July 11: Daily Contrarian Reads

The Stock Market’s Tsunami Siren Is Blaring—Take Cover

Everyone who’s watching the stock market has their own reasons for their endless optimism, their doom-and-gloom visions, their bouts of anxiety that come with trying to sit on the fence until the very last moment, or their blasé attitude that nothing can go wrong because the Fed has their back. But there are some factors that are like a tsunami siren that should send inhabitants scrambling to higher ground. Since July 2012 – so over the past five years – the trailing 12-month earnings per share of all the companies in the S&P 500 index rose just 12% in total. Or just over 2% per year on average. Or barely at the rate of inflation – nothing more…..Yet, over the same period, the S&P 500 Index itself soared 80%.

Don’t Unleash Him—-Why “Mad Dog” Mattis Is Dangerous

Kaine’s comments highlight a bizarre twist in the Trump presidency: the first Cabinet member approved by the Senate became an important neoconservative plant inside the administration despite Trump’s rhetorical rejection of neocon “regime change” policies. The incoherence of Trump’s emerging foreign policy appears to be directly related to Mattis and the interventionists – both neocons and liberals – who supported his ascent……… In Iraq in 2003, Mattis coached arriving Marines, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” And in 2005, the man who has been unleashed by the President said, “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”

Gasoline Demand Continues To Plunge–What It Means

Now, 6 months later, the situation is very much different: with the US now inside peak summer driving season, the cyclical drivers behind gasoline supply and demand are vastly different, and yet something has remained the same: gasoline demand in the US simply refuses to rebound, surprising analysts by how weak it is. So weak, in fact, that Bank of America has released a note which, like Goldman half a year ago, reveals confusion about why – if the economy is indeed strong –  demand hasn’t kept up and has prompted BofA’s energy analyst Francisco Blanch to ask “where is the driving season?” and, more specifically, “is this year’s driving season over before it began?” Here’s why some of the biggest banks continue to be amazed at the relentless failure of gasoline demand to validate an economic recovery, courtesy of BofA…

ECB Feuding—How Much Stimulus Is Too Much

ECB policy makers continued to air their differences over when to rein in stimulus, sending conflicting signals on whether pumping cash into the economy for much longer will help the euro area or hurt it….The remarks reflect the dissonance since the start of the year in the Governing Council over when officials should discuss winding down their 2.3 billion-euro ($2.6 billion) asset-purchase program. Praet has consistently called for patience, while colleagues such as Knot and Germany’s Jens Weidmann have warned against leaving it too late, and Executive Board member Benoit Coeure has said a failure to be transparent can increase market volatility.

Another Saudi Massacre—-This time its own People

For the past 60 days, Saudi Arabia imposed a devastating siege on the Shiite town of Awamiya. And of course, mainstream western media remains silent…..These photos aren’t from Yemen, they’re from the Saudi Arabian eastern town of Awamiya. Where Saudi forces are waging war against an oppressed Shia minority. Saudi Arabia adheres to the extreme fundamentalist and intolerant sect of Wahhabism. Making it the country’s religious majority. This ideology is also enforced through state tactics. Which makes it illegal to publicly carry out any religious practice or teaching that conflicts with Wahhabism.

Mall Tour 2017—-Why They Are Dying, Part 1

Every city has its own story and the local mall is the nexus of that story. In my mind, the only way to get real answers was a 4-day, 1,500 mile meandering road-trip through the lower mid-west, where we planned to hit as many malls and take as many meetings with facility managers and brokers as we could organize along the way……..The overriding question was: is retail suffering because of Amazon.com cannibalizing store-fronts or are rising health care costs, with stagnant wage growth, what’s really cannibalizing disposable spending power in middle-America? Is shopping still America’s pastime or do we prefer food and “experiences” instead? Every industry evolves. Why hasn’t the mall changed in the past three decades—it’s still the same cinema, crappy food court and undifferentiated retailers that I knew when I was a teen—where’s the fun in that? Other countries are perfecting “shoppertainment,” why hasn’t America? In summary, what is the real issue with retail?

A Great Big Dud: Takes From The FOMC Underground

Many of today’s economic troubles are due to a fantastic guess.  That the wealth effect of inflated asset prices would stimulate demand in the economy. The premise, as we understand it, was that as stock portfolios bubbled up investors would feel better about their lot in life.  Some of them would feel so doggone good they’d go out and buy 72-inch flat screen televisions and brand-new electric cars with computerized dashboards on credit.

Memo To Trump: Ignore The Neocons, Seek Rapprochement With Russia

What president, seeking to repair damaged relations with a rival superpower, would begin by reading from an indictment? President Eisenhower did not begin his summit with Nikita Khrushchev by berating him for crushing the Hungarian freedom fighters in 1956 — a more grievous crime then hacking the emails of John Podesta. President Kennedy did not let Russia’s emplacement of missiles in Cuba in 1962 prevented him from offering an olive branch to Moscow in his widely praised American University address of June 1963…….President Nixon, in first meeting Leonid Brezhnev, did not denounce him for extinguishing the Prague Spring. Were Trump to start his first summit with Putin by dressing him down, why meet with him at all?

The GOP Isn’t A Political Party: It’s A Dysfunctional Gang of Villain-Seeking Factions

That’s a huge problem. If the White House and congressional Republicans don’t quickly find another Democratic/liberal/progressive dragon that’s threatening the villagers, it’s hard to see how Trump and the GOP will be able to do much on healthcare, the budget, tax reform, infrastructure or anything else the rest of this year or next.

Why The Social Security Budget Nightmare must be Resolved Now

In their 2016 reports, the Trustees warned that the trust funds supporting disability, hospital and retirement/survivors benefits would be depleted in 2023, 2028, and 2035, respectively. The reports also outline the size of the benefit cuts that would occur if the trust funds are allowed to run out. Disability benefits would be cut by 11 percent, hospital insurance payments would be reduced by 13 percent and retirement/survivor’s benefit reductions would be an unthinkable 21 percent. There is no reason to think that their 2017 reports will tell a fundamentally different story.