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Labor Market Slack and Weak Wage Growth

by Hale Stewart (originally published at Bonddad blog)

Labor Market Slack and Weak Wage Growth

From the IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook:

Sluggishness in core inflation in advanced economies—a surprise in view of stronger than expected activity—has coincided with slow transmission of declining unemployment rates into faster wage growth. Real wages in most large advanced economies have moved broadly with labor productivity in recent years, as indicated by flat labor income shares (Figure 1.4, panel 6). As shown in Chapter 2, muted growth in nominal wages in recent years partly reflects sluggishness in labor productivity.1 However, the analysis also reveals continued spare capacity in labor markets as a key drag: wage growth has been particularly soft where unemployment and the share of workers involuntarily working part-time remain high. The corollary of this finding is that, once firms and workers become more confident in the outlook, and labor markets tighten, wages should accelerate. In the short term, higher wages should feed into higher unit labor costs (unless productivity picks up), and higher Sluggishness in core inflation in advanced economies—a surprise in view of stronger-than expected activity—has coincided with slow transmission of declining unemployment rates into faster wage growth. Real wages in most large advanced economies have moved broadly with labor productivity in recent years, as indicated by flat labor income shares (Figure 1.4, panel 6). 

     Consider the following chart from the Atlanta Fed:

For the longest time, I’ve been staring at the lower left-hand corner of that chart and thinking, “weak wages are really about low utilization.”  Let’s place that data into context:

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“Hurricane adjusting” initial claims has proven its value

“Hurricane adjusting” initial claims has proven its value

For the last month, I deduced a “hurricane adjusted” number for initial claims, which showed that the previous underlying positive trend was intact, with the four week average remaining in the 230,000’s.

That approach was borne out by this week’s report, which, at 222,000, was the lowest since 1973.

Although I haven’t gone through the entire formal exercise, here’s how the numbers from the three affected jurisdictions compared in last week’s report compared with one year previously:

FL 13,861 (+6508 from 2016)
TX 16,656 (-225 from 2016)
PR 250 (-2409 from 2016) (DoL estimate)

Net change: +3904 from 2016

Since the seasonal adjustment last week was only ~6%, (244,000 vs. 229,289 NSA), this means last week’s “hurricane adjusted” number was on the order of 239,000 or 240,000.

Natural disasters will continue to strike. I am confident that the method I used in 2012 after Sandy, and again this past month, is a good way to distill the underlying trend from the disaster disturbance.

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Silicon Valley is not your friend

Vis New York Times

Growth becomes the overriding motivation — something treasured for its own sake, not for anything it brings to the world. Facebook and Google can point to a greater utility that comes from being the central repository of all people, all information, but such market dominance has obvious drawbacks, and not just the lack of competition. As we’ve seen, the extreme concentration of wealth and power is a threat to our democracy by making some people and companies unaccountable.

In addition to their power, tech companies have a tool that other powerful industries don’t: the generally benign feelings of the public. To oppose Silicon Valley can appear to be opposing progress, even if progress has been defined as online monopolies; propaganda that distorts elections; driverless cars and trucks that threaten to erase the jobs of millions of people; the Uberization of work life, where each of us must fend for ourselves in a pitiless market.

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Marxism-Leninism And The Chinese Communist Party Congress

Marxism-Leninism And The Chinese Communist Party Congress

At this moment I am watching live on Bloomberg News the opening speech by President/Party General Secretary/Chairman of the Military Commission Xi Jinping of the once-every-five-years Chinese Communist Party Congress.  This is far more important than what one finds on other TV networks whether pro-Trump right now (how great his tax plan/tromping on immigrants and football players are) or anti-Trump (what is the latest gossip from the Mueller investigation and will Republicans in the Senate stand up to Trump).  A major theme seems to be a reassertion of party power and discipline, with a reinvigoration of the State-Owned Enterprises, with Communist Party cells to operate in nominally private enterprises, socialism with Chinese characteristics, with a reaffirmation of the foundation based on Marxism-Leninism.  Yes, he used that term.

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Precursor to Ecological Armageddon.

(Dan here…Stormy sends a reminder that the world has a real side as well…lifted from an e-mail))

Calling out the precursor to an Ecological Armageddon.

Thought you might like to see this study—also written up in Guardian.  Economists are totally irrelevant.   Profit and money are their game….and that game is ending within our children’s lifetime.

More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas

See also:

Warning of ‘Ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

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Underlying industrial production trend ex-hurricanes remains positive

Underlying industrial production trend ex-hurricanes remains positive

A few weeks ago, I suggested a hurricane workaround for industrial production. That approach was to average the four regional Fed indexes excluding Dallas, and add the Chicago PMI, and finally discount for the unusual strength this year in these regional indexes vs. production.

Here was my conclusion:

The average of the 5 is 22.9.
Dividing that by 5 gives us +.5.
Subtracting .3 gives us +.2.

We can be reasonably confident that underlying trend in industrial production in September, despite the hurricanes, has been positive.

That approach was borne out yesterday when overall September Industrial Production was reported at +0.3%, with manufacturing production up +0.1% as shown in the graphs below.:

First, here’s the longer term view,. Note that the decline in 2015 was due to weakness confined to the Oil Patch:
Here is the close-up of this year:
That’s the good news.  The bad news, of course, is that even with this improvement, the big (revised) August decline of -0.7% in production, and -0.2% in manufacturing has not been overcome, and production is still below where it was this spring.

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A housing teaser

A housing teaser

Here is something I have been working on for the last month.  As it happens, last week Kevin Drum posted some aspects of the same data.
House prices have exceeded by a substantial margin median household income:
But the monthly mortgage payments have not:
This is because, while the prices of houses have increased, mortgage interest rates have decreased over the same period.
So, saving for the down payment is considerably more difficult (unless, e.g., parents are helping out), but once the house is bought, the monthly carrying cost for living in the house really hasn’t gone up at all.
 What’s missing in this discussion is comparing both household income and mortgage payments to the alternative (leaving aside living in mom and dad’s house) of paying rent.
I still have some number crunching to do, but once the three way comparison is finished, it will be a really illuminating look into how much the alternatives for shelter really cost.  Stay tuned.

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A thought for Sunday: the Rule of Gerontocracy

A thought for Sunday: the Rule of Gerontocracy

The US looks like government of, by, and for senior citizens.
President Donald Trump just had his 72nd birthday. He assumed office at age 71, the oldest person ever to do so.
In Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is 75 years old.  His Democratic counterpart, Charles Schumer, is a relatively spry 66. The median age of US Senators is 63. A full 30 Senators are age 70 or older. Sixteen of them are over 75. Nine are over 80!
The oldest, Diane Feinstein of California, is 84 years old and just announced that she intends to run for re-election. Should she win, by the end of her term, she will be 91 years old — if she survives. The average life expectancy for an 85 year old woman is 6.9 years. In other words, she will have nearly a 50% chance of dying in office before she completes her term.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Ryan is the baby of the group at age 47.  Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. The average House member is 57 years old, the oldest average ever. Over 30% of the Members are age 65 or older. Over 15% are over 70. Twelve Members are over 80!
The median age of Justices of the Supreme Court is 67. Two Justices are over 80.  One is 79. In the 19th Century, the average Justice served about 10 years. Now they sit on average close to 25 years.
In short, the majority of the leadership of all three branches of the US government are old enough to collect Social Security and Medicare.
Forget Boomers, most of the US leadership belongs to the Silent Generation, and formed their basic political opinions in the 1950s during the days of Ike and Senator Joseph McCarthy, and when court-ordered racial integration was just beginning.  And it shows.

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Is This Why Wages Are Low?

by Hale Stewart (originally published at Bonddad blog)

Is This Why Wages Are Low?

These are two graphs from a post over at the Center for Equitable Growth. 

The top chart shows that the relationship between unemployment and wage growth isn’t as strong as you’d think.  Recent research highlighted by Fed President Bullard made the same observation.  But the bottom chart — now that’s what a tight correlation looks like!

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The Incidence of the Obamacare Subsidies

The Incidence of the Obamacare Subsidies

Justin Fishel and Mary Bruce covers Trump’s dismantling of Obamacare:

The White House announced Thursday night that the administration will slash Obamacare subsidy payments to insurers. The “cost-sharing reduction payments,” worth an estimated $7 billion this year, are intended to reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans on Obamacare … House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint calling the action “pointless sabotage.” “Sadly, instead of working to lower health costs for Americans, it seems President Trump will singlehandedly hike Americans’ health premiums,” they said in a joint statement. “It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America.”

Trump’s counter is that the health insurance companies are very profitable because they are reaping the benefits of these subsidies. I would argue that health insurance company profit margins are high in large part because we have not enforced the anti-trust laws and allowed a lot of market power. Brad and Michael Delong made this point last fall:

The United States’ Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health-care reform, has significantly increased the need for effective antitrust enforcement in health-insurance markets. Despite recent good news on this front, the odds remain stacked against consumers … It is not surprising, then, that in 2015 some of the largest private American health-insurance companies – Anthem, Cigna, Aetna, and Humana – began exploring the possibility of merging. If they could reduce the number of national insurers from five to three, they could then increase their market power and squeeze more profits from consumers.

Even five health insurance companies are two few. But suppose we did have real competition in the health insurance market – what would be the effect of subsidies. Let’s consider this primer on the incidence of taxes:

The tax incidence depends on the relative price elasticity of supply and demand. When supply is more elastic than demand, buyers bear most of the tax burden. When demand is more elastic than supply, producers bear most of the cost of the tax.

Most economists know this and we know how to translate this into the implications for the incidence of a subsidy. We have to admit, however, that Trump is really awful at economics. But he does have economic advisors. Trump is implicitly assuming a very elastic demand for health care or a very inelastic supply of health care. But where is his evidence for these claims? I guess when Kevin Hassett produces his “analysis, we might see a link from Greg Mankiw.

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