Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Future of US Healthcare

All eyes are on the US Supreme Court as the Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare", is now currently under deliberation. The opening arguments started yesterday with more to come in the days ahead. Given the amount of coverage in the mainstream media in the last few days, one would think that the outcome of the court case would set the tone for the health care system going forward. The US Supreme Court is expected to make its final ruling on the ACA around June 2012 although it could occur any time between now and the November 2012 election.

There is a very strong case to be made that regardless of how the US Supreme Court rules on the ACA, that the future path of the US health care would lead to the same outcome in both cases -- the US health care system will collapse some time between 2015 and 2020. The US health care system is on an unsustainable path as a full blown insurance death spiral is now unfolding.

Back in September 2011, the implications of a full blown insurance death spiral were spelled out in an earlier blog entry in which the end result is a collapse of the health care system in 2017 when health insurance premiums for a family start to exceed the median household income. The previous evaluation was based on the Primary wave [3] down count. The current main count (complex structure for Supercycle wave (a) with Cycle wave x now unfolding) does not change the eventual outcome of the health care system, only the timing of the collapse.

Even if "Obamacare" were to be upheld by the US Supreme Court, the insurance death spiral will still unfold in full force. The vast ocean of money needed to provide subsidies to help people afford health insurance won't be available as the flow of tax dollars to the federal government will have substantially dried up (from current levels) by the time the subsidies and exchanges go into effect in 2014.

The key to the insurance death spiral is health insurance premiums relentlessly rising relative to wages, making coverage more and more unaffordable over time. Even now, there are 50 million Americans without health insurance with that number certain to keep growing in the future. An article published on Annals of Family Medicine makes a projection that health insurance premiums for a family will be equal to the median household income by 2033. The outlook depicted in the article is considered an optimistic outlook as it assumes that incomes will continue to rise in the future. The critical point will be reached much sooner than projected in the article because wage deflation (which has been unfolding since 2000) will accelerate the death spiral as people drop their coverage as premiums become more and more unaffordable. A combination of wage deflation and rising premiums will result in health insurance premiums for a family exceeding the median household income no later than 2020.

The insurance death spiral is starting to be recognized by a number of people. Even fewer people recognize the larger picture -- health insurance companies, hospitals, clinics, and pharmaceutical companies, are all connected together in which corporate greed in each sector plays its part in the larger US health care industry in which the cost of health care soars into the stratosphere and currently taking up 20% of the US GDP. The US healthcare system is also being characterized as an economic bubble as an excellent case for such characterization is made on "The Bubble Bubble" blog.

Death spirals and bubbles, despite their differences in how they are fueled, both ultimately end in a bust. The US health care system is on an unsustainable path and a collapse is in the near future regardless of how the US Supreme Court rules on "Obamacare" this year. When the health insurance companies collapse (when the death spiral goes bust), it will set off a chain reaction within the entire health care industry in which hospitals close their doors within 6 months, clinics close their doors within a year, and pharmaceutical companies close their doors within 18 months at the most. The chain reaction of events will bring about the collapse of the entire health care system.

A collapse of the current US health care system during the Grand Supercycle degree bear market is nature's way of purging one of the things that stands in the way of the future growth of the United States. There cannot be real and meaningful health care reform until the current health care system implodes as the health insurance companies and their lobbyists, as well as private hospitals and pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists -- as it stands now -- have too much power and influence over government for meaningful reform to be possible. When the current US health care system implodes, the door will be open to rebuild the nation's health care system from the ground up without the hindering influence of corporate lobbyists.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Tale of Three Camps

As we approach an important juncture in the form of a business cycle high point in June 2012, virtually everyone has taken one of three positions concerning the road ahead for the stock market, economy, and the job market. The size of the three camps has been changing over time as sentiment rose and fell over the last three years from the March 2009 low.

Here are the three camps and their general positions on the road ahead for the stock market, economy, and the job market.

Bulls ---  This is the largest of the three camps. Most people have an optimistic outlook on the future of the stock market, economy, and the job market. With the DJIA back above 13000 and the S&P 500 back above 1400, exuberant optimism has returned with fervent calls for more bull market, more economic recovery, and more job creation. We are already at a juncture where many optimistic people are making large extrapolation leaps, such as an analyst calling for Dow 116,000 (!) on market watch, and economists raising their expectations for economic growth for 2012, as well as increased expectation for acceleration of the job creation rate in the job market.  As the stock market continued grinding higher on weakening fundamentals, people continued to get more and more bullish. People are now much more bullish than they were at the peak of the Supercycle degree advance in 1929.

Hyperinflationists --- The majority of people that believe that the worst is yet to come are forecasting hyperinflation. The premise of the hyperinflation scenario in the eyes of most people in this camp is that the Federal Reserve continuing to print money and the Obama Administration continuing a policy of stimulating the economy with more and more debt will eventually push the United States past a critical tipping point and usher in hyperinflation. The organization National Inflation Association is well known for its hyperinflation stance, but there are many others as well. Most of the people in this camp are expecting hyperinflation to start no later than 2014.

P3ers -- There are a handful of people in this camp. The "P3ers" name comes from the the super bearish stance that many people familiar with the Elliott Wave Principle have -- that the stock market is tracing out a supercycle degree expanded flat with Primary wave [3] down just around the corner, with the expectation that the markets will unravel at a very fast clip once the bear market rally is over. This camp peaked in size in October 2011 as the DJIA hit a low of 10404 for the year after falling from 12876 at the May 2011 peak. Even the majority of super bears that are not familiar with the Elliott Wave Principle are still expecting the markets to unravel at a very fast clip when a sovereign debt default occurs in Europe.

There are issues with all three of the positions, as can easily be demonstrated:

Bulls -- While the stock market, economy, and job market appear to be healthy on the outside, there is a lot of rot on the inside. The rally from the March 2009 low is not confirmed by the DJIA / gold ratio (the stock market in terms of real money), and the rally continues to unfold on decreasing volume and decreasing momentum. While the economy appears to be healthy on the outside (nominal GDP has been rising since August 2009), economic output has actually been declining in real terms since the peak in 2000 (see this chart) since the rise in nominal GDP reflects the devaluation of the dollar as well as a phenomenon known as Pollyanna Creep. While the economy appears to be creating jobs again and the unemployment rate appears to be falling, the improving job market numbers are almost entirely due to the Obama Administration cooking the books (much like the phony Texas Miracle in which the Rick Perry Administration cooked the books in Texas), the internals of the job market as shown in a Business Insider article show that the "recovery" in the job market is a phony mirage. The actual unemployment rate in the United States is 23% according to information on Shadow Government Statistics, with the unemployment rate at 20% at the start of the Obama Administration Period.

Hyperinflationists -- While the actions of the Federal Reserve and the Obama Administration appear at a first glance to be sowing the seeds of hyperinflation, it is important to recognize the difference between currency inflation and credit inflation. The well known hyperinflation episodes, such as the Weimar Republic hyperinflation from 1921 to 1924 and the Zimbabwe hyperinflation in 2008, were all fueled by currency inflation. Inflation in the Western World (not just the United States) at the present time is fueled by credit inflation, and the US dollar is actually backed by debt. There is an over-bloated credit bubble that is now 38 years old. The bursting of credit bubbles lead to deflation.

P3ers -- While there has been fast market declines in the recent past (such as the Great Depression, where the DJIA fell from 380 to 41 in just 3 years), a 4000 year historical perspective indicates that it is generally unreasonable to expect the markets to crash in every instance that a bear market of Supercycle or larger degree unfolds. The Great Depression was exceptionally brief as far as depressions go, history tells us that depressions generally last around 15 - 25 years. The major depression of 1720 to 1784 (Grand Supercycle wave [II]) turns out to have a relatively short duration for the type of correction, as history tells us that major depressions usually last 80 - 120 years.

There is much to be said about "The Great Deflation" and its expected duration. Elliott Wave International originally expected "The Great Deflation" to end in 2016 with the forecast made in 2008 after the markets peaked in 2007 with a downside target of 400 - 1000 on the DJIA. The scenario would have been plausible had the bear market rally ended in April 2010, which would have given 6 years to complete the rest of the five wave decline from the 2007 peak. The bear market rally is now 3 years old, which all by itself is enough to make the continuation of "The Great Deflation" beyond 2016 inevitable. Four years is not enough time to complete Primary wave [3] down of an expanded flat, much less complete the rest of the five wave sequence from the 2007 high.  The issue here is the duration of "The Great Deflation" as forecasted by Elliott Wave International back in 2008. The house of (credit) cards is too big to completely collapse by 2016 even if the collapse were to start now.

The P3 scenario (as proposed by Elliott Wave International in 2008) was effectively voided when the DJIA took out the May 2011 high (of 12876) earlier this year.

I propose that the markets are telling us that "The Great Deflation" is unfolding as a multi-decade period of gradual and steady decline in the stock market, economy, and the job market with a complex topping process unfolding at the present time. At the climax of "The Great Deflation", the DJIA will be at around 550, the (actual, not official) unemployment rate will be around 60% in the United States with similar numbers in Canada and Western Europe, and real economic output is expected to be at 1930s levels. As per the main wave count, the climax of "The Great Deflation" will be in 2042.

Here is the main wave count showing all of "The Great Deflation" period:

Here are three charts showing the top alternate wave count. This count also has the low point of Supercycle wave (a) in 2042.

Top Alternate Count -- Next 12 months:

Top Alternate Count -- Next 4 years:

Top Alternate Count --- 2000 to 2042:

It is still possible that Supercycle wave (a) is unfolding as an expanded flat, as originally proposed by Elliott Wave International in 2008. However, the expanded flat scenario is an alternative scenario at this time. If the expanded flat scenario is in fact unfolding, it will still take much longer than originally forecasted to reach completion.

Here is a chart showing the expanded flat scenario. The low point of Supercycle wave (a) would occur in 2030.

The difference between the main wave count and the expanded flat scenario is when the bottom falls out. In the expanded flat scenario, all the bubbles would likely burst all at once around June 2012. In the main wave count scenario, only 1 or 2 bubbles would pop in June 2012 and the last of the bubbles would pop in 2021. There are 8 bubbles at the present time according to "The Bubble Bubble" blog which has news on all the bubbles.

All three wave counts call for a multi-decade period of gradual and steady decline in the stock market, economy, and job market with the climax most likely reached in 2042, but not earlier than 2030.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Super Tuesday Aftermath and the Road Ahead

Super Tuesday has come and gone in the GOP Primary. Mitt Romney didn't collapse outright on the Super Tuesday elections, but he didn't close the deal on getting on a runaway path to the nomination. Just before the big elections started, there was a lot of talk from the mainstream media that it was going to be a big night for Mitt Romney. When the results came in for the Super Tuesday elections, it became crystal clear that the GOP Primary is going to be a long choppy affair all the way to the end as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum splitting the states with Newt Gingrich winning Georgia.

The original forecast in December 2011 for the collapse of Mitt Romney was based on the simple expanded flat scenario with Primary wave [3] down currently in force. Mitt Romney has lasted longer than first thought because positive social mood persisted longer than first thought as a bullish social mood would tend to favor Mitt Romney while an increasingly bearish social mood would tend to favor Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich due to the voter tendency to elect radical candidates.

The GOP Primary now heads to the deep South, which under normal conditions would favor Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. With social mood poised to go south in the coming weeks, Mitt Romney will lose his momentum.

As for social mood, here is a chart of the DJIA from the October 2011 low. The stock market (as per the main count) is tracing out a triangle (Intermediate wave (Y)) as part of a complex structure for Primary wave [A] up.

Since the A, B, and C legs of the triangle are simple zigzags, then we should expect wave D to be the complex leg. Minor wave D could unfold as a combination (expanded flat - zigzag - zigzag) or a double zigzag. However  Minor wave D of the triangle unfolds, the downside target is 11250 on the DJIA and 1160 on the S&P 500, both to be reached in late April 2012. The decline should be followed by the E leg of the triangle which should unfold as a sharp three wave rally to 13750 on the DJIA and 1440 on the S&P 500 by late June 2012. There is a 1 in 4 chance that the E lag of the triangle will truncate, which would put the orthodox high of the triangle around 12500 on the DJIA and 1300 on the S&P 500.

Here is an updated longer term chart of the rally from the March 2009 low.

While the D leg of the triangle is unfolding, increasing bearish social mood will make success increasingly difficult for Mitt Romney. The trend already started with Rick Santorum cruising to an easy win in Kansas. During the D leg of the triangle, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will steadily cut into Mitt Romney's delegate lead. The Texas group of states (which traditionally favors conservatives) will be up for election during the D leg of the triangle.

When the E leg of the triangle commences in late April 2012, increasingly bullish social mood will allow Mitt Romney to regain momentum as the last part of the GOP Primary draws to its choppy conclusion.  The California group (which normally favors moderates) will be up for election during the final part of the triangle.

The GOP Primary is going to be a long, drawn out affair with a very high probability that no candidate reaches the required number of delegates to win the nomination. By the time the GOP Convention starts, the advance from the March 2009 low will already be finished with the first part of Primary wave [B] down in progress. Increasingly bearish social mood in the second half of 2012 should favor a scenario where Rick Santorum wins the GOP nomination in a brokered convention.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Update on State Level Authoritarianism

The social trend of increasing authoritarianism at the state level started unfolding in earnest in 2011, starting with Wisconsin passing a union-busting bill into law and Michigan implementing its emergency manager law, and continuing through the rest of the year as more and more red (and even purple) states pass laws aimed at union busting, voter suppression, curbs on abortion and curbs to immigration. The forecast for 2012 called for more of the same with increasing state level authoritarianism (or government over-reach if you prefer to call it that).

Here is an excerpt from an earlier entry (Social Trends for 2012) underscoring the forecast regarding state level authoritarianism:

The trend of increasing authoritarianism is expected to accelerate in 2012. Many governments throughout the world increased their control over their own people in 2011. Even in the United States, there was a rapid rise in state level authoritarianism with people such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leading the charge with laws aimed at union busting, voter suppression, curbs to immigration, and curbs to abortion. Look for this trend to continue in 2012 with even more state and national governments increasing their control over people.

In spite of the Primary wave [3] down wave count being invalidated several weeks ago, the forecast is still being fulfilled. What seems to matter in regards to increasing authoritarianism is that a Grand Supercycle degree bear market is unfolding, and a bear market of that magnitude will inevitably result in increasing authoritarianism regardless of the wave path of the stock market that unfolds while the bear market is in force.

Since the start of 2012, state level authoritarianism has been accelerating:

1 -- Indiana passes a tougher version of Michigan's Emergency Manager law. The bill, Senate Bill 355,  gives emergency managers a number of new powers, including the power to review existing labor contracts, the power to renegotiate existing labor contracts and act as an agent of the political sub-division (municipality or a school district) in collective bargaining, the power to reduce or suspend the salaries of a political division's employees, and the power to enter in agreements with other political subdivisions for the provision of services.

2 -- The state of Texas passed new laws aimed at curbing abortion and reproductive freedom, including the requirement for invasive sonograms. The new laws are already taking a toll on people in the state of Texas, both for women seeking abortions and for providers, as well as the complications that arise from 90% of the counties have no clinics or hospitals that provide abortion services. Some complications of the anti-abortion laws have resulted in criminal charges that carry a five year prison term.

3 -- In the middle of February 2012, the state of Virginia was in the process of passing a law requiring invasive ultrasounds for those seeking an abortion. This caused a massive backlash from women's rights groups. The backlash resulted in Gov. Bob McDonnell settling for a watered down version of the law that was passed by the state Senate towards the end of the month.

4 -- Alabama's legislature is in the process of passing a law (Senate Bill 12) requiring invasive ultrasounds for those seeking an abortion.

5 -- In response to the Occupy Wall Street protests that unfolded in the last quarter of 2011, the Tennessee state legislature passed a law that was specifically made to stop the OWS protests from taking place in the state in the future. The bill, SB 2638, and its companion bill, SB 2508, already reached the governor's desk. The new anti-OWS law makes both "camping" and "homelessness" a class A misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a year in jail, a $2500 fine, and a permanent criminal record, including a permanent entry into the Tennessee Criminal Records online database.

6 -- In Georgia, the state of legislature is in process of passing a bill criminalizing union picketing in spite of widespread opposition to the bill. The bill amounts to another instance of union busting as the law is specifically aimed at unions and labor organizations. The bill, SB 469, was being considered by the state legislature near the end of the month apparently in response to a specific action by Occupy Atlanta and unions to protest layoffs at AT&T.

7 -- Increasing authoritarianism is accelerating in Wisconsin as Gov. Scott Walker is poised to sign into law a bill that repeals the Wisconsin Equal Pay Enforcement Act. Even as the state governor faces a recall within the next few months with state residents still angry over the union-busting legislation that was passed into law last year, the state government stays the course with laws aimed at union busting and voter suppression.

8 -- The Michigan state legislature recently passed a law, SB 0971, that was specifically aimed at stopping the 2200 member Graduate Student Research Assistants (GRSA) at the University of Michigan from forming a union. Michigan continues to lead the charge in terms of increasing state level authoritarianism in spite of being a purple state as a wave of voter anger allowed the GOP to take control of all three branches of the state government in the 2010 mid-term elections. SB 0971 is yet another instance of union busting legislation.

Only two months of the new year have passed and there is already very strong evidence of increasing authoritarianism at the state level, especially in the red states but also unfolding in a number of purple states as well. Even as we pass through the long "Extend and Pretend" phase of "The Great Deflation" (Cycle wave x of Supercycle wave (a) down), bearish social mood continues to simmer all the way to the surface as state and national governments continue to increase their control over people. The social trend of increasing state level authoritarianism is expected to continue through the rest of the year and in the years to come. We are currently in the late stages of Primary wave [A] of Cycle wave x (as per the main wave count), with Primary wave [B] down to unfold from June 2012 to 2016. Once Primary wave [B] of Cycle wave x starts, state level authoritarianism is poised to accelerate in both the red and purple states as social mood deteriorates.