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

Producer Prices Rises 0.8% in May

Producer Price Index YoY Records for Final Demand and Intermediate Services; 46 year High for Intermediate Goods, 48 year High for Raw Materials

Commenter RJS and MarketWatch 666 blogger

The seasonally adjusted Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand rose 0.8% in April, as prices for finished wholesale goods rose 1.5% while margins of final services providers rose 0.6%…that increase followed an April report that the PPI was 0.6% higher, as prices for both finished wholesale goods and margins of final services providers rose 0.6%, a March report that had the PPI 1.0% higher, as prices for finished wholesale goods rose 1.7% while margins of final services providers rose 0.7%, a revised February report that now has the PPI 0.6% higher, with prices for finished wholesale goods on average 1.4% higher, while margins of final services providers increased by 0.2%, and a re-revised January report that now has the PPI 1.2% higher, with average prices for finished wholesale goods rising 1.6%, while margins of final services providers increased by 1.0%….on an unadjusted basis, producer prices are now a record 6.8% higher than a year ago, up from the 6.2% year over year increase indicated by last month’s report, while, the core producer price index, which excludes food, energy and trade services, rose by 0.7% for the month, and is now 5.3% higher than in May a year ago, up from the 4.6% year over year increase as was shown in April . . .

Coronavirus dashboard for June 17: big progress since 1 year ago; big “Delta” challenge still ahead

Coronavirus dashboard for June 17: big progress since 1 year ago; big “Delta” challenge still ahead

One year ago today, in my Coronavirus Dashboard for June 17, here was my graph of cases



Which I described as:

As shown in the graph above, [after Arizona at 214 per million population] the remaining “top 10” are all States in the Confederacy, High Plains, and Mountain West. In order, (showing rates of new infections per million as of June 15 in parentheses) they are: Alabama (156), Arkansas (150), South Carolina (125), Louisiana (127), North Carolina (117), Utah (102), Mississippi (98), Florida (83), and Iowa (83).

One year later, the scale of the current pandemic is an order or more of magnitude lower. But the regions with the worst outbreaks remain the same (sadly, ingrained behavior patterns are incredibly resistant to change).
Let’s begin the current situation with CNN’s graph of vaccination rates in the 50 States plus DC and PR:

A Bridge Over Troubled Water and Politics?

Commenter Fred Dobbs had much of this in the Open Thread, June 19th at 9:33AM. I highjacked it, added more up to date detail, and an opinion. I did find it interesting.

Somewhere there is a print(s) and BOM for this structure along with specifications (which were alluded to as BD vs BC steel) for materials along with a comparison of structural strength necessary. The Chinese did not build this on a whim.

And why Chinese steel and components?

Bay Bridge spokesperson Bart Ney disputed the accuracy of Paul’s claims and said 70 percent of the steel being used for the new span is fabricated in America. Ney said foreign companies are used out of necessity for some parts of the project.

“The primary contractor chose China to deliver those parts because the capacity is not here in the United States right now. There was no American fabricator that would build those specific parts of the bridge,”

Manufacturing Group Protests Chinese Steel Used in Bay Bridge Construction, KPIX CBS

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Bridge Comes to San Francisco With a Made-in-China Label

June 25, 2011

SHANGHAI — Talk about outsourcing. At a sprawling manufacturing complex here, hundreds of Chinese laborers are now completing work on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Next month, the last four of more than two dozen giant steel modules — each with a roadbed segment about half the size of a football field — will be loaded onto a huge ship and transported 6,500 miles to Oakland. There, they will be assembled to fit into the eastern span of the new Bay Bridge.

The project is part of China’s continual move up the global economic value chain — from cheap toys to Apple iPads to commercial jetliners — as it aims to become the world’s civil engineer. The assembly work in California, and the pouring of the concrete road surface, will be done by Americans. But construction of the bridge decks and the materials that went into them are a Made in China affair. California officials say the state saved hundreds of millions of dollars by turning to China.

May housing permits and starts continue down from recent peak

May housing permits and starts continue down from recent peak

In May housing permits (blue in the graph below), including the least volatile single-family permits (red, right scale), continued to decline from their January peak. Meanwhile, the more volatile and slightly lagging housing starts (green) increased, but remained below their March peak:

The level of construction activity as high as or higher than its pre-pandemic peak is continuing. On the other hand, with a 10% decline in permits, and 9% in starts, the minimum decline to be consistent with a possible upcoming recession has nearly been met (while a 20% decline is more typical). For now, I interpret this to mean a sign of a slowing down of economic growth next year.

The decline in new jobless claims stalls, as the “delta” variant is ready to strike the unvaccinated States

The decline in new jobless claims stalls, as the “delta” variant is ready to strike the unvaccinated States

New jobless claims continue to be the most important weekly economic data point, as increasing numbers of vaccinated people and outdoor activities have led to an abatement of the pandemic, with both new infections and deaths at their lowest point since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. I’ll have more to say on the intersection of the pandemic with claims in the conclusion.

My final objective is for claims to average 325,000 or below, which would signify a return to normal expansion levels in the past 30 years.

Turning to this week’s report, new jobless claims rose 37,000 to 412,000, the first increase in weekly claims in nearly 2 months. The 4 week average of claims declined by 8,000 to 395,000, a new pandemic low. (Note that I have discontinued comparisons of non-seasonally adjusted claims, as the period of lockdown distortions YoY has passed.)
At the peak of the pandemic lockdowns, new claims were running 6 million to 7 million per week. Here is the trend since the beginning of last August:

May Retail Sales Fell 1.3% After April Sales Were Revised 1.4% Higher

Commenter RJS and MarketWatch 666 blogger

Seasonally adjusted retail sales fell 1.3% in May after retail sales for April were revised 1.4% higher . . . the Advance Retail Sales Report for May (pdf) from the Census Bureau estimated that our seasonally adjusted retail and food services sales totaled $620.2 billion for the month, which was a decrease of 1.3 percent (±0.5%) from April’s revised sales of $628.7 billion, but 28.1 percent (±0.7 percent) above the adjusted sales of May of last year…April’s seasonally adjusted sales were revised from the $619.9 billion reported last month to $628.7 billion, while March sales were revised from $619.8 billion to $623.12 billion, which meant that March to April percent change was revised from virtually unchanged (±0.5%) to an increase of 0.9 percent (± 0.2 percent) . . . the $3.3 billion upward revision to March sales should increase nominal first quarter PCE at around a $13 billion annual rate and add about 0.23 percentage points, give or take, to 1st quarter GDP when the 3rd estimate is released at the end of the month . . . estimated sales before seasonal adjustments, which were extrapolated from surveys of a small sampling of retailers, indicated sales actually rose 3.0% before the adjustment, from $625,636 million in April to $644,362 million in May, while they were up 27.7% from the $504,607 million in actual sales of May a year ago . . .

Included below is the table of the monthly and yearly percentage changes in sales by business type taken from the Census pdf….the first double column below gives us the seasonally adjusted percentage change in sales for each type of retail business from April to May in the first sub-column, and then the year over year percentage change for those businesses since last May in the 2nd column; the second pair of columns gives us the revision of last month’s April advance monthly estimates (now called “preliminary”) as revised with this report, likewise for each business type, with the March to April change under “Mar 2021 r” (revised) and the revised April 2020 to April 2021 percentage change in the last column shown…for your reference, our copy of the table of last month’s advance April estimates, before this month’s revision, is here . . .

Why Are Infrastructure Costs So High In The US?

Why Are Infrastructure Costs So High In The US?

Sorry, but anybody wanting some simple answer on this one, especially an ideologically neat one, sorry, there is not one, Indeed, on this important issue, there is a large problem, but not remotely a clear answer regarding why there is this large and important problem.

For numbers on this problem, I draw on a Washington Post column yesterday by Catherine Rampell. Here are some of the crucial data. In the early 1930s, just to pick one major infrastructure project, the Oakland-Bay bridge was approved and built within four months.  Yeah, the Great Depression.  But now compared to Europe, where supposedly they have higher labor costs and more regulations, well: a tunnel in Seattle cost three times as much as one in Paris and seven times as one in Madrid. This is not an oddball, this is how it is.  Infrastructure investments in the US now cost multiple times what it does abroad, and these are in nations where labor and environmental concerns are being taken seriously.

So, what is going on here? The very bright and knowledgeable Rampell confesses that not only does she not know, but she cannot find anybody who can explain it. In a way this looks like the high costs of medical care in the US.  This is  a much more politicized matter, but when one digs seriously into the research there seems to be no single reason, a whole series of matters, not easily resolved.

The issue of infrastructure lacks some of the matters healthcare has, such as how the US is the only nation in the world not having universal healthcare, which many of us think would lead to lower healthcare costs for various reasons. But what is responsible for the now high costs of infrastructure investment in the US, some of the obvious culprits there for healthcare are not there.

Hook and Peg

Your money or your life. Highway robbery has been around since. On the high seas, was known as piracy. Been writ that pirates didn’t always even offer the choice. All made for generations of good bedtime reading for youth. And, for mock sword, and bow and arrow, fights. And, really bad movies. Thanks, Howard Pyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, …, and Walt Disney. No thanks, Errol Flynn.

These days, it’s neither sword nor bow and arrows, musket nor cannon. It’s malware. Goes by cyberattack or ransomware attack. A malware fight? Has no lilt. Aargh! I’ve been hit by a virus.

First, there had to be computers. Ransomware showed up; around 1980, about the time computers got really going. By floppy or tape, then. Your cashier check or you crash. No panache; besides, too easy to trace. 1983, cryptographer David Chaum came up with the idea of electronic money. In 1995, he came up with digicash, which was untraceable.

Then, came 2008. Digital currency, most often known as bitcoin, was born out of the 2008 financial crisis. Obviously, something needed to be done about banks. Fair to say that those most knowledgeable were compromised, so it fell to those with lots of imagination and little actual knowledge. As a first attempt, these less than knowledgeable came up with a combination of butter churning and mining by computer which they dubbed bitcoin, or cryptocurrency.

Others, with some imagination of their own, saw bitcoin as an opportunity. Amongst them were ransomware hackers. Now it was by email, your bitcoins or your data. Bitcoins were pretty much untraceable. Russia, for a small fee, provided the Sherwood Forests, the Caribbean Isle. Voila, for a small fee, capitalism provides the likes of GroupSense to negotiate with the hacker.

Keep the good and throw away the bad. Some, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, see ways that digital currency could solve some of the problems inherent banking, such as access, overcharging, …. Liz had a lot to say about the bad aspects.

Industrial production on the verge of exceeding pre-pandemic level

Industrial production on the verge of exceeding pre-pandemic level

Industrial production is the King of Coincident Indicators. It is the single datum that most frequently coincides with the NBER determination of the beginning and end of recessions.


In May, total production increased +0.8%. Manufacturing production increased +0.9%. Both current readings are the highest since the onset of the pandemic:


Figure 1

Total production is only 1.4% below its February 2020 level, and manufacturing production is a mere 0.3% below that level.


If there is another positive report next month, exceeding the February 2020 level, and Q2 GDP is as positive as has been forecast, then the NBER may well decide that the pandemic recession has officially ended (with the most likely trough date being set at April of last year).

Measures of Global Income

by Joseph Joyce

Measures of Global Income

The difference between the income generated by the domestic production of goods and services and the income received by the residents of a country is the basis of the distinction between Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Income (GNI). The latter measure includes net foreign-sourced income, the income domestic residents receive from foreign sources for providing productive resources (such as labor) minus the income paid to foreign residents in exchange for their productive resources. Net foreign income is also called “net primary income,” and is a component of the current account of the balance of payments. However, GNI and net primary income exclude one form of income from the foreign sector that has become increasingly important: personal transfers, also called remittances.

The two measures do include the wages paid by foreign firms to domestic workers who travel across borders to their place of employment. But the determination of who is a “domestic worker” depends on residency, not citizenship, and residency can be an ambiguous concept. The IMF’s Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual formulated a criterion for establishing it:

“A household is resident in the economic territory in which household members maintain or intend to maintain a dwelling or succession of dwellings treated and used by members of the household as their principal dwelling. Being present for one year of more in a territory or intending to do so is sufficient to qualify as having a principal dwelling there.”