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S&P PE NOW BACK ABOVE FAIR VALUE

After the recent market rebound the S&P 500 valuation has risen from below my estimated fair value to just over the top of the fair value band.

It is important to remember that much of the rebound in the S&P PE  is due to weaker earnings.  In the second quarter earnings are falling at double digit rates. But if second quarter real GDP is falling at a 40% to 50% rate earnings estimated are still too high.

Wall Street says do, not fight the Fed.  One measure of Fed policy is money supply growth and as the chart shows MZM ( zero maturity growth) is surging to near record highs.  This implies that the market PE is going to continue to rise and it should pull the overall market with it despite the fact that earnings estimates are probably too high.

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Stephen Miller’s Racist Fix for Race Relations

Word is circulating that Stephen Miller is writing Donald Trump’s speech on race relations. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Trump’s “solution” to the current malaise in the U.S. will involve extending a ban on immigration and expanding enforcement and expulsion of undocumented individuals. This seems like a safe bet to me because Miller really is a one-trick pony and Trump relishes rehashing his greatest hits. Maybe Miller will toss in some “enterprise zones” or other ornamental trivia but the meat will be anti-immigration.

They playbook for this will be Miller’s Immigration Handbook for a New Republican Majority that he wrote for Jeff Sessions in 2015. Footnote 21 of that handbook states that, “Amnesty and uncontrolled immigration disproportionately harms African-American workers, and has been
described by U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Peter Kirsanow as a ‘disaster.'” The handbook also cites a poll commissioned by Kellyanne \Conway, one finding of which was that “86% of black voters and 71% of Hispanic voters said companies should raise wages and improve working conditions instead of increasing immigration.”

Two years ago, I posted a couple of pieces discussing Miller’s handbook in more detail: The Lump That Begot Trump and Goebbels or Gompers?: A Closer Look at Stephen Miller’s Immigration Manifesto. I hope these pieces provide some insight into just how dangerous and effective Miller’s and Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric can be, especially given the hypocrisy of neo-liberal promotion of immigration as exemplified by Tony Blair’s and Gerhard Schroeder’s “Third Way” advocating “a new supply-side agenda for the left“. To put it bluntly, “Third Way” immigration policy was intended to create jobs by keeping wages low through an abundant supply of labor. The transfer of income from the working class to the wealthy would provide ample funds for “investment.”

In short, Miller’s and Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is dangerous and effective because Blair and Schroeder (and Clinton and Obama) enacted right-wing, supply-side economic policies in the name of “the [‘responsible’] left.”

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Using insurance to improve policing

There are two insurance-related police reform ideas being discussed.

One approach focuses on municipal liability insurance.  Many municipalities do not purchase liability insurance to cover lawsuits against officers, instead choosing to self-insure.  This is potentially a problem because insurers actually play an important role in loss control.  They provide information and services related to procedures, training, the risks posed by individual officers, etc.

The second proposal would require individual police officers to purchase professional liability insurance, in the same way that doctors and other professionals do today:

In response, we propose an innovative, market-based solution – mandatory professional liability insurance for police officers. Much the way that drivers with terrible records may be forced off the roads by high premiums, officers with the most dangerous histories, tendencies, and indicators might be “priced-out” of policing by premiums that reflect their actual risk of unjustified violence. Potential reductions or increases in premiums would create systemic effects by incentivizing both departments and individual officers to adopt policies, trainings, and procedures that are proven to lower risk.  Insurance companies, an outside third-party removed from local politics, would be in an ideal position to assess indicators of risk actuarially and set premiums accordingly.

My sense is that neither of these proposals are magic bullets, but they may be worth trying.

Under the first proposal, municipalities that buy insurance would have less of an incentive to prevent lawsuits than they do when they self-insure.  The loss control expertise of insurance companies may offset this, but municipalities that self-insure can (I assume) purchase loss control services today.  They may choose not to do so, presumably because of pressures from police officers and unions, because “loss control” includes things like getting rid of problem officers.  This is the heart of the political problem, and insurance will not make it go away, though it may help create pressure for reform if it makes better information about the costs of poor policing available.

Forcing municipalities to purchase insurance may also help if municipal governments that self-insure do not put aside adequate funds (“reserves”) to pay for wrongdoing by police officers that occurs today.  By under-reserving for today’s wrongful behavior by police, city officials can pass the costs of poor policing practices on to future officials and taxpayers.  If municipalities purchase reasonably full insurance, the expected costs of lawsuits from current policing practices will be reflected in the current insurance premium.  This will increase the incentive of city officials to reduce behavior that leads to lawsuits.  It seems to me that this may be the main advantage of both proposals.

The same problems would arise under the second proposal.  In addition, the prices charged to individual officers would quickly be politicized, just as they are in many other areas of insurance.  More subtly, full experience rating of officers may not be desirable because it exposes officers to too much risk.

 

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Will confident conservatism end with a bang or a whimper?

I highly recommend David Hopkins blog.  Yesterday, he posted a piece on the end of confident conservatism.  It begins like this:

After Richard Nixon’s 1968 election, many conservatives came to believe that their movement naturally represented the political views of most Americans. This conservative faith in the wisdom of the average citizen was cemented by Ronald Reagan’s popularity in the 1980s, which was widely interpreted at the time (and not just by conservatives) as a decisive expression of the nation’s exhaustion with both outdated New Deal economic policies and decadent ’60s-era cultural practices.

Here are the final paragraphs:

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Ezra Klein is mad at the Democrats over automatic stabilizers

The HEROES act passed by House Democrats did not include a formula that would keep expanded unemployment insurance benefits in place until the economy has recovered.  The always thoughtful Ezra Klein is very critical of this omission.  His argument can be boiled down to two points:

  1. If Biden wins the presidency, Republicans will predictably try to destroy Biden politically by refusing to extend economic supports needed to protect families and promote an economic recovery. Automatic stabilizers are critical to protect a possible Biden presidency from Republican sabotage.
  2. Republicans need an economic stimulus package in the run up to the November elections more than Democrats do. This gives Democrats the bargaining power they need to force Republicans to accept automatic stabilizers.

According to Klein, moderate and progressive Democrats all support automatic stabilizers, and the idea polls well, but House leadership backed off when the CBO said the stabilizers for unemployment would cost $1 to 2 trillion dollars.  At the same time, Pelosi emphasized that the money would be spent if needed, so there is no actual savings from refusing to include automatic stabilizers, it’s political posturing all the way down.

I agree with Klein on point 1 above.  Automatic stabilizers are critical to protect a Biden presidency from Republican sabotage.  (It would be foolish to count on winning a working majority in the Senate and repealing the filibuster.)

I am less sure that Klein’s analysis of bargaining power (point 2 above) is correct, although I am sympathetic to his position.

Suppose that July rolls around and states are laying off workers and expanded unemployment benefits are about to expire.  The Republicans can agree to aid state and local governments and to extend UI benefits for a few months.  Democrats can reject this and hold out for automatic stabilizers.  Republicans will paint them as obstructionist.  It is not entirely clear who wins this public relations war, and with the election approaching the Democrats may not be willing to gamble if Biden appears to be leading.

Even more important, failure to agree to a package will lead to immense suffering as UI benefits expire.  Faced with this human catastrophe, Democrats may not be willing to play hardball with Republicans.  It’s like a real mother and an imposter mother bargaining over a baby:  if the no agreement point is cutting the baby in half, and the real mother is unwilling to do this, the imposter mother gets the baby.

Should the Democrats be willing to play hardball against the Republicans?  Should they be willing to inflict tremendous economic damage on innocent people to protect a Biden presidency?  I understand why the Democrats are reluctant to do this.  It is tempting to think that Democrats should respond to Republican hostage taking and hardball politics in kind, but the short-run humanitarian costs are very real, ratcheting up the level of inter-party conflict is bad for our democracy, and there is a legitimate question about whether the Democrats should wait and hope that the political environment shifts in a way that moderates the Republican party (e.g., perhaps demographic replacement will force Republican elites to change tactics).  On the other hand, perhaps the Republican party is so authoritarian that hardball is inevitable and necessary, despite the short-run suffering it will cause and the potential damage to our democracy from further escalating partisan conflict.

Finally, it is not clear from Klein’s article exactly how the bargaining inside the Democratic party went down.  It is possible that members from swing districts opposed automatic stabilizers for narrow careerist reasons, even if the inclusion of automatic stabilizers would have had only a small effect on their re-election prospects.  In this case, the real problem here is not the democrats as a group, but the careerism of a small group coupled with the weakness of parties in the American political system (that is, the inability of parties to discipline wayward members).

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Housing permits and starts plummet in April, but mortgage applications suggest big rebound in May

by New Deal democrat

Housing permits and starts plummet in April, but mortgage applications suggest big rebound in May

At some point it is going to be safe for the economy to be completely reopened. When that point comes it would be nice if the leading sectors of the economy have already been priming the pump for a consumer rebound.  As usual housing is the most important long leading sector in that analysis.

As expected, housing tanked in April. But it is likely setting the baseline for improvement in the coming months, as new record low mortgage rates have brought out new buyers, as shown by new mortgage applications which as of this morning are only -1.5% below where they were last year at this time.

This post is up at Seeking Alpha. As usual, clicking over and reading should be educational for you, and helps reward me a little bit for my efforts.

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Four Days On, Ten Days Off

A very interesting paper (not peer-reviewed) by a team of Israeli scholars proposes that a more manageable exit from pandemic lockdown might be achieved by implementing a scheme in which employees go in to work for four days and then return to isolation for ten days before repeating the cycle. A variation on the proposal would have two staggered relays of workers cycling through the 14 day routine.

The research has been popularized in a New York Times op-ed and a Fast Company feature, so I would bother to discuss it here in detail. Not being an epidemiologist, I can’t vouch for the authors’ assumptions about average infectiousness. Obviously, implementing such a scheme out of the blue would present formidable challenges even assuming competent political leadership.

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THE Important Graphic from April’s Unemployment Report

What happens when you downsize a large number of people? Well, it depends on the cohort downsized. In this case,

Figure 1

That’s correct; Average Hourly Earnings skyrocketed from $28.67 to $30.01: up $1.34.

For context, that one-month change matches the average hourly earnings growth from September/October of 2018 until March of this year–18 months of increases in a month. And all it took was eliminating the jobs of about 6% of the U.S. population (not just workers).

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Will Labor and Capitalism Survive the Current Republican Party?

On April 20th Georgia Governor Kemp called for “reopening more of the state’s economy to minimize the ‘terrible impact of Covid-19 on public health and the pocketbook.’” It would apply to certain non-essential businesses. Kemp, who was later told by Trump it was too early to reopen Georgia’s economy, was following Trump’s lead to begin to open state economies.

Many states like Georgia do not have the funds available (by choice) to pay for long periods of unemployment benefits and the magnitude of them from the shutdown. Indeed and in the past, Georgia cut unemployment benefits to 14 weeks. Georgia’s constitution also restricts the government from raising taxes and prevents the state governor from borrowing money.

From March to April 2020, Georgia paid out $220 million in unemployment benefits and just shy of what was paid out all of 2019 ($297 million). Forty percent of the unemployment benefit paid went to non-essential businesses employees who worked in health clubs, hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, and also eat-in restaurant employees. Most are low-wage jobs concentrated in the cities of Atlanta, Brunswick, Savannah and Statesboro. The make up of this segment of the labor force is mostly black citizens or citizens of color. In Georgia, 19% of African-American workers are employed in the service industry (2018 BLS Statistics). Governor Kemp calling back to work this segment of the labor force puts them at a greater risk to contract COVID 19. Many of them lack reliable access to healthcare (Georgia did not expand Medicaid). By allowing them to go back to work, the amount of unemployment being paid monthly decreases.

In a normal economy, an employee who’s been released or laidoff (automotive language) can not keep receiving unemployment benefits if they are offered their job back, a similar job, and they do not take it. Even with the threat of the COVID to their health and safety, Georgia can define a return to their old jobs as suitable work.

After the leap, Texas and Iowa  .  .  .

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