Orlov talked about "investments" once and advised that you get a cargo shipping container and fill it with razor blades, toothpaste and so on. Don't forget the condoms and toilet paper.

Even the dark ages had the concept of market days. You might have to walk 20 miles to get there though. And if there is gold and silver around that is where they will be used. Money is so much more convenient than bartering.

Ilargi said...


Partly true. However, McCain insisted both he and Obama would sit in on the TARP talks in September '08. And they did. Which delayed proceedings so much it drove Paulson to despair.


Starcade said...

jal: But that's one of the reasons it's all bad.

It's been sliced, diced, julienned, and probably multiplied to a factor of at 100, if not more...

Remember when the first cards really started coming down. What was it? The nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

House-as-ATM and mortgage fraud built the US "WE MAKE MONEY!" economy.

Especially with the "salad" you speak of, there's almost no conceivable way this can be unwound without wiping out the entire US banking system.

Starcade said...

Bigelow: When we go Mad Max, what's to say the only means of "barter" is one person's stuff for another person taking the first's life?

JF said...

A little possum living may be in order

zander said...

@ Frank

What d'you mean, cook with propane?, I'm still on utility and got a couple of Colemans for emergency.
Would apprciate a brief heads up on this. can you get small propane appliances? -
"a month window..." - what size of canister lasts one month ? a Tanker? :) maybes I need to rein in my energy use, I thought i was being frugal as well.

@ Ebrown,

will track down that book . Ta.

@ coyote,

i'm looking into woodburner possibilities this very week

@ Ilargi

Well, if a post as clear and unambiguous as that don't get through, your time would be better spent sitting watching Scotland matches waiting for a win.
you won't hit them like that every day, keep that in mind re the posting issue.


Ilargi said...

" logout said...

Whalen's bit in video is 1 'hour' 7 min in. Right after Nouriel."

That's what I took '1:07 minute' to mean. Maybe less clear for others. I injected an 'h'.


Alexander Ac said...


Stoneleigh had an excellent presentation at ASPO yesterday. I guess few people accepted fully her message.

Jeff Rubin did not agree on deflation scenario, and I asked Chris Martenson about oil prices and he said that price around 20 dollars is too low, since production costs are higher.

But thats what it is - we could not afford this much oil have not been for the debt - as far as I understand, but who am I...

Unknown said...

re PMs

Like Stoneleigh has advised, once the life boat is reasonably complete, there may be a place for PMs.

Now if one were a $60K/yr suburbanite, casing in a 401K and paying associated penalties and tax to buy gold would be foolish indeed. Resources would be much better expended to have a sustainable abode.

Using PMs in a collapsed environment could be very dicey. I think silver makes much more sense in that regard.

Consider failed states such as Liberia or Congo -- that is the image of the future once has to keep in focus.

Frank said...

@Zander My to advice to Bluebird was in the context of North American population density.

Both (all three actually) countries have areas into which one could drop Scotland, which have mains electricity but not mains gas. If Bluebird has mains gas here in NA, she is probably too close to "the center" to have to worry about long term repeated outages in the next 5-10 years.

PS. Before HDP pipes up, Mexico is a smaller place. You probably could only fit Wales into such areas there.

Hombre said...

Zander - I also have a propane stove and tank, with a 20lb tank you can use it a month or more with moderate use.

Bigelow - "In the Mad Max world barter is the only means of exchange going."

I think a close look at the "mad max" worlds of the past, world wars, invasions, upheavals, bartering AND precious metals in low denominations and as jewelry all were functional as exchanges for food, water, shelter, and other essentials--yes even life itself as Starcade suggested.

Twilight said...

Ilargi - well, yes, but that's the whole thing in a nutshell. Growth is going if not yet quite gone, leaving way too many of us to support.

Ric said...

Have given Solomon's Gardening When It Counts book to many people. Solomon recommends tankage (meatmeal) and bonemeal for making a homemade fertilizer. Whenever I approach any agricultural supply vendors about tankgage here in the US southwest, they look at me like they want to use me as fertilizer. Has anyone here had luck finding tankage in the US? I've assumed that because of California laws, processing plants can get tankage, but individuals can't.

Bigelow said...


Well then you are a barrier to free trade now aren't you? Perhaps you would change your moniker to 'Highwayman'.

scrofulous said...

ilargi, it is always a bit of a joke to be right and wrong at the same time, eh?

Gold? - A little bit may do the body good, but putting all of ones resources there could be a waste of what may be put to better use, like living and 'investing' in the here and now. It takes time to grow a tree, a garden or some other method of making a living in a world about to radically change.

I see that I can agree with Greyzone, at least about gold being a store of wealth, or in other words, a bit of insurance. No one can say exactly what the future holds but to have something that is portable and will hold wealth,(to some degree no matter what), is worth considering.

I just looked at a gold broker site and see the current price for a tenth of an ounce of gold Maple Leaf is going for 92 dollars. I think that there is no one reading here (bar someone reading on a library computer while keeping out of the rain and cold) that can not afford at least that much insurance. I say hold gold but within the reason of one's circumstances. My personal feeling is that gold should be looked at as a holding of last resort, but should be there, for that purpose, at that time.

In the meantime I guess everyone has noticed the devaluation of the US dollar that is occurring? Put that together with the Russians no longer exporting wheat and other crop failures or large decreases ( even locally here in the Frazer Valley too much rain has the farmers pounding the Legislature doors) and we will be back to 2008 when foreign buyers were outbidding American's buyers for the counties produce. Might be an idea to hold a medium term bag of rice as well as that long term insurance policy of gold?
Oops a bit of breaking CNN news, mortgage foreclosures halted in 50 States, I guess till further notice. Cui bono, ilargi?

Woody said...


Would not the slicing and dicing equally apply to most mortgages that are not even in foreclosure.

What advice would you offer to someone looking to purchase property that's not foreclosed?

EBrown said...

I haven't had success with finding tankage yet either (in NY state). I'm sure it is around somewhere. We used seedmeal as our source of nitrogen in the COF and it worked beautifully. All our crops were healthy and huge. A few got hit by slugs, but that was our only real pest problem this year. The beer trick helped a bit, but there were so many of them the containers we put out literally filled with slugs over night. Under such an onslaught the brassicas struggled.

jal said...

Woody said...

Would not the slicing and dicing equally apply to most mortgages that are not even in foreclosure.

What advice would you offer to someone looking to purchase property that's not foreclosed?
If it went into the salad then you got to ask yourself, "Who has the authority to sign off all the liens and give clear title."

LynnHarding said...

@Ric I don't think that you can buy meatmeal anywhere. Of course you can get bonemeal but I might worry about what kinds of metals are in those bones. It occurred to me the other day that I might be able to spray some of the wonderful raw milk that I can't sell onto my garden beds to encourage beneficial bacterial growth. It turns out that a few people have done that with great success. I am going to try it. Apparently you don't have to worry much about the percentage of milk mixed with water in the sprayer.
Solomons book also mentions Comfrey as a very good plant for composting. Also, why not just get a bunch of composted manure from a source you trust? I would rather invest in soil than gold any day.

scrofulous said...


Gidaduck! Couldn't grow cabbage to make sauerkraut here, couldn't even grow early summer cabbage until we got a couple. Let them graze your garden when you don't have young plants growing there and they will gratefully clean out slugs and slug eggs. Slug eggs are not to be confused with duck eggs that, IMO, are better than those of the chicken.

Robert said...

I didn't even notice there was a comments section on this site until this article mentioned it.

Jim R said...

I continue to see the news stories about a "foreclosure moratorium". ... and now that I've been reading TAE for a while, I just want to scream, "Nononono! the banksters want the moratorium! It's not about the little guys that did or didn't or can or can't make their monthly payment! Nobody cares about them, really!". But I'll scream it here instead, 'cos I like a sympathetic crowd. It'll be a great political hayride for the Democrats, until it's over.

I have a question / comment for those more financially literate than I (that would be most of you). If they decided to bail out all the little guys, all the "subprime" borrowers, and just paid them off like they've done with the TBTFs...

If they did that, it still wouldn't fix the problem, would it? Because you have all this recombinant debt in the form of MBS and Swaps and Derivatives and whatnot that have an expectation of a constant flow of interest, of passive income, and that expectation would simply cease to exist. Is that right?

YD said...

DIYer - I don't know if that is correct. In theory that would just be accelerating the payoff of the loans which "should" have been able to be paid off. The biggest problem with that is it would make way too many people secure in their homes and we could not have that! Well "they" could not have that anyhow.

Phlogiston Água de Beber said...

@ DIYer

You are much too modest and probably understand finance at least as well as I do. But I do want to take a shot at your question.

Shoveling money at indentured servants would have many unanticipated consequences. Think of the droppings the mammonite god produced at John Paulson's request so he could place sure-thing bets against them. They could have been sure thing losses instead.

The total debt in the system would have remained about the same, but it would have been transferred to the government instead of householders. The government only has to put up the full faith and credit of it's citizens. Let's face it, that is kind of ephemeral. I think the banksters much prefer more tangible collateral and an indentured populace. It's kind of difficult to foreclose on the government and seize our faithfulness and credit.

What I'm trying to say is it will never, could never, happen. Because, our corporocratic government is also an indentured servant of the banksterish class.

Mister Roboto said...

Ilargi (or Stoneleigh, for that matter):

Economics are not my strong suit. I notice you criticized Krugman in passing in this article, presumably because he is a Keynesian economist. Keynesians defend deficit economic stimulus spending by saying that in the event of a deflationary depression, tax revenues decline dramatically and deficits will occur anyway, so it's better to have deficits that stimulate the economy and keep people employed. I'm very new here, so might you link me to a past article of yours that answers this Keynsian rationale?

If I were to venture a guess as to what your response might be, it would be that the benefits of deficit economic stimulus spending yield the sort of diminishing returns of which collapse-historians such as Joseph Tainter and Jared Diamond have written so extensively.

Sorry to be such a n00b, but I really want to learn. :-)

scrofulous said...


"those more financially literate than I (that would be most of you). If they decided to bail out all the little guys, all the "subprime" borrowers, and just paid them off like they've done with the TBTFs... "

Can't have that, my dear, it would create Moral Hazard amongst the proles and they would go bananas and rush about mad as lemmings doing it all over again. That sort of thing is only for our betters the Bankers and those sort of Master monetary Baiters.

Bigelow said...

“The cultural belief that we can make things happen by thinking, by visualizing, by wanting them, by tapping into our inner strength or by understanding that we are truly exceptional is magical thinking. We can always make more money, meet new quotas, consume more products and advance our career if we have enough faith. This magical thinking, preached to us across the political spectrum by Oprah, sports celebrities, Hollywood, self-help gurus and Christian demagogues, is largely responsible for our economic and environmental collapse, since any Cassandra who saw it coming was dismissed as “negative.” This belief, which allows men and women to behave and act like little children, discredits legitimate concerns and anxieties. It exacerbates despair and passivity. It fosters a state of self-delusion. The purpose, structure and goals of the corporate state are never seriously questioned. To question, to engage in criticism of the corporate collective, is to be obstructive and negative. And it has perverted the way we view ourselves, our nation and the natural world. The new paradigm of power, coupled with its bizarre ideology of limitless progress and impossible happiness, has turned whole nations, including the United States, into monsters.”
Chris Hedges: Zero Point of Systemic Collapse ADBUSTERS

scrofulous said...

About that Moratorium Mort-gag'e'us, Dyer I think you read the situation. Yes, what Happens when the Bank forecloses, will they become proud owners and landlords or will they try to sell the joint fast as cats go for fish and where does that leave them then in this fishy marketplace other than holding their bag of rotting cod pieces.

Ric said...

@Ebrown & @LynnHarding,
Thanks for your comments. I'm definitely with you, LH re: investing in soil. Was very interested in how Solomon spent thousands of $$$ for trucking in 12" of topsoil because the best growing area on his property was black clay. I've got mostly red clay, sand, and granite for hundreds of miles around my home and water is even scarcer.... :-) Nuts to be here but we play the cards we're dealt!

Ilargi said...

"Loveandlight said...
I notice you criticized Krugman in passing in this article, presumably because he is a Keynesian economist. Keynesians defend deficit economic stimulus spending by saying that in the event of a deflationary depression [..] it's better to have deficits that stimulate the economy and keep people employed."

My beef with Krugman is the same I have with those that are supposedly 180º apart from him. Which is what I wrote about above: "all hands on deck all the time for a return to growth asap". His "opponents" think that'll be reached with less stimulus, Krugman with more, but the idea is still the same.

The core, though, with him, is that he has no proof, and no way to come up with any, that his notion of more stimulus will actually work. It's all just an idea based on theories which in turn are based on nothing but belief instead of science, no matter how many graphs and theories he presents.

Stimulus didn't work? It was not enough. More stimulus required.

There are, however, possible reasons, other than sheer size, that may render stimulus impotent. Not a word about that from Krugman. In his view, if you throw enough stuff at a wall, something will always stick. But some walls are simply too slippery, i.e. our present debt is simply too high.

Thing is, if he's wrong, and he is, in spectacular fashion, because he's utterly blinded to what's going on by his pet theories, the debt pressure on the US people will increase hugely. If growth does not resume, the debt incurred by the stimulus will still have to be paid off. And that is the capital issue that Krugman, and 99% of so-called experts, refuse to even address.

Which makes him a useless joke in my eyes.


jal said...

Ilargi said...
" If growth does not resume, the debt incurred by the stimulus will still have to be paid off. And that is the capital issue that Krugman, and 99% of so-called experts, refuse to even address."

Growth will not resume


Inflation does not pay off debt.

This is the blind spot that 99% of so called experts dare not address.

There is a reset going on and nobody can/want to project the kind of society that will result. (exception I&S)

jal said...

You all know how to play Monopoly.
Every time that you go PASS GO, you get $200.00.
NOW, go and play Monopoly without the $200.00 when you PASS GO.
PASS GO, would be equivalent to wealth creation in an non credit society.
PASS GO, would be equivalent to borrowing in a credit society.

The insight that you will get will give you a better understanding of what is happening and what could happen.

It's a RESET from what you are used to having to ...???


Linda said...

Oh my, 70 plus comments that I missed, busy for a day. Thank you Sound of Silence & Greyzone. Not looking for investment, just maintenance on the silver coins. I don't want gold--as I believe Stoneleigh said--too concentrated. But I had no idea what kind of silver. I like the silver for hundreds, not thousands (gold). Thank you also, DIY for your response.

I've also been stocking up on liquor--whiskey, vodka, etc. My brother says if we don't crash, we'll have a terrific 2012 end of time party.

My daughters & I mowed our doomstead today, a beautiful day in the midwest. Gosh, it was 92 degrees. That's not weird at all!

Where's the rain? We are very dry.


Jim R said...

Like I was saying, I just sent some stuff back to Colorado Gold. It was one of those bags of pre-1965 US coins, about sixty pounds of 'em. And some miscellaneous other coins. Since my plans are so sketchy, it didn't make sense to have them sitting around the house, and the price is up, and I can use the cash right now.

But if I were provisioning a doomstead, I'd go with the generic A-Mark silver rounds. I might get a few of those if there comes a time when I can easily afford them again. And I see that a previous commenter has noted the minimum silver purchase is 100 Oz.

EBrown said...

Re Logout,
Yeah, I know ducks are good on slugs we just didn't have the time to manage one more set of animals this year between the fencing, watering systems, chickens, cows, and clean up (we bought a place that was trashed). Perhaps next year I'll manage to throw a duck into the mix. Duck and goose is right at the apex of my preferred food pyramid too...

Have you heard of Micheal Astera? I just bought his soil book - apparently it's a how-to on amending soil and he's in the Solomon camp of healthy soils build healthy bodies. I actually don't even have it in my hands yet, but I'll give you a review privately if you want once I read it, unless others are interested too and then I'll post here. My e-mail adddress is edmund dot brown at gmail dot com.
If you're prepared to stay where you are for the long term I think trucking in a bunch of top soil makes sense if you have only clay as a sub-soil. You could also build a top soil fairly quickly if you can find some silt and some quality compost. Try calling all the excavators and septic installers in your area, somtimes they want to get rid of "fill" and it might be good stuff.

Like I said in a previous comment, a good garden, meaning at least 1,500 square feet of garden beds per adult, could very well mean the difference between feeling full at night and going to bed hungry. There are no guarantees in life, but a big garden puts one more arrow in your quiver so to speak, plus it's fun to build and maintain.

Ric said...

Hi Ebrown,
Fantastic looking book! I just ordered it. When I was working for organic farmers in my area it really bothered me how little they knew about their soil or their amendments. I'd be very interested in your thoughts about it when you get it.

Anonymous said...

A few near-term predictions:

The good -

* The US government WILL issue a moratorium on bankruptcies soon and WILL NOT back another bailout of TBTF banks. They were given some rope. What they did with it is now their problem.

The bad -

* The stock market will go through a long slow descent towards more reasonable valuations as the ripples make it through the global pond.

The ugly -

* Creation of jobs will become a priority that fluctuates pretty widely as it is balanced against state's needs, pensions and federal entitlement programs.

LynnHarding said...

@ric & ebrown
Please do post your book reviews here. Also consider becoming green wizards at the Archdruid site where it should be possible to start a soil thread if there isn't one already.

It is also worth noting that big money appears to be bidding up per-acre prices for really good farmland. In Massachusetts the price of farmland in the Connecticut River Valley has been rising steadily and now, I think, more rapidly. Those are among the best soils in the land. I wonder, however, whether even they have been depleted by years of tilling and planting and not cover cropping.

By the way, it appears that Stoneleigh is a big hit as ASPO. We heard her speak in Northampton this year and have been huge fans ever since.

pasttense said...

Is Stoneleigh's ASPO speech going to be posted here?

Jim R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Twilight said...

Ilargi - Regarding daily updates, I personally don't think they are required. Quality vs. quantity. There is so much going on and so much to sift through, and it can take some time to figure out what the latest move really mean. I don't see anything wrong with waiting a few days to post a considered analysis, as opposed to being on the spot to interpret everything ASAP.

Frank said...

@LynnHarding If by "the land" you mean New England, you are correct. The lower valley is indeed some of the best soil in those six frozen, rocky states.

If you mean the US, not a chance. The Ohio valley, the Mississippi delta, Eastern PA, the list of better land goes on and on.

Greenpa said...

I'm way over my ears on Autumn work here, which is why my contributions are erratic at the moment.

But; here's one: We're missing a graph.

Shocking; but we are. I'm asking our graphmakers to please make one more.

Personally, I find the "insider sales" statistic to be one of the very very most most important available. The current number of 2300:1 seems astonishing, cubed.

When I tell friends, they go "my, my!" but, I'm missing the track record. I'm assuming, in normal times, the ratio would run 1 ish to 1 ish.

Can we get a graph, of that statistic over the last 5 years? One year, even? I would find it not only fascinating, but perhaps more indicative of precipice edges than anything else.

Jim R said...

Deleting that last post; I just listened to the audio clip, and didn't hear Stoneleigh. And it was a very poor amateur recording, apparently done with the mic in the guy's laptop.

I'll wait for the "official" release if there is one.

Ilargi said...

"DIYer said...
Deleting that last post; I just listened to the audio clip, and didn't hear Stoneleigh. And it was a very poor amateur recording, apparently done with the mic in the guy's laptop. "

Listened to two minutes or so. Man, that sounded boring, like the conference was sponsored by Valium.


scrofulous said...

While he wears a white hat, does anyone else here find this statement by Robert Reich a wee bit off putting? Sort of in the vein of the road to hell being paved in good intentions?

"How can we get money into peoples pockets and be consumers in the short term? How can we make them more valuable so they can justify earning more money?"

Here is the link
Remark about 4 min 10 seconds in.

Phlogiston Água de Beber said...

@ logout

Reich's heart is in the right place, but having made the unfortunate choice to study economics, his head is not.

In a collapsing civilization, higher wages cannot be justified. Therefore, Consumerism is a dying religion. The question should be, why can we justify throwing people into the streets so that millions of dwellings can stand empty and deteriorating?

The answer to that question seems to be best expressed in a comment by Dmitry Orlov to the effect that our society and culture are already destroyed. Dare I say that they are lying splattered on the rocks at the bottom of that precipice.

Without those cohesive forces in play, it can only be every person alone against a faceless, uncaring corporocracy. They now have the right to buy elections outright, instead of having to corrupt the people's choices. What they do not have and I'm confident they don't want and wouldn't use is the right to behave like an actual human being.

ccpo said...

Those seeking nitrogen: comfrey. Perennial, extremely hardy, nitrogen accumulator so you can cop and drop, make tea, or compost. Also has medicinal uses. edible, but there is discussion about toxicity when ingested by people or for silage.


Hombre said...

Mish - "It's time to declare the war won and bring back all the troops."

The National Priorities Project has some interesting charts and graphics on the US budget.

Hombre said...

"Corporate insiders are bailing out of the U.S. stock market at a very alarming rate."

I don't understand how "we" (market watchers) know who these "insiders" are and how we know many of them are bailng out, etc. This is indeed potent information but is it firmly established in fact?

Gravity said...

Orlovs stages of collapse are not so linear that the phases of financial, commercial and political collapse must always complete sequentially and precede the social and cultural phases.
Although the thresholds of energy flux decompilation proceed linearly downwards, thus chaotically releasing unbounded energy through the unraveling of complexifying structures, I believe that some origins of collapse cascade must be inverted from the cultural phase upwards, especially in the interface between language and trust, possibly involving decreasing gains from symbolising trust in monetised abstractions.

Social and cultural collapse must have proceeded for decades before the financial phase manifested so violently, it would not have been possible for such corruption to accumulate without moral decay in the citizenry and conceptual corruption of the body politic. As consumerist culture now supplies the dominant value-system, political collapse should fully complete as the commercial phase gains sufficient momentum, dragging the remains of common social and cultural identities with it.

Ilargi said...

" Coy Ote said...

I don't understand how "we" (market watchers) know who these "insiders" are and how we know many of them are bailng out, etc. This is indeed potent information but is it firmly established in fact?"

The insiders referred to are the executives of a company, and they must by law report any sales of stocks they own in their firm.


scrofulous said...

Coy ote,

Not a market watcher other than at times out of fear of the unknown but I understand that insider trading must be declared. Here is something from wikipedia:

Tracking insider trades

Since insiders are required to report their trades, others often track these traders, and there is a school of investing which follows the lead of insiders. This is of course subject to the risk that an insider is making a buy specifically to increase investor confidence, or making a sell for reasons unrelated to the health of the company (e.g. a desire to diversify or pay a personal expense).

As of December 2005 companies are required to announce times to their employees as to when they can safely trade without being accused of trading on inside information.

Draft said...

Greenpa is right - the insider sell-to-buy ratio is a very interesting metric, but it's only helpful if put in context. Maybe someone who has the data could chart it say vs. the S&P 500 and/or other interesting metrics?

Gravity said...

On average these insiders would maintain a long-term buy to sell ratio higher than 1, otherwise they'd have run out by now, unless they somehow fabricate more and gain ownership without purchase, do they?

Also, this foreclosure fury looks serious, shouldn't the implications trigger some panic soon? As I understand, tradeable property rights have been irreversibly destroyed in a most original way, instantly evaporating substantial portions of the housing market and invalidating related engines of leverage, thus totally transmogrifying constructed capital into demonetized social substrate of no use to the financial superstructure, which might've afforded some kind of hazardous jubilee under different circumstances, but will likely just quicken the pace of ruin.

Hombre said...

Ilargi and Logout - Thanks for the information and clarification. When officers are jumping ship, the vessel must surely be in danger of sinking!

Gravity, I was listening to this (below) while reading your very astute observations, especially so your second paragraph!
Over an hour of Orlov at the podium!

Unknown said...

Stoneleigh's talk at ASPO is really a shortened version of the "Century of Challenges" talk that you can view online. She told me that she cut out a lot of the stuff related to peak oil (I guess assuming that most in the audience already knew plenty about that part of things). If you have seen that video, then you haven't missed anything.

She was on the panel with Chris Martenson, and the session was moderated by Robert Hirsch.

The only thing that was weird was that after this session they had a number of the panelists up there for Q/A, and Rubin was asked about Stoneleigh's talk. He was kind of dickish in his response - he started by saying he thought "Monetarism is BS", and something to the effect that "it is popular with those who aren't trained as economists". But after this, Rubin then proceeds to start talking about shortcomings of the Ontario power grid and in the process stumbled right into one of Stoneleigh's areas of expertise. I should say however that if you stand back at a distance, the differences between what Stoneleigh is saying and what Rubin is saying aren't as great as might otherwise appear. As a "fly on the wall" standing in the room, I would say that her talk was well received. People came up afterwards and wanted to know more. Some were saying that in her talk she synthesized what some of them had been thinking privately. It is fortunate that the video is available from the website - a number of people wanted to see the entire talk and not the shortened version that she presented at ASPO.

Some people in the room were as she might say "gobsmacked". It isn't an easy message for someone who is hearing it for the first time.

At the time it struck me as odd that Hirsch was chosen to moderate this panel. But he gave the keynote later in the evening, and he started talking about personal preparedness. He personally had divested of stocks and bonds, switched from an SUV to a Prius, and moved closer to transit (among other things). It surprised me to see a person of his prominence talk about these things, but it served to underscore the things that Stoneleigh had just talked about.

Ilargi said...

"Gravity said...
On average these insiders would maintain a long-term buy to sell ratio higher than 1, otherwise they'd have run out by now, unless they somehow fabricate more and gain ownership without purchase, do they?"

They do often receive more stocks and stock options as pats of their contracts. Still, if they do their jobs well, you might hope the stock price would go up, so selling would be an odd choice..


Ilargi said...

"Rubin was asked about Stoneleigh's talk. He was kind of dickish in his response - he started by saying he thought "Monetarism is BS", and something to the effect that "it is popular with those who aren't trained as economists"."

What I noticed in the 2 minutes of the audio file DIY'er linked to, and now deleted for some reason, was that Rubin managed to mention the fact that he has a book out at least 3 times. I guess he thinks he'd better elbow others aside, and pretend he has a direct line upstairs, to sell more copies. Works in most other religions too.


anon10 said...

Irish Building Industry Contracts for the 40th Consecutive Month

EBrown said...

I just read "Russian Comfrey: A Hundred Tons an Acre of Stock Feed or Compost For Farm, Garden, or Smallholding", and found it very interesting.

The toxins in comfrey are not to be discounted lightly. A few people have destroyed their livers by ingesting too much of the stuff.

I think for the doomstead, especially a smallish one, it can provide an invaluable source of organic matter. No garden can be self sufficient in organic matter production and maintain healthy and yields over the long-term. Comfrey has the unique ability to pack on tropical plant growth rates in a temperate climate. It has a massive root system that reaches as deeply into the subsoil as a tree. Deep roots allow access to minerals and nutrients that have leached too far for other plants to reach so they can be "recovered" to the surface.

Apparently livestock will eat it with relish once it's wilted, though I haven't tried this yet. I don't know whether the pyrrolizidines are digested in ruminants' digestive systems. I'd love to find a source to tell me whether they are as it would be very valuable to know.

anon10 said...

"The big question from the mortgage meltdown isn't why so many distressed homeowners are defaulting on their loans.

It's why any of them are still making payments.

In the worst-hit areas millions have no equity left, and little hope of seeing any anytime soon. The market value of their homes is far below the size of the mortgage.

If they just stop paying, what is going to happen to them? In many cases they may get to live in the home rent-free for months, even years, until the bank gets around to seizing it."

Jim R said...

I deleted the link because Stoneleigh isn't in it, and because Rubin and Jagger were even more annoying to listen to than the buzz in the recording. The oildrummer who linked it had mislabeled the segment. Here's where I found it:

Steve From Virginia said...

First; the issue is domestic (public) debt driving the monetization not much else. Deflation represents very high real interest rates that are fatal to a borrowing entity (the US government) that borrows + $1.5 trillion per year.

Planet Bernanke MUST cut all ranges of interest to near zero PLUS buy large amounts of Treasuries just to keep the government operating.

Japan could endure deflation and run huge deficits because of its trade surplus, something that the US does not have.

M2 is expanding because finance is lending/borrowing to inflate a nascent asset bubble in commodities and gold. Watch the oil price. + $90 will be the rapid end of the bubble - if prices get that high.

Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh) - the Diva of Deflation - was indeed the star of ASPO, sucking the air out of a large room filled with a bunch o' doomers. A tough audience indeed. The farmers came close w/ Sharon Astyk wondering aloud why people would be so stupid as to grow human food to feed to carz.

Good question ...

Stoneleigh said...

Jeff Rubin and I were equally unimpressed with each other's views, which are almost diametrically opposed. His response to my talk (which I was not given the opportunity to respond to) was gratuitous and uninformed. No one who actually understands monetarism would accuse me of adhering to it after hearing me explain my view of the world. It is a narrow and mechanistic doctrine that I have consistently critiqued.

Mr Rubin also feels that non-economists are not qualified to comment, but considering the track record of most economists, could non-economists possibly do any worse?

Ant Whisperer said...

"Mr Rubin also feels that non-economists are not qualified to comment, but considering the track record of most economists, could non-economists possibly do any worse?"

I had to laugh at this. Really? The 99.9% of people who don't hold degrees in economics aren't qualified to comment on the unfolding gong-show?!

Reminds me of that Monty Python sketch in The Meaning of Life where John Cleese's Obstetrician sneers at a woman who is in labour:

Patient: "What do I do?"
Obstetrician: "Nothing, dear, you're not qualified".

Bigelow said...

"Mr Rubin also feels that non-economists are not qualified to comment, but considering the track record of most economists, could non-economists possibly do any worse?"

I believe it was Mr. Noam Chomsky, when challenged why he was qualified to comment on some issue, replied "because I am a human being".

anon10 said...

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “The Black Swan,” said investors who lost money in the financial crisis should sue the Swedish Central Bank for awarding the Nobel Prize to economists whose theories he said brought down the global economy.

“I want to make the Nobel accountable,” Taleb said today in an interview in London. “Citizens should sue if they lost their job or business owing to the breakdown in the financial system.”

Taleb said that the Nobel Prize for Economics has conferred legitimacy on risk models that caused investors’ losses and taxpayer-funded bailouts.

`Black Swan' Author Says Investors Should Sue Nobel for Crisis

Hombre said...

Economics is an "art", in the sense that any established field that is not a science is an art.
Picasso would likely NOT make a good electrician but might well fit right in at a conference of economists! One person says one thing, another says something diametrically opposed!
Since our feminine co-host makes such good common sense in several related areas, I have to automatically reject the views of her detractors, at ASPO or otherwise.
And I'm elated that we all get to have a say here regardless of whether we are "qualified" or not! ;-)

JF said...

What If Cold Fusion Is Real? Don't slap your forehead in consternation, for I offer the question not to introduce another pipe dream of last minute salvation from our impending appointment with a future we'd rather not contemplate, but because the story of cold fusion demonstrates how established interests and paradigms can be depended on to resist and impede any solutions which don't follow the chain of command and appropriately present themselves before the correct bureaucratic functionary.

More briefly, the situation is hopeless.

In a way the cold fusion story also demonstrates the systemic complexity that our society has evolved, and how complexity introduces dysfunctionality. We're overspecialized and compartmentalized. The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is picking our pocket, and even if it did it wouldn't care as long as it could still depend on it's grant, which we all know flows from a inexhaustible and comforting spring of infinite plenty.

scandia said...

For the Obama family this massive mortgage fraud is a " Sound of Music" moment as in a getaway to Canada while the audience applauds and applauds the performance.
Alas times have changed in Canada as well. Harper & Co would turn the family over to the rendition experts......
So I ask the board, where can those darling girls and a dog go to be safe?

JF said...

"Mr Rubin also feels that non-economists are not qualified to comment, but considering the track record of most economists, could non-economists possibly do any worse?"

Most academic economists are simply irrelevant to recognition, discussion, and attempted solution of the problems at hand to the rest of us. They must perform some useful function for the various institutions which employ them, but whatever it is, it has no connection with what the rest of us here in the real world understand to be the meaning and proper tasks of economics. Titles and purported qualifications have long since ceased to have any meaningful value in identifying those whose opinions may make valuable contributions to these discussions. Simply put, if a self-proclaimed authority didn't publicly announce foreseeing the events of the last few years, and identify causes and suggest corrections, then it's a waste of the time and energy of those who were able to discern them to allow themselves to be engaged in argument with them.

These people tend to insist on their authority, and in a manner which reveals how important it is to them that it be recognized, but for the purposes at hand they're demonstrated incompetents at best. If they begin to get in the way, and ignoring them doesn't make them go away, it may be necessary to gently but firmly point this out to them.

Frank said...

Stock given to insiders as a bonus, or purchased at a discount through stock options is not listed in the insider trading reports. _All_ sales however are.

Given reasonable desires to diversify, and buy houses and cars, insiders are virtually guaranteed to be net (reported) sellers.

My recollection from paying casual attention (I had some dotcom insider stock myself) is that the ratio is normally in single digits.

Jim R said...

Argentina. Maybe they'll be adopted by a family of buzzards.

That sounds about right, cold fusion may be a real effect but will never be more than a laboratory curiosity, if it can find a curious laboratory. Hot fusion is a real effect, but useful applications have been 20 years in the future for the last sixty or seventy years, right up to the present.
And the ASPO panelists in that recording are definitely on an ego trip, which tends to eclipse any message they might wish to convey.

Ilargi said...

" DIYer said...
[..] the ASPO panelists in that recording are definitely on an ego trip, which tends to eclipse any message they might wish to convey."

Ha, ha! I didn't think about that angle till I saw this, buy yes, Bob Hirsch also has a new book out! It's a mix of ego and sales promotion, using ASPO as their tool.


Draft said...

"Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh) - the Diva of Deflation - was indeed the star of ASPO, sucking the air out of a large room filled with a bunch o' doomers. A tough audience indeed. The farmers came close w/ Sharon Astyk wondering aloud why people would be so stupid as to grow human food to feed to carz."

I wonder how much of this has to do with the fact that doomers at conferences like ASPO are overwhelmingly male. And especially with older men (and I say this being a younger male) who are used to being treated as the absolute authority on everything and can't stand someone younger, or worse for them, of the opposite sex challenging them.

Draft said...

"Ilargi said...

"Ha, ha! I didn't think about that angle till I saw this, buy yes, Bob Hirsch also has a new book out! It's a mix of ego and sales promotion, using ASPO as their tool.""

And I don't know if any of you have checked out Hirsch's book, but it's awful. It was like a middle school yearbook staff edited and formatted the book using material assembled from first drafts of books written by other authors. What is it about folks that just because Hirsch wrote a great report in 2005 they automatically praise his book that says nothing new (beyond Deffeyes and Heinberg and Kunstler and all the others as a reviewer on Amazon observed)?

I think Hirsch realized that many others have made lots of money as peak oil authors and that he wants to ride the doomer gravy train. Though he should have probably contributed something to the discussion rather than just rehashing the same arguments in the form of a $30 book.

Greenpa said...

Frank said...
Stock given to insiders as a bonus, or purchased at a discount through stock options is not listed in the insider trading reports. _All_ sales however are.

embarrassingly, I totally knew that; ergo a 1:1 ratio is never going to be. duh.

So what IS the common "good times" ratio range?

jal said...

You have not been paying attention to what is happening.

Do a search for Freddie “put back”

Here is one article.

UPDATE 1-Four banks face big losses on repurchases-Fitch(Updates with banks declining comment)
By Al Yoon
Aug 18 (Reuters
Potential repurchases demanded by investors holding privately-issued mortgage bonds were not factored into the Fitch study.
In other words ... this only the tip of the iceberg.

Here is a short summary, in my own words.

Gov. gives money to bank.
Fannie and Freddie take the mortgaged back securities (MBS) as collateral.

That was the first quantitive easing.

Fannie and Freddie return the faulty mortgaged back securities, (MBS) to the banks.
Banks get money, (Again), to pay for the “put back”.

From gov. T-bills at zero interest.

This is the second quantitive easing.

The banks get saved TWICE and you did not even see it happening.


scrofulous said...

Morning and a look at Kuntsler's Monday morning American blues review, and reading to the end of what I read as, a very unusual for him, enervated rant he ends with this thought by Lon Chaney:

- when explaining his technique of horror movie-making - "...there's nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight...."

and then I wandered over to listen to Max Keiser on 'Radio Russia' and somehow that seemed to fit right into that idea - of listening to a clown in the moonlight ... of two failed systems.

Might be a stretching things here to make a point but I think it somehow goes to show what (blindly) following ideologies or leaders is all about ... dark places!

Greenpa said...

This is interesting; a senior editor at Fortune just put up an article "Stocks have nowhere to go but down" -

fairly sane analysis, even; but this little mood killer got taken down from CNN's headline list between the time I clicked on it, and the time I went looking for that URL...

Unknown said...


I think they just changed the title to a gentler "Don't believe the bulls." "Stocks have nowhere to go but down" is just too scary for CNN.


Unknown said...

There's been talk of housing, building your soil, and preparing in general in this post's comments. What do you guys think of the tiny house on wheels concept (e.g., Tumbleweed Houses)? I'm rather stuck in San Diego for now and not able to build a permanent homestead, but I'm thinking for the cost of a year's rent, I can build one of these and find someone to let me park it (and garden in their otherwise unused back yard). No debt, increased savings, and the ability to move it if/when the situation deteriorates here.


(And +1 on "Gardening When It Counts".)


Draft said...

Andy -

I've been a big fan of Tumbleweed's houses for a long time. They're extremely well designed.

My suggestion is you might consider getting an open plot of land and building one there rather than building it on a trailer. That is, if you know where you want to live long-term.

I say this because eventually you might run into a problem of having to pay rent to park your trailer, and won't necessarily be able to garden / grow your own food if you're just parked at someone else's place.

In most cities you're not allowed to build a 'house' smaller than some certain size (somewhere in the range of 300-1000 sq. ft. is the minimum depending on the city). However, there are two ways of getting around this - you can either build it as a 'shed' (which requires no permit) or as an 'in-law unit'. The shed/workshop cutoff is usually 120 sq. ft. - many of the Tumbleweed houses are below this limit. The only catch is that you often can't put a full kitchen or bathroom in the unit at time of construction (because a contractor won't risk their license to put it in and violate code - you can just have them put in all the pipes / wires for it and then add the fixtures yourself afterwards). This is the best option. Alternatively you can build an 'in-law unit' in the back of an existing house, but you'll need a permit for that.

Chris said...

Andrew said...

What do you guys think of the tiny house on wheels concept (e.g., Tumbleweed Houses)?

I think these buildings are a great idea.

The building is portable, the investment is minimal and you can learn useful skills while building it.

If you do eventually settle on a piece of land you can simply move the house there and live in it while you build, or simply live in it depending on your wants and needs.

Reading about these buildings and seeing the interest in them makes me wonder if we will see tumble weed caravans in North America in the future ...

Linda said...

I agree with Draft. I was thinking it was a sexist thing before he mentioned it. Sorry, but it is still very difficult for alpha males (I wrote a book!) to stomach a challenge of any kind from a woman. Too bad Stoneleigh was not given an opportunity to respond. I thought I kind of liked Rubin's not so much.

Hombre said...

Andrew - I think there is a lot to be said for mobility, anytime, and in the future that might take on a whole new meaning depending on how things unravel.
Being an old timer I plan to sit tight with this house (in Indiana) but if younger I would adapt/build a Mandan style house, round with centered heat source and about half below ground level. Heat it with a candle... (well, a small heat source ;-)

JH Kunstler - "The banking authorities were shocked - shocked - to discover last week that an awful lot of mortgage paper in this country is not quite in order..."
As Jal oft posts... he he he!
A line straight out of Casablanca! But while they closed Bogart's bar it may not be true for these... er... financial institutions.

Alpha Beta Soup said...

I felt bad for bringing up the precious metals bit, as I know it has been hashed over many times by I & S, and others over the years. But I feel the comments that have been posted are worth their weight in gold.

I learned today that:
Good dirt is more valuable than gold.
Gidaduck (= GET a duck), they are more valuable than gold.
Comfrey is more valuable than gold.

I also know that chickens, geese, game hen, clover, legumes, goats, are all very valuable for the same reasons.

Also, I got an idea I want to try out on you guys that say gold and silver can be used for money when all else fails. Someone made the comment that junk silver may only be worth the face value to some people, so what happens if no one sees the value in a silver or gold coin? If the banker isn't around, who determines what it is worth? That has been my fear all along, and the reason why I don't cave in to my families request that I buy PM.

I think I will forget gold, stick to bartering, and *attempt* to move forward with my plans to build my house in the mountains. I know Stoneleigh said that was a bad idea, but I and my family are safer in the woods than where we are in the city.

And if I can't build in the mountains, I guess that *other* PM (lead) will be useful..... But who wants to resort to THAT? I'd rather give up.


Phlogiston Água de Beber said...

Damon Vrabel has a video presentation Debunking Money (volume 1): Money, Myth, and Machiavelli on his website, which he says is the first in a series, on money and power. He takes a slightly different tack in explaining the debt-based monetary system and what it means.

Jim R said...

ΑΒ Soup,
If you need a duck and you don't have a duck, then yeah, it's valuable to you. And if the world is reduced to a barter economy, then identifiable pieces of precious metal might be useful barter tokens. They won't be worth a brazillion dollars, they'll be worth whatever someone will trade you for them.

I think a lot of folks who've studied our predicament have what I like to call "Renaissance Faire Syndrome". They know about the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages, and who hasn't been to a renfair? It's like a big party way out in the country. You put on a silly costume and wander around using quaint expressions found in the King James Bible.

But when you really give it some critical thought: if the economy is reduced to barter, then something like 99.9% of current economic activity will cease to exist. The Safeway around the corner will not be accepting a silver round from the Northwest Territorial Mint in exchange for a loaf of bread, a half gallon of pasteurized milk and a dozen grade A eggs, it will be an empty building out of business.

So have a few pieces of silver around, but hope and pray that the dollar keeps going just a little while longer. And yeah, it's also good to have a dacha you can retreat to if the city gets too stressful.

jal said...

Does anyone see if I’m wrong?

The banks are not using their money for “put back”. They are using t-bills issued by the gov.


Starcade said...

Has anyone else figured out that the only reason we had an economy the last 20-30 years was all this mortgage fraud?

bluebird said...

Starcade said "Has anyone else figured out that the only reason we had an economy the last 20-30 years was all this mortgage fraud?"

My guess it started in the early 1990s when the MERS system was activated.

LynnHarding said...

@ebrown and others - I wish I knew how to find out more about Comfrey. I have planted lots of it and fed it in extreme moderation to goats, chickens and even to my horse. All of my animals like it unwilted. I have used it as a poultice on broken ribs and mixed it up with lemon balm and beeswax to make a skin cream. No ill effects observed.
There is something freakish about its extreme vitality and its hairy leaves, not to mention the fact that you can cut it to the ground up to six times per season and it will come right back.
The studies pointing to toxicity seem to involve consumption of huge quantities. I think too much broccoli - indeed any plant in excess - might be hard on the liver. If anyone has any additional information I would really appreciate it.
Anyway, a deep rooted bio-accumulator is going to be great for the compost heap if nothing else.

ogardener said...

Blogger LynnHarding said...

"@ebrown and others - I wish I knew how to find out more about Comfrey."

Would you happen to know the specific epithet of the Comfrey of which you speak? The genus and species of the plant? Common names can be confusing.

Ilargi said...

New post up.

All your neighbors are zombies


Anonymous said...

There are also disagreements about the efficacy & safety of leaves vs. root. Some studies show the leaf to be almost alkaloid free -- thus safe.