This is going to be quick and dirty today. No cute cartoons. No philosophizing. We haven’t time for any of that today.

I believe we are on the verge of the outbreak of World War III. Right now.

If I’m wrong, then so be it. I’ll apologize for being overreactive later. Too much hangs in the balance if I am right. Treat it as an exercise if you like. A practice for when the real thing happens, because you can be sure the real thing will happen … and soon.

For those who follow my writings and know just how right I usually am, be advised that I consider this to be very likely in the very near term (within the next week or two), highly likely within the next month or two and dead certain within the next year or two. I am uncertain only about the timing, not the outcome. The outcome is worldwide war, of course, and the likely defeat of America.

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Economists predict employers will cut jobs again

The country is bracing for more bad news on the jobs front. In advance of Friday’s employment snapshot from the Labor Department, economists were predicting that employers cut jobs yet again in April. That would mark the fourth straight month of job losses. The unemployment rate, now at 5.1 percent, is expected to edge up a notch.

Businesses are handing out more and more pink slips as they cope with an economy that is teetering on the edge of a recession, or possibly in one already. A severe housing slump, harder-to-get credit and financial turmoil have forced people and businesses to be more cautious in their spending. And that has hurt the economy.

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Home Depot to close 15 stores, lay off 1,300

The Home Depot Inc. will lay off 1,300 employees and close 15 underperforming U.S. stores as it cuts back on store expansion plans.

North Carolina stores will not be affected by the closures.

The company says the move will lead to $586 million in charges, $547 million of which will be recognized in its first fiscal quarter that ends in May.

Home Depot (NYSE:HD) says the revised expansion plan and store closures should improve free cash flow, provide stronger returns for the company and allow it to invest in existing stores.

The Atlanta-based home-improvement retailer will close stores in Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The closing stores represent less than 1 percent of the company’s network.

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Layoffs jump to 19-month high in April

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Led by cost-conscious financial companies, major U.S. corporations announced 90,015 job reductions in April, up 68% from March and the most since September 2006, according to a monthly tally released Thursday by outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas.

Announced layoffs through the first four months of the year have grown to 290,671, up 9% from a year ago.

Financial companies announced 23,106 layoffs in April, including major reductions by Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. April marked the largest cuts in the sector since last September.
Telecommunications companies announced 8,007 layoffs, more than half at AT&T.

While the bust of the housing bubble is responsible for most of the cuts in financials, it’s rising energy costs that are responsible for the reductions in transportation, manufacturing, agriculture and services, said John Challenger, chief executive officer of the company that bears his name.

The nonscientific Challenger Gray survey covers announcements of job reductions by major companies, government agencies and nonprofits. The figures represent only a small fraction of the workers who lose their jobs each month.

In February, for instance, a total of 1.35 million workers were let go, representing about 1% of total employment, according to the latest available data from the Labor Department. By comparison, 2.06 million people quit their jobs voluntarily in February.

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Delta reports $6.4B loss in first quarter on fuel costs

Delta Air Lines Inc., the nation’s third-largest carrier, said Wednesday its loss widened in the first quarter to a whopping $6.39 billion because of soaring fuel prices and the steep decline in the company’s market value.

The results badly missed Wall Street expectations, despite a 12 percent increase in sales.

The Atlanta-based company said the loss is equivalent to $16.15 a share. That compares with a loss of $130 million that Delta reported in the year-ago January-March quarter, when it was still in bankruptcy.

Excluding special items, primarily a $6.1 billion non-cash charge relating to the decline in Delta’s market value due to sustained record fuel prices, the airline lost $274 million, or 69 cents a share, in the first quarter.

Analysts were expecting a Delta loss of 49 cents a share, excluding one-time items.

Revenue in the quarter rose to $4.77 billion, compared with $4.24 billion recorded in the same period a year ago. Delta shares rose 10 cents in premarket trading to $6.90, just off a 52-week low of $6.70.

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Oil tops $115 for the first time

Oil prices seesawed to a record high Wednesday, spiking to above $115 a barrel, after a government report showed an unexpected crude supply drop.

U.S. light crude for May delivery a barrel rose to $115.07 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude began the year at just under $96 a barrel, which means the price has soared by nearly 20% already this year.

In its weekly inventory report, the Energy Information Administration said crude stocks fell by 2.3 million barrels in the week ended April 11.

Analysts had been expecting an increase of 1.7 million barrels after last week’s unexpected drop, according to a Dow Jones poll.

Oil’s above-$100 run has been attributed by many economists to the decline in value of the dollar and poorly performing stock markets. Investors buy commodities such as crude oil and gold to preserve the value of their assets.

The dollar sank to a new low versus the 15-nation euro Wednesday as a government report showed the number of new residential construction projects fell to its lowest level in 17-years

Refineries only operated at 81.4% capacity, EIA said, down from a normal rate of around 90% this time of year. That led one analyst to blame the brief oil retreat on slowing demand for crude.

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Retailing Chains Caught in a Wave of Bankruptcies

The consumer spending slump and tightening credit markets are unleashing a widening wave of bankruptcies in American retailing, prompting thousands of store closings that are expected to remake suburban malls and downtown shopping districts across the country.

Since last fall, eight mostly midsize chains — as diverse as the furniture store Levitz and the electronics seller Sharper Image — have filed for bankruptcy protection as they staggered under mounting debt and declining sales.

But the troubles are quickly spreading to bigger national companies, like Linens ‘n Things, the bedding and furniture retailer with 500 stores in 47 states. It may file for bankruptcy as early as this week, according to people briefed on the matter.

Even retailers that can avoid bankruptcy are shutting down stores to preserve cash through what could be a long economic downturn. Over the next year, Foot Locker said it would close 140 stores, Ann Taylor will start to shutter 117, and the jeweler Zales will close 100.

The surging cost of necessities has led to a national belt-tightening among consumers. Figures released on Monday showed that spending on food and gasoline is crowding out other purchases, leaving people with less to spend on furniture, clothing and electronics. Consequently, chains specializing in those goods are proving vulnerable.

Retailing is a business with big ups and downs during the year, and retailers rely heavily on borrowed money to finance their purchases of merchandise and even to meet payrolls during slow periods. Yet the nation’s banks, struggling with the growing mortgage crisis, have started to balk at extending new loans, effectively cutting up the retail industry’s collective credit cards.

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