There are several noteworthy milestones to note tonight. Follow the links for more information.
In terms of our general economic malaise:
- US spot foodstuff prices have so far risen 19% in 2014. That's right - 19%. As Zero Hedge put it: "...what happens when pent-up demand (from a frosty east coast emerging from its hibernation) bumps up against a drought-stricken west coast unable to plant to meet that demand?" And I'd like to know what this is going to do to the rate of inflation this year. Oh, yes - silly me. The government doesn't include food prices in its inflation calculations. Therefore, if you find you can't afford to buy as much food as usual, that's not inflation - just your imagination.
- Open Books has calculated that US corporations received well over a trillion dollars from the US government - possibly closer to two trillion - during the past decade or more. They called it 'a corporate welfare state'. Much of it was in the form of subsidies, grants and tax concessions - 'crony capitalism' at its finest. Yet another reason why the US budget deficit is so enormous.
- Wal-Mart has revealed (perhaps inadvertently) that reductions in the food stamp program and other welfare payments will directly impact its bottom line. Interesting to note how a major company is actually dependent on the welfare system to make a profit. That seems like yet another fertile breeding ground for crony capitalism, if you ask me . . .
- Yield premiums for US distressed or high-risk debt - what used to be called 'junk bonds' and similar investments - have risen to a five-year high. In other words, there are fewer buyers for such debt, making it much more difficult to 'roll it over' by renewing it or replacing it with new debt. Those investors that are still in the market are much more cautious, demanding a better return on their investment - in effect, a higher interest rate - to offset their risk exposure. Zero Hedge calls this another 'canary in the coal mine' indicator of the health of the US economy as a whole. I agree.
- As an adjunct to the point above, the Sovereign Man blog notes that the USA is "now spending 26% of available tax revenue just to pay interest" on the Federal Government's debt. As bond rates increase, that will go up . . . and the prospect of default will loom ever larger, making US debt even more high-risk and driving away prospective buyers. It's a vicious circle, and it's happened before - the article provides examples.
- Pending sales of existing homes in the USA have declined for the eighth consecutive month. So much for the 'recovery' in the housing market.
- China has just experienced a 3-day run on the banks in one rural constituency. It's been contained - for now - but I have little doubt it'll be the first of many as that country's credit crunch tightens.
Apart from general economic news, with Tax Day approaching there's a lot of discussion about our broken tax system.
- Zero Hedge offers a list of 97 taxes Americans pay every year. It notes: "Our politicians have become extremely creative in finding ways to extract money from all of us, and most Americans don't even realize what is being done to them. By the time it is all said and done, a significant portion of the population ends up paying more than half of what they earn to the government. That is fundamentally wrong, but nothing will be done about it until people start demanding change."
- The Economic Collapse Blog lists '24 Outrageous Facts About Taxes In The United States That Will Blow Your Mind'. They certainly blew mine!
Finally - and of very great interest considering the monstrosity that is Obamacare - the Fiscal Times reports that "there’s an increasing trend in the industry toward cutting insurance companies out of the process entirely, as large, regional hospital systems move into the insurance business". This is a noteworthy development. If such institutions can cut out the middlemen who currently consume as much as one-quarter to one-third of all medical expenditure in the form of administrative overhead, it should make medical care considerably more affordable for most of us. Of course, it'll also have a very detrimental impact on those who depend on the current medical insurance system for their livelihood. I'm going to watch this one closely.