The mega Chinese stock market bubble: Over half of new investors only have a junior high education or less and the Shanghai Composite is up 100 percent in one year.
I still have vivid memories of Japan’s massive bull-run in stocks and real estate. For many years the consensus was that Japan had found a secret method of perma-growth and prices would only go up. Down was not in the vocabulary. We are seeing similar perceptions and narratives when it comes to China’s roaring economy. Let us make this clear, China is clearly growing and at a very fast pace. I don’t think that is subject to debate. But what is up to debate is that valuations in real estate and now stocks are fully out of hand. In other words, a bubble is fermenting. There are a few key metrics that really reveal to me that we are heading into deep bubble territory for China. The first is that the government has stepped in dramatically to curb real estate speculation and this has done very little to curb the rush for real assets. Next, we see the stock market through the Shanghai Composite being up 100 percent in only one year. But finally, a large portion of new entry level investors only have up to a junior high education and many new investors do not even qualify as literate. You still think valuations are fine? Let us take a look.
Record 93.2 million Americans now not in the labor force: The not in the labor force rebound added 277,000 Americans in March alone.
In the last year alone we have added 2.1 million Americans to the “not in the labor force” category. This mysterious category continues to grow and is having a field day with the employment data. It is hard to ignore this number because it represents a large portion of our population that is simply not counted in the labor force data. You have older Americans in this category but you also have a large number of people wanting work and simply not being able to find it. You also have many relenting and taking up work in the low wage segment of our economy. The unemployment rate would have you believe that this is a fantastic recovery but in March alone we added 277,000 to the not in the labor force category while only 126,000 jobs were created. It is becoming more apparent there will be a strain on the one-third of Americans supporting the other two-thirds.
The economically lost generation of Millennials: taking a look at net worth data, living arrangements, and student debt.
Young Americans probably missed the memo regarding the economic recovery that has been taking place since 2009. Apparently massive student debt, living at home, and a market full of low-wage jobs isn’t exactly the picture perfect ideal of a booming economy. Millennials are facing an uphill battle. The market has virtually eliminated the pension system and has reduced benefits to the barebones for most workers. All of a sudden a large army of Americans are part of the “Uber” economy of freelance workers. You have two systems clashing with one another when many baby boomers are trying to unload their assets to another generation that is simply not as wealthy or economically secure. The recovery has been anything but even and the brunt of the financial damage has been taken on by the young. If we look at the figures it paints a picture of a lost generation financially for young adults.
Largest for-profit sees half of its students vanish in last five years: For-profits under fire as value comes into question.
Many prospective students are starting to become savvier when it comes to looking at colleges. For-profit colleges largely rely on federal funding and market to lower income Americans. There is little oversight for the colleges in producing any sort of measurable result. Many students are simply saddled with massive debt and a degree that has little value in the marketplace. Yet it does seem like the tide is turning with some for-profits. The University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit in the country has lost half of its students since 2010. It is a big deal when you once enrolled 460,000 students and are now down to 213,000. And it certainly wasn’t because of advertising. In 2009 the school was spending around $100 million a year in marketing. With $1.2 trillion in student debt outstanding this is a telling trend. Is the University of Phoenix reflecting a bigger change in for-profits?
A bear market is defined by a 20 percent drop in the stock market from recent highs. For some, the memory of the last crisis is now but a distant echo. After all, we’ve been in a rather strong bull run for 6 years. But bear markets happen more than most people think. Since 1940 the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) has had 12 bear markets. On the flip side we have had 13 bull runs. This current bull run has been particularly strong. A good portion of this rally has come in easy money flowing into Wall Street courtesy of the Federal Reserve and from cutting employee benefits and wages keeping profits flowing up. The market is looking extremely frothy. Easy credit is permeating into the economy in all corners including subprime auto debt, a massive amount of student loans, and people tapping into credit cards to get by. Why? Half the country lives paycheck to paycheck despite the loud stock rally. If we look at a chart of bear and bull runs, we are due for a bear market.
Driving our way into financial poverty with six-year car loans: Once a minority, six-year or longer auto loans now make up one third of all new loans.
Taking on debt for buying a car is a risky proposition. Taking on subprime debt for buying a car is simply a bad financial decision. The subprime loan market is booming for auto loans. Cars can last longer, require basic maintenance, and typically run better than older models. That brings up challenges for the auto industry that needs people buying newer and more expensive models. But consumers always want the newest car or gadget so financing is the best way to get people to purchase an item. This is why the iPhone which would sell for $600 or more is usually bundled with a contract instead of the consumer paying for it all at once. You pay for it slowly over time. The same applies to car loans. However, the typical auto loan used to be 36 or 48 months. Now, we see 72 months and 84 months (6 or 7 years!) of car payments. This is such a bad financial move especially if you want to plan wisely for retirement. Taking on a depreciating asset is just not a good move especially with risky debt.
Fed doublespeak and the dismantling of the middle class: Fed states dropping “patient” word doesn’t mean it is impatient on rates. In 1970 roughly 7 percent of all income was earned by the top 1 percent. Today it is closer to 20 percent.
The Fed has taken a page out of George Orwell’s 1984. Doublespeak is all the rage and the Fed’s statements are analyzed as if sifting for gold. Even when they don’t do anything markets jump. The Fed sets the tone on our debt addiction. The Fed dropped the word “patient” in terms of increasing interest rates but then goes on to say this doesn’t mean that it will be impatient. Say what? The Fed hints at tapering and balks because it claims there is “low inflation” but when we look at real inflation, the price of many items is shooting up dramatically. Many of these items were staples of the middle class including an affordable college education, a home, and being able to earn a good wage. Back in 1975 roughly 7 percent of all income earned went to the top 1 percent. Today it is closer to 20 percent. The last time it was this high was during the years prior to the Great Depression.