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

Scott Sumner Digs Deeper

by Mike Kimel

Scott Sumner Digs Deeper

Scott Sumner criticizes my most recent post in which I indicate that Keynesian theory explains growth rates during the New Deal era better than theories proposed by monetarists.

He starts by criticizing this, which I wrote in my earlier post.

Aggregate demand was very slack when FDR took office.

FDR showed up in Washington with a plan to start spending a lot of money and thus boost aggregate demand.

The immediate effect was to convince factories they’d be running down their inventories. That boosted producer prices. It had a much smaller effect on consumer prices because everyone knew the gubmint was going to buy a heck of a lot more producer goods than consumer goods. (The government did buy some consumer goods for the various programs, plus there was a spillover effect, but as the graph clearly shows, the action was on the producer side.)

After a bit of time, the public realized FDR wasn’t planning just a one-off, but rather a sustained program of purchases of industrial items. That led them to start using some of their idle capacity, which meant not just selling the fixed amount that was in inventory. The rate of price increases thus dropped.

GDP increased the fastest rate in the United States peacetime history since data has been kept. There was a big hiccup, of course, in 1937 when the government cut back on spending for a while.

Sumner’s most important point:

Prices didn’t start rising when FDR came to Washington with spending plans; they started rising when he began depreciating the dollar. Furthermore, the weekly rise in the WPI index was highly correlated with weekly increases in the dollar price of gold (i.e. currency depreciation.) And those changes (in gold prices) were caused by explicit statements and actions by FDR. Not by fiscal stimulus, which would be expected to appreciate the dollar.

OK. Using the cool graphical tool from FRED, the Federal Reserve Economic Database, I generated this graph of the series that from what I can tell seems to be Sumner’s favorite price index when discussing the period:

Figure 1.

Now, take a gander at the graph. And bear in mind, FDR was inaugurated in March 1933. But everyone knew what he was going to do, spending-wise, once he showed up. You can see the decline in prices halt and start reversing even before he took office.

Additionally, I’m not sure what Sumner means when he refers to the period when he says FDR “began depreciating the dollar.” There was a gold standard in place going back a long time. That means the value of the dollar was its price in gold. The price of gold was $20.67 an ounce for decades before FDR took office. It was $20.67 an ounce until the Gold Reserve Act of January 30, 1934, when the price of gold was changed to $35 an ounce. (To be precise, the government devalued the dollar on January 31, the day after the Act passed.)

The peak in the curve came in February 1934, days or at most weeks (the index isn’t that precise) after the Gold Reserve Act. Put another way… price inflation using Sumner’s measure peaked when the currency was devalued. That is precisely 100% the opposite of what Sumner wrote.

But there are some extenuating circumstances for Sumner.

(The next paragraph summarizes this story, from the memoirs of Jesse Jones.)

It seems that on October 22, 1933, Jones, the head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and Henry Morgenthau, then Farm Credit Administrator but soon to be Treasury Secretary, were told by FDR to come by on October 23 to devaluing the dollar by changing its relationship with gold. The three men – FDR, Morgenthau, and Jones, then went about raising the price of gold by fiat between then and January 31, 1934, when prices came to rest at $35 an ounce, a price where they stayed through 1971.

I assume that’s what Sumner is talking about. So let me modify Figure 1 to only show the period from January to October 1933.

Figure 2.

Now, recall, Sumner’s evidence that the Keynesian view is wrong and the monetary view is right is: “Prices didn’t start rising when FDR came to Washington with spending plans; they started rising when he began depreciating the dollar.”

And yet… the graph shows very clearly that prices started to rise when FDR came to Washington with spending plans, not at the end of October when he began depreciating the dollar. As is very evident from the graph, by that time prices had already been increasing for quite a while. Wholesale prices, by October 1, were up 17% from the beginning of the year. If you started in October of 1933, it wasn’t until December of 1936 before prices increased another 17%.

The point is, Sumner is wrong. He is very wrong about when prices started to rise. He is also very wrong about why prices started to rise. And since “when” and “why” are assumptions in his model, his model is very wrong.

Now, for completeness I’m going to tackle the other thing Sumner mentioned in his post. Sumner’s critique of me includes this:

There are all sorts of the problems with the argument that the inflation of 1933-34 was caused by expectations of fiscal stimulus. First of all, it’s completely at variance with Keynesian theory, which Kimel seems to be trying to defend. Keynesian theory says demand stimulus doesn’t raise prices when there is “slack,” and there has never been more slack in all of American history than in 1933.

The problem for Sumner is that Keynesian theory is merely an extension of good old fashioned Adam Smith. Prices depend on supply and demand. You can have a good or service go up in price locally even as it goes down everywhere else.

As I noted in my earlier post, and he quoted:

The immediate effect was to convince factories they’d be running down their inventories… After a bit of time, the public realized FDR wasn’t planning just a one-off, but rather a sustained program of purchases of industrial items. That led them to start using some of their idle capacity, which meant not just selling the fixed amount that was in inventory. The rate of price increases thus dropped.

Which of course, is very consistent with the timing of events.

None of this is to pick on Sumner. There’s a whole cottage industry dedicated to advancing a story that government spending cannot have a positive effect on the economy during recessions or depressions. The problem for those trying to advance that story is that government spending does seem to correlate with positive effects during those periods. So alternate theories are proposed, and have been proposed for decades. And those theories often make a lot of sense… until you take a close look at the data.

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Sumner, Skidelsky, Keynes and Liquidity Traps

by Mike Kimel

I was searching for some information and I stumbled on a post Scott Sumner wrote last year about Robert Skidelsky’s biography of John Maynard Keynes. I haven’t read Skidelsky’s book, nor do I know Skidelsky, and its been awful long time since I read Keynes, but this seems an odd complaint:

I’m afraid that his analysis is both misleading and inaccurate. The US gradually depreciated the dollar between April 1933 and February 1934. During that period unemployment was nearly 25% and T-bill yields were close to zero. Keynes argued that monetary stimulus would not be effective under those circumstances, and Skidelsky seems to accept his interpretation (which was published in the NYT during December 1933.)

[Note that Keynes certainly did believe in the “pushing on a string” theory–I frequently get commenters insisting that Keynes didn’t believe in liquidity traps.]

Unfortunately, Keynes and Skidelsky are wrong. The US Wholesale Price Index rose by more than 20% between March 1933 and March 1934. In the Keynesian model that’s not supposed to happen. The broader “Cost of Living” rose about 10%. Industrial production rose more than 45%.

Sumner goes on to impugn Skidelsky:

The “disappointing” results that Skidelsky mentions come from cherry-picking a few misleading data points.

All that seems very odd to me. If I were making an argument that conventional monetary policy doesn’t work in a liquidity trap, but that the traditional Keynesian prescription does, I’d start that argument with something very much like the sentences Sumner wrote right after stating “Unfortunately, Keynes and Skidelsky are wrong.”*

Using the graphing tool from FRED, the Federal Reserve Economic Database maintained by the St. Louis Fed, we can show the one year percentage change in both PPI (producer price index) and CPI (consumer price index) from January 1932 to December 1935.

Here’s what we see: after some massive deflation during the Great Depression, prices start to rise more or less when FDR took office. The annual percentage change in PPI peaked around 23% and change in February 1934, and the CPI peaked a few months later at about 5.6%.

Elsewhere, Sumner attributes that to:

We all know what happened next (well not exactly, but I’ll explain that in another post), so let’s jump ahead to 1933. FDR takes office in March, promising to boost wholesale prices back up to pre-Depression levels. He uses several tools, but the most effective was loosely based on Irving Fisher’s “compensated dollar plan.” Fisher’s plan was to raise the price of gold one percent each time the price level fell one percent. An obscure agricultural economist named George Warren was a big fan of Fisher’s idea, and sold it to FDR with all sorts of fancy charts.

And it worked.

Initially it worked better than any other macroeconomic policy in American history. But at first the policy’s success was mostly accidental, just a matter of talking the dollar down, not enacting Fisher’s specific plan. Nevertheless, prices immediately began rising sharply. Industrial production rose 57% between March and July, regaining over half the ground lost in the previous 3 1/2 years. Then in late July FDR decided to cartelize the economy and sharply raised wages (the NIRA) and industrial output immediately began falling. By late October FDR was desperate for another dose of inflation, and asked Warren to come up with a plan. They decided to have the US government buy gold at a price that would be continually increased in order to reflate the price level.

Sumner even helpfully tells us:

It was a very confusing plan, as they never bought enough gold to equate the government buying price with the free market price in London.

I agree that what Sumner describes is confusing. And yes, the times were desperate, and FDR was flailing around throwing all sorts of things against a wall to see what would work, but when I look at the graph above, and take into account the extremely rapid economic growth that took place during the New Deal era, I see a much simpler story.

  1. Aggregate demand was very slack when FDR took office.
  2. FDR showed up in Washington with a plan to start spending a lot of money and thus boost aggregate demand.
  3. The immediate effect was to convince factories they’d be running down their inventories. That boosted producer prices. It had a much smaller effect on consumer prices because everyone knew the gubmint was going to buy a heck of a lot more producer goods than consumer goods. (The government did buy some consumer goods for the various programs, plus there was a spillover effect, but as the graph clearly shows, the action was on the producer side.)
  4. After a bit of time, the public realized FDR wasn’t planning just a one-off, but rather a sustained program of purchases of industrial items. That led them to start using some of their idle capacity, which meant not just selling the fixed amount that was in inventory. The rate of price increases thus dropped.
  5. GDP increased at the fastest rate in the United States peacetime history since data has been kept. There was a big hiccup, of course, in 1937 when the government cut back on spending for a while.

By contrast, here’s Sumner explaining his theory:

There is a great deal of evidence that I won’t get into here that suggests the suspension of the gold standard in March 1933, and gradual devaluation between April and February 1934, almost certainly explain most of the increase in goods prices, stock prices, and industrial production during that period. But why? Not because it boosted our trade balance, which actually worsened as the rapid recovery pulled in imports.

Both Gauti and I believe that only the rational expectations hypothesis can explain these events. He focuses on how the regime change led to higher inflation expectations, and thus reduced real interest rates. I prefer to think in terms of specific policy signals sent as rising gold prices changed the future expected gold price, and hence the future expected money supply. I don’t see any non-Ratex explanation that can account for the extraordinary rise in prices and output during March-July 1933. Nominal interest rates didn’t change much, and open market purchases in 1932 (under the constraint of the gold standard) had accomplished little or nothing.

So…. his story requires the devaluation of the currency to worsen the trade balance, and rational expectations to cause a one time explosion in industrial prices and a rather smaller recovery in consumer prices. Rational expectations, however, that came an abrupt halt, at roughly the same amount of time one would predict companies might decide that demand will be sustained enough to start producing more rather than just selling off inventory sitting in warehouses. And his story doesn’t explain why growth was so much faster during the New Deal era than any other period of peacetime since the US began keeping data, nor why there was the big hiccup in 1937.

Sumner is essentially trying to tell a story about an unusual set of events, but his story seems to assume that most extraordinary events of the era (and what sets that era apart) kind of just happened to occur for no particular reason so he misses the big picture and ends up focusing on details. With all due respect to Sumner, I prefer to think the US economy is not Forrest Gump.

*I can imagine a “monetary” prescription that I think would help tremendously in a liquidity trap, but it doesn’t look at all like what was done in the 1930s, or what was done since 2007, or from what I can tell, what Sumner suggests. That can be a post for another time.

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About That, er, Monetary Expansion…

Brad DeLong has a spat with Scott Sumner:

The IS-LM model led economic historians to argue money was easy in 1929-30, because rates fell sharply. It led modern Keynesians to assume that money was easy in 2008, because rates fell sharply…

Well, I would say that not just “modern Keynesians” but a lot of people believed that monetary policy was expansionary in 2008.

They believed so not just because (safe) nominal (and real) interest rates were falling, but because the money supply was expanding. Indeed, since 2007 the Federal Reserve has tripled the monetary base

But there remains a reason I suggest that cutting off Tim Geithner’s (and/or Ben Bernanke’s) private parts, stuffing them into his mouth, and perp-walking him publicly down Dewy Square* would be a good re-election move for the Obama Administration, and it comes back to basic economics. Specifically, Brad DeLong’s favorite monetary equation

MV = PY

Now, most of the time, we derive V—Velocity. We kinda sorta hafta. The velocity of money is not something that you really observe directly; to solve the equation for V(i), we have to know Y, P, and M.

But then we’re making assumptions about them. Two of them are probably reasonable:

Y = GDP (or GNP if you add in XM, but let’s not). We shorthand this as “aggregate output.” Even if we weren’t pretending it’s constant in the short-term, we can fairly well define this and hold to the definition. GDP=GDP, as it were.

P = Price Level. This is slightly more difficult conceptually, because we aren’t going to include everything. But if we assume (short-term) that the “market basket” is constant (or at least fungible**), we can come up with a representative index level and just treat this as “inflation.”

The third, however, is more problematic:

M is the Base Money Supply, which is circulating.

Recall that V = Velocity, or, the number of times in a year that a dollar is spent, a definition that led to Keynes’s observation that V isn’t so much a constant (pace Fisher) as dependent on interest rates—V(i). This doesn’t (or, more accurately, shouldn’t) change much in the short-term, even at the zero-bound.

But “velocity” assumes money is circulating, which why it is multiplied by the Monetary Base from the start. If the monetary base has all the mobility of an overBotoxed actor’s face, we’re going to have a problem. I would call the following graphic “Where’s the Real Increase in the Monetary Base?”

The above graphic is Ben Bernanke’s fault. And even Brad DeLong knows this. The proof below the fold.

Or, at least, he strongly suggests he does, citing WSJ columnist David Wessel:

The Fed is not out of ammo, the economists at the Bank Credit Analyst insist…

The three:

Target a higher inflation rate or pre-specified level for the consumer price index or nominal gross domestic product. Problem: “could undermine the Fed’s long-standing commitment to price stability.”

Stimulate bank lending by putting a tax on excess reserves, hoping that banks will the lend out the money if the have to pay borrowers to take the loans. Problem: “could lead to the collapse of money market funds and the disintermediation of the financial system.”

Buy corporate debt, equities, real estate or foreign currency. Problem: Could require an act of Congress. “Given that the U.S. economy remains stuck in a liquidity trap,” Berezin concludes, “fiscal policy would be the most straightforward way to stimulate….However, the likelihood that the U.S. will receive major fiscal stimulus anytime soon is close to zero.”

I’m not sanguine about the latter. Even absent economic issues (which are minimal in the current environment), the political ones are problematic.*** That it makes more sense than telling people to put their money into a 401(k) that consists 90% of company stock is a low bar to jump. On the other hand, buying Yuan until it has to appreciate is worth exploring.

The first has been getting traction for years. And I admit I can’t decide who was stupider: the people who set a 2% target on no evidence (sorry, David, I held to this even after reading your cites) or the people who decided a “2% target” meant “<=." It now has enough traction that it will get out of the avalanche about the time the snow melts. So that leaves the second one. Which brings us back to the Monetary Equation problem. Recall that the definition of Velocity is "the number of times in a year that a dollar is spent." I buy something at the Dollar Store, they use that dollar to buy more products and pay employees, the suppliers and employees buy more supplies and other products, respectively, etc.**** So Brad DeLong ("I see no risks in attempting any of these three--and great risks in continuing to dither") agrees with Peter Berezin of Bank Credit Analyst (and me) that we don't want banks holding Excess Reserves as a matter of monetary policy at the zero bound. Fundamental principle of economics: you want to tax things you wish to discourage. You want to subsidize things you wish to encourage. As the Rabbi once said, "All else is commentary." So what did the Federal Reserve do in the face of a desperate attempt from the Fed to stimulate the Base Money Supply?

The Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006 originally authorized the Federal Reserve to begin paying interest on balances held by or on behalf of depository institutions beginning October 1, 2011. The recently enacted Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 accelerated the effective date to October 1, 2008.

Employing the accelerated authority, the Board has approved a rule to amend its Regulation D (Reserve Requirements of Depository Institutions) to direct the Federal Reserve Banks to pay interest on required reserve balances (that is, balances held to satisfy depository institutions’ reserve requirements) and on excess balances (balances held in excess of required reserve balances and clearing balances).

this lead to something that will surprise no economist of any caliber, let alone a Professor at Princeton:

By the time of the stimulus, roughly that amount had been taken out of circulation as the change in Excess Reserves. Even if every cent had been well-allocated, it was already out of circulation.

Ben Bernanke giveth, but Ben Bernanke taketh away even more, in spades.

What Monetary Stimulus?

*Again, I don’t encourage this action. But if you think I can’t create or find a suggestion for each of the Occupy locations, you haven’t read and seen enough Jacobean drama.

**Whether we replace my wife’s three-year old mobile with either a “free” Droid or a “free” iPhone 3GS probably doesn’t have a significant effect. Economists pretend that the “steak-chicken” model is similar.

***Short version: You think the tempest-in-a-teapot that is Solyndra is getting discussion? Try that times ten when three or four REITs and a few companies go under. (Amazingly, those who complain about the “low” return on Government securities also loudly complain when the Government invests in non-risk-free securities.)

****It is left as a side-note that increasing the Velocity of Money is yet another way to reduce tax rates, all else equal. It is also left as a side-note that people who talk about “double taxation” of (voluntarily disbursed) dividends are economic ignoramuses, and that there are many economists who talk in that manner in no way invalidates the first half of this sentence.

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This is the reality of a real small business

 By Daniel Becker

This is a bit of an interlude in my writing regarding the income tax of yore. Though, this does involve taxation. This is also a continuation in my postings regarding real world small business experiences. Yes, you are going to get to read about a real situation that involves a real small business and tax policy.
Before I mislead anyone, the taxes of concern are not about income taxation. Your business has to actually have an income for that tax to matter. I’m not talking personal income. I’m not talking capital gains taxes. Darn few honest to goodness small businesses ever have to worry about that in their daily activities. Maybe in the end you will have some capital gains after you pay yourself back all the personal money you put into your small business. I’m not talking payroll taxes cuts. Yeah, on what was a $100,000 payroll you gain maybe a couple thousand dollars, but on what was a ½ million business that is now 55% of what it was with payroll adjusted to match, it means little. I mean, that business is sure going to be hiring new people with that!
 Oh, just in case you think I’m off the mark, consider this poll from 11/10.   In the poll, 90% hired what was needed or fewer than needed. The catch: Only 1% hired because of the a new tax break. 41% were to replace an employee. When asked why they hired fewer than needed: 79% worried that sales or revenue would not justify more employees. However, 13% did hire because business was better. The lucky ones. So go ahead, keep giving me tax cuts, blah, blah, blah and all that monetary relief because that US Chamber of Commerce sure represents my thoughts and desires. NOT! Idiots!
Some perspective on small business.

“In 2009,there were 27.5 million businesses in the United States, according to Office of Advocacy estimates.The lastest available Census data show that there were 6.0 million firms with employees in 2007 and 21.4 million without employees in 2008. “

I know it is soothing to croon over the days when the Dodge Brothers, Ford, Colt, Walton and Gates were small and became major examples for their time of the American Dream of economic power. But really, the truth is most small business were and are people earning a living on their own vs working for Microsoft (the definition of part time abuse) or Walmart or GM, or GE or Boeing… They were huge numbers of small local retail. All gone. Small local banks? Going. Small local agriculture (RI used to have a state fair), forget about it.  Look around.
So lets get to the heart of it. First a bright spot. The flower shop had it’s first month this year that was better than last year. August. No, I’m not assuming this is a trend and here is why.

The city of Woonsocket has lost it’s Walmart to the town of North Smithfield, it’s neighbor. Major tax hit to the city. N. Smithfield got the Walmart because it decided that building a 650K sq ft shopping development would offset their rising taxes. I mean really, when in the last 30 years have we seen big business pay enough in taxes such that they actually were paying for their presence? Cut, cut, cut has been their chant. So, I can expect my property and inventory taxes to rise unless something replaces that Walmart. Say the state stepping up. Which tends to happen via the state giving less to the towns like North Smithfield.
I wrote about this type of tax chasing in one of my first posts.

“You know what is missing in this discussion (a discussion happening in every town USA)? The question: Compared to what? What are we basing the above statements on? Is it simply that we have less money after the bills are paid? Well, from 1955 to 1998, GDP rose by a factor of 20. Tax burden as a percent of income rose by a factor of 26.7. But income for a family of 4, 2 people working (sound familiar) only rose by a factor of 11.5. From 1976 to 2001 the top 1 % share of income went from 8.6 % to 21%. Yes, we have less money at the end of the day. Unfortunately, not benefiting from the national wealth as we had in 1955 (when the tax burden was 18% of your pay and would be today if all was equal) is a national policy issue.”

This is the issue of small business. See, we are all just trying to earn an income. Just like the person who works for the multinational. The income is much less because business sales are down. So, how should I plan for the pending tax rise? Do not just give me an answer that involves further big business moving into the area, because as I showed in the post on property taxes and development, it’s not so simple as welcoming Mr and Mrs. big business into the neighborhood.

“But, for my purposes Smithfield (an abutting town) presented the most interesting data. They had a new retail development go in, but ½ the size of that proposed for my town. It’s citizens have seen since 1999 in sequence a 9.8, 4, re-val, 5.5 and 8.7 percent rise in the tax rate. It’s commercial development has been only 10% industrial. My town only had a 6.4% total rise in the same time span.”

Oh save me great god of the mega corporations from the evils of local taxation. Yeah, I didn’t think praying would work.
Next up involves a CVS move. CVS is headquartered in Woonsocket. It obviously has some new hot shot who has a better way. They are looking to own their stores and not lease. They are consolidating 2 stores into one bigger store on new property. Yes, about ½ the property was zoned commercial, the other ½ was residential (real houses on it) turned commercial. This is important, because the CVS consolidation will leave 2 existing commercial spaces empty. We’ll add them to the Walmart space and potentially the Lowe’s space as it is suppose to be moving to the new North Smithfield development which is built on what was 126 acres of woods.
Sticking with Woonsocket, the location of my flower shop, the city has managed to add to its commercial property stock while turning a good portion of it into none productive commercial property stock. How soon do you think those empty places will fill up? Don’t hold your breath.
Some more good news. I managed to cut a major expense for the shop just this June to the tune of $379/month. We were in a unique position in that they kind of needed us. It’s not going to happen again. $4548 per year. Nice. It’s the heating expense for a year assuming the speculators don’t get active again. Yep, get rid of those government regulations as they sure are doing me harm. NOT!
The plaza that one of the CVS stores is moving out of is a customer of ours. We do seasonal decorating for them. It is about $3900/yr. Well, we’re not decorating with mums this fall and Christmas looks to be out too. How much you wanna bet spring next year and for some years to come is out? Gonna bet enough to do Washington a favor and higher someone?
Are you seeing where all this is going? I saved us some big coin. I’m loosing the same amount. Now, this is not the first hit from a CVS decision. Some other person there decided to make it simple for them to pay for their flower needs by going with Pro Flowers instead of feeding the 4 local florists which they had done for decades. They think they are getting a 20% discount from Pro Flowers. Little 
do they understand the flower business. Not the first time mega corps thought they new more than the little guy. It represented about 2.4% of our business at the time. May not sound like a lot, but when you consider the extra business generated by CVS using one’s shop to send flowers, it becomes significant.
Let’s add a third issue. Refi. Time to take advantage of the low rates. The purpose is to improve, that is reduce your monthly cash outlays. But as any real small businesses owner learns, there is no such thing as a fixed rate. We have paid off 22.2% of the loan that combined the original purchase of the business and property with the rehab that needed to be done in 2004. We have about 36% of the tax appraised value in equity of the property.
Here’s the concern, do you take a 20 yr loan with a rate of between 5 to 5.5% to be reset in 5 years or do you take 6 to 6.5% to be reset in 10 yrs? Do I bet that in 5 years business is better because the economy is better which could also mean all that projected inflation do to the Fed monetary policy and at least protect my self for 10 yrs? Or do I bet that nothing will be much better and try to preserve my cash flow (in a small business it’s always about cash flow, accrual be damn) and go for the 5% figuring the Fed money flood won’t roost for at least another 5 yrs? Oh, the refi cost are going to run you about $4000. There goes that big saving from my hard nosed negotiations again.
Your facing tax increases beyond the usual but, not because the public employees are paid too much. Your running out of area’s to cut. Major corporation moves are working against you just as off shoring is working against the middle class, the very class of your concern as you are in it and draw your income from it. And all the policy talk being pushed has little to do with the issues that you are facing because the number one issue you are facing is a lack of a middle class.
Have you heard of the “hourglass strategy”? Look it up. Ah, no it’s not a strategy you can use, but is one that will work against you.

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Texas Again: Which Rick Does More Harm?

That Rick Perry is a clueless candidate and skilled campaigner is something for Barack Obama’s minions to suffer.* That Perry’s curiosity goes no further than “Where’s My Next Corndog?” cannot be held against him; he only became what they made him, just as his predecessor did, though with a poorer transcript and lack of his father’s Rolodex. A real Horatio Alger story.

So we need to pay attention to who tells him things. And that appears to be people such as Richard Fisher, who recently went to W’s “home town” and bragged about the local economy. He starts by making any sane human being worry:

I, along with the 11 other Federal Reserve Bank presidents, operate the business of the Federal Reserve as efficiently as any bank in the private sector.

I’m certain that is true. Then he spreads the Usual Lie:

[W]e make money for the U.S. taxpayer: We returned over $125 billion to the U.S. Treasury in 2009 and 2010. You are looking at one of the few public servants that make money from its operations, rather than just spending taxpayer money.

English translation: We took money from the Treasury, and our Accounting looks nice because we don’t count the overpaying for “assets” or the free money on “excess reserves” as part of our losses. We can even make a fool out of Allan Sloan.

Oh, and by the way, we don’t “just spend taxpayer money,” like those evil people who run police departments, fire departments, and schools; or make roads, or ensure food and water safety; or do fundamental scientific research, to name a few, do.

Then he tries to tell his constituents that Texas is great, and that he will put “a heavy focus on the data,” which is supposed to explain (“connect the dots”) on why he “dissented from the consensus at the last meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).”

So the data should, at least, show an “I got mine, Jack” aspect, no? Let’s see below the fold if it does.

First he presents a graphic showing non-Agricultural Employment Growth baselined at 1990. Now, I might consider this a bit of cheating: in 1990, Texas was in the midst of its self-created S&L crisis. If it didn’t recover from them compared to the rest of the United States, I would assume (contra Brad DeLong [link updated]) that people realised there was no water table and therefore no opportunity for long-term growth (as opposed to the already-well-developed Greater NYC area and the San Francisco Fed areas** to which he contrasts Dallas).

Suffice it to say, you don’t get quite so dominant a picture if you start in mid-1992.

But let’s ignore that it’s easier to build if there’s Nothing There, and easier to expand if there are natural resources even if the rest of the area is a Vast Wasteland or Lubbock (but I repeat myself***). And let’s just look at what good all those jobs have done, with a heavy focus on, well, FRB Dallas data (from the start of their data):

Hmmm, not exactly consistent manufacturing productivity, even before the (recent) recession. Indeed, I might suspect that Texas since around early 2006 has been dependent on moving Services jobs there, not growth in the local economy. But I’m not a Fed Governor:

Now, let’s look at job creation in Texas since June 2009, the date that the National Bureau of Economic Research (or NBER, the body that “officially” dates when a recession starts and ends) declared the recent economic recession to have ended….[I]t is reasonable to assume Texas has accounted for a significant amount of the nation’s employment growth both over the past 20 years and since the recession officially ended.

Let us give him credit for admitting that the 49.9% number is major b*llsh*t. And half-credit for admitting that, if you drop the states that are still heavily negative, the number is below 30%. So things must be looking up in Texas, right?

Hmmm, a nice recovery—rather similar to the 1991-1992 gain—followed by some drop-off, water-treading, and another peak early this year that suggests seasonality, even though the data is Seasonally Adjusted.**** Difficult to argue an upward trend (see most recent footnote), but maybe stable.

Then again, I’m still not a Fed Governor. But let’s give him some credit for admitting this self-inconsistent point:

The most jobs have been created in the educational and health services sector, which accounts for 13.5 percent of Texas’ employment.

The education sector? Really? Can you say “stimulus monies“? People in Dallas sure can. Who is “just spending taxpayer money” now?

And credit Fisher for being fair enough to note the elephant in the Texas room:

I should point out that in 2010, 9.5 percent of hourly workers in Texas earned at or below the federal minimum wage, a share that exceeds the national average of 6 percent. California’s share was 2 percent and New York’s was 6.5 percent.

And for not thinking that the Fed’s dual mandate needs to prioritize nonexistent “inflation threats.”

It might be noted by the press here today that although I am constantly preoccupied with price stability―in the aviary of central bankers, I am known as a “hawk” on inflation―I did not voice concern for the prospect of inflationary pressures in the foreseeable future….My concern is not with immediate inflationary pressures.

Well, that’s good. And since the other half of the dual mandate is full employment, you’ll be expecting something positive from businesses, then, eh?

Importantly, from a business operator’s perspective, nothing was clarified, except that there will be undefined change in taxes, spending and subsidies and other fiscal incentives or disincentives. The message was simply that some combination of revenue enhancement and spending growth cutbacks will take place. The particulars are left to one’s imagination and the outcome of deliberations among 12 members of the Legislature.

Ma nishta ha-laili ha-zeh? But Fisher digs deeper:

On the revenue side, you have yet to see a robust recovery in demand; growing your top-line revenue is vexing. You have been driving profits or just maintaining your margins through cost reduction and achieving maximum operating efficiency. You have money in your pocket or a banker increasingly willing to give you credit if and when you decide to expand. But you have no idea where the government will be cutting back on spending, what measures will be taken on the taxation front and how all this will affect your cost structure or customer base.

Huh? I thought government was mean and evil and just spends taxpayer money. Shows what I know; I listened to a Fed Governor, one who tells me that businesses “have been driving profits or just maintaining your margins through cost reduction and achieving maximum operating efficiency.” Really should see some nice Production numbers in the past six months, then, no?

No. So when Richard Fisher later says:

[The business owner] might now say to yourself, “I understand from the Federal Reserve that I don’t have to worry about the cost of borrowing for another two years. Given that I don’t know how I am going to be hit by whatever new initiatives the Congress will come up with, but I do know that credit will remain cheap through the next election, what incentive do I have to invest and expand now? Why shouldn’t I wait until the sky is clear?”

There are two answers. The first is the obvious: the Fed only controls short-term rates for risk-free investment. They don’t control lending rates, and they don’t control long-term rates, which are what I’m interested in if I’m “going to hire new workers or build a new plant.” Now, QE2 made it marginally easier for me to borrow in the long-term, but that’s gone now. So unless I’m stupid enough to pretend I’m a bank—if I borrow short-term and create long-term liabilities, I better be damned sure someone will refinance me until the project is finished—the Fed guaranteeing that the short-term Government borrowing rate is going to stay low for a while doesn’t mean much to me.

The second is more interesting: if I believe in competitive advantage, I want my new products on the shelf before my competitor has hers there. I cannot sell what you cannot see. So I want my plant started now—while I can still get the best available workers before my competitor does, while I can still pick a prime location (less of an issue in a Vast Wasteland, but not insignificant if you’re Dallas- or Houston-area), and while I can negotiate a deal with someone who needs me in their space more than I need to be there.

But that is only true if Richard Fisher has been telling the truth about how well I’m running my Texas-based business. And that, not to put too fine a point on it, appears to be—to coin a Texas phrase—bullshit.

I know the reality of Rick Pery: it’s a hermetic, incurious one in which women are property, you read what they tell you, and you get to take credit for a win, even if it’s your handlers doing all the work, including telling you what to do later. It’s not a world of which I approve, but my lack of approval doesn’t mean I believe it doesn’t exist.

I don’t know what reality Richard Fisher inhabits; it is certainly not one in which there is “a heavy focus on the data.” At least not data that is related to the Fed’s dual mandate, or how nonfinancial businesses make long-term decisions, or how to attain a competitive advantage.

Rick Perry speaks to his true believers. Richard Fisher expects you to believe him. Currently, only one of them is trying to do national harm to the economy, and it’s not the (soon-to-be) 45th President of the United States.

*And the rest of the United States when Bachmann-Perry Overdrive starts on 20 January 2013, but that’s tangential.

**Fairness requires me to note that much of the state of California is a desert, though not so bad a one as most of West Texas. Accordingly, growth in those areas would, pari passu be similar to that of Texas, save that there is no not enough***** oil in Central California. But never let it be said that we would expect an FRB official to understand geography.

***And let us always remember that Lubbock gave us the greatest white rock musician of all time.

****Good thing I left out the pre-2006 data, so we don’t have to note that the peaks post-Great Recession are close to the ca. 2006 troughs.

*****Correction by dilbert dogbert in comments noted.

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The Monetary Policy Debates

This article by David Leonhardt in the New York Times is getting a lot of attention.

Leonhardt argues that there is an active debate in the economics profession between inflation hawks, moderates and doves and that only the position of hawks and moderates are represented on the Fed open market committee (FOMC). He guesses that Perry’s equating dovishness with treason (now for monetary policy too) might be part of the problem.

I personally have a strong objection to Leonhardt’s article. He lumps together people who think that the Fed should not cause higher inflation with people who think that the Fed can’t cause higher inflation.

IF you were to conduct a survey of the country’s top economists, you would find a fair number who did not believe that the Federal Reserve should be taking more aggressive steps to help the economy. Some would worry that injecting more money into the economy might unnerve global investors or set off uncontrollable inflation. Others would wonder whether, with interest rates already so low, the Fed even had much power to lift economic growth.

But you would also find a sizable group of economists who thought the Fed could and should do far more than it was doing. This group, known as doves, tilts liberal, though it includes conservatives as well. If anything, it can probably claim a larger number of big-name economists — J. Bradford DeLong, Paul Krugman (an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times), Christina D. Romer, Scott Sumner and Mark Thoma, among others — than the camp that believes the Fed has done too much.

Note that the group that think that the Fed doesn’t have much power to lift economic growth are lost somewhere between the two paragraphs. Leonhardt goes on to present the debate between DeLong et al on one side and FOMC hawks “Richard W. Fisher of Dallas, Narayana R. Kocherlakota of Minneapolis and Charles I. Plosser of Philadelphia.” with the moderates such as Bernanke in the mushy middle.

The hawks and those who doubt that the Fed can cause higher inflation absolutely disagree. The hawks say there is a risk of higher inflation. DeLong says higher inflation is possible and would be good. They agree on the first question and then disagree about the effects of inflation and the relative importance of economic catastrophe and whatever costs 4% inflation would have (small to minimal according to top conservative academics like uh Kocherlakota).

It is just not true that no prominent FOMC nominee Nobel Laureate has expressed doubt as to whether the Fed can cause higher inflation. Leonhardt seems to have decided that Peter Diamond just doesn’t exist (or to agree with Sen Shelby that he doesn’t know about money — I might add that top academic N. Kocherlakota’s research on money is all based on Peter Diamond’s search model).

I don’t have the sense that Romer and Krugman firmly disagree with those who think the Fed can’t do much more. They call for more more more, but don’t IIRC express confidence that anything the Fed might do would have a really big effect. Conflating the questions of should the Fed try to cause higher inflation and can the Fed achieve it makes them definitely doves. That’s why I object to the conflation.

Before the jump I note (again) that I think the Fed could do more which would be useful — buy risky assets (via Maiden Lane III if necessary). But that means I absolutely don’t agree with people who call for QEIII and look at the quantity and not the quality or who think that saying more inflation would be nice would have much effect or who call for targeting nominal GDP (why not jut “target” real GDP and cut out the middle man ?).

By the way Leonhardt forgets about Diamond also when making the obligatory claim that both parties share blame “The Obama administration has also been slow to fill some Fed openings. At least one of the 12 seats has been vacant since Mr. Obama took office, and two are now.” as Leonhardt knows perfectly well, the Obama administration can’t fill Fed openings if Republican senators filibuster votes on nominees. Obama is not the reason that there are two vacancies, Shelby is. Hat tip Tom Levenson

On the other hand the article does contain news for anyone who thinks that Scott Sumner is reality based.

Mr. Sumner has become so dispirited by the Fed that, before leaving on a trip for Italy last week, he left a post on his well-read blog, The Money Illusion, under the headline, “Not enough.” The headline, he wrote, “refers to my reaction if the Fed does something while I’m gone.”

Sumner just wrote that he doesn’t bother to wait to learn the facts, because he already knows the answer. I knew that was true of him (in general) but you aren’t supposed to say so.

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Once more: I WANT MORE SPENDING!

by: Daniel Becker
Ok some more information to bolster my position that my flower shop being down this year another 4.5% compared to last year (at least the decline is leveling off) is not the results of government debt or too much taxation or banks not lending or unions… nope, my shop is off because of one thing: Lack of income in the hands of the many and nothing to date has been done to change that.
As noted here and here, monetary policy is not going to cut it. (Please pray for the Greeks.)
Or I should say, not cutting it for anyone who earns a penny because someone else had an extra penny to spend beyond their non-discretionary expenditures. That is, they are at the point of autonomous consumption, but not at the point of offsetting income earned from their cognitive or physical labor with that earned from money. That means we’re talking about the bottom 90% of the income earning population. (The top 10% own 82% of the stock.)


Two nice charts from the NY Fed bank

The first shows just how much of a dive spending has taken. Considering we’re a “consumption economy”, I don’t think this bodes well for us. The second shows how lacking in recovery such spending is compared to prior recession.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t care how much money we pump into the economy at the top, if it doesn’t get in the hands the bottom 90% of the income earners, there will be no recovery. It does not matter if the Fed’s are pumping it in or the Government is doing it via tax reductions because both methods are not putting the majority of the money in the hands of the many. The Fed article notes that this discretionary spending is “services”. It is 30% of all personal consumption expenditures (PCE). Non-discretionary is 34% of PCE, that leaves 36% somewhere in the middle? They state PCE is 70% of all output. So, 30% of 70% is 21% of all output? Using $14.7trillion means about 3.09 trillion has taken a 7% hit of $216 billion! ( I readily accept any math corrections in comments)
The author states:  
Because consumption accounts for about 70 percent of output, this in turn raises some concern about the future strength of the recovery.
That’s an understatement! He hedges some more: Also, households may remain wary about their employment and income prospects, suggesting that they may have lowered their future income expectations.
Really? “May” is the word one wants to use here? 
A Mr. Roche is more direct:
The real weakness in this recovery is rooted in the fact that consumer balance sheets are so mangled that they’re spending primarily on non-discretionary items and saving the rest of their incomes to pay down debts. This is important to understand because policy must be geared in such a way that it does not further hinder the household balance sheet. And therein lies the problem with a policy such as QE2. Anything that can potentially cause cost push inflation will only further weaken the household sector and detract from any possible recovery. In the case of QE2 I think we saw the increased speculation contribute directly to rising commodity prices which ultimately squeezed consumers further and led to the current soft spot in the economy.
BINGO!
Let’s not stop there. From Mr. Weisenthal Under “Scariest Job’s Chart Ever” we get this one on the duration of unemployment.

 
Which brings me to my posting from 4/2008: The longest Recession Ever
I noted in this post that it took 20 months from the Bush 2 recession for the peak of what I call Person Weeks Unemployed (a multiple of the number of people out and the number of weeks out). I also noted that Reagan with back to back recessions did not see the peak until 30 months past the first recession. Almost 3 full years! He also double the quotient.
I ended with: 
Thus, the peak of a recession is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re a person earning money from labor, a recession these days can last a very long time. This data would suggest that what we are seeing in the Spencer post is not a decreased risk but a lull before the storm. One other thing. It appears the Republicans fail again. As a group they have the longest turn-around to seeing a reduction in lost labor.
There you have it.  You want to fix the economy?  Don’t follow the conservative ideology.  The Republicans win in delaying recoveries. Yet, here we are with a “Democratic” president using the very language, words, framing of the group that is proven to not know how to create jobs and thus get money in the hands of the many in the shortest amount of time. Some say the Republicans are doing it this time with intention. I doubt that, though it is a meme that would make them seem to be the ultimate chess players.
Yes, I WANT MORE SPENDING!

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Monetary Policy. I’m not only not feeling it, I’m dehydrating because of it.

by Daniel Becker

Continuing my prior post suggesting that what ever monetary policy has done, it has not reached that vast majority nor has it addressed what is the main issue, I viewed this chart by Mike Kimel and thought: Perfect!
Then comes Ken Houghton linking to this article with it’s chart.
What do they have in common? Income inequality. So let me repost this graph from my 12/2007 post.
I’m only posting the second half of the graph, as that is the one that matters.

Take a look at 1996. That is the year that personal consumption crossed over the income level of the bottom 99%. It’s been borrowed money ever since. For an economy that runs on making money from money, that’s not a problem for those who earn their income by such a manor, is it?

Back to Mike’s chart. He noted that the change in what type of spending was associated with recessions happened around the early 70’s. That time is when another major event happened. The rise in productivity disconnected from the rise in wages. That is, any rise in productivity did not produce a corresponding rise in wages as was the historical norm. My position is that this was the start of the “new” service economy of making money from money that went into full mode with Reagan. Ok, we went from government spending to private sector spending as the fuel for the economic engine which I agree with Mike is what is the real mechanisms that is behind the results Mike notes Tyler Cowen labeled The Great Stagnation. Mr. Cowen is correct, it’s a great stagnation, but stagnation has it’s cause. Regarding both Mike and Mr. Cowen, the shift from government spending to private sector spending being considered the fuel that resulted in stagnation is not the complete answer. The change in the means of spending coincides with the ideology change. We went all Milton and Rand ideologocially. However, the act of spending dollars and the means by which dollars are spent is not the fuel of the engine, it only referrers to the distribution of the fuel. Mike is taking about the distribution system and Mr. Cowen is talking about the results of using that system.

So, what is the real culprit? What is it about the fuel that made us get to where we are today?

We started starving the engine of fuel. And we did it by using a supposedly better fuel distribution system. Instead of moving the money into the engine via the broadest distribution system, we followed an idea that suggested a more focused distribution system would work. It has not worked. It has quite literally starved the engine of fuel. I noted this here.
To quote that post using the time span of 1933 to 2005:

For the first 43 years, GDP doubling was always ahead of the income. For the next 32 years, GDP growth was always behind the income which was do to the top 1%’s share. Their’s is the only income that increased faster than the economy. In chart form it looks like this:
First 43 years doubling: GDP 8.6 yrs, 99%’ers 10.75 yrs, 1%’ers 14.3 yrs.
Next 32 years doubling: GDP 10.6 yrs, 99%’ers 11 yrs, 1%’ers 8 yrs.

The first 43 years the share of income to the top 1% was declining to a low in 1976. After that in was increasing.

Ok, now to Mike’s chart. He stated:

Basically, if you corner enough economists, you might get them to tell you recessions begin if there’s a big drop in private consumption, private investment, or gov’t spending.

Reading that statement while looking at his chart should be causing fire alarms and sirens to sound. This is because, if “private consumption” is an accepted cause of a recession, and the only time such appears to be associated is this current recession in 72 or so years of having recessions, then something has radically changed. If that chart showing that an accepted cause of recession only happened once in recent history, then honey, it’s the big one.

I think there is no way to deny it. Income inequality is the dinosaur in the room. It is the meteor that hit the earth. It is why all the past solutions theorized and used since the New Deal recovery are not working.  

They can’t work because they do not address the predicted but never before (recent history) experienced.

So, look at my chart again. It’s borrowed money that keep the consumption going since 1996 (yeah the supposedly great Clinton year). You do know that the share of income rose faster to the top 1% during his 2 terms than during Reagan, Bush 1 and Bush 2? It was debt combined with “new products” designed to pretend people could pay the debt which kept it going.

In terms of numbers: $1,400,000,000,000. That’s 1.4 trillion dollars every year, year in and year out that the original system had moving through it that is now somewhere in the new system doing nothing as it relates to building a larger, stronger, healthier economic engine. You can’t cut taxes enough to make up for this. You can’t distribute enough money via QE to make up for this mostly because QE does not address this at all as noted.
 
Still not convinced with my graph, Mike’s chart and the chart Ken referred too? Then try this on for size: Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze—an Update to 2007, by Edward N. Wolff, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College

March 2010 Page 20 to 22

As noted above, the ratio of debt-to-net-worth of the middle three wealth quintiles rose from 37 percent in 1983 to 46 percent in 2001 and then jumped to 61 percent in 2007. Correspondingly, their debt-to-income rose from 67 percent in 1983 to 100 percent in 2001 and then zoomed up to 157 percent in 2007! This new debt took two major forms. First, because housing prices went up over these years, families were able to borrow against the now-enhanced value of their homes by refinancing their mortgages and by taking out home equity loans (lines of credit secured by their home)…Where did the borrowing go? Some have asserted that it went to invest in stocks. However, if this were the case, then stocks as a share of total assets would have increased over this period, which it did not (it fell from 13 to 7 percent between 2001 and 2007). Moreover, it did not go into other assets…The question remains whether the consumption financed by the new debt was simply normal consumption or was there a consumption binge (acceleration) during the 2000s emanating from the expanded debt? That is, did the enhanced debt simply sustain usual consumption or did it lead to an expansion of consumption?

The average expenditure of the median income class was virtually unchanged from 1989 to 2001 and also from 2001 to 2007. Thus, the CEX data, like the NIPA data, show no acceleration in consumer spending during the debt splurge of the 2000s. As a result, it can be concluded that the debt build-up of the 2000s went for normal consumption, not enhanced consumption.

Got that? Let’s summarize: The share of income to the 99% of people declined from 1976 onward. At the same time the means of making money changed from labor production to money manipulation (producer economy to finanicialized economy) adding to the reduction in share of income. We also changed the ideology to one from relying on the vast population (as represented by the individual and We the People) to relying on a small portion of the population to distribute what money was created. We did this for 33 years. By 1996, people were borrowing as a means to sustain their standard of living (not increase it). If the people are not spending to increase their standard of living, then is the economy really growing? By 2006 people were no longer able to make the payments and consumption was declining.  Then gas hit $4/gal and winter heating was looking like another $4000 to $6000 would be needed.

To date, nothing has been done to address this. Nothing at all. And, by “this” I mean, the income inequality that has resulted in an an economy where a very small group of people (top 1%) are taking money out of the system (that is money that would fuel the engine) faster than the engine can make it which results in an ever faster declining share to the rest of the people. Instead, we have refined new fuel and dumped it right into the top 1%’s hands and wonder why the engine is still sputtering?

One other issue I have with framing and the words used today: Under water.

People are not under water. They are not drowning in debt. On the contrary, people are dehydrating. They are starving for water. Do you know what the symptoms are of dehydration? You get thirsty and then urinate less to conserve water. (debt spending) Then you stop making tears and stop sweating. (can’t borrow) Eventually your muscles cramp, the heart palpitates and you get dizzy. (close to bankruptcy, voting against your interest) Let it go long enough and you get confused, weak and your coping mechanisms fail. (Tea Party, etc) In the end, your systems fail and you die. (recession)

People are dehydrating and Washington is doing nothing about it because they believe it is drowning.  They are throwing out life boats to people in a desert.  That is the chart Ken linked to.

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Monetary policy. I’m sorry, it’s just not doing it for me.

By Daniel Becker
Stock market is up, Profits are up and banks are safe. So what? Unemployment is somewhere between going down and I can’t get no satisfaction. Housing values are still falling

A new nationwide survey from real estate Web site Zillow.com says the value of U.S. homes fell 3% from January 1 to March 30 — the steepest quarterly decline since 2008.

 
I know, I’m suppose to care. Bigger picture and all. But frankly, when I read comments such as that by Mark Sadowski’s:
 

Since Bernanke’s Jackson Hole speech the steep rise in stock prices has increased household wealth by some $5 trillion. The rise in inflation expectations has helped to ease the household debt deflation problem. Consumption has been the bright story in the BEA numbers last two quarters,…

I just get all “A vineyard? Really?” Now I know Rebecca’s post is about looking for some indication that things are better though tipsy and Mark is responding that with: No, things are rather solid in the “we’re moving forward” category.
I’m going to be bold here and state right out that I’m speaking for the middle-class. (Those of this class can correct me if I’m wrong.) Five trillion dollar in new stock market wealth is not reaching us. I’m happy for you all that are now more wealthy, but really, you’re only a small percentage of the population and thus your success is not representative of how well We the People in total are doing.

Before I go further, let us do a little simple math (for you stat manipulators, the key word: simple. Add more complication as you wish in comments.) I am allowed to do this, keep it simple because I’m not an economist. Or am I?
Let’s say that 81.2% of all stock is owned by the top 10% of wealth gatherers. (table 9). Let’s say there was 100 shares at $1 each for a total value in stock on 8/31/10 of $100. That $100 became $129.80 by 5/2/11.(S&P closing numbers)  But, I’m going to round off all of this to keep it really simple. 100 shares. 80 shares owned by 10 people. 20 shares owned by 90 people. Fast forward 9 months and now the $100 is $120. Still 100 shares. (We’re excluding splits, initial offerings and anything else that would increase the number of shares, simple.)
So, 10 people now have a total worth of $96. The 90 people are splitting up $24. Both saw a 20% rise. Hooray! But here’s the issue, an additional $1.60 will do a lot more than an additional $0.04. The issue is coin in the pocket. For the middle-class, it’s just not happening.
Let’s add a some more fun facts to this Yahoo party.   I used:  Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze—an Update to 2007 by Edward N. Wolff, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, March 2010
 

As of 2007, 38% of all households have stock via pensions and of that group it represents 31.4 % of all stock. (Table 14b, 14c) Unfortunately, the middle 3 quintiles 65.1% of their assets are their house, 12.9% is pension, 3.6% is stock held in some form. Darn few of the middle-class have any stock at all and what they have is tied up.
So again, that 29.8% rise… ain’t feeling it. I ain’t feeling it in customers in my shop. I ain’t feeling it in volume of sales in my shop. I ain’t feeling it in dollar’s per sale in my shop. Guess what I ain’t gonna do? I ain’t gonna hire anyone.
Let me leave you with this. Let’s say we manage to move 5 more people into the group that has 80% of the stock for a total of 15 people. They each have $5.333.  (Finance likes to measure as if they are using micrometers.) The remaining 85 have $0.235. The 85 have 5.9% more wealth to start. 9 months later, the 15 people have $6.40 each. They have $1.067 more. The 85 have $0.282.
Certainly $0.047 more to those in the 85 group is not going to make them go out and buy flowers. However, 5 more people have more than a buck to spend and in my shop that buys one carnation that will last 2 to 3 weeks.  As I noted before, buying that flower for one’s self has major positive benefits for one’s personality. I have a better shot at selling that 1 carnation when there are 15 people that could purchase it than when there are 10. That mean’s there is a better chance that there will be one more happy person and thus push the consumer confidence index up.
That my middle-class friends, is the power of policy designed to promote income and wealth equality vs just wealth increases.  I want me some of that there policy. 
A vineyard. Really?

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ECB policy is tightening – has been for some time

Update: Nouriel Roubini front pages this post on Euromonitor here.

The ECB dove in and hiked its policy rate by 25 basis points to 1.25%. I had the pleasure of listening to Wolfgang Munchau on Thursday, and he reiterated what I reluctantly understood: the ECB’s strict inflation target is ridiculously simple for such a complex region; but more importantly, the Governing Council is just itching to tighten.

Eurointelligence blog highlights the various interpretations of the ECB’s shift in policy: Thomas Mayer at Deutsche Bank suggests that the ECB’s normalization is appropriate, while David Beckworth and others (links at Beckworth’s site) are more sympathetic to the impact on the Periphery. They highlight that relative price fluctuations could facilitate the much-needed redistribution of capital flows (i.e., the current account); and furthermore, that ECB policy is even too tight for the core (a google translation of Kantoos Economics). Yours truly has written extensively about this – among others, here’s one, another, and another. Who’s right? Ultimately time will tell.

But I do suspect that we haven’t seen the end of this crisis. The ECB is squeezing out liquidity when more liquidity is needed. Furthermore, the core remains subject to export shocks via external demand; and there’s building evidence that global growth will slow (see this excellent post on global PMIs by Edward Hugh).

It’s ironic, too. While the ECB is currently being heralded or chastised for raising rates, monetary and financial conditions in Europe have been tight for some time, both on a relative and stand-alone basis!
(read more after the jump!)

First, the ECB’s bond purchase programs, the Securities Market Programme and the Covered Bond Purchase program, amount to just 1.4% of 2010 Eurozone GDP. In stark contrast, the size of the Fed’s program broke 16% (and is rising) and the Bank of England’s purchase program remains firm at around 13% of GDP.


The asset purchase programs are emergence liquidity programs and are not normal monetary policy tools. But while the Fed and the BoE do not sterilize their flows, the ECB does. And my interpretation of ECB rhetoric and policy as of late is that they want out of the secondary-bond purchase business. For example, they’ve slowed their SMP purchases markedly in 2011 (see the ad-hoc announcements here).

Second, Eurozone financial conditions have been tightening since August 2010, while those in the US and England loosened up. Goldman Sachs constructs a financial conditions index, which is comprised of real interest rates (long and short), real exchange rates, and equity market capitalization. I love this index (subscription required), as it represents a broad measure of monetary policy pass-through.

Even though the ECB just started its rate-hiking cycle, they’ve been effectively tightening for some time.

I would say that Eurozone (as a whole) growth prospects are seriously challenged at this time, especially by comparing monetary policy to that in England and the US. We’ll see if the ECB’s able to push its target rate back to 2.5-3% through 2012 – I suspect that may be just a pipe dream, as tight liquidity and a slowing global economy drag economic growth.

The ECB’s actions imply to me that they still do not understand the following: Europe faces a banking crisis not a fiscal crisis!

Rebecca Wilder

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