Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pending Home Sales—Case-Shiller Prices Higher

The Mortgage Corner

Pending home sales picked up in December as solid increases in the South and West offset weakening activity in the Northeast and Midwest, according to the National Association of Realtors®. And the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index of same existing-home prices continued to rise more than inflation, signaling a housing shortage still exists.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 1.6 percent to 109.0 in December from 107.3 in November. With last month's uptick in activity, the index is now 0.3 percent above last December (108.7). Pending sales have been this active since 2015, really, which in turn has stimulated housing construction, mostly on the high end.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says contract activity was mixed throughout the country in December but ultimately ended on a high note to close out 2016. "Pending sales rebounded last month as enough buyers fended off rising mortgage rates and alarmingly low inventory levels to sign a contract," he said. "The main storyline in the early months of 2017 will be if supply can meaningfully increase to keep price growth at a moderate enough level for households to absorb higher borrowing costs. Sales will struggle to build on last year's strong pace if inventory conditions don't improve."
And national home price gains maintained momentum in November, two months after retaking the high last seen at the height of the housing bubble, according to Case-Shiller.

The S&P/CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city index rose 5.3 percent compared to a year ago for the three month period ending in November, an acceleration from the 5.1 percent increase notched in October. The national price index rose 5.6 percent for the year, up from 5.5 percent in October, and a yuge seasonally adjusted 0.8 percent for the month. Among the 20 cities, Seattle, Portland and Denver continued to see the strongest price gains.

According to Yun, a large portion of overall supply right now is at the upper end of the market, as we said. This is evident by looking at December data on the year-over-year change in single-family sales by price range. Last month, sales were up around 10 percent compared to December 2015 for homes sold at or above $250,000, while homes sold between $100,000 and $250,000 only increased 2.3 percent. Meanwhile, sales of homes under $100,000 were down 11.6 percent compared to a year ago.

This could be because mortgage rates have risen, though a 30-year fixed conforming rate is still 4.0 percent for one origination point in California. This is approximately 0.75 percent higher that the record lows of last yar.
"The dismal number of listings in the affordable price range is squeezing prospective first-time buyers the most," said Yun. "As a result, young households are missing out on the wealth gains most homeowners have accrued from the 41 percent cumulative rise in existing home prices since 2011."
Metro Monthly Case-Shiller 12-Month Change
Atlanta 0.0% 6.1%
Boston 0.4% 5.5%
Charlotte 0.3% 5.9%
Chicago -0.8% 4.0%
Cleveland 0.0% 3.8%
Dallas 0.2% 8.1%
Denver 0.6% 8.7%
Detroit -0.1% 6.6%
Las Vegas 0.3% 6.0%
Los Angeles 0.2% 5.5%
Miami 0.5% 6.1%
Minneapolis 0.1% 5.5%
New York 0.4% 2.4%
Phoenix 0.3% 5.2%
Portland 0.2% 10.1%
San Diego 0.3% 5.8%
San Francisco -0.1% 5.3%
Seattle 0.2% 10.4%
Tampa 0.8% 8.1%
Washington 0.2% 3.7%

Harlan Green © 2017

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Q4 GDP Slightly Lower—How About 2017?

Financial FAQs

Fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product growth slowed, mostly because of the strong dollar and weak foreign demand. But consumers held up their end with higher consumer sentiments, and businesses also began to invest in new plants and equipment again.

One reason for the weakness is surging domestic demand for imported goods, because consumers are buying lots of goods and services. So all-in-all, the U.S. economy is doing very well, with interest rates still low and domestic demand still strong.

Gross domestic product, the official score card for the economy, expanded at a 1.9 percent annual clip from October to December, the Commerce Department said. That’s a marked drop from a 3.5 percent growth rate in the third quarter and below the 2.2 percent consensus of Bloomberg. The drop was mainly because of lower exports (strong dollar) and higher imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

Still, the increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), private inventory investment, residential fixed investment, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending.

And we have soaring consumer sentiment, as the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey is now at 98.5 in January, at the cycle highs where it's been since the November election. Prospects for future income are the highest in a decade, though the sample is split between optimism among Republicans offsetting pessimism among Democrats. One fifth of the sample says it's a good idea to borrow in advance of possible rate increases, a 20-year high for this reading.

But the real hero of the week was durable goods orders for goods lasting more than 3 years, such as auto, appliances and aircraft. Even though December orders, pulled down by a swing lower in defense aircraft, slipped 0.4 percent, core capital goods orders rose 0.8 percent which is on top of an upward revised 1.5 percent gain in November.

This is the sign of the increase in sorely needed business investment in plants and equipment that will be needed to increase productivity and so economic growth in 2017. Year-on-year core capital goods orders (nondefense ex-aircraft) moved into the plus column for the first time since October 2015, at 2.8 percent to exceed total orders at 1.2 percent.

The graph tracks monthly dollar levels of core capital goods (at $64.5 billion in December) against all other durable goods (at $162.5 billion). This swing higher for capital goods has contributed to three straight quarters of gains, though small ones, for nonresidential investment in the GDP report. But progess is progess, says Econoday.

So we can only hope that President Trump doesn’t start too many trade wars, such as with Mexico, our third largest trading partner, if GDP growth is to improve from the past decade. For most of our exports and core capital goods depend on parts made elsewhere. We have a worldwide interconnected economy in other words that a trade war could harm greatly.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

President Trump's Bully Mentality

Popular Economics Weekly

President Trump’s first days in office were alarming for several reasons. He immediately began attacking the press, while intentionally stating falsehoods such as he would have won the popular vote, but for “3 to 5 million” fraudulent votes. Or, maybe they weren’t intentional falsehoods? Since most of those falsehoods are easily debunked, such as the size of the crowds at Friday’s Inauguration and Saturday women’s march.

Then you have the CIA meeting, where he stated that it was the lying media that made up his dispute with the intelligence community, whereas it is easy to check Trump’s speeches and Twitter messages for all to see he was the one that criticized the intelligence community for their findings that Vladimir Putin’s intelligence services wanted him elected.

So could it be that he is delusional, the words of Mother Jones’ David Corn? Or is it possible that he only listens to news from the likes of Breitbart, The National Inquirer, Fox, and Russ Limbaugh that cater to his voters, not the mass media that reports to the rest of US?

No, it is far more likely that he believes his success in business, such as it is, was due to his bullying tactics, tactics that browbeat investors and lenders to such an extent that he can no longer rely on U.S. investors and banks to finance his projects. So he doesn’t care—and may even have contempt for—facts or truths or any kind that don’t further his agenda.

A New York Times reporter on Lawrence O-Donnell’s MSNBC Last Word said it reminded her of the behavior of dictators, such as the current Russian and Chinese autocrats who considered all news as grist for their propaganda mills.

I have written about the bully mentality several times that has led to increased bullying in school, and even gun violence. It is a mentality that attempts to impose a bully’s version of reality on the real world for the sole purpose of domination. President Trump has always acted the bully, which is the reason for his history of lawsuits and bankruptcies, so that facts are only useful in so much as they support his positions.

Evidence of Trump’s bullying tactics also comes from his words on Twitter and elsewhere, reports Groff Beattle, a professor of Psychology at Edge Hill University who specializes in gestures, has discussed how Trump uses the body language and mannerisms of a bully, such as the exaggerated use of his hands.

Also comments such as “mentally sick”, “dummy”, “looser” or “looked disgusting” are all examples of bullying language on Trump’s Twitter. Trump’s bullying tactics include calling President Obama the founder of a terrorist organisation and insinuating that Clinton took drugs prior to a debate. Furthermore, he has mocked the disability of reporter Serge Kovaleski, portrayed immigrants and foreigners as dangerous people, rapists or “criminal aliens”, and demonstrated a significant lack of respect for women generally.

How does one oppose such destructive behavior? First, remember that bullies have to prey on the weakest, and avoid confrontation with those stronger because of their own insecurities. Trump preyed on naïve students and the elderly in his Trump University scam. And he stiffed workers and employees when building his Trump Casinos either by paying them less than was contractually agreed to, or not at all.

Combine it with his case-study narcissism that requires he be constantly in the limelight. So standing up to such a bully means the news media should ignore his tantrums, rather than commenting on them. Remember that he makes such outrageous lies to gain even more attention.

Psychology Today has posted a list of bullying behavior, a list that fits President Trump like a glove:
– Uncontrolled anger and unpredictable irritability, frequently directed at the weakest people (‘safe targets’) or those perceived as a future threat
– A sociopathic ability to control their own image – the selective ability to look like a different person to different audiences – for example, being aggressive to ‘subordinates’, while being charming and helpful to others
– Having little status outside of work, bullies wield the power that their job gives them with vicious zeal
– Running ‘witch-hunts’
– Gratuitous domineering behaviour – sometimes physical
– The ability to make the unreasonable seem reasonable, even to the victims
--Projecting their own inadequacies onto others
– Making irrational accusations
– Publicly putting people down
– Sadistic enjoyment in humiliating others

The list is endless of President Trump’s bullying tactics, and the responses are well known. There is even a government website, https://www.stopbullying.gov/ to help understand what the bully mentality is all about.

How sad it is that this US President, the most powerful person on earth, is setting such an example of his own weakness and insecurity.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Has Inflation Returned?

Financial FAQs

Inflation is here! says Econoday, per last week’s CPI report; at 2.1 percent for total consumer prices (columns in graph) and 2.2 percent for the core rate (red line). Two percent is generally considered the target rate for inflation, the rate consistent with stable and sustainable economic growth.

The last time both the CPI and the core were actually together at the 2 percent line was way back in February 2013. And then it plunged into negative territory, as the federal government shut down in 2013 for two weeks over Republican’s refusal to raise the debt ceiling. The U.S. had already lost its S&P AAA rating on sovereign Treasury debt in 2011, and instituted the sequester agreement putting an across the board cap on government spending.

Then oil prices plunged along with worldwide commodity prices in 2014 due to slowing growth in the so-called BRIC emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), so that U.S. industries cut back their investment spending, as well.

The current rise in the CPI is mostly due to higher energy prices as economic activity (and oil prices) have picked up with U.S. final Q3 GDP growth at 3.5 percent. Energy prices are up 1.5 percent in the month, their fourth straight strong monthly gain with the yearly rate now well above the inflation rate at 5.4 percent.

But inflation may not be here to stay, as there is massive uncertainty over what exactly the Trump economic policies will be. Tax cuts and fewer government regulations will certainly stimulate additional growth, and so higher inflation, which is necessary to put more people back to work.

Medical care has also been a consistent source of strength though recent readings have been fading, up only 0.2 percent in December for a yearly 4.1 percent. Housing is another area of strength, up a tangible 0.3 percent in the month and at 3.0 percent year-on-year. Owners' equivalent rent, which is a closely watched subcomponent of housing, also rose 0.3 percent.

Graph: Econoday

Where will the growth come from? From the manufacturing sector, if Trump succeeds in implementing that massive $1 trillion infrastructure spending he has promised. The manufacturing component of the industrial production could manage only a 0.2 percent gain in December, said Econoday, one that followed a 0.1 percent decline in November.

Factory output during 2016 (red line) proved dead flat once again, not getting any help from exports (columns). Exports were on the rise several years back and were helping production as seen on the left side of the graph, but the progress has since fizzled, as the BRIC economies are still in a recession mode.

So there may not be much inflation this year. And the Fed would counteract any inflation increase with higher interest rates, anyway, which they said they would do maybe two or three times in 2017, if necessary.
Harlan Green © 2016

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Housing Starts Surge With Builder Optimism

The Mortgage Corner

A mid-winter surge in multifamily production resulted in overall nationwide housing starts rising 11.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.23 million units, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau. This is Yuge, and will help to ease the shortage of rental units that has been driving up rental rates, squeezing low and moderate-income renters out of some housing markets.

Single-family construction dropped 4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 795,000 units, but that was still 3.9 percent higher in a year. Multifamily production jumped 57 percent to 431,000 units in December. However, the monthly data for apartment production has exhibited strong volatility since August, sand the National Association of Home Builders. Still this may stop the average rent increase of 7 percent annually in high growth regions.

“This report represents firm growth for housing in 2016, as single-family starts rose 9 percent and multifamily production was down slightly,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “We expect that 2017 will be another year of gradual, steady improvement in the housing market. Multifamily starts have been volatile in recent months, but should level off as supply meets demand. Meanwhile, single-family production continues to gain momentum but is limited by supply-side headwinds.”
Regionally in December, combined single- and multifamily housing production rose 31.2 percent in the Midwest, 23.5 percent in the West and 18.5 percent in the Northeast. The South posted a loss of 1.4 percent. That is an incredible increase in mid-winter, and reflects the rush to build before the predicted rise in interest rates this year.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) also reported that though the housing market index (HMI) of builder optimism in future housing construction dropped slightly to 67 in January, down from 69 in December, any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. And this is easily the highest confidence rating since the end of the Great Recession.

The slight drop in confidence may also be because of uncertainty over future building regulations, which are set state by state, rather than nationally, and interest rates, of course, which many predict will rise, as I said.
So despite the January drop, some builders say there are still reasons to be bullish. "Builders begin the year optimistic that a new Congress and administration will help create a better climate for small businesses, particularly as it relates to streamlining and reforming the regulatory process," said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald.
Such optimism will evaporate, however, if interest rate rise sharply. But with the conforming 30-year fixed rate falling back to 3.75 percent in California of late, that may not happen. Could it be that optimism over future growth could also mean higher inflation, which means higher interest rates, as well?

This writer is also optimistic that with Janet Yellen and her Fed Governors still cautious about forecasting higher growth and inflation—where will all those workers come from that will be needed for any new infrastructure projects when there is already a shortage of construction workers—remains to be seen.

Harlan Green © 2017

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Strong Retail Sales, Job Growth in 2017?

Financial FAQs

The prospects for 2017 growth are confusing, to say the least. For instance, will Prez-Elect Trump initiate multiple trade wars by pushing through tariffs on foreign imports to bring manufacturing jobs home to the U.S.? And will this cause the dollar’s value to continue to rise, thus harming the resulting exports, which could cancel out much of the benefits of bringing manufacturing jobs home (since manufacturing sector depends largely on exports)?

But retail sales should benefit from the post-election rise in consumer confidence, though mostly via online sales (since prices are generally lower for online goods). Econoday reports non-store sales rose 1.3 percent in December for a year-on-year rate of 13.2 percent, among the very best showings and last exceeded in November 2011. So, taking in the whole and not just ecommerce or autos, there's more off notes than on notes in the December retail sales report, per Econoday. Consumer spirits may be very high and if this benefited retail sales in December, it was mostly isolated to vehicles when looking at in-store sales.

And there's already plenty of jobs out there, exactly 5.522 million of them in November, as I said last week. This against only 5.160 million hires in the month, a wide gap over the last couple of years as employers find it difficult to fill slots.

But get this, Econoday also says if each of those 5.522 million jobs were immediately filled, the number of unemployed would fall to 1.887 million for an unemployment rate of 1.2 percent, which will never happen. There are too many working-age adults who either won’t or can no longer work due to disabilities, lack of employable skills and the like.

Widening out the definition of unemployment (i.e., to those not even looking for work) does soften the view of labor slack but even here the pool of available workers, at 13.2 million in December, is shrinking, down from 14.0 million as recently as September.

Graph: Econoday

So the 2017 growth picture is still too fuzzy to see clearly. Consumer and business optimism can change to pessimism in a flash; or a Tweet.

Harlan Green © 2016

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Who Killed Our Middle Class?

Popular Economics Weekly

It’s becoming clear that our Middle Class—the midsection of U.S. earners and consumers—has shrunk alarmingly. And this is the main reason for the political polarization today that in the words of journalist Christopher Hedges, has driven the Republican Party “insane”.

Our society has become so polarized that Donald Trump needed the support of the Ku Klux Clan, white nationalists, and Vladimir Putin to become President-Elect. Whereas it has been the Middle Class values of probity, honesty and a belief in science, first satirized in Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, (The Middle Class Gentleman), that has been the stabilizing influence in American politics since WWII.

The main difference between poverty and middle class and between middle class and wealthy, noted one researcher, “is belief in, and planning for, moving up as a working assumption.” A report from the Pew Research Center found that, for the first time since the 1970s, families defined as “middle income” are actually in a minority in the US – squeezed from both ends by an enlarged poverty-stricken group below them, and an enriched group above them.

This graph shows the shrinkage of those defined as middle class from 1979 to 2014—from 38.8 percent (gray line) to 32.09 percent (blue line), according to a Pew research study. The shrinkage reads like a textbook example of the future that French economist Thomas Piketty predicts for the world in his best-selling, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

In 1971, there were 80 million households in the US defined as middle income – compared with a combined 52 million in the groups above and below. Now, there are 120 million middle-class families, but 121 million rich and poor – “A demographic shift that could signal a tipping point,” says Pew.

So who or what is at fault for the result; record income inequality last reached in 1929 that led to the Great Depression? We can fault President Reagan, who was first to break the unions with his firing of all federally employed Air Traffic Controllers that belonged to PATCO, the traffic controllers union.

Or conservatives’ espousal of the Reagan motto, “government is the problem,” which caused massive downsizing of government regulation, as well as regulators, and the ensuing de-regulation of whole industries, such as the airlines, telecommunications, and financial markets.

But the truth may be much closer to the present—in fact, from the Presidency of Bill Clinton. For it was President Clinton who veered so far to the right in his 1966 reelection campaign (thanks to Republican strategist Dick Morris) that he preempted the Republican platform by continuing to deregulate the financial markets with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that separated FDIC depositor-insured banking from higher risk investment banking, financing the addition of 100,000 more police to combat the drug epidemic, and downsizing poverty programs with welfare reforms that took tens of thousands off the welfare rolls, which required them to take low-paying menial jobs to receive even a limited amount of financial support.

The Republicans, as Chris Hedges said, were thus driven politically insane into the waiting arms of Trump's rascist, anti-immigrant voting block. President Clinton had preempted the bread and butter issues (such as law and order, smaller government, family) that were once their own, which led to formation of the Tea Party, and a new political civil war declared on Big Government ruled by the northern elite that had ruled for so long. It was our 150 year-old Civil War taking a new form, in other words, but with almost the same mix of combatants.

Hillary Clinton, unfortunately, wasn’t able to break away from the Clinton mix of conservative economics (e.g.,balancing the federal budget) and social liberalism that resulted. The culture wars against abortion, civil rights, and welfare (including Obamacare) were the only issues the Republican Party had left. The result was and is President-elect Trump, an ideologist of neither party. Trump is an advocate of no government, where possible, who can count on the loyalty of only his most trusted associates and family.

Sound familiar? It is politics of the tribe, the close=knit family, held by gangsters and oligarchs, with everyone else to be treated with obfuscation and outright deceptions.

Even more significant is the record inequality since 1979, resulting from the loss of those policies that built up the middle class after WWII, policies from the New Deal, such as social security and Medicare, entitlements, unionization of whole industries, leading to the unparalleled prosperity of the 1950s and 60s.

So let us hope a majority of our politicians realize, as a majority of Americans still do, that our prosperity and stability rest on a middle class that hasn't given up hope for a better life.

Harlan Green © 2016

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Boom Times For Consumers In 2017?

Popular Economics Weekly

Here are more signs that economic growth will increase in 2017. There’s a large increase in revolving credit, one of the largest of the cycle, reports the Federal Reserve, a sign that retail sales are booming (with retails sales report due out Friday). And the National Federation of Independent Business reported its small business optimism index soared 7.4 points in December to 105.8, the highest reading since December 2004.

Revolving credit jumped $11.0 billion in data for November to indicate that consumers are increasingly running up their credit-card debt. Non-revolving credit, up $13.5 billion, is also positive, here reflecting demand for vehicle financing and student loans (which are tracked in this report). Total credit rose $24.5 billion in the month, well above the consensus of economists. Retail sales for December, to be posted Friday as we said, will offer more definitive data on the strength of holiday spending.

The outsized increase in small business optimism far exceeds expectations and follows a robust 3.5-point rise in November. NFIB said business owners who expect better economic conditions accounted for about half of the overall increase, with a net 50 percent of respondents expecting that the economy will improve, a 38 point leap up from November. 

And even more importantly for small businesses, plans to increase capital spending jumped 5 points to 29. An increase in capital expenditures usually means increased productivity, a plus for increased economic growth. Earnings trends were also up 6 points, but remained in negative territory at minus 14, which is why more capex spending is so necessary to boost small business profits.

And lastly, the Labor Department just released its JOLTS report, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which showed Jobs openings increased in November to 5.522 million from 5.451 million in October. Quits rose to 3.1 million (a sign more workers are finding better jobs), and new hires rose to 5.2 million.

This tells us the actual size of the U.S. jobs market that ‘churns’ so many millions of jobs every month, and which gives US the best picture of employment. The above graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.

Over the month, hires and separations were also little changed at 5.2 million and 5.0 million. It is the difference between hires and separations that determines the actual number of new jobs created, says the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Stats (BLS).

The number of job openings (yellow) are up 6 percent year-over-year. This is big and says and says our economy continues to expand, but there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill those jobs. Quits are up 7 percent year-over-year. These are voluntary separations, as we said, and are the reason incomes are now rising faster than inflation.

What should we take away from this? No wonder it is so difficult to forecast future job trends. But with 300,000 more Job Openings than actual Hires, U.S. businesses must find more ways to train and promote their own workforce.

Harlan Green © 2016

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Real Estate In 2017—Good Time To Buy?

 The Mortgage Corner

Surging mortgage rates, dwindling inventory, and soaring home prices are taking a toll on Americans’ attitudes toward ownership, according to a home purchase sentiment survey released Monday. But that may be misleading, as mortgage rates have barely budged from post-WWII lows. And the construction industry and homebuilders’ sentiments are soaring, which means many more new homes will be coming into the housing market.

December 2016 Index
Change since last month Change since last year
Good time to buy 32 +2 -3
Good time to sell 13 0 +5
Home prices will go up 35 0 -5
Mortgage rates will go down -55 -4 -3
Confidence about not losing job 68 +4 -4
Household income is significantly higher 10 -5 -5
Overall index 80.7 -0.5 -2.5

The home purchase sentiment index compiled by mortgage finance provider Fannie Mae fell in December, its fifth straight monthly decline. Fannie’s index has six components. In December, two were lower compared to November, two were unchanged, and two increased. The increases were because respondents were more confident about not losing their jobs, and thought it a better time to buy. The biggest negative was their belief interest rates would rise this year. But it may be a small rise due to market uncertainties. Stocks are already oversold and interest rates still at historic lows, as I’ve said.

Construction had been lagging through most of 2016 but, like the factory sector (i.e, auto sales ended 2016 at record high of 18.5 million sold vehicles), appears to have picked up steam going into year-end, says Econoday. Spending rose 0.9 percent in November and is now up 4.1 percent annually. And non-residential construction’s boost is particularly heartening with its emphasis on infrastructure projects, up 0.9 percent with most categories showing gains led by office construction and transportation construction. Public spending was also solid including a 3.1 percent monthly jump in Federal spending (which boosts public infrastructure spending).

Residential spending rose 1.0 percent in the month on top of October's 1.6 percent gain. The gain here is concentrated in single-family homes which offset a monthly dip for multi-family units which otherwise have been leading the residential sector. Home improvements added to the spending in November.

The 30-year fixed conforming mortgage rate quoted by Fannie Mae is back down to 3.75 percent for one origination point. And what with the future uncertainty of the stock market (with indexes already at historic highs), much of the excess savings will remain in bonds, the major determinate of mortgage rates.

That is, unless worldwide growth picks up. But that won’t happen if Trump carries out his promise of trade wars to promote American workers first. That promise may be difficult to carry out, however, since his Republican colleagues have historically been free-traders.

Harlan Green © 2016

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Friday, January 6, 2017

156,000 Payroll Jobs, 4.7% Employment

Popular Economics Weekly

The highlight of the December unemployment report was that wages rose 2.9 percent annually. And nonfarm payrolls rose a lower-than-expected 156,000 in December but added a net 19,000 to the two prior months (November now at 204,000 and October at 135,000) in revisions, said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.7 percent from 4.6 percent because 184,000 more jobseekers entered the workforce. The biggest job gains were in Education and health services (70,000), followed by Leisure and hospitality (24,000), and Manufacturing (17,000), which was a big surprise, according to consensus predictions.

But manufacturing’s employment surge shouldn’t be a surprise, as both the service and industrial sectors showed strong growth in December. The ISM manufacturing composite index hit 54.7, up a sharp 1.5 points from November for the best score in 2 years.

New orders were the clear highlight of the report, at 60.2 for another 2 year high and up 7.2 points which is the sharpest monthly jump of the entire cycle. The good news continues with production up 4.3 points to 60.3, employment up 8 tenths to 53.1, and export orders at 56.0 which is a 2-1/2 year high. The strength, like it was in the manufacturing PMI posted earlier on Tuesday, is being reflected in prices with input costs up 11.0 points to 65.5 which is a 5-1/2 year high.

Hiring in the December ISM non-manufacturing survey also showed that new orders are unusually strong where the index, at 57.2, matches November as 2016's best. New orders are up 4.6 points to 61.6 to signal the strongest rate of monthly growth since the middle of last year. Business activity is also very strong, at 61.4.

But the rise in interest rates may slow down growth in 2017, as Econoday reports the rise in the dollar is affecting export prices and a consequent slowdown in exports. The worst economic news of late comes from the international trade in goods report where the deficit widened sharply in November to $65.3 billion from October's $61.9 billion, reports Econoday. Goods exports fell 1.0 percent in the month to $121.7 billion as tracked in the blue columns of the graph. Food exports have been especially soft as have vehicle exports, and capital goods exports fell very sharply in a reminder that the lack of business investment is a global issue.

But business investment may rise, when and if tax reform happens for the $ trillons held overseas by U.S. corporations. The monies for the proposed $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements have to come from somewhere, and corporations may be induced to invest some of those profits domestically.

Harlan Green © 2016
Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Why The Years of Slow Growth?

Popular Economics Weekly

Pundits have decried it. Donald Trump has criticized the ‘lousy’ U.S. economy in many of his Tweets, and economists have lamented the 2.4 percent GDP growth rate since 2000, at the time of the dot-com bubble bust. This is when prior recoveries have averaged 3-4 percent growth—at least in the early years.
The agonizingly slow pace of recovery from the Great Recession is easy to explain, say most economists. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a labor think tank, recently said it best. It is the result of austerity policies championed by Republican policymakers at the federal and state levels.
“Like every other postwar recession before it, the Great Recession was caused by a shortfall in aggregate demand, meaning that the spending of households, businesses, and governments was not sufficient to keep the economy’s resources fully employed,” said the EPI.

Per capita government spending in the first quarter of 2016—27 quarters into the recovery—was nearly 3.5 percent lower than it was at the trough of the Great Recession. By contrast, 27 quarters into the early 1990s recovery, per capita government spending was 3 percent higher than at the trough; 23 quarters following the early 2000s recession (a shorter recovery), it was 10 percent higher; and 27 quarters into the early 1980s recovery, it was 17 percent higher.

What is aggregate demand, and how is it increased? FDR’s incredibly intelligent Fed Chairman Marriner Eccles explained it in his memoir Beckoning Frontiers (1951):
As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth ... to provide men with buying power. ... Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, 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.
He understood our U.S. economy was entering the era of mass consumption, and unless consumers plus businesses plus government spent and/or invested enough money in it, there would be little or no growth. If fact, it was the severity of the contraction in spending that caused both the Great Depression and Great Recession.

And because there was record income inequality in 1929—only equaled again in 2007—consumers ran out of money to spend, which meant in turn businesses stopped investing. So it had to be government that injected sufficient demand into the U.S. economy to keep it from collapsing completely. That was the reason for the New Deal that employed millions in government-paid jobs, as well as social security, unemployment insurance and all the social programs that enabled US to win WWII.

The pickup in government spending in the early 2000s recession and 1980s recovery were during Republican administrations (i.e., during GW Bush and Reagan presidencies), which meant they had no problem spending public monies to boost economic growth. But when it came to Obama’s term, every attempt was made by the mostly Republican House in particular to cause him to fail.

It began with the election of some 80 Tea Party members to the House in 2010, then government shutdown in 2011 when they refused to ok a budget, so that the U.S. government almost ran out of operating funds, resulting in the first loss of AAA rating for U.S. debt by a bond rating agency in modern history.

That is why real annual GDP growth during Reagan’s term peaked at 7.3 percent, and GW Bush’s term at 3.8 percent. The highest modern growth rate was achieved during FDR’s New Deal and WWII, which boosted U.S. growth to a peak of 18.9 percent in 1942. Real GDP growth (i.e,, after inflation) has been downhill ever since.

As CBS News recently wrote in a report entitled, Obama May Become First President Since Hoover Not to See 3% GDP Growth: “The last year that real GDP grew by 3.0 percent or more, according to BEA, was in 2005, when it grew by 3.3 percent. Since then, the United States has gone a record ten straight years (2006-2015) without a year in which the growth in real GDP was at least 3.0 percent.”

So in fact without government spending to boost demand during slow times our economy has suffered. And now President-elect Trump has proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan that is sure to boost growth again.
“Despite the Great Recession being the sharpest and longest on record since World War II,” wrote the EPI, “and despite monetary policy reaching its conventional limits to boost spending early in the recession, policymakers made damaging decisions to limit public spending following the recession’s trough in 2009. This growth has been historically slow relative to other business cycles even as the economy needed substantially faster-than-average growth to mount a full and timely recovery.”
So let the record show, government has never been the problem when Republicans needed to boost growth, only when Democrats do. What is wrong with this picture?

Harlan Green © 2016

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