The Peter Pan Economy

Lowering interest rates is not necessarily a bad thing. It can make borrowing cheaper, which – at least in theory – will stimulate business investment. It can weaken the dollar, making American goods cheaper abroad. It can lower payments on the federal debt.

The problem with lowering interest rates is that eventually they have to be raised again. If rates were to remain at zero indefinitely, the Federal Reserve Board could not lower them to stimulate the economy during a recession, unless it created negative interest rates, which cause a whole new set of economic problems.

And history says a recession is likely to come sometime soon. The current recovery, which has frequently been described as anemic, celebrated its eighth anniversary in June. Now in its 97th month, it is the third longest recovery on record. The average recovery since the end of World War II has been 58 to 61 months.

While the length of the recovery may not determine how long a recovery will last, when unemployment drops low enough to spur inflation, the probability of a recession climbs. And unemployment is allegedly at a 16-year low of 4.3%.

“Expansions, like Peter Pan, endure but never seem to grow old,” according to Fed economist Glenn Rudebusch.

But the current expansion has much more in common with Peter Pan. It’s a fairy tale. And the Fed has run out of fairy dust.

The Fed’s Conundrum

The conundrum the Fed faces is that as it raises interest rates so that it will be able to drop them in case of a recession, it may actually cause one.

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Rates Rising, Yet Bond Buying Sets Record

Rising interest rates, higher inflation and tighter monetary policy should be bad news for bonds. Yet investors have been buying record volumes of new bonds.

  • Highly rated U.S. companies issued $414.5 billion of debt during the first quarter, a record for any quarter.
  • Dealogic reported that companies and governments in emerging markets sold $178.5 billion of dollar-denominated debt in the first three months of the year, the best first quarter on record.
  • U.S. companies with junk-bond ratings issued debt totaling $79.6 billion, double from a year earlier.

Why are bonds so popular now?

Economic growth remains uncertain. There’s been plenty of good economic news of late.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.5% in March – or 8.9% if you use the U-6 rate, which even Fed Chair Janet Yellen seems to finally agree is more accurate. The labor force participation rate, which was 62.6% on November, has nudged up to 63%. New orders are up, capital expenditures are up and housing starts are up.

Yet there’s still plenty of uncertainty about the economy, which could be affected by actions in the Middle East, Russia, Korea or elsewhere.

Syria’s use of chemical weapons and President Trump’s response, for example, have created geopolitical uncertainties. While former Secretary of State John Kerry said in 2014 that “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” of Syria as a result of an agreement brokered by Russia, that clearly wasn’t the case. It Read more

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

For the past eight years, the Federal Reserve Board has been the primary force behind the U.S. economy. That hasn’t worked out so well.

Now President Trump is in charge of the U.S. and its economy.

Whether that will revive the economy and make America great again remains to be seen. While the Trump presidency is still brand new, we’ve already seen more action take place that will affect the economy than we saw in the past eight years.trump_cowboy_2509705

Some of what’s taking place appears to be good. Some of it appears to be bad. And some of it appears to be ugly.

The good. Already, President Trump has signed a slew of executive orders. While we’re no fan of executive orders, every president has used them to a degree–and it was one way to make a quick impact, even before his cabinet has been confirmed.

Regulation, as we have frequently noted, has paralyzed the economy, having its greatest impact on small businesses. That President Trump is serious about deregulation is clear by what he’s done to date.

One of his executive orders requires that whenever a new regulation is approved, it must be offset by “the elimination of existing costs associated with at least two prior regulations.” The order adds that the “total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero, unless otherwise required by law.”

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Good News: Fed Predicts Slow Economic Growth

We can now be assured of improved economic growth in the years to come.

Why?  Because the Federal Reserve Board is predicting slow growth.  And the Fed is always wrong.

That may seem harsh, but throughout the Obama administration, the Fed predicted stronger economic growth than the U.S. ultimately experienced.united-states-gdp-growth-forecast@2x

Consider the Fed’s record for the past five years. The Fed projected growth of 3.0% to 3.6% for 2011; actual growth turned out to be half that–just 1.6%. For 2012, the Fed projected growth of 2.5% to 2.9%; the actual rate was 2.3%. For 2013, the Fed projected 2.3% to 3% growth, but actual growth was 2.2%. For 2014, the Fed projected 2.8% to 3.2% growth, and the actual rate was 2.4%. Finally, for 2015, the Fed projected 2.6% to 3.0% growth and the actual rate was 2.4% again.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Five years of predictions, five years of overly optimistic projections. The Fed has been almost as incompetent about predicting growth as it’s been at producing growth.

Fed Goes Conservative

Now we have a new Republican administration, but it’s the Fed that’s gone conservative. The allegedly nonpartisan Fed is predicting that the economy will grow by just 1.9% in 2016, 2.1% in 2017, 2.0% in 2018 and 1.9% in 2019. Longer term, the growth rate is projected to be just 1.8%.

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Obama Sets Economic Record–For Failure

So did President Obama save us from the financial crisis and rebuild America’s economic strength?

Most media would have us believe that’s the case. As we previously noted, CNBC’s John W. Schoen reported that, “Obama’s biggest parting gift to Trump may be the economy,” since the unemployment rate has dropped to a nine-year low of 4.6%. AP’s Josh Boak repeated the statistic in an article, “Obama leaving behind much stronger economy.” And there are many, many other examples.gdp

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell wrote recently that the president-elect will be taking office with “among the most favorable economic conditions … imaginable.” She clearly does not have a very vivid imagination.

Yet other statistics bear out that Obamanomics has been an economic bust, not a boom. Consider the lack of economic growth. In the 85 years for which the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has calculated the annual change in real gross domestic product (GDP), the period from 2006 through 2015 is the only 10-year period during which annual growth never reached 3%. Before now, the longest period during which the economy failed to grow by at least 3% was the four-year period from 1930 to 1933. That is, during the Great Depression.

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Real News about Fake News

Don’t laugh, but the same journalists who have been writing about our booming economy, our amazing progress against ISIS (make that ISIL), Hillary’s dedication to her country and the coming end of the world due to climate change are now claiming that “alt-right” news sites are making things up.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, who has never written a negative word about any Democrat or a positive word about any Republican, says “cynics” writing on sites like Facebook, Reddit, Infowars and Inquisitr “concocted ‘news’ stories out of whole cloth during the campaign in an attempt to destroy Hillary Clinton and those closest to her.”pbuq0z6zz0yo9jd412f36q

As if Hillary didn’t do enough to destroy Hillary.

Conspiracy theorists came up with a crazy story about alleged sex trafficking out of a pizza parlor frequented by Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta and it led to an attempted shooting. Now Robinson has come up with a conspiracy theory about the conspiracy theorists he criticizes. No doubt Hillary Clinton would have been elected president, if people just reported the truth (except about her, of course).

If Robinson’s column isn’t “fake news,” what is?

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Trump’s Not Reagan or Obama

Donald Trump is not Ronald Reagan. That should be obvious, but many optimistic conservatives are drawing parallels and predicting economic nirvana over the next four years.

That’s unlikely to happen, but, conversely, the incoming president is not Barack Obama, either. The Obama presidency has been disastrous on many fronts, creating economic stagnation, a doubling of the national debt, and foreign policy disasters, such as the lifting of sanctions against Iran and Cuba in return for pretty much nothing.trump

We’re not about to join the media in bashing the president elect for choosing cabinet members that do not share U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ideological views, but we’re also concerned that the stock market’s post-election surge is yet another case of irrational exuberance.

Stocks were already overpriced before the election, yet the market was up 5.4% for the month of November. That’s not going to continue for four more years.

Stephen Moore, a senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign, is not surprisingly among those comparing Trump with Reagan. As he wrote in RealClear Policy, “After the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981, the U.S. Economy experienced one of its greatest booms in history. The growth rate averaged nearly 4 percent for seven years 1982–89. And the stock market rose from less than 1,000 on the Dow to more than 10,000 over the next two decades. This was a period of wealth and job creation that the nation and middle class had seldom seen before. All the liberal critics wrongly said it could not and would not happen.

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An Election Post Mortem

You can’t play sports without losing sometimes and, in losing, you learn something about grace and how to act under pressure.”                                  John F. Kerry

The silent majority has made its choice. Working class white males bonded with the billionaire from New York City and, as a result, we have a new president who is not a Democrat (though he was), not a woman and, thankfully, not politically correct.

Donald Trump, though labeled as a racist by Democrats, also drew more votes from blacks, Latinos and Asians than previous Republican nominee Mitt Romney.trump-donald

Supporters of Hillary Clinton did not take her surprise defeat well. In fact, they may have reacted with more constraint if bubonic plague had been introduced to their water supply. Clinton supporters swooned. I’m still not sure what the vapors are, but Hillary fans had cases of them in droves. It was like a scene from “Contagion” or “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Panic was widespread.

Consider this quote from the Telegram & Gazette’s Dianne Williamson: “Yes, it hurts. It’s spirit-crushing. I’ve heard from many people who expressed surprise at the visceral emotional pain they felt upon learning that a slick, opportunistic demagogue has been chosen over a smart, capable and accomplished woman who has devoted her life to public service.”

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Do You Like Being Told What to Do?

Listen, this whole system of yours could be on fire and I couldn’t even turn on the kitchen tap without filling out a twenty-seven B stroke six … bloody paperwork.                                                                                                                                                            Harry Tuttle in “Brazil” 

Americans didn’t used to like being told what to do.  We fought the Revolutionary War so that we wouldn’t have to take orders from England.  We fought the Civil War to end slavery and make every American free.  We fought two world wars to hold on to that freedom.

And then along came big government.  Medicare to help the old.  Medicaid to help the poor.  Food stamps and medical leave, help for the disabled and guaranteed wages, regulations to reduce pollution and prevent financial wrongdoing.  And much, much more.88468_Words-and-Actions-by-Eric-Allie-Caglecartoons-515x356

Some of it was good.  Some of it was needed.  But much of it wasn’t.  Do we really need more than 80 federal welfare programs to provide money, food, housing, medical care and social services to low-income Americans?  Wouldn’t maybe three or four be more efficient?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when regulations got the better of us.  You could argue that it goes back to 1930, when the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act helped cause the Great Depression and the New Deal made the impact worst.  You could argue that it was during the ’60s, when the Great Society programs and the War on Poverty took place.  As we (and many others) pointed out last year, during the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, after spending $20.7 trillion (based on 2011 dollars), the poverty level today is essentially unchanged at about 15% of the American population.

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Can We All Be Greeters at Wal-Mart?

Job reports typically report on jobs as if they are a commodity; a job is a job, whether you’re a CEOs or a greeter at Wal-Mart.

So it’s good news that 287,000 new jobs were added to the economy in June—assuming you believe government statistics—but it’s bad news if the jobs are so mediocre, illegal immigrants wouldn’t work them. Older workers

First, let’s consider the numbers. In May, the experts predicted that 160,000 new jobs would be created, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 38,000 were created. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.7%, though, because 458,000 workers dropped out of the labor force and were no longer counted in the statistics.

For June, experts predicted that 175,000 new jobs would be created, which is 112,000 fewer than the BLS reported. At the same time, the BLS revised the May figure downward to just 11,000 new jobs. The question no one seems to be asking is why there was so much volatility between May and June. How does the economy add virtually no jobs one month and then produce 26 times as many jobs the following month? Even the stock market isn’t that volatile.

The report prompted headlines such as, “U.S. employment rebounds strongly in June, calming fears of economic slowdown” (The Washington Post), “Job growth surges in June as employers add whopping 287,000 jobs” (USA Today) and “Jobs Roar Back With Gain of 287,000 in June, Easing Worry” (The New York Times).

And, by the way, the unemployment rate increased from 4.7% to 4.9% in June, primarily because some Americans rejoined the work force. 

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