After years of increases, some fear a tipping point has finally been reached

Relentless rise in oil prices tests economy’s resilience

WASHINGTON — Only a few weeks ago, prominent policymakers and economists were cheerfully asserting that the U.S. economy would dodge recession and keep chugging forward despite a housing bust, a credit crunch and continuing job losses.

“The data are pretty clear that we are not in recession,” said President Bush’s chief economist, Edward Lazear. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. declared “the worst is likely to be behind us” and confidently predicted that more than $100 billion in tax rebates would help create half a million new jobs by the end of the year.

But instead of clearing, the skies over the economy have ominously darkened in recent days. The chief reason is oil. And there are signs the nation may have reached an economic tipping point after years of shrugging off the petroleum problem.

“We may finally have crossed the line where the price of crude actually matters for most companies,” said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at New York financial firm Miller Tabak & Co. “The stock market has been in la-la land when it comes to oil, but they got a pretty good dose of reality the last few days.”

The ill effects of the latest price hikes would not be so surprising if it were not for the fact that the nation’s economy and financial markets remained blissfully unruffled by oil’s upward march during most of the last five years. Until this week.

“The economic outlook has been taken hostage by the relentless surge in oil prices,” said Robert V. DiClemente, chief U.S. economist at Citigroup in New York.

“We’re seeing an inexorable increase, and it doesn’t seem like anybody’s in charge or can do anything about it,” added Bank of America senior economist Peter E. Kretzmer.

Big, small firms take hits

Among the signs that the economy may finally be feeling the effect of rising oil prices was Ford Motor Co.’s announcement Thursday that it was abandoning any hope of making a profit this year or next now that sales of its gas-guzzling pickup trucks and Explorer sport utility vehicles have plunged.

And experts said that the other two U.S. automakers, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler, may be in even greater trouble.

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said the industry had “reached a tipping point” where energy costs were fundamentally changing what kind of vehicles Americans buy.

Meantime, to cope with higher energy prices, American Airlines and United Airlines both raised ticket prices, and American announced plans to impose a new baggage-handling fee. But experts say the price hikes barely begin to make up for recent losses.

“The airline industry is devastated. It can’t survive $130-a-barrel oil,” said industry analyst Ray Neidl at Calyon Securities in New York.

Read moreAfter years of increases, some fear a tipping point has finally been reached

Eurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

Eurozone inflation surged to the highest rate for 16 years on the back of sharply higher oil prices as consumer spending in the 15-country region showed further signs of weakness.

Annual inflation in the eurozone reached 3.6 per cent in May, according to official data released on Friday, up from 3.3 per cent in the previous month. That appeared to rule out any chance of an early cut in interest rates by the European Central Bank, which aims to keep inflation “below but close” to 2 per cent.

Evidence also emerged that higher prices were wreaking economic damage by forcing households to retrench. Germany reported a surprise 1.7 per cent drop in April retail sales, extending a 2.2 per cent fall in March.

This week, the European Commission reported eurozone consumer confidence had plunged in May to its lowest level for almost three years.

As well as driving inflation higher, the soaring cost of fuel has led to Europe-wide protests this week – with fishermen blocking ports in France and on Friday giving out fish free in Madrid.

Read moreEurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse

Peter Schiff is the author of the book: Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse

Source: You Tube

(Preparedness is everything! Have a closer look at the World Situation and the Solution.
– The Infinite Unknown)

Economist challenges government data

Oakland economist John Williams doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to pick fights with the government.

He’s slow moving and soft spoken, conservative in politics and personal habits, a pale and portly 59-year-old who favors Oxford shirts, Rep ties and sensible shoes. Williams is the sort who pays his taxes on time, waits when the signal says “Don’t Walk” and snaps to attention when the national anthem is played.

But don’t be fooled. The New Jersey native is leading a one-man crusade to expose official economic data as grossly misleading at best and, at worst, a pack of lies.

His Shadow Government Statistics Web site (shadowstats.com) has become a magnet for those convinced that official data put a happy-talk gloss on the nation’s economy. The growing popularity of the site, which costs subscribers $175 a year, is testimony to the deep suspicion many Americans harbor about government information as the economy falls into a swoon.

“There’s something wrong with the numbers,” said ShadowStats subscriber Harry Seitz, a retiree in Davie, Fla. “Over the years, (Williams) has essentially been proven correct.”

By Williams’ estimation, the government’s calculation that unemployment was 5 percent in April and that inflation was 4 percent and economic growth 2 percent over the last year, is fantasy. It might even be disinformation.

An update e-mailed to ShadowStats subscribers at the beginning of the month warned darkly that “GDP (gross domestic product) and Jobs Data Appear Rigged” and “Despite Manipulated Data, the Recession Deepens.”

By his reckoning, the economy shrank 2.5 percent in the year that ended in March, unemployment is really 13 percent and year-over-year inflation is 7.5 percent.

Government economic data are “out of touch with common experience. That’s why people used to believe the numbers but no longer do,” Williams said during an interview in his modest one-bedroom apartment near Lake Merritt.

Read moreEconomist challenges government data

Buffett sees “long, deep” U.S. recession

BERLIN (Reuters) – The United States is already in a recession and it will be longer as well as deeper than many people expect, U.S. investor Warren Buffett said in an interview published in German magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday.

He said the United States was “already in recession” and added: “Perhaps not in the sense that economists would define it” with two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

“But the people are already feeling the effects,” said Buffett, the world’s richest man. “It will be deeper and last longer than many think.”

Read moreBuffett sees “long, deep” U.S. recession

Surging inflation will stoke riots and conflict between nations, says report

Riots, protests and political unrest could multiply in the developing world as soaring inflation widens the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”, an investment bank predicted yesterday.

Economists at Merrill Lynch view inflation as an “accident waiting to happen”. As prices for food and commodities surge, the bank expects global inflation to rise from 3.5% to 4.9% this year. In emerging markets, the average rate is to be 7.3%.

The cost of food and fuel has already been cited as a factor leading to violence in Haiti, protests by Argentinian farmers and riots in sub-Saharan Africa, including attacks on immigrants in South African townships.

Merrill’s chief international economist, Alex Patelis, said this could be the tip of the iceberg, warning of more trouble “between nations and within nations” as people struggle to pay for everyday goods. “Inflation has distributional effects. If everyone’s income moved by the same rate, you wouldn’t care – but it doesn’t,” said Patelis. “You have pensioners on fixed pensions. Some people produce rice that triples in price, while others consume it.”

A report by Merrill urges governments to crack down on inflation, describing the phenomenon as the primary driver of macroeconomic trends. The problem has emerged from poor food harvests, sluggish supplies of energy and soaring demand in rapidly industrialising countries such as China, where wage inflation has reached 18%.

Unless policymakers take action to dampen prices and wages, Merrill says sudden shortages could become more frequent. The bank cited power cuts in South Africa and a run on rice in Californian supermarkets as recent examples.

“You’re going to see tension between nations and within nations,” said Patelis.

The UN recently set up a taskforce to examine food shortages and price rises. It has expressed alarm that its world food programme is struggling to pay for food for those most at need.

Last month, the World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, suggested that 33 countries could erupt in social unrest following a rise of as much as 80% in food prices over three years.

Merrill’s report said the credit crunch has contributed to a global re-balancing, drawing to a close an era in which American consumers have been the primary drivers of the world’s economy.

In a gloomy set of forecasts, Merrill said it believes the US is in a recession – and that American house prices, which are among the root causes of the downturn, could fall by 15% over the next 18 months.

Read moreSurging inflation will stoke riots and conflict between nations, says report

Airbus at `Less Than Zero’ Value Still Loses Altitude

May 23 (Bloomberg) — Airbus SAS, the world’s largest commercial aircraft maker, is valued at “less than zero” after this year’s 32 percent drop in the shares of parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., according to Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. analyst Joe Campbell.

“The market is viewing Airbus as a liability, rather than an asset,” said Campbell, 62, who is based in New York and has ranked among the top five aerospace analysts for six consecutive years in an Institutional Investor magazine poll.

EADS, based in Paris and Munich, on May 13 reported an additional three-month delay in deliveries of the A380 superjumbo jetliner, which was already two years behind schedule. Before the latest setback, the company had cut its profit forecast by $6 billion through 2010.

Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, is also six months to a year late on the A400M military transport. It has a 20 billion- euro ($31.4 billion) contract with six European governments and Turkey for 180 of the planes. Additional cost overruns and penalty payments may drain cash needed for the $16 billion expense of developing the Airbus A350, a long-range jet competing with Boeing Co.‘s 787 and 777.

A February 2007 recovery plan meant to help Airbus cope with a weakening dollar as it competes with Chicago-based Boeing for dominance of the $60 billion-a-year airliner market has stumbled. The planemaker sought in part to shift investment for new planes to subcontractors who would buy Airbus plants. It chose local companies in France and Germany that lacked the capital to shoulder the risk and the plan fell apart.

Read moreAirbus at `Less Than Zero’ Value Still Loses Altitude

People sleep in cars in rich US city

A Californian woman says she is forced to sleep in her car

High house prices in one of the wealthiest US cities have forced increasing numbers of women and elderly people to sleep in their cars.

According to organizers of a program that makes it possible for the homeless to sleep safely in their cars at night, more people are living in their cars in the city of Santa Barbara, while many of them even hold part time jobs.

The organizers believe the high house prices, which average at around $1 million, are driving many people to bed down for the night in their vehicles in the exclusive coastal city.

New Beginnings is the organizer of the program. It runs 15 car parks that open from 7pm to 7am in the rich city allowing the homeless to park at night.

New Beginnings Coordinator Nancy Kapp said the demand for the program was growing due to the economic recession. “The way the economy is going, it’s just amazing the people that are becoming homeless. It’s hit the middle class,” she said.

Meanwhile, New Beginnings Executive Director Gary Linker also said that one third of the people who use the program have part-time jobs.

MJ/PA

Thu, 22 May 2008 11:15:43

Source: Press TV

Bush’s disapproval rating worst of any president in 70 years

WASHINGTON – President Bush has set a record he’d presumably prefer to avoid: the highest disapproval rating of any president in the 70-year history of the Gallup Poll.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, 28% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing; 69% disapprove. The approval rating matches the low point of his presidency, and the disapproval sets a new high for any president since Franklin Roosevelt.

The previous record of 67% was reached by Harry Truman in January 1952, when the United States was enmeshed in the Korean War.

(I want to add here a quote from G.W.Bush:
‘Who gives a flying fuck what the polls say,’ he screamed at a recent strategy meeting. ‘I’m the President and I’ll do whatever I goddamned please. They don’t know shit.’ – G.W.Bush – The Infinite Unknown)

Bush’s rating has worsened amid “collapsing optimism about the economy,” says Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies presidential approval. Record gas prices and a wave of home foreclosures have fueled voter angst.

Bush also holds the record for the other extreme: the highest approval rating of any president in Gallup’s history. In September 2001, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, Bush’s approval spiked to 90%. In another record, the percentage of Americans who say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake reached a new high, 63%, in the latest poll.

Assessments of Bush’s presidency are harsh. By 69%-27%, those polled say Bush’s tenure in general has been a failure, not a success.

Low approval ratings make it more difficult for presidents to maneuver, limiting their ability to get legislation passed or boost candidates in congressional elections.

“The president understands war and the slowdown in the economy weigh down public opinion, but the situation in Iraq is improving, and the economy is about to get a big boost from the stimulus package,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Bush has had dismal ratings through most of his second term. His approval rating hasn’t reached as high as 50% since May 2005. He has been steadily below 40% since September 2006.

Views of Bush divide sharply along party lines. Among Republicans, 66% approve and 32% disapprove. Disapproval is nearly universal – 91% – among Democrats. Of independents, 23% approve, 72% disapprove of the job he’s doing.

By Susan Page

Source: USA TODAY