Friday, November 24, 2006

No Problems With The Economy


The "no problem" crowd at Cafe Hayek insists that we are all benefiting from "free trade" with China... and anyone who thinks otherwise is a discredited "mercantilist".

Okay... here is the latest Debt Service Ratio from the Federal Reserve... the percentage of household disposable income required to cover debt (I've shown 2nd quarter by year for brevity). Remember that is a national average... so if 10-15% of the people are causing the increase... then the increase is magnified considerably for them. If everyone is sharing in that increase... then we are seeing a structural change in our economy.

Yr/Qtr Percent
80q2 11.16
81q2 10.73
82q2 10.75
83q2 10.57
84q2 10.76
85q2 11.38
86q2 11.95
87q2 12.27
88q2 11.92
89q2 11.90
90q2 11.96
91q2 11.80
92q2 11.12
93q2 10.83
94q2 10.95
95q2 11.60
96q2 11.94
97q2 12.12
98q2 12.04
99q2 12.29
00q2 12.51
01q2 13.19
02q2 13.29
03q2 13.55
04q2 13.46
05q2 14.07
06q2 14.40
Apparently, the "free traders" are not feeling your pain. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that as China increases its share of manufacturing for products consumed in the U.S., that consumers in the U.S. have had an increasing portion of their income going toward debt servicing? Well, maybe. Perhaps it is just that we've all become spendthrifts in past decade.... Or maybe our "disposable income" is not keeping up with the cost of living.

But things are going really well in China.

Hmmmm. Well, to be fair, let's admit that there is uncertainty about the statistical correlation between outsourcing jobs or simply importing more products that we used to produce. Data is hard to come by. Still, closing a factory in Kentucky or Ohio in order to produce the product in Mexico or China seems to have an intuitive correlation. Others say that there is a net increase in employment from not doing the work ourselves. Let's leave it there for now. But as Ben Benanke says:

"Quantitatively, outsourcing abroad simply cannot account for much of the recent weakness in the U.S. labor market and does not appear likely to be an important restraint to further recovery in employment," Fed Governor Ben Bernanke said in a speech Tuesday at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

But Bernanke added that the effects of outsourcing should not be ignored, saying job losses cause "significant hardships for affected workers." He agreed that jobless benefits and worker training were helpful, adding that policy makers should also try to get the economy growing faster and find ways to ease the sting of health-care costs.

"To say that the U.S. economy benefits from trade is not to say that every individual American worker or family benefits, or that the structural changes induced by trade are not disruptive," Bernanke said.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)