Week in Review with Jerry Robinson

By Jerry Robinson | FTMDaily.com

What a dismal week for economic and geopolitical news!

GEOPOLITICAL TENSIONS

Of course, the big news last week came out of the Middle East. The U.S. announced new peace talks set to take place next month between Israel and the Palestinians. And after years of delays, Iran finally began loading tons of uranium fuel into their first nuclear reactor (Russian-built) on Saturday. Iran claims that they have a right to produce nuclear energy, and in an unusual gesture offered to allow oversight of their nuclear activities. Iran maintains that its intentions are peaceful.  Israel immediately denounced Iran’s new nuclear power plant calling it ‘totally unacceptable.’ In response to the news of an atomic Iran, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said:

“It is totally unacceptable that a country that so blatantly violates resolutions of the (United Nations) Security Council, decisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its commitments under the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) should enjoy the fruits of using nuclear energy.”

The U.S. appeared to disregard the political urgency of the news. Darby Holladay of the U.S. State Department told news agencies:

“We recognize that the Bushehr reactor is designed to provide civilian nuclear power and do not view it as a proliferation risk.”

However, the U.S. did admit that while Iran posed no immediate threat, they could potentially have a bomb through the conversion of fuel into weapons-grade uranium within 12 months. According to sources within Washington, U.S. and Israeli intelligence would detect such conversion “within weeks” and would have ample time to engage Iran in military strikes.

In classic form, Iran’s leader warned that an attack on the reactor would be met with a global and “painful” response.

I would expect that we will witness rising tensions followed by a full-scale war between the West and Iran within the next 18-36 months.

ECONOMIC MALAISE

On the economic front, the weekly jobless claims reached 500,000, a 9 month high. Consumer bankruptcies hit a 5 year high this week.

And it appears that the U.S. government’s “chicken in every pot” policy regarding home ownership may be coming to an end as Washington attempts to “untangle the wires” of America’s housing and mortgage crisis.

Besides, “renting” instead of “owning” is fast becoming a new normal in today’s tumultuous economy. At least so says Fortune magazine in it’s new article entitled: Five ‘new normals’ that really will stick

Flight to Safety

Flight to Safety… In other news, small investors appear to be losing their appetite for risk by fleeing the stock market for the perceived “safety” of the bond market. According to the Investment Company Institute, small investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year. Click the chart to the right for more.

No Liquidity… And in a sign that American’s lack liquidity, Fidelity Investments reported this week that hardship withdrawals from 401(k) retirement saving plans rose to the highest level in 10 years during the second quarter.

When this news is coupled with the fact that most working Americans have very little liquid savings, it offers further proof that the Mutual Fund industry has successfully trained the American public to max out their 401(k) before building adequate liquid savings reserves.

The Mutual Fund industry sponsors many popular financial commentators today who fervently preach the “max out your 401(k)” gospel. Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey are just two examples of the droves of financial personalities who have been paid handsomely to pay little attention to the importance of adequate and diversified liquidity prior to “maxing out a 401(k).”

However, as of late, “abundant liquidity” has become a hallmark of many financial gurus like Orman and Ramsey. Unfortunately, this sudden emphasis upon liquidity comes late for the millions of Americans facing foreclosures and bankruptcies.

Consider for a moment that most people’s two largest assets are their primary residences and their 401(k)’s. Both of these assets are explicitly government-controlled. Diversification is the only weapon against a cash-strapped government hungry for revenue. When the government comes looking for cash where do you think it is going to look? With nearly $20 trillion in personal retirement assets, why not slap a higher distribution tax on your 401(k) and traditional IRA? Could they? Of course. What could you do about it? Nothing. Except maybe curse the Suze Ormans and Dave Ramseys of the world who told you to stuff money into a 100% government-controlled asset. Why not just put your money into a box and hand the government the key and ask them to give it back to you at retirement? That, by the way, is the definition of a 401(k)… minus Mutual Fund fees.

Across the Pond… Since making the news a couple of months ago, the country of Greece has imposed strict austerity measures. The result? Greece is in the grip of a depression. Purchasing power is dropping, consumption is taking a nosedive and the number of bankruptcies are on the rise. In addition, stores are closing, tax revenues are falling and unemployment has hit an unbelievable 70 percent in some places. Has Greece entered the death spiral? You can read more here.

Big Brother Alert… There’s more troubling news on the growing threat of government intrusion.

Biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced today that it is rolling out its iris scanning technology to create what it calls “the most secure city in the world.” In a partnership with Leon — one of the largest cities in Mexico, with a population of more than a million — GRI will fill the city with eye-scanners. That will help law enforcement revolutionize the way we live — not to mention marketers.

The intrusion of constant government monitoring is slowly becoming a reality. We are already tracked like animals. But they won’t stop until they have total and complete control.

Is the real price of gold over $2,000 right now? My weekend radio interview with GATA Chairman, Bill Murphy, offered some unusual information. According to Murphy, the artificial suppression of the price of gold has caused the precious metal to be severely undervalued. Murphy states in the interview that if the price manipulation were to end, gold would be trading at around $2300/oz! If you are interested in the precious metals sector, do yourself a favor and take time to listen to this weekend’s radio program. You can listen to the entire show here. Or, if you prefer to listen to the show on iTunes, click here.

That’s all for this update. Look for a few blog updates this week and an excellent radio program next weekend. My guest will be geopolitical and economic analyst, Puru Saxena. Mr. Saxena will be joining me from Hong Kong.

Have a prosperous week!

About Jerry Robinson

Jerry Robinson is an economist, published author, columnist, international conference speaker, and the editor of the financial website, FTMDaily.com. In addition, Robinson hosts a weekly radio program entitled Follow the Money Weekly, an hour long radio show dedicated to deciphering the week’s economic news.

Economic Recovery or Financial Armageddon? – LISTEN NOW!

Follow the Money Weekly radio host Jerry Robinson talks with popular author and financial commentator, Michael J. Panzner regarding the most pressing economic issues. The interview includes Panzner’s outlook on inflation in the U.S., as well as his opinion about precious metals and agriculture.

Part 1

Part 2

Listen to the entire radio show, and hear more interviews like this one at our website: http://www.ftmdaily.com/ftmweekly.php

Six Important Questions for Gerald Celente – LISTEN NOW!

Follow the Money Weekly radio host Jerry Robinson asks Gerald Celente six vital questions about the times and trends of the U.S. economy. In this shocking and timely interview, you will hear Celente’s opinion of where the U.S. economy is headed, as well as what the future holds for citizen preparedness during times of war.

Part 1

Part 2

Listen to the entire radio show, and hear more interviews like this one at our website: http://www.ftmdaily.com/ftmweekly.php

Banks repossess US homes at record pace

Thu Jul 15, 2010 12:01am EDT

By Lynn Adler

NEW YORK July 15 (Reuters) – Banks repossessed a record number of U.S. homes in the second quarter, but slowed new foreclosure notices to manage distressed properties on the market, real estate data company RealtyTrac said on Thursday.

The root problems of job losses and wage cuts persist, making a sustained U.S. housing recovery elusive.

Banks took control of 269,962 properties in the second quarter, up 5 percent from the prior quarter and a 38 percent spike from the second quarter of last year, RealtyTrac said in its midyear 2010 foreclosure report.

Repossessions will likely top 1 million this year.

The underlying conditions haven’t improved,” RealtyTrac senior vice president Rick Sharga said in an interview.

The housing market still grapples with “unemployment, economic displacement in general, and still sits on over 5 million seriously delinquent loans that in all likelihood will at some point go into foreclosure,” he said.

READ MORE…

Financial Reform Bill Limps Toward Vote

nytimes

On Wednesday July 14, 2010, 12:43 am EDT

WASHINGTON — It was supposed to be the one major piece of legislation this year that Republicans and Democrats could see eye to eye on, and vote aye on together in broad numbers. Instead, the sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system, a response to the economic crisis of 2008, will barely squeak through the Senate.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday said they had cobbled together the bare minimum of 60 votes needed to close off debate and advance to a final vote later this week. Supporters included three Republican centrists from the Northeast, Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins of Maine and Olympia J. Snowe, also of Maine.

The three Republicans may be joined by others, but the bill is still certain to fall far short of the wide bipartisan majority that some Congressional leaders had predicted given the unanimous agreement among lawmakers in both parties that the rules for Wall Street needed to be rewritten.

In the House, only three Republicans supported the bill. “I think it’s just the times we’re in,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the banking committee, a main author of the legislation along with Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

Read more…

Obama faces growing credibility crisis

By Edward Luce in Washington

The Financial Times | Published: July 13 2010 18:51 | Last updated: July 13 2010 18:51

Robert Gibbs, Barack Obama’s chief spokesman, got into hot water this week for daring to speak the truth – that the Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives in November. But it could be even worse than that.

Contrary to pretty much every projection until now, Democratic control of the Senate is also starting to coming into question. While Mr Obama’s approval ratings have continued to fall, and now hover at dangerously close to 40 per cent according an ABC-Washington Post poll published on Tuesday, the fate of his former colleagues in the Senate looks even worse.

In the past few days polls have shown Republican challengers taking the lead over previously safe Democratic incumbents, such as Barbara Boxer in California and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. Indeed, given the uniformly negative direction in the numbers, it is now quite possible the Republicans could win the Senate seats formerly held by both President Obama in Illinois, and Joe Biden, vice-president, in Delaware.

Add to that the continuing woes of Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic majority leader, in Nevada, where the Republican party’s recent nomination of Sharron Angle, a far-right and highly eccentric Tea Party supporter, appear to have had no positive effect on Mr Reid’s prospects, and the Grand Old party has a good shot at taking control of both houses of Congress. Worse for Mr Obama, political scientists say that at this stage in the calendar, there is almost nothing he can do about it.

If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” says Bill Galston, a former Clinton official, who has been predicting for months the Democrats could lose the House. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Chart: Obama job approvalThe direction of the data could hardly be worse. According to Democracy Corps, a group headed by Stanley Greenberg, a liberal pollster who is a close friend of Rahm Emanuel, Mr Obama’s chief of staff, a majority of US citizens see Mr Obama as “too liberal”.

Astonishingly, 55 per cent of citizens think Mr Obama is a “socialist” against only 39 per cent who do not share that diagnosis. The same poll shows 48 per cent support for Republicans against just 42 per cent for Democrats. The numbers are eerily similar to 2006, except that it was George W. Bush’s Republicans who were on the receiving end four years ago.

The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership,” says Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton official and a supporter of Mr Obama. “He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.

In private, informal advisors to Mr Obama are almost as negative. According to one, the US public’s loss of confidence in Mr Obama’s leadership is a factor above and beyond their dissatisfaction over the state of the real economy, which continues to slow as last year’s $787bn stimulus starts to run dry. The adviser, who asked to remain anonymous, said the public did not know what Mr Obama really believed. Examples include his lukewarm support last year for a public option in the healthcare bill and his equally lukewarm support today for a Senate bill that would extend unemployment insurance and aid state governments to keep teachers in their jobs.

In both cases, Mr Obama has offered only token, negotiable, support. “I never thought I would say this, but even I’m unsure what President Obama really believes,” says the adviser. “Instead of outsourcing decisions to Congress, he should spell out his bottom line. That is what leaders are for.”

Next week, Mr Obama is likely to sign a historic Wall Street re-regulation bill into law. Earlier this year he did the same for healthcare. But polls show the public either does not care, or even opposes these otherwise big reforms. “The longer this goes on, the more it looks like Obama wasted his first year on healthcare,” said the outside adviser. “It’s still the economy, stupid.”

The 50 most unbelievable facts about the U.S. economy

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/09/2010 17:02 -0500 | Zerohedge.com

As we close on another week replete with ugly economic data and the usual bizarro counterintuitive market, here is a summary of the 50 most underreported facts about the state of the US economy, courtesy of the Coto report. After reading these it almost makes sense that the market has become completely desensitized to the sad reality now pervasive in this country. Readers are encouraged to add their own observations to this list. Surely if the list is doubled, the market will go up to 72,000 instead of just 36,000.

#50) In 2010 the U.S. government is projected to issue almost as much new debt as the rest of the governments of the world combined.

#49) It is being projected that the U.S. government will have a budget deficit of approximately 1.6 trillion dollars in 2010.

#48) If you went out and spent one dollar every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend a trillion dollars.

#47) In fact, if you spent one million dollars every single day since the birth of Christ, you still would not have spent one trillion dollars by now.

#46) Total U.S. government debt is now up to 90 percent of gross domestic product.

#45) Total credit market debt in the United States, including government, corporate and personal debt, has reached 360 percent of GDP.

#44) U.S. corporate income tax receipts were down 55% (to $138 billion) for the year ending September 30th, 2009.

#43) There are now 8 counties in the state of California that have unemployment rates of over 20 percent.

#42) In the area around Sacramento, California there is one closed business for every six that are still open.

#41) In February, there were 5.5 unemployed Americans for every job opening.

#40) According to a Pew Research Center study, approximately 37% of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have either been unemployed or underemployed at some point during the recession.

#39) More than 40% of those employed in the United States are now working in low-wage service jobs.

#38) According to one new survey, 24% of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.

#37) Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.  Not only that, more Americans filed for bankruptcy in March 2010 than during any month since U.S. bankruptcy law was tightened in October 2005.

#36) Mortgage purchase applications in the United States are down nearly 40 percent from a month ago to their lowest level since April of 1997.

#35) RealtyTrac has announced that foreclosure filings in the U.S. established an all time record for the second consecutive year in 2009.

#34) According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings were reported on 367,056 properties in March 2010, an increase of nearly 19 percent from February, an increase of nearly 8 percent from March 2009 and the highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005.

#33) In Pinellas and Pasco counties, which include St. Petersburg, Florida and the suburbs to the north, there are 34,000 open foreclosure cases.  Ten years ago, there were only about 4,000.

#32) In California’s Central Valley, 1 out of every 16 homes is in some phase of foreclosure.

#31) The Mortgage Bankers Association recently announced that more than 10 percent of all U.S. homeowners with a mortgage had missed at least one payment during the January to March time period.  That was a record high and up from 9.1 percent a year ago.

#30) U.S. banks repossessed nearly 258,000 homes nationwide in the first quarter of 2010, a 35 percent jump from the first quarter of 2009.

#29) For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.

#28) More than 24% of all homes with mortgages in the United States were underwater as of the end of 2009.

#27) U.S. commercial property values are down approximately 40 percent since 2007 and currently 18 percent of all office space in the United States is sitting vacant.

#26) Defaults on apartment building mortgages held by U.S. banks climbed to a record 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2010.  That was almost twice the level of a year earlier.

#25) In 2009, U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in private lending since 1942.

#24) New York state has delayed paying bills totalling $2.5 billion as a short-term way of staying solvent but officials are warning that its cash crunch could soon get even worse.

#23) To make up for a projected 2010 budget shortfall of $280 million, Detroit issued $250 million of 20-year municipal notes in March. The bond issuance followed on the heels of a warning from Detroit officials that if its financial state didn’t improve, it could be forced to declare bankruptcy.

#22) The National League of Cities says that municipal governments will probably come up between $56 billion and $83 billion short between now and 2012.

#21) Half a dozen cash-poor U.S. states have announced that they are delaying their tax refund checks.

#20) Two university professors recently calculated that the combined unfunded pension liability for all 50 U.S. states is 3.2 trillion dollars.

#19) According to EconomicPolicyJournal.com, 32 U.S. states have already run out of funds to make unemployment benefit payments and so the federal government has been supplying these states with funds so that they can make their  payments to the unemployed.

#18) This most recession has erased 8 million private sector jobs in the United States.

#17) Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of 2010.

#16) U.S. government-provided benefits (including Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs) rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010.

#15) 39.68 million Americans are now on food stamps, which represents a new all-time record.  But things look like they are going to get even worse.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that enrollment in the food stamp program will exceed 43 million Americans in 2011.

#14) Phoenix, Arizona features an astounding annual car theft rate of 57,000 vehicles and has become the new “Car Theft Capital of the World”.

#13) U.S. law enforcement authorities claim that there are now over 1 million members of criminal gangs inside the country. These 1 million gang members are responsible for up to 80% of the crimes committed in the United States each year.

#12) The U.S. health care system was already facing a shortage of approximately 150,000 doctors in the next decade or so, but thanks to the health care “reform” bill passed by Congress, that number could swell by several hundred thousand more.

#11) According to an analysis by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation the health care “reform” bill will generate $409.2 billion in additional taxes on the American people by 2019.

#10) The Dow Jones Industrial Average just experienced the worst May it has seen since 1940.

#9) In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1.  Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.

#8) Approximately 40% of all retail spending currently comes from the 20% of American households that have the highest incomes.

#7) According to economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, two-thirds of income increases in the U.S. between 2002 and 2007 went to the wealthiest 1% of all Americans.

#6) The bottom 40 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

#5) If you only make the minimum payment each and every time, a $6,000 credit card bill can end up costing you over $30,000 (depending on the interest rate).

#4) According to a new report based on U.S. Census Bureau data, only 26 percent of American teens between the ages of 16 and 19 had jobs in late 2009 which represents a record low since statistics began to be kept back in 1948.

#3) According to a National Foundation for Credit Counseling survey, only 58% of those in “Generation Y” pay their monthly bills on time.

#2) During the first quarter of 2010, the total number of loans that are at least three months past due in the United States increased for the 16th consecutive quarter.

#1) According to the Tax Foundation’s Microsimulation Model, to erase the 2010 U.S. budget deficit, the U.S. Congress would have to multiply each tax rate by 2.4.  Thus, the 10 percent rate would be 24 percent, the 15 percent rate would be 36 percent, and the 35 percent rate would have to be 85 percent.