Archive for the ‘Unemployment’ Category

How Ben Bernanke Saved the World

Monday, October 12th, 2015

“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

                    U.S. major talking about Bến Tre, Vietnam

The Wall Street Journal doesn’t have a humor section, so “How the Fed Saved the Economy” appeared on the op-ed pages under the byline of Ben Bernanke, former chair of the Federal Reserve Board.

In his commentary, Bernanke takes credit for saving the economy – rather than responsibility for the most dismal recovery in history.Bernanke

Anyone who has read even one of our blog posts knows that we would disagree with any claim about the Fed saving the world, especially given that the economy continues its slow-motion deterioration after nearly eight years and several trillion dollars’ worth of “saving” by the Fed.

However, Mr. Bernanke has a book to sell.  And while it will likely appear in the non-fiction section, we’re guessing by its title that it is even more self-congratulatory and less fact-filled (if that’s possible) than his op-ed piece. (more…)

Today’s Economic News: Woe Is Me

Monday, July 27th, 2015

The summer weather and the media’s focus on positive economic news may have you feeling cheerier than usual these days.

Two words: “Bah, humbug.”  Or maybe, “Get real.”

Focus, for a minute, on the cloud, rather than the silver lining; recognize that evaporation has caused the glass to be less than half full (and more than half empty); see the bubble bursting, the interest rates rising and stock prices dropping.  In other words, get realistic about the economy.

In the Keynesian world, the more government spends, the more the economy is “stimulated.” In the real world, more spending means more debt, higher taxes, more regulation and GDP growth well below the historic norm. Chart 1

In the imaginary world, central bankers and government officials can keep the economy growing indefinitely and can boost asset prices to new records forever.  In the real world, asset prices are at artificially induced levels; reality will take hold when the Federal Reserve Board raises interest rates, when China’s stock market tanks (as it has begun to), when Greece is booted out of the Eurozone, or when Iran uses the $150 billion it receives from the lifting of sanctions to further its war against the U.S. and Israel.  (more…)

Big Board Floored

Monday, July 13th, 2015

The Big Board is not so big anymore.

A decade ago, it accounted for 80% of stock trades.  Today, it accounts for 20%.  There are also far fewer publicly traded companies in the U.S. – 5,000+ today, compared with 8,000+ in the 1990s.  The NYSE lists about 2,800 of them.

To trade directly on the NYSE, you used to have to buy a “seat.”  In the 1990s, seats sold for as much as $4 million.  Today, you can buy a license to trade on the NYSE for $40,000.

Regardless, when “the leading stock exchange in the world“ shuts down, even for just a few hours, it’s big news.

The NYSE shut down for three-and-a-half hours on Wednesday, which was unprecedented.  Little information has been shared, but the NYSE has blamed the shutdown on a technical glitch.  Call us skeptical, but the odds of a computer glitch shutting down the NYSE, grounding United Continental Holdings planes and bringing down The Wall Street Journal’s website all on the same day are pretty small. Labor Force_1_0

Thanks to Edward Snowden and irresponsible practices by the U.S. Office of Personnel and Management, people who are not our friends now have access to a wealth of information about us.  We’d rather not think about what will happen if Chinese or Iranian hackers disrupt our electrical grid, but it’s something that should concern all of us.  Its impact not only on your investments, but on our national security, would be devastating.  (more…)

Economic Schizophrenia

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Schizophrenia is “a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.”Personal Income

In general use it is referred to as “a mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements.”  It is also often used to refer to someone with a split personality.

It is a truly severe mental disorder that is difficult to treat.  And it seems to be a perfect description of today’s economy.

Thursday: Don’t Raise Rates This Year

As a recent example, consider last week’s announcement by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it was lowering its growth estimate for the U.S. economy from 3.1% to 2.5%.  Both estimates are well below the 3.3% annual growth rate that was the norm before the financial crisis, but even 2.5% is average the average we’ve seen throughout the Obama presidency. (more…)

Appearance vs. Reality

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Maybe if the good news about the U.S. economy gets repeated often enough, appearance will become reality.

We’re not there yet.

The official word from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is that the unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half, from a double-digit 10% in October 2009 to just 5.5% today.  As the chart shows, unemployment has been steadily falling and, given today’s improving economy it should continue to fall.  So all is good, right?




Not really.  Even CNBC, which is not exactly an anti-government media outlet, has caught on that the U-3 rate is bogus.

CNBC wrote that, “A number of economists look past the ‘main’ unemployment rate to a different figure the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls ‘U-6,’ which it defines as ‘total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of all civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.’ ”

In other words, the U-6 rate is what any sane individual would consider to be the real unemployment rate.


AP Poll: Americans Want Less Economic Growth

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Well, here’s a shocker.  A new AP poll shows that a majority of Americans want a higher minimum wage.  They also want paid sick leave and parental leave, free community college and more gender equality laws.  And, of course, they want wealthy taxpayers to pay for all of it.

Who wouldn’t?  The poll doesn’t ask about the resulting economic impact of these feel-good policies.

Polls are supposed to be objective.  They rarely are.  Asking Americans if they support a higher minimum wage isn’t too far removed from asking, “Do you want to help poor people?” Transfer Payments

Pollsters will never ask questions such as, “Studies show that increasing the minimum wage results in fewer jobs and slower economic growth.  Do you favor an increase in the minimum wage?”

The Poll That Will Never Be

To provide some balance, perhaps AP should poll Americans about the following questions.

Do you favor higher unemployment and lower economic growth?

It’s basic economics that when the price of something goes up, demand falls.  Increasing the minimum wage, and requiring paid sick leave and parental leave may be desirable for employees, but many would lose their jobs as a result.


Economic Dissonance

Monday, February 9th, 2015

In today’s economy, the theory of cognitive dissonance is itself dissonant.

Social psychologist Leon Festinger believed that humans strive for internal consistency, and that two or more contradictory beliefs cause mental stress.  Yet in today’s world, it seems that every policy, every vote, every executive order is designed to contradict rationality and add to our collective mental stress.

We’ve given a few examples of economic dissonance in the past:

The stock market.  During six years of quantitative easing (QE), bad economic news caused the stock market to rise and good economic news caused the stock market to fall.  That’s because bad news meant more Fed bond buying and good news made bond buying unnecessary.

Higher inflation.  Lower oil prices have done more to give the economy a boost than trillions of dollars in bond buying – yet the Federal Reserve Board has fretted that the U.S. is headed toward deflation.  Its policies were designed to increase inflation to the magic rate of 2%.  Why 2%?  No one seems to know.College Costs

The unemployment rate.  The widely used U-3 unemployment rate drops when people give up looking for work and leave the workforce.  As a result, we have absurdities such as this latest report from The Boston Globe:

“U.S. employers hired at a stellar pace last month, wages rose by the most in six years, and Americans responded by streaming into the job market to find work.

“The Labor Department says the economy gained a seasonally adjusted 257,000 jobs in January. The unemployment rate rose slightly to 5.7 percent from 5.6 percent.”

So Americans are “streaming into the job market” – causing an increase in the unemployment rate! (more…)

Repeat After Me: The Economy Is Improving. The Economy Is Improving.

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

If you repeat something often enough, you may even start to believe it.

So try this phrase: “The economy is improving.  The economy is improving.  The economy is improving.”

Certainly, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Propaganda (aka, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis or BEA) would have you think that’s the case.  The BEA initially reported growth in gross domestic product (GDP) of 4% for the second quarter of 2014.  That seemed like quite a leap from the first quarter’s -2.9% contraction, but the BEA adjusted that number to “negative growth” of -2.1%. Household Income

That’s old news, though.  Thanks to “a larger than previously estimated increase in nonresidential fixed investment,” the BEA announced in August that second quarter growth was really 4.2%.  A swing of 6.3% in a single quarter!  Well done!

But wait … there’s more.  The BEA announced in September that second quarter growth was 4.6%!  The BEA cited “growing personal consumption, private inventory investment, exports, both residential and nonresidential fixed investment, as well as local government spending,” none of which apparently existed when the BEA gave its first two estimates.

We can hardly wait for October 30, when the BEA is scheduled to report Q3 results.  Maybe by then, we’ll learn that second quarter growth exceeded 5%.  It will be interesting to find out whether Q1’s negative growth was an aberration or whether Q2’s giant leap forward was an aberration.


Less than “Less than Zero”

Friday, September 5th, 2014

In June, the ECB lowered the interest rate on bank deposits, including reserve holdings in excess of the minimum reserve requirements, from zero to -0.10%.  This week, surprising just about everyone not named Mario Draghi, the ECB lowered the rate by another 10 basis points to -0.20%.

14950766600_d52f0bba78_zAs we wrote when the less-than-zero rate was announced, “banks will pay a fee on money they fail to lend out.  Whether or not that stimulates the economy, it could encourage banks to take more risk, approving loans that otherwise may not have been approved.  Isn’t that what caused the financial crisis?”

Zerohedge explained that while rates were already negative, “Now they’re even more negative. Because in the world of Central Banking if something doesn’t work at first the best thing to do is do more of it. Whatever you do, DO NOT question your thinking or your economic models at all.”


The Economy Is Booming – For the Repo Man

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

“Credit is a sacred trust, it’s what our free society is founded on. Do you think they give a damn about their bills in Russia?”                                                                                                                                                 Bud in “Repo Man”

The good news for the economy is that consumers are buying more.  The bad news is that they’re not paying for what they buy.

The Urban Institute found that more than a third of Americans are not only in debt, but are being chased down by debt collectors.  Debt collectors are, of course, a last resort; they’re used when all else fails and the debtor is more than 180 days past due.  When a consumer goes six months without paying a bill, it’s a good sign the person either has no intention of paying or is unable to pay.

Yet about 77 million Americans – 35% of adults with a credit file – have debt in collections.  They owe an average of $5,178, which doesn’t sound like much, but keep in mind that’s debt that’s gone into collection, not total household debt.  It does not include mortgage debt, but does include credit card, medical and utility debt.

Consumer creditThe average American household has $15,480 in credit card debt alone and consumer debt totals $11.74 trillion.  Add in federal debt, corporate debt, state government debt, municipal debt and the debt of other countries and it’s a wonder that anyone anywhere is still solvent.

You may recall the cheering that took place in 2009, when consumer debt levels decreased.  But, as the chart shows, that was a small mogul on a steep and steadily rising mountain of IOUs.