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

Wages driven down, now relative to market you’re over paid!

Update: spelling corrected in title.

I heard and then went to look see that Caterpillar is working hard to control it’s costs.

“Despite earning a record $4.9 billion profit last year and projecting even better results for 2012, the company is insisting on a six-year wage freeze and a pension freeze for most of the 780 production workers at its factory here. Caterpillar says it needs to keep its labor costs down to ensure its future competitiveness.” 

It has purchased 17 other business since 2008, 9 were non US companies. Two companies were purchased in 2011. Here’s the thing, a 6 year freeze? I guess there will be no inflation? I mean like zero. Though economist are saying inflation is needed as part of the solution to our slow economy. Of course, Obama having frozen government wages, I guess Caterpillar is just being patriotic. Nothing like We the People blazing the trail for how we want the private sector to treat We the People.

Caterpillar made $4.9 billion profit. If they raised these people’s pay $10,000 each, your only talking $7.8 million. It is 0.159% (0.00159)of Caterpillar’s profit. Inflation has averaged since 2008 about 2.075%.  Giving the worker $10,000 more per year does not equal the inflation rate as a share of the profit. If the worker were getting their due based on inflation they would get a piece of $101,675,000. This would be $130,352.56 each for the 780 workers. Caterpillar would still have $4,798,325,000.00 profit. Imagine what that $130,352.56 would do for the economy in Joliet! I’ll bet Caterpillar equipment sales would rise do to demand for construction.

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Euro Area Imbalances Are a Symptom of the Broader Global Imbalances

by Rebecca Wilder

Euro Area Imbalances Are a Symptom of the Broader Global Imbalances

Every year I travel to Germany to visit my in-laws, which is where I am now. Given the extra time on my hands, I’ve now mulled over a June 2012 NY Times opinion piece by Gunnar Beck. Beck displays an interesting medley of data in support of his view that Germany cannot afford to backstop the European Monetary Union (the single currency union referred to as the Euro area, or EA). Germany itself has been the loser, not the winner, of the single currency union. His comments are loosely based on the research of the Ifo Institute’s Hans-Werner Sinn.


Based on the ideas of Beck and Sinn, I start a short series on the benefits of membership in the EA, ex-post and ex-ante. The conclusion from this initial post: Some call the EA a microcosm of the world imbalances, i.e., Germany is to China as Spain is to the US. I disagree. I’d argue that the EA imbalances are a function of, rather than a mirror of, the broader global imbalances.

Let’s start by looking at the simple net trade statistics as rents derived by membership in the EA since 1999. I further Beck’s analysis on intra-EA trade (trade among the EA countries) for the original 1999 EA 11 economies. The 11 economies to meet the convergence criteria by 1999 were: Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland.

By definition, the trade balance is the difference between total exports and total imports, both of which are affected by relative prices and membership in the EA.

The chart below illustrates the change in the annual intra-EA trade balance as a share of GDP during the period 1999 to 2011. Spanning the years 1999-2011, intra-EA gains from the fixed exchange rate regime within the EA have been lopsided toward Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

(Note: for consistency, I use the EA 17 economies as the ‘trading partner’ for the period in the chart below. Furthermore, notice that the axis points in both charts are equal for ease of comparison.)

Being a port economy, the Dutch trade ties to the EA are strong, and gains from EA trading partners have been robust, +11% of GDP spanning the years 1999-2011. Portugal and Spain have likewise benefited, however, their intra-EA net trade gains occurred exclusively since 2008. Of interest, Finland fares the worst, having seen a 5.1% (of GDP) decline in its net trade with EA partners. And Ireland, for all its praise (please see current account stats on Ireland here ), saw its intra-EA net trade decline by 5% of GDP while in the EA – admittedly, there’s been a 4.2% of GDP gain in net trade with the EA since 2008.

Who are the winners of intra-EA trade spanning the entirety of the Euro Area? As demonstrated above, not many countries. The gains from trade came primarily from net exports from developed economies outside the EA (while I do not include a country breakdown, the large net importers are the developed economies – see the IMF WEO database).

The chart above illustrates the change in the annual total trade balance (extra- plus intra-) of the EA 11 as a share of GDP spanning the period 1999 to 2011. Here, the gains from trade are a bit less lopsided and the ‘usual suspects’ are evident. Germany was the third best performing economy by this measure, where net trade increased an average of 2.8% of GDP over the period. The Netherlands benefited the most of the EA 11; but the improvement was based exclusively on intra-EA trade. Portugal experienced gains from net trade from the rest of the world and the EA, where the total trade balance improved by 3.2% of GDP (again, exclusively in the post 2008 period).

Of note, France performed poorly on both counts: intra- and total net trade, -3.2% and -4.9% of GDP, respectively. In contrast, Germany performed relatively well. Being the largest economies in the EA, and given that the absolute value of the total trade balances (either deficit or surplus) exceed that of their respective intra-EA balances, I hypothesize that the global imbalances exacerbated, even caused, the EA imbalances.

Thus, EA imbalances are not a microcosm of the broader global imbalances, rather a symptom of global trade policy.

Rebecca Wilder


crossposted with  The Wilder View…Economonitors

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Confidence Indicators Deteriorated Significantly This Week

by Rebecca Wilder

Confidence Indicators Deteriorated Significantly This Week
 
This week national confidence surveys rolled in with just one story: the economic infection in Europe is spreading. Business confidence indicators in France and Germany declined 1.1% and 1.6%, respectively, in the month of June. In Italy consumer confidence hit another record low since 1996 of 85.3 after falling 1.4% in June.

The National Bank of Belgium and Statistics Netherlands released their balance measures of consumer confidence. Both balances fell 2 points over the month of June. Notably, consumer confidence in the Netherlands is depressed, hitting a record low since 1986 at -40 in June.

These are highly credible indices with robust correlations with hard data like real retail sales and production. Given the precipitous decline in confidence, it’s hard to imagine how European economic sentiment will turn around without truly innovative policy action.


Rebecca Wilder

crossposted with The Wilder View…Economonitors

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Exchange rate pegs getting a new look?

This article at Voxeu reminded me that exchange rate pegs might come back in vogue. Voxeu has an article on the “trilemma” of ’emerging’ economies:

Do sterilised interventions allow countries a way around the fundamental trilemma of international finance by providing them with a means of systematically affecting exchange rates independent of their monetary policies? Japan, Switzerland, and China provide some lessons…

The fundamental trilemma of international finance maintains that a country cannot simultaneously peg an exchange rate, maintain an independent monetary policy, and permit free cross-border financial flows (Feenstra and Taylor 2008). At best, only two of the three are feasible.

Lifted from a note, Rebecca Wilder writes in an informal e-mail:

I found it rather difficult to read. But this idea of trilemma is not broadly applicable to developed markets except Switzerland – they did address that. I don’t know, the one thing that I do notice, is that the trade ‘imbalances’ are not really moving back into ‘balance’ neither in Europe nor globally. Thus, something’s gotta give at some point; I suspect that it’ll be exchange rate pegs.

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German Construction Is Looking a Bit ‘Bubbly’

by Rebecca Wilder

German Construction Is Looking a Bit ‘Bubbly’

Eurostat released its volume-adjusted estimate of construction for April (release here, .pdf). Over the month, Euro area construction declined 2.75% following a large 11.41% monthly increase in March. Across the countries that make monthly data available (8 countries total), Slovenia and Portugal saw the largest decline in April construction activity, -9.3% and -6.7%, respectively, while France was the only country to see an increase in construction, +2.3%. The trend is clearly down, as 3-month over 3-month Euro area construction declined 4.8% through April.

Germany is getting a bit bubbly as regards domestic construction. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that longer dated bunds (even the 10yr) are negative on a real ex-post basis, i.e., using historical measures of inflation.

Note: I re-scaled the volume-adjusted indices to 2001=100 to fully capture the bubble in countries like Spain – the bubble illustration wouldn’t be quite as obvious with Eurostat’s index to 2005. Furthermore, the chart illustrates the monthly construction, while some countries, like Greece or Ireland, for example, list construction solely on a quarterly basis. Eurostat simply estimates construction in these countries to produce the Euro area aggregate on a monthly basis.

Going forward, this construction data does give real-time evidence that the German economy is moving marginally toward domestic-led growth….or we’re seeing the outset of a bubble in German construction

crossposted with The Wilder View…Economonitors

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Euro Area Inflation: A Very Slow Burn

by Rebecca Wilder

Euro Area Inflation: A Very Slow Burn

Euro area consumer prices increased at a 2.4% annual pace in May, down 0.2 ppt from the 2.6% pace in April. Core inflation fell to 1.8% in May from 1.9% in April. Headline and core inflation peaked in the fourth quarter of 2011, and disinflation is underway.

Euro area price inflation is burning out but at a very slow pace.

The 0.6 ppt differential between headline and core inflation is explained by energy and unprocessed food prices. In May, the energy component in HICP (harmonized index of consumer prices) fell 1.4% over the month and posted a 7.3% pace compared to May 2011. Energy prices peaked in April 2012, but base effects will prop up headline inflation through early 2013 even if energy prices go unchanged over the near term. That means headline inflation could be sticky for some time above 2%. But core inflation is not.

President Draghi often speaks of the upward pressure on inflation stemming from tax hikes across the various fiscal austerity programs. Stripping out the tax effects (this data is provided by Eurostat), the theoretical inflation rates in Portugal and Italy are 1.8ppt and 0.8ppt, respectively, below the headline rate. The downward pressure on inflation may quicken through next year, as the effects of VAT and various tax hikes wear off across the region…barring a miraculously robust economic recovery, of course.

(Note: In the chart below, the black line represents 0% difference between headline inflation and tax-adjusted inflation. For orange triangles above the black line, headline inflation is above tax-adjusted inflation, i.e., taxes are boosting aggregate prices.)


Inflation takes time to build, so this disinflationary trend is unlikely to change anytime soon without significant policy accommodation.


Rebecca Wilder

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Euro Area ‘Hard Data’ Catching Up with the ‘Soft Data’ – Industrial Production

by Rebecca Wilder

Euro Area ‘Hard Data’ Catching Up with the ‘Soft Data’ – Industrial Production

Euro area industrial production (ex construction) declined 0.8% in the month of April. Across the major sectors, the largest decline occurred in capital goods; however, the trend in consumer and intermediate goods is worse than that of capital goods.

The regional divergence is clear, as the two-month trend in industrial production – I use the two month trend since this series is quite volatile month-to-month – is strongest in Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ireland, and weakest in the Netherlands, Spain, Estonia, and Greece.  (much more below the fold)

Another way to look at the divergence is to plot German production against the rest of Europe. It’s evident that Germany, with its large 35% weight in this index, is propping up the average. German industrial production is 10% above 2005 levels, while the Euro area ex Germany’s industrial production is 8% below levels in 2005. That’s an 18 ppt divergence.

Finally, a comparison to the US is illustrative. The US industrial sector is outperforming that in Europe, as production continues its positive trend with relatively easy fiscal and monetary policy accommodating the private sector’s desire to save. The US production base is 2% above that in 2005, while that in the euro area (including Germany) is 2% below.

In all, the euro area April industrial production release points to further divergence in growth prospects and a very weak start to the second quarter of 2012. The ‘hard data’ seems to be catching up with the weak ‘soft data’, like the PMIs (see Edward Hugh’s summary on the Euro area PMI).


Rebecca Wilder


crossposted with  The Wilder View…Economonitors

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The Italian Economy Is Sliding

by Rebecca Wilder

The Italian Economy Is Sliding

Today I.Stat released the breakdown of Q1 2012 real GDP for the Italian economy. Weak external demand plus a precipitous drop in private sector spending dragged the headline real gross domestic product (GDP) 0.8% over the quarter (3.2% at an annualized rate). The highlights are the following:

  • Gross fixed capital formation (investment net of inventory formation) fell 3.6% over the quarter, or 13.7% at an annualized rate. This was the fastest quarterly rate of decline since Q1 2009 when GFCF fell 5% over the quarter.
  • Private consumption dropped 1.0% over the quarter, or 3.9% at an annualized rate
  • Imports fell 3.6%, or 13.6% at an annualized rate
  • Exports fell 0.6%, or 2.2% at an annualized rate
  • The only positive contribution to domestic spending was government consumption, which increased 0.4% over the quarter, or 1.4% at an annualized rate.

Italy’s real GDP is only 1.1% higher than its lowest point during the recession (Q2 2009). Furthermore, gross fixed capital formation has dropped at an increasing rate for four consecutive quarters. Hope for stabilization eludes, as the current business confidence survey continues its decent – IStat manufacturing confidence was 86.2 in May, which was the second lowest level since the outset of the EMU and well below the 100 average since 2000. Broadly speaking, the economy is imploding.

Don’t pin your hopes on exports. The contribution of exports to real GDP growth has dropped for two consecutive quarters, bucking a trend of positive contribution since the middle of 2009. The only reason that the net export contribution was positive in Q1 was due to the +1% contribution coming from a sharp decline in imports. This cannot be sustained, as the crisis of confidence has begun.
(Note: In the chart below, if real import growth is positive, then the contribution is negative; and if the real import growth is negative, then the contribution is positive.)

This is a product of failed policy at the Euro area level, and something needs to be done to break the positive feedback loop.


Rebecca Wilder


crossposted with   The Wilder View…Economonitors

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Tax cuts for jobs. NOT! Another tax cut that is not paying out

First a qualification. I am basing the following on info I found on the net. If the info is wrong, then I stand corrected as to who is or is not paying but not as to what happens when a large entity does not pay. The specific city and company are used purely for example purpose because of familiarity. What follows could be any municipality with a similar size company calling it home.
 
Lately in the city of my flower shop the big talk is a $10 million deficit in the school department. It’s a funny story. See, the department hired a couple people and these people, along with the help of the city council and the school committee the budget numbers became not real. They budgeted $59 million but have spent $66.6 million. The total $10 million is a 2 year deficit. The funny part…we had a surplus. Though, where the surplus went to no one knows. The school committee insists there was no funny business and even voted down an investigation. So, if there was no funny business, then who gained and what did they gain by covering up a deficit? What benefit is there about lying about a deficit?
 
Of course, this is also a state funding issue. You see, the city has the typical city size problems that the surrounding town do not have. This article notes:
 
 
“The committee chair pointed out that Lincoln has a budget of $48 million to educate half the students Woonsocket teaches with a mere $59 million.
 
“And they don’t have the special needs we have. They don’t even have a quarter of the IEPs we deal with,” she said.”
 
 
On top of this, we’re one of those states that has been passing ALEX type legislation. In particular we passed the one that thinks it is smart of a state to set a cap on how much a municipality can raise taxes in any given year. The city notes that default is an option, but is currently begging the state legislature to allow a supplemental tax bill.

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ECB Rates Policy is Clogged in Key Periphery Markets

by Rebecca Wilder

ECB Rates Policy is Clogged in Key Periphery Markets

How the Euro area (EA) will grow, according to Mario Draghi:

The outlook for economic activity should be supported by foreign demand, the very low short-term interest rates in the euro area, and all the measures taken to foster the proper functioning of the euro area economy.

In this post, I address Draghi’s point that the ECB 1% refi rate will support economic activity through the lens of the mortgage market. Specifically, I find that the interest rate channel is clogged in the economies that are in most desperate need of lower rates: Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

Regarding ‘very low short-term interest rates’, what Draghi means is that the standard interest rate channel of monetary policy will stimulate domestic demand via increased spending by consumers and firms. If ECB policy is indeed passing through to retail credit (households and firms that borrow from banks to buy goods and services), then we should see evidence of this as falling interest rates to retail credit sectors, like those for consumer goods, home mortgage lending, loans for businesses, or even corporate credit rates to finance business investment.

In mortgage markets, the Euro area average borrowing rates are indeed falling. Banks started lowering mortgage borrowing rates, on average, in September 2011 in anticipation of ECB rate cuts that eventually occurred (again) in November 2011. Specifically, average Euro area mortgage rates are down roughly .25% since the local peak in August 2011.


But a closer look across mortgage markets shows a worrying trend for key periphery economies. The pass-through from ECB rate setting policy to mortgage borrowing costs is clogged in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where mortgage rates have risen since the ECB cut the refi rate to 1%. Indeed, these are the economies that ‘need’ the stimulus to offset the fiscal consolidation.
Sure, mortgage rates are arguably low – but they’re not lower.

In Spain and Portugal, 91% and 99% of their respective new stock of mortgages sit on variable rate loans, so the pass through to the real economy should be rather quick IF mortgage rates declined (see Table below). True, Spain and Portugal are unlikely to experience any boom in real estate lending over the near term. However, had the ECB policy lowered mortgage rates, then disposable income would rise via lower monthly mortgage payments, thereby stimulating other sectors of the economy, all else equal.

In Italy, just 47% of the mortgage market is variable, so the immediate stimulus would be more muted compared to Spain and Portugal via disposable income. However, Italy didn’t experience a credit boom, so lending to firms and households could and should be warranted. But amid the fiscal consolidation and stressed debt markets, fewer borrowers are credit worthy AND mortgage rates have risen near 1% since EA mortgage rates peak on average in August 2011.

Core mortgage rates are falling, and this could create a positive stimulus for Spain, Portugal, and Italy down the road. But for now, the transmission mechanism, dropping the ECB refi rate to 1%, is not easing housing and mortgage financial conditions in those economies hit hardest by fiscal austerity.

Rebecca Wilder

Reference Table: reference for variable rate share of mortgage market

originally published at The Wilder View…Economonitors

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