Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 3 Mar 15

The only statistical release on the Calendar today is the Employment Situation, which, for March, was pretty bad. Only 126,000 net new jobs were created, while the departure of 96,000 people from the labor force helped keep the unemployment rate unchanged at 5.5%. The labor force participation rate fell a tick to 62.7%, the lowest since February, 1978. Average hourly earnings rose 0.3%, but the average work week fell by -0.1 hours to 34.5 hours. Net new jobs in January and February were revised down a net 69,000. Market expectations for March were for a 247,000 increase in net new jobs. Despite recent claims of a strengthening labor market, there’s little evidence of it in today’s report.


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Economic Statistics for 2 Apr 15

Challenger’s layoff count eased to 36,594 in March, well down from the 50,000+ reading of the last two months.

Lower oil prices sent the US trade deficit sharply lower in February, to $-35.4 billion, versus January’s revised $-42.7 billion.

After six straight months of decline, US Factory orders rose 0.2% overall, but the durables components was still down -1.4%.

Gallup’s U.S. Payroll to Population employment rate was 44.1% in March, up 0.2% from February.

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 20,000 to 268,000. The 4-week average fell 14,750 to 285,000 . Continuing claims 88,000 to 2.325 million. This is lowest weekly jobless claims number since April, 2000.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.7 points to 46.2 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $1.2 billion last week, with total assets of $4.482 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-9.4 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $3.1 billion in the latest week.


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Economic Statistics for 1 Apr 15

Reversing three months of decline, auto sales rose 6.2% in March, to a 17.2 million annual rate.

The Markit PMI manufacturing flash index for March rose 0.6 points from the February final to 55.7.

The composite index from the ISM manufacturing survey fell for the fifth straight month, down -1.4 points in March to 51.5.

Falling public outlays drove construction sending down unexpectedly by -0.1% in February. On a year-over-year basis, spending is up only 2.1%.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 4.6% last week, with purchases up 6.0% and refis up 4.0%.

ADP’s employment report shows a soft estimate of 189,000 new private sector jobs created in March.

Gallup’s U.S. Job Creation Index remained unchanged at 29 in March. 


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Probably TMI

But necessary.

A few days ago, I took a fall … literally.  Knocked unconscious, severe concussion, etc.  Lucky I didn’t end up in a body cast or worse.  Anyway, the good news is no broken bones and physically getting over it.  However, if you have any experience with a concussion, you know the after effects.  Short attention span theater is one of them.  That and a sort of fogginess that gets better over time.

Bottom line, I’m not really up to writing anything of any depth or importance right now.  I’ve tried to put a couple of things up, but they’re not my best work.  Unlike Andrew Sullivan though, blogging isn’t “killing me” (even though I’ve been doing it as long as he has).  I love blogging, it’s just right now I can’t give it my best effort.

So I’m backing off for a while.  I’ll be back as soon as I think I can give it my best stuff.

In the meantime, I hope a few others will pitch in.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 31 Mar 15

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales firmed slightly to 3.0% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 2.8%.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 0.9% in January, with a year-on-year increase of 4.6%. The January rise follows a 0.9% increase in December and 0.8% in November.

The Chicago PMI rose 0.5 points in March to a still-negative 46.3. Numbers below 50 generally indicate a contraction in activity.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index  jumped to 101.3 in March from 98.8 in February.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index surged this month, up 15.1 points to 120.1, mainly on American appetite for risk. European and Asian confidence both fell and lag far behind.


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Is “ignorance of the law” a valid excuse now days?

If you’re talking “regulatory law” it may very well be … or so Insty argues in his USA Today column:

Ignorance of the law, we are often told, is no excuse. “Every man is presumed to know the law,” says a long-established legal aphorism. And if you are charged with a crime, you would be well advised to rely on some other defense than “I had no idea that was illegal.”

But not everybody favors this state of affairs. While a century or two ago nearly all crime was traditional common-law crime — rape, murder, theft and other things that pretty much everyone should know are bad — nowadays we face all sorts of “regulatory crimes” in which intuitions of right and wrong play no role, but for which the penalties are high.

If you walk down the sidewalk, pick up a pretty feather, and take it home, you could be a felon — if it happens to be a bald eagle feather. Bald eagles are plentiful now, and were taken off the endangered species list years ago, but the federal law making possession of them a crime for most people is still on the books, and federal agents are even infiltrating some Native-American powwows in order to find and arrest people. (And feathers from lesser-known birds, like the red-tailed hawk are also covered). Other examples abound, from getting lost in a storm and snowmobiling on the wrong bit of federal land, to diverting storm sewer water around a building.

Laws are proliferating like fleas and those are the ones that are actually passed by legislatures.  Regulatory law, on the other hand, is law created

“Regulatory crimes” of this sort are incredibly numerous and a category that is growing quickly. They are the ones likely to trap unwary individuals into being felons without knowing it. That is why Michael Cottone, in a just-published Tennessee Law Review article, suggests that maybe the old presumption that individuals know the law is outdated, unfair and maybe even unconstitutional. “Tellingly,” he writes, “no exact count of the number of federal statutes that impose criminal sanctions has ever been given, but estimates from the last 15 years range from 3,600 to approximately 4,500.” Meanwhile, according to recent congressional testimony, the number of federal regulations (enacted by administrative agencies under loose authority from Congress) carrying criminal penalties may be as many as 300,000.

And it gets worse. While the old-fashioned common law crimes typically required a culpable mental state — you had to realize you were doing something wrong — the regulatory crimes generally don’t require any knowledge that you’re breaking the law. This seems quite unfair. As Cottone asks, “How can people be expected to know all the laws governing their conduct when no one even knows exactly how many criminal laws exist?”

Or bothers to acquaint the public with these laws and their penalties?

Most of these laws, as Reynolds points out, are “(enacted by administrative agencies under loose authority from Congress) carrying criminal penalties” that even Congress dosen’t know about.  Imagine a body of law and penalties that are simply made up by regulatory agencies numbering 300,000.  That’s absurd!

Don’t expect to be saved by “prosecutorial discretion” if someone in government is out to get you either.

Of course, we may hope that prosecutorial discretion will save us: Just explain to the nice prosecutor that we meant no harm, and violated the law by accident, and he or she will drop the charges and tell us to be more careful next time. And sometimes things work that way. But other times, the prosecutors are out to get you for your politics, your ethnicity, or just in order to fulfill a quota, in which case you will hear that the law is the law, and that ignorance is no excuse. (Amusingly, government officials who break the law do get to plead ignorance and good intentions, under the doctrine of good faith “qualified immunity.” Just not us proles.)

It’s “us proles” who need to be worried about this.  We’re the ones who will feel the full weight of these laws when they’re enforced.  We aren’t politically important enough for prosecutorial discretion to be exercised.  And that’s the way it always is.

This is the absurdity of our government (or any government) fundamentally ignoring the fairly strict guidelines of the Constitution and changing its mission from one of the protection of rights (and the few laws that requires) to that of governing our every move for the “common good” (as defined by  … itself).

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 30 Mar 15

Personal income rose 0.4% in March, while personal spending rose 0.1%. The PCE Price index rose 0.2% overall, and 0.1% at the core. On a year-over-year basis, personal spending is up 4.5%, personal spending is up 3.3%, and the PCE Price Index is up 0.3% overall, but up 1.4% at the core rate.

The Pending Home Sales index rose 3.1% to 106.9 in February.

The Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index continued to decline in March, to -17.4 from -11.2. The production index fell to -5.2 from 0.7.


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Economic Statistics for 27 Mar 15

The final revision of 4th Quarter GDP for 2014 was unchanged at 2.2% annualized growth. The GDP price index was unrevised at 0.1.

Corporate profits in the 4th quarter of 2014 came in at $1.838 trillion, up 2.9%, compared to the 3rd quarter’s 5.9% increase.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index rose 1.8 points to 93.0 in March.


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Economic Statistics for 26 Mar 15

The Markit PMI services index flash for March rose 1.8 points to 58.6.

The Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index fell -5 points to -4 in March.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 1.3 points to 45.5 in the latest week, the highest level since July, 2007.

Initial weekly jobless claims  fell 9,000 to 282,000. The 4-week average fell 7,750 to 297,000. Continuing claims fell 6,000 to 2.416 million.

The Fed’s balance sheet fell $-15.3 billion last week, with total assets of $4.481 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-7.9 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $9.3 billion in the latest week.


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