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Mark's Market Blog

9-2-13: Afghanistan Opium is in your neighborhood right now.

By Mark Lawrence

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Still not much news - the bulk of the world is on vacation. The market seems very happy with reports that Obama has passed the buck on Syria to Congress. Those guys couldn't order a pizza much less an attack. Several emerging markets continue to have severe balance of payments problems, dropping currencies, and dropping stock markets. It's becoming more and more obvious that we're going to be the last man standing, at least for a time. Meanwhile Korea's exports, the canary in the coal mine, have improved to normal levels. The latest manufacturing data has just come out, and several countries in Europe and China seem to be recovering.

S&P 500 March 8 2012 to August 30 2013

Another canary is copper consumption. Copper goes into everything - building wires, printed circuit boards, communication and power lines, wires for generators and alternators. Copper is considered to give a very solid look at the overall state of the world economy. And what's Dr.Copper have to say right now? He says there's a major disconnect between the economy and the stock markets.

Like shopping at department stores? Yah, me neither. Nor anyone else, it seems - department store sales are dropping like rocks, and are back to the level of 1992. As James Carville would say, it's the internet, stupid.

Before Obama I had never heard of SEIU - the Service Employees International Union. Now they're subsidized by the administration and everywhere. They've been organizing strikes on fast food places, demanding a doubling of wages to $15 / hour. Will it work? Who can say, but I think this is the dying gasp of a solution to a four generation old problem. When I look at the data, it seems to me fast food wages are keeping up with the price of Big Macs and rising faster than inflation. Besides, everyone knows you don't buy a $4 Big Mac anymore: you get a McDouble with no ketchup, add lettuce and Big Mac sauce, it's still a buck and all you're missing is one stupid bun.

Why are we in Afghanistan? It's been reported in several places that we're there for opium. Under the Taliban opium production was cut drastically and almost wiped out in 2001, nearly destroying the Afghan economy in the process. Poppy production is back in a big way now - more and more land is devoted to it, and in the Afghan spring farmers can raise two crops of poppies then finish off their summer with watermelons. We're leaving Afghanistan soon and projections are that opium production will increase further from 75% of the world's supply to 90%. Meanwhile, here in the US the CDC says 15,000 Americans die each year due to overdoses of prescription opiates including Vicodin, OxyContin, Opana, and methadone. Abuse of these drugs also results in half a million emergency room visits per year. 5% of Americans - about 15 million - report using prescription painkillers without a prescription for non medical reasons. US drug companies now sell enough of these each year to dose up the entire US population for a month, 24/7. It's believed drug companies bring in Afghan opium, chemically convert it to these prescription heroin variants, then turn their back as they produce and sell the pills for a major drug epidemic. I'm beginning to wonder: is Hell big enough? There must be some major construction going on down there - new fire pits, training new demons, manufacturing pitch forks.

You know those stupid ads on TV, "We buy Gold!" and the signs all over town from shady businesses promising the same? Now the Indian government wants to get into this act. Their currency is falling apart due to a trade deficit and money being pulled out of all emerging markets, and their trade deficit is largely due to gold imports. So to lower the price of gold they intend to buy gold from their citizens (apparently they took a different economics class than I did), melt it down, and sell it wholesale to dealers and manufacturers. Or keep it to make gold bullion for their banks.

Going Galt: I read a book recently, Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters by Helen Smith. She made a lot of interesting points, most of which I agree with. In the last 15 years, the number of single men over 30 has increased by 50% - apparently many think, like me, that the costs and risks of marriage and divorce outweigh the benefits of marriage. Helen lists 8 points:

  1. You'll lose respect - you're just the diaper bag dude.
  2. You'll lose out on sex - men who cohabit get more with thinner women.
  3. You'll lose friends.
  4. You'll lose space - prepare to be banished to your man cave.
  5. You could lose your kids, and your money.
  6. You'll lose in court.
  7. You'll lose your freedom.
  8. Single life is better than ever - a wife or a new corvette?
In other studies:

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