Shell Game

Nasrudin stood up in the marketplace
and started to address the throng.
“O my people! Do all of you really
want knowledge without difficulty, truth
without falsehood, great attainment
without effort, progress without sacrifice?”

Very soon a very large crowd gathered,
everyone shouting, “Yes, yes!”

“Excellent!” said the mullah. “I only
wanted to know. You may rely upon me
to tell you if I ever discover any
such a thing.”

–Sufi Teaching Story

At 8:30 AM on Friday, February 6th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly Employment Situation Report. The media hailed it as the most positive report in two years. The big feature, they said, was a massive upward revision of the reported new jobs created the month before.  Upward revision? Who gets to do this? Change numbers month to month? Only government. The private sector would be tarred and feathered if they tinkered with their earnings reporting. The other exciting fact, per the evening news anchorperson, was that the slightly higher unemployment number was great because that meant more people got off their Barcaloungers and went looking for work! Panglossian or what?

Far more realistic, but ignored by both the popular media and Wall Street analysts, was the U.S. Census Bureau’s Homeownership Quarterly, which drilled down to what the citizenry is actually experiencing:

AAA Chart

Labor Force Participation Rate is back down to 1975 levels, when there were still more households with one income than with two.
Real Median Household Income continued its decline into 2010 and has barely budged since.
Mortgage Purchase Apps were below the ’09 levels late last year
Avg. Wage Growth Year-Over-Year tanked during the recession, rallied a bit after that, and just made a new low.

Nothing to indicate meaningful recovery in these numbers. Nor does consumer activity get the blood going:

Retail Sales

Wall Street analysts were confident that retail sales would be pushed up by the big drop in gas prices. “We cannot understand…” is how Bank of America’s report on the matter began.

Finally, if the fully invested public gives a tinker’s damn about the company earnings in their mutual fund holdings, they have a weird way of showing it:

US company profits and sales

Earnings crumbling, stocks in the stratosphere. Is it possible that investors will bestir themselves from their complacent inattention to decide they may have the problem of financial ruin in their midst? You decide.

Cheers,

Rod

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