Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Friday, 15 March 2013

An economy of peak food stamp usage, peak Dow, and peak Debt -

An economy of peak food stamp usage, peak Dow, and peak Debt - 

It is a dichotomy that speaks to the current state of our economy. Food stamp usage has peaked at the very same time that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is setting new highs. Of course, the Dow is setting new nominal highs but still has a way to go to catch up to the eroding effects of inflation. You have to really ask how is it possible that at a time where so much financial wealth is available that so many people, over 47 million people in our country, are relying on food assistance just to get by. Where is all the wealth going? The financial system has been propped up with trillions of dollars of bailouts and loan programs and has allowed the same kind of speculation that caused our serial bubbles to once again emerge. Many people are speculating in places like Las Vegas and Arizona and crowding out your typical family simply looking to buy a simple home or find a rental. The fact that we are facing a peak in food stamp usage and seeing a new high with the Dow is very telling in the sense that it shows that we are truly becoming a society with a smaller middle class.

Food stamps hit a new peak

We have never had so many Americans on food stamps as a percentage of our population:

Percentage of Americans on Foodstamps_0

Source: ZH, SNAP

The actual number is 47,791,966 Americans that now receive food assistance. What the media does not convey is that the stock market is largely not a true indicator of health for the underlying economy. Few Americans own any significant amount of financial wealth. Most Americans rely on actual jobs to live and support their family. Many of these companies are increasingly earning higher profits by slashing wages, cutting benefits, and earning profits from their business abroad. What the press does not tell you is the standard of living for many Americans has moved backwards over the last few decades. Median household income is now back to levels last seen in the mid-1990s.

To get food stamps is really no easy task. You have to show that you are in poverty or on the verge of being in poverty. The typical amount given each month is not large:

Households on Foodstamps Dec_0

The typical amount given out is about $277 per month. A corollary impact of this is that it has boosted company stock in places like Family Dollar and the 99 Cents Store. The dollar economy is strong because it has 47,791,966 guaranteed customers and it seems that this figure has not gone back even though our recovery goes back to the summer of 2009. Many dollar stores also have a surprising number of higher income households trying to stretch their dollars.

The peaking stock market

The stock market is not a good indicator for overall wealth of Americans. Most Americans have their wealth in home equity. So while net worth is heading back up near the peak, real estate values are still down about $5.5 trillion from their peak:


While overall net worth is nearing a top, the housing market is still down about 30 percent from its peak. The price rise in real estate right now is being driven not by healthy household balance sheets but by large Wall Street funds scooping up whatever properties they can find to turn into rentals or flip projects. They are crowding out your average American. Net worth figures are still hampered for most because of the fall in real estate values. But the recent rise seems to be spurred by hot money chasing another market which is exactly what set the foundation for the first housing bubble back in the early 2000s.

It should be an obvious question to ask by the press as to why it is that the Dow has peaked at a time when food stamp usage has peaked. Yet there is little market or advertising dollars from the poor. The dollar stores have their niche and reach out to this group but it is unlikely that they will spend big ad dollars to compete with debt based spending on cars or pharmaceutical ads. We also have record debt at $16.7 trillion and you are seeing record speculation in the stock market with people underpricing volatility. Not every peak is worth climbing.


Maryland patient dies from rabies-infected organ transplant -

Maryland patient dies from rabies-infected organ transplant - 

A Maryland patient who underwent an organ transplant has recently died of rabies, which he reportedly caught through the transplanted organ, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The patient was one of four people who received an organ from one particular donor. The CDC said it tested tissue samples from the donor and the dead recipient in order to confirm the connection.
Currently, the CDC is testing the three other recipients who received organs from this donor, and as a precaution, they will receive anti-rabies shots.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene began its investigation in early March after the organ recipient died. The agency found the person had no exposure to animals, which is the usual source of rabies transmission to humans.
Transmission through organ transplants is very rare.
The patient developed symptoms about one year after the transplant, which is longer than the usual rabies incubation period of one to three months. However, there have been cases of longer incubation periods.
The CDC said the patient and the donor tested for the same type of rabies virus, which was linked to a raccoon. Only one other person in the U.S. has reportedly died from a raccoon-type rabies virus, the CDC said.
The donor’s organs went to four people in Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Maryland in 2011. While he was living in Florida during his illness and death, he had previously been a resident of North Carolina, where it is believed he was exposed to the rabies virus. The CDC is working with health care facilities in all five states to identify people who may have been in close contact with the initial donor or the organ recipients, as they may need treatment too.
The CDC said all potential organ donors in the U.S. are screened and tested to make sure they do not pose a risk for infectious diseases.
There are usually one to three human rabies cases in the U.S. each year, according to the agency.  Rabies is not usually tested in organ transplant donors because it is so rare, and it is difficult to confirm results in the short time doctors have to keep organs viable.
Rabies infects the central nervous system and can cause disease in the brain, which can lead to death within just a few days. The most rabid animals in the U.S. include raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats.

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Geithner: Ex-Treasury Secretary Gets Bailout Book Deal - "behind-the-scenes" account of the financial crisis -

Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has a book deal.

Geithner has an agreement with Crown Publishers, an imprint of Random House, Inc. Crown announced Thursday that Geithner's book, currently untitled, is scheduled for 2014 and will provide a "behind-the-scenes" account of the financial crisis.

Few Treasury secretaries received as much attention as Geithner, who has been praised for helping prevent a second Great Depression, but criticized for being too friendly to banks and other financial institutions. He will draw upon his experience at the Treasury during the first term of the Obama administration and his previous job as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where he served from 2003-2009.

According to Crown, Geithner will write about his work with President Obama, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other top officials.

"Secretary Geithner will chronicle how decisions were made during the most harrowing moments of the crisis, when policy makers faced a fog of uncertainty, risked catastrophic outcomes, and had no institutional memory or recent precedent to guide them," Crown's statement reads.

 "Secretary Geithner will aim to answer the most important - and to many the most troubling - questions about the choices he and his colleagues made, the strategies they adopted, and the economic aftermath. By describing what went right, what went wrong and the lessons learned along the way, Secretary Geithner intends to provide a 'play book' that future policy makers can draw on and that the public can use to understand how and why governments act in crisis."

Geithner, 51, stepped down in January as Treasury secretary and was succeeded by Jack Lew.

Financial terms for Geithner's book were not disclosed. Geithner was represented by Washington attorney Robert Barnett, who has negotiated deals for Obama, former President Clinton and Geithner's predecessor at the Treasury, Henry Paulson. Obama's best-selling "Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope" also were published by Crown.

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