Archive for March, 2015

Bubble Busters

Monday, March 30th, 2015

“I had a stick of CareFree gum, but it didn’t work. I felt pretty good while I was blowing that bubble, but as soon as the gum lost its flavor, I was back to pondering my mortality.”                                                                                                                                                                             Mitch Hedberg

When the news about U.S. markets and the U.S. economy is depressing, I usually read about Europe and feel better about the U.S.

I spent a lot of time reading about Europe this week, but it didn’t do much good – even with Greece continuing to defy logic by pretending that it’s OK to live off of someone else’s money.

The problem is that easy money policy is not so easy anymore.  It never did prop up the U.S. economy, in spite of Keynesian enthusiasm, but at least it created the illusion of economic health by propping up the stock market.  Now, it’s unable to do even that. burst-your-bubble

U.S. markets fell throughout the week, but especially on Wednesday, which saw declines of more than 2% in the Nasdaq and Russell 2000. The Dow dropped nearly 300 points, or 1.6%, while the S&P 500 finished the day about 1.5% lower.  The New York composite stock exchange is now back to where it was last July and the S&P 500 is approaching November levels.

And there’s likely to be more trouble ahead, as a 4% drop in the biotech and semiconductor sectors showed a “classic parabolic reversal,” according to Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group.  A parabolic reversal is a technical indicator that signals a change in an asset’s momentum.

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No Animals Harmed in Drafting Fed Policy Statement

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Thousands of years ago, Roman soothsayers would visit the oracles and interpret the entrails of slaughtered animals.  We haven’t advanced much since then.

Fortunately, no animals are slaughtered today, but many brain cells seem to die in the reading and interpretation of policy statements of the Federal Open Market Committee.  Like the soothsayers of old, today’s economists, journalists and pundits interpret the news and report it as fact – even though they generally haven’t a clue about what’s being said.  We’re not even sure the FOMC has a clue about what’s being said. Animal

The policy statements themselves are an anachronism.  In today’s world, most news is immediate.  By the time a newsworthy event ends, it’s been tweeted, blogged and reported on by anyone and everyone who is interested.

Yet the Fed issues policy statements on its Federal Open Market Committee meetings two months after the meetings take place.  Apparently, it takes the FOMC that long to agree on language that says nothing and can be interpreted however the reader would like it to be interpreted.

Many well-paid experts make a living off of these interpretations.  They will tell you, with certainty, that the Fed will definitely maybe raise interest rates sometime this year – or maybe next year – but they’re just guessing.

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Bazooka or Blunderbuss?

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Any day now, it seems that European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s full head of hair will migrate to his chin and turn gray, as the central banker morphs into former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke.Bazooka 2

Last week, the ECB began its purchase of €60 billion ($64.2 billion) a month in Eurozone government bonds, with total purchases expected to eventually exceed €1 trillion.

He’s called the purchase his “big bazooka,” but it could turn out to be a blunderbuss, an antiquated weapon that’s prone to misfiring.

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President Underwood Goes Keynesian

Monday, March 9th, 2015

In the latest season of “House of Cards,” President Frank Underwood stakes his political future on a $500 billion program called America Works, which will allegedly create 10 million jobs and bring the U.S. to full employment.Underwood for President

Well, “House of Cards” is fiction.  Ten million jobs creating full employment?  It would help, but it would still be 82,898,000 short, since there are a record 92,898,000 Americans not participating in the workforce. 

Speaking of fiction, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate has fallen from 5.7% to 5.5%.  That’s because, according to Zerohedge, “while the number of unemployed Americans dropped by 274K (and) those employed rose by 96K, the underlying math is that the civilian labor force dropped (by) 157,180 to 157,002 (following the major revisions posted last month), while the people not in the labor force rose by 354,000 in February.”Obama

So once again, a worsening economy brings us closer to full employment in the mythical land of Keynesian America.

How Not to Create Jobs

The bigger fiction, though, is that government spending can fix unemployment.  When it comes to spending, President Underwood is an amateur compared with President Obama, whose first-term stimulus legislation was 66% larger than President Underwood’s.  And it didn’t produce anywhere near 10 million jobs – although President Obama claimed in 2008 that it would put 7 million people to work, including 5 million in “green jobs.”

Know anyone working in a green job created by the stimulus bill?  Tom Steyer doesn’t count. (more…)

The Inflation Straw Man

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

 “When real interest rates start to move up, that’s when the crisis could hit.”

                                                  Alan Greenspan

So the Federal Reserve Board spent six years and boosted its bond portfolio to $4 trillion in an effort to boost the rate of inflation to 2%.

How did that go?  Not so well.

This week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined 0.7% in January on a seasonally adjusted basis.  It was the third consecutive month of decline; over the past year, the “all-items index” decreased 0.1% before seasonal adjustment. CPI

In other words, the U.S. has joined Europe and is in deflation mode.  It’s the first time the CPI hit negative territory for the year since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009.  Imagine how low prices would be if the Fed didn’t buy all those bonds!

That dropping oil prices caused U.S. deflation underscores the foolishness of the Fed fantasy about a 2% inflation rate.

As David Stockman’s Contra Corner put it, “the CPI measure of inflation is so distorted by imputations, geometric means, hedonic adjustments and numerous other artifices, that targeting to 2% versus 1% or even a zero rate of short-term measured consumer price inflation is a completely arbitrary, unreliable and unachievable undertaking. Yet, (Fed Chair Janet) Yellen’s latest exercise in monetary pettifoggery is apparently driven by just that purpose … ”

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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.

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