Thursday, May 25, 2017

Has dismantling of American health care system begun?

Financial fAQs

We now know that the revised Republican repeal of Obamacare is really intended to dismantle and perhaps destroy any federally-funded health care program, which would return health care to either cash-starved states or private industry; to the high cost, broken healthcare system it was before Obamacare. And all this is to give the wealthiest among us a tax break they don’t need?

We know because the CBO and JCT estimate just out says that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under H.R. 1628 than under current law. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 23 million in 2026.

We also know this because no public hearings were held on the House plan and none are planned for the still-secret Senate plan, something that Senator Diane Feinstein said has never happened before for major legislation in her 40 years in Congress.

And it is a very major bill. For instance, in 2026, an estimated 51 million people under age 65 would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law, according to the CBO. Under the legislation, a few million of those people would use tax credits to purchase policies that would not cover major medical risks, but their costs would rise because no longer protected by the ACA prohibition against raising costs for those with pre-existing conditions, for example.

It therefore dismantles the possibility of affordable health care that covers pre-existing conditions for most Americans. It gives businesses and the wealthiest a juicy $664 billion reduction in taxes, which are the tax revenues needed to pay for the Obamacare state subsidies—mainly to reimburse states that cover their poorest Medicaid citizens. So, it’s to be paid for with a total of $1.111B in spending cuts for Medicaid and social security disability coverage.


It is what the white racist agenda of Tea Party Republicans and President Trump is leading us towards. It is what they mean by making American great again. Let us hope there are enough intelligent Senators to block what is being done in secrecy, in the hopes that most Americans won’t notice there is nothing great about leaving a total of 53 million in 10 years—mostly the elderly and poor—without any healthcare options except the most expensive, and a budget that wants to continue to redistribute our tax dollars to the wealthiest one percent where it will do the least good.

And in a coda, Senate Republicans face increasing pressure to rescue health insurance markets and protect coverage for millions of Americans amid growing fears that the Trump administration is going to let the markets collapse, said the LA Times.

This is because President Trump has repeatedly threatened to withhold federal aid that helps millions of low-income Americans afford their deductibles and co-pays.  The aid, which reimburses insurers for lowering out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers, was paid by the Obama administration. But it is now the subject of a lawsuit by congressional Republicans, who argue Congress must approve the payments.

In recent days, leading hospitals, physician groups, health insurers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pleaded with the Senate to step in, effectively going around the White House.

“Congress must take action now,” the groups warned in a letter to Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. “At this point, only congressional action can help consumers.”

Can it be any clearer that health care coverage for many, if not most Americans, is in danger of collapse? 


Harlan Green © 2017

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What Will Create Higher Growth?

Popular Economics Weekly

Amidst all the talk of Republicans promise to cut regulations and taxes to boost growth, there is one problem. Where are the workers that would boost growth? We are already close to full employment, and in fact Red states like Utah have an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent, per the New York Times  Binyamin Applebaum’s visit to the state.
“After eight years of steady growth, the main economic concern in Utah and a growing number of other states is no longer a lack of jobs, but a lack of workers,” says Applebaum. “The unemployment rate here fell to 3.1 percent in March, among the lowest figures in the nation. Nearly a third of the 388 metropolitan areas tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics have an unemployment rate below 4 percent, well below the level that economists consider “full employment,” the normal churn of people quitting to find new jobs. The rate in some cities, like Ames, Iowa, and Boulder, Colo., is even lower, at 2 percent.”
And this is when the Trump administration wants to build a wall and cut immigration quotas in half. There aren’t enough working-age American citizens to pick up growth, in other words. A corporate tax cut may encourage corporations to spend more on business investment. In fact, business equipment, in a positive indication for second-quarter business investment, rose a very sharp 1.2 percent, which should boost productivity from its recent very low 1.2 percent, and is the other component of GDP growth.

There’s a simple reason for the surge in business investment, as I said last week. Businesses need more automation, because they can’t find enough qualified workers to fill the 5.743 million, job openings reported in the Labor Department’s latest JOLTS report, which is far above total hirings of 5.260 million in April, a gap of 483,000.


Then there is the Trump administration budget proposal, which wants to slash healthcare and food assistance programs for the poor as they cut $3.6 trillion in government spending over 10 years, according to the White House's budget proposal for next year.

So instead of increasing revenues to pay for the Wall, tax cuts for the wealthiest, and more military spending, they are reducing revenues by cutting spending on the programs that pay for our social safety net. And studies have shown this will create an even larger hole in the federal budget.

It’s really elementary mathematics. Without the workers to produce them, and consumers with enough money to buy said products (e.g., those middle and lower income workers who lose their Medicare or Obamacare benefits), there can’t be higher growth. And the Fed has said if the federal government increases spending without the concomitant revenues to pay for that spending, they will continue to raise interest rates to avoid higher inflation.

This is the Faustian bargain that the current Congress is attempting to pass. Tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 per year ($250,00 for married couples) takes away much needed revenues that cover benefits for everyone else. For instance, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s tax provisions would provide America’s wealthiest taxpayers with an immediate tax cut totaling $346 billion over 10 years.

That will not fly, as word gets out and more Town Halls are flooded with protesters over the proposed $800 billion in Medicaid spending cuts alone, cuts which would hurt the poorer Republican red states. So, unless lawmakers come to their senses, this could cause Republicans to lose their congressional majorities in 2018.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Increase Industrial Production Sign Higher Growth?

Popular Economics Weekly

Industrial production in April grew at the fastest monthly rate in more than three years on the back of broad-based gains in the manufacturing sector, reports the Federal Reserve. Industrial production grew 1 percent in April led by a 5 percent increase in motor vehicle production. It was because business investment is up sharply, as is consumer spending.

Business equipment, in a positive indication for second-quarter business investment, rose a very sharp 1.2 percent, reports Econoday, which could be a sign of a badly needed business expansion. “Production of consumer goods was even stronger, up 1.5 percent. Two negatives are hi-tech industries with a small decline and also construction supplies which posted a second straight dip that offers a reminder of this morning's disappointing housing starts report.”
There’s an obvious reason for the surge in business investment. Businesses need more automation, as they can’t find enough qualified workers to fill the 5.743 million, job openings reported in the Labor Department’s latest JOLTS report, much more plentiful than total hirings of 5.260 million in April, a gap of 483,000.

That also means an ultimate surge in badly needed Labor Productivity that has been lagging of late. From the first quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017, productivity increased just 1.1 percent, reflecting increases in output and hours worked of 2.4 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, said the BLS.

And without higher labor productivity, the US economy can’t grow more than the current 2 percent GDP growth rate. What was the rate during periods of higher growth? Until 2000, economic growth averaged more than 3 percent, while productivity averaged 2.5 percent until 2007.

 But then something happened. Average productivity plunged to 1.2 percent from 2010 onward. Why? Businesses stopped investing, for starters. This was partly due to the plunge in oil prices (from $100 to $30 per barrel last year), and consequent plunge in industrial production.

But our population also began declining, the other component to GDP growth (besides labor productivity). Until 2000, the U.S. population grew more than 1 percent, but since 2000 average population growth halved to about 0.5 percent.

Graph: CBO

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that we would need 2.8 million new workers per year to reach the 3 percent growth rate that Trump and Repubs want. Where will they come from? New immigrants, as the U.S. currently generates just 600,000 new job entrants per year, on average.

The baby boom is gone, in other words, and even the record-breaking millennial generation won’t fill the bill.  So we need more immigrants, not less, as well as higher labor productivity, if Repubs are to boost economic growth.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Builder Optimism + Affordability Higher

The Mortgage Corner

Good news is that rising wages and moderating home prices offset a rise in mortgage interest rates to give housing affordability a slight boost in the first quarter of 2017, said the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) last week.

And In a further sign that the housing market continues to strengthen, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose two points in May to a level of 70 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This is the second highest HMI reading since the downturn.


NAHB.org
"The HMI confidence measure of future sales conditions reached its highest level since June 2005, a sign of growing consumer confidence in the new home market," said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. "Especially as existing home inventory remains tight, we can expect increased demand for new construction moving forward."

But housing construction is not yet catching up to demand, as I said in a recent column. The first quarter ended with a thud for housing starts which fell a very steep 6.8 percent to a 1.215 million annualized rate which is the weakest since November, said the NAHB. Posting similar declines were both single-family homes, at an 821,000 pace, and multi-family, at 394,000. Housing construction does show nearly double-digit year-on-year growth, though quarter-to-quarter movement is barely perceptible. 


It looks like employment is now ahead of housing, hence demand exceeds the supply of new housing, a good sign.
"Ongoing job growth continues to fuel demand for housing, while wage growth is helping to offset the effects of rising mortgage rates and keep home prices affordable," said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. "NAHB anticipates that housing will continue on a gradual, upward path throughout the year."
In all, 60.3 percent of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of January and end of March were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $68,000. This is up from the 59.9 percent of homes sold that were affordable to median-income earners in the fourth quarter.

The national median home price fell to $245,000 in the first quarter from $250,000 in the final quarter of 2016. Meanwhile, average mortgage rates rose nearly half a point from 3.84 percent in the fourth quarter to 4.33 percent in the first quarter.

But mortgage rates have fallen since then, which will increase affordability for first-time home buyers, in particular. The 30-year fixed conforming rate today is 3.625 percent with a 1 point origination fee in California, which means fixed mortgage rates have returned to rates last available in the 1950s.

So, once again, interest rates are not rising with expectations of higher inflation. Inflation is not even showing up in housing prices. So let us hope this continues, even if the Fed does raise short term rates a third time in June, as it has hinted it would do.

Harlan Green © 2017


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Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Declining Treasury Yield Curve—Recession Looming?

Financial FAQs

We are basically at full employment with a 4.4 percent unemployment rate, which should tell us we are nearing the end of this growth cycle.
Econoday reports, “The total number of employed Americans, and this includes both the self-employed and those on payrolls, is 153.2 million and a new record. This total has been rising steadily since falling to a cycle low in December 2009 of 138.0 million. Doing the math here means that 15.2 million jobs have been added during this expansion. The upward slope has been steady and is showing no sign of letting up. The peak in the prior cycle was 146.7 million, hit in November 2007.”



So how do we know we have reached a peak in growth? The National Bureau of Economic Research that tracks growth cycles tells us by using 4 economic indicators: including unemployment, real personal income and real GDP growth (less inflation), and industrial production. Those indicators have already surpassed their last peaks that were reached in 2007, so the question is how much higher can they go before they reach this cycle’s peak.

It is possible the economy may continue to grow with Congress and the White House politically deadlocked and unable to pass any stimulus spending, but that would mean the private sector starts spending more of their $4 trillion plus in unspent profits they have been hoarding, rather than wait for the tax cuts that Republicans have been promising. But don’t bet on that bridge to nowhere, as the saying goes.

On the NBER’s faq page, they define the beginning and end of recessions. “We identify a month when the economy reached a peak of activity and a later month when the economy reached a trough.
The time in between is a recession, a period when economic activity is contracting. The following period is an expansion. As of September 2010, when we decided that a trough had occurred in June 2009, the economy was still weak, with lingering high unemployment, but had expanded considerably from its trough 15 months earlier.”

So June 2009 was identified as the end of the Great Recession (the trough in activity), which began in December 2007 (its prior peak). Calculated Risk’s Bill McBride has followed those NBER recession indicators, and as of April, 2015, they have all exceeded their past highs.

I believe the most important indicator has been personal income, which exceeded its past peak in 2012, but has fluctuated a bit since then.


Employment is also important, but has tended to lag the other indicators in predicting a recession. It didn’t peak until several months into the Great Recession, but is now 2 percent above its last peak.

All four recession indicators are now above their pre-recession peaks. The problem now is we and the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee aren’t sure that economic activity tops out until months later when the NBER sees a sustained drop in activity, as their 2010 example showed. This past quarter’s meager 0.7 percent GDP growth is still growth, by the way.

So another indicator that might indicate a looming slowdown is the decline in slope of the so-called Treasury Yield Curve, which shows the difference between short term rates regulated by the Federal Reserve, and long term fixed Treasury yields determined by the bond markets—such as the 10 and 30-year Treasuries.

The difference between those 2 yields is basically the profit margin made by lenders that have to borrow at short term rates and lend at the longer term interest rates. It is no longer as steep as it has been, which means lenders become more restrictive, which shrinks available credit, always a sign of slower growth.

So, if the Fed continues to raise short term rates, and because of market uncertainty or low inflation long term rates don't rise from their lows, then it could mean a looming recession.  But that is a big 'if'.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Monday, May 8, 2017

TrumpCare--The Un-American Health Care Act

Popular Economics Weekly

It’s incredible. Why have House Republicans just voted for a health care bill that only does one thing in the words of MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, co-designer of the Massachusetts single-pay healthcare program and Obamacare?

On Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word he states that it gives the wealthiest what could be the single largest tax cut in history—almost $1 billion for those earning $200,000 plus per year—but cuts benefits to everyone else.

And this is when 23 percent of Americans have pre-existing medical conditions. The answer in the words of Paul Krugman has to be pure greed. Tax cuts are more important than protecting Americans from loss of coverage due to pre-existing conditions and soaring premium for everyone but the youngest and healthiest among US.

It was also an attempt to make the President look good, regardless of his broken promises that Obamacare benefits wouldn’t be reduced. Trump doesn’t care who loses, in other words, so long as he doesn’t look like a ‘loser’.

But what does it do for the white blue collar male Trump supporters who have suffered most from their loss of jobs, and whose mortality rate due to drugs and suicides is double that of other developed countries that lived through the same Great Recession?

Graph: CBO

The CBO graph pictures the suffering of 45-54 year-old white working class males in our post-industrial age. The rising red line is USA males, the falling lines are white males in other developed countries with Sweden having the lowest mortality rate “for all causes”. Even US Hispanics (blue line) had a falling mortality rate.

The House wouldn’t wait for the Congressional Budget Office latest ‘scoring’ of the costs of the bill, which confirms that House Republicans weren’t even concerned about its effects on federal and state budgets, much less on how many would lose their coverage, if taken off Obamacare.

The Congressional Budget Office projections on earlier House attempts to repeal projected that the revised GOP bill would realize $150 billion in reduced federal spending through 2026, which is less than half of the $337 billion in deficit reductions that the CBO had estimated for the bill's first version, said a CNBC summary of the report.
“But the newer version, like the first, is expected to lead to 14 million fewer people having health insurance in 2018, and 24 million fewer insured Americans by 2026 than would be covered if Obamacare remained as law in its current form. And an estimated total of 52 million people nationally would lack health coverage by 2026 if the revised bill becomes law, according to the CBO's projection. However, if Obamacare remained in effect, 28 million Americans would not have insurance by that year, according to the CBO.”

It cuts almost all Obamacare benefits, including to childcare, Medicare and Medicaid; even employers’ health care plans by turning over implementation to individual states. This is basically returning healthcare to the broken system it was before Obamacare that made US the unhealthiest developed country.

There were 20 mostly moderate Republicans that didn’t vote for the bill. The defectors were primarily centrists who had trepidations about voting for the bill after the addition of an amendment to let states apply for waivers from certain Obamacare provisions that prevent insurers from charging sick people higher premiums and mandate which services insurance plans must cover, said the Washington Post.

What are the effects of 24 million losing their health insurance? The New York Times Charles Blow cites a 2009 study conducted by the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance: “nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance,” and “uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts.”

Republican House members seem to have no idea that President Trump is leading their re-election chances over a cliff—just so he won’t look like the loser he really is.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

April Employment Up, Q1 Consumer Spending Weak

Financial FAQs

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 211,000 in April, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent from 4.5 percent in March, reported the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today. Job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, health care and social assistance, financial activities, Business and Professional Services, and government.

Both the unemployment rate, at 4.4 percent, and the number of unemployed persons, at 7.1 million, changed little in April, says the BLS. But over the year the unemployment rate has declined by 0.6 percentage point, and the number of unemployed has fallen by 854,000.

 

That is progress, and probably why the Federal Reserve will raise rates again in June. It said in its FOMC press release of this week’s meeting that it left a key borrowing rate unchanged and dismissed a weak first quarter GDP growth as temporary, meaning it is still on track to raise interest rates at a gradual pace.
“The [Federal Open Market Committee] views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory,” the statement said. Job gains were described as “solid,” as were the fundamentals underpinning the continued growth in consumer spending. Business fixed investment “firmed,” the central bank noted.
The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) declined by 281,000 to 5.3 million in April. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time jobs. Over the past 12 months, the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons has decreased by 698,000, a good sign.

That may be due to very strong growth in both the service and manufacturing sectors. The 16 non-manufacturing (service) industries reporting growth in April include Construction, Retail, Healthcare, Real Estate, Finance & Insurance. The only industry reporting contraction in April is Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting.

And in manufacturing 16 of the 18 industries reported growth in April. All parts of the survey registered above 50 percent, meaning most sectors were expanding, signaling continued growth. “The New Orders Index registered 57.5 percent, a decrease of 7 percentage points from the March reading of 64.5 percent,” said the ISM Manufacturing report “The Production Index registered 58.6 percent, 1 percentage point higher than the March reading of 57.6 percent. The Employment Index registered 52 percent, a decrease of 6.9 percentage points from the March reading of 58.9 percent.”
So, business activity is still growing in most of the U.S. economy. Then why doesn’t’ this translate to higher economic growth? Q1 GDP expanded at just 0.7 percent, while Q4 2016 GDP growth wasn’t much better at 2.0 percent. The culprit was lower consumer spending in Q1.

There was a drop in exports, and increase in imports. In other words, consumers bought more from overseas that it produced in the U.S. So, consumers are spending, but it doesn’t help domestic production, and hence GDP growth, so that consumer spending rose just 0.3 percent for the most embarrassing annualized pace since 2009, said Econoday.


Unemployment is unusually low and consumer confidence unusually high making the results difficult to explain. The effect of seasonal adjustments are exaggerated during the winter and may very well be holding back the results. Yet even for a first quarter, this one was slow.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Housing Recovery Still Uneven

Financial FAQs

Fresh data from real-estate website Trulia show that just 34.2 percent of homes have returned to the peak levels registered before the onset of the recession in 2008, reports Marketwatch’s Andrea Requier. What’s more, Trulia estimates it could take until 2025 for a true national recovery in home prices.

That’s almost twice the length of the S&L housing crash that lasted from 1986 to approximately 2006. Why the difference? Because the Great Recession was much worse, with many more homes lost, and incomes for most Americans still below that time. The Great Recession exacerbated already record income inequality, in other words.
Sam Khater, deputy chief economist for CoreLogic, agrees, says Requier. “What’s unusual about this recovery is that it’s been lopsided. Wealth — home equity and financial equity — have recovered. Incomes have not. One-half of all households have participated in the massive run-up of stocks, two-thirds have participated in the gains from home ownership. The flip side is the inverse, the people who have not participated. How has their recovery been?”
 Not very good, as mortgage debt has barely dropped from recession highs. As Regions chief economist Richard Moody pointed out in a research note, 30 percent of all owner-occupied households have no mortgage debt at all, meaning that the 50 million households that do have mortgages have less than the 57 percent equity that’s presented in the flow of funds data from the Federal Reserve in December.

 “We are absolutely not out of the woods as far as home-value recovery is concerned,” Trulia’s chief economist, Ralph McLaughlin told MarketWatch. “The housing-market crash was pretty monumental. The scarring of the housing market has not gone away and will be visible for the indefinite future.”

That means some two-thirds of homes are still below housing bubble prices that prevailed in 2006-07. Three cities in California, Las Vegas and Tucson, Arizona have suffered the most, but two cities in Florida—Daytona Beach and Ft. Lauderdale—aren’t far behind.

More enlightened economic policies would help—such as universal health care, a major cause of poverty; more spending in education and the research and development of new products, which would increase labor productivity, one of the 2 major ingredients for higher growth. The other ingredient is a growing workforce, and if Republicans succeed in reducing immigration, which supplies most of new workers, it will also dampen growth.

The homeownership rate slid 0.6 percentage point to 62.9 percent in the second quarter, the Census Department said Thursday. Will the homeownership rate continue to decline? Good question. There are many reasons for lower levels of homeownership, as we know, including delayed marriages, higher student loan debt, flat incomes since the recession, for starters.

So unless more is done to boost incomes (e.g, higher minimum wages), to introduce tuition-free public colleges (only in New York at the moment), more progressive taxation, and other stimulus measures, homeownership will not be able to significantly contribute to future economic growth.

And a whole generation may be left out of the housing market.

Harlan Green © 2017




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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Consumer Spending Down, Recession Looms?

Popular Economics Weekly

Wow! First-quarter GDP was paltry enough at 0.7 percent but consumer spending was even more paltry, at only 0.3 percent for the most embarrassing annualized pace since 2009, said Econoday. Unemployment is unusually low and consumer confidence unusually high making the results difficult to explain.


Could it be that nothing is happening in Congress and the White House on all those promised initiatives? The 5-month budget agreement left all spending priorities in place for the rest of this fiscal year (i..e., until September). That meant no money for a border wall, no defunding of Obamacare (as promised), or Planned Parenthood, or cuts in the EPA budget that protects our environment.

All the post-election euphoria for change hasn’t translated into actions, in other words. So, consumers may be keeping their powder dry, as their savings rate rose 0.2 percent to 5.6 percent.

Another worrisome indicator is almost no inflation, as core Personal Consumption Expenditure prices had the weakest showing in 16-1/2 years, according to Econoday. Core PCE prices fell 0.1 percent to take down the year-on-year rate by a sizable 2 tenths to 1.6 percent.

And if there’s no inflation, or falling inflation, it means there’s falling demand, which means falling profits. And that’s when a business cycle ends. So unless Congress and the Trump White House decide to stop playing with people’s minds on repealing Obamacare, or trying to pass a budget that cuts taxes for the wealthiest while cutting benefits to seniors and the sickest, we could see a looming recession.

The ineptitude of government is at the moment startling. The budget agreement leaves everything in place, which includes, thanks to the Washington Post’s Daily 202:

1. There are explicit restrictions to block the border wall, but final agreement goes further, putting strict limitations on how Trump can use new money for border security (e.g. to invest in new technology and repair existing fencing). Administration officials have insisted they already have the statutory authority to start building the wall under a 2006 law. This prevents such an end run.

2. Non-defense domestic spending will go up, despite the Trump team’s insistence he wouldn’t let that happen. The president called for $18 billion in cuts. Instead, he’s going to sign a budget with lots of sweeteners that grow the size of government. Mitch McConnell made sure $4.6 billion got put aside to permanently extend health benefits to 22,000 retired Appalachian coal miners and their families.

Nancy Pelosi made sure $295 million was included to shore up Medicaid in Puerto Rico. Chuck Schumer got $61 million to reimburse local law enforcement agencies for the cost of protecting Trump when he travels to his residences in Florida and New York. There is also another $2 billion in disaster relief money for states, which bought a couple votes. (Kelsey Snell, our lead budget reporter, has more examples.)

3. The administration asked to slash spending at the National Institutes of Health by $1.2 billion for the rest of this fiscal year. Instead, the NIH will get a $2 billion boost – on top of the huge increase it got last year. Republican appropriators who care about biomedical research, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), delivered.Trump also failed in his efforts to cut money for other kinds of scientific inquiry. For example, he proposed defunding the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy. Instead, it is getting a $15 million increase.

4. Trump fought to cut the Environmental Protection Agency by a third. The final deal trims its budget by just 1 percent, with no staff cuts. As part of a compromise, the EPA gets $80 million less than last year, but the budget is $8 billion.

5. He didn’t defund Planned Parenthood. Despite the best efforts of social conservatives, the group will continue to receive funding at current levels.

6. The president got less than half as much for the military as he said was necessary. Trump repeatedly prodded Congress to increase military spending by $30 billion. He’s getting $12.5 billion, with an additional $2.5 billion if/when he delivers a detailed plan on how to defeat the Islamic State.

7. Democrats say they forced Republicans to withdraw more than 160 riders. These unrelated policy measures, which each could have been a poison pill, would have done things like get rid of the fiduciary rule and water down environmental regulations. On the other side of the ledger, this budget blocks the Justice Department from restricting the dispensing of medical marijuana in states where it has been legalized.

8. To keep negotiations moving, the White House already agreed last week to continue paying Obamacare subsidies. This money, which goes to insurance companies, reduces out-of-pocket expenses for low income people who get coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration justifies giving up on this because of the potential to resolve the bigger issue by repealing Obamacare.

Need we say more?  If ideology trumps common sense; such as the promised $1 trillion infrastructure bill, we can see the confidence balloon also lose its air. Then watch out below, as I've said.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Slow Q1 GDP Growth Means What?

Financial FAQs

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017, according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter of 2016, real GDP increased 2.1 percent.


The first estimate of first quarter economic growth usually means little. Consumer weren’t spending, and they never seem to spend much in Q1, as in past years, as the BEA graph show. But with consumer confidence still sky high because of optimism that President Trump and Congress might still agree on some stimulus, spending may pick up.
There were signs of higher growth in Q1 outside of the consumers, particularly in real estate. “The deceleration in real GDP in the first quarter reflected a deceleration in PCE and downturns in private inventory investment and in state and local government spending that were partly offset by an upturn in exports and accelerations in both nonresidential and residential fixed investment,” said the BEA.
So consumer sentiments can be deceptive, even misleading, given the lack of higher consumer spending in Q1. The Conference Board reported the consumer confidence index eased back to 120.3 in April vs a revised 124.9 in March with these two months the best of the 8-year expansion. “Readings remain strongly favorable including jobs-hard-to-get which is steady at a very low 19.1 percent and points to strength for the April employment report,” said Econoday. 
Weak vehicle sales are a major negative in the quarter's consumer breakdown, pulling durable sales down at a 2.5 percent rate and offsetting a 1.5 percent rise in non-durables and a slow 0.4 percent showing for services. Weakness in consumer spending is worrisome but not other data in the GDP report. Residential investment posted a second straight very strong quarter, up 13.7 percent. And in a rare show of strength, nonresidential investment, which has been subdued, jumped at a 9.4 percent rate with both structures and equipment showing unusual strength. A surge in mining investment is a standout of the report, said the BEA.


There are more signs that growth could pick up in coming quarters. The Institute for Supply Management’s Chicago Business Barometer, a proxy for Midwest growth, ticked up 0.6 Points in April to 58.3 in April from 57.7 in March, the highest level since January 2015. New orders are the highest since May 2014, and in a sign of ongoing strength deliveries continue to slow. 

Optimism among firms about business conditions rose for the third month in a row. Three of the five Barometer components led April’s increase, with Production and Order Backlogs receding, said the report. Third Consecutive Rise in Business Confidence, New Orders Highest Since May 2014, Inflationary Pressures Ease Slightly, Prices Paid fall, as the MNI Chicago Business Barometer increased to 58.3 in April from 57.7 in March, the highest level since January 2015.
“The April Chicago report showcased another impressive month, with firms reporting solid growth. Rising demand and firm production led to a pick-up in hiring by firms. Although the employment indicator has been bumpy, in and out of contraction, if the current month’s rise is sustained, it could provide a boost to the labor market,” said Shaily Mittal, senior economist at MNI Indicators, compiler of the report.
But optimism doesn’t always translate to spending, as we know from past reports. Consumers’ incomes keep rising and were very solid in the fourth quarter at a 3.5 percent pace, but rose at only 0.3 percent in first-quarter 2017 on weak vehicle sales and lower heating bills. This is by far the worst showing since no change in fourth-quarter 2009, and would be the lowest showing for consumer spending in 5 years. What will it take for consumers to spend again?

Harlan Green © 2017


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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pending Home Sales Decline, Because No Inventory!

Popular Economics Weekly

The Pending Home Sales Index, www.nar.realtor/topics/pending-home-sales, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, declined 0.8 percent to 111.4 in March from 112.3 in February. Despite last month's decrease, the index is 0.8 percent above a year ago.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says sparse inventory levels caused a pullback in pending sales in March, with existing-home inventories in the 5 month range, but activity was still strong enough to be the third best in the past year. "Home shoppers are coming out in droves this spring and competing with each other for the meager amount of listings in the affordable price range," he said. "In most areas, the lower the price of a home for sale, the more competition there is for it. That's the reason why first-time buyers have yet to make up a larger share of the market this year, despite there being more sales overall."

That’s why the Case-Shiller Home Price index has increased 5.8 percent YoY. Housing prices are entering bubble territory, as the accompanying Calculated Risk Price-to-Rent comparison shows. It measures the ratio between housing prices and rents, and reached its highest level in 2006—meaning the housing price ratio had soared far above the historical 1-to-1 ratio of price-to-rents that prevailed in the 1980s and 90s, when housing prices rose more in line with rents. So, home buyers were paying prices they couldn’t really afford during the housing bubble, since rental rates are a better measure of incomes.



On a price-to-rent basis, the Case-Shiller National index is back to November 2003 levels, the Composite 20 index is back to August 2003 levels, and the CoreLogic index is back to July 2003, says Econoday, so we are not yet back to pre-recession price levels.

Pointing to revealing data from the March Realtors® Confidence Index, Yun worries that the painfully low supply levels this spring could heighten price growth — at 6.8 percent last month — even more in the months ahead. Homes in March came off the market at a near-record pace, and indicating an increase in the likelihood of listings receiving multiple offers, 42 percent of homes sold at or above list price (the second highest amount since NAR began tracking in December 2012).


The main reason for such “painfully lw supply” is soaring existing-home sales. “Existing sales rose a very sharp 4.4 percent to a higher-than-expected annualized rate of 5.710 million,” said Econoday. “This is the best rate since February 2007. Both components show strength with single-family sales up 4.3 percent to a 5.080 million rate and condo sales up 5.0 percent to a 630,000 rate. And year-on-year sales are moving higher, up 5.9 percent divided between 6.1 percent for single-family homes and 5.0 percent for condos.”

And housing construction is not yet catching up to demand. The first quarter ended with a thud for housing starts which fell a very steep 6.8 percent to a 1.215 million annualized rate which is the weakest since November, said the NAHB. Posting similar declines were both single-family homes, at an 821,000 pace, and multi-family, at 394,000. But housing construction does show nearly double-digit year-on-year growth, though quarter-to-quarter movement is barely perceptible.

The hope is housing construction will continue to pick up, as we expect housing demand to remain strong, and interest rates to remain low for the foreseeable future.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

No “Art of the Deal” in 100 Days


It’s 100 days into the Trump Presidency and looking more and more like President Trump is no more effective at running the country than his business interests. His book, The Art of the Deal was meant to tout his negotiating skills, but the results were never very successful.

And neither are his legislative efforts; with no repeal of Obamacare, tax reform, an immigration ban, new trade policy, and sanctuary city victories in the offing anytime soon because of poorly thought out strategies. Instead, he threatens judges, sanctuary cities, Congress, and even other countries when they don’t support his various executive orders.

His multiple bankruptcies of the Trump Casinos when other Atlantic City Casinos were successful, Trump University charged as a criminal enterprise (under RICO), and the fact that he had to rely on Russian Oligarchs to finance his real estate empire when U.S. banks would no longer lend to him, are just the tip of the iceberg of business incompetence.

These are the acts of a bully, rather than leader, which is why he seems to have so much in common with V Putin, Marine Le Pen, and other demagogues. Acting tough can be a plus when dealing with North Korea, or even Russia, but not when dealing with Americans who don’t like him or his very anti-American policies.

It’s sad, really, that he doesn’t have the skills to really shake up the Washington establishment, which needs it badly, as the election showed. But being a successful negotiator requires more than bully tactics, even in business. He so badly stiffed his own employees, as well as states such as New York (back taxes), charities, and well as U.S. banks that they want nothing more to do with him, except in court.

This is why he is involved in more than 4,000 lawsuits at last count, according to USA Today, and more are yet to come with mounting Federal court rulings against his executive orders.

Fortune Magazine reported last June on candidate Trump’s negotiating tactics: “The legal actions provide clues to the leadership style the billionaire businessman would bring to bear as commander in chief. He sometimes responds to even small disputes with overwhelming legal force. He doesn’t hesitate to deploy his wealth and legal firepower against adversaries with limited resources, such as homeowners. He sometimes refuses to pay real estate brokers, lawyers and other vendors.”

And, “As he campaigns, Trump often touts his skills as a negotiator,” says Fortune. “The analysis shows that lawsuits are one of his primary negotiating tools. He turns to litigation to distance himself from failing projects that relied on the Trump brand to secure investments. As USA TODAY previously reported, he also uses the legal system to haggle over his property tax bills. His companies have been involved in more than 100 tax disputes, and the New York State Department of Finance has obtained liens on Trump properties for unpaid tax bills at least three dozen times.”

There may be even be more troubles ahead for President Trump, now that he is also stiffing a Republican-run House Oversight Committee investigation into General Flynn’s activities as an unreported lobbyist, which wasn’t apparently disclosed in his application for renewal of his Top Secret security clearance.

So, could this lead to his impeachment?

Harlan Green © 2017

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why Is Mortgage Lending Still Restricted?

The Mortgage Corner

We can thank the Great Recession for most of it. Banks have become much more conservative, and builders are building approximately 50 percent fewer residences vs. the 2 million housing units at the height of the housing bubble.

And the very Great Recession was in some ways worse than the Great Depression, when FDR’s New Deal created jobs for those that couldn’t find work. Whereas conservative economic ideologies have triumphed since President Reagan under austerity policies (such as the 2011 government shutdown over raising the budget cap), which have restricted government spending at a time when the private sector has refused to reinvest in productive growth, even though corporate profits have soared to record levels as a percentage of GDP.

The Urban Institute has dug even deeper into the causes of tight credit. Since private sector lending dried up after the Great Recession, government GSEs, such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA; all with some form of government guarantee, have had to step in to revive the housing market. So they account for more than 80 percent of all residential lending.

And because the US Treasury completely appropriated all the assets and profits of Fannie and Freddie in 2012, which account for 60 percent of all residential loans, they have imposed additional fees on any but the best credit risks to protect taxpayers. This in effect raised the cost of qualifying, which in turn reduces the pool of eligible home buyers and borrowers.
How much, asks the Urban Institute? “According to our estimates, an additional 1.25 million loans would have been made in 2013 if the cautious standards of 2001, rather than the severe standards of 2013, had been in place. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of “missing” loans grew from 0.50 million to 1.25 million annually, for a total of more than 4 million missing loans over the five years.”
Behind all this data lies another, more sobering fact—the record income inequality that occurred since the 1970s and was the major cause of the Great Recession. Incomes have flowed so fast to the upper income tiers since its end in 2009 that 96 percent of all income gained since then has gone to the top 1 percent.

This is in part because of the stock market rebound and loss of all those homes from the housing bust. It resulted in some $4 trillion in lost housing assets for middle-class homeowners in the main, the main source of their wealth.

It’s a phenomenon named Monopsony by economists, or the increasing monopoly power of Big Business in particular to control labor costs due to marked lack of competition. This is explained in lucid detail by Kate Bahn, an economist at the Center For American Progress, a progressive think tank.
“While overall the labor market looks fairly solid, it’s still lacking on measures of competitiveness that are giving employers outsized ability to set low wages,” says Prof Hahn. “They can reap higher profits by exploiting their workers who don’t feel confident enough to leave their current job in search of a better one. (It’s evidenced) by the historically low rates of people moving across geographies.”


The Labor Department measures it as the quits rate in their JOLTS report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) that tabulates the number of Hires and Separations each month. There was a 1 tenth downtick in the quits rate to 2.1 percent, “a subdued reading that points to lack of movement between jobs and lack of wage pull for employees,” said Econoday. The separations rate also fell, down 1 tenth to 3.5 percent.

The gap between openings and hiring first opened up about 2 years ago signaling that employers are having a hard time finding people with the right skills, said Econoday. The current spread between openings and hirings is 429,000, the widest since September. But remember, the US economy is so large that more than 5 million jobs are created and lost per month.

One would think the high number of available jobs means higher wages for all, as employers bid up salaries to attract them, but not so; just for the highly skilled. Those blue collar and service jobs that require less skill don’t have the competitive advantage of higher education and training that would boost their salaries.

And that is why the credit and housing markets have skewed towards the highest income earners, and will remain so, unless more New Deal-type programs (such as promised infrastructure spending, universal health care, stronger labor laws) help to bring back the middle class.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Low Inflation Boosts Housing Sales

Financial FAQs

Existing-home sales are now accelerating to new expansion highs, says the NAR. Sales rose a very sharp 4.4 percent to a higher-than-expected annualized rate of 5.710 million. This is the best rate since February 2007. Both components show strength with single-family sales up 4.3 percent to a 5.080 million rate and condo sales up 5.0 percent to a 630,000 rate. And year-on-year sales are moving higher, up 5.9 percent divided between 6.1 percent for single-family homes and 5.0 percent for condos.

Graph: Econoday
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says existing sales roared back in March and were led by hefty gains in the Northeast and Midwest. "The early returns so far this spring buying season look very promising as a rising number of households dipped their toes into the market and were successfully able to close on a home last month," he said.
"Although finding available properties to buy continues to be a strenuous task for many buyers, there was enough of a monthly increase in listings in March for sales to muster a strong gain. Sales will go up as long as inventory does."
Why the great interest rates? It’s mainly because there is still very little inflation, and the bond market that determines mortgage rates likes low inflation. A March contraction of the CPI led to sizable slowing in year-on-year rates. The total rate is 2.4 percent, down 3 tenths from February and sliding back to the Fed's 2 percent target. The core rate, which excludes food & energy, is down 2 tenths and is right at the target line. Energy comparisons are very easy right now given low prices this time last year. This makes the decline in the core a special concern.

Graph: Econoday

The median existing-home price for all housing types in March was $236,400, up 6.8 percent from March 2016 ($221,400). March's price increase marks the 61st consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

And total housing inventory at the end of March increased 5.8 percent to 1.83 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 6.6 percent lower than a year ago (1.96 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 22 straight months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.8-month supply at the current sales pace (unchanged from February), signaling a very high demand that is outstripping new-home construction, stuck at 1.22 million annual units.

The conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgage is now 3.50 percent and the so-called Hi-Balance conforming 30-year fixed rate is 3.75 percent these days for a 1 percent origination fee. This is what has kept the demand for housing on a tear, in spite of low inventories and tepid economic growth, as I said yesterday.

Harlan Green © 2017


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Record Low Interest Rates Boost Housing

The Mortgage Corner

The conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgage is now 3.50 percent and the so-called Hi-Balance conforming 30-year fixed rate is 3.75 percent for a 1 percent origination fee in California. And this is what has kept the demand for housing on a tear, in spite of tepid economic growth, with GDP growth still stuck at 2 percent per the Philly Fed Index seen below.

Why? It’s mainly because there is still very little inflation, and the bond market that determines mortgage rates likes low inflation. The low inflation rate may be because there’s still doubt on what growth-inducing legislation may ever get through a weak President and Congress stuck in ideological warfare. So we could see builders’ record profits continue for the rest of this year, and maybe more affordable housing.

Both new-home construction and builder optimism are at post-recession highs, but with normal seasonal fluctuations (such as mid-March Northeast blizzard), says the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Following an elevated February reading, nationwide housing starts fell 6.8 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.22 million units, according to the U.S. HUD and the Commerce Department. Still, new housing production in the first quarter of this year is running 8.1 percent above the pace in 2016, reports the NAHB.


This is why builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes remained solid in April, falling three points to a level of 68 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) after an unusually high March reading, said the NAHB.
”The fact that current sales conditions has been over 70 for five consecutive months shows that there is continued demand for new construction,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “However, builders are facing several challenges, such as hefty regulatory costs and ongoing increases in building material prices." 
The building industry is doing its share to boost growth as it continues to add jobs, with monthly employment data for February showing that home builder and remodeler employment increased by 18,900. Over the last 12 months, home builders and remodelers have added 136,000 jobs on a net basis and residential construction employment now stands at 2.707 million.


And where is US manufacturing activity these days? It’s still increasing in most states. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for February 2017. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 47 states (green states), decreased in two, and remained stable in one (Michigan), for a three-month diffusion index of 90. In the past month, the indexes increased in 44 states, decreased in four, and remained stable in two, for a one-month diffusion index of 80.
“Here is a map of the three month change in the Philly Fed state coincident indicators. This map was all red during the worst of the recession, and almost all green now,” says Calculated Risk’s Bill McBride.
So, economic growth continues into the eighth year of this business cycle. And housing is usually a leading indicator of future growth, but that will depend on what looks like lower interest rates, future (lower) inflation trends, actions of the Federal Reserve, and Congress, of course.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Should Trump Economics Fail?

Popular Economics Weekly

It doesn’t look good for two Trump and Republican campaign promises currently working their way through Congress: i.e., to repeal and replace Obamacare, and reform the tax code. They should really be working on what is possible; a $1 Trillion infrastructure spending bill. So the euphoria and expectations generated by the Trump victory might dissipate, and that is what’s needed to generate future growth at the end of an already long business cycle.

Why? There is massive opposition from both Republicans and Democrats to both an Obamacare replacement vehicle and tax reform proposals to date. Whereas the one campaign promise that could succeed is the upgrade and replacement of our aging public infrastructure. Both Republicans and Democrats want it for their home states and districts.

For instance, out of the 614,387 bridges in the US, more than 200,000 are more than 50 years old. The Associated Society of Civil Engineers 2016 report estimates it would cost some $123 billion just to fix the bridges in the US, and many of the one million drinking water pipes have been in use for almost 100 years. The aging system makes water breaks more prevalent, which means there are about two trillion gallons of treated water lost each year.

In fact, most of our highways and bridges were built more than 70 years ago, which is why the ASCE says public infrastructure is now behind more the $4.5 trillion in maintenance alone, such as highways, harbors, wastewater facilities and bridges.

Graph: CBO

Even more important to our security and economic well-being, is the majority of the transmission and distribution lines were built in the mid-20th century and have a life expectancy of about 50 years, meaning that they are already outdated. So between 2016 to 2025, there's an investment gap of about $177 billion for infrastructure that supports electricity, like power plants and power lines, reports the ASCE. 

There is another Republican obsession, however that may block even that possibility. It’s Trump’s preoccupation with the Wall, or pseudo Wall, and deportation of millions of undocumented workers—the majority of which have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years. They have raised families, paid taxes, and held jobs that white and other ethnic groups are either incapable of doing (such as farm work), or refuse the low wages and benefits on this bottom rung of the labor ladder.


Any increase in their deportation could cause severe damage to growth, and maybe even end the 8 years of this growth cycle. The Center for American Progress, a liberal policy institute in Washington, is even more blunt. It estimates that a policy of mass deportation would "immediately reduce the nation's GDP by 1.4% and ultimately by 2.6%." This is when current GDP growth is just 2 percent.

None other than Fed Chairman Janet Yellen also voiced her concern in a recent speech. "Labor-force growth has been slowing in the United States," Yellen said. "It's one of several reasons, along with slow productivity growth, for the fact that our economy has been growing at a slow pace. Immigration has been an important source of labor-force growth. So slowing the pace of immigration probably would slow the growth rate of the economy."

Her comments are striking because Yellen is usually careful not to discuss topics outside her monetary policy and regulation mandate, lest her remarks be construed as political.

And, "Because capital will adjust downward to a reduction in labor — for example, farmers will scrap or sell excess equipment per remaining worker — the long-run effects are larger and amount to two-thirds of the decline experienced during the Great Recession," the CAP report says. "Removing 7 million unauthorized workers would reduce national employment by an amount like that experienced during the Great Recession."

Over 10 years, US output will have fallen $4.7 trillion short of what it might otherwise have been, CAP says. For comparison, US gross domestic product, the nation's total spending on goods and services, stood at $18.6 trillion at the end of 2016.

Those are very large numbers, which means Republicans and Democrats will have to learn to work together on what is practical and attainable to avoid the next recession.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Is Happiness That Important to Americans?

Popular Economics Weekly

What a strange question to ask Americans! We are the wealthiest country in the world, right? But a recent survey claims to show that wealth accumulation is not the first priority for most of the world. In fact, the 2017 United Nation’s World Happiness Report compiled by Gallup says that Americans’ pre-occupation with wealth gets in the way of being happy.

This conclusion results from a survey of 155 countries, and shows USA is now ranked 19th in being happy, due to our national preoccupation with what money buys now, rather than in the future.

Norway is ranked number one; no surprise with its oil wealth. But, “by choosing to produce its oil slowly,” says the survey, “and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies. To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance, all factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings.

The USA, however, hasn’t shielded itself from boom and bust cycles. The Great Recession is just the latest in a string of recessions since 1980—two under R Reagan, one during Bush I, and two under son GW Bush. And that has led to the greatest income equality since 1929 that was the beginning of the Great Depression, and also the cause of just-ended Great Recession.

We have not been good at investing in our future, and that has led to a very low savings rate and very little put aside for retirement. This is in part because our social safety net is profoundly inadequate. We have no universal healthcare, for starters, and Republicans are threatening to repeal Obamacare, and maybe even Medicare.

This is while we have a huge public debt because Congress has refused to raise enough taxes to pay for all the spending that has supported the ongoing wars as well as tax loopholes afforded corporations, and high net-worth individuals.

Why has such record income inequality led to recessions? As Marriner Eccles, FDR’s renown Federal Reserve Chairman once said about the Great Depression: “…a giant suction pump had by 1929-30 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth. ... The other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped."

Credit had again run out for most Americans in 2007 due to a failed financial system and busted housing bubble. And it is just that uncertainty that is in the way of happiness. For how can anyone be happy, unless they can count on a predictable future?
“The USA is a story of reduced happiness,” said the Gallup study. “In 2007 the USA ranked 3rd among the OECD countries; in 2016 it became 19th. The reasons are declining social support and increased corruption and it is these same factors that explain why the Nordic countries do so much better.”
And the lack of such social support has resulted in poorer health outcomes for all Americans—such as declining longevities, significantly higher disease rates, and higher infant mortality. The study lists the main factors that support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.”
In sum, the United States offers a vivid portrait of a country that is looking for happiness “in all the wrong places,” says the study. “The country is mired in a roiling social crisis that is getting worse. Yet the dominant political discourse is all about raising the rate of economic growth. And the prescriptions for faster growth—mainly deregulation and tax cuts—are likely to exacerbate, not reduce social tensions. Almost surely, further tax cuts will increase inequality, social tensions, and the social and economic divide between those with a college degree and those without.”
America has become a less caring and generous country because of its single-minded pursuit of wealth, in other words. How to re-develop those traits that Americans have historically been noted for?

Creating a quality educational system available to all, would be a start. The share of Americans receiving a college Bachelor’s Degree or better is stuck at 36 percent when a more technically savvy workforce is needed more than ever. And the educational divide between Haves and Have-nots has been increasing, which increases the political polarization.
“Clinton won 17 of the top 18 states, while Trump won 29 of the bottom 32 states,” said Gallup. And, “The deep social and economic divisions according to educational attainment seem to be similar to the dynamics of the Brexit vote and other anti-migrant parties in Europe, which find their base among voters with lower educational attainment.”
Why is greater equality, and the concept of a safety net for all Americans taking so long to achieve when it has already been achieved in all other advanced countries and economies?
One hint: Why haven’t we elected a female president when every other major western economy has? And women, because they are used to nurturing and caring for children, are much better at planning for the future

Harlan Green © 2017


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Monday, April 10, 2017

Why the Weak March Employment Report?

The Mortgage Corner

The good news is that the unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent, and number of unemployed persons (i.e., available for work) declined by 326,000 to 7.2 million. Both measures were improved number over the year. But just 98,000 payroll jobs were created in March, lower than gains of 219,000 in February and 216,000 in January, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning.


The predictions were for much stronger payroll creation in March, as the ADP (a payroll service) private payrolls estimate on Wednesday was 263,000 payroll jobs, and the Labor Department’s estimate’s usually follow closely. The consensus before ADP's result was calling for a 170,000 rise in March private payrolls which would follow gains of 227,000 and 221,000 in the two prior months. Details in the ADP report include a strong 49,000 gain for construction and a 30,000 increase for manufacturing.


This was predicted by a very strong ISM manufacturing index of manufacturing activity earlier in the week, with its employment index at 58.9—which means 58.9 percent of respondents to the survey increased hiring for a 4.7 point gain, the best rate since June 2011. Yet there might be a sign of a weather effect in deliveries as delivery times did slow by a moderate 1.1 points to 55.9, says Econoday.

So, it could be the weather as the Northeast experienced a Category 3 blizzard in March after two very warm months. But it could also be the US is approaching full employment, which means fewer workers are available to work. In any event, this is the lowest unemployment rate since the height of the last expansion in April 2007, though there is still very little wage growth. Average hourly earnings rose only 0.2 percent in the month for a year-on-year rate that is down 1 tenth in the month and further away from the 3 percent line, which historically has meant full employment.

There was softness in the labor markets as well, with retail trade down 30,000 in March following February's 31,000 decline. Trade & transportation payrolls decreased 27,000 following a 16,000 decline. But both manufacturing and mining show gains, at 11,000 each and with construction, despite the weather, still rising 6,000.

The government hiring freeze put in place in late January didn't hurt March payrolls for government payrolls which rose 9,000. But the huge drop in retail jobs could mean online buying is cutting into storefront businesses. And sure enough, Macy’s is closing at least 100 stores and Sears and Roebuck could soon declare bankruptcy with its now $1billion in annual negative cashflow.

So, it looks like March was but a temporary blip in rising employment, and come April we will see a real spring awakening of economic activity. One caveat is abnormally low interest rates and a declining yield curve that usually presages some kind of economic slowdown.

Long term rates are falling at the moment, with the 10-year Treasury yield falling back to 2.30 percent, whereas the Fed just raised their short term, overnight fed funds rate to the 0.75 to 1.0 percent range. Hence there is a smaller difference between short and long term rates. This will squeeze bank profits and the availability of credit at a time when we still have an economy growing at just 2 percent.

And, that's why we need more actions by government and business to boost job creation and economic growth.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Consumers Too Optimistic?....Then Watch Out Below!

Popular Economics Weekly

Consumer confidence has risen to what might be unsustainable levels—the highest in 16 years. That was in 2000, which was at the end of a 10-year economic recovery, the longest recovery since WWII. The Conference Board’s index is now at its strongest level since those dotcom boom days of December 2000 before that market crashed and the 9/11 attack occurred, says Econoday.

Stronger savings and rising wages are the main reason for the 9.5 point surge in the consumer confidence index to 125.6. Much of the optimism is after Donald Trump’s campaign promises, which, if enacted could mean higher growth, though such growth depends more on factors outside of such campaign promises as higher import taxes and any change in tax policies. It actually depends much more on a faster growing workforce, and higher labor productivity—goals that will be difficult to achieve in today’s polarized political climate.



Studies have shown that to even reach a 3 percent annual GDP growth, 2.8 million workers must be added to the US workforce every year, and just 600,000 native born workers currently reach working age because of a shrinking US birth rate. That and a very poor average productivity rate of 1.2 percent from 2010-2014 have constrained growth.

Consequently, the Trump administration’s draconian attempts to cut back on immigration that would bring in new workers will only damage growth. The Trump administration is currently proposing as much as a 50 percent reduction in immigration.



Boosting job creation can be a two-edged sword, in that two-thirds of the jobs are in the service sector. Manufacturing has been making a comeback of late, but that has more to do with a recovery in the rest of the world, and lower dollar exchange rates, rather than the imposition of tariffs that are subject to retaliation.

Mexico, for instance, has threatened to either ban or raise taxes on the importation of US corn, a staple in Mexico that has driven many Mexican corn-growers out of business.

Econoday reports in the latest ISM Manufacturing Survey that “the new orders index is still, outside of February, the second strongest reading since December 2013. And new export orders are very strong, up 4.0 points to 59.0 for the best showing since November 2013. Backlog orders are understandably piling up, 1/2 point higher to a 57.5 rate of monthly growth that was last matched in March 2014 and last exceeded in April 2011.”

So confidence is a good thing, if it encourages businesses and the economy to grow and create more jobs. But businesses act on hard facts, such as increased demand for their goods and services, rather than hope.

Harlan Green © 2017

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