Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The mayors report in on Income Inequality (and miss the conclusion).

(lightly edited for ease of reading)

Yesterday the Conference of Mayors and the Council on Metro Economies and the New American City released a report prepared by IHS Global Insight that is a repeat and thus update of a similar study performed after the 2001 – 2002 recession.  Income and Wage Gaps Across the US.

I caught wind of it today reading our state news paper, it was on page 1 no less. I suggest reading it and then using it to judge your favorite candidate in the coming elections. See if they mention this report. There are 357 metro areas reported on in the index pages. Even Providence RI is noted. So look yours up.

The report looks at the jobs being created and the wages they are generating.  The trend since the 2001/02 recession is that jobs lost in the recession are replaced by jobs producing lessor wages. No surprise as we have been hearing such for a while. However, this study documents that the difference in the wages is even greater this time. After the 01/02 recession it was a 12% difference or $23 billion in annual wage loss. After this current recession it is a 23% difference! $93 billion! Yes, it is because manufacturing and construction jobs are being replaced by hospitality, health care and administration jobs.

“Extensive job losses in high-wage manufacturing ($63K) and construction ($58K) sectors were replaced by jobs in the lower wage sectors of hospitality ($21K), health care ($47K), and administrative support ($37K).”

Some more general findings:

The 2012 household median income of $51,017 was, in real terms, the lowest since 1995. It had peaked at over $56,000 in 1999, and measured $55,627 in 2007 before the recession. It has fallen in each subsequent year.…the 20% of households with the highest incomes, which rose from 43.6% in 1975 to 51.0% in 2012. Moreover, most of this gain was among those in the highest 5% of income, which rose from 16.5% in 1975 to 22.3% in 2012, a gain of $490 billion in 2012. Each of the lower quintiles experienced a declining share of income.

Nothing too new there as with some other facts noted early in the report. However they do something I have not seen and I believe does a better job of presenting income distribution change in this nation. The cry we are hearing regards the decline of the middle class. But then the numbers are presented as blocks of 20%. In this report they divide the income distribution into thirds. Thus, you have a middle third…the middle class?

…we can also consider a broader group of middle income households, the middle third of the income distribution. In 2012, among US households, 34.8% earned less than $35,000, 31.8% earned between $35,000 and $75,000, while 33.5% earned more than $75,000.

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Are we close to a recession? (update)

Last week the 2nd quarter numbers for labor share of national income came out. Labor share ticked up a bit from the previous quarter, but pretty much exactly the same.

There is a graph I use to detect if a recession is imminent. The graph gets updated as the labor share number is revised. Here is the graph produced from FRED.

recession

link to graph.

When the blue line goes below the yellow line, a recession was imminent 7 out of 8 times since 1967. As you can see, a recession was not imminent as of the 2nd quarter 2013.

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Oh no, Walmart is not doing well? Danger, danger Economy Sucks! Not according to the flower shop.

Before this last recession, readers of a long time here might recall that I used my flower shop as a barometer for the economy.  I noted that things were not doing well as our sales had started to decline in August of 2006.    The smart boys and girls called it December 2008 as starting December 2007.

Well, today it seems some people are getting concerned.    I guess Macy’s did not do so well either.   And these smart ones are holding their breath for tomorrow’s Target numbers. 

The analysis?  It’s either the retailers have lost their way but, as noted not likely or the consumer is getting smart and not over spending or and this one just kills me: “The economy is in collapse. That’s what’s going on.”

Really?  The economy is in collapse? 

Disregard the government data. Jobs and GDP and all the rest are at best inaccurate measures of the economy and at worst flat out corrupt. Walmart is capitalism writ large. .. When Walmart misses estimates, it can only mean one of two things: either Walmart or the American economy is weaker than anyone thought.

Yup, that’s what it is the corrupt government numbers are not to be trusted.  Walmart et al are sucking big air right now and that means the economy is going down.  I mean, it certainly couldn’t be the consumer having wised up and got the message of stagnate or declining wages while working whacked out hours and accomplishing little other than having stopped the dehydration. 

I got news for these “smart ones”.  The flower shop says things are holding their own.  It’s not growing, but it’s looking like the first year since 2006 that we will stay even and maybe even up a bit.

“I don’t think we’re in a recession right now, but I think there’s a 50 percent chance we’ll be in one next year,” Davidowitz shouts, and there’s nothing the government is going to be able to do about it. “We’ve spent all the money, we’ve borrowed all the money, and we’re in the tank.”

Who do you believe?  My flower shop and Spencer’s job analysis with Ed’s explanations or Walmart and the “smart ones”?

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If I were writing that piece

Here is an interesting way to deal numbers, with the complete post to be read from the link:

Obama taxes us into recession  (Mish’s musings)

Withheld income and employment taxes have been running about 8.3% higher year over year, comparing the same 33 business days between Tuesday, January 8 and Monday, February 25.

Regardless, there is no doubt that the Obama Administration has taxed us into a recession. Congratulations.

Lifted from several e-mails in response to the link being sent:

Ken Houghton:    If I were writing that piece, it would be about how the cuts in taxes last year are the only thing that allowed people to pretend we were in a recovery, which has otherwise been jobless. (Check out YoY for 2009 to 2010 or 2010 to 2011.) Krugman is probably right not to dismiss out of hand the idea that you can sustain economic growth with a plutocracy, but it’s not at all an even odds bet.

Personal income was just released; down 3%.

The game with numbers was to treat the employer side of SocSec tax as if it would otherwise be circulating. It’s more accurate to think of that as I than C. (I would argue all of SocSec payments are I–a “forced savings” program, as it were–but that’s a sidebar.)

And we know that those monies were not being reinvested last year. (See Steve Roth’s post a couple of days ago.). Will be interesting if we see Excess Reserves start to fall when those tax payments all come due.

And a sad thank you, Mike. You and I may have improved our lot last year, but that was the exception, not the rule, and not without painful transition.

How we call extended joblessness and growth based on consuming savings a “recovery” befuddles me.

Dale Coberly: As I may have tediously tried to point out elsewhere, rescinding the tax holiday is not a tax raise.. it is the end of a government “stimulus” funded by borrowing, unnecessarily attached to the payroll tax for devious political purposes. the SS “tax” is always circulating… it goes to benefits to the otherwise poor elderly who spend it right away. unless you are going to fund those benefits by borrowing or taxing the rich, reducing the payroll tax would reduce “circulating” by the extent to which people “saved” that money for their eventual retirement… assuming they could find a way to “save” it, given the fact that no one is “investing.” i guess we could go back to gold coins buried in jars in the backyard. that should be good for the economy.

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France is Stuck in the Mud

by Rebecca Wilder

According to the Eurostat flash estimate, Euro area GDP fell by 0.2% in both the euro area and the EU27 in the second quarter of 2012. In the first quarter of 2012, growth rates were 0.0% in both zones. On balance, the Euro area is very likely in recession despite the fact that the region successfully skirted the “two negative quarters of growth” rule of recession dating having stagnated in Q1 2012 following a 0.3% contraction in Q4 2011.

The underlying country GDP estimates for Q2, released by the various statistical agencies, do illustrate a deep divide among the growth prospects across the 17-country Euro area in Q2 2012. Here is a select list of reported growth results (all for Q2 2012 in % Q/Q not annualized):

Germany, +0.3%
France , +0.0%
Netherlands, +0.2%
Spain, -0.4%
Italy, -0.7%
Portugal, -1.2%

The French flash release, in particular, caught my eye: “No growth for the third consecutive quarter” is what INSEE titled its publication. The French economy has effectively stalled. Using Eurostat data, the economy has grown just 0.09% (the unrevised numbers) since July 2011. And since Q2 2011, the economy grew just 0.3%. In all, the economy is not technically in recession but it certainly isn’t expanding. To me, the question is, will it go up or down from here?

Compared to history, the current expansion in France has been nothing short of pathetic. Stuck in the mud.

Note: In the chart above, the French dating of business cycles is taken from the OECD, which is available through the FRED database. In the legend, those dates with a (2) indicate short recoveries with an ensuing recession (1 recession and 1 expansion with the same number of quarters as the 2009-2012 expansion). Therefore, the graphs are truncated when the next recession started over the period.

Rebecca Wilder

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Interview of Mr. John Reed regarding banking fixing the game

In case you are not aware, Bill Moyers is back and he doing his best work to date concentrating on our the changing of the rules regarding the economy. This episode where he interviews John Reed, former Citi Bank CEO and current MIT chair is most telling as it relates to the issue of why we as a nation need to do what is required by law: investigate and prosecute as the investigations dictate.

First, let me just say, you need to watch the interview. What is most telling for me is the denial that still exists in Mr. Reed. Sure, he acknowledges that it all went wrong, but it is done in the temperance of “mistake”: 

1. an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.
2. a misunderstanding or misconception.

Here, in the interview is what puts the delusion of self preservation in applying the word “mistake” to the decisions that lead to what we have today, and I’m not just talking recession:

Setting up the question to Mr. Reed by showing a video clip, SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: (Speaking on Senate Floor) What does it mean if we have all this concentration and merger activity? Well, the bigger they are, the less likely this government can allow them to fail.
BILL MOYERS: Were you aware of the few senators who raised real concerns about removing Glass-Steagall, about what would happen?
JOHN REED: No one that I’m aware of it saw it clearly. You point out to some Senators and Congressmen who did, but somehow we described them peripheral. And I simply said, “They’re wrong.” Turned out they weren’t.
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: (Speaking on Senate Floor) I think we will in ten years’ time look back and say, “We should not have done that, because we forgot the lessons of the past.”

The issue of calling it a “mistake” becomes even clearer when you watch the interview of Senator Dorgan which follows Mr. Reed. This is why you need to watch it. Mr Reed knows what happened. He knows why it happened. I am certain he knows where the culpability lays. But, as they say in our neck of the woods: He wouldn’t say “shit” even if he had a mouthful.

What happened and what these people did was not a benign experience as the word “mistake” implies and as Mr. Reed is using it. It was intentional and wanton action taken on behalf of money. (See below: Where their heads were at)

Explaining Glass Steagall’s importance beyond not letting commercial banking marry investment banking.

JOHN REED: Well, that and even more importantly, or equally importantly, since the FDIC came into existence at approximately a similar time where the government was guaranteeing deposits so that people didn’t lose if a bank got into trouble.

But not only did they want to keep the banks from the business for reasons of not risking the money. They didn’t want them to use the guarantee that the government provided for those deposits to leverage their position. Because, you know, if you have a deposit base that’s guaranteed by the government, it sure puts you at a great advantage in terms of going into the market and playing around.
Regarding the take down of Glass Steagall

JOHN REED: When Sandy approached me on the merger [Travelers/Citi] I knew that it was right on the forefront of the legal thing. … And what we basically were told was, “If you all want to do this within the two years we’ll get the law changed.”
BILL MOYERS: But you got the blessing in this two-year period of President Clinton, of the Fed, of–
JOHN REED: We had that blessing prior to.
JOHN REED: Yes. In other words, I went with Sandy to call on Chairman Greenspan. We told him we were contemplating this merger. But that it would required that the Fed would be prepared to grant us permission. And we were assured that they would.
We went and saw the Chairman of the House Banking Committee, the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. And we said we’re talking about this merger but it could not take place if we were not assured that it would be approved at the Congressional level. We talked to the Secretary of the Treasury, I don’t recall–
BILL MOYERS: Robert Rubin? He was the Secretary of the Treasury at the time.
JOHN REED: Yeah, we would’ve spoken to him, I’m sure. And had Bob Rubin said, “No, the Treasury feels this is wrong,” we would’ve been careful. Because obviously, the Treasury recommends to the President on an issue of this sort. And there was no argument. No one said, “We’ll have to think about it.” And so a consensus built up. I don’t think it started in the Fed. I would guess it started in the industry, it certainly got into the Congress.

Regarding where their heads were at

JOHN REED: Which happened, yeah. I mean if you had asked me under oath, what probability I would have given that you would have gotten the whole group of Wall Street participants to get it wrong so to speak, I would have said zero.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think they saw that Wall Street didn’t see?
JOHN REED: They simply didn’t participate in the exuberance.
But I do think that, you know, this setting up the deck of cards so that we could produce what we currently are trying to withdraw from. Turns out to have been something that the word disaster is maybe not strong enough. (“Criminal” is the word we all know he is resisting.)
JOHN REED: We were carried away by the enthusiasm. And like everything else, you know, once you start you probably go a little further than you should have.
JOHN REED: Sandy Weil. I mean, his whole life was to accumulate money. And he said, “John, we could be so rich.” Being rich never crossed my mind as an objective value. I almost was embarrassed that somebody would say out loud. It might be happening but you wouldn’t want to say it.
JOHN REED: Yeah, Sandy Weil. And I sort of say, “Sandy, you know, we didn’t do very well.” And he’s not comfortable with that conversation at all. I think he would still defend that it was a good merger, it just went off the tracks afterwards. I —

Regarding the economics of it

JOHN REED:No, no. It’s not something you’d like to end your career with. That is for sure. No, look. We got carried away.It wasn’t any small group, it was a consensus that reached the press, it reached the political world. It certainly had reached the intellectual world. I’m now, as you know, at MIT,and I say to some of my academic friends that the intellectual underpinnings of this was created at MIT and places like that, I mean—
BILL MOYERS: With the technology of the computers?
JOHN REED: Well, no. It’s all of this mathematics of finance and the presumption in much of this mathematics that you can capture risk by looking at historical volatility and so forth and so on.
BILL MOYERS: Are you saying, suggesting that — the chairman of the board of MIT’s suggesting –that human intelligence no longer runs our financial system?
JOHN REED: Well, it’s a little wisdom balance that judgment wouldn’t hurt.

The Criminality of it (at least as I see it): See: Regarding the take down of Glass Steagall above

Showing an historical video clip, Mr. Reed speaking with Sandy Wiel

JOHN REED: Sandy called his friend the President last night and invited me to join in on the conversation and we had a good talk. So the President was in fact told last evening about what was going to happen.

JOHN REED: Well, they originated and sold into the marketplace things that should never have been originated.
BILL MOYERS: Derivatives, unregulated derivatives?
JOHN REED: Well, it was the excess mortgages, the no-doc, low-doc mortgages. And then the derivatives were a byproduct. Once you had those, then you could chop ’em up and so forth. And of course they had changed their mindset. They were in the business to make money, period.

The psyche that is protecting the conscience: Note his choice of words

JOHN REED: You’re– I mean, a consensusdeveloped. The fact that we took it [regulation, Glass Steagall] out was a byproduct of this mistaken beliefin this modern financial system that was, quote, “more efficient,” was very lucrative for the United States and the U.S. economy in global terms.
And which was supposed to handle risk better. In fact, it handled risk worse. I mean, this is what the facts are because there was a much greater concentration of risk created. And so we got it wrong.
But the restraint of the government and it’s agencies disappeared in the enthusiasm. (Yeah, just a “byproduct”)
And so it was this combination of the participants getting carried away, the normal checks and balances that should exist against participants.
And the thing that is astounding, frankly, and there’s a lesson here that we probably haven’t yet learned, is that the system can get it so wrong. It wasn’t–
BILL MOYERS: So wrong?
JOHN REED: It wasn’t that there was one or two or institutions that, you know, got carried away and did stupid things. It was, we all did. And then the whole system came down. You know, it became illiquid, the government stepped in. Had the government not stepped in, it really would have come to an end.

 

BILL MOYERS: But they left in place the very people who had driven the ship into the iceberg.
JOHN REED: I’m quite surprised at that. It clearly has not been a clean sweep. In other words, those of us who made mistakes, and so forth and so on, are still floating around the system. And–
BILL MOYERS: Floating it? You’re running it.
JOHN REED: Well, I am not, but —
BILL MOYERS: You’re not running it, they’re running it.
JOHN REED: But there are many who are. I wasn’t involved, obviously. I had retired in the year 2000. We’re now talking 2008. So I was a knowledgeable spectator, but certainly not a participant. I was quite surprised because, frankly, the worst thing that can happen to a businessman is to go bankrupt. (Shades of Greenspan confessions?) That’s the sign of ultimate failure. You ran a business and it was unable to succeed under the terms and conditions of private capital. Namely, you went bankrupt.
It’s not a crime. But it certainly is a mistake. And these companies, even though they didn’t have to file for bankruptcy, de facto went bankrupt. And so the managements and the boards and the regulators should have, in my mind stepped aside.
BILL MOYERS: Sounds to me like you’re calling the Glass-Steagall Act back from the grave.
JOHN REED: I think I am. (At this point, he still could not say it “shit”.)

There is more in the interview. You need to see and hear it to understand. I think Mr. Reed is struggling with his conscience and wanting to clear it versus what I believe he feels is a real risk of getting tied up with the Justice Department. It has to be working on him. Though I interpret an air of feeling protected in Mr Reed do to his own wealth. As much as he knows wrong and not a mistake was done, he has no experience of the anxiety as what those in the labor economy are experiencing. He is still in denial to an extent which stops him from using his position to truly work to correct this wrong. Or maybe he just is not of the character to participate on the just side of the fight.
Mr. Reed does get one thing correct:

BILL MOYERS But when the financial community can buy the rules they want —
JOHN REED: Then you’ve got an unstable situation. That’s an intolerable situation. I mean, obviously.

He knows.  He knows that regulation is a necessity. As the head of MIT, he could be doing so much more.
Come-on Mr. Reed, destiny is calling you.

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EA Spreads: Why Should the Trend Change?

By Rebecca Wilder 

EA Spreads: Why Should the Trend Change?

They changed the title; but originally the NY Times reported “Euro Zone Agrees to Reinforce Maastricht Rules“.  That’s exactly what EA policy makers agreed to last week – not much to bring home.

The real shift in policy came from the ECB. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard highlights the ECB’s actions as ensuring some sort of bank profitability, while at the same time defining the buyer of EA sovereign bonds. The banks will access funding from the ECB for up to 3 years at a very low and variable rate – currently the policy rate is 1% – and earn a higher return on their holdings of government debt (This morning, Italian 2-yr debt is trading at 6.05% – not bad). The banks will be ‘encouraged’ to buy government debt, thereby ensuring a funding source for the sovereigns. But this is not a business model, neither for the banks nor for the sovereigns.

Europe is headed toward recession – in fact, it’s probably already contracting – and EU policy makers agreed to explicitly enforce contractionary policy. Kevin O’Rourke calls it a Summit of Death, while Paul Krugman argues the impossibility of the grand internal devaluation experiment. I call it economic oppression coupled with zombie bank deleveraging – it is absolutely not in Spain’s best interest to be pushing sharp fiscal contraction while the private sector is itself deleveraging.

But alas, they’ve decided to put off the only credible solution, fiscal union, for another time. I suspect that global investors are going to see right through this simple fact. External investors will grow tired of the zombie deleveraging and recession, of which more selling will cheapen bonds further. Regarding bond spreads, why should this Summit lead to any different outcome than the ones before it? It shouldn’t.

Until EA policy makers make a concerted step toward fiscal union, the bond crisis will continue to evolve just as it has at each crossroad in the past. The european sovereign crisis will deteriorate further.

The chart above illustrates the average 10yr spread of the 9 bond markets listed over a like German bund alongside each major announcement date (see table below) through December 9. The trend has been up while volatile. Furthermore, no announcement to date has successfully stemmed the upward bias in bond spreads. EA policy makers consistently avoid the only truly credible answer: fiscal union.

Appendix

The table below lists the dates and associated ECB/EU announcements used in the chart above.

http://www.economonitor.com/rebeccawilder/2011/12/12/ea-spreads-why-should-the-trend-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ea-spreads-why-should-the-trend-change

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A little OWS, a little 99%, a little history

So today I read at the Yahoo Finance (it’s my home page because I can look at the stock numbers on the left and read the headline on the right for a guaranteed laugh) that  John Mauldin thinks the OWS would be better off if they occupiedCongress:
Mauldin believes America still has time to figure out a path out of what he says is the big problem worldwide: “We’ve over committed public monies and we don’t have them.” While some what sympathetic to the protestors’ frustrations, Mauldin says their anger is misdirected.
“My message to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ guys: if they really want to If  they really want to go after the source of the problem, they should go occupy Congress,”
Instead of focusing on Wall Street,Washington and the protests should be focusing on reducing regulation and making it easier for new businesses to start, Mauldin says. To that end, he offers a new slogan I somehow doubt will showup at any Occupy Wall Street protest anytime soon: “Up with Entrepreneurs”
As I understand it, OWS is about economic equality. President Roosevelt referred to it as the economic royalty. I just don’t see how one can stop, look and listen to OWS and think “go tell congress to further deregulation”. John Boy can’t be this much of an idiot, can he?
My sweetheart gets home from the dentist. $4000 dollars worth of bridge work is down the drain because a tooth of the bridge went bad. 

For those who don’t know, we are the “Entrepreneurs” John Boy is referring to, thus we are paying for our health insurance, no dental. But, she was offered a payment plan. Has a nice dental name at 14.5% interest! This bit of private market solution to paying for health care is brought to you by GE Financial. Yes, the GE of Jeffrey Immelt, Obama’s job creating adviser. Hey Obama? Did you read my state of the union?  Obviously not or Jeffrey baby would not be your man.
Did you hear that JP Morgan was all blowed up? Yes, I’m not lying. People got pissed at Wall Street and blew up JP:
“During this period anarchists and socialists held protests on Wall Street out of a similar sense of frustration and rage at the banking system. The movement culminated in what was known as the greatest act of terrorism on American soil: the 1920 bombing outside J.P. Morgan and Company
Thirty eight people were killed when the horse and wagon bomb went off at noon on Sept 16, 1920. The perpetrators, thought to be anarchists, were never caught, but their exploits and the aftermath were captured by photographers.”
Check out the pictures here. 
Why do we not hear about this history considering the present times? I know, stupid question. To ask it is to give purpose to OWS. Though one sector of this nation seems to remember a portions of this history or we would not be hearing the pejoratives being slung a the 99%’ers. You know Anarchists, socialists, communists out to destroy the American Way (A catchy phrase brought to you by the National Association of Manufacturers via General Food’s CEO, the US Chamber of Commerce and AT & T’s monopoly is good all via Madison Ave, Time Magazine 9/28/1936) .
Which brings me to my original question since the shit hit the fan: HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO DO THIS? HOW MANY FREAKIN’ TIMES DO WE HAVE TO LEARN THE LESSON?
Obviously from the above 3 subtopics, quite a few more times as we seem to have not learned the definition of Rat Race yet: A rat race is a term used for an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit…
I think I know what is wrong with US today. When I typed in Deja Vu at youtube,  amazingly this tune did not even come up in the suggestion list. 

No, I had to actually know that CSNY wrote what I consider the true musical capture of the concept of deja vu…the song that is most appropriate for the application of the concept today. I say this because they intentionally wrote the song so that it does not repeat any one section (heard years ago in an interview).

Get it?
(I haven’t forgotten the tax tables. It’s a coming.)

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This is the reality of a real small business

 By Daniel Becker

This is a bit of an interlude in my writing regarding the income tax of yore. Though, this does involve taxation. This is also a continuation in my postings regarding real world small business experiences. Yes, you are going to get to read about a real situation that involves a real small business and tax policy.
Before I mislead anyone, the taxes of concern are not about income taxation. Your business has to actually have an income for that tax to matter. I’m not talking personal income. I’m not talking capital gains taxes. Darn few honest to goodness small businesses ever have to worry about that in their daily activities. Maybe in the end you will have some capital gains after you pay yourself back all the personal money you put into your small business. I’m not talking payroll taxes cuts. Yeah, on what was a $100,000 payroll you gain maybe a couple thousand dollars, but on what was a ½ million business that is now 55% of what it was with payroll adjusted to match, it means little. I mean, that business is sure going to be hiring new people with that!
 Oh, just in case you think I’m off the mark, consider this poll from 11/10.   In the poll, 90% hired what was needed or fewer than needed. The catch: Only 1% hired because of the a new tax break. 41% were to replace an employee. When asked why they hired fewer than needed: 79% worried that sales or revenue would not justify more employees. However, 13% did hire because business was better. The lucky ones. So go ahead, keep giving me tax cuts, blah, blah, blah and all that monetary relief because that US Chamber of Commerce sure represents my thoughts and desires. NOT! Idiots!
Some perspective on small business.

“In 2009,there were 27.5 million businesses in the United States, according to Office of Advocacy estimates.The lastest available Census data show that there were 6.0 million firms with employees in 2007 and 21.4 million without employees in 2008. “

I know it is soothing to croon over the days when the Dodge Brothers, Ford, Colt, Walton and Gates were small and became major examples for their time of the American Dream of economic power. But really, the truth is most small business were and are people earning a living on their own vs working for Microsoft (the definition of part time abuse) or Walmart or GM, or GE or Boeing… They were huge numbers of small local retail. All gone. Small local banks? Going. Small local agriculture (RI used to have a state fair), forget about it.  Look around.
So lets get to the heart of it. First a bright spot. The flower shop had it’s first month this year that was better than last year. August. No, I’m not assuming this is a trend and here is why.

The city of Woonsocket has lost it’s Walmart to the town of North Smithfield, it’s neighbor. Major tax hit to the city. N. Smithfield got the Walmart because it decided that building a 650K sq ft shopping development would offset their rising taxes. I mean really, when in the last 30 years have we seen big business pay enough in taxes such that they actually were paying for their presence? Cut, cut, cut has been their chant. So, I can expect my property and inventory taxes to rise unless something replaces that Walmart. Say the state stepping up. Which tends to happen via the state giving less to the towns like North Smithfield.
I wrote about this type of tax chasing in one of my first posts.

“You know what is missing in this discussion (a discussion happening in every town USA)? The question: Compared to what? What are we basing the above statements on? Is it simply that we have less money after the bills are paid? Well, from 1955 to 1998, GDP rose by a factor of 20. Tax burden as a percent of income rose by a factor of 26.7. But income for a family of 4, 2 people working (sound familiar) only rose by a factor of 11.5. From 1976 to 2001 the top 1 % share of income went from 8.6 % to 21%. Yes, we have less money at the end of the day. Unfortunately, not benefiting from the national wealth as we had in 1955 (when the tax burden was 18% of your pay and would be today if all was equal) is a national policy issue.”

This is the issue of small business. See, we are all just trying to earn an income. Just like the person who works for the multinational. The income is much less because business sales are down. So, how should I plan for the pending tax rise? Do not just give me an answer that involves further big business moving into the area, because as I showed in the post on property taxes and development, it’s not so simple as welcoming Mr and Mrs. big business into the neighborhood.

“But, for my purposes Smithfield (an abutting town) presented the most interesting data. They had a new retail development go in, but ½ the size of that proposed for my town. It’s citizens have seen since 1999 in sequence a 9.8, 4, re-val, 5.5 and 8.7 percent rise in the tax rate. It’s commercial development has been only 10% industrial. My town only had a 6.4% total rise in the same time span.”

Oh save me great god of the mega corporations from the evils of local taxation. Yeah, I didn’t think praying would work.
Next up involves a CVS move. CVS is headquartered in Woonsocket. It obviously has some new hot shot who has a better way. They are looking to own their stores and not lease. They are consolidating 2 stores into one bigger store on new property. Yes, about ½ the property was zoned commercial, the other ½ was residential (real houses on it) turned commercial. This is important, because the CVS consolidation will leave 2 existing commercial spaces empty. We’ll add them to the Walmart space and potentially the Lowe’s space as it is suppose to be moving to the new North Smithfield development which is built on what was 126 acres of woods.
Sticking with Woonsocket, the location of my flower shop, the city has managed to add to its commercial property stock while turning a good portion of it into none productive commercial property stock. How soon do you think those empty places will fill up? Don’t hold your breath.
Some more good news. I managed to cut a major expense for the shop just this June to the tune of $379/month. We were in a unique position in that they kind of needed us. It’s not going to happen again. $4548 per year. Nice. It’s the heating expense for a year assuming the speculators don’t get active again. Yep, get rid of those government regulations as they sure are doing me harm. NOT!
The plaza that one of the CVS stores is moving out of is a customer of ours. We do seasonal decorating for them. It is about $3900/yr. Well, we’re not decorating with mums this fall and Christmas looks to be out too. How much you wanna bet spring next year and for some years to come is out? Gonna bet enough to do Washington a favor and higher someone?
Are you seeing where all this is going? I saved us some big coin. I’m loosing the same amount. Now, this is not the first hit from a CVS decision. Some other person there decided to make it simple for them to pay for their flower needs by going with Pro Flowers instead of feeding the 4 local florists which they had done for decades. They think they are getting a 20% discount from Pro Flowers. Little 
do they understand the flower business. Not the first time mega corps thought they new more than the little guy. It represented about 2.4% of our business at the time. May not sound like a lot, but when you consider the extra business generated by CVS using one’s shop to send flowers, it becomes significant.
Let’s add a third issue. Refi. Time to take advantage of the low rates. The purpose is to improve, that is reduce your monthly cash outlays. But as any real small businesses owner learns, there is no such thing as a fixed rate. We have paid off 22.2% of the loan that combined the original purchase of the business and property with the rehab that needed to be done in 2004. We have about 36% of the tax appraised value in equity of the property.
Here’s the concern, do you take a 20 yr loan with a rate of between 5 to 5.5% to be reset in 5 years or do you take 6 to 6.5% to be reset in 10 yrs? Do I bet that in 5 years business is better because the economy is better which could also mean all that projected inflation do to the Fed monetary policy and at least protect my self for 10 yrs? Or do I bet that nothing will be much better and try to preserve my cash flow (in a small business it’s always about cash flow, accrual be damn) and go for the 5% figuring the Fed money flood won’t roost for at least another 5 yrs? Oh, the refi cost are going to run you about $4000. There goes that big saving from my hard nosed negotiations again.
Your facing tax increases beyond the usual but, not because the public employees are paid too much. Your running out of area’s to cut. Major corporation moves are working against you just as off shoring is working against the middle class, the very class of your concern as you are in it and draw your income from it. And all the policy talk being pushed has little to do with the issues that you are facing because the number one issue you are facing is a lack of a middle class.
Have you heard of the “hourglass strategy”? Look it up. Ah, no it’s not a strategy you can use, but is one that will work against you.

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US economy in August: moving sideways

With the (roughly) 11% decline in US equities year-to-date, talk of a US recession has resurfaced. Through mid August, the high frequency economic indicators point to further weakness, rather than a double dip.

In my view, whether or not the US is IN a recession – defined as the coincident variables followed by the NBER (.xls) are turning downward – is really a moot point for a good chunk of the working-aged population. It probably ‘feels’ like the economy never exited recession to many.

As an aside, it would be difficult for the US economy to actually ENTER a contractionary phase right now, since the cyclical forces that normally drag the US into recession – inventories, auto sales, and housing – are at severely depressed levels. Confidence (or lack thereof) can reduce domestic spending and investment – it’s in this respect that the losses in equity equity markets are important. It takes time for shocks to work their way into the economic data. Nevertheless, high frequency indicators do not point to recession…for now.

Claims are elevated but ticked up last week. If claims do not fall back in coming weeks, the unemployment rate will rise again. This could indicate the outset of a contracting economy.



Weekly diesel production shows an increase in transportation activity (please see this post for an explanation of the data).



Read More After the Jump!



The demand for diesel (in real barrels per day) recovered, rising at a rate of roughly 15% annually for each of the weeks of July 29 and August 05. Annual growth declined to -3% in the week of August 12; but this series (even in annual growth rates) is highly volatile, and the 4 week moving average of annual growth decelerated only mildly, from 7% to 6%.

Finally, daily Treasury tax receipts are slowing but growth remains positive.

The chart illustrates the annual growth rate of the 30-day rolling sum of daily withholding receipts for income and employment tax payments. This series proxies the health of the labor market. Spanning the last three months, the annual growth rate decelerated to 4% (May 18 through August 18 this year compared to the same period last year) from 4.6% in the three months previous. There’s no indication of a contraction in tax receipt activity, but a further trend downward in the pace of tax receipt gains would turn some heads.

Nothing to indicate a contraction in the high-frequency data; but the deceleration is worrisome, given that consumers must ‘earn’ their consumption rather than ‘borrow’ for consumption. I don’t feel particularly positive about the state of the US economy. Neither does Mark Thoma.

Rebecca Wilder

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