Free Markets, Free People

Economy

Is the economy headed toward a double dip?

There seems to be more and more evidence and economic consensus that a double dip recession may be about to occur, something we’ve been warning about for some time.

The outlook for economic growth in developed countries has got much worse in the last three months, the OECD said on Thursday and urged central banks to keep rates low and be ready to pursue other forms of easing.

The latest estimates marked a sharp slowdown from the Paris-based organization’s last forecasts in May but used different methodology so were hard to compare precisely.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast growth across the G7 group of major industrialized economies would average 1.6 percent on an annualized basis in the third quarter before slowing to just 0.2 percent in the final three months of the year.

"With respect to three months back the growth scenario looks much worse, one would say that growth is stagnating," said OECD chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan.

"We are witnessing a growth slowdown across OECD countries."

Not good.  To put it in graphic form, check out this projection from OECD:

slide-71

Those are not good numbers for growth.   Now check out this particular graphic.  One of the obvious keys to economic growth is consumers since they make up about 70% of the GDP numbers.   What you’ll see is not something which inspires feelings of well being:

slide-51

The title is an understatement.  Consumer confidence, especially in the US, has tanked.  In fact, if you look closely, it is slightly less than at the depth of the recession in 2009.

Again, not good. 

The New York Times now puts the possibility of a double dip recession at 50%.  I think they are optimistic.  But here’s the reason this particular graph is so important:

Economies have a strong self-reinforcing nature. When people are optimistic, they spend, which begets hiring and then more spending. When people are anxious, they pull back, which leads to a cycle of hiring freezes and further anxiety that often lasts for months.

And history tells us:

The United States appears to have entered some version of the vicious cycle. Most ominously, job growth has slowed to a pace that typically signals the start of a recession .

Over the last 50 years, every time that job growth has been as meager as it has been over the last four months,the economy has been headed toward recession, in a recession or in the immediate aftermath of one. From early 2010 through this spring, by contrast, employment was growing fast enough to make the economy look as if it were in a recovery, albeit a modest one.

That’s not the case now. 

More immediately, the main significance of the recent slowdown is that the economy may not merely be going through a weak phase that will soon pass, as many policy makers hope. Instead, history seems to suggest that the situation will probably get worse before it gets better.

In a recent research paper, Jeremy J. Nalewaik, a Federal Reserve economist, described this concept as “stall speed”: once the economy slows markedly, it often continues to do so. (He did not make a forecast.) In the other two severe downturns of the last 80 years—in the 1930s and the early 1980s—the economy suffered just such a stall and fell into a second recession not long after the first.

So the consensus opinion forming is we’re in big trouble economically:

“For the U.S, we now expect GDP growth in the second half of 2011 to average just 1.3 percent at an annual rate, down from 2.8 percent,” said HSBC Chief US Economist Kevin Logan in a research note.

“Don’t be fooled by an autos recovery in the third quarter,” said Logan Jonathan Loynes, the chief European economist at Capital Economics, feels similarly about Europe.

“The latest activity indicators suggest that the euro-zone economy might soon slip back into recession.

In the second quarter, the economy expanded by just 0.2 percent, compared to 0.8 percent in the first quarter of 2011,” said Loynes.

“Growth this weak means the economy will likely remain on recession watch throughout the remainder of this year,” Logan said of the U.S. He believes the key risk is stagnating consumer spending.

On the economic side of things, this is not something anyone wants to see, but the metrics are lining up to indicate that a double dip is what we’re going to see.   On the political side of things, if that’s the case, it spells big trouble for the incumbent president.

There’s your economic setting for the big Presidential jobs speech tonight.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Economic Releases 7 Sep 11

It’s not a big day for economic releases today, so we get a bit of a breather from major releases.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that their composite index fell once again, as mortgage applications dropped –4.9%, despite low interest rate.  Purchase applications actually increased by 0.2%, but re-fi apps fell –6.3%.

In retail sales for the week, ICSC-Goldman reports same-store sales fell steeply by 0.7% last week to pull down the year-on-year rate to 2.7%. Conversely, Redbook reports same-store year-on-year rose sharply by 0.9% last week, for a 4.9% rate.

UPDATE: The afternoon release of the Fed’s "Beige Book", prepared for the September 20-21 FOMC meeting, shows that the economy continues to expand at a "modest pace." Some Districts noted mixed or weakening activity, however the Fed believes that a double-dip recession is not in the offing. Overall, the report indicates that a sluggish recovery continues.

~
Dale Franks
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Nobel economist lays our present economic problems at the feet of “government failure”

Gary Becker is an economist who has also been awarded a Nobel Prize in his field, but unlike the one which hangs out on the pages of the New York Times, hasn’t yet succumb to being a water carrier for a particular administration.  He also doesn’t seem to have any particular political agenda. 

Consequently, when he speaks I tend to listen and in today’s Wall Street Journal, he speaks.   It is well worth the read.  Some nuggets:

The origins of the financial crisis and the Great Recession are widely attributed to "market failure." This refers primarily to the bad loans and excessive risks taken on by banks in the quest to expand their profits. The "Chicago School of Economics" came under sustained attacks from the media and the academy for its analysis of the efficacy of competitive markets. Capitalism itself as a way to organize an economy was widely criticized and said to be in need of radical alteration.

Although many banks did perform poorly, government behavior also contributed to and prolonged the crisis. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates artificially low in the years leading up to the crisis. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two quasi-government institutions, used strong backing from influential members of Congress to encourage irresponsible mortgages that required little down payment, as well as low interest rates for households with poor credit and low and erratic incomes. Regulators who could have reined in banks instead became cheerleaders for the banks.

This recession might well have been a deep one even with good government policies, but "government failure" added greatly to its length and severity, including its continuation to the present. In the U.S., these government actions include an almost $1 trillion in federal spending that was supposed to stimulate the economy. Leading government economists, backed up by essentially no evidence, argued that this spending would stimulate the economy by enough to reduce unemployment rates to under 8%.

Of course, while not a “leading government economist”, the NYT’s resident economist was right in the middle of cheerleading that spending as well.

More importantly, Becker addresses what opponents of capitalism always like to blame for any market downturn.  “Market failure”.  It is a bit like the climate alarmist crowd.  They prefer to ignore the sun’s effect on climate in order to put the blame on people.  In this case, the opponents of capitalism prefer to ignore the effect of government on markets in order to blame markets and thus insert more government.

And that increase in government intrusion is also talked about by Becker:

The misdiagnosis of widespread market failure led congressional leaders, after the 2008 election, to propose radical changes in financial institutions and, more generally, much wider regulation and government control of companies and consumer behavior. They proposed higher taxes on upper-income families and businesses, and extensive controls over executive pay, as they bashed "billionaire" businessmen with private planes and expensive lifestyles. These political leaders wanted to reformulate antitrust policies away from efficiency, slow the movement by the U.S. toward freer trade, add many additional regulations in the medical-care sector, levy big taxes on energy emissions, and cut opportunities to drill for oil and other fossil fuels.

Congress did manage to pass badly designed laws concerning financial markets, consumer protection and medical care. Although regulatory discretion failed leading up to the crisis, Congress nevertheless added to the number and diversity of federal regulations as well as to the discretion of regulators. These laws and the continuing calls for additional regulations and taxes have broadened the uncertainty about the economic environment facing businesses and consumers. This uncertainty decreased the incentives to invest in long-lived producer and consumer goods. Particularly discouraged was the creation of small businesses, which are a major source of new hires.

Of course, that’s precisely the problem we’ve been pointing out for a couple of years now.  The unsettled business climate has provided a disincentive to expand and hire.  The acceptance of the premise that it was the markets that failed have justified and driven the increases in regulation and government control.  Bottom line: businesses are scared to commit and thus continue to sit on the sidelines as they attempt to figure out the new rules of the game, even while more and more rules are being piled on top of the new rules.  Who in their right mind is going to risk their future and their money in a fixed game with rules slanted heavily against their success?

Answer?  Very few.

Becker then addresses what we all know is the 800 pound gorilla in the room that politicians still manage to ignore in favor other much less effective but more politically palatable actions:

The expansion of government resulting from the stimulus and other government programs contributed to rising deficits and growing public debt just when the U.S. faced the prospect of big increases in future debt due to built-in commitments to raise government spending on entitlements. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare already account for about 40% of total federal government spending, and this share will grow rapidly during the next couple of decades unless major reforms are adopted.

A reasonably well-functioning government would try to sharply curtail the expected growth in entitlements, but such reform is not part of the budget deal between Congress and President Obama that led to a higher debt ceiling. Nor, given the looming 2012 elections, is such reform likely to be addressed seriously by the congressional panel set up to produce further reductions in federal spending.

It is a commentary on the extent of government failure that despite the improvements during the past few decades in the mental and physical health of older men and women, no political agreement seems possible on delaying access to Medicare beyond age 65. No means testing (as in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget roadmap) will be introduced to determine eligibility for full Medicare benefits, and most Social Security benefits will continue to start for individuals at age 65 or younger.

In a nutshell, there is little political will to reduce spending on entitlements by limiting them mainly to persons in need.

I love the line “A reasonably well-functioning government” because it cuts to the core of the problem. Our problem isn’t markets.  Our government isn’t now nor has it been for a while “reasonably well-functioning”.  It is broken.  It doesn’t run or function well at all.  The proof is the “debate” that is now going on concerning spending, debt and deficit.  It is focused in the wrong area deliberately because politicians avoid hard and unpopular decisions which may cost them their power and prestige.  Human nature 101.  So they nip around the edges while ignoring the core problem.  And the result is $14 trillion of debt and no end to massive increases in that debt in sight.   It is a result of the total mismanagement of government by successive generations of politicians more concerned about politics than fiscal sanity and what is best for the nation.

And it isn’t just at the federal level his problem persists:

State and local governments also greatly increased their spending as tax revenues rolled in during the good economic times that preceded the collapse in 2008. This spending included extensive commitments to deferred benefits that could not be easily reduced after the recession hit, especially pensions and health-care benefits to retired government workers.

Unless states like California and Illinois, and cities like Chicago, take drastic steps to reduce their deferred spending, their problems will multiply as this spending grows over time. A few newly elected governors, such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin, have pushed through reforms to curtail the power of unionized state employees. But most other governors have been afraid to take on the unions and their political supporters.

The perfect example of why more of what is necessary isn’t being done can be found in Wisconsin where politicians actually stood up and have done what is necessary.  Result?  Childish tantrums from unions, recall elections and daily vilifications by opponents.  Who would willingly subject themselves to that as a routine part of their job?  Very few.  And thus, as Becker points out “most other governors have been afraid” to even suggest doing what is necessary, much less do it.

Becker concludes with something we’ve been trying to get across for years.   It is exceptionally well stated and, as far as I can determine, quite true:

The traditional case for private competitive markets goes back to Adam Smith (and even earlier writers). It is mainly based on abundant evidence that most of the time competitive markets work quite well, usually much better than government alternatives. The main reason is not that individuals in the private sector are intrinsically better than government bureaucrats and politicians, but rather that competitive pressures discipline market behavior much more effectively than government actions.

The lesson is that it is crucial to consider whether government regulations and laws are likely to improve rather than worsen the performance of private markets. In an article "Competition and Democracy" published more than 50 years ago, I said "monopoly and other imperfections are at least as important, and perhaps substantially more so, in the political sector as in the marketplace. . . . Does the existence of market imperfections justify government intervention? The answer would be no, if the imperfections in government behavior were greater than those in the market."

The widespread demand after the financial crisis for radical modifications to capitalism typically paid little attention to whether in fact proposed government substitutes would do better, rather than worse, than markets.

Government regulations and laws are obviously essential to any well-functioning economy. Still, when the performance of markets is compared systematically to government alternatives, markets usually come out looking pretty darn good.

Exactly.  And as Becker states, this is “based on abundant evidence”, not something some government economist pulled out of thin air (like the example in which government economists claimed spending the stimulus would keep unemployment under 8%).

Markets certainly have their hiccups and the like, but most of that is because we deal in a world of imperfect information.  But markets adjust and compensate and it is competition that is the driver of those market changes.   Government intervention only interferes in that mechanism and magnifies the imperfections Becker notes.  At some point, the intrusion is so great that the market can’t recover.  That’s usually when we hear the term “market failure” used with the proposed remedy being even more government intrusion.

And we end up right here.  The question, of course, is whether or not this is the place we want to be?  If not, one would hope the remedy is fairly obvious.  Painful, perhaps, but obvious.  Our debt doesn’t exist because of the markets.  Our debt exists because of government.  What is it going to take to get it properly acted upon and fixed?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Economic Statistics for 2 Sep 11

The Unemployment situation is the big report today, but it’s not the only one.

The Monster Employment Index rose slightly from 144 to 147 as the number of job want ads increased a bit.

Big deal. The headline number today is, of course, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report on the national employment situation, and it’s not good. The headline unemployment rate remains unchanged at 9.1%, and no net new payroll jobs were created last month. Last month’s increase in jobs was revised downward to 85,000.

To the extent there is any positive news to this report, it is in the underlying data. The labor force participation rate rose very slightly, from 63.9% to 64%. The U-4 unemployment rate (Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force) fell from 10% to 9.6%. The U-6 rate (Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force) also fell from 16.3% to 16.1%. The number of employed persons also rose from 139,296,000 to 139,627,000.

The bad headline number, though, pushed the Dow down more than 200 points as of 6:40 this morning.

~
Dale Franks
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Economic releases for 1 Sep 11

Today’s economic stats releases show weakness in the economy remains, as the numbers are lackluster, overall.

Retail sales are reported by chain stores today, and they’re looking a bit weak. Some stores blamed Hurricane Irene for lower sales results than in July, though others point to a generally tough economic environment for shoppers.

Initial claims for unemployment fell to 409,000, but the the four-week average is worse at 410,250 which is up for the second week in a row and compares to 408,250 at the end of July. The Verizon strike caused a bit of a bump over the last two weeks, which is now smoothing out, so we’ll get a better idea of the trend in the next few weeks. Overall, though, the trend looks fairly flat, which is disappointing.

The revision to Productivity and Labor Costs indicate that productivity fell by -0.7% while unit labor costs rose 3.3% in the second quarter. The revisions show that the economy is still weak, and hiring is probably not an attractive option for firms.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index for the August 27 week slipped to -49.1 from the last report of -47.

The ISM Manufacturing Index declined very slightly to 50.6 from last month’s 50.9. A reading above 50 generally indicates an economic expansion, but a reading of less than 51 isn’t much of an expansion.

Construction Spending in July fell -1.3%, and is down -4.7% from last August. Last month’s spending, however, was revised sharply upwards from an increase of 0.2% to 1.6%. The overall trend is upwards, too, compared to monthly losses of –17% in 2009.

~
Dale Franks
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CNN: 65% disapprove of Obama’s handling of economic issues

The President gets low marks for his handling of the economy, sure to be the primary issue during the 2012 presidential election. The latest CNN Poll delivers the bad news:

But only 34 percent approve of how the president is handling economic issues, with 65 percent saying they disapprove of how he’s handling the economy. Thirty-three percent give him a thumbs up on the budget deficit and 37 percent approving of how he’s dealing with unemployment.

"Two-thirds of Democrats continue to approve of Obama’s economic record, but seven out of ten independents disapprove. Not surprisingly, more than nine out of ten Republicans also disapprove of how Obama is handling the economy,” adds Holland.

The important part of those numbers is found in the second paragraph where “seven out of ten independents disapprove”. As we all know, independents are where elections are won or lost. When you’re down 70% with that group on an issue as important and personal as the economy, you’re in trouble. Also note that only 66% of Democrats are happy with his record on the economy.

While Obama gets higher marks in other areas such as foreign affairs, few think such areas are going to be major factors in how people vote in the upcoming election. When it comes to his record for handling economic issues, the vast majority of the country finds his performance to be subpar.

So the week before a “major jobs speech”, the numbers are in and they’re not good. As I’ve mentioned any number of times, Obama has a problem for the first time in his elected life – he has to run on his record. And to this point his record has a number of "records" in it – record deficits, record debt, record unemployment and now, record discontent.

Turning this around will be no easy feat. Especially before November of next year. So as he pivots yet again to focus on jobs (something he’s supposedly been focused on since the beginning of his presidency), he has some implacable opponents he can’t spin, namely numbers, facts and statistics. And those numbers, facts and statistics translate into the poll numbers like those above.

Finally, despite all his efforts to do so, it appears that his days of being able to blame shift his “inherited” problems to Bush are over. These poll numbers say that the majority of Americans have rejected that and are not pleased with his performance, not Bush’s.

Must be tough to actually finally have to take responsibility for something when you’ve spent your entire life attempting to slip responsibility for anything that was negative.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Economic Releases 31 Aug 11

I generally tweet the day’s economic statistics, and compile them on Google+.  It occurs to me that I can just do that here. Don’t know why I haven’t thought of this before…

Anyway, here’s the day’s economic statistics.

MBA Purchase Applications fell -12.2% in the latest week, led by drops in refinancing applications. The plus to this report is that purchase applications rose

Challenger reports that layoff announcements fell to 51,114 from 66,414 last month. These numbers are not seasonally adjusted, so the monthly comparison is a bit difficult. The trend is down from a year ago, however. Most layoffs were centered in government, especially the military.

ADP is calling for a 91,000 rise in private payrolls for August, down from last month’s 109,000. This implies a weaker Employment Situation than last month’s when we get that report from BLS on Friday.

The Chicago PMI was 56.5, indicating that business slowed slightly in the Chicago area this month. This is generally seen as a predictor of the national index, which will be released tomorrow.

July was a very strong month for the manufacturing sector with factory orders up 2.4%.

~
Dale Franks
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Another “unexpected” jump in unemployment numbers

Jobless claims again surprised the “experts” with an “unexpected” jump.

The number of people who filed for unemployment assistance in the U.S. last week rose unexpectedly, official data showed on Thursday.
In a report, the U.S. Department of Labor said the number of individuals filing for initial jobless benefits in the week ending August 19 rose by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 417,000, confounding expectations for a decline to 405,000.

The previous week’s figure was revised up to 412,000 from 408,000.

Continuing jobless claims in the week ended August 13 fell to 3.641 million from a revised 3.721 million in the preceding week. Analysts had expected continuing jobless claims to decline to 3.700 million.

Tyler Durden provides the Bureau of Labor Statistics justification for the unexpected rise:

Naturally, the BLS is there to provide a justification for the spike, with 8500 jobs apparently "lost" due to the Verizon strike: "Special Factor: As a result of a labor dispute between Communications Workers of America and Verizon Communications, at least 12,500 initial claims were filed in the week ending 8/13/2011 and at least 8,500 initial claims were filed in the week ending 8/20/2011."

Durden also points out why the unemployment total percentage isn’t worse:

In other news, continuing claims came below expectations of 3700K at 3641K, a number that will be revised higher as was last week’s from 3702K to 3721K. The collapse in extended benefits, as the 99 week cliff claims more and more, means that 20K people fewer collected post Continuing Claims benefits, with those on EUC and extended benefits down from 5.8 million a year ago to 3.6 million: this is 1.2 million Americans that no longer can collect anything from Uncle Sam.

It also means they’re no longer counted among the unemployed in the official numbers.

Yeah, it’s worse than you thought – and getting worse still.   Can’t wait to see Obama’s jobs plan — after he has his vacation, of course.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Green jobs? There’s just no market

If you don’t believe me, look at the California experience to this point.   If there’s any state in the union more amenable to and focused on providing green jobs, it has to be the Golden State.   Governor Jerry Brown pledged to create 500,000 of them by the end of the decade.

But as often the case when the central planners make their pledges, they are woefully ignorant of what the market wants.  And so rarely does what they envision ever come to fruition.  Green jobs in CA is a good example.

Remember Van Jones?  Well, when Jones left the Obama cabinet as his “Green Jobs Czar” he landed in California and has been what the NY Times calls an “Oakland activist” apparently pushing for the creation of green jobs.   And it’s not like California hasn’t tried.   It has simply failed.

For example:

A study released in July by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more — 2.2 percent — in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay, where the unemployment rate in June was 10.5 percent.

Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show. Two years after it was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize drafty homes, California has spent only a little over half that sum and has so far created the equivalent of just 538 full-time jobs in the last quarter, according to the State Department of Community Services and Development.

So a “stimulus” program that spent over $93 million dollars to create 538 jobs.  Why so little in terms of takers?  Well it seems the market wasn’t interested.

The weatherization program was initially delayed for seven months while the federal Department of Labor determined prevailing wage standards for the industry. Even after that issue was resolved, the program never really caught on as homeowners balked at the upfront costs.

“Companies and public policy officials really overestimated how much consumers care about energy efficiency,” said Sheeraz Haji, chief executive of the Cleantech Group, a market research firm. “People care about their wallet and the comfort of their home, but it’s not a sexy thing.”

You don’t say … the government didn’t have a clue at what the market potential of their boondoggle actually had, so they ended up spending $172,862 for each job.  And you wonder where the money goes?

Example two:

Job training programs intended for the clean economy have also failed to generate big numbers. The Economic Development Department in California reports that $59 million in state, federal and private money dedicated to green jobs training and apprenticeship has led to only 719 job placements — the equivalent of an $82,000 subsidy for each one.

“The demand’s just not there to take this to scale,” said Fred Lucero, project manager atRichmond BUILD, which teaches students the basics of carpentry and electrical work in addition to specifically “green” trades like solar installation.

Richmond BUILD has found jobs for 159 of the 221 students who have entered its clean-energy program — but only 35 graduates are employed with solar and energy efficiency companies, with the balance doing more traditional building trades work. Mr. Lucero said he considered each placement a success because his primary mission was to steer residents of the city’s most violent neighborhoods  away from a life of crime.

You see you can fund all the job training centers in the world and run umpthy-thousands through it.  But if there is no market for the jobs, you end up spending a whole lot of money for nothing.   Again, ignorance of the market and its demands means expensive mistakes.  Of course Mr. Lucero thinks the program is a success – he got to spend free money, was employed and it didn’t cost him squat.  It cost you.

Example three:

At Asian Neighborhood Design, a 38-year old nonprofit in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, training programs for green construction jobs have remained small because the number of available jobs is small. The group accepted just 16 of 200 applicants for the most recent 14-week cycle, making it harder to get into than the University of California. The group’s training director, Jamie Brewster, said he was able to find jobs for 10 trainees within two weeks of their completing the program.

Mr. Brewster said huge job losses in construction had made it nearly impossible to place large numbers of young people in the trades. Because green construction is a large component of the green economy, the moribund housing market and associated weakness in all types of building are clearly important factors in explaining the weak creation of green jobs.

Market timing is pretty important too, isn’t it?  If you introduce a product into a market in the middle of a market downturn, chances are slim you are going to be successful.  While it may all look good on paper and sound good in the conference room, the “buy” decision is still made in the market place, and in this case it is obvious that the market has no room for these workers.  Something which should have been, well, obvious.  In fact, there is precious little market for traditional construction jobs in a “moribund housing market”.   Yet there they are spending money we don’t have on job skills that are simply not in demand.

Finally there’s this bit of word salad to feast upon:

Advocates and entrepreneurs also blame Washington for the slow growth. Mr. Jones cited the failure of so-called cap and trade legislation, which would have cut carbon pollution and increased the cost of using fossil fuel, making alternative energy more competitive. Congressional Republicans have staunchly opposed cap-and-trade.

Mr. Haji of the Cleantech Group agrees. “Having a market mechanism that helps drive these new technologies would have made a significant difference,” he said. “Without that, the industry muddles along.”

You have to admire someone who tries to cloak central planning jargon in “market speak”.  Imposing a tax on thin air to drive, from above, a behavior government wants is not a “market mechanism”.  And beside, California passed it’s own version of this “market mechanism” with AB 32 in 2006.  How’s that working out?

This is how:

A SolFocus spokeswoman, Nancy Hartsoch, said the company was willing to pay a premium for the highly-skilled physicists, chemists and mechanical engineers who will work at the campus on Zanker Road, although the solar panels themselves will continue being made in China. Mayor Reed said he continued to hope that San Jose would attract manufacturing and assembly jobs, but Ms. Hartsoch said that was unlikely because “taxes and labor rates” were too high to merit investment in a factory in Northern California.

Irony … central planning fails in CA while jobs end up in increasingly capitalistic China.  Again, ignorance of the market causes disappointing results.  Somehow I feel this came as a surprise to Mayor Reed … after he’d spent whatever of your money he’d committed to this project.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

No hyperinflation yet

One of the key worries about the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing has been the fear that it would result in hyperinflation at some point. But, Mike Shedlock, writing at Business Insider, asserts that inflation is not what we should be fearing: deflation is. Despite his rather self-centered, Ooh-look-what-a-cool-boy-I-am writing style, he makes an excellent point, and provides some valuable insight.

Shedlock actually has a rather different definition of inflation and deflation than most do, as he doesn’t concentrate primarily on the money supply or price levels, but rather the state of credit markets.

Inflation
Inflation is a net increase in money supply and credit, with credit marked-to-market.

Deflation
Deflation is a net decrease in money supply and credit, with credit marked-to-market.

Hyperinflation
Complete loss of faith in currency.

The first two definitions have nothing to do with prices per se, the third does (by implication of currency becoming worthless).

To determine whether we are currently experiencing inflation or deflation, he uses the following criterion:

Symptoms of Deflation

  1. Falling Credit Marked-to-Market
  2. Falling Treasury Yields
  3. Falling Home Prices
  4. Rising Corporate Bond Yields
  5. Rising Dollar
  6. Falling Commodity Prices
  7. Falling Consumer Prices
  8. Rising Unemployment
  9. Negative GDP
  10. Falling Stock Market
  11. Spiking Base Money Supply
  12. Banks Hoarding Cash
  13. Rising Savings Rate
  14. Purchasing Power of Gold Rises
  15. Rising Number of Bank Failures

He then goes through all 15 criteria and shows fairly persuasively that—according to his definition, at least—we are in the middle of a credit-led deflation, despite the fact that consumer prices are rising. certainly, asset prices are declining.

Which, I think just means we’re having stagflation, if today’s CPI numbers are to be beleived.

In any event, as I’ve been saying since 2008, the danger of our policy mix is not inflation in the short-term, but rather a recreation of the Japanese response to the currency crisis/deflation of 1992 that brought about the "Lost Decade". We’ve actually doubled down on the Japanese policy, and are experiencing the same economic result.

So, businesses and consumers are holding tight to their wallets, adjusting their balance sheets…and waiting.  Yes, there’s tons of cash sitting in banks right now that isn’t going anywhere, and as long as banks have a shortage of credit-worthy customers seeking loans, all of that cash is gonna keep sitting there are excess reserves.

Meanwhile, the one thing that has kept the dollar buoyed as the world’s reserve currency is that there’s really nowhere else to go. As attractive as the Euro might have seemed a couple of years ago, there’s a real chance that the Euro is on it’s way out, except perhaps as the joint currency of France and Germany.

What I would point out, though, is that Shedlock’s definition of hyperinflation is a state that exists as a result of a psychological event, not the result of something one can forecast via some predictive empirical  measurement. That’s unsettling, because you can never quite predict when a psychological breaking point in public trust is reached. No matter how deflationary credit might be at the moment, if we begin seeing a serious, sustained rise in price levels for consumer goods, I’d be a little worried. A steep fall of the dollar’s price in the FOREX market would be worrisome, too. If hyperinflation is the result of a psychological shock disconnected with any sort of statistical measurement, then I’d be careful finding too much comfort in statistics.

The numbers say that deflation is our biggest problem right now, though, and I’d say that’s generally right. If the economy picks up and those excess reserves begin to flow into the hands of consumers though, I’d be looking very hard at the Fed as the velocity of money picks up, to see how they plan to sterilize the excessive growth in the monetary base they’ve created.

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Dale Franks
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