Credit Card System: Fail

As we head into the holiday shopping season, one thing that everyone is looking forward to is the flash of plastic sliding out of wallets all across America. It’s the make or break time for retailers everywhere and season for dedicated shoppers to show their prowess for hunting down bargains. All of it is fueled by credit cards, both online and in person.

But before you whip out the card is there someone waiting to give the term “swipe a card” a different meaning? You may think you can trust a retailer, but can you be sure that they aren’t already a victim of a hacker? The short answer is no, you can’t be sure of anything this year. And a series of high profile hacks throughout 2014 have shown us that the entire credit card system needs to be judged as insecure by everyone.

And hardly anyone in the mainstream media is talking in these terms, probably to avoid the reasonable panic that would ensue.

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Up is Down, Until It’s Just Up

It’s been one week since Barataria made the prediction that if good news came in on jobs the stock market would tank. The good news came in, with the headline unemployment number slipping below 6% for the first time since 2008. Immediately, the market proved Barataria to be wrong. Then right. Then wrong. Then right, again.

It’s been a roller-coaster of a week. How does that stack up with any prediction at all?

It’s probably time to make another prediction. Let’s stick with the first one, that the stock market is due for a decent but not horrific “correction” that re-affirms that we’re really still in a secular bear market. But with the focus on Fed action we are also entering a time when the logic of the market finally turns rightside up – and good news will once again become unalloyed good news.

We just have to get through the ride before we know what’s up – literally up.

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Yellen’s Dashboard – Update

Another quarter has come, and it arrived with good news on jobs. The stock market didn’t tank right away, but most investors agree that the daze of puffed-up valuations for everyone are over. The consensus seems to be that rather than a general fall, investors will have to be more selective and careful. This is consistent with an economy that is changing and gradually turning over, ahead of the next Big Thing that will propel a real bull market in coming years.

But where do we stand with respect to Yellen’s Dashboard – those key economic indicators that Fed Chair Yellen said she’d be watching for movement where there has been so little over the past few years? We don’t have all the data to fill in where 3Q14 stands, but we have most of it. And it all looks good. Which is to say bad, if you’re so minded, because it really does look like the Fed is going to raise rates.

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Pop!

The big test for the stock market comes with the release of unemployment figures, which probably has already occurred if you are reading this after 3 October. If unemployment comes in at better than last month’s 6.1%, what is also expected this month, there will be a serious problem for the stock market.

How is that? Do rich people only prosper when the working stiffs are suffering? The short answer is “no”, but the long answer is “yes”. It shouldn’t be set up that way, but the fragile bubble at the end of a 3 year long expansion in the S&P500 is kept aloft partly by Fed Action – and that comes to a halt as good news trickles in.

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The Secret Goldman Tapes

It’s the kind of bombshell that, once it goes off, surprises no one at all. The American public is used to reports of bad behavior from banks and a complete lack of apparent regulation to stop abusive behavior. It was all supposed to change, yes, but no one believed it did.

Now, there are tapes. On “The American Life” the segment on the tapes of Carmen Segarra, former New York Fed lawyer assigned to Goldman Sachs, are the kind of explosion that may be something new. For one thing, they are raw and go deep into the heart of why the Federal Reserve isn’t regulating banks the way it should be. For another, they are the centerpiece of an investigation by the Senate Banking Committee headed by Sen. Warren (D-MA).

This could go somewhere. And it should.

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Industrial Capacity is Back

When looking for economic data that tells us all how we’re all doin’, sometimes you just can’t beat the classics.

Long ago, the US was a nation that made stuff. Economic expansions or contractions could be measured by industrial output with a rather high degree of precision. Lower output meant that people were losing their jobs and the nation was slowing down.

The industrial capacity figure hasn’t been used much lately because we don’t rely on manufacturing for the bulk of the jobs anymore. At about 12M jobs, it’s just over 10% of all employment. But it still means a lot, and the results are encouraging.

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No Longer Driven by Oil

A new international war has started in the Middle East as Syria continues to burn. Russia is slowly being strangled by international sanctions that are now cutting off their ability to produce and sell oil. With all of this happening in the world, something remarkable is happening to the price of oil – it’s dropping.

How could this happen? The short answer is that the US continues to move towards energy independence, producing its own oil while consumption is stagnant. It’s a good thing, all in all, but it means that the environmental degradation that was once found only in distant lands, and conveniently ignored by nearly everyone in the US, is now upon us. What can we do?

There’s a decent chance that the free market will actually sort it all out – once it’s been properly regulated to account for the environmental damage, that is.

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