Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy New Year!!

It's only two weeks into the new year, so I'm not too late to wish everyone a happy 2016, right?

I'm not sure what happened to 2015. It just sort of disappeared after I finished up tax season. We really didn't get much of anything done on the house. In fact, we barely kept up with the day-to-day stuff. And now the first two weeks of 2016 are already gone.

As far as books, Debbie held up her end, but I was seriously slacking for some reason. For one thing, I've been doing more reading on the Kindle, and I have to say, I'm not really a fan. It seems to take me forever to finish up a book. At first I thought it was just getting used to not holding a physical book, but after a couple dozen books things haven't improved. It doesn't seem to be an eye-strain thing, and I'm not any more distracted than when reading a regular book. I just read painfully slow. Anyway, I only managed to read 49 books; less than my annual goal of one book a week on average. According to my Goodreads page, the least popular book that I read in 2015 was Shavertron: The Pre-Gafiation Years. Only two people other than myself read all about Teros living underground and being rayed by evil Deros, etc. Frankly, I'm surprised that there were that many. The most popular was Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice. Than surprises me as well. I figured with all the Lee Child, Clive Cussler and other pop fiction writers in my 2015 reads, one of those would take the top spot, not something published in 1813 that (like most books of the time) takes a great many pages to tell a fairly simple story. (Dear Dick from the Internet: This isn't a criticism; I enjoyed the book and think a great many modern pop fiction authors could learn a thing or two about story-telling from Jane Austin. I'm just saying that her style of writing as well as subject matter doesn't seem to appeal to kids these days as evidenced by the first link the googles came up with when I typed in "pride and prejudice publication date".)

(And get off my lawn!!)

(And yes, we are going to see that when it comes out. I'm not that old....)

Last year, I stated that our only goals for 2015 were to not end up homeless and not murder our wacko neighbor. I'm happy to say that we managed both of those things!! Woohoo! Go us! In fact, the neighbor situation actually improved slightly in recent months after she figured out that no one in the park or at her church would do a damn thing for her, so she is better off not actively harassing us. She still ignores us, but I can live with that.

The big news for 2016 is that for the first time in a long time, I won't be working for a tax prep outfit. I'll still be doing the dozen or so returns that I do under my own EFIN, but no more Walmart Cubicle from Hell. Instead, I'm working an actual full-time, year-'round job for the first time in a long time. In fact, I started as the Administrative Assistant at the Zephyrhills Moose Lodge almost exactly nine years after leaving Munson. So far, it's going well and I'm back doing what I've always been comfortable with; spreadsheets, databases, making CAT5 cables, messing with routers and switches, etc. We have a new point-of-sale system that I've been setting up over the last six weeks that is going live at the end of January. I'm assuming I'll be living at the lodge for the first week or so after we go live. This is going to be a big change for the bartenders and a huge change for the waitstaff. But I think that ultimately, it will be good for the lodge and will give the board a much better handle on what is going on from week to week.

Debbie is still cranking out cruises and expects to keep on cranking out cruises until the entire cruise industry belly-flops or she becomes eligible for Social Security.

Or we hit the $1.5 billion Powerball tonight. Which is really a $930 million jackpot. It would be tight, but we could probably get by on that.

It's the beginning of a new year (or at least close to the beginning...), so that means one thing: predictions.

My personal predictions are fairly straight-forward. The air will continue to leak out of the fracking bubble, resulting in more bankruptcies, layoffs, etc. The former boom towns in the various frack fields are already starting to turn back into the near-ghost-towns they were a decade ago. As I said last year, this will impact more than just the oil companies; the junk bonds are lurking everywhere. Due to over-supply and increasingly, under-demand (is that a term?), I'd expect oil prices to stay low, continuing to damage the oil industry's productive capacity. At some point down the road, the production and consumption lines will cross and oil prices will jump back up to where they will benefit the oil companies at the expense of the rest of the economy. But I seriously doubt that will happen in 2016.

The twenty percent of the country doing well will continue to do well. The eighty percent who have been getting beat down will continue to get beat down. How much longer all the various debt-fueled plates can be kept spinning is anyone's guess. Some will inevitably fall while others will be kept going a little bit longer. One thing about doing taxes at Walmart; I saw a lot of what those crashing plates do to families in the 80%. It ain't pretty. I won't have a front-row seat this year, but I expect those folks are in for yet-another rough year.

Stocks are sure looking sad so far in 2016. As we know from the last several years, stock prices are fairly easy for companies and the Fed to manipulate, so it's probably significant that a) the annual Santa Clause rally was a no-show, and b) nothing seems to be able to halt the decline in the markets. My personal opinion is that the indexes are simply returning to rational levels, but I also know that a lot of people bought in well above those rational levels and will be wiped out in the process. The talking heads can say all they want about "paper losses", but that doesn't mean it has any less of a psychological effect on the person watching his 401K falling. The bottom could really fall out of the markets this year, but I expect instead we're in for another exciting roller coaster ride with the stock indexes flying all over the place with no relation to the underlying economy.

And that's probably enough from me. Some predictions from others:

John Michael Greer: Down the Ratholes of the Future

The ongoing depletion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources will keep squeezing the global economy, as the real (i.e., nonfinancial) costs of resource extraction eat up more and more of the world’s total economic output, and this will drive drastic swings in the price of energy and commodities—currently those are still headed down, but they’ll soar again in a few years as demand destruction completes its work. The empty words in Paris a few weeks ago will do nothing to slow the rate at which greenhouse gases are dumped into the atmosphere, raising the economic and human cost of climate-related disasters above 2015’s ghastly totals—and once again, the hard fact that leaving carbon in the ground means giving up the lifestyles that depend on digging it up and burning it is not something that more than a few people will be willing to face.

James Howard Kunstler: Pretend to the Bitter End

Those terms might be somewhat negotiable if we could accept the reality of this re-set and prepare for it. But, alas, most of the people capable of thought these days prefer wishful techno-narcissistic woolgathering to a reality-based assessment of where things stand — passively awaiting technological rescue remedies (“they” will “come up with something”) that will enable all the current rackets to continue. Thus, electric cars will allow suburban sprawl to function as the preferred everyday environment; molecular medicine will eliminate the role of death in human affairs; as-yet-undiscovered energy modalities will keep all the familiar comforts and conveniences running; and financial legerdemain will marshal the capital to make it all happen.

Oh, by the way, here’s a second element of the story to stay alert to: that most of the activities on-going in the USA today have taken on the qualities of rackets, that is, dishonest schemes for money-grubbing. This is most vividly and nauseatingly on display lately in the fields of medicine and education — two realms of action that formerly embodied in their basic operating systems the most sacred virtues developed in the fairly short history of civilized human endeavor: duty, diligence, etc.

Dmitry Orlov: My Prescription for 2016: Collapse Early and Often

Not too many people, I expect, will want to follow my prescription; not too many of my family members, or friends, or acquaintances, or you who are reading this. And that's fine because, as I have learned over and over again, there is no strength in numbers. Quite the opposite: the probability of any given trick working is in inverse proportion to the number of times it is tried, or the number of people who try it. And so, if you are reading along and think “I can't possibly do this because of [insert lame excuse]!” then—good! Fine with me. Fewer people equals more oxygen.

And that applies to the few people who will actually bother to read this. Lots more people will not want to read this, because—what collapse? Gasoline prices are low, Obama has shut down most of the wars, the economy is strong enough for the Fed to have started hiking rates, and once Bernie Trump gets into the White House, everything else will be set right too. To the people who think that, someone like me, who predicted collapse a while back, was clearly wrong, and needs to be psychoanalyzed, not followed. Again, fine with me, so long and thanks for all the bullshit.

Gail Tverberg: 2016: Oil Limits and the End of the Debt Supercycle

What is ahead for 2016? Most people don’t realize how tightly the following are linked:

1. Growth in debt
2. Growth in the economy
3. Growth in cheap-to-extract energy supplies
4. Inflation in the cost of producing commodities
5. Growth in asset prices, such as the price of shares of stock and of farmland
6. Growth in wages of non-elite workers
7. Population growth

It looks to me as though this linkage is about to cause a very substantial disruption to the economy, as oil limits, as well as other energy limits, cause a rapid shift from the benevolent version of the economic supercycle to the portion of the economic supercycle reflecting contraction. Many people have talked about Peak Oil, the Limits to Growth, and the Debt Supercycle without realizing that the underlying problem is really the same–the fact the we are reaching the limits of a finite world.

And that should keep everyone busy for a little while.

(Yes, Debbie. I know. tl;dr)