April 20: Daily Contrarian Reads

America’s Gilded Age 2.0—–Over The Top And On The Rocks

By 2012, the top one percent of U.S. earners were commanding 19.3 percent of household income, burying once and for all the prior record set in 1927. In other words, it’s been five years, people!……a  recent foray to the local posh mall was all the show-and-tell required to illustrate the point. So lengthy was the valet line, one wondered if the intended task of shopping would ever be properly addressed. Forget the Ferraris. This is the mall folks, land of the SUV, as in the Bentayga, Bentley’s answer to every delusional soccer mom’s dreams…… Besides, it’ll only set the hubby back a cool quarter of a million…… Pardon the urge to submerge your pleasurable 12-cylinder fantasy. But do you see anything wrong with this picture? Two questions (should) come to mind: Can this many people afford to be driving these beyond-luxurious vehicles? Much more critically, are their means so meaningful they can brazenly brandish their wealth? Or is a fair bit of financial feigning at work to paint the impressive impression?

France’s Presidential Election—-The Nightmare Scenario

The French presidential election was temporarily relegated to the back-pages following the US strike on Syria, but a few days ago, the Economist Magazine returned to the topic, noting that a potential “nightmare option” has suddenly come into view. In recent months certainty had increased that once the election moved into its second round, it would be plain sailing for whichever establishment candidate Ms. Le Pen was going to face. That certainty has been shaken quite a bit lately…..Apparently French voters were greatly impressed by far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who on occasion of the second televised debate once again proved his ability to out-gab his competitors…..It seems Mélenchon has taken support from everyone – with the noteworthy exception of the scandal-ridden conservative candidate François Fillon of all people.

Even Luxury Goods Take A Hit—–Consumers Shopping, Prices Dropping, Sales Shrinking

Neiman Marcus and other luxury retailers were long thought immune to the troubles of mass-market chains—falling foot traffic and the constant price wars that have triggered widespread closure of brick-and-mortar stores. But high-end chains, which raised prices incessantly over the past decade, are learning the hard way that even wealthy customers are hunting for better deals and selection, whether online or at shops run by individual brands…… Sales of personal luxury goods, such as designer apparel and handbags, fell 1% last year, the first decline since 2009, according to Bain & Co.

Here They Go Again—Washington Groupthink Gave Al Qaeda Another Free Pass

Despite the fact that much of the information was coming from Al Qaeda and its propaganda-savvy allies, the mainstream U.S. media rushed emotional images onto what Trump calls “the shows” – upon which he says he bases his foreign policy judgments – and he blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the scores of deaths, including “beautiful little babies,” as Trump declared…..Postol, whose analytical work helped debunk Official Washington’s groupthink regarding the 2013 sarin attack outside Damascus, expressed new shock at the shoddiness of the latest White House report…….“This addendum provides data that unambiguously shows that the assumption in the WHR that there was no tampering with the alleged site of the sarin release is not correct. This egregious error raises questions about every other claim in the WHR. … The implication of this observation is clear – the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence expert unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report.

More “Fake” Data—-This Time It’s The Global Warming “Pausebuster” Scam

Dr John Bates’ disclosures about the manipulation of data behind the so-called ‘Pausebuster‘ paper is the biggest scientific scandal since ‘Climategate’ in 2009 when, as Britain’s Daily Mail reported, thousands of leaked emails revealed scientists were trying to block access to data, and using a ‘trick’ to conceal embarrassing flaws in their claims about global warming. Britain’s Mail on Sunday today revealed astonishing evidence that the organisation that is the world’s leading source of climate data rushed to publish a landmark paper that exaggerated global warming and was timed to influence the historic Paris Agreement on climate change……But the whistleblower, Dr John Bates, a top NOAA scientist with an impeccable reputation, has shown The Mail on Sunday irrefutable evidence that the paper was based on misleading, ‘unverified’ data.

Rand Paul Got That Right—-Sen. McWar and Sen. Dronem Have Learned Nothing From Failed Mid-East Wars

Sen. Paul detailed the many concerns and predictions that McCain, Graham and other neoconservative Republicans had about regime change in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, noting that these hawks were mistaken about virtually everything. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein that was supposed help foster democracy only emboldened Iran and made way for ISIS. When Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was deposed with U.S. assistance it was a gift to the Islamic State. McCain and Graham were chief among the voices who were demonstrably wrong about Iraq and Libya. In a joint statement last week, Sens. McCain and Graham said, “As part of a broader strategy, we urge the President to take greater military action to achieve our objectives, including grounding the Syrian air force and establishing safe havens inside Syria to protect Syrians.”

Houston, We Do Have A Problem!  Commercial Rents Plunge As Vacancies Hit 22-Year High

There is seemingly no end to the growing problem of commercial real estate vacancies across the country.  And while we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the largest markets of New York and San Francisco, Houston, one of the hardest hit markets from the collapse of oil prices, is also in the midst of its own real estate collapse.  In fact, per a recent Q1 market update from NAI Partners, commercial vacancies in Houston have just reached a 22-year high……Houston’s overall vacancy rate rose to 20.0% in Q1 2017, an increase of 100 basis points quarter-over-quarter and 260 basis points year-over-year. Net absorption stood at negative 778,758 sq. ft. as of the quarter’s end—on the heels of the more than 1.4 million sq. ft. of negative absorption for full-year 2016. In addition, both Houston citywide overall rent and leasing activity are down from last quarter, as well as from Q1 2016…

Now They Tell Us—More Government Data Revisions, Still Weaker “Recovery”

That is the essence of trend-cycle subjectivity, as government statisticians in the past had been able to more easily determine the trajectory for whatever economic data and use it to further construct the trend-line for measured monthly variation. The problem, equally obvious, is for any period where the assumed trend becomes obsolete. In the past, that had typically meant recession, for any statistical series always has difficulty with inflection due to the basic premise of using the recent past to try to measure the near future. Such a short-term discrepancy was something we could all live with, because if whatever piece of information didn’t exactly tell us when the inflection was reached we would anyway soon enough be able to easily infer it by common sense at least. This “recovery” period was at first modeled by trend-cycle analysis as a recovery….. The Fed’s subjective assumptions about the state of US industry produced self-reinforcing guidance about that agency’s forward assumptions of the state of the economy (IP was growing steadily, therefore QE must be working).

Beijing Doubles Down—-More Credit Juice For The Red Ponzi

…….was the result of better-than-expected investment, industrial production and building starts for March—all evidence that last year’s easy-money policies and infrastructure spending have developed a momentum of their own. Much of the firepower has come from state-owned companies and government infrastructure coffers. Government spending ramped up last month and despite Beijing’s efforts to crack down on companies’ debt levels, there was a rush for loans, much of it going to a property market that has gained new life from the state stimulus. This lift to growth comes as China tries to shift from debt-fueled state investment and low-end manufacturing to private consumption……While private-sector investment rose 7.7% in the quarter from a year earlier, state-owned companies’ investment grew nearly twice as fast, and state infrastructure spending increased over three times the rate.

US Restaurant Industry Suffers Worst Collapse Since 2009

Alas, that did not happen, and restaurant struggles continued in March as sales and traffic again declined year-over-year: same-store sales were down 1.1% while traffic dropped 3.4%. March results were disappointing for an industry desperately trying to reverse performance trends; with sales now negative in 11 out of the last 12 months, the longest stretch since the financial crisis…..As TDn2K further adds, with a same-store sales decline of 1.6%, the first quarter of 2017 was the fifth consecutive quarter of negative results. The last time the industry experienced a similar period was in 2009 and the first half of 2010, as the economy began recovery following the recession. Only this time the move is in the opposite direction.