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15 Potentially Massive Threats To The U.S. Economy Over The Next 12 Months

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly unstable, and the potential for an event that could cause “sudden change” to the U.S. economy is greater than ever. There are dozens of potentially massive threats that could easily push the U.S. economy over the edge during the next 12 months. The following are 15 potentially massive threats to the U.S. economy over the next 12 months….

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We live in a world that is becoming increasingly unstable, and the potential for an event that could cause “sudden change” to the U.S. economy is greater than ever.  There are dozens of potentially massive threats that could easily push the U.S. economy over the edge during the next 12 months.  A war in the Middle East, a financial collapse in Europe, a major derivatives crisis or a horrific natural disaster could all change our economic situation very rapidly.  Most of the time I write about the long-term economic trends that are slowly but surely ripping the U.S. economy to pieces, but the truth is that just a single really bad “black swan event” over the next 12 months could accelerate our economic problems dramatically.  If oil was cut off from the Middle East or a really bad natural disaster suddenly destroyed a major U.S. city, the U.S. economy would be thrown into a state of chaos.  Considering how bad the U.S. economy is currently performing, it would be easy to see how a major “shock to the system” could push us into the “next Great Depression” very easily.  Let us hope that none of these things actually happen over the next 12 months, but let us also understand that we live in a world that has become extremely chaotic and extremely unstable.

In the list below, you will find some “sudden change” events that are somewhat likely and some that are quite unlikely.  I have tried to include a broad range of potential “black swan events”, but there are certainly dozens more massive threats that could potentially be listed.

The following are 15 potentially massive threats to the U.S. economy over the next 12 months….

#1 War With Syria – U.S. Senator John McCain is now publicly calling for U.S. airstrikes against Syria.  A military conflict with Syria becomes more likely with each passing day.

#2 War With Iran – A war in the Middle East involving Iran could literally erupt at any time.  The following is from a Reuters news report that was issued on Monday….

President Barack Obama appealed to Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to give sanctions time to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the Israeli prime minister offered no sign of backing away from possible military action, saying his country must be the “master of its fate.”

#3 A Disorderly Greek Debt Default – Many reporters in Europe seem to think that this is becoming increasingly likely.  So what would a disorderly Greek debt default mean for the global financial system?  A leaked report that was authored by the Institute of International Finance says that a disorderly Greek debt default would have some very serious consequences.  You can read the full text of that leaked report right here.

#4 An Economic Collapse In Spain – Spain has one of the largest economies in Europe and it is rapidly becoming a basket case.  As I have written about previously, the unemployment rate in Spain has hit 19.9 percent, and the unemployment rate for workers under the age of 25 is up to 49.9 percent.  Unfortunately, the situation in Spain continues to deteriorate.  The following is from a recent article by Marc Chandler….

However, the devolution in Spain is particularly troubling. The new fiscal compact had just been signed last week, which includes somewhat more rigorous fiscal rule and enforcement, when Spain’s PM Rajoy revealed that this year’s deficit would come in around 5.8 percent of GDP rather the 4.4 percent target. This of course follows last year’s 8.5 percent overshoot of the 6 percent target.

The problem that for Spain is that the 4.4 percent target was based on forecasts for more than 2 percent growth this year. However, in late February, the EU cuts its forecast to a 1 percent contraction. This still seems optimistic. The IMF forecasts a 1.7 percent contraction, which the Spanish government now accepts.

#5 The Price Of Gasoline – The average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States has risen for 27 days in a row and is now up to $3.77.  Virtually all forms of economic activity are affected by the price of gasoline, and if the price of gas keeps going up it is eventually going to have dramatic consequences for the U.S. economy.

#6 The Student Loan Debt Bubble – Just like we saw with the housing bubble, the student loan debt bubble just continues to grow and grow and grow.  At some point the nearly 1 trillion dollar bubble is going to burst.  What effect will it have on our financial system when that finally happens?

#7 State And Local Government Debt Crisis – It is being reported that California is running out of cash again and there are cities all over the country that are on the verge of bankruptcy.  Could we see a significant municipal bond crisis in the next 12 months?

#8 The Collapse Of A Major U.S. Bank – A number of top U.S. banks are looking increasingly shaky.  In a recent article, David Trainer explained why he has such serious concerns about Bank of America right now….

In my opinion, there are four actions taken by financial services that signal the company is headed to serious trouble.

1. Management shake-up and major layoffs – lots of layoffs over the past year

2. Exploiting accounting rules to boost earnings – SFAS 159

3. Drawing down reserves to boost earnings: to the tune of $13.3 billion in 2011 and 2012

4. Bilking customers with new fees: tried it before and trying it again

Bank of America has taken all four steps.

#9 A Derivatives Crisis – The International Swaps and Derivatives Association recently ruled that the Greek debt deal will not trigger payouts on credit default swaps.  This is seriously shaking confidence in the global market for derivatives.  But the global financial system simply cannot afford a major derivatives crisis.

Estimates of the notional value of the worldwide derivatives market range from $600 trillion all the way up to $1.5 quadrillion.  The notional value of all derivatives held by Bank of America is approximately $75 trillion.  JPMorgan Chase is holding derivatives with a notional value of approximately $79 trillion.

When the derivatives bubble finally bursts it is going to be a financial horror show unlike anything we have ever seen.

#10 The Fall Of The Japanese Economy – The Japanese economy shrank at a 2.3 percent rate during the fourth quarter of 2011.  Japan has a debt to GDP ratio of over 200 percent and a major debt crisis involving Japan could erupt at any time.

#11 A “Solar Megastorm” – Scientists tell us that there is a “1 in 8 chance” that a “solar megastorm” will hit the earth by 2014.  A recent Daily Mail article detailed what some of the consequences of such an event would be….

‘We live in a cyber cocoon enveloping the Earth. Imagine what the consequences might be,’ Daniel Baker, of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics told National Geographic when asked about a potential ‘megastorm’.

‘Every time you purchase a gallon of gas with your credit card, that’s a satellite transaction.

‘Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year. The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years.

#12 A Major West Coast Earthquake Or Volcanic Eruption – On Monday, there was a 4.0 earthquake in San Francisco and a 6.1 earthquake in Argentina.  Is the “Ring of Fire” waking up again?

#13 Tornado Damage To Major U.S. Cities – Last year, the U.S. experienced one of the worst tornado seasons of all time.  This year, we have already seen the worst tornado outbreak ever recorded in the United States in the month of March.  A couple of towns in Indiana were completely wiped out by that outbreak.  So what should we expect when we get to the heart of tornado season this year?

#14 Severe Drought In The United States – Last summer was one of the driest summers on record in the United States, and in many areas there is simply not enough water available for farmers this year.  Some are even projecting that we could see “dust bowl conditions” return to some areas of the country eventually.

#15 An Asteroid Strike In 2013 – Although scientists tell us that the probability is extremely low, the truth is that there is a slight chance that a sizeable asteroid could hit the earth in February 2013.  The asteroid is estimated to be between 60 and 100 meters wide, and it is projected to pass by our planet “at a distance of under 27,000 km“.  If it did hit us (and scientists say that the odds of that happening are very low) it would potentially be as serious an event as the Tunguska Event in Siberia in 1908.  Mac Slavo of shtfplan.com recently described how awesome the Tunguska Event really was….

On June 30, 1908 an incoming meteor exploded approximately 5 miles above Siberia. The force of the air burst explosion, estimated at between 15 and 30 megatons, or about 1000 times bigger than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, was so powerful that it annihilated everything in an 830 square mile area, and reports suggest that that explosion was heard up to 1000 miles away. Because of the remoteness of the impact zone, the Tunguska Event over Siberia had very little effect on the human population in the region, but the destruction of some 80 million trees in the area shows just how powerful a blast was created.

Of course there are so many other “sudden change” events that could potentially happen – a terror event in a major U.S. city, a deadly pandemic, an EMP attack, cyberterrorism or a major political scandal could all possibly cause a stock market crash and an economic collapse in the United States.

In the world that we are living in today, you just never know what is going to happen.

So what are all of you concerned about over the next 12 months?

Do you see the potential for some “black swan events” to happen?

Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below….

— The Economic Collapse Blog

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Today’s Market Looks Like It Did At The Peaks Before Last 13 Bear Markets

The US stock market today looks a lot like it did at the peak before all 13 previous price collapses. That doesn’t mean that a bear market is imminent, but it does amount to a stark warning against complacency.

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h/t ZeroHedge 

The US stock market today looks a lot like it did at the peak before all 13 previous price collapses. That doesn’t mean that a bear market is imminent, but it does amount to a stark warning against complacency.

The U.S. stock market today is characterized by a seemingly unusual combination of very high valuations, following a period of strong earnings growth, and very low volatility.

What do these ostensibly conflicting messages imply about the likelihood that the United States is headed toward a bear market in stocks?

To answer that question, we must look to past bear markets. And that requires us to define precisely what a bear market entails. The media nowadays delineate a “classic” or “traditional” bear market as a 20% decline in stock prices.

That definition does not appear in any media outlet before the 1990s, and there has been no indication of who established it. It may be rooted in the experience of Oct. 19, 1987, when the stock market dropped by just over 20% in a single day. Attempts to tie the term to the “Black Monday” story may have resulted in the 20% definition, which journalists and editors probably simply copied from one another.

Origin of the ‘20%’ figure

In any case, that 20% figure is now widely accepted as an indicator of a bear market. Where there seems to be less overt consensus is on the time period for that decline. Indeed, those past newspaper reports often didn’t mention any time period at all in their definitions of a bear market. Journalists writing on the subject apparently did not think it necessary to be precise.

In assessing America’s past experience with bear markets, I used that traditional 20% figure, and added my own timing rubric. The peak before a bear market, per my definition, was the most recent 12-month high, and there should be some month in the subsequent year that is 20% lower. Whenever there was a contiguous sequence of peak months, I took the last one.

Referring to my compilation of monthly S&P Composite and related data, I found that there have been just 13 bear markets in the U.S. since 1871. The peak months before the bear markets occurred in 1892, 1895, 1902, 1906, 1916, 1929, 1934, 1937, 1946, 1961, 1987, 2000 and 2007. A couple of notorious stock-market collapses — in 1968-70 and in 1973-74 — are not on the list, because they were more protracted and gradual.

CAPE ratio

Once the past bear markets were identified, it was time to assess stock valuations prior to them, using an indicator that my Harvard colleague John Y. Campbell and I developed in 1988 to predict long-term stock-market returns. The cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio is found by dividing the real (inflation-adjusted) stock index by the average of 10 years of earnings, with higher-than-average ratios implying lower-than-average returns. Our research showed that the CAPE ratio is somewhat effective at predicting real returns over a 10-year period, though we did not report how well that ratio predicts bear markets.

This month, the CAPE ratio in the U.S. is just above 30. That is a high ratio. Indeed, between 1881 and today, the average CAPE ratio has stood at just 16.8. Moreover, it has exceeded 30 only twice during that period: in 1929 and in 1997-2002.

But that does not mean that high CAPE ratios aren’t associated with bear markets. On the contrary, in the peak months before past bear markets, the average CAPE ratio was higher than average, at 22.1, suggesting that the CAPE does tend to rise before a bear market.

Moreover, the three times when there was a bear market with a below-average CAPE ratio were after 1916 (during World War I), 1934 (during the Great Depression) and 1946 (during the post-World War II recession). A high CAPE ratio thus implies potential vulnerability to a bear market, though it is by no means a perfect predictor.

Earnings to the rescue?

To be sure, there does seem to be some promising news. According to my data, real S&P Composite stock earnings have grown 1.8% per year, on average, since 1881. From the second quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2017, by contrast, real earnings growth was 13.2%, well above the historical annual rate.

But this high growth does not reduce the likelihood of a bear market. In fact, peak months before past bear markets also tended to show high real earnings growth: 13.3% per year, on average, for all 13 episodes. Moreover, at the market peak just before the biggest ever stock-market drop, in 1929-32, 12-month real earnings growth stood at 18.3%.

Another piece of ostensibly good news is that average stock-price volatility — measured by finding the standard deviation of monthly percentage changes in real stock prices for the preceding year — is an extremely low 1.2%. Between 1872 and 2017, volatility was nearly three times as high, at 3.5%.

Low volatility

Yet, again, this does not mean that a bear market isn’t approaching. In fact, stock-price volatility was lower than average in the year leading up to the peak month preceding the 13 previous U.S. bear markets, though today’s level is lower than the 3.1% average for those periods. At the peak month for the stock market before the 1929 crash, volatility was only 2.8%.

In short, the U.S. stock market today looks a lot like it did at the peaks before most of the country’s 13 previous bear markets. This is not to say that a bear market is guaranteed: Such episodes are difficult to anticipate, and the next one may still be a long way off. And even if a bear market does arrive, for anyone who does not buy at the market’s peak and sell at the trough, losses tend to be less than 20%.

But my analysis should serve as a warning against complacency. Investors who allow faulty impressions of history to lead them to assume too much stock-market risk today may be inviting considerable losses.

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You don’t want to miss this new trend

Over the past six years, U.S. stocks have screamed higher…

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Original Link | The Crux


From Ben Morris, Editor, DailyWealth Trader:

Over the past six years, U.S. stocks have screamed higher…

They’ve doubled the performance of stocks around the rest of the world — a 116% gain compared with a 57% gain (*all numbers in this essay are as of Sept. 12).

But recently, that situation reversed…

Over the past four months, non-U.S. stocks have more than doubled the gains in U.S. stocks (8.5% compared with 4.1%). And yesterday, the market gave us a sign that big gains are likely still to come.

If you’ve been reading DailyWealth Trader (DWT), you know we’ve encouraged readers to own foreign stocks for years…

Mostly, this has been because investors around the world suffer from something called “home-country bias.” Nearly all the businesses they buy are based in their home countries… And they either ignore or fear opportunities outside their countries’ borders.

This hasn’t been a problem for U.S.-based investors lately… But now that foreign stocks are outperforming – and now that U.S. stocks are no longer cheap – it’s an even better idea to put some of your money to work in other markets.

Plus, as I noted above, the market just gave us a sign that the gains in non-U.S. stocks will likely continue…

Yesterday, the MSCI World ex USA Index hit a new one-year high. The index is made up of more than 1,000 businesses based in 22 countries. And in the past, new one-year highs were a great sign.

The table below shows how the index has performed after hitting a one-year high. Over the past 33 years, it has happened more than 600 times.

One year later, the index was higher 76.9% of the time… And the median return was 11.5%. (That means you would have made 11.5% or more exactly half of the occurrences.) You can also see the rate of 10%-plus gains and 5%-plus losses…

dwttable919

These are great odds. Based on history, if you were to buy a basket of non-U.S. stocks today, you would have a 54% chance of making 10% or more over the next year… and just a 14% chance of losing 5% or more.

Compare that with the index’s returns after all periods (essentially, buying the index at random). The average and median returns were lower across all time frames. The chances of a positive return were seven to 10 percentage points lower. The frequency of 10%-plus gains after one year was much lower… And the frequency of 5%-plus losses was much higher.

dwttable2919

History presents a clear picture… Buying non-U.S. stocks after new one-year highs is a good idea.

You can see how a handful of foreign stock funds have performed relative to the U.S. benchmark S&P 500 Index over the past year in the chart below…

0912_spx_globalstocks

All but Greek stocks are at or just shy of new highs.

If you prefer to keep it simple, you can also consider buying a fund like the Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US Fund (VEU). It is the largest exchange-traded fund dedicated to diversified non-U.S. stocks. It holds stocks from 54 different countries, with larger weightings in developed markets and smaller weightings in emerging markets.

VEU just hit a new high, too.

If you’ve been dragging your feet on buying foreign stocks, you’ve missed out on great gains lately… But you haven’t “missed the boat.”

Non-U.S. stocks have underperformed U.S. stocks for years. And that situation has started to change only recently. Now that these stocks are hitting new highs, it’s even more likely than before that we’ll see double-digit gains in the year to come.

I strongly recommend you participate.

Regards,

Ben Morris

Crux note: Ben has recommended a few great ways to safely invest in foreign stocks today. So far, his readers are up on all of them – 19%, 31%, 16%, and 1%, respectively. And his top open recommendation just hit 150% since February. For a limited time, you can access all of Ben’s top ideas with a risk-free trial subscription. Get the details right here.

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Today the music stops

After months of preparing financial markets for this news, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to announce that it will finally begin shrinking its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.

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Today’s the day.

After months of preparing financial markets for this news, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to announce that it will finally begin shrinking its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.

I know, that probably sound reeeeally boring. A bunch of central bankers talking about their balance sheet.

But it’s phenomenally important. And I’ll explain why-

When the Global Financial Crisis started in 2008, the Federal Reserve (along with just about every central bank in the world) took the unprecedented step of conjuring trillions of dollars out of thin air.

In the Fed’s case, it was roughly $3.5 trillion, about 25% of the size of the entire US economy at the time.

That’s a lot of money.

And after nearly a decade of this free money policy, there is more money in the financial system than ever before.

Economists have a measure for money supply called “M2”. And M2 is at a record high — nearly $9 trillion higher than at the start of the 2008 crisis.

Now, one might expect that, over time, as the population and economy grow, the amount of money in the system would increase.

But even on a per-capita basis, and relative to the size of US GDP, there is more money in the system than there has ever been, at least in the history of modern central banking.

And that has consequences.

One of those consequences is that asset prices have exploded.

Stocks are at all-time highs. Bonds are at all-time highs. Many property markets are at all-time highs. Even the prices of alternative assets like private equity and artwork are at all-time highs.

But isn’t that a good thing?

Well, let’s look at stocks as an example.

As investors, we trade our hard-earned savings for shares of a [hopefully] successful, well-managed business.

That’s what stocks represent– ownership interests in businesses. So investors are ultimately buying a share of a company’s net assets, profits, and free cash flow.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s look at Exxon Mobil…

In 2006, the last full year before the Federal Reserve started any monetary shenanigans, Exxon reported $365 billion in revenue, profit (net income) of nearly $40 billion and free cash flow (i.e. the money that’s available to pay out to shareholders) of $33.8 billion.

At the time, the company had $6.6 billion in debt.

Ten years later, Exxon’s full-year 2016 revenue was $226 billion, net income was $7.8 billion, free cash flow was $5.9 billion and the company had an unbelievable debt level of $28.9 billion.

In other words, compared to its performance in 2006, Exxon’s 2016 revenue dropped nearly 40%, due to the decline in oil prices.

Plus its profits and free cash flow collapsed by more than 80%. And debt skyrocketed by over 4x.

So what do you think happened to the stock price over this period?

It must have gone down, right? I mean… if investors are essentially paying for a share of the business’ profits, and those profits are 80% less, then the share of the business should also decline.

Except — that’s not what happened. Exxon’s stock price at the end of 2006 was around $75. By the end of 2016 it was around $90, 20% higher.

And it’s not just Exxon. This same curiosity fits to many of the largest companies in the world.

General Electric reported $13.9 billion in free cash flow in 2006. Last year’s free cash flow was NEGATIVE.

Plus, the company’s book value, i.e. its ‘net worth’, plummeted from $122 billion in 2006 to $77 billion in 2016.

So investors’ share of the free cash flow is essentially worthless, while their share of the net assets has also fallen dramatically.

GE’s stock was actually down slightly in 2016 compared to 2006. But the minor stock decline is nothing compared to the train wreck in the company’s financial statements.

Between 2006 and 2016, McDonalds reported only a tiny increase in revenue. And in terms of bottom line, McDonalds 2016’s profit was about 30% higher than it was in 2006.

McDonalds’ debt soared from $8.4 billion to $25.8. And the company’s book value, according to its own financial statements, dropped from $15.8 billion to NEGATIVE $2 billion.

So over ten years, McDonald’s saw a 30% increase in profits, but took on so much debt that they wiped out shareholders’ book value.

And yet the company’s stock price has TRIPLED.

Coca Cola. IBM. Johnson & Johnson.

Company after company, we can see businesses that are performing marginally better (or in some cases WORSE). They’ve taken on FAR more debt than ever before.

Yet their stock prices are insanely higher.

How is that even possible? Why are investors paying more money for shares of a business that isn’t much better than before?

There’s really only one explanation: there’s way too much money in the system.

All that money the Fed printed over the years has created an enormous bubble, pushing up the prices of assets to record highs even though their fundamental values haven’t really improved.

As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, “Financial assets across developed economies are more overvalued than at any other time in recent centuries,” i.e. at least since 1800.

Investors are paying far more than ever for their investments, but receiving only marginally more value in return. And they’re actually excited about it.

This doesn’t make sense. We don’t get excited to pay more and receive less at the grocery store.

But when underperforming assets fetch top dollar, people feel like they’re wealthier. Crazy.

Today the Fed should formally announce that after nearly a decade, it’s going to start vacuuming up a lot of that money it printed in 2008.

Bottom line: they’re going to start cutting the lights and turning off the music.

And given the enormous impact that this policy had on asset prices, it would be foolish to think its reversal will be consequence-free.

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