Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Troubling Decline of Financial Independence in America

If you can't work for yourself and afford health insurance, something is seriously messed up.
By financial independence, I don't mean an inherited trust fund--I mean earning an independent living as a self-employed person. Sure, it's nice if you chose the right parents and inherited a fortune. But even without the inherited fortune, financial independence via self-employment has always been an integral part of the American Dream.
Indeed, it could be argued that financial independence is the American Dream because it gives us the freedom to say Take This Job And Shove It (Johnny Paycheck).
This chart shows the self-employed as a percentage of those with jobs (all nonfarm employees). According to the FRED data base, there are 142 million employed and 9.4 million self-employed. (This does not include the incorporated self-employed, typically physicians, attorneys, engineers, architects etc. who are employees of their own corporations.)
This chart depicts self-employment from 1929 to 2015. Self-employment plummeted after World War II as Big Government and Big Business (Corporate America) expanded and the small family farmer sold to agri-business or went to the city for an easier living as an employee of the government or Big Business.
Self-employment picked up as the bulk of 65 million Baby Boomers entered the work force in the 1970s. Not entirely coincidentally, a 30-year boom began in the 1980s, driven by financialization, technology and the explosion of new households as Baby Boomers got jobs, bought homes, etc. These conditions gave a leg up to self-employment.
Self-employment topped at around 10.5 million in the 1990s, and declined sharply from about 2007 to the present. But the expansion of self-employment from 1970 to 1999 is somewhat deceptive; while self-employment rose 45%, full-time employment almost doubled, from 67 million in 1970 to 121 million in 1999.
Financial independence means making enough income to not just scrape by but carve out a modestly middle-class life. If we set $50,000 as a reasonable minimum for that standard (keeping in mind that households with children recently estimated they needed $200,000 in annual income to get by in San Francisco), we find that according to IRS data, about 7.4 million self-employed people earn $50,000 or more annually.
This works out to a mere 6% of the full-time work force of 121 million, and only 5% of the employed work force of 142 million.
There are a number of reasons for the decline of financial independence/self-employment. I cover the fundamental changes in the economy in my book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.
But there are other less structural reasons, such as nonsensically complex and costly regulations--a topic explained here recently by entrepreneur Ray Z. in Our Government, Destroyer of Jobs (August 12, 2015).
As many readers pointed out, these complexity barriers limit competition to Corporate America chains and provide make-work for government employees and politically protected guilds.
What's the difference between a Socialist Paradise where 95% of the people work for the state or a quasi-state institution, and a supposedly "free market economy" in which 95% of the people work for the state or a cartel-state institution? Given that the vast majority of employees are trapped in their jobs by the threat of losing their healthcare insurance, how much freedom of movement and non-inherited financial independence is available?
This reality is described in Health Care Slavery and Overwork (via Arshad A.)
True financial independence is probably even scarcer than these bleak numbers suggest. As a self-employed person myself, I have to pay my own healthcare insurance costs --a staggering $15,300 per year for bare-bones coverage for the two of us (no meds, eyewear, dental, $50 co-pay for everything, etc.).
Only 3.9 million taxpayers took the self-employed health insurance deduction.That's a pretty good indicator of how many taxpayers are actually living solely on their income, that is, they don't have a spouse who has family healthcare coverage via a government or corporate job.
That's a mere 2.7% of all 142 million employees. If you can't work for yourself and afford health insurance, something is seriously messed up.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Laura D. ($50), for your stupendously generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Who Will Be the Bagholders This Time Around?

Anyone betting China's GDP is really expanding at 7% and the U.S. economy will grow by 3.7% next quarter is angling to be a bagholder.
Once global assets roll over for good, it's important to recall that somebody owns these assets all the way down. These owners are called bagholders, as in "left holding the bag."
Those running the rigged casino have to select the bagholders in advance, lest some fat-cat cronies inadvertently get stuck with losses.

In China, authorities picked who would be holding the bag when Chinese stocks cratered 40%: yup, the poor banana vendors, retirees, housewives and other newly minted punters who borrowed on margin to play the rigged casino.
Corrupt Chinese officials, oil oligarchs and everyone else who overpaid for flats in London, Manhattan, Vancouver, Sydney, etc. will be left holding the bag when to-the-moon prices fall to Earth.
Anyone buying Neil Young's 2-acre estate in Hawaii for $24 million will be a bagholder.
(If nobody buys it at this inflated price, Neil may end up being the bagholder.)
Bond funds that bought dicey emerging market debt (Mongolian bonds, anyone?) and didn't sell at the top are bagholders.
Everyone with bonds and stocks in the oil patch who didn't sell last summer is a bagholder.
Everyone holding yuan is a bagholder.
Everyone who bought euro-denominated assets when the euro was 1.40 is a bagholder at euro 1.12.
Everyone with 401K emerging market equities mutual funds who didn't sell last summer is a bagholder.
Everyone who reckons "buy and hold" will be the winning strategy going forward will be a bagholder.
Anyone buying anything with borrowed money is a bagholder. Leveraging up to buy risk-on assets like Mongolian bonds and homes in Vancouver is brilliant in bubbles, but not so brilliant when risk-on turns to risk-off. As the asset's value drops below the amount borrowed to buy it, the owner becomes a bagholder.
Anyone betting China's GDP is really expanding at 7% and the U.S. economy will grow by 3.7% next quarter is angling to be a bagholder.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Mark M. ($25), for your much-appreciated generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Read more...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What If The "Crash" Is as Rigged as Everything Else?

Take your pick--here's three good reasons to engineer a "crash" that benefits the few at the expense of the many.
There is an almost touching faith that markets are rigged when they loft higher, but unrigged when they crash. Who's to say this crash isn't rigged? A few things about this "crash" (11% decline from all time highs now qualifies as a "crash") don't pass the sniff test.
Exhibit 1: VIX volatility Index soars to "the world is ending" levels when the S&P 500 drops a relatively modest 11%. The VIX above 50 is historically associated with declines of 20% or more--double the current drop.
When the VIX spiked above 50 in 2008, the market ended up down 57%. Now that's a crash.
Exhibit 2: The VIX soared and the market cratered at the end of options expiration week (OEX), maximizing pain for the majority of punters. Generally speaking, OEX weeks are up. The exceptions are out of the blue lightning bolts such as the collapse of a major investment bank.
Was a modest devaluation in China's yuan really that unexpected, given the yuan's peg to the U.S. dollar which has risen 20% in the past year? Sorry, that doesn't pass the sniff test.
Exhibit 3: When the VIX spiked above 30 in October 2014, signaling panic, the Federal Reserve unleashed the Bullard Put, i.e. the Fed's willingness to unleash stimulus in the form of QE 4. Markets reversed sharply and the VIX collapsed.
Now the VIX tops 50 and the Federal Reserve issues an absurd statement that it doesn't respond to equity markets. Well then what was the Bullard Put in October, 2014? Mere coincidence? Sorry, that doesn't pass the sniff test.
Why would "somebody" engineer a mini-crash and send volatility to "the world is ending" levels? There are a couple of possibilities.
1. The Shock Doctrine. Naomi Klein's landmark study of how manufactured crises are used to justify further consolidation of power, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, provides a blueprint for how financial crises set the stage for policies that extend the power of central and private banks and various state-private sector players.
A soaring VIX and sudden crash certainly softens up the system for the next policy squeeze.
2. A "crash" engineered to set up a buying opportunity for insiders. When easy gains get scarce, what better way to skim a quick 10% than engineer a "crash," scoop up shares dumped by panicked punters and momo-following HFT bots spooked by "the world is ending" VIX spike, and then reverse the "crash" with another round of happy talk?
3. Settling conflicts within the Deep State. I have covered the Deep State for years, in a variety of contexts--for example:
The Dollar and the Deep State (February 24, 2014)
Without going into details that deserve a separate essay, we can speculate that key power centers with the Deep State have profoundly different views about Imperial priorities.
One nexus of power engineers a trumped-up financial crisis (i.e. a convenient "crash") to force the hand of opposing power centers. As I have speculated here before, the rising U.S. dollar is anathema to Wall Street and its apparatchiks, while a rising USD is the cat's meow to those with a longer and more strategic view of dollar hegemony.
Take your pick--here's three good reasons to engineer a "crash" that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Charles B. ($50), for your exceedingly generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Global Markets to Fed: No Rate Hike, the Strong Dollar Is Killing Us

Global markets are puking at the prospect of higher yields in the U.S.
There are many reasons for global markets to melt down, but one that doesn't get enough attention is the strong dollar. In effect, global markets are telling the Federal Reserve: don't raise rates--the strong dollar is killing us.
Here's the dynamic that's killing emerging markets' currencies and stocks, the China Story and U.S. corporate profits. In the glory years of a declining U.S. dollar (USD), a vast global carry trade emerged as speculators borrowed money in USD and invested it in high-yield emerging market assets such as stocks, bonds and real estate.
This carry trade was a two-fer: not only were yields much higher in emerging markets, the appreciation of local currencies against the USD provided a currency gain on top of the higher yield.
As the yuan strengthened against the USD, an enormous river of capital flowed into China to take advantage of the revaluation and higher yields in China. How much of this money was borrowed USD is unknown, but it's estimated that Chinese corporations alone borrowed $1 trillion in USD to profit from higher yields in China.
The virtuous benefits of a weakening USD extended to U.S. corporations, which reap 40% to 50% of their total profits from sales overseas. As the USD weakened, U.S. corporations reaped the currency gains every time they reported overseas sales in USD.
Everybody won with the weakening dollar, except the U.S. consumer, who paid more for imported goods.
But a funny thing happened in late summer 2014--the USD started rising against other currencies--by a lot. Suddenly all those profitable carry trades reversed.
Emerging markets remained in a trading range for much of 2011-2015, but the strengthening dollar was eating away at the carry trades beneath the surface.
Meanwhile, over in the S&P 500, stocks rose steadily from mid-2011 to mid-2015. But beneath the surface strength of the past year, market technicians noted a deterioration of indicators. Commentators started noting the rising dollar's negative impact on U,S. corporate profits.
Now the carry trades have been abandoned, and market participants are looking at a Fed rate hike with fear and loathing. Why? The USD has already strengthened by 20%. A tick up in U.S. yields would only make the dollar more attractive globally, as traders would get the currency appreciation and a higher yield.
Global markets are puking at the prospect of higher yields in the U.S. The damage delivered by the rising dollar has been severe; a move higher from here might prove fatal to emerging markets and faltering U.S. corporate profits.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Timothy T. ($20), for your most generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Read more...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why the Bear of 2015 Is Different from the Bear of 2008

Are there any conditions now that are actually better than those of 2008?
It's tempting to see similarities in last week's global stock market mini-crash and the monumental meltdown that almost took down the Global Financial System in 2008-2009. The dizzying drop invites comparison to the last Bear Market that took the S&P 500 from 1,565 in October 2007 to 667 on March 9, 2009.
But this Bear is beginning in circumstances quite different from 2007-08. Let's list a few of the differences:
1. Then: Markets and central banks feared inflation, as WTIC oil had hit $133 per barrel in the summer of 2008.
Now: As oil tests the $40/barrel level, markets and central banks fear deflation.
2. Then: China had a relatively modest $7 trillion in total debt, considerably less than 100% of GDP.
now: China's debt has quadrupled from $7 trillion in 2007 to $28 trillion as of mid-2014, an astonishing 282% of gross domestic product (GDP)
3. Then: Central banks had a full toolbox of unprecedented monetary surprises to unleash on the market: TARP, TARF, BARF (OK, that one is made up) rescue packages and credit guarantees, quantitative easing (QE), zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) and direct purchases of mortgages, to name just the top few.
Now: The central bank toolbox is empty: every tool has already been deployed on an unprecedented scale. Every potential new program is simply a retread of QE, yield curve bending, asset purchases, etc.--the same old bag of tricks.
4. Then: Central banks had a relatively clean slate to work with. Interventions in the market and economy were limited to suppressing interest rates in the post-dot-com meltdown era.
Now: Central banks have never stopped intervening since 2008. The market is in effect a reflection of 6+ years of unprecedented central bank interventions. Rather than a clean slate, central banks face a global marketplace that is dominated by incentives to speculate with leveraged/borrowed money established by 6 years of central bank policies.
5. Then: Interest rates had rebounded from the post-dot-com lows in 2003. The Fed Funds rate in 2006-07 was above 5%, and the Prime Lending Rate exceeded 8%.
Now: The Fed Funds Rate has been screwed down to .25% for 6+ years--an unprecedented period of near-zero interest rates.
6. Then: The average 30-year mortgage rate was above 6% from October 2005 to November 2008.
Now: Mortgage rates have been under 4% in 2015.
7. Then: The U.S. dollar only soared in financial crises as capital flowed to safe havens in late 2008-early 2009 and again in 2010.
Now: The U.S. dollar began a 20% increase in mid-2014, in the midst of what was generally perceived as a solid global expansion.
8. Then: The U.S. dollar fell sharply from 2006 to 2008, and again in 2010 to 2011, boosting the overseas profits of U.S. corporations that account for 40% to 50% of total multinational corporate profits.
Now: The rising dollar has crushed the overseas profits of U.S. corporations. The soaring USD has also crushed emerging market currencies and stock markets, and forced China to devalue its currency, the the RMB (yuan)--a unexpected devaluation that triggered the current global meltdown in stocks.
9. Then: The global boom 2003-2008 was widely viewed as a tide that raised all ships.
Now: Central bank policies are recognized as engines of inequality that have widened income and wealth inequality for 6+ years.
Are there any conditions now that are actually better than those of 2008? Or are conditions now less resilient, more fragile and more dependent on unprecedented central bank interventions?

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Gerard C. ($200), for your beyond-outrageously generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Terms of Service

All content on this blog is provided by Trewe LLC for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.


Our Privacy Policy:
Correspondents' email is strictly confidential. The third-party advertising placed by Adsense, Investing Channel and/or other ad networks may collect information for ad targeting. Links for commercial sites are paid advertisements. Blog links on the site are posted at my discretion.


Our Commission Policy:
Though I earn a small commission on Amazon.com books and gift certificates purchased via links on my site, I receive no fees or compensation for any other non-advertising links or content posted on my site.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP