Free Markets, Free People

Economy

Economic Statistics for 12 Apr 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

The U.S. trade gap unexpectedly shrank in February to $46.0 billion from $52.5 billion in January.

Initial claims for unemployment rose 13,000 in the April 7 week to 380,000. The four-week moving average rose 4,250 to 368,500, the highest level in a month.

Overall producer prices were unchanged last month, though up 2.8% over last year. The core PPI rose 0.3% for the month, and 2.9% for the year.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index reading was -32.8, the highest reading since March 2008.

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Dale Franks
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D’oh: Union boss suddenly realizes Obama’s war on coal means losing union jobs

Yes, he’s apparently finally realized that as goes coal, so goes his union (via Labor Union Report).  Interesting comparison to Osama Bin Laden.  My guess is the administration see’s coal in the same sort of light as they viewed bin Laden – an enemy.  And thus, the results of their campaign against it – the loss of jobs, even if they’re union – are acceptable “collateral damage”.

The coal industry will suffer the same fate as Osama bin Laden under new climate regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the head of the United Mine Workers of America said this week.

The Navy SEALs shot Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan and Lisa Jackson shot us in Washington,” Cecil Roberts, president of the powerful union, said during an interview Tuesday on the West Virginia radio show MetroNews Talkline.

Roberts blasted Jackson, the EPA administrator, over the proposed regulations, which would limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. Opponents of the regulations, including Roberts, say the new rules would be the death knell of the coal industry.

But, will Mr. Roberts actually do anything to actively protect the jobs of his union members?

Uh,no:

While the United Mine Workers of America likely won’t actively oppose President Obama’s reelection bid, Roberts said the new EPA regulation could prevent the union from endorsing the president.

“That’s something that we have not done yet and may not do because of this very reason. Our people’s jobs are on the line,” Roberts said, adding that Obama has “done a lot of great things for the country.”

So United Mine Workers, why are you paying the dues to pay this man’s salary?

He certainly has made his choice hasn’t he?  Unquestioning party loyalty over your jobs.  He doesn’t care about them and obviously neither does the president.

I’m sure you’re surprised.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Economic Statistics for 11 Apr 12 (Updated)

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

MBA Purchase Applications slipped -2.4% for the week, as purchase apps declined by -0.5% and refinance apps fell by -3.1%.

Export prices rose 0.8% for the month, and were 0.9% higher for the year. Import prices rose 1.3% for the month, and were 3.4% higher than a year ago.

UPDATE: The Fed’s Beige Book was released this afternoon. It reports the economy continued to grow at a "modest to moderate pace", but rising energy costs are a growing concern. The Beige Book is compiled as an overall look at economic conditions. It’s used by the Federal Open Markets Committee when setting interest rate policy at their meetings.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 10 Apr 12

A compressed week of economics data begins with today’s retail sales numbers, as Redbook reports a 4.1% year-on-year sales increase, while ICSC-Goldman reports a 0.5% increase for the week, and 4.5% for the year.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index unexpectedly dropped almost two points to 92.5 last week. Analysts had expected an increase.

Wholesale inventories increased by 0.9% in February, but a 1.2% increase in sales left the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.17.

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Dale Franks
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Widespread stimulus fraud? Say it ain’t so!

I know this will likely come as a huge surprise, but it appears that the almost trillion dollar stimulus bill, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, has seen widespread fraud. 

Much of the stimulus was earmarked for transportation projects:

But federal investigators have uncovered widespread financial management problems with many of the projects. As of early March, federal authorities were investigating 66 cases of alleged false statements, bid rigging, fraud and embezzlement, according to a report by Calvin L. Scovel III, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general. Justice Department lawyers are scouring 47 of those cases for potential prosecution, according to Scovel.

Twenty-five of those cases involve alleged fraud by minority-owned or operated enterprises that received preferential treatment in the awarding of the contracts, while 22 involve allegations of false claims. Investigators are also looking into nine cases of alleged violations of the prevailing wage law, three involving corruption and one case involving embezzlement, according to a report Scovel presented to the House transportation appropriations subcommittee on March 29. A spokesman for Scovel’s office declined to provide further details of the ongoing investigation, but stressed, “We take very seriously any allegations of waste, fraud, abuse or violations of the law.”

Then, of course, there were the usual nonsensical projects (most of which, I would guess, can probably be traced back to people with political connections):

Those included  $4.7 million towards development of private supersonic jet travel years after the Concorde last flew, $2 million to help build a replica railroad as a tourist attraction in Nevada and nearly $1 million to help beef up security on a private entertainment cruise ship.

But back to the transportation projects.  As usual, purposeful discrimination (i.e. not awarding projects to the lowest bidder but instead to the applicant that best fits the favored demographic) has led to the expected outcome – expected by anyone with at least a passing understanding of human nature:

The inspector general’s office voiced particular concern about the potential for fraud within the so-called  Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, which is aimed at increasing the number of government contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses. “There is a preference given to minority and female-owned firms and it’s to level the playing field, so to speak,” said the Inspector General’s spokesman.

A “typical scheme” involves a prime contractor  persuading a minority firm to front for it in obtaining a major federal contract and then receiving a kickback of a set percentage of the overall contract, according to the spokesman.

Of course this isn’t a new scheme or the first time it has happened, but apparently it is a scheme that government, in their hurry to hand out money, was unable to thwart.  And, of course, if government had simply made safeguarding the tax payers money the priority instead of trying to “level the playing field” it would have chosen the best qualified and lowest bidder to do these projects instead of basing their decision on skin color and gender.

But we’ve been over this a million times, haven’t we?

As usual, the government provides incentives to engage in fraud and then seem shocked when it occurs.  Yet it occurs every time they provide those incentives, doesn’t it?  It reminds you of a goose that wakes up in a new world every day.  Unfortunately the incompetence of the goose is bankrupting the nation.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Economic Statistics for 6 Apr 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

The Monster Employment Index, a measure of online job recruitment activity, was unchanged for the month at 143.

The BLS reports that non-farm payrolls increased by a disappointing 120,000 jobs. The unemployment rate magically dipped to 8.2%, however. Average hourly earnings rose by 0.2%, while the average workweek remained un changed at 34.5 hours. Those are the headline results. Nor to delve a little deeper. The labor force participation rate remained steady at 63.4%, but the employment-population ratio fell one tick to 58.5%, as 164,000 people left the labor force, which is the main reason for the downtick in the unemployment rate as well.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 5 Apr 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

Initial jobless claims were 357,000 last week, down 6,000 from a revised 363,000 in the prior week.

Challenger’s job cut report shows a layoff count of 37,880 in March vs. 51,728 in February and 41,528 in March, 2011.

Chain stores are reporting retail sales numbers today. In general, sales are looking a little stronger than expectations.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to -31.4 in the April 1 week, up from from -34.7 the prior week. That’s a pretty negative number, but it’s still the highest in four years, which tells you more about how bad the last four years have been, rather than how good it is now.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 4 Apr 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

Mortgage applications rose 4.8$ last week, with purchases up 7.2% and refis up 4%, as buyers purchased ahead of a scheduled FHA mortgage insurance premium increase.

The Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index continues to rise, increasing by 0.3% to 94.14 in March.

Non-manufacturing growth slowed slightly last month, with the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index falling to 56 from 57.3 last month.

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Dale Franks
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How Obama’s Keystone XL tantrum will cost the US

Not that President Obama will much care. 

As you know, if you’ve followed the news, a few months back, President Obama stopped the building of a critical oil pipeline from Canada’s oil sands in a fit of pique at the GOP for demanding a decision sooner rather than later.  His excuse was it hadn’t been studied enough even though his own State Department had unofficially announced they were satisfied with Trans Canada’s application and environmental studies and prepared to okay the project.

A huge outcry ensued and as he usually does, Obama tried to blame his decision on someone else.  The result of his decision, of course, was to further delay the transport of up to 800,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to our Gulf Coast refineries.  He essentially turned down an increase in safe and secure oil that is strategic to our economic growth and national security.

But it has had even more profound effect for the long term.  Most people are pretty sure that the pipeline will eventually be built.  However the sweet deal it offered us prior to the President’s turn down is no longer available.  It is because the refusal pointed out that Canada couldn’t depend on the US to be a reliable trading partner:

In a public one-on-one interview here with Jane Harman, head of the Wilson Centre think-tank, [Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen] Harper said Obama’s rejection of the controversial pipeline — even temporarily — stressed Canada’s need to find other buyers for oilsands crude.

And that wouldn’t change even if the president’s mind did.

“Look, the very fact that a ‘no’ could even be said underscores to our country that we must diversify our energy export markets,” Harper told Harman in front of a live audience of businesspeople, scholars, diplomats, and journalists.

“We cannot be, as a country, in a situation where our one and, in many cases, only energy partner could say no to our energy products. We just cannot be in that position.”

Of course there’s no particular problem finding new customers.  China, naturally, was waiting in the wings for us to shoot ourselves in the foot and when we obliged them, they stepped right in.

That, of course, has another effect:

Harper also told Harman that Canada has been selling its oil to the United States at a discounted price.

So not only will America be able to buy less Canadian oil even if Keystone is eventually approved, the U.S. will also have to pay more for it because the market for oilsands crude will be more competitive.

That’s right, we get less and it will cost more. 

We have taken a significant price hit by virtue of the fact that we are a captive supplier and that just does not make sense in terms of the broader interests of the Canadian economy," Harper said. "We’re still going to be a major supplier of the United States. It will be a long time, if ever, before the United States isn’t our number one export market, but for us the United States cannot be our only export market.

"That is not in our interest, either commercially or in terms of pricing."

Congratulations Mr. President, with your childish fit of pique you’ve managed to again do something that will help achieve your goal of seeing energy prices “skyrocket”.

And the people you profess to be looking out for, the poor and middle class, are those who will pay the most for your tantrum.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Economic Statistics for 3 Apr 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

Factory orders bounced back from a -1.1% decline in January with a 1.3% increase in February.

ICSC-Goldman Store Sales did well last week, with a 3.8% rise for the week, which is a 4.2% from last year. Redbook also reports a strong 4.6% year-on-year same-store sales increase.

Auto sales are due out, with the figures released throughout the day.

UPDATE: The Big 3 have reported Auto sales so far today. Overall Sales for GM were up 14.2% in march from the same period in 2011. Chrysler reports a 34% increase from last year, for its best monthly sales in 4 years. Ford’s sales gain was a much more modest 5%, but was still the best monthly sales rate since 2007, and suffers from the comparison to Mar, 2011, when Ford led all US auto sales for the first time in 13 years.

Also reporting in are Nissan, reporting their best sales ever, and Toyota, reporting the best sales since March 2008.

Dodge also announced that the reborn Dart will be hitting sales floors this June. I suspect the new Dart, which will take up a spot in the small-car lineup, will be somewhat less performance-based than the 318ci V-8 powered ’71 Dart I had as a High School Senior.

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Dale Franks
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