Over the weekend, we held our annual investors survival summit in Las Vegas. Aside from the libations and excitement surrounding us, we focused on the world's economies.
But more specifically we looked at what's ahead here at home.
Employment and consumer confidence are the main drivers of economic growth. Without them, America's small-business growth -- the core of our stability -- would stagnate.
While some unemployment is actually tolerated and generally acceptable, a continued increase in unemployment when the stock market is recovering is bad.
Excessive unemployment (over 8%) hammers the equity markets.
Below is a chart of the unemployment rate going back to 1970 (in blue) compared to the S&P 500 (green and red).
Generally speaking, when unemployment is dropping sharply, the market rallies. You will also see that sometimes markets surge even when unemployment is rising (1990-1992, for example).
This is because the employment rate is a lagging indicator, while the stock market is the ultimate leading indicator.
Think about it as a rubber band. As the market rallies, it stretches the rubber band between the two, creating more tension. If unemployment begins to drop after this rally, the tension on the stock market is released. If unemployment continues to rise, tension also rises. Eventually, it will snap the stock market back down.
With every reason to expect higher unemployment, that's the case today. The rubber band is stretched to record tension levels. It's starting to feel a lot like the late '70s, sans bell-bottoms, of course...
Job Killer in Your Mail
Have you noticed delays in your mail? Letters and packages taking longer and getting misrouted? Recently, I have seen major changes in my postal service. It started a couple months ago. I wasn't getting mail in a timely fashion, sometimes not at all.
My renters were complaining to me that they haven't been getting their mail... including their paychecks. Just yesterday my neighbor came back from vacation and called me to tell me that he has been getting bits of my mail for weeks.
I asked a few attendees at our conference over the weekend, and they had been noticing the same. Obviously this is anecdotal, but these signs should not be ignored and I suspect my small sample is not alone.
It could be due to the fact that the 235-year-old U.S. Postal Service -- which happens to be America's second largest employer next to Wal-Mart -- is in deep trouble.
The USPS is a nearly bankrupt, antiquated albatross that is wrapped tightly around the neck of our highly indebted nation.
As it stands now, the poorly run entity is running a $9 billion annual deficit and there is the potential for it to miss a $5.5 billion payment on retiree benefits at month's end.
Saving the agency will come at a huge cost of jobs, taxes and service.
Right now about 3,700 offices are targeted for possible closure, which would eliminate over 100,000 jobs (they shed 105,000 jobs last year).
In 2010 the USPS carried 6 billion fewer pieces of mail compared to 2009. Fifty-nine percent of the average mailbox was filled with junk mail. First-class mail, like personal letters, bills and payments, has traditionally generated more than half the postal service's total revenue, but that is on the way down as our culture continues to move into the electronic age.
Invitations, cards, bills and checks are all going digital.
Companies like Rpost (who joined us at our recent conference) provide electronic, registered email that could eliminate the need for registered snail mail, which we all know is expensive and takes days.
What's worse is that job cuts, postage rate increases and the elimination of Saturday delivery will make the USPS even less of an attractive option when it comes to mail. This will further provide ammunition for private competitors like Rpost and others to doom the USPS to the same fate as the Yellow Pages and TV Guide.
It is a vicious cycle that will bring the postal service to its knees.
In a time when faith in America and our government is being tested and scrutinized, this is just another example of too little, too late. Even if the USPS were to be given more autonomy to operate like a private sector company, I don't see the way out.
Companies like UPS and FedEx could benefit from the demise of the USPS. Unlike most regular mail, parcels of goods cannot be digitized or sent over the Internet. Both companies have extremely efficient logistic systems that can be scaled.
Consumer frustration with the postal system will result in a diversion in business to both companies.
While I don't believe the USPS will be allowed to die, the part that it plays in our daily lives, especially for the younger generations, is no doubt going to become less and less. The inevitable consequences of post office closures, delays and increased costs will unfortunately mean more job losses and another kick in the head for the small-business owner.
Publisher's Note: We had a slew of top-notch speakers at our conference over the weekend. But Jared was the best of the best. Maybe it's from his time on TV. Or it could be the confidence that comes with earning a lucrative career in the trading pits. No matter what the cause, Jared's 45-minute "how to" session on options trading was a flat-out hit.
If you missed him in Vegas, all is not lost. Jared recently wrote a report that details how to use other people's money to wrap up double-digit gains no matter which way the markets head.
In today's ultra-volatile market... it's the perfect strategy.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.