Free Markets, Free People

Dale Franks

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Economic Statistics for 18 Sep 14

Housing starts for August fell a disappointing 14.4% to an annualized 0.956 million units, but this comes off a very strong July reading.

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 36,000 to 280,000. The 4-week average fell 4,750 to 299,500. Continuing claims fell 63,000 to 2.429 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.7 points to 37.2 in the latest week.

The general business conditions index of the Philadelphia Fed’s Business Outlook Survey fell -5.5 points to 22.5 in September.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $28.2 billion last week, with total assets of 4.408 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $29.9 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $25.1 billion in the latest week.


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Economic Statistics for 17 Sep 14

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 7.9% last week, with purchases up 5.0% and refis up 10.0%.

Consumer prices fell -0.2% at the overall rate in August, while the core CPI, which excludes food and energy, was unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, both the headline and core CPI are up 1.7%.

The nation’s current account deficit narrowed to $-98.5 billion in the 2nd Quarter, down from the 1st Quarter’s revised $-102.1 billion.

The NAHB housing market index for August rose 4 points to 59 in September.

The Fed’s newest forecast for GDP growth:2014: 2.0 to 2.2 %; 2015: 2.6 to 3.0 %; 2016: 2.6 to 2.9 %; 2017: 2.3 to 2.5 %; longer run: 2.0 to 2.2 %. In other words, sub-par economic growth for as long as they can foresee. As a reminder, the trend rate of growth for mature economies should be in the 3.0-3.5% range.

The Federal Open Markets Committee announced that interest rates will remain unchanged, with a Fed Funds Rate target of 0-0.5%.


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Economic Statistics for 16 Sep 14

ICSC-Goldman reports weekly retail sales fell -2.6%, and rose 3.0% on a year-over-year basis. Redbook reports retail sales rose 3.6% on a year-ago basis.

Producer Prices for Final Demand were unchanged in August, and were up 0.1% less food and energy. On a year-over-year basis the PPI-FD is up 1.8% overall, and up 1.6% less food and energy. Other relevant numbers from this release:

PPI-FD less food, energy & trade services – M/M change: 0.2%
PPI-FD Goods – M/M change: -0.3%
PPI-FD Goods – Y/Y change:  1.7%
PPI-FD Services – M/M change: 0.3%
PPI-FD Services – Y/Y change: 1.9%

Foreign demand for long-term US securities fell $-18.6 billion in July.


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Economic Statistics for 12 Sep 14

Business inventories rose 0.4% in July, while a 0.8% rise in business sales that Kept the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.29.

August retail sales rose 0.6%, while sales less autos rose 0.3% and sales less autos and gas rose 0.5% 

August export prices fell -0.5%, while import prices fell -0.9%. On a year-over year bases, export prices rose 0.4% while import prices fell -0.4%. 

The Reuters/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index rose 2.1 points to 84.6 in August.


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Economic Statistics for 10-11 Sep 14

Sorry about missing the econ stats yesterday. I’ll make it up today. What happened yesterday was that one of my laptops went TU, so I had to go to the store and replace it. In doing so, I switched from Win8 to a new Macbook Air 11”. So, for the first time in 15 years, I’m doing stuff on a Mac. Including this, my very first blog post from a Mac, ever. I’m also planning on getting an iPhone 6 and a jaunty beret.

Ha! Just kidding. I already have a couple of berets. Anyway, Economic statistics:

Weekly jobless claims rose 11,000 to 315,000. The 4-week average rose 1,250 to 304,000. Continuing claims rose 9,000 to 2.487 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -1.2 points to 36.5, a five-week low.

Information technology revenue rose 0.8% in the 2nd Quarter of 2014, and is up 5.7% on a year-over-year basis.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -7.2% last week, with purchases down 3.0% and refis down -11.0%.

Wholesale inventories rose 0.1% in July, but a 0.7% increase in sales dropped the stock-to-sales ratio to 1.16.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $5.8 billion, with total assets of 4.421 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $4.2 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $10.3 billion in the latest week.


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What, if anything, do we do about ISIS/ISIL?

In 1917, the United States found a casus belli to enter World War I in the Zimmerman Telegram. Prior to this, President Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of the war.”. A year later we were belligerent in that war.

What we know now is that the European nations had bled each other white since August, 1914. There were already discussions in all the belligerent capitals about a negotiated end to the war that would have ended the war with the status quo ante intact.. America’s entry changed all that, and eventually forced the surrender of Germany. That victory led directly to an unwisely humiliating peace imposed on Germany, which caused the resentments that led directly to the rise of nationalist radicalism. Which nationalism led, in turn, to the Nazis gaining control of the country. Nazi government in Germany led directly to WWII, a war the Nazis planned beginning in 1933. Whatever suffering WWI caused, WWII was substantially worse. An argument can be made that American intervention is the ultimate cause of WWII in Europe.

Similarly, in 1991, America led a coalition to intervene in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Since then, American forces have been a more or less constant presence in the region of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  By Osama bin Laden’s account, the presence of infidel Christians in Muslim lands was the reason for his dispute with Saudi Arabia and the United States, and the genesis of his animus against the United States. That animus led to 9/11, from which followed the last 13 years of…unpleasantness. One could, if one wished, make a parallel between American intervention in WWI and in the Gulf War.

Intervention has ripples, like pebbles tossed into a still pond, that reverberate long after the event. It can be argued that ISIS/ISIL is the latest ripple in the US’ Gulf War intervention.

So, nasty video images aside, what is it about ISIS that requires a US intervention in the Mideast again? Saddam Hussein ran a particularly nasty terror state, with rape rooms where suspect’s wives and daughters were brutally gang-raped in front of them as they were forced to watch. Dissidents were routinely dissolved alive in acid. Mothers were forced to watch as their children were shot, and their infants had their heads dashed against cement walls. Uday Hussein famously fed people who displeased him feet first into wood chippers. There is no way in which Saddam Hussein’s government was, in any way, objectively more humane or less brutal than ISIS.

ISIS seems to actively want a US intervention in the region, based on their publicly released media and statements. If they desire this, why should we be so keen to do what they wish, without at least seriously examining why they wish us to do it? In fact, I have several questions about a possible intervention against ISIS.

1. In what way is ISIS a greater threat, or indeed as much of a threat, as Saddam Hussein was from 1991 to 2003?

2. Why are both Republicans and Democrats willing to cede the President the authority to intervene in the Mideast again, without explicit Congressional approval?

3. What do we accomplish by intervening in Iraq, and not in Saudi Arabia, from whence ISIS receives funding? Indeed, what do we accomplish at all without cutting of Saudi money to fundamentalists? How do we cut that money off?

4. How likely is it that intervention against ISIS in Iraq will require intervention in Syria to defeat ISIS?

5. How likely is it to defeat ISIS without a substantial ground presence of American combat troops?

6. If ISIS is such a threat, why isn’t Israel doing anything about them?

7. How much of ISIS’ existence is part of a proxy war between Sunni states against Iran, especially as the end result of US intervention was increased Iranian influence in largely Shi’a Iraq?

8. What is the desired end state of US intervention against ISIS? Mustn’t it not simply be ISIS’ defeat, but also foreclose the rise of future ISI-like groups, lest we gain nothing but a little time?

9. Does “fighting them over there” actually make us safer from ISIS over here, or does it simply exacerbate Arab resentment, increasing the chance of terror attacks against the US?

10. How much blood and treasure are we willing to spend, and for what length of time, are we willing to commit to this intervention?

11. Would spending that blood and treasure in increasing border and port security have a greater effect on ensuring our security than military intervention?

12. Has the region become more or less stable since America began intervening in the Mideast in 1991?

13. Has the threat from the region increased or decreased since 1991?

14. Is the current situation the result of the current president’s inaction, or rather, the result of entirely too much action over the past few decades?

Frankly, the result of American intervention in the Mideast seems to have accomplished little. Yes, Kuwait was liberated, and Saddam Hussein hung but at what cost? So far, it’s been 23 years of more or less constant presence in the Mideast, during which the region has become less stable, not more. It seems that the answer to dealing with the results of our intervention in the Mideast has become more intervention.

It’s all beginning to remind me of the War on Drugs. “If only we increase prison sentences, we’ll reduce drug use.” “If only we seize assets, we’ll cripple the drug lords.” “If only we make it hard to deposit more than $10,000 in cash, we’ll shut down money laundering.” Meanwhile, we’re going through more cocaine than Hunter Thompson in Vegas, cops are using SWAT teams to serve no-knock warrants, and people’s legal cash is being seized.

Sure, I’d love to stomp ISIS flat, with a big ol’ American boot on their neck, as they gasp their last breath, while watching us kill their pet goat. I’m not really sure that’s the best answer, anymore, though.


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