Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Signs of the Economic Apocalypse, 12-24-07

From Signs of the Times:

Gold closed at 815.40 dollars an ounce Friday, up 2.2% from $798.00 for the week. The dollar closed at 0.6954 euros Friday, up 0.3% from 0.6930 at the close of the previous week. That put the euro at 1.4380 dollars compared to 1.4430 the Friday before. Gold in euros would be 567.04 up 2.5% from 553.01 at the close of the previous Friday. Oil closed at 93.31 dollars a barrel Friday, up 2.1% from $91.41 for the week. Oil in euros would be 64.89 euros a barrel, up 2.4% from 63.35 at the close of the Friday before. The gold/oil ratio closed at 8.74 up 0.1% from 8.73 at the close of the previous week. In U.S. stocks, the Dow closed at 13,450.65 Friday, up 0.8% from 13,339.85 the week before. The NASDAQ closed at 2,691.99 Friday, up 2.1% from 2,635.74 for the week. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 4.17%, down six basis points from 4.23 for the week.

The big story last week continued to be the credit meltdown. The crisis is turning out to be much worse than we were told it would be at the beginning. And, if any fool could have predicted this, and if the bankers are by no means fools, why did they let it get this bad? Is it part of a larger plan?

The following two pieces by Clive Maund and George Ure suggest some possibilities.

No Way Back - the Horrible US Economic Morass

Clive Maund

Dec 13 2007

Like a petulant child raging around because it got one candy when it expected two, the market threw a tantrum yesterday when it only got a quarter of a percent rate cut yesterday when it was hoping for more - but what good would it have done if rates had been cut by half a percent, or even a full one percent? Is it really wonderful to undermine the dollar so much that it completely collapses? Is that what the stockmarket really wants, or is simply that like the spoiled brat that doesn’t get the instant gratification it seeks, the market can’t see past the end of its nose? Whatever, the news from the Fed yesterday caused a nasty convulsion that may mark the end of the “Santa Claus” rally - it was unspeakably cruel to withhold treats like this in the runup to Christmas.

In recent years the US economy has morphed into a vast sinkhole for international finance and savings. Like some giant industrial vacuum cleaner with its brush removed the nozzle of this voracious beast has found its way into every nook and cranny of the world’s economy, hungrily sucking up any loose funds that are not securely nailed down. What have the funds been used for? - to balloon already gargantuan Federal and State deficits and to maintain an orgy of consumer spending at home by citizens who are actively encouraged and enticed to spend every last penny they have and to borrow to the hilt and spend still more, to increase military spending to unimaginable levels that exceed that of the rest of the world combined, this purportedly to defend the Homeland from a bunch of discontented eccentrics who occasionally cause explosions, and to finance wars of occupation in far flung lands.

The reason for the financial earthquakes this Summer and Fall, which are but mild tremors compared to what is looming, is that the rapacious nozzle of the vacuum cleaner has not been able to locate and suck up sufficient funds to meet its exponentially expanding needs, as foreign hosts, growing tired of having the lifeblood sucked out of them and realizing that they have been conned over the sub-prime mortgage paper and are never going to be repaid, have started to choke off the supply of funds. The result is that extraordinary emergency measures have had to be taken to prevent the banking system going into instant seizure and collapse, which have only been partially successful to date - and they had better be successful, because if we see a credit gridlock and major banks failing, the consequences could push the world economy over the cusp from a highly inflationary environment into a deflationary implosion, which needless to say would be disastrous.
These emergency measures have principally involved a dramatic and hyperinflationary ramping of the money supply, the catastrophic consequences of which will emerge later. This is the reason for the unfolding collapse of the US dollar, which has two key advantages for the United States - it progressively diminishes the real debts owed to overseas creditors and it makes other economic power blocs, such as the European Union, much less competitive in world markets. A stark example of this is provided by EADS, the makers of the Airbus aircraft. EADS was severely wounded by the superjumbo delays fiasco, and the otherwise glamorous image of this aircraft has been dented by Singapore Airlines’ laughably prissy decision to ask its customers who pay a grand sum for a double bed on the flight to refrain from doing what comes naturally, on the grounds that other passengers or crew might overhear them. It recently emerged that EADS, which has always had its production centered in Europe, might partially relocate it into dollar zones or even the US itself - Boeing must be really laughing about this - hats off to a falling dollar! The weakening of the European Union is a way to ultimately undermine the Euro, which is the only currency that presents a serious alternative to the US dollar, and must therefore be crippled. A low dollar will make US business, what’s left of it after outsourcing that is, suddenly competitive, and turn up the heat on Europe. Faced with a suddenly plunging dollar, other countries and power blocs are scrambling to pump up their own money supply, in order to weaken their own currencies and maintain a competitive advantage. Thus the rate of competitive devaluation around the world has moved up one whole order of magnitude on the Richter scale, with huge inflationary implications, an effect of which must be a flight into hard assets such as gold and silver...

There is an old saying that goes something like “If you owe the bank a large amount of money you have a problem, but if you owe the bank a huge amount of money the bank has a problem”. This neatly sums up the situation now existing between the world superdebtor, the United States, and the rest of world. By suddenly ramping its money supply still further and dropping interest rates in an effort to avert a credit crunch, the US has thrown down a gauntlet to the rest of the world and has effectively said “The collapsing dollar is your problem - and if we go down we’ll take you all with us, so you‘d better help out or it‘s your funeral” The US is testing the resilience of the world economy to the limit and the world is already starting to crack. Evidence of this was provided by an Abu Dhabi fund stepping in to partially bail out the ailing Citigroup about two weeks ago, a surprise development that ignited the just ended strong rally on US stockmarkets. The timing if this move is thought to be no coincidence - the broad US stockmarket was on the point of breaking down completely. The driver for this unusual move was that Mid-Eastern fiefdoms have vast amounts invested in the London and US stockmarkets, and have a lot at stake if they should plunge, and it is therefore easy to get them to come running to the rescue. Scrupulous German savers meanwhile look on with dismay, realizing belatedly that they have been conned, the money that they assiduously stashed away for many years having been sucked up rapidly by the giant vacuum cleaner and blown by the US government on military expansion and overseas adventures and by US consumers on property speculation, giant flat screen TVs, SUVs and the good life generally…

[T]here is now no way out of the enormous hole that they have dug for themselves, the towering sides of which are now starting to collapse in upon them. What we are currently witnessing is a fascinating process of procrastination and obfuscation, with everyone right up to, or should that be right down to the President getting involved. The chief purpose of this is twofold - to allow the many spread across the Mortgage and Real Estate industry, the rating agencies and Wall St involved in the fraudulent aspects of the sub-prime scam time to cover their tracks and destroy as much evidence as possible, and to try to hatch a way to renege on the contractual obligations pertaining to the original loans, perhaps by issuing “updated” versions whose small print protects the issuer from liability relative to the original loans, in the hope that the gullible foreigners who are belatedly wising up won’t read it. Finally lawyers can be expected to feast on everyone involved, producing documents extending to thousands of pages and dragging the whole sordid business out possibly for years, which of course plays into the hands of the perpetrators of the scam, some of whom will probably have died of old age before the legal processes are concluded, if they ever are.

What makes the current situation so profoundly dangerous is that the US stands to gain the most, or rather lose the least, from a global economic meltdown in the near future. Furthermore, from the standpoint of the maintenance and enhancement of global Anglo-US hegemony there are two threats that require to be dealt with urgently. One is the alternative currency to the US dollar, the Euro, which, as mentioned above, can effectively be undermined and crippled by first laying economic siege to the Eurozone with a weak dollar. Saddam paid the price for trying to trade oil in Euros by losing first his country and then his life. The other is the rapid ascent of China which promises to become a global superpower in its own right. The way to deal with China therefore is simply to pull the plug on its economy before it has weaned itself off dependence on the US as a primary export market. According to the logic of the chess game they are playing there are thus compelling reasons for the Anglo-US elites to let the world economy implode now. In a situation of chaos, they have the military capability to impose their will virtually anywhere in the world, except China and Russia, and have established a vast network of hundreds of military bases around the world, and particularly in Asia, to do just that. The takeover of Iran with its enormous oil reserves, is only a matter of time, with the fabrication of it presenting a threat as the pretext. Iran has recently upped the stakes by only accepting payment for its oil in Euros - treading the same path as Saddam. It will be easy to come up with a pretext to invade Venezuela and secure its vast oil reserves - this is also only a matter of time. Russia cannot be attacked directly because of its arsenal of aging nukes, so it will be encircled and placed under prolonged economic siege. CNN recently aired many times a program by “The Mistress of Pathos” Christiane Amanpour, titled “Czar Putin”, which depicted Russia as a one-party country, effectively a dictatorship, with a tightly controlled media. This, of course, is in marked contrast to the US, which is a two-party country with a syndicated media in the control of those closely affiliated with the government. With the US dollar collapsing, the vast US debts will simply evaporate, and the currency crisis and general confusion will provide the perfect opportunity to amalgamate the US, Canada and Mexico into a single economic trading entity, in effect one country, with the dollar being ditched in favor of a new currency, the Amero. The Mexicans, who are currently regarded by many Americans as a nuisance will, with their cheap labor, become important bedrock support for the new enlarged country, and viewed in this context the prolonged influx of Mexican immigrants makes sense. The Constitution of the United States has already been overwritten and thus consigned to the dustbin of history by the Patriot Acts, under the provisions of which dissenters at home will be dealt with very harshly indeed.

Those in power in the United States who were responsible for creating the conditions that led first to the stockmarket boom of the 90’s, then to the Tech Bubble, and then compounded the accumulating problems by dropping interest rates almost to zero, creating the environment that bred the carry trade speculative mania, the derivates pyramid and the housing bubble must have known the consequences of their actions, must have known that it would ultimately lead to an almighty train wreck - they are not that stupid, so the question is why they allowed these things to happen. Either they were guilty of short-termism - let’s party today and to hell with tomorrow - or these developments were part of a grand plan that was meant to lead to the major crisis facing the world today. The writer has not - as yet - been invited to listen in on meetings of the inner sanctum of the Federal Reserve or the Pentagon, or MI6 in London, and therefore does not know for sure what the “grand plan” is and can only speculate on what their ultimate intentions are. Thus it is not known, for example, if the Federal Reserve will continue to expand the money supply exponentially and continue to drop interest rates in an effort to bail out the major US banks, which would cause the dollar to collapse further leading to hyperinflation, or whether they will suddenly and unexpectedly ramp interest rates in the not too distant future, purportedly to support the dollar, causing credit gridlock and an economic meltdown, but whichever track they send the train down it will still end up going over a cliff…

George Ure also sees a North American Amero replacing the dollar, something that can only be after the dollar has lost most of its value.
What's really going on is that the banksters, who are supposed to be running a fractional reserve banking system, have conned the whole world. The fractions are gone.

Where's the fraction that could stave off things like bank runs? Oh, er...an embarrassing question!

The banks have what are called "sweeps" where they take every nickel not at rest and "sweep" them into short-term "investments" in order to keep every possible farthing at work. The problem is that when money is demanded by depositors, you get all kinds of banking problems (under the headline 'liquidity crisis') and the bankers scream for relief, and until now, have pretty much gotten what they wanted.

"Putting the money in overnight deposits somewhere is the same as having cash!" it could be argued. Well, no, not quite. When I go to my bank I can't get a measly $5,000 in cash without going through an interrogation, and neither can you. Go ahead and try it. Limits on free wire transfers, limited on travelers checks - the pot has been turned up but like frogs, few protest.

The Banksters are trying their best to phase out cash and quickly get to an all electronic world where you'll be totally auditable, and they will be able to tack on all the zero's they want. "Why, it will be Nirvana, don't you see?" they wonder privately.

Except, of course, that food, gold, or paper can be counted. The new system - if they can get it installed quickly enough hidden by a new North American Currency - allows for unlimited monetary expansion. Of course, comes a power outage, we're all broke, but that's part of the plan somewhere, I'm sure.

The markets this morning are set to open on the downside. This excuse or that will be given for the day's price action, but off in the distance there's the problem of millions of Baby Boomers all wanting money out of banks and stocks for their retirement, and no way to pay them interest/gains while the bankers want to hold those for their shareholders. It's a titanic mess, but thanks to the miracle of media saturation, we aren't supposed to notice. Just keep on spending.

The New Currency will be along soon enough, and if it's not coming fast enough, some staged 'terrorist' event or other will be ginned up with a significant money component, or cash will be further demonized by a flu pandemic as the most dangerous vector,. and there we will be.

About then, the Congress which has already abdicated on things like The Bush Wars, will sit with its thump in the pie as the bankers not only steal the Constitutionally mandated role of Congress to control money, but they will turn it over to the Mexican-Canadian-USA consortium that will run the new Super Government. A few more regional trading blocks, and then the stage is set for the one world rule...

In the United States, the areas that until recently enjoyed the fastest growth are now getting a taste of a much darker future:
This Is the Sound of a Bubble Bursting

Peter S. Goodman

December 23, 2007

Cape Coral, Fla.-- TWO years ago, when Eric Feichthaler was elected mayor of this palm-fringed, middle-class city, he figured on spending a lot of time at ribbon-cuttings. Tens of thousands of people had moved here in recent years, turning musty flatlands into a grid of ranch homes painted in vibrant Sun Belt hues: lime green, apricot and canary yellow.

Mr. Feichthaler was keen to build a new high school. He hoped to widen roads and extend the reach of the sewage system, limiting pollution from leaky septic tanks. He wanted to add parks.

Now, most of his visions have shrunk. The real estate frenzy that once filled public coffers with property taxes has over the last two years given way to a devastating bust. Rather than christening new facilities, the mayor finds himself picking through the wreckage of speculative excess and broken dreams.

Last month, the city eliminated 18 building inspector jobs and 20 other positions within its Department of Community Development. They were no longer needed because construction has all but ceased. The city recently hired a landscaping company to cut overgrown lawns surrounding hundreds of abandoned homes.

“People are underwater on their houses, and they have just left,” Mr. Feichthaler says. “That road widening may have to wait. It will be difficult to construct the high school. We know there are needs, but we are going to have to wait a little bit.”

Waiting, scrimping, taking stock: This is the vernacular of the moment for a nation reckoning with the leftovers of a real estate boom gone sour. From the dense suburbs of northern Virginia to communities arrayed across former farmland in California, these are the days of pullback: with real estate values falling, local governments are cutting services, eliminating staff and shelving projects.

Families seemingly disconnected from real estate bust are finding themselves sucked into its orbit, as neighbors lose their homes and the economy absorbs the strains of so much paper wealth wiped out so swiftly.

Southwestern Florida is in the midst of this gathering storm. It was here that housing prices multiplied first and most exuberantly, and here that the deterioration has unfolded most rapidly. As troubles spill from real estate and construction into other areas of life, this region offers what may be a foretaste of the economic pain awaiting other parts of the country.

Cape Coral is in Lee County, across the Caloosahatchee River from Fort Myers. In the county, a tidal wave of foreclosures is turning some neighborhoods into veritable ghost towns. The county school district recently scrapped plans to build seven new schools over the next two years. Real estate agents and construction workers are scrambling for other lines of work, and abandoning the area. As houses are relinquished to red ink and the elements, break-ins are skyrocketing, yet law enforcement is resigned to making do with existing staff.

“We’re all going to have to tighten the belt somehow,” says Robert Petrovich, Cape Coral’s chief of police.

FLORIDA real estate has long been synonymous with boom and bust, but the recent cycle has packed an unusual intensity. The Internet made it possible for people ensconced in snowy Minnesota to type “cheap waterfront property” into search engines and scroll through hundreds of ads for properties here. Cape Coral beckoned speculators, retirees and snowbirds with thousands of lots, all beyond winter’s reach.

Creative finance lubricated the developing boom, making it easy for buyers to take on more mortgage debt than they could otherwise handle, driving prices skyward. Each upward burst brought more investors — some from as far as California and Europe, real estate agents say.

Joe Carey was part of the speculative influx. An owner of rental property in Ohio, he visited Cape Coral in 2002 and found that he could buy undeveloped quarter-acre lots for as little as $10,000. Nearby, there were beaches, golf courses and access to the Caloosahatchee River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Builders were happy to arrange construction loans, then erect houses in as little as six months. Real estate agents promised to find buyers before the houses were even finished.

“All you needed was a pulse,” Mr. Carey said. “The price of dirt was going up. We took that leap of faith and put down $10,000.”

Backed by easily acquired construction loans, Mr. Carey’s investment allowed him to buy three lots and top off each with a new home. He flipped them immediately for about $175,000 each, he recalls. Then he bought more lots, confident that Cape Coral and Fort Myers — the county seat across the river — would continue to blossom. From 2000 to 2003, the population of the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metropolitan area grew to nearly 500,000 from 444,000, according to Moody’s Economy.com.

“Jobs were very plentiful,” Mr. Carey said. “The construction trade was up, stores were opening up, and doctors were coming in. It kind of built its own economy.”
In 2003, Mr. Carey became a real estate agent. The next year, he opened a title company. Then he teamed up with seven others to open a local office for Keller Williams Realty, the national realty chain. They hired 40 agents.

By 2004, the median house price in Cape Coral and Fort Myers had shot up to $192,100, according to the Florida Association of Realtors — a jump of 70 percent from $112,300 just four years earlier. In 2005, the median price climbed an additional 45 percent, to more than $278,000.

Lots that Mr. Carey once bought for $10,000 were now going for 10 times that. During the best times back in Ohio, he once earned about $100,000 in a year. At the height of the Florida boom, in 2005, he says he raked in $800,000. “If you just got up and went to work,” he says, “pretty much anybody could become an overnight millionaire.”

National home builders poured in, along with construction workers, roofers and electricians. But as a kingdom of real estate materialized, growth ultimately exceeded demand: investors were selling to one another, inflating prices. When the market figured this out in late 2005, it retreated with punishing speed.

“It was as if someone turned off the faucet,” Mr. Carey said. “It just came to a screeching halt. When it stopped, people started dumping property.”

By October this year, the median house price was down to $239,000, some 14 percent below the peak. That same month, he and his partners shuttered his real estate office. In November, he closed the title company. On a recent afternoon, he went to his old office in a now-quiet strip mall to take home the remaining furniture. He was preparing to move to the suburbs of Atlanta.

While speculators may find it easy enough to pack up and move on, they are leaving behind an empire of vacant houses that will not be easily sold. More than 19,000 single-family homes and condos are now listed on the market in Lee County. Fewer than 500 sold in November, meaning that at the current rate it would take three years for the market to absorb all the houses.

“Confusion abounds because nobody knows where the bottom is,” says Gerard Marino, a commercial Realtor at the Re/Max Realty Group in Fort Myers.

Commercial builders are unloading properties at sharply reduced prices, sometimes even below construction costs, which further adds to the glut.

“It’s our goal to clear out the inventory,” James P. Dietz, the chief financial officer of WCI Communities, a Florida-based home builder, said in an interview two weeks ago. “We have to generate cash to make payroll.” Last week, Mr. Dietz announced he would leave WCI at the end of this year to pursue a career in the vacation resort business.

AT Pelican Preserve, a gated community set around a 27-hole golf course in Fort Myers, WCI has halted building, leaving some residents staring at mounds of earth where they expected to see manicured lawns. Half-built condos sit isolated in a patch of dirt, cut off from the road.

“It bugs the hell out of my wife,” says Paul Bliss, 61, whose three-bedroom town house is next to a half-built home site. “She looks out and sees that concrete slab.”

But the builder makes no apologies. “There was such a falloff in demand that it made no sense to build new units,” says Mr. Dietz, adding that the pause in construction “doesn’t in any way detract from the property.”

Throughout Lee County, a sense of desperation has seized the market as speculators try to unload property or lure renters. On many lawns, a fierce battle is under way for the attention of passers-by, with “for rent” signs narrowly edging out “for sale.”

In Cape Coral, foreclosure filings in the first 10 months of the year reached 4,874, more than a fourfold increase over the same period the previous year, according to RealtyTrac, an online provider of foreclosure information.

Elaine Pellegrino and her daughter, Charlene, see no way to avoid joining that list.
Seven years ago, Ms. Pellegrino and her husband bought their three-bedroom house in northwestern Cape Coral for $97,000, without having to make a down payment.

The land was mostly empty then. But as construction crews descended and a thicket of new homes took shape, values more than doubled. The Pellegrinos’ mailbox brimmed with offers to convert that good fortune into cash by refinancing their mortgage. They bit, borrowing against the inflated value of their home to buy two businesses: an auto repair shop and a lawn service.

“We were thinking we were on the way up,” Ms. Pellegrino says.

But last December, Ms. Pellegrino’s husband died unexpectedly, leaving her with the two businesses, both deeply in debt, and $207,000 she owed against her home, which is now worth about $130,000, she says.

Disabled and 53 years old, Ms. Pellegrino does not work. She says she lives on a $1,259 monthly Social Security check. Her daughter, a college student, receives $325 a month for child support for one child. Charlene Pellegrino has been looking on the Web for office work for months, but with so many people being laid off, she has come up empty, she says. They have not paid their mortgage in four months.

“What can we do?” Charlene Pellegrino asks, as dusk nears and her driveway lights glow into a void. The rest of the block lies in shadows, with little light emanating from surrounding homes.

“We’re probably going to lose the house,” she says.

But not anytime soon. The Pellegrinos have joined a new cohort offered up by the real estate unraveling: they are among those waiting in their own homes for the seemingly inevitable. The courts are so stuffed with foreclosures that they assume they can stay for a while.

“We figure we have at least six months,” Elaine Pellegrino says. “We haven’t heard a thing from the bank for a long time.”

As construction and real estate spiral downward, the unemployment rate in Lee County has jumped to 5.3 percent from 2.8 percent in the last year. With more than one-fourth of all homes vacant, residential burglaries throughout the county have surged by more than one-third.

“People that might not normally resort to crime see no other option,” says Mike Scott, the county sheriff. “People have to have money to feed their families.”

Darkened homes exert a magnetic pull. “When you have a house that’s vacant, that’s out in the middle of nowhere, that’s a place where vagrants, transients, dopers break a back window and come in,” the sheriff adds.

…At Selling Paradise Realty, a sign seeks customers with a free list of properties facing foreclosure and “short sales,” meaning the price is less than the owner owes the bank. Inside, Eileen Rodriguez, the receptionist, said the firm could no longer hand out the list. “We can’t print it anymore,” she says. “It’s too long.”

In late November, more than 2,600 of the 5,500 properties for sale in Cape Coral were short sales, says Bobby Mahan, the firm’s owner and broker. Most people who bought in 2004 and 2005 owe more than they paid, he says. “Greed and speculation created the monster.”

As much as anything, the short sales are responsible for the market logjam. To complete a deal, the lender holding the mortgage must be persuaded to share in the loss and write off some of what is due. “A short sale is a long and arduous process,” Mr. Mahan says. “Battling the banks is horrendous.”

Kevin Jarrett is stuck in that quagmire. In 1995, freshly arrived from Illinois, he put down $1,000 to buy a house in Lehigh Acres, in eastern Lee County.

Three years later, Mr. Jarrett left his mental health-counseling job and began selling real estate. He bought progressively nicer homes, keeping the older ones to rent, while borrowing against the rising value of one to finance the next.

Mr. Jarrett acquired a taste for $100 dinners. He bought a powerboat and a yellow Corvette convertible. (In a photograph on his business card, Mr. Jarrett sits behind the wheel, the top down, offering a friendly wave.) Last summer, he paid $730,000 for a 2,500-square-foot home in Cape Coral with a pool and picture windows looking out on a canal.

But Mr. Jarrett hasn’t closed a deal in three months. He is on track to earn about $50,000 for the year, he said. Yet he needs $17,000 a month just to pay the mortgages, insurance, taxes and utility bills on his four properties — all worth less than half what he owes. Rental income brings in only about $3,500 a month.

Mr. Jarrett has not paid the mortgage on two of his properties in six months and is behind on the others as well, he says. His goal is to sell everything, move into a rental and start over.

He is supplementing his income by selling MonaVie, a nutritional juice that retails for $45 a bottle. He recently dropped health insurance for his family, saving about $680 a month. He is applying for a state-subsidized health plan that would cover his 9-year-old daughter. “I’m in survival mode,” he says.

Many others are in similar straits, and the situation has had a ripple effect on the local economy. Scanlon Auto Group, a luxury car dealer, says it has seen its sales dip significantly — the first time that’s happened in 25 years. Rumrunners, a popular Cape Coral restaurant with tables gazing out on a marina, says its business is down by a third, compared with last year.

Furniture dealers are folding. Hardware stores are suffering. At Taco Ardiente in Lehigh Acres, business is down by more than three-fourths, complains the owner, Hugo Lopez. His tables were once full of the Hispanic immigrants who filled the ranks of the construction trade. The work is gone, and so are the workers.

At the state level, Florida’s sales tax receipts have slipped by nearly one-tenth this year, and by 14 percent in Lee County. That is a clear sign of a broad economic slowdown, said Ray T. Kest, a business professor at Hodges University in Fort Myers.

“It started with housing, the loss of construction jobs, mortgage companies, title companies, but now it’s spread through the entire economy,” Mr. Kest says as he walks a strip of mostly empty condo towers on the riverside in downtown Fort Myers. “It now has permeated everything…”

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