Washington, DC -- (ReleaseWire) -- 08/08/2016 --This week seemed to continue a slide into economic and social nightmares. Handcuffed teenagers are getting pistol-whipped, people are being killed in their cars, cops are firing guns carelessly into busy streets and mentally ill people are being tasered in ambulances. The status quo is brutal, and our Fourth Amendment rights are being trampled at every turn.
One example of the sheer bizarreness coming out of this environment of fear and overreach happened in, of all things, a stock analysis, as reported by Bloomberg last week. An analyst for KeyBanc, Chris O'Cull, revised up his expectations for Papa John's Pizza, from sector-weight to over-weight. Why? "After speaking with several large operators and industry contacts, we believe the recent decline in casual dining restaurant segment fundamentals—traffic down 3-5 percent the past several weeks—may be the result of consumers eating more at home amid the current political/social backdrop, which we believe could last through the November election." The thought here is, if consumers are worried about venturing out in the current brutal climate, then pizza delivery companies may benefit. In essence, the message is, 'stay at home, order delivery', and in my opinion, you can add 'count your gold shillings' for good measure, because we are approaching that point.
I believe that police overreach is just a symptom of a far larger disease, a general leaching away of our individual freedoms and responsibilities, one which replaces them with increasing interference by the government in every aspect of our lives.
Separation of powers, federalism, burden of proof, all fall by the wayside as the government tries to protect us from ourselves, shredding the constitution and the meaning of being an American in the process.
The government is more and more interfering everywhere, telling us the mix of fuel we can put in our cars, the kind of light bulb we can use, even the type of toilet we can buy. If it were just this interference, it would be one thing, and a pretty awful one at that. However, we're buying into it, increasingly giving up on personal responsibility as we see our personal freedoms fade, stifling entrepreneurial creativity and job creation. This locks the poor into a lifetime of dependency and poverty, and that vicious circle limits the ability of all hardworking Americans to enjoy any type of upward mobility.
I have personal experience with this increased interference by government in all aspects of our lives, experience shared by many in the financial industry, having been the subject of a witch hunt on the part of the SEC for seven years. Under Dodd-Frank, FINRA and the SEC, our industry's regulatory groups, can come in at any time, unannounced, to do a surprise audit of a brokerage. We're fine with that: we've run a clean business for thirty years. But when FINRA came in to perform this particular spot audit, they only spent a very short time in our file room, with our brokerage records. Instead they spent the majority of their time going through my personal facts and belongings. While I was out of the office, my staff of many years could only stand by and watch as they busted locks and went into my private closet, rifling through my personal jeans, thong underwear and hygiene products. They ripped the doors off a filing cabinet when a key was in the lock, only to find that the cabinet contained only art books. Once they finished with that, these "auditors" started going piece-by-piece through privileged and confidential files that belong to my case against the SEC, files which by law they are not allowed to review.
As they were leaving, my team asked if they were carrying any documentation with them, and despite the fact that they said they weren't we discovered personal documents had indeed left the building when they did. Ask yourself the question: were they there to uphold laws and principles, or were they there to harass me and my staff, bully us into submission? FINRA is not the SEC, is not in fact of the government, but the timing of this invasion of my office and my privacy hardly seems innocent. In fact, it was part of a pattern of behavior characterized by misogyny, racial profiling, and unthinking brutality that has been going on for seven long years and shows no signs of stopping.
My experience may be extreme, but I believe every one of us, whether conservative, liberal, or moderate, can see the clear evidence of this cancerous growth of government scope and power, simply by looking around. It is in the markets, too, as the Federal Reserve continues to manipulate the stock market with promises of helicopter money, among other tactics. It's easy to let the current historically high stock indices lure us into thinking that things are going great, but it's a mistake not to look at all the counter-indicators that abound in the world around us.
S&P Global Ratings recently released their prediction that global corporate debt will rise by nearly 50 percent by 2020, from a current $51.4 trillion to around $75 trillion. In China, the world's biggest debt creator, the figure is $28 trillion, or 45 percent, and the United States is expected to add $14 trillion, which a 22 percent increase. This is new debt, fueled largely by central bank money-printing, easing, and the same helicopter money policies that Japan announced recently to the blessing of Ben Bernanke. S&P took the risky step (last time they spoke out about what was going on with central banks and the U.S. economy, they were sued by the federal government) of saying it clearly: "Central banks remain in thrall to the idea that credit-fueled growth is healthy for the global economy." In fact, their analysts conclude, monetary policy easing by the central banks has thus far contributed to increase financial risk, with the growth of corporate borrowing far outpacing that of the global economy.
Again, equity market indices are at their highs, but of the 25 percent of companies reporting second quarter earnings to date, 68 percent of them really deeply slashed their adjusted non-GAAP earnings in order to make their projections. As a matter of fact, according to FactSet last week, they expect the third quarter to be the sixth consecutive quarter of declining earnings, with third quarter earnings per share forecasts turning negative for the first time, down from positive 0.4 percent to negative 0.1 percent. This makes those market indices seem bizarre at best.
A recent Gallup poll showed that only 17 percent of Americans are satisfied about the current state of affairs in our country.
That means that a staggering 83 percent of us know that something is wrong. Looking outside our nation, currency wars are breaking out across the globe. Emerging markets are in turmoil. Oil dependent countries in the Middle East are seeing budgets go deeply in the red. Greece and the other insolvent southern European countries are nearing collapse. Tension is rising between Russia and Europe, and the United States. There is so much to fear, both at home and abroad, so much social, political and economic volatility. And yet the markets continue to live in the stratosphere. Why?
One reason is this: bots keep on buying. The vast bulk of trading these days is automated. You can actually see this in the numbers, especially during the first and last half hours of the trading day. 50 percent of the (currently low) volume you see on the market is attributable to high frequency trading. Black Box strategies, another computerized process, make up a good chunk of the rest. This raises the question: how many trades are still being made by a person who actually thinks about what he is doing? Does it even matter any more to have an active fund manager, or whether they're skeptical or not of what's going on? I can sit here, as I have for the last number of years saying, "Things aren't adding up..." when you've got this type of economic number, these poor revenue numbers, these poor earning numbers: why in the world is the market continuing to run up?" The fact that the percentage of trades made by thinking human beings has shrunk so far introduces an entirely new set of potential problems in the marketplace.
Another reason is the media buzz that floats on top of the flat-to-negative interest rates being enforced by the central banks. In that environment, the talking heads say, "What alternative do you have?" Whoever came up with this notion has no imagination. Even Goldman Sachs warned at the beginning of July that they are scratching their heads (in public, unusually) over trying to reconcile how these extreme valuations can exist. Goldman also came out and said that they're warning that over the next few months stocks are going to suffer a sharper slump. I wonder if Goldman's continued bearishness will ever be listened to?
Lastly, of course, and tying in to the general theme, are the central banks. By constant manipulation of the markets, they are trying to reflate national and global economies, sacrificing the future on a pyre of debt intended to produce hot air to fill the bubbles. The thesis is that investors, like all of us poor helpless individuals, must be taken care of, saved from themselves. This shows at the individual level, as with the Department of Labor's contested new fiduciary rules which take away choice in financial management options under the guise of protecting Americans from "fees." And it shows at this larger scale, where the Federal Reserve refuses to allow the market to find its level, instead propping it up with the promise of helicopter money and more printing of paper.
America's markets are no longer free, nor are its citizens. A philosophy of paternalism is allowing daddy government to take care of us from cradle to grave, eliminating both personal freedom and personal responsibility. Along the way, we are being abused by that same government, subject to violence and the direct violation of what should be our most fundamental rights. If the Gallup poll reflects the truth, at least 83 percent of us recognize that there's something wrong. The question is, will we push back, or are we just going to order a pizza and wait it out?
For over a quarter century, Dawn Bennett has been successfully guiding clients through the complexities of wealth management. Her unique vision and insight into market trends makes Bennett a much sought after expert resource with regular appearances on Fox News Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, and MSNBC as well as being featured in Business Week, Fortune, The NY Times, The NY Sun, Washington Business Journal in addition to her highly regarded weekly talk radio program - Financial Mythbusting. Through prudent and thoughtful advice, Dawn Bennett has strived to consistently provide the highest quality of guidance.
About Dawn Bennett
Dawn Bennett is CEO and Founder of Bennett Group Financial Services. She hosts a national radio program called Financial Myth Busting http://www.financialmythbusting.com.
She discusses educational topics and events in the financial news, along with her thoughts on the economy, financial markets, investments, and more with her live guests, who have included rock legend Ted Nugent, as well as Steve Forbes and Grover Norquist. Listeners can call 855-884-DAWN a as well as take podcasts on the road and forums for interaction.
She can be reached on Twitter @DawnBennettFMB or on Facebook Financial Myth Busting with Dawn Bennett.