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

Trump Brags About Record Defense Spending

Trump Brags About Record Defense Spending

Niv Elis covers the latest in the Trump fiscal fiasco:

President Trump on Friday signed two spending packages totaling $1.4 trillion, averting a government shutdown at midnight. The bills included all 12 annual appropriations bills for the 2020 fiscal year that started Oct. 1. They also included a slew of tax cuts, extending expiring and expired tax breaks and eliminating other taxes that amount to an additional $426 billion in lost revenue, bringing the total cost of the bill to more than $1.8 trillion.

Reagan used to complain about “tax&tax and spend&spend” so he replaced it with spend&spend and borrow&borrow. Trump is doing the same but there’s more:

Trump’s signature brings to a close a fraught year for spending. At the same time last year, his refusal to sign a stopgap measure over funding his proposed border wall led to a 35-day shutdown, the longest in the nation’s history. The Democratic majority in the House, which was seated in the midst of the shutdown, left Trump with little to show for the shutdown by way of wall funding. After finally striking a deal to reopen the government in February, Trump proceeded to declare a state of emergency along the Southern border to allow him to reprogram other funds. Not long after, Trump released his annual budget proposal that would have hyper-charged military spending while dramatically cutting domestic spending, slashing more than 20 percent of funds from the EPA, State Department, and Transportation Department, and abolishing funding for popular programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Special Olympics. Congress summarily dismissed the request and ultimately agreed to a deal that would increase spending on both defense and non-defense significantly for both 2020 and 2021. Congressional leaders would need two stopgap measures spanning nearly three months to work out spending allocations, find compromises on controversial issues such as the wall and agree on additional legislation to include in the package.

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Exaggerated Benefits for U.S. Farmers from the China Trade News

Exaggerated Benefits for U.S. Farmers from the China Trade News

How gullible is Reuters?

China will likely hit $50 billion in purchases of U.S. agricultural products, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday after earlier announcing that he would roll back scheduled tariffs on Chinese imports as Washington and Beijing finalized an initial trade deal.

That was their opening paragraph. Fortune had a different take:

The Markets Have Spoken: Phase One Trade Deal Between the U.S. and China Is “No Victory” – From Shanghai to London, stocks rallied on Friday morning as a “Phase One trade deal” was reached between China and the Trump Administration—that is, until the details were announced. By noon in New York, the major indices still trading were swooning, with the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average in negative territory, ceding big early gains. What happened? … Later in the day, the markets’ exuberance was largely dashed by what’s not in the deal. “I think we’re pretty much where we were in May,” says Usha Haley, W. Frank Barton distinguished chair in international business and professor of management at Wichita State University.

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Liz Cheney Loves Traitors

Liz Cheney Loves Traitors

Dick Cheney lied a lot so I guess his daughter feels compelled to do the same:

So I would just ask people to remember that they have failed despite the fact that they had a process that basically put everything tilted in their direction. The Democrats were able to act as judge and prosecutor. The Democrats were able to select every single witness. The Democrats were able to prevent, and did prevent, witnesses from answering Republican questions. The Democrats decided what the American people would see and when. The Democrats decided the timing on the release of important pieces of transcripts, they still have not released the transcript of the IC Inspector General, and so the Democrats essentially stacked the deck in their favor and despite the fact that they did this, and even with every unfair advantage and unprecedented advantage they gave themselves, including preventing the President from having any access to the proceedings, preventing his counsel from having any participation in the proceedings, they now have come out of this and fundamentally failed to prove their case.

My Lord – more whining about the process? And yes the case was proven overwhelmingly. There is a lot more BS in her little rant but who gives a damn what she said. Why is she defending a traitor? Oh wait PlameGate:

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The Current State of the U.S. Dairy Industry

The Current State of the U.S. Dairy Industry

 I had to endure a discussion of the plight of American dairy farmers where Trump’s trade policies were somehow to blame. Stephanie Mercier confirmed some of the facts:

According to data reported by the National Farmers Union (NFU), the average dairy farm has shown a positive net income only once in the last decade, in 2014. In 2018, the average value of production exceeded the total cost of producing each hundredweight of milk in only one state, California, and nationwide, dairy farmers lost an average of $3.21 per hundredweight of milk produced. For 2019, total dairy production is expected to increase modestly over 2018, by less than 0.3 percent, and the average all-milk price is expected to increase as well, from $16.26/cwt in 2018 to $18.40/cwt. While the projected 13 percent increase in price for this year is welcome news for U.S. dairy farmers, that level still falls below the average total cost of production for farmers in most of the country.

But she had a very different take on the international issues involved:

This situation is largely a result of a persistent mismatch between the supply of dairy products and the demand for them, and is not isolated to the U.S. domestic market. Within the European Union, low dairy prices prompted some Italian, German, and Belgian producers to dump their product in protest during the summer of 2019. The combination of low prices and a severe drought in 2018 has pushed many Australian dairy operations to the brink of collapse. The farmer-owned Fonterra dairy cooperative, serving both Australia and New Zealand farmers, has seen its share values decline by about 50 percent since the beginning of 2018.

Look – we can criticize Trump’s stupid trade war for a lot of things but low milk prices are being driven by other factors:

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Bicycles and Wine Tariffs

Bicycles and Wine Tariffs

Jeffrey Frankel has a must read blog over at Econbrowser:

The “bicycle theory” used to be a metaphor for international trade policy. Just as standing still on a bicycle is not an option — one has to keep moving forward or else the bike will fall over – so it was said that international trade negotiators must continue to engage in successive rounds of liberalization, or else the open global trading system would be pulled down by protectionist interests. I don’t know if the theory was ever right. (And, to be honest, I don’t entirely understand why forward movement keeps a bicycle from falling over.) But if we had stood still on trade policy over the last three years we would be a lot better off than where we are now.

It may be cold in New York City but after all that Thanksgiving wine, maybe a bicycle ride is in order. Just after that infamous phone call with the President of Ukraine, Trump opined on trade policy regarding wine:

Mr Trump, who is teetotal, said: “I’ve always liked American wines better than French wines. Even though I don’t drink wine. I just like the way they look.” The US is the world’s largest consumer of wine and the largest import market, with France consistently among the top origin countries for imported wine.

He was angry over something called the digital sales tax but here is a more related reason for this weird tweet:

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Have the Transfer Pricing Experts at KPMG Heard of the Repo Ruckus?

Have the Transfer Pricing Experts at KPMG Heard of the Repo Ruckus?

If one thinks Trump’s economic advisors are the dumbest people on the planet, I have a new candidate for that award – a few supposed experts on intercompany loans that work for KPMG:

In 2017, the ARRC selected the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) as the alternative that represents the best replacement rate for USD-denominated LIBOR. SOFR is based on overnight transactions in the U.S. dollar Treasury repo market, the largest rates market at a given maturity in the world … In the time since the Federal Reserve Bank of New York began daily publication of SOFR in 2018, significant progress has been made in building liquidity in SOFR-linked markets (which include dollar-based derivatives and loans) … SOFR is fundamentally different than LIBOR in a number of key elements. SOFR is (currently) an overnight rate, is secured and is designed to reflect a (virtually) risk-free rate. LIBOR has forward-looking term options, is unsecured and is designed to reflect a bank’s cost of funding. All of these characteristics factor into how SOFR will perform under certain circumstances and how it can be used by market participations. For example, the following figure compares 3-month LIBOR, one the most commonly used LIBOR benchmarks, to the 3-month simple average of SOFR. SOFR is generally both lower and, depending on the methodology applied to derive a term structure, less volatile as compared with LIBOR. This is to be expected given the lower risk profile of SOFR, since it represents borrowings collateralized by U.S. Treasury securities while LIBOR reflects interbank credit risk.

The purpose of their ramblings was to advise multinationals on what to do with a set of their intercompany loans once LIBOR disappears, which is sort of making an easy issue hard so their arrogant and overpriced clowns can charge lots of fees for virtually nothing. But hey – that is what the Big Four does.

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Ukraine Corruption and Transfer Pricing

Ukraine Corruption and Transfer Pricing

As I listened to the testimony of Bill Taylor and George Kent, I was also reading up on some South African transfer pricing case involving iron ore:

Kumba Iron Ore will pay less than half of the tax bill it received from the SA Revenue Service (Sars) last year following audits of its export marketing practices during the commodities boom. The settlement of R2.5bn significantly overshot the R1.5bn Kumba had set aside as a contingent liability. It is, however, a fraction of the taxes, penalties and interest payments Sars was pursuing the country’s dominant iron ore producer for. The existence of a potential tax liability was first reported to shareholders in June 2014, but Kumba could only put a number on it early last year when it received a tax assessment of R5 billion for the years 2006 to 2010.

If this account sounds like a lot of accounting gibberish, one might check with other accounts including whatever BDO wrote but these other accounts were even less informative. To paraphrase one commercial “people who know” avoid BDO. I think what happened is that the South African tax authority objected to what it saw as a lowball transfer pricing paid to the South African mining affiliate by a tax haven marketing affiliate and decided to completely disallow any commission income for the tax haven affiliate. This account at least notes that Kumba Iron Ore eventually told its shareholders that there might be some transfer pricing risk and that the issue was eventually resolved with a more modest commission rate booked by the marketing affiliate. So what does this have to do with Ukraine?

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Mankiw’s Ideal Democrat (Bloomberg Alert)

Mankiw’s Ideal Democrat (Bloomberg Alert)

Greg Mankiw has always been a Never Trumper:

I just came back from city hall, where I switched my voter registration from Republican to unenrolled (aka independent). Two reasons: First, the Republican Party has largely become the Party of Trump. Too many Republicans in Congress are willing, in the interest of protecting their jobs, to overlook Trump’s misdeeds (just as too many Democrats were for Clinton during his impeachment). I have no interest in associating myself with that behavior. Maybe someday, the party will return to having honorable leaders like Bush, McCain, and Romney. Until then, count me out. Second, in Massachusetts, unenrolled voters can vote in either primary. The Democratic Party is at a crossroads, where it has to choose either a center-left candidate (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Yang) or a far-left populist (Warren, Sanders) as their nominee for president. I intend to help them choose the former. The latter propose to move the country too far in the direction of heavy-handed state control. And in doing so, they tempt those in the center and center-right to hold their noses and vote for Trump’s reelection.

In a way I get this and a lot of other centrist Republicans are saying similar things. Enter Michael Bloomberg:

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Has Tyler Cowen or John Cochrane Ever Heard of Monopsony Power?

Has Tyler Cowen or John Cochrane Ever Heard of Monopsony Power?

I’m going to replicate one portion of a long winded rant about alleged cognitive dissonance:

The argument for a minimum wage is that labor demand is inelastic — employers will hire the same number of workers. They will just absorb the higher wages or pass along the costs to customers. Workers get all the benefit. If labor demand is elastic, employers cut back on the number of employees.

Of course, labor economists would recognize that John Cochrane’s entire post assumes a perfectly competitive labor market. One has to wonder about economists who have never even considered monopsony power.

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Mike Pompeo Reminds Me of Al Capone

Mike Pompeo Reminds Me of Al Capone

How to say in Latin that our Secretary of State is pompous and dishonest as it gets? Oh yea – if one says “quid pro quo” in English, it never happened. These unbelievable stupid excuses for denying what is plainly true – that Trump extorted dirt on Democrats from Ukraine by withholding military aid – is insulting as they are treating us like “chumps” to paraphrase Leon Penatta. But even more insulting is this:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fiercely criticized the House impeachment inquiry, saying his department is being treated unfairly as Democrats seek to remove President Donald Trump from office … “They’re not letting State Department lawyers in the room … they have not let State Department lawyers be part of these hearings,” Pompeo said. “That’s unheard of … I haven’t seen you all report that.”

First of all, we do know that the brave members who served the State Department honorably have turned down Pompeo’s lawyers in lieu of bringing their own so this last sentence of his is a lie as this fact has been reported on. Secondly, Pompeo is whining that HE is being treated unfairly. Look Pompeo is clearly a mobster style criminal – hence my reference to Al Capone. Can you imagine a grand jury investigation of a mob boss where the mob boss gets to send his own lawyer into the testimony before the grand jury? Witnesses might be reluctant to appear out of fear that the mob lawyer would tell his client who to knock off. Pompeo is all about witness intimidation as he fears the truth. And yea – I bet Pompeo and his boss (Trump) would stoop to killing anyone who dares to stand up to their treasonous crimes.

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