Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

Habitat for Inhumanity

Monday, May 25th, 2015

The idea was logical enough.

Reduce interest rates, making housing more affordable, which would produce a recovery in the housing market.  The housing market was at the heart of the financial crisis, so bringing the housing market back to health would, presumably, bring the economy back to health.

That conclusion was sound, too.  Housing is a leading economic indicator, so a recovering housing market should mean a recovering economy.

But in economics, as in life, things don’t always go as planned.  The housing market still hasn’t recovered.  And, while low interest rates may have given housing prices a boost, they have not increased home ownership.Home Ownership

In addition, government programs have only made matters worse, while costing taxpayers a bundle.

As Lance Roberts noted on his Street Talk blog, “trillions of dollars have been directly focused at the housing markets including HAMP, HARP, mortgage write-downs, delayed foreclosures, government backed settlements of ‘fraud-closure’ issues, debt forgiveness and direct buying of mortgage bonds by the Fed to drive refinancing and purchase rates lower.”

Yet, as the chart shows, the net result has been that the home ownership rate has dropped to where it was in 1980.

Why did government help” fail would-be homeowners?  (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?

Appearance

Appearance

 

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.

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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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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…)

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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Another Year of ZIRP?

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

When the economy recovers, interest rates will go up, right?

That’s been the Federal Reserve Board’s line for years now.  Yet as the Fed gushes about an allegedly booming economy, some are saying that interest rates are unlikely to increase this year.

So what gives?Interest Rate Chart

Last week’s Federal Open Market Committee Statement, which summarizes monetary policy, noted that since the FOMC’s December meeting, “the economy has been expanding at a solid pace.”  The statement notes that the unemployment rate is declining, consumer spending is increasing and, if not for that troublesome housing market, everything would be just dandy.

As if to put an exclamation point on the FOMC statement, Fed Chair Janet Yellen met with Congressional Democrats last week to reiterate just how fine the economy is doing.  (The real purpose of the meeting may have been to explain the FOMC statement to members of Congress, as it contains phrases such as, “underutilization of labor resources continues to diminish;” which could have been worded more clearly by saying, “Many former middle managers are still working as greeters at WalMart.”) (more…)

The Year of “May”

Monday, January 12th, 2015

We’re well into January, but 2014 demanded a bit of reflection before commenting.  Was it a good year or a bad year?

We still don’t know.  We’re calling it the Year of “May,” although that title could have gone to 2013, 2012, 2011 or even 2010.

Using “may” in a sentence illustrates why 2014 was the Year of “May.”  The economy may be improving, but it may not be improving by much.  Interest rates may go up, but they may stay put for a while.  The Federal Reserve Board may be done with quantitative easing, but it may be using other easy money measures to keep the stock market lovefest going.  Europe may also begin quantitative easing.2014

In 2015, we may find out what Fed Chair Janet Yellen means by “macroprudential supervision.”  During 2014, we may have joined the rest of the world in moving toward deflation, or, if the economy really is improving, we may soon be meeting – or even exceeding – the Fed’s inflation expectations.

See how useful that word “may” is?  It sums up a year in three letters.  It’s so noncommittal, so indefinite, so milquetoast … so 2014.  We may be at war with the Islamic State, Russia may be taking over eastern Europe and the Middle East may be in worse shape than it was before the Arab Spring.  Then, again, it may not be. (more…)

Do You Believe in Santa Claus? You May Be A Keynesian.

Monday, December 29th, 2014

The Christmas season is an appropriate time to reflect on Keynesian economics, given this: believing in Keynesian economics is a lot like believing in Santa Claus.

Most Americans grow up believing some chubby guy in a red suit has the stamina to deliver gifts worldwide to billions of people in a single night.  Young children, by their nature, are self-absorbed and gullible enough to think that Santa knows how they behaved throughout the year and will deliver presents accordingly. Santa Keynes 2

Most of us grow up and realize that reindeer can’t fly, Santa would freeze to death in the North Pole and his elves would unionize.

But not everyone outgrows gullibility.  Some become Keynesian economists.  As Keynesians, they don’t quite understand unemployment, because they never experience it – there is plenty of demand for Keynesians, who can find jobs working for the government, in academia or as journalists.

Keynesians believe that increased government spending (aka “aggregate demand”) stimulates the economy and money can be handed out, like Christmas presents, with only positive consequences.  They even believe that a dollar spent by the government results in many dollars being spent throughout the economy (the “Keynesian multiplier”).  Since they believe there is a Santa Claus, they give little thought to the reality that someone, somewhere has to pay for this largesse.

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Patience Pays Off for Fed, Investors

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

The new word is “patient.”  And it’s a humdinger.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared more than 700 points over two days last week after Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen announced that the Fed will be “patient” about ending its easy money stance. DJIA

It took three months of hard work for the Fed to come up with the new word, but apparently it was time well spent.

In September, as we’ve reported, the Fed announced that it would wait a “considerable time” before raising interest rates.  That caused much fretting.  Media such as The New York Times devoted entire articles to what the Fed meant by “considerable.”  Pundits, who apparently have the power to read minds, determined that “considerable” meant that the Fed would begin raising rates in the summer of 2015.

We missed the economics classes where the definition of “considerable” was determined to mean “10 months from now,” but apparently such classes exist, as practically every pundit agreed on the timeline.

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