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

July JOLTS report: m/m improvement, but slowing trend

July JOLTS report: m/m improvement, but slowing trend

Yesterday*s  morning’s JOLTS report for July was in general surprisingly positive on a monthly basis, but continued to show a slowing trend.

To review, because this series is only 20 years old, we only have one full business cycle to compare. During the 2000s expansion:

  • Hires peaked first, from December 2004 through September 2005
  • Quits peaked next, in September 2005
  • Layoffs and Discharges peaked next, from October 2005 through September 2006
  • Openings peaked last, in April 2007

as shown in the below graph (quarterly, normed to 100 as of May 2018):


Here is the close-up on the past three years (monthly):

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Scenes from the August jobs report

Scenes from the August jobs report

The August jobs report was the mirror image of most earlier reports this year: a lackluster Establishment report but a strong Household report. Let’s take a look.

By now the fact that there has been a jobs slowdown is pretty well established. In the last 7 months, only 964,000 jobs have been added, an average of 138,000 per month. If we subtract this month’s temporary census hiring of 25,000, those numbers drop to 939,000 and 134,000, respectively:


And keep in mind that the number of jobs added between March 2018 and March 2019 is going to be reduced from roughly 210,000 to 167,000 per month.

Since last December, of the leading employment sectors, only residential construction has continued to increase significantly. Manufacturing has added only 19,000 jobs in the last 6 months, and temporary jobs have actually declined since the end of last year:

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MbS Consolidates Immediate Family Control Of Saudi Oil Industry

MbS Consolidates Immediate Family Control Of Saudi Oil Industry

Saudi Oil Minister al Falih, who also ran ARAMCO, has been replaced by Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz  al Sa’ud, half brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Sa’ud, (MbS),who was Ambassodor to the US untile the Khahoggi murder got hot between USA and KSA.

The New York Times claims that this is part of an effort by MbS to modernize the Saudi economy, an ongoing line of th Saudi PR machine.  However more specifically how al Falih got in trouble with MbS is that oil prices are too low and there has not yet been an IPO for ARAMCO.  These probably are issues for MbS, although I think at this point the Saudi Oil Minister’s ability to make oil prices go up has become limited.  But the lack of an ARAMCO IPO clearly has cost variouis members of the Saudi royal family money.  But the problem has been that to issue an IPO ARAMCO will have to make public information that apparently it does not want to.  Whether MbS and his brother are really ready to do that is unclear.

Anyway, I think all this talk about modernizing is just baloney.  This is just a further move to consolidate power and also make money for the Salmans, the king and his sons.

Barkley Rossser

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Liberalism and It’s Discontents

First I suggest you click this link and read this very interesting post on challenges to liberalism and liberal responses by Zack Beauchamp. It is an excellent essay, not super brief, but well worth reading end to end. Also stimulating enough that I began to type this comment before finishing it (I finished it after typing “by” and before typing Zack.

I was lead to it by a tweet in which Ross Douthat asks if Beauchamp sees anything useful people to the right of liberals might contribute. I think he obviously doesn’t, because such people (including Douthat) have nothing useful to contribute. In any case, that’s clearly what Beauchamp thinks.

I am going to attempt to summarize the post, but do ask you to read it.

1) liberalism is under attack, has been rejected by majorities in many of the largest democracies, and is challenged by significant minorities in the rest of them
2) It faces criticisms that should be taken seriously from both the right and the left
3) It’s defenders don’t make a strong case for the defense.

I will consider these points in order after the jump.

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I get Ruthless With David Leonard

(Dan here…lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts)

by Robert Waldmann

I get Ruthless With David Leonard

David Leonard picks cherries in a generally good op-ed. I agree entirely with his general conclusion that Democrats should run a populist campaign (no triangulation — he should have noted that Clinton ran on raising taxes on the rich and cutting taxes on the middle class in 1992 — he was a populist before he was a triangulator). He also says don’t talk about decriminalizing border crossing or eliminating private health insurance. I agree entirely. He relies on a Pew poll on issues. It is an interesting poll by a good pollster.

However, I think there should be a rule that any commentary on polls should consider all available still relevant polls. The norm of non data journalists writing about data is still to comment on one poll. This is nonsense. It is like election night coverage based on an interview with one voter. There is, I think, no excuse for looking at data other than averages of polls. I think fivethirtyeight.com can improve on the simple average, but that’s not my current assertion. I am asserting that any commentatory must justify (to an editor not the readers) every decision to not consider every poll which is not considered.

I was triggered by this passage justified by three picked cherries.

Yet Democrats are frittering away their advantage — and damaging their image. Last fall, most Americans had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, according to the Pew Research Center. That makes sense, because Democrats ran a populist campaign in the 2018 midterms, focused on pocketbook issues that dominate many people’s lives, like wages and medical costs.This year, the polling has flipped. Most Americans now have an unfavorable view of the party, no better than their view of the Republican Party. Likewise, slightly more voters say the “ideas being offered by the Democratic candidates” would hurt the country than say would help, according to the NPR poll.

 

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Decennial Census Temp & Intermittent Employment

There seems to be some confusion about the impact of Census employment of temporary and intermittent employment for the 2020 Census.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has a table showing the monthly  employment for Special Census workers. You can find it at: BLS – Special Census Workers

The table also has the data from the 1990 and 2000 Census so you can compare what happened in those Censuses to what to expect over the next year. I took the data from Table 1 of total nonfarm employment and subtract the Census employment to create  a new series,  Total NonFarm Employment excluding Census Temp & Intermittent Employment.  The chart shows the last some 20 years of  special Census employment.  As you can see, this months 27,000 increase hardly shows in the chart compared to what happened in the 2000 and 2010 Censuses or what we can expect over the next year.

 

 

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Healthcare News PBM Profits, Expensive Drug(s), Food Protein, and the Opioid Scam

Cigna gets major boost from Express Scripts in Q2,” Robert King, FierceHealthcare, August 1, 2019

And some claim PBMs do not matter in the cost of healthcare? Cigna healthcare insurance generated ~ $38 billion in revenue the second quarter 2019 and a major increase due mostly to a merger with pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Express Scripts.

According to company financial results released Thursday, Cigna’s pharmacy services business generated $23.5 billion in revenue in the second quarter which represents a massive increase compared to the $1.1 billion generated in the second quarter of 2018. The company reported $1.41 billion in net income.

The major reason for the spike is the gain from the membership and resources achieved from the deal for Express Scripts. Cigna completed the $67 billion merger with the PBM giant late last year.

More Plant-Based Protein in Diet May Add Years,” Nicole Lou, MedPageToday, August 27, 2019

“Significant reductions were found (specifically) in mortalities related to cardiovascular disease. Norie Sawada, MD, PhD, of Japan’s National Cancer Center in Tokyo reported and colleagues reported a positive result in a prospective cohort study of plant protein being substituted for meat protein. It was reported in recent JAMA Internal Medicine study, “Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality.”

The JAMA study (Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality) suggests diets with higher plant-based protein intake may contribute to long-term health and longevity. In this cohort study; 70,696 Japanese adults were followed up on for a mean period of 18 years. The outcome associated a higher intake of plant protein resulted in lower total mortality. Moreover, the substitution of plant protein for animal protein, mainly for red or processed meat protein, was associated with lower risk of total, cancer-related, and cardiovascular disease–related mortality.

Furthermore, switching out 3% of daily calories from red meat to plant protein — approximately 260 g of a soy-based food for the average person eating 2,000 calories per day — was linked in statistical models (not through analysis of individuals who actually changed their diets) to reductions in mortality risk.

It is no secret retail drives the meat processing market where large manufacturers and meat packers are big enough to control the market and can drive the pricing down or up per each of cattle. Smaller cattle producers can be driven out of the market as they do not have the massive volume ability to lower their costs of production past a certain point. The criticisms of the plant based protein study I have read are similar to the criticism I have read limiting opioid prescriptions in which they advocate do not limit opioid at all. We could all do with less red meat in our diets which still remains a reality.

The $6 Million Drug Claim, Katie Thomas and Reed Abelson, NYT, August 25, 2019

The link should take you to a different site other than the NYT where you can read the article.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals manufactures Strensiq a drug used to treat a rare bone disease perinatal/infantile and juvenile – onset hypophosphatasia. Adult Dawn Patterson also suffers from the same disease, the excruciating pain from it, which leaves her struggling to work or care for her family. It is a rare disease found more often in children and even rarer in adults.

Dawns husband’s union covers the cost of the drug. The union is suffering sticker shock from the mounting bills for treatments of her and her two of her children who also have the disease. In 2018, the union faced a potential $6 million bill for the Patterson household with an estimated a lifetime cost of $60 million to treat the family over 10 years.

The cost of Strensig as well as other drugs is coming under increased scrutiny and debate over whether any drug should cost $millions of dollars after cost of R&D and start up are recovered. Americans are being priced out of lifesaving treatments as drug companies maximize their profits well beyond start up costs. It has been found, the investment of $1 invested in R&D has provided $14.50 in revenue for cancer drugs (World Health Organization).

As I reported in “Cigna gets major boost from Express Scripts in Q2” (above), Pharmacy Benefit Managers are taking a hefty cut in the process in representing insurance companies with manufacturers. In an earlier post “Can you Patent the Sun,” I had talked more on the topic of costs and company reasoning to set higher prices. Manufacturers are pricing new and older drugs higher and establishing a pseudo morality to maximize their profits.

The US is more vulnerable than is European countries only because Europe sets pricing rather than allow the market to do so.

Opioid Maker Turned Blind Eye to Diversion, Kristina Fiore, MedPage Today, August 28, 2019

In newly unsealed documents, Mallinckrodt employees were worried the existing programs to prevent opioid diversion were not working. One former employee testified about Mallinckrodt not having a computerized system from 2008 to 2009 for tracking unusual orders. Employees had to use their judgment to identify suspicious sales. U.S. Drug Enforcement Agents met with Mallinckrodt PLC and informed the company the agency viewed it “as the kingpin within the prescription drug cartel.”

Superior Court for the State of Alaska Third Judicial District in Anchorage, State of Alaska, Plaintiff vs. Mallinckrodt PLC, Mallinckrodt LLC, and SPECGX LLC.

“In reality, however Mallinckrodt shipped opioids into Alaska without an adequate system in place to prevent diversion of its opioids and to investigate, report, and refuse to fill orders that it knew or should have known were suspicious, breaching both its common law duties and its statutory duties under Alaska law. Despite its legal and ethical duty to report “suspicious orders” of its drugs, and, upon information and belief, ample red flags of potential diversion, Mallinckrodt has never once reported a single prescriber to state law enforcement or the Alaska State Medical Board. Instead, Mallinckrodt incentivized distributors to flood the State with opioids beyond even what the expanded market for chronic pain market could bear.”

Mallinckrodt Was Required to and Failed to Maintain Effective Controls Against Diversion and to Report Suspicious Prescribers. , Page 35, B

There are multiple state lawsuits being filed federal courts nationwide claiming pharmaceutical companies misled people as to the safety of opioid usage.

Opioid settlement would divide money based on local impact, Geoff Mulvihill and Andrew Welsh-Huggins, AP, August 30, 2019

Purdue the maker of OxyContin is negotiating a multi-billion-dollar settlement to resolve a crush of lawsuits over the nation’s opioid crisis. The settlement contains formulas for dividing up the money amongst state and local governments across the country.

The formulas would take into account several factors; opioid distribution in a given jurisdiction, the number of people who misuse opioids, and the number of overdose deaths.

Spelling out the way the settlement is to be split is meant to prevent squabbles over the money avoiding the mistakes experienced with the hundreds of billions of dollars received under the nationwide settlement with Big Tobacco during the 1990s.

September 8; States Attorneys and Purdue have reached an impasse and it is expected Purdue will now file for bankruptcy. It is not clear what the breakdown is over. One of the four states attorneys negotiating with Purdue, Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro said Saturday he intends to sue the Sackler family as other states have.

“I think they are a group of sanctimonious billionaires who lied and cheated so they could make a handsome profit. I truly believe that they have blood on their hands.”

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Trump: When Reality TV Becomes Reality

Trump: When Reality TV Becomes Reality

The New York Times has an excellent dissection today of the Trump presidency as a reality TV show that has managed to set up shop at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, written by its chief TV critic, James Poniewozik.  His op-ed digs down into the props and story line of “The Apprentice” and how its tone evolved over its 14-year lifespan.  He places it nicely within the ecosystem of post-Survivor entertainment and the particular celebrity culture it spawned.  Nice job, and read it for yourself.

But there’s something missing.  Yes, that’s who Trump is and how he operates, but he could never have gotten to where he is without cutting deals with people whose personas are light years away from his—the plutocracy, particularly in its financial and resource extraction modes, the Republican Party apparatus in the think tanks and lobby shops in and around Washington, and the Christian Right, with its fixation on the courts as a bulwark against cultural change.  There is a real, which is to say a real real, side to the Trump presidency, and it takes the form of tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks and judgeship appointments.  This differentiates it from reality TV, which is only itself.

And so we are left with an obvious response: stop rebroadcasting the reality TV stuff.  Leave it alone.  Don’t fixate on the bluster, viciousness, racism or obscenity of his tweets and rallies.  Rather, examine the real real viciousness, racism and obscenity built into the policies of the people who use Trump as an avatar, an attention-grabbing figurehead who enables them to hold and use power.  Yes, I’ve said this before, but it’s still the way to go.

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