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

STOCK MARKET DOWNSIDE RISK VS. UPSIDE POTENTIAL

Despite all the recent stock market volatility the actual S&P 500 PE on trailing operating earnings is almost exactly where my model says it should be.

The biggest problem is that the market PE  is about 19 and bond yields are under 2%.  The quick and dirty rule of thumb is that a 100 basis point change in yields should generate a 100 basis point change in the S&P 500 PE.    With bond yields already under 2% the upside potential for the market PE is under 200 basis points — driving the PE to the upper limit of the fair value band.

Consequently, further market increases are almost completely dependent on earnings growth. But currently, unit labor cost are rising faster than prices as measured by the non-farm business deflator and world economic growth remains very weak.  While this spread is a powerful determinate of earnings growth you have to be careful with it as the most recent observations are subject to significant revisions.

Given these conditions the stock market downside risks clearly looks larger than the upside potential.

 

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Weekly Indicators for September 23 – 27 at Seeking Alpha

by New Deal democrat

Weekly Indicators for September 23 – 27 at Seeking Alpha

My Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.

If you’re wondering why it’s so late, it’s because SA pretty much shut down between Friday afternoon and this morning.

Anyway, recession risks are rapidly receding, at least through the 4th Quarter.  As usual, clicking over and reading puts a little jingle in my pocket, as well as brining you up to the moment on the economy.

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Affordable Housing

The other night, ten Democratic presidential, hopeful, nominees took stage and debated their plans for America’s future. There never was a mention beyond a few garbled words hastily thrown together about an issue which is plaguing many young voters ing to raise families and one which has surfaced in my community, the shortage of affordable homes. Senator Elizabeth Warren knows of the issue as she has discussed it in one of her talks, “The Two Income Family.”

Moderators have bypassed the issue and not asked the question of a candidate’s plan for Affordable Housing which is a growing problem for many people in the US especially young people. In lieu of their not asking, here is a site 2020 Because Housing is Built with Ballots from which you can read each of the candidate’s plans.

The housing crisis has hit urban, suburban, and rural areas with some states being worst(see chart above) than others with regard to supply. Nationally, there is a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to the lowest-income renters. Rents have risen faster than renters’ incomes over the last two decades, more people are renting than ever, and the supply of apartments they can afford has lagged. Fewer than four affordable and available rental homes exist for every 10 of the lowest-income renter households nationwide. People of color are disproportionately impacted. Racial segregation persists and concentrated poverty is growing.

Meanwhile, policy makers have disinvested in the nation’s public housing infrastructure, leaving families living in unsafe, unhealthy, and unacceptable conditions. After almost a decade of decline, homelessness is back on the rise, and is in the news in an adversarial manner. The same as with immigrants, people do not want to provide solutions and they want the homeless to disappear. Where they should go has not been determined.

Jumping on this bandwagon pre – election, the one man who has a history of discrimination as learned from a father who was depicted by in song by Woodie Guthrie, President Donald Trump has signaled his intentions to address California’s homeless crisis in a harmful, unjust, and unlawful manner. Involving criminalization, sweeps of unsheltered people living on the streets, they will (potentially?) be moved to federal homeless camps.

Affordable housing and homelessness has been in the news across the country and debate moderators have yet to ask the question of what can be done or what are your solutions to the crisis.

While providing good and affordable healthcare is important; housing, besides a cardboard box, is one of the prerequisites to having good health. One way or another, we will be paying for it.

The Question the Presidential Candidates Don’t Get Asked, City Lab, Diane Yentel

The GAP, A Shortage of Affordable Homes March 2018

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F**king Old Enough to Vote

It’s That Day again. I mostly stayed off Facebook (except for birthday greetings) and Twitter, but even LinkedIn has posts of now-yellowed newspaper articles of survivors–and probably some of those who didn’t.

In another ten years, it will be as far from 11 Sep 2001 as that date was from 11 Sep 1973.

At least now, most people know what a sh*t Rudy Giuliani was, both in setting up the firefighters for disaster and moving the NYC Office of Emergency Management Command Center from the safest location in the city–the basement of 1 Police Plaza–to the 23rd floor of a building in a complex that had already been bombed once before he did it. While he and Bernard Kerik got to Be Adulterers on taxpayer money, somewhere between one-third and one-half of the 343 firefighters they murdered outright certainly could have been saved. Though that would have been more people who, but for the grace (and anger) of Jon Stewart, would still be trying to get health care. Rudy’s tombstone should read: ““This group’s finding is that the security of the proposed O.E.M. Command Center cannot be reasonably guaranteed” — July 1998″

Yes, I’m still bitter. No, I’m not going to post anything nearly as subtle as this, which is probably my ultimate contribution to the genre of In The Shadow of The Towers. I’m going to talk about Milton Friedman. Because it’s the 18th anniversary, so it’s now old enough to vote–or, especially in the pre-26th Amendment world–be drafted.

Let’s be clear: Milton Friedman had one good idea in his life, and that was that his alma mater should not sponsor a football team. Even a broken clock, and the program whose highlights are Ray Rice and Greg Schiano (whose skills included guiding the team to a money-losing Bowl appearance) isn’t exactly something that could justify Superstar Economics Theory.

Milton Friedman, like Gary Becker, was wrong about almost every social policy recommendation he made. While it might be difficult to identify what he was most wrong about, a leading contender is The Elimination of the Draft, which he championed for years and finally shepherded through the Nixon Administration.

After all, people should be Free to Starve Choose, and conscription is certainly not a “choice.” Choice can discriminate; conscription means mandatory attendance or a demonstrable reason to be excused. Friedman’s ghost, twirling at Mach 3 in the Eighth Circle, probably rues that males still must register for Selective Service.

So we have a story published just over two years ago on America’s only remaining news source becoming evermore real. While before people who didn’t want to be subject to two years of training and possibly warfare had to at least come up with a somewhat reasonable excuse (*cough* bone spurs *cough*) or face jail time, the scions of the elite have no “skin in the game.” So the Longest War in U.S. History continues: planned as well as it was executed, executed as well as its objectives were planned. While the planners well know that their sons (and daughters) will not even have to come up with the lies they did to avoid any chance of being killed.

Because Milton Friedman said that would not be Freedom. And people believed him, because “freedom” means you don’t have to “have skin in the game” (literally, in this case) if you don’t want to, even if your actions caused the problem.

I suspect Rudy Giuliani approves.

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IS TREND PAYROLL EMPLOYMENT REALLY WEAK?

For seven years from 2012 to 2018 the monthly payroll employment showed a solid trend of around 200,000 gains each and every month.  If it was much above or below this trend, analysts found some excuse to explain the difference and expected the off-trend observation to be quickly reversed.  So far this year most analysts continued to act as if this pattern was being repeated.

However, in August the Bureau of labor Statistics (BLS) rebenchmarked the data to more recent Census data. They announced that it would lower reported employment growth but they did not release the revised data until the August employment report last Friday.  The new data shows that 2019 payroll employment was significantly weaker than originally reported. The January monthly increase was still around the old 200,000 trend.  But in the seven months from February, 2019 to August,2019 the average monthly gain was only 123,000, roughly 60% of the old trend. Moreover, the 12 month moving average fell from 225,000 in January to 165,000 in August and every observation from February to August was below the still declining  12 month moving average.

Seven consecutive months should be enough to clearly demonstrate that trend payroll employment growth has fallen to a new, significantly lower trend than the old 200,000 trend.

 

Figure 1

 

Analysts tend to focus on the month over month change so it was understandable that they did not notice that the revised data was showing much more weakness than the old data. Remember,guessing monthly economic releases was a game created by the brokerage house, especially the bond houses, to generate volume because their earnings was much more sensitive to volume changes than other variables.

 

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The Truckers are not happy

I’ll just post this link and let it speak for itself.

Truckers voted for Trump in droves. Now they say his trade war is ‘killing’ their ability to make a living.

Its starts wtih:

Morris Coffman has been a truck driver for 35 years. And he’s been a conservative for even longer than that — his whole life.

“That said,” Coffman told Business Insider, “[Trump] is absolutely a moron. His idiotic ideas will tank the economy even further.”

Truckers, like Coffman, lean conservative. A Verdant Labs analysis of Federal Elections Commission data found that nearly three-quarters of truck drivers are Republican — one of the most conservative jobs in America, along with surgeons and farmers.

 

Maybe they should have been listening to music instead of talk radio while driving.

There is this headline also:

At least 2,500 truck drivers have lost their jobs in 2019 as the transportation ‘bloodbath’ unfolds. Here’s the full list of bankrupt trucking companies.

A tough lesson this group of salt of the earth, heartland breed American citizens are learning.  I hope they are learning.

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Goats and Dogs, Eco-Fascism and Liberal Taboos

When remembered at all, Edward Abbey is mostly thought of as an environmentalist and anarchist but there is no gainsaying the racism and xenophobia on display in his 1983 essay, “Immigration and Liberal Taboos.” The opinion piece was originally solicited by the New York Times, which ultimately declined to publish it — or to pay him the customary kill fee. It was subsequently rejected by Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Mother Jones and Playboy before finally being published in the Phoenix New Times as “The Closing Door Policy.”

Various white nationalist blogs applaud what they view as Abbey’s foresightedness and forthrightness regarding immigration, presumably oblivious to how those views relate to his ideas about wealth inequality, industrial development and authoritarianism. Conversely, Abbey fans on the left who seek to insulate his nature writing from the taint of his anti-immigrant bigotry ignore the way in which, as Michael Potts put it, “a xenophobic and racist image of the immigrant as pollution… map[s] cultural and ethnic prejudices on to an idealised landscape.” (Dumping Grounds: Donald Trump, Edward Abbey and the Immigrant as Pollution) Abbey’s admirers on both the right and the left thus resort either to blinkers or lame apologetic to redeem him for their political preferences.

My interpretation is that Abbey was a curmudgeon and contrarian whose intended target was liberal hypocrisy. Immigrants were merely “collateral damage” of his colorful diatribes. In the pursuit of being provocative, though, he revealed more than he bargained for about his prejudices. It is precisely this flawed complexity, though, that makes Abbey’s writing a kind of Rosetta Stone for deciphering the dire social hieroglyphics of our time. Presumably, Abbey did not think of himself as racist. He was indignant when accused of racism. But the institutions of the society he grew up in transmit racism in their DNA.

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Recycling is Broken

Lloyd Alter at treehuggers: The only thing that really works for recycling is full producer responsibility. If a producer sells a product, the container is theirs and the contents belong to the customer. This is how it used to work with beer, pop, milk, water for the water cooler. It is what consumers and producers have to get back to achieve zero waste and a circular economy.

California has a long history of calling for deposits on both PET plastic, aluminum, and bottles under the California Redemption Value (CRV). At one time the recycler ePlanet had 600 facilities collecting drop off recyclables throughout California where people could get their deposits back.

On August 5, ePlanet closed down the remaining 284 recycling plants laying off 700 workers. In a statement:

With the continued reduction in state fees, decreased pricing of recycled aluminum and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, and the rise in operating costs from minimum wage requirements, required health and workers compensation insurance; ePlanet has concluded the operation of these recycling centers and supporting operations is no longer sustainable.”

A three-month investigation by Consumer Watchdog found the reason for the failing California recycling system which left consumers fewer options each year on where to redeem their empties. It also found special interests such as grocery chains, beverage distributors, and trash haulers could get rich at the consumer’s expense.

Besides the closures limiting where to take recyclables, grocery and big box stores are not taking back empties either in spite of a law requiring them to do so. Accounting scams by retailers such as Walmart and also beverage distributors are prevalent. They undercount the paid deposits for each item they sell and by under reporting they keep the difference.

Over the last five years CalRecycle (state agency) which oversees California’s beverage container recycling program has not publicly imposed a fine on distributors scamming the system or retailers not taking recyclables back. CalRecycle has purposely accumulated an ~$300 million reserve as of 2018 rather than disburse the funds to recycle centers to help them survive.

The commercial fraud and state agency issues need to be resolved.

Also troubling the industry today is the availability of less costly virgin material. Virgin PET is cheaper than cost of cleaning and processing of recycled material which is due to the abundance of natural gas. There is also an abundance of recyclable aluminum in the market today which has driven prices down. Prices have dropped from “75 cents per pound last year to 55 cents, the lowest it has been since 2009.” Since the golden-haired child in the White House has imposed tariffs on China, the Chinese have imposed tariffs on US scrap imports which is part of the reason for the low prices created by a growing US glut. Lower price results in increased recycling costs for consumers today and especially in rural areas. Then too with the price drop I would think US manufacturers could use recyclable material more readily than virgin material. It is just a matter of making them do so.

The results of a failed recycling system scream for a solution and one which product and package manufacturers will not like. If product manufacturers want to use aluminum and plastic for packaging their products such as soda, water, etc. than they have to take it back and work with the packaging manufacturers to recycle it into more packaging or other uses. Today, the packaging does not go back to the user of the packaging, the product manufacturers, and is recycled outside of their responsibility. This enables them to side step the responsibility.

We have to go beyond a circular economy and get rid of single-use plastics entirely. It is clearer every day that passes the US never had a real recycling system. It was just a very long linear onegoing from the producer through our homes to China.

treehugger’s Lloyd Alter “Today’s recycling is BS.”

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House’s SECURE Act and the Senate’s RESA Act

Congress has been busily working on a much-needed way to improve Middle Class savings and growth over the span of their employment to boost their retirement.

Dueling bills to restructure IRAs and 401ks appear to be redundant. Better known as the “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act” (SECURE Act) H.R.1994 and the Senate has a similar bill, the “Retirement Enhancements and Savings Act” S.792 (RESA). Both bills were passed with bipartisan support.

For the ultra rich? A major outcome of the Trump tax bill were tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. Besides much of the resulting income increases going to 1% of the household taxpayers, the same 1% were given the ability to shelter large amounts of income in gifts to their heirs. It is a great time to be rich in income and have the ability to shelter it by making gifts of it to your heirs’ tax free!

A little history on why Congress might take this up

From 1979 to 2017, the average annual income for the 1% of the household taxpayers has increased 156%, the top 1 hundredth of 1% income increased 343%, and the average American’s income did not increase at all. In spite of increased education from 1970 when half of Americans 25 years and older had a high school degree compared to today when the proportion of Americans having a college degree tripled, income has been stagnant for much of America. Even with the increased education, as Nick Hanauer in a recent Atlantic on this topic stated, the “Education is Not Enough” or was not enough to build, to build a vibrant middle class. Nick is also reiterating what Tom Hertz said in 2006 in his article; “Understanding Mobility in America.”

“The first aspect is the question of intergenerational mobility, or the degree to which the economic success of children is independent of the economic status of their parents. The second aspect is the short-term question of the amount by which family incomes change from year to year. One very clear conclusion is children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution versus children of the rich who have about a 22 percent chance.”

All the education in the world may not make a bit of difference in upward mobility as Nick and Tom Hertz concluded unless the income and the status is already there. A successful middle class with good income has to be present.

What Congress is doing.

The House passed the SECURE Act with an almost unanimous bipartisan 2nd vote. Prior to the first vote, Republican NC Representative Patrick McHenry made a motion for an affirmative vote (page H4147) stating they stand together against the anti-Semitic BDS movement. How this applies to the average citizen’s IRA is beyond me. It is a tagalong to the SECURE Act with the hope it would pass. It lost with 222 in opposition.

A few things about the House “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act (SECURE).

• It lengthens the amount of time a person can contribute to an IRA beyond 70.5 years of age.
• Raised the required minimum distribution (RMD) age to 72 from 70 1/2 years old.
• Increased the Safe Harbor percent from 10 to 15%.
• Allowed long-term, part-time employees to contribute.
• Put in place an small employer tax credit for enrollment.
• Revised how benefits are paid out to a non spousal from 5 to 10 years (page H4234).
• Allowed automatic enrollment.
• Etc.

“The House SECURE Act would eliminate the current rules allowing non-spousal IRA beneficiaries to use (stretch IRA) minimum distributions (RMDs) from an inherited account over their own lifetime (and potentially allow the funds to grow for decades). With the SECURE Act, all funds from an inherited IRA would have to be distributed to non spousal beneficiaries within 10 years of the IRA owner’s death (The rule would apply to inherited funds in a 401(k) account or other defined contribution plan, too.).”

Other than the elimination of the Stretch IRA, these changes were needed and they will improve the amounts accumulated for retirement. As I mentioned earlier, much of America has not incurred the same income increases as the 1% or the 1 tenth of 1% of the household taxpayers. Pre-inflation YOY income growth for non supervisory Labor has been ~3%. Subtract out inflation of 2% and income has grown by 1% for much of America not leaving a lot to put into a 401k. I am waiting for the next shoe to drop of increasing the age of when people can take SS.

The Senate RESA bill is similar in content except for a provision buried in it taking aim at the Middle Class. The Senate’s RESA Act shortens the time period for non-spousal beneficiary withdrawal who have inherited an IRA with greater than $400,000 (IRA, Roth IRA or 401k). RESA exempts the first $400,000 inherited to a life time of RMD withdrawals and then it forces beneficiaries to cash out over a 5-year period any amount greater than $400,000. It could have tax implications if the amount over $400,000 was large or one’s income tax bracket was high.

As one reader pointed out, many people with 401Ks have less than $400,000 in their accounts when they retire. Then too with little growth in income occurring (mentioned earlier), one can see why people are not saving for retirement and why there is less in their 401ks.

Under today’s Stretch IRA rules, heirs of IRA owners were allowed to extend the taxable distributions of an inherited IRA over their lifetime, hence being called “stretch IRAs.” The proposed Senate bill labeled RESA—allows $400,000 of aggregated IRAs to stretch per beneficiary, but chops the cash-out period down to five years for the balance greater than $400,000.

What are the implications in the Senate bill? As I said it affects non spousal beneficiaries of the heads of families who have accumulated money greater than $400,000 over their lifetime to pass on as inheritance to their families. Non-spousal beneficiaries on inheriting sums of money greater than $400,000 could have a substance portion of the inheritance taxed by Uncle Sam and also end up in a higher tax bracket as a result. Ok, I said it enough times.

Similar would hold true for the House bill which eliminates the stretch IRA, does not have an exemption for 400,000 of inheritance, and forces a beneficiary to use up inheritance funds in 10 years rather than a lifetime or RESA’s 5 years. The proposed Acts do not impact spousal beneficiaries or minor children named as beneficiaries until pf a majority age, children with disabilities, etc.

The forced 5 year annual distribution of these savings and retirement plans by beneficiaries is the primary revenue vehicle (taxes) of RESA. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), who proposed the bill, said on the Senate floor recently that the RESA bill “is paid for” by this provision (as he takes his agricultural benefits resulting from tariffs).

No worries for the 1 percenters.

Back to the 1-percenters, Trump’s Tax Overhaul law doubles the estate-tax exemption to $22 million a couple and possibly avoiding taxes in dynasty trusts. The new law doubles the amount that can be passed to heirs without worrying about estate and gift taxes, to about $22 million for a married couple (redundant, I know). But the thresholds are in place only until 2025, and the ultra-rich are turning to a key tool — the dynasty trust — to secure the financial futures of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond.

Assured wealth and income giving descendants a place on the ladder of mobility as being necessary to move upwards on that same ladder by Tom Hertz and Nick Hanaeur.

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