Archive | Consumer Spending

GDP Accounting Method Changes To Grow Economy

Starting in July the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis will recalculate U.S. Economic GDP data to include film royalties and spending on research and development. These changes are coming at a convenient time as the U.S. bubble economy is showing signs of once again having reached a point of no further growth, despite all the artificial stimuli through government incentives, massive monetary debasing with trillions of newly created dollars injected into the markets, deficit spending, and artificially low interest rates.

We’re capitalizing research and development and also this category referred to as entertainment, literary and artistic originals, which would be things like motion picture originals, long-lasting television programs, books and sound recordings….We are carrying these major changes all the way back in time – which for us means to 1929 – so we are essentially rewriting economic history. – Brent Moulton of Bureau of Economic Analysis, CNBC


It is expected that the additions these variables to the GDP calculation method will increase U.S. GDP by 3%. Once again changes in accounting standards are used to prop up and distort the US Economy painting the illusion that the U.S. Economy is healthy and sustainable. Coming up next (again): Inflation numbers lower than expected….

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Is The Economy Of China More Free And Capitalist Than That Of US?

There is a big misconception in the United States and around the world that the Economy of the United States is free market capitalist. To believe that the United States has a free market economy is utterly naive and ignorant of economic facts. The interest rates are not a result of demand, supply, and risk but are artificial due to market interference by both the Federal Reserve and the US Government. Major companies are not successful due to their intelligent business practices but because of government contracts they receive, regulation they lobby for, government subsidies they receive, and bailouts that eliminate their risk while compensating for their losses. All these anti-free market variables are not new but have dictated American business for over a century.

The anti-free market economy is not the result of one party as both Republicans and Democrats have supported and continue to support legislation that attacks free market principles. Through big government incentives, regulations, subsidies, and bailouts, both parties have destroyed the free market and created an economic mess that rewards financial irresponsibility, creating an environment in which it is difficult for the responsible to compete.

Even the universally idolized conservative and pro-free market President Ronald Reagan implemented significant anti-free market policies. With his Executive Order 12631 President Reagan ensured that the US does not have a market system based on supply and demand but one that is heavily influenced by Government and the hidden agendae of those who are represented by the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets.

It is beyond obvious that the United States does not have a free market and that its economy is not capitalist. Whether “China Does Capitalism Better than America” was debated by Ian Bremmer, Minxin Pei, Orville Schell,a and Peter Schiff in New York during an Intelligent Squared debate hosted by Robert Rosenkranz and moderated by John Donvan.

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Best FICO Scores

Bloomberg reports that the US Consumer is in the best financial state since 2006 as the average FICO Credit Score rose to 696 in May.

“The ratio of consumer-debt payments to incomes is the lowest since 1994, and delinquencies have dropped 30 percent in two years, Federal Reserve data show. Improving credit quality gives households the ability to lift borrowing as concerns ease about rising gasoline prices, hard-to-find jobs and falling home prices.”

Is the U.S. consumer truly more creditworthy than in the past? The official credit scores and the consensus of the economists would make you believe that. WTF Finance doesn’t believe that the U.S. consumer is truly more creditworthy than in the past. The U.S. consumer benefits from the tremendous market interference by both the U.S. Government and the quasi-private Federal Reserve System.

Millions of homeowners in the United States are not paying a mortgage and live mortgage free while also not having to pay rent. This is a direct result of the changes in accounting regulations in March of 2009 as WTF Finance reported so many times in the past. By marking the assets and liabilities up to bubble value instead of market value, banks have the means and legal ability to cook their books. This is nothing short of Enron style accounting.

Not foreclosing allows the banks to keep their non-performing assets and liabilities on their books at artificially inflated book values. No, it doesn’t make business sense but it makes accounting sense as not foreclosing allows the banks to not realize those losses. This accounting gimmick is at the root of this “economic recovery” since Spring of 2009. Consumers are artificially rich again not because of home equity lines of credit as in the past, but because many no longer have the monthly expense of maintaining their home debt.

By not paying their mortgage, homeowners have the ability to pay their car loans and maintain their credit card debt. This creates an environment in which the U.S. consumer appears to be in better credit standing. It’s this artificial credit environment that is at the root of improved consumer credit scores.

Not surprisingly, many economists believe that the American consumer has fundamentally improved their credit scores. The same economists who now believe that the American consumer is more credit worthy wrongfully believed during the housing bubble that the Ameircan consumer was in great credit standing. Then as now, Americans only have the ability to maintain their credit standing as long as outside artificial variables allow them to do so. During the housing bubble it was rising home values that allowed Americans to tap into their home equity in order to maintain their lavish lifestyles and credit scores while five years later it is the bailouts and home debt forgiveness that allows them to maintain their credit cards and auto loans.

Fundamentally nothing has improved. Only a fool would believe that the U.S. Consumer is fundamentally more credit worthy than in 2006.

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Laguna Beach Man In Jail For Wrongfully Receiving $110,000 IRS Tax Refund Mistake

Stephen McDow, a Laguna Beach, CA man wrongfully received $110,000 deposited in his bank account, KCAL 9 reported. It was none other than the IRS who wrongfully deposited those funds into the man’s bank account. It was another person’s tax refund that was wrongfully deposited in his account after the senior citizen provided the IRS with the wrong bank account information.

The Laguna Beach resident used the funds to pay down his debts, including his mortgage and student loans. Once contacted by the IRS McDow admitted to having received $110,000 and that he used $65,000 to pay down his real estate loan on a family Maryland home and his car loans.

Prosecutor Lockart stated that the bank account error was due to Citibank re-assigning the account number to McDow after the account has been closed in 2004. The 67 year Los Angeles women provided the IRS with an old account number on her efiling for her federal taxes. If that is true it’s none other than the filers mistake.

He said look I screwed up, I spent it on my student loan and I spent it on my home mortgage. It doesn’t sound like that this man exercised criminal intent anywhere along the way” tax attorney Jerry Unis, who is not associated with this case, said.

McDow’s family informed the media that Stephen McDow offered to return the unspent funds while making monthly payments on the remaining balance but that the offer was declined. Stephen McDow now faces grand theft charges by the OC District attorney for having stolen money that he did not steal. Stephen McDow is currently in jail being held on $110,000 bail while facing up to four years for a crime he did not commit.

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Why are gas prices going up?

Why are gas prices going up? That’s the question Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is answering on the Daily Ticker at Yahoo Finance. Of course the Big Government Democrat is blaming the increase in gas prices on speculation on Wall Street. The anti-free market answer as always is to increase regulation and government oversight. Senator Bernie Sanders is sponsoring the End Excessive Oil Speculation Now Act.

“The price of gas at the pump is outrageously high. Many people had thought this had something to do with supply and demand, that’s not the case…It has everything to do with Wall Street speculation.”

When prices go up it is always blamed on speculation. When prices reach artificial lows nobody seems to care. Did anybody investigate oil prices near $30 not too long ago after having reached a high of nearly $150? Of course not and it is not only ignorant but naïve to think that high prices equal speculation. Does Senator Bernie Sanders blame speculation for artificial low interest rates? Of course not but the government does carelessly speculate and put the Nation at risk of future defaults by guaranteeing non-sense loans through FHA, VA, USDA, etc.

Did Senator Sanders at all consider that the increase in gas prices could be attributed to the deficit spending of the United States and the associated inflationary monetary policies by the Federal Reserve? Has Senator Sanders ever taken a closer look at the US Dollar and its declining purchasing power? Of course not because that would be too inconvenient for his and the other politicians’ agenda of deficit spending….

Regulation that reduces the production and refining of oil can also, partly, be attributed to the increase in cost per gallon at the pump. Is Senator Sanders aware of the price consequences of the forced reduction in the production of gasoline? After all, it was Senator Sanders who introduced legislation that would:

“…prohibit the leasing of the Pacific, Atlantic, Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and Central Gulf of Mexico Regions of the outer Continental Shelf and to increase fuel economy standards.”

Senator Sanders and the many other politicians who constantly look at government for solutions to the problems need to realize that it is government interference in the market place that is to blame for our many economic problems.

It’s ironic how the same politicians who want to use taxpayer funds to subsidize green energy and mandate fuel efficient vehicles are now looking at government to investigate and regulate the price changes in the oil industry? If we just let the market function…

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Why Investing In US Stocks Or Treasuries Is A Bad Idea

The US stock market peaked in October 2007 with the Dow reaching a high of close to 14,200. Government guaranteed mortgages and a loose monetary policy by the Federal Reserve fueled the real estate bubble. Artificial low interest rates and excessive credit creation by the quasi-private Central bank lead to much malinvestment and speculation. The appreciation of property values not only made sellers of real estate rich but allowed those that refinanced to live a lifestyle they otherwise couldn’t afford.

Many Americans that had a modest salary enjoyed the financial irresponsible spending that was made possible through home equity loans. Others enjoyed the temporary high salaries that were made possible by the increased consumer spending and those employed within the Real Estate sector benefitted from the high transaction volume.

US equities only traded at their artificial high levels as a direct result of the housing and credit bubble. The increased economic activity allowed for massive consumer spending which resulted in record earnings for companies pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average and NASDAQ to unsustainable record highs. With the beginning of the Real Estate collapse that started with subprime defaults and by no means was isolated to the lower income demographic the consumer spending came to a quick halt as individuals were limited to a level of spending they could afford.

With banks having been exposed for the nearly insolvent institutions they are, consumer spending limited without easy access to credit, and a significant rise in home loan defaults the DOW reached a low near 6500 in February of 2009. The Federal Reserve and the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets pumped trillions of dollars into the market to prevent a further down trend in equities.

In March 2009 the accounting rules were changed eliminating mark to market accounting rules and replacing it with a “mark to bubble” system that allowed financial institutions to take the previously written down losses and mark them up to a value of their choice. The sudden increase in value was translated to gains and the financial institutions reported record phantom profits since that accounting change. Nobody in their right mind can seriously believe that the financial companies that were on the verge of collapse could turn to record profitability within a few months.

Fundamentally nothing has changed with the U.S. Economy since the Real Estate bubble and the US Economy were exposed for what they are. This recovery has only been made possible through unprecedented market interference and bailouts which include:

  • Changes in accounting regulation, eliminating mark to market and implementing the Enron accounting system
  • Injection of trillions of dollars of newly created “capital” by the Federal Reserve
  • Artificial low short term rates that allows financial institutions to borrow money at nearly free terms in order to trade equities and bonds
  • Foreclosure Bailouts and Loan Modifications that allowed many Americans to live mortgage and rent free for several years
  • Avoiding foreclosure allows the banks to keep their non-performing loans on their balance sheets without having to realize those losses. The hidden losses remain artificially marked up on the balance sheets while contributing to the profitability of the institution’s quarterly statement.

With a majority of Americans free of mortgage obligations for several years the US Economy appeared to have recovered as sales of consumer goods rapidly increased. Many stocks are trading higher now than they did at the peak of the Real Estate bubble in 2006. Given that fundamentally the US Economy is fueled by similar unsustainable variables that allow Americans to continue living beyond their means it is naïve to expect a continuation of this bull market.
Many companies reduced their American workforce in response to the market decline in 2006 through 2009. Since consumer spending returned to bubble levels they are more profitable now than in the past as they book similar or greater revenue with fewer overhead costs. While a reduction in workforce was a viable option for companies to address the slowing economy and deal with unprofitability, WTF Finance warns that US companies will no longer have that option in the upcoming downturn.

WTF Finance especially warns foreign investors as they not only are exposed to the equities that benefitted from the re-inflation of the bubble but also the value of the US Dollar. As we’ve reported in our article “Geithner Criticizes China” the biggest foreign holder of US Treasuries is becoming increasingly concerned about its US currency holdings as they are rightfully worried about future inflation and the potential default of the United States. WTF Finance shared the “Historic Lessons Of Inflation” and also explained why official CPI data is not a true reflection of inflation in our past articles.

WTF Finance does not suggest to panic sell into market weakness but does recommend selling equities that primarily depend on the true economic health of the American consumer. A rebound of US equities could be a last chance to cash out of your positions before the unsustainable fake US Economy is exposed for what it is.

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“Ask Yourself What You Can Do For America”

In yet another misguided attempt to improve the economy President Obama quoted John F. Kennedy to ask business leaders to help improve the economic state of America. In his speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President Obama said:

“…winning the future is not just about what the government can do for you to succeed. It’s also about what you can do to help America succeed. ….Even as we eliminate burdensome regulation….ask yourself what you can do for America”

While such a speech might yield an emotional reaction among the economic illiterate and improve the President’s approval rating it is nothing short of a desperate attempt to continue spreading misguided confidence as Government policies directly contradict this Statement.

The American productivity contracted for many decades as regulations forced companies to outsource manufacturing and customer service to a more business friendly climate in order to remain competitive. Many jobs were lost during the 80s when President Reagan imposed a greater cost on businesses through increased payroll taxes and social security. Instead of allowing the economy to contract the way it should Government policy has and continues to be an attempt to mask the reality of the American economic state.

Policies in response to any signs of a recession have and continue to be more regulation, more Government interference and it always comes at a greater cost to the Nation that barely has the ability to pay the minimum payment on its National Debt. These policies do not solve the economic problem but solely mask the symptoms allowing the actual problem to grow bigger in size and cost. In response to the Real Estate correction the Government continues to guarantee non-sense loans in and attempt to re-inflate the bubble, the judicial system interferes in private contracts to the benefit of artificial housing prices and the unviable business practices of financial institutions are rewarded with Government bailouts while the responsible businesses cannot compete with Government subsidized entities.

America has not had a viable economy for many decades. It’s neither healthy nor sustainable for an economy to rely on the debasing of the currency in order for people to continue living beyond their means so that the consumer spending dependent GDP can remain on growth course. It’s not sustainable that the American Economy relies on consumer spending when the consumer has no savings and the products being purchased on credit are imported from foreign sources.

Providing the American consumer with yet more credit in a desperate attempt to stimulate the economy is only perpetuating the problem. The sooner the United States is forced to live within its means and no longer provides its citizen with free credit that will never be paid back, the sooner the American Economy can begin its true recovery and get back to a viable economy that consists of both consumption and production.

The politics of California with its anti-business environment is the perfect example of the consequences that arise when the Government over regulates, imposes greater minimum wages and taxation on businesses. As a consequence businesses have been and are continuing to leave California for a more business friendly environment in Nevada, Colorado, Texas, or elsewhere. The next step post intra-State relocation is outsourcing to other Nations as has been taking place for many decades.

The American Economy has shifted from a Nation of productivity to a service sector economy that relies on foreign productivity and the foreign US Dollar savings in order for Americans to have the ability to deficit spend and ironically consume their products.

The days of the American Empire are limited and are coming to an end as the productive Asian workforce won’t indefinitely exchange their productivity for a debt backed currency. It’s not only naïve but outright ignorant of history to assume that this inflation scheme can go on indefinitely. Inevitably the ships won’t depart the ports of China loaded with productive goods only to receive further inflated dollars without backing in exchange.

If the President is serious about change and sincerely wants the American Economy to improve he has to stop putting policies in place that further artificially prop up the US consumer driven economy through greater debt and he must eliminate the policies that lead to the outsourcing of manufacturing in the first place. Since the Obama Administration increased regulation on businesses with the Health Care Reform that puts American industries at an even greater disadvantage it is laughable that he now states that he will eliminate “burdensome” regulation.

In order to solve the economic problem America needs to understand that it was Government policies that created it in the first place. By eliminating regulation and business unfriendly taxes jobs would return to America. In addition, the Government and Federal Reserve must cease their manipulation of interest rates and home prices which would allow housing to correct to its fundamental support. Eliminating existing government policies would provide an environment for jobs to return to American soil while home prices would once again be affordable to the working class.

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Don’t Be Fooled By Official Inflation Numbers and Anticipated Future Inflation

The Government and Federal Reserve are making sure that the general public is under the impression that Inflation is low and under control. Over the past decades the Government through its Bureau and Labor Statistics (BLS) has done an excellent job ensuring that Americans are not concerned about Inflation. They have done so by tweaking the formula of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in order to keep it within its predetermined low range of approximately 1-3% yearly inflation.

Here is the official CPI data for the last decade:

2000 3.4%
2001 2.8%
2002 1.6%
2003 2.3%
2004 2.7%
2005 3.4%
2006 3.2%
2007 2.8%
2008 3.8%
2009 -0.4%
2010 1.6%

Note that the official inflation numbers do not reflect the increase in cost that Americans experienced during the housing and credit bubble. The cost to own or rent a property greatly increased in just a few short years yet the CPI remains low within the Federal Reserve’s desired range. The cost for energy also experienced a massive increase yet nobody would come to that conclusion solely by looking at the official inflation numbers.

CPI comparison old and newOver the past three decades, the CPI experienced three major changes in how it is calculated. There is the pre-1983 CPI, the pre-1998 method of calculating the CPI, and the method with which the BLS calculates today’s published inflation numbers. There certainly are always reasons why one could change a formula to increase its correlation to what it is supposed to track and describe but these changes clearly reduce the nominal inflation number and therefore keep inflation closer to its publicly targeted rate.

Since the Federal Reserve was established under the pretense of ensuring price stability and preserving the purchasing power of the US Dollar it is important to provide the public with the impression that this entity is successful in doing so. Since it cannot provide indefinite price stability with its inflationary monetary policy it’s in the best interest of the Federal Reserve to continue having a revised CPI to provide the illusion of price stability and low inflation.

The loose monetary policies cause inflation and do everything but allow for steady economic growth. If they cannot meet their official mandate to deliver low inflation they sure can manipulate the formulae that are used to calculate the official inflation numbers. This ensures that the publicly announced inflation remains within its acceptable numeric range. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York Staff Report states:

From the early 1950’s through 1983, the BLS used an “asset price” approach that measured the cost of buying a home and so involved tracking home prices and financing costs.  However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when home prices and mortgage interest rates were rising rapidly, the asset price approach came under severe criticism. It became clear under those circumstances that this approach overstated inflation of housing services because it could not separate the investment aspect of homeownership, which is beyond the scope of a cost of living index, from the current consumption of housing services…In response, the BLS adopted the “rental equivalence” approach in 1983. This approach imputes to owner-occupied units the same rate of change of rent as that observed for comparable rental units. From 1987 through 1998, the BLS turned to a split-sample approach.  This involved expanding the CPI housing sample to include owner-occupied units as well as rental units and linked each sampled owner unit with two or more rental units with similar locational and physical characteristics. It then estimated the change in OER for the owner unit using the change in the rents of the matched rental units. The implementation of the rental equivalence approach has changed over time.

From 1983 through 1986, the change in OER was calculated using the sample of rental housing units used to estimate tenant rent.  In the calculation, rental units in areas with a high proportion of owner-occupied units were given more weight in the OER index than in the tenant rent index….So, beginning with the publication of the January 1999 CPI, the BLS returned to estimating the change in OER based on a reweighted sample of rental units. Moreover, the BLS made a number of technical changes intended to reduce or eliminate many of the then-known biases in measuring shelter prices”

CNBC reports in its article “Inflation or Disinflation?” that the productivity of the American workforce grew in the fourth quarter but that wages remain under downward pressure. The article quoted Credit Suisse economist  Jonathan Basile who made the case against an inflationary outcome:

“The YoY (year-over-year) trend in labor costs continued to point in a disinflationary direction as opposed to an inflationary one. The 0.2 percent rate in Q4 was a record eighth straight negative quarter—the weakest sustained stretch in the postwar period. Labor costs make up the biggest chunk of business costs and are a reliable indicator for core inflation.”

WTF Finance disagrees with the assessment of future inflation. While the American Consumer can continue to enjoy and abuse easy credit it is only possible because of the many manipulative policies by both the U.S. Government and the Federal Reserve. Without the Federal Reserve actively participating at Treasury Auctions in support of the USD Americans would already experience massive price inflation as foreigners would have already fled US denominated securities while also increasing their prices on their exports to the US. The purchasing power of the US Dollar greatly diminished in recent years yet many Americans still are oblivious to that fact because they aren’t forced to live within their means. It’s one thing to notice that the costs have risen; it’s another to actually have to adjust spending behavior and pay for the rising cost through earnings and savings rather than through credit and Government subsidies.

Many Economists debate whether the future will consist of inflation or a deflationary environment. WTF Finance believes that it is narrow minded to make the case for either or. In the absence of Government manipulation salaries should continue to experience wage deflation and the job market should continue stagnating until the Government deregulates the labor industry and with that encourages viable competitive productivity. In the long term the US will experience massive inflation on imported goods as was the case in the Weimar Republic where inflation was strongest on that specific category of goods.

The US is destined to ultimately be exposed for not having the ability to meet their debt obligation absent of debasing the US Dollar. With that credit dependent purchases should increase in price while non-credit dependent goods should deflate in price as more people will sell whatever they own in order to make ends meet. With that WTF Finance expects the future to include a combination of inflation, stagnation, and deflation.

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Congressman Ron Paul Criticizes Inflationary Deficit Policy

Congressman Ron Paul criticizes the deficit policy of the U.S. Government and the associated inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve at today’s Financial Services Committee.

He outlines the flaws of the Federal Reserve System and how the artificial demand through market interference negatively affects the U.S. Economy while giving the consumer false confidence.

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Federal Reserve Policy to Remain Unchanged

The Federal Reserve released a statement today describing the state of the U.S. Economy:

“Growth in household spending picked up late last year, but remains constrained by high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth, and tight credit,”

As a consequence Bernanke will insist on the Federal Reserve’s $600 Billion bond purchase program throughout June. This artificial demand will boost Treasuries as the Fed ensures that there is demand for US debt, even if they are the sole major purchaser and therefore distort the market value.

The two new voting members of the Federal Reserve Board, Charles Plosser and Richard Fisher, caved into political pressure and are now in support of the inflationary stimulus policy. Prior to being rotated into the voting panel they were the sole voice of the Federal Reserve that opposed certain measures of the lose monetary policy.

The BusinessWeek quoted Charles Plosser last fall as he opposed the Quantitive Easing measures:

“One cost of expanding the Fed’s balance sheet is that it will complicate our exit strategy from a very accommodative monetary policy, when that time comes.”

Earlier this month, Philadelphia Fed President Plosser voiced public opposition against the Fed’s Bond Purchase Program and other bailout measures, BusinessWeek reported:

“The aggressiveness of our accommodative policy may soon backfire on us if we don’t begin to gradually reverse course”

In summary, there is a clear trend of Federal Reserve Board members changing their opinion regarding U.S. Monetary Policy once in a position to vote and influence market interference. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan used to be for a Gold Standard in the 1970s, prior to being appointed at the quasi-private Federal Reserve Bank. Since his first appointment under President Reagan he continued the U.S Economic trend on debt dependence through his lose monetary policies. After leaving the Federal Reserve he resumed his original position and warned of the consequences of lose monetary policy.

Here’s former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, in 2007, on Fox News stating:

“Some mechanism has got to be in place that restricts the amount of money which is produced – either a gold standard, a currency board, or something of that nature because, unless you do that, all of history suggests that inflation will take hold with very deleterious effects on economic activity.”

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