The season’s ditty: companies announce big profits after they jack up prices. But even the inexplicable American consumer, the toughest creature out there, struggles with these prices as misery spreads into the middle class. Now add HoneyBaked to the list, just in time for the holidays. But there is hope.
The members of the congressional panel on deficit reduction are struggling to come up with something that will—I mean, let’s be realistic—get them reelected and fill their campaign funds. Even if they come up with a plan that will reduce the gargantuan budget deficits, Congress won’t follow through. Because it doesn’t have to, thanks to the Fed.
According to last week’s GDP number, the economy has been growing supposedly at a rate of 2.5% in the third quarter—thanks largely to the inexplicable American consumer, the toughest creature out there. But there are some pernicious trends and unpleasant zigzags that point the opposite way.
Tokyo’s organized crime exclusionary laws went into effect in October—and are wreaking havoc. Now doing business with the yakuza is a crime. In an ingenious twist, paying off the yakuza is also a crime. Even victims of blackmail—hush money is an outright industry in Japan—commit a crime if they pay.
Real estate in Cyprus has been popular with foreigners—they own 100,000 homes in a country with 803,000 people. Turns out, it’s Cyprus’ national sport sponsored by dumb money. Now the underlying title-deed scandal is unraveling the finances not only of expat owners, but also of the banks and the government … who are hushing it up.
Consumer confidence indices have collapsed to levels not seen in years or even decades. Yet the toughest creature out there that no one has yet been able to beat down struck again. Consumer spending increased at an annual rate of 2.4% during the third quarter, though the mood has become outright morose since.
Tuition did it again: up 8.3% for universities and 8.7% for community colleges. For many students, the increases are even steeper. Here in California, they’re outright ridiculous. Student loans will cover much of it, though student loan debt already exceeds $1 trillion. Why? It’s the system.
President Obama’s expansion of a mortgage refinancing program is a way for underwater homeowners to reduce their monthly payments. That would save them some money, he said, “…and it gets those families spending again.” But there is an insidious hook buried inside….
The German parliament has a historic opportunity to say no to the bankers: it gets to vote on expanding the European bailout fund to €1 trillion, though it had just been expanded to €440 billion. Since no one has any money, it will be in form of leverage, the very mechanism that has wreaked so much havoc already.
Berlusconi, waiting for money.
The new ministers just can’t keep their mouths under control—that’s the problem with the cabinet of Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, himself in office only since September 1. This time it was Tatsuo Hirano, ironically the Minister for Disaster Management, who issued the latest gaffe by calling tsunami victims “idiots.”