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

Forecasting the 2020 election: the economic baseline (or, don’t count on a recession)

Forecasting the 2020 election: the economic baseline (or, don’t count on a recession)

Four years ago, I decided to use my set of “long leading indicators” to forecast the 2016 election. The indicators were very weakly positive, and pointed to a narrow popular vote win for the incumbent party one year out. This prompted Nate Silver to huff and puff that nobody knew anything about what the economy would look like so far off. One year later, the economy was very weak, the downward move in the unemployment rate had stalled, and the incumbent won the popular vote narrowly (but obviously not the Electoral College vote).

Well, the 2020 election is 11 months away. So it’s time to do the impossible again.

As I wrote four years ago, going back 160 years, roughly 3/4 of all US Presidential election results have correlated positively with whether or not at the time of the election campaign, the US was in a recession or not. More than 2/3 of the time, it accurately predicted the Electoral College winner, and 80% of the time, it accurately showed the winner of the populat vote.  In fact, if we simply go by the metric of whether or not the US was in recession during the 3rd Quarter of the election year, then 84% of the time the winner of the popular vote was from the incumbent party if the economy was expanding, and from the opposition party if the economy was in recession. (The list of all of the elections, the economic status, and the victor in each election, is available at the link above).

In only 3 of the 11 cases where there has been a recession in the 3rd or 4th Quarter of the election year has the incumbent party been successful maintaining control of the White House. Contrarily, of the 29 times the economy has been expanding during the 3rd and 4th Quarter of an election year, the incumbent party has retained control of the White House nearly 3/4 of the time. If we go by popular vote rather than electoral college result, that average increases to over 80% (Both the 2000 and 2016 elections fall into this category, where there was no recession, the incumbent party won the popular vote, but the electoral college resulted in the opposition candidate being declared the winner).

So, with the election one year off, let’s take a look at “Will there be a recession on  Election Day? The simple answer is, left to its own devices, almost certainly not.

Several months ago, analyzing the long leading indicators, I wrote that economic conditions would start to improve by about midyear 2020. Although there has been some deterioration in several long leading metrics since then, that result has remained the same. Below I go through all of the same indicators (7 in all) and their status now. Remember that they suggest how the economy will be 12+ months out.

1. Corporate bond yields fell to new expansion lows a few months ago:

 

Comments (5) | |

The Case for Carbon Taxes, Part II:  Political Sustainability

by Eric Kramer

The Case for Carbon Taxes, Part II:  Political Sustainability

In a prior post, I argued that carbon taxes are not vulnerable to political subversion by hostile courts and regulators, and that this is an important advantage of carbon taxes over traditional regulation based on mandates, and also an advantage over subsidies.  Once they are passed, carbon taxes can work more or less on auto-pilot to drive a clean energy transition, unless they are affirmatively repealed by Congress.  In this post I consider whether carbon taxes are likely to sustain the support they need to remain in place.  There is certainly no guarantee of this; any ambitious climate policy is likely to remain controversial.  However, there are reasons to be optimistic that a carbon tax will not provoke a self-defeating backlash, and mandates and subsidies will also encounter political headwinds.

When it comes to political viability, it is natural to think that subsidies are the best policy, mandates are second-best, and carbon taxes rate poorly.

Subsidies are politically popular – at least if they are funded through deficit spending – because the benefits to voters are clear and they seem to reward people for virtuous behavior (like buying an electric vehicle), but the costs of deficit spending are indirect and hidden from view.  Subsidies do not force anyone to do something that they would rather not do, like convert from natural gas to electric heat, or purchase an electric vehicle.  They are all carrot, no stick.  (This advantage of subsidies is entirely dependent on deficit financing.  Telling people that we will give them a $10,000 tax credit to use on the purchase of an electric vehicle at some point over the next ten years is not particularly appealing if we also tell them that their taxes will go up $1,000 per year to pay for it.)

Comments (5) | |

What’s behind the subprime consumer loan implosion

Via Naked Capitalism  comes an explanation of what income inequality looks like in the US.  It stands in contrast to the Bloomberg article pointed to by Yves in her introduction.  I pulled the quotes with a non-economic person in mind.

THE WOLF STREET REPORT    transcript of podcast by Wolf Richter.

Subprime doesn’t mean poor or uneducated. Subprime means having a credit score below 620…
(Dan here) For example:
Aggressive subprime lending went into overdrive starting in 2014, and private equity firms piled into it, and smaller banks went after it, and it’s now coming home to roost  . . .
This includes healthcare costs, and it includes food costs, and apartment rentals, and cars have gotten a lot more expensive, and the like. But cars and apartments and cellphones have gotten a lot better too, and these quality improvements are added to the price. Think of the move over the years from a four-speed automatic transmission to an eight-speed automatic, or from two airbags to 10 airbags, or from a basic cellphone to a smartphone . . .
But for figuring the inflation measure of the Consumer Price Index, the costs of these quality improvements are removed from the index. This is the principle of hedonic quality adjustments . . .

Comments (4) | |

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:

Comments (6) | |

The Case for Carbon Taxes, Part I:  Political Subversion

 

by Eric Kramer

The Case for Carbon Taxes, Part I:  Political Subversion

Economists support carbon taxes on efficiency grounds.  By putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, a carbon tax creates a strong incentive for people reduce their carbon footprint.  They can do this by switching to clean technologies or simply by reducing their use of fossil fuels – by driving less or turning down the air conditioning, for example.  Other policies can also be used to get people to reduce their use of fossil fuels, but carbon taxes allow people to reduce their carbon footprint in the least costly way.  Given that decarbonizing the economy will be a large and expensive undertaking, keeping costs as low as possible is clearly important.

Economists have made some headway persuading policymakers that carbon taxes should be a central part of any plan to limit global warming, but many people remain quite skeptical.  The most important doubts revolve around the political sustainability of carbon taxes.  Carbon taxes appear to be politically vulnerable because they directly and visibly lead to higher energy prices, and spending on energy is a major item in the budgets of most families.

I will discuss the politics of carbon taxes in two posts.  In this post I make a simple political argument for carbon taxes:  carbon taxes are clearly constitutional and can function effectively even if most Republicans remain opposed to action on climate change and gain control of the executive branch.  In contrast, the main alternatives to carbon taxes, mandates and subsidies, are highly vulnerable to political subversion by Congress and conservative courts and regulators.  This point alone is sufficient to justify including a carbon tax in any plan to avoid the worst effects of climate change.  In the next post I will argue that carbon taxes with per capita rebates will tend to generate their own support over time as people make investments that only pay off if the tax remains in place.  This does not ensure that a carbon tax will be politically sustainable – any ambitious climate policy will remain controversial for years – but it gives policymakers and activists another reason to support carbon taxation.

Comments (12) | |

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:

Comments (7) | |

A few thoughts while you are digesting Thanksgiving dinner

A few thoughts while you are digesting Thanksgiving dinner

There was a bunch of data released Wednesday, while yours truly was on the road along with everybody else. So here are a couple of thoughts for you as you sit there with your loosened belt figuring out what leftovers you’re going to be eating for the next few days . . .

Initial jobless claims declined back to their recent baseline last week, so the four week average declined slightly, further back into its normal range. The YoY% change averaged monthly also is lower:

And the four week average of continuing claims, while slightly higher YoY, is also well below the point where it would be a serious concern:

Bottom line: the economy is simply not going to be in recession this quarter.

Corporate profits for the third quarter were also released as part of the second estimate of Q3 GDP. Depending on whether you include inventories and capital consumption or not, they either slightly increased or decreased:

Adjusted by unit labor costs, they are either slightly (-3.3%) or significantly (-13.8%) below their peak for this expansion:

Before the last producer-led recession in 2001, both were off more than -15%:

This is a mixed signal for the economy in the second half of next year.

Comments (1) | |

Why Did Oil Prices Plunge This Black Friday?

Why Did Oil Prices Plunge This Black Friday?

Nothing to do with the American super big shopping day after Thanksgiving, but several items, some of which may reverse themselves.  As it is, it was a pretty big drop, nearly 5 percent for the day for both West Texas and Brent crude, with the latter now just above $60 per barrel.

The big headline is the resignation of Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi. The immediate trigger of that was that it was demanded by Iraq’s most influential cleric, Ali Sistani.  This came after weeks of mounting protests in Iraq against the government, both in Baghdad, but also among Shia in the South, with Sistani a Shia cleric. He is based in Najaf, the Shia holy city where Imam Ali is buried, the son-in-law of the Prrophet Muhammed.  Protestors had just torched an Iranian consulate there. The supposed reason this might justify a fall in oil prices is that it is thought that the protests have reduced exports from Iraq, which is currently the second largest oil exporter in OPEC. I do  not know if that will result, but if indeed this leads to Iraqi oil exports rising, then indeed a price drop is justified.

Comments (3) | |

The consumer is still alright, November 2019 edition

by New Deal democrat

The consumer is still alright, November 2019 edition

I have a new post up at Seeking Alpha.

A few months ago I took a look at the order in which I would expect the dominoes to fall if there were to be a consumer-led recession. One more domino has fallen, but several important ones are still upright.

As usual, clicking over and reading puts a couple of pennies in my pocket, and should be educational for you.

Comments (1) | |

Complicating The ARAMCO IPO

Complicating The ARAMCO IPO

The Saudi ARAMCO IPO is happening on the Saudi exchange just for Saudi citizens, where apparently there is a not-so-subtle campaign on well off and connected citizens (who wish to remain that way) to buy into the IPO.  But there continues to be delays in opening it up to the rest of the world, with this partly reflecting fears of demands that might be made for more openness, and all that, with various Saudis not keen on that, especially apparently at ARAMCO itself.

However there are now reports of another development that might encourage domestic purchases but may further put off foreigners.  This is a nw round of arrests of alleged dissidents, up to at least nine in the last week.  These are all fairly prominents leading citizens, a philosopher, journalists, businessmen.  What is curious and disturbing about this round is that badically all of these have reportedly been supportive of the regime and of the recent initiatives, at least the economic ones, by MbS, the Crown Prince.  But they are being swept up?  Why?  Apparently the only thing that at least some of them have in common is that back in 2011 many of them (not clear all of them) made public statements sympathetic to the initial Araab Spring uprisings, a position never shared by the Saudi government.  The theory is that thanks to Trump’s support and the apparent end of the mild disapproval  by many foreigners after the murder of WaPo columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, MbS feels he can get away with clearing out even potential critics.

Comments (2) | |