It is starting to show up in the numbers: the debt-ceiling and government-shutdown debacles are worming their way into the economy. Americans blame the already single most disparaged institution, Congress, for it and have started to react economically. Clicks of seatbelts being fastened can be heard around the world.
How much have Americans received of the nearly $3 trillion the Fed printed since the financial crisis? The recipients included JPMorgan, now negotiating to settle its various mortgage scams for $11 billion; it made $53.2 billion in profits over the last three years. American consumers weren’t so lucky. And Wal-Mart shoppers have been hit the hardest.
Men’s Warehouse joined the crowd of revenue-challenged retailers when it reported results and cut guidance. Revenue fell, profit plunged. As with its peers that had already reported, it’s not so much that sales were crummy – gosh, they were – but that the excuses they came up with to keep their stocks from crashing were even crummier.
Men’s retailer Jos. A. Bank warned that sales in the quarter plunged 11%. OK, it suffered from management foul-ups, goofy marketing, obnoxious ads, and – at least at the store I looked at – dusty shirts on the shelf. But it isn’t an outlier. It’s the latest entry on a laundry list of revenue-challenged retailers whose woes are spreading relentlessly across the US.
Home prices have jumped around the country, in some cities over 20% on an annual basis. “Recovery of the housing market,” is what this phenomenon is called. Everyone from President Obama on down has taken credit for it, particularly the Fed, whose handiwork this is. But there is a very ugly fly in this illusory ointment.
People in the upper income categories, those who don’t have to worry about the price of toilet paper, have seen their incomes rise over the years. The rest are in a downward spiral: median household income, adjusted for inflation, has dropped 7.8% since 2000. The lower end got hit the hardest. For these folks, tissue makers have a special strategy: desheeting.
The “March Against Monsanto” in 52 countries, an unapproved strain of its genetically modified wheat growing on its own in Oregon, cancelled wheat export orders…. A rough week for Monsanto. Now it threw in the towel in Europe where its deep pockets and mastery of lobbying had failed: “It’s counterproductive to fight against windmills,” it explained.
The good old days are back. Those days when money grew on trees: home prices jumped 10.9% year over year, based on data through March 2013. The usual suspects: Phoenix soared 22.5%, San Francisco 22.2%, Las Vegas 20.6%. You can’t lose money in real estate. I’m already hearing it again.
In theory, a class-action lawsuit allows the little guy to stand up to a big corporation and seek redress. Alone, the little guy wouldn’t have the means. Justice comes down to money, and class-action lawsuits add leverage. In theory. It’s a world-famous American product, infested with flaws. And it’s about to be imported by … France!
Internet companies know practically everything about their users. And servers never forget. Advertisers, ID thieves, insurance companies, and others are trying to get this data. But “law enforcement” around the world can simply bully its way to it. Now Microsoft confessed: even your data and conversations on its encrypted services that you thought were secure aren’t because, upon request, it gives the crypto keys to governments around the world.