Obamacare is even less Consumer-Friendly than Cable/Television/Telephone Television

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 17th, 2014

Week in Review

Currently there are no market forces in health care.  Which is why health care costs are so high.  When buyers and sellers meet they always agree on a price that makes them both feel like winners.  Just watch an episode of one of those pawn shop shows.  The seller wants a higher price.  The buyer wants to pay a lower price.  As they move towards each other they arrive at a price that makes them both happy.  The seller gets an amount of money he values more than the thing he’s selling.  And the buyer is getting something he values more than the money he’s paying for it.  Making them both feel like winners.

It’s not like this in health care.  Because there is a third party between the buyer and seller.  Either an insurance company.  Or the government.  Just like there is a third party between networks’ programming content and the consumer.  The cable/satellite/phone company (see Why Your Cable Bill Keeps Going Up by Evan Weiner posted 4/12/2014 on The Daily Beast).

The television networks and the television carriers, whether it’s through cable, satellite or phone lines, carriers seeming are always fighting these days over the cost of programming and what rights’ fees should be. The rights’ fee is what a television carrier pays for a networks programming. The carrier then passes that cost along to consumers and tacks on an additional fee because they too feel the need to be compensated for bringing the program into a home.

The injured party is the subscribers who have little course to affect the talks unless they decide to drop their provider for another, and there is no guarantee switching to another provider will end TV blackouts…

Thanks to the 1984 Cable TV Act, cable subscribers have really no say in what they want for their needs. The cable carrier was allowed to establish tiers of services. The consumer could take a local, basic tier alone or basic and basic extended but would have no choice in what they wanted to buy and were forced to take whatever the multiple system operative wants to give them or they opt out of having cable TV. The same apparently holds true for satellite TV and the phone companies.

Cable/satellite/telephone television is like Obamacare.  As consumers can’t keep the programming they liked and wanted to keep.  As it is for Obamacare.  Where people who had health insurance they liked and wanted to keep could not keep it.  Instead, a third party, the government, forced them to buy a tier of health insurance they did not want.  Only they do not have the option to opt out of Obamacare.  Because buying health insurance is mandatory.  Unlike cable/satellite/telephone television.  For as much as we may hate our cable/satellite/telephone companies at least we don’t have to buy from them under penalty of law.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inventory to Sales Ratio and Labor Force Participation Rate (1992-2013)

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 12th, 2013

History 101

Just-in-Time Delivery lowers Inventory Costs but risks Manufacturing Interruptions

Carrying a large inventory is costly.  And risky.  First of all you have to warehouse it.  In a secured heated (and sometimes cooled) building.  With a fire alarm system.  A fire suppression (i.e., sprinkler) system.  A security alarm system.  You need lighting.  And people.  Safety training.  Safety equipment.  Forklifts.  Loading docks.  Delivery trucks.  Insurances.  Property taxes (real and personal).  Utilities.  Telephone and Internet.  A computer inventory system.  Etc.  It adds up.  And the larger the inventory the larger the cost.

Then there are the risks.  Fire damage.  Theft.  Water damage (say from a fire suppression line that freezes during the winter because some kid broke a window to let freezing air in that froze the water inside the sprinkler line with the expanding ice breaking the pipe and allowing water to flow out of the pipe onto your inventory).  Shrinkage (things that disappear but weren’t sold).  Damaged goods (say a forklift operator accidentally backed into a shelve full of plasma displays).  Shifts in consumer demand (what was once hot may not be hot anymore which is a costly problem when you have a warehouse full of that stuff).  Etc.  And the larger the inventory the greater the risks.

In the latter half of the 20th century a new term entered the business lexicon.  Just-in-time delivery.  Or JIT for short.  Instead of warehousing material needed for manufacturing manufacturers turned to JIT.  And tight schedules.  They bought what they needed as they needed it.  Having it arrive just as it was needed in the manufacturing process.  JIT greatly cut costs.  But it allowed any interruption in those just-in-time deliveries shut down manufacturing.  As there was no inventory to feed manufacturing if a delivery did not arrive just in time.

A Rising Inventory to Sales Ratio means Inventory is Growing Larger or Sales are Falling

There are many financial ratios we use to judge how well a business is performing.  One of them is the inventory to sales ratio.  Which is the inventory on hand divided by the sales that inventory generated.  If this number equals ‘1’ then the inventory on hand for a given period is sold before that period is up.  Which would be very efficient inventory management.  Unless a lot of sales were lost because some things were out of stock because so few of them were in inventory.

Ideally managers would like this number to be ‘1’.  For that would have the lowest cost of carrying inventory.  If you sold one item 4 times a month you could add one to inventory each week to replace the one sold that week.  That would be very efficient.  Unless four people want to buy this item in the same week.  Which means instead of selling 4 of these items you will probably only sell one.  For the other three people may just go to a different store that does have it in stock.  So it is a judgment call.  You have to carry more than you may sell because people don’t come in at evenly spaced intervals to buy things.

We can look at the inventory to sales ratio for the general economy over time to note trends.  A falling ratio is generally good.  For it shows inventories growing as a lesser rate than sales.  Meaning that businesses are getting more sales out of reduced inventory levels.  Which means more profits.  A flat trend could mean that businesses are operating at peak efficiency.  Or they are treading water due to uncertainty in the business climate. Doing the minimum to meet their current demand.  But not growing because there is too much uncertainty in the air.  A rising ratio is not good.  For the only way for that to happen is if inventory is growing larger.  Sales are falling.  Or both.

The Labor Force Participation Rate has been in a Freefall since President Obama took Office

When inventories start rising it is typically because sales are falling.  Businesses are making their usually buys to restock inventory.  Only people aren’t buying as much as they once were.  So with people buying less sales fall and inventories grow.  Rising inventories are often an indicator of a recession.  As unemployment rises there are fewer people going to stores to buy things.  So sales fall.  After a period or two of this when businesses see that falling sales was not just an aberration for one period but a sign of worse economic times to come they cut back their buying.  Draw down their inventories.  And lay off some workers to adjust for the weaker demand.  As they do their suppliers see a fall in their sales and do likewise.  All the way up the stages of production to raw material extraction. 

Retailers typically carry larger inventories than wholesalers or manufacturers.  To try and accommodate their diverse customer base.  So when their sales fall and their inventories rise they are left with bulging inventories that are costly to store in a warehouse.  They may start cutting prices to move this inventory.  Or pray for some government help.  Such as low interest rates to get people to buy things even when it may not be in their best interest (for people tend to get laid off in a recession and having a new car payment while unemployed takes a lot of joy out of having a new car).  Or a government stimulus program.  Make-work for the unemployed.  Or even cash benefits the unemployed can spend.  Which will provide a surge in economic activity at the consumer level as retailers and wholesalers unload backed up inventory.  But it rarely creates any new jobs.  Because government stimulus eventually runs out.  And once it does the people will leave the stores again.  So retailers may benefit and to a certain degree wholesalers as they can clear out their inventories.  But manufacturers and raw material extractors adjust to the new reality.  As retail sales fall retailers and wholesalers will need less inventory.  Which means manufacturers and raw material extractors ramp down to adjust to the lower demand.  Cutting their costs so their reduced revenue can cover them.  Which means laying off workers.  We can see this when we look at inventory to sales ratio and the labor force participation rate over time.

(There appears to be a problem with the latest version of this blogging software that is preventing the insertion of this chart into this post.  Please click on this link to see the chart.)

(Sources: Inventories/Sales Ratio, Archived News Releases

Cheap money gave us irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble in the Nineties.  And a recession in the early 2000s.   Note that the trend during the Nineties was a falling inventory to sales ratio as advanced computer inventory systems tied in over the Internet took inventory management to new heights.  But as the dot-com irrational exuberance came to a head we had a huge dot-com economy that had yet to start selling anything.  As their start-up capital ran out the dot-coms began to go belly-up.  And all those programmers who flooded our colleges in the Nineties to get their computer degrees lost their high paying jobs.  Stock prices fell out of the sky as companies went bankrupt.  Resulting in a bad recession.  The fall in spending can be seen in the uptick in the inventory to sales ratio.  This fall in spending (and rise in inventories) led to a lot of people losing their jobs.  As we can see in the falling labor force participation rate.  The ensuing recession was compounded by the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Things eventually stabilized but there was more irrational exuberance in the air.  Thanks to a housing policy that put people into houses they couldn’t afford with subprime mortgages.  Which lenders did under threat from the Clinton administration (see Bill Clinton created the Subprime Mortgage Crisis with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending posted 11/6/2011 on Pithocrates).  Note the huge spike in the inventory to sales ratio.  And the free-fall of the labor force participation rate.  Which hasn’t stopped falling since President Obama took office.  Even though the inventory to sales ratio returned to pre-Great Recession levels.  But there is so much uncertainty in the economic outlook that no one is hiring.  They’re just shedding jobs.  Making the Obama economic recovery the worst since that following the Great Depression.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tariffs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 9th, 2013

Economics 101

The Proponents of Tariffs say they will Protect Infant Industries and Domestic Jobs

Tariffs.  What are they?  And what are they for?  A tariff is a tax.  Or a duty.  The government applies tariffs to imported goods.  Making them more expensive.  So people have to spend more money for them.  Leaving them less money to spend on other things.  Which seems counterintuitive to trying to increase economic activity.  Increasing prices the consumers pay, leaving them less money to buy other stuff.  So why do they do it?

The argument for tariffs is typically to protect ‘infant’ industries.  To give them a chance to get off the ground and establish themselves.  So they can later compete with this more developed and less costly foreign competition.  Which they couldn’t do if those foreign competitors can sell goods just as good if not better at lower prices.

Another argument is that tariffs protect domestic jobs.  A lot of imported goods are less costly than the same domestically produced goods.  Because of less costly labor in these other countries.  Often developing economies.  Unlike the developed economies who pay their people more.  And give them more benefits.  All paid for with the higher prices the people pay for their goods.  Tariffs raise the prices of foreign goods so they are not less costly than the domestically produced goods.  To get people to buy domestic goods.  Thereby saving domestic jobs.

Americans have to Pay about $1.25 more for a Bag of Sugar than the Rest of the World

These arguments make tariffs sound noble and good.  For they’re helping the little guy.  And protecting middle class jobs from cheap labor in foreign countries.  But they also hurt the little guy.  And poor families.  Because tariffs raise the price of the things they have to buy.  For example, tariffs on sugar imports raise the price Americans pay for sugar higher than people can buy sugar outside of the United States.  So the sugar they buy, and anything that contains sugar as an ingredient that they buy, is higher than it would be if the sugar tariffs weren’t there.

The US population in 2012 was 313,914,040.  Let’s assume the adult population is approximately 250 million.  And that half of them buy sugar.  How many sugar producers are there in the United States?  Far, far fewer than 125 million.  The Washington Post noted in 2007 that there were only about 6,000 sugar farmers.  About 0.002% of the population.  While the sugar buyers are closer to 40% of the population.  Or more if you include the things we buy that have sugar in them.  The numbers are approximate but the point is clear.  The people helped by tariffs are an infinitesimally small number while the people hurt by tariffs are a much, much larger number.

Let’s crunch some numbers.  While people outside of the United States can buy a bag a sugar for $1 Americans have to pay $2.25.  Or $1.25 more.  To protect American jobs in the sugar industry.  The 6,000 sugar farmers.  Let’s triple this number for the corn farmers (for high fructose corn syrup) and the sugar companies.  Rounding it out to an even 20,000 jobs that sugar tariffs protect.  If half of all adults buy a bag of sugar that’s $156 million pulled out of the economy that goes to, for lack of a better term, Big Sugar.  Let’s say these adults buy two bags a year.  Bringing the transfer from the 125 million (sugar consumers) to the 20,000 (Big Sugar) to $312.5 million.  Let’s double that number to include everything we buy that includes sugar as an ingredient.  And then double that number to account for all the sugar and corn subsidies.  Bringing the total annual wealth transfer from consumers to Big Sugar to approximately $1.25 billion.

Tariffs transfer Wealth from the Many to the Few and Reduce Economic Activity

That’s an enormous amount of wealth transferred from less rich people to richer people.  From consumers to Big Sugar.  But is it accurate?  Well, according to an article published in the Washington Post, yes.  The article states:

The Government Accountability Office has estimated that the sugar program costs consumers and food processors between $1 billion and $2 billion annually in higher prices for sugar and a vast array of products that contain it. Meanwhile, the new sugar subsidy would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year, according to economists and U.S. officials.

So our crude calculation may be on the light side.  This is a lot of money taken out of the pockets of hundreds of millions of consumers to protect 20,000 or so well-paying jobs.  Nearly half of the US population supporting less than 0.02% of the population.  And those tariffs paid that 0.02% very well.  Because Big Sugar is very profitable.  And can pay their people very well.  As they have tariffs to increase their selling prices and subsidies to lower their costs.  Which greatly fattens the bottom line.

In the United States the price of sugar is so high that businesses have turned to high fructose corn syrup for their sweetener.  Which our tax dollars also subsidize.  Making it a very profitable industry.  And as an added bonus for Big Sugar, some studies have indicated that high fructose corn syrup doesn’t satiate your appetite like regular sugar.  Causing us to overeat.  Which lets the soda pop industry sell more soda pop.  The (sweetened) food industry sell more food.  And, of course, Big Sugar sell more sweetener.  Making them richer.  And the people poorer.  As well as obese.  All of this to protect a very few jobs in some very old industries.  Transferring wealth from the many to the few.  And reducing economic activity.  Pretty much the exact opposite of what the proponents of tariffs say tariffs will do.  But what they in fact do.  Help the few.  At the expense of the many.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FDR, Wage Ceiling, Arsenal of Democracy, Benefits, Big Three, Japanese Competition, Legacy Costs, Business Cycle and Bailouts

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 14th, 2012

History 101

After the Arsenal of Democracy defeated Hitler the Wage Ceiling was Gone but Generous Benefits were here to Stay

FDR caused the automotive industry crisis of 2008-2010.  With his progressive/liberal New Deal policies.  He placed a ceiling on employee wages during the Great Depression.  The idea was to keep workers’ wages low so employers would hire more workers.  It didn’t work.  And there was an unintended consequence.  As there always is when government interferes with market forces.  The wage ceiling prevented employers from attracting the best workers by offering higher wages.  Forcing employers to think of other ways to attract the best workers.  And they found it.  Benefits.

Adolf Hitler ended the Great Depression.  His bloodlust cut the chains on American industry as they tooled up to defeat him.  The Arsenal of Democracy.  America’s factories hummed 24/7 making tanks, trucks, ships, airplanes, artillery, ammunition, etc.  The Americans out-produced the Axis.  Giving the Allies marching towards Germany everything they needed to wage modern war.  While in the end the Nazis were using horses for transport power.  This wartime production created so many jobs that they even hired women to work in their factories.  Bringing an end to the Great Depression finally after 12 years of FDR.

The Arsenal of Democracy defeated Hitler.  U.S. servicemen came home.  And the women left the factories and returned home to raise families.  With much of the world’s factories in ruins the U.S. economy continued to hum.  Only they were now making things other than the implements of war.  The auto makers returned to making cars and trucks.  The ceiling on wages was gone.  But those benefits were still there.  Greatly increasing labor costs.  But what did they care?  The American auto manufacturers had a captive audience.  If anyone wanted to buy a car or truck there was only one place to buy it.  From them.  No matter the cost.  So they just passed on those high wages and expensive benefit packages on to the consumer.  Times were good.  The Fifties were happy times.  Good jobs.  Good pay.  Free benefits.  Nice life in the suburbs.  All paid for by expensive vehicle prices.

The Big Three could not Sell Cars when there was Competition because of their Legacy Costs

But it wouldn’t last.  Because it couldn’t last.  For those factories destroyed in the war were up and running again.  And someone noticed those high prices on American cars.  The Japanese.  Who rebuilt their factories.  Which were now humming, too.  And they thought why not enter the automotive industry?  And this changed the business model for the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) as they knew it.  The Big Three had competition for the first time.  Their captive audience was gone.  For the consumer had a choice.  They could demand better value for their money.  And chose not to buy the ‘rust buckets’ they were selling in the Seventies.  Cars that rusted away after a few snowy winters.  Or a few years near the ocean coast.

The new Japanese competition started about 30 years after U.S. workers began to enjoy all those benefits.  So the U.S. car companies paid their union auto workers more and gave them far more benefits than their Japanese competition.  And those early U.S. workers were now retiring.  Giving a great advantage to the Japanese.  Because those generous benefits provided those U.S. retirees very comfortable pensions.  And all the health care they could use.  All paid for by the Big Three.  Via the price of their cars and trucks.

Well, you can see where this led to.  The Big Three could not sell cars when there was competition.  Because of these legacy costs.  Higher union wages.  Generous pension and health care benefits that workers and retirees did not contribute to.  (By the time GM and Chrysler faced bankruptcy in 2010 there were more retirees than active union workers).  The United Automobile Workers (UAW) jobs bank program where unemployed workers (laid off due to declining sales) collected 95% of their pay and benefits.  (You can find many quotes on line from a Detroit News article stating some 12,000 UAW workers were collecting pay and benefits in 2005 but not working.)  The Japanese had none of these costs.  And could easily build a higher quality vehicle for less.  Which they did.  And consumers bought them.  The Big Three conceded car sales to the Japanese (and the Europeans and South Koreans) and focused on the profitable SUV and truck markets.  To pay these high legacy costs.  Until the gas prices soared to $4/gallon.  And then the Subprime Mortgage Crises kicked off the Great Recession.  Leading to the ‘bankruptcy’ of GM and Chrysler.  And their government bailouts.

The U.S. Automotive Government Bailout cut Wage and Benefits once Set in Stone

The Big Three struggled because they operated outside normal market forces.  Thanks at first to a captive audience.  Then later to friends in government (tariffs on imports, import quotas, union-favorable legislation, etc.).  All of this just delayed the day of reckoning, though.  And making it ever more painful when it came.

During economic downturns (when supply and prices fall) their cost structure did not change.  As it should have.  Because that’s what the business cycle does.  It resets prices and supply to match demand.  With recessions.  Painful but necessary.  Just how painful depends on how fast ‘sticky’ wages can adjust down to new market levels.  And herein lies the problem that plagued the Big Three.  Their wages weren’t sticky.  They were set in stone.  So when the market set the new prices for cars and trucks it was below the cost of the Big Three.  Unable to decrease their labor (wage and benefit) costs, profits turned into losses.  Pension funds went underfunded.  And cash stockpiles disappeared.  Leading the Big Three to the brink of bankruptcy.  And begging for a government bailout.

Well, the bailout came.  The government stepped in.  Gave the union pension fund majority control of the bailed out companies.  Screwing the bondholders (and contract law) in the process.  And created a two-tier labor structure.  They grandfathered older employees at the unsustainable wage and benefit packages.  And hired new employees at wage and benefit packages that the market would bear.  Comparable to their Asian and European transplant auto plants in the right-to-work states in the southern U.S. states.  And put the market back in control of the U.S. auto industry.  For awhile, at least.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Consumption, Savings, Fractional Reserve Banking, Interest Rates and Capital Markets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 23rd, 2012

Economics 101

Keynesians Prefer Consumption over Savings because Everyone Eventually Dies

Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of total economic activity.  This consumption drives the economy.  In fact, someone built a school of economics around consumption.  Keynesian economics.  And he loved consumption.  John Maynard Keynes even created a formula for it.  The consumption function.  Which basically says the more income a person has the more that person will consume.  Even created a mathematical formula for it.  No doubt about it, Keynesians are just gaga for consumption.

Of course, Keynesians don’t love everything.  They aren’t all that fond of saving.  Which they see as a drain on economic activity.  Because if people are saving their money they aren’t doing as much consuming as they could.  In fact, their greatest fear when they propose stimulus spending (by giving people more money to spend) to jump-start an economy out of a recession is that people may take that money and save it.  Or, worse yet, pay down their credit card balances.  Which is something most responsible people do during bad economic times.  To lower their monthly bills so they can still pay them if they find themselves living on a reduced income.  Of course, being responsible doesn’t increase consumption.  Nor does it make Keynesians happy.

Keynesians don’t like people behaving responsibly.  They want everyone to live beyond their means.  To borrow money to buy a house.  To buy a car.  Or two.  To use their credit cards.  To keep shopping.  Above and beyond the limits of their income.  To spend.  And to keep spending.  Always consuming.  Creating endless economic activity.  And never worry about saving.  Because everyone eventually dies.  And what good will all that saving be then?

To Help Create more Capital from a Low Savings Rate we use Fractional Reserve Banking

Intriguing argument.  But too much consuming and not enough saving can be a problem, though.  Because before we consume we must produce.  And those producing the things we consume need capital.  Large sums of money businesses use to pay for buildings, equipment, tools and supplies.  To make the things consumers consume.  And where does that capital come from?  Savings.

A low savings rate raises the cost of borrowing.  Because businesses are competing for a smaller pool of capital.  Which raises interest rates.  Because capital is an economic commodity, subject to the law of supply and demand.  Also, with people living beyond their means by consuming far more than they are saving has caused other problems.  Borrowing to buy houses and cars and using credit cards to consume more has led to dangerous levels of personal debt.  Resulting in record personal bankruptcies.  Further raising the cost of borrowing.  As these banks have to increase their interest rates to make up for the losses they incur from those personal bankruptcies.

To help create more capital from a low savings rate we use fractional reserve banking.  Here’s how it works.  If you deposit $100 into your bank the bank keeps a fraction of that in their vault.  Their cash reserve.  And loan out the rest of the money.  When lots of people do this the banks have lots of money to loan.  Which people and businesses borrow.  Who borrow to buy things.  And when buyers buy things sellers will then take their money and deposit it into their banks.  The buyer’s borrowed funds become the seller’s deposited funds.  These banks will keep a fraction of these new deposits in their vaults.  And loan out the rest.  Etc.  As this happens over and over banks will create money out of thin air.  Providing ever more capital for businesses to borrow.  Which all works well.  Unless depositors all try to withdraw their deposits at the same time.  Exceeding the cash reserve locked up in a bank’s vault.   Creating a run on the bank.  Causing it to fail.  Which can also raise the cost of borrowing.  Or just make it difficult to find a bank willing to loan.  Because banks not only loan to consumers and businesses.  They loan to other banks.  And when one bank fails it could very well cause problems for other banks.  So banks get nervous and are reluctant to lend until they think this danger has passed.

A Keynesian Stimulus Check may Momentarily Substitute for a Paycheck but it can’t Create Capital

Consumption, savings, investment and production are linked.  Consumption needs production.  Production needs investment.  And investment needs savings.  Whether it is someone depositing their paycheck into a bank that lends it to others.  Or rich investors who amassed and saved great wealth.  Who invest directly into a corporation by buying new shares of their stock (from an underwriter, not in the secondary stock market).  Or by buying their bonds.

Collectively we call these capital markets.  Where businesses go when they need capital.  If interest rates are low they may borrow from a bank.  Or sell bonds.  If interest rates are high they may issue stock.  Generally they have a mix of financing that best fits the investing climate in the capital markets.  To protect them from volatile movements in interest rates.  And from competition from other corporations issuing new stock that could draw investors (and capital) away from their new stock issue.  Even to secure capital when no one is lending.  By going contrary to Keynesian policy and saving for a rainy day.  By buying liquid investments that earn a small return on investment and carrying them on their balance sheet.  They don’t earn much but can be sold quickly and converted into cash when no one is lending.

A lot must happen before consumers can consume.  In fact, high consumption can pull capital away from those who make the things they consume.  Because without capital businesses can’t expand production or hire more workers.  And no amount of Keynesian stimulus can change that.  Because there are two things necessary for consumption.  A paycheck.  And consumer goods produced with capital.  A stimulus check may momentarily substitute for a paycheck.  But it can’t create capital.  Only savings can do that.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Government Bonds, Deficits, Debt, Interest and Inflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 16th, 2012

Economics 101

Unlike Corporate Borrowing, Government Borrowing does not Translate into Consumer Goods and Services

When corporations need large sums of money to finance their businesses they issue stocks and bonds.  Investors respond by buying their stocks and bonds.  By loaning the business their money they are investing into these businesses.  Giving them capital to create more things to sell.  Thus stimulating the economy.  Because this investment translates into more consumer goods and services.  That consumers will ultimately buy.

When they offer these goods and services at prices consumers will pay the business does well.  As do the consumers.  Who are able to use their money to buy stuff they want.  So consumers do well.  Corporations do well.  And the investors do well.  For a corporation doing well maintains the value of their investments.  Everyone wins.  Unlike when the government enters the bond market.  For when they do there are some winners and, unfortunately, some losers.

Governments issue bonds when they spend more money than they collect in taxes.  They borrow instead of raising taxes because they know raising taxes reduces economic activity.  Which they want to avoid.  Because less economic activity means less tax revenue.  Which would make the original problem worse.  So like a corporation they have a financing need.  Unlike a corporation, though, the money they borrow will not translate into more consumer goods and services.  They will spend it inefficiently.  Reward political friends.  But mostly they will just pay for past spending.  In mature countries deficits and debt have grown so large that some governments are even borrowing to pay the interest on their debt.

Investors like Government Bonds because Government has the Power to Tax

When the government sells bonds it raises the borrowing costs for businesses.  Because their corporate bonds have to compete with these government bonds.  Corporations, then, pay a higher interest rate on their bonds to attract investors away from the government bonds.  Interest is a cost of business.  Which they add to the sales price of their goods and services.  Meaning the consumer ultimately pays these higher interest costs.  Worse, if a corporation can’t get financing at a reasonable interest rate they may not borrow.  Which means they won’t grow their business.  Or create new jobs.

As government debt grows they sell more and more bonds.  Normally not a problem for investors.  Because investors like government bonds.  (What we call sovereign debt.  Because it is the debt of sovereign states.)  Because government has the power to tax.  So investors feel confident that they will get their interest payments.  And that they will get back their principal.  Because the government can always raise taxes to service this debt.  And raise further funds to redeem their bonds.

But there is a downside for investors.  Too much government debt makes them nervous.  Because there is something governments can do that businesses can’t.  Governments can print money.  And there is the fear that if a government’s debt is so great and they have to pay higher and higher interest rates on their sovereign debt to attract investors that they may just start printing money.  Inflate the money supply.  By printing money to pay investors.  Sounds good if you don’t understand the consequences of printing money.  But ‘inflating the money supply’ is another way of saying inflation.  Where you have more dollars chasing the same amount of goods and services.

When Corporations Fail and go Bankrupt they don’t Increase Consumer Prices or Cause Inflation

Think of it this way.  The existing value of all available goods and services equals the amount of money in circulation.  When you increase the money supply it doesn’t change the amount of goods and services in the economy.  But it still must equal the amount of money in circulation.  So the dollar must now be worth less.  Because more of them still add up to the same value of goods and services.  That is, by printing more money they depreciate the dollar.  Make it worth less.  And if the dollar is worth less it will take more of them to buy the same things.  Causing consumer prices to rise.

Worse, inflation reduces the value of bonds.  When they depreciate the dollar the money locked into these long-term investments shrink in value.  And when people get their money back they can’t buy as much with it as they could before they bought these long-term investments.  Meaning they lost purchasing power while the government had their money.  Which gives investors a negative return on their investment.  And if a person invested their retirement into these bonds they will have less purchasing power in their retirement.  Because a depreciated dollar shrinks their savings.  And increases consumer prices.  So retirees are especially hard hit by inflation.

So excessive government borrowing raises consumer prices.  By making corporations compete for investment capital.  And by causing inflation.  Whereas excessive corporate borrowing does not.  They either provide goods and services at prices consumers willingly pay.  Or they fail and go bankrupt.  Hurting no one but their private investors.  And their employees who lose their jobs.  Sad, but at least their failure does not increase consumer prices.  Or cause inflation.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Economic Recovery Requires less Keynesian Spending and more Cutting the Cost of Employment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 26th, 2011

The Structural Defect in Keynesian Economics is that Sustained Inflation Creates Asset Bubbles that Must Burst

More bad news for the housing market.  And the American economy (see New-home sales fell in August for 4th month by Derek Kravitz posted 9/26/2011 on the Associated Press).

Sales of new homes fell to a six-month low in August. The fourth straight monthly decline during the peak buying season suggests the housing market is years away from a recovery…

New-homes sales are on pace for the worst year since the government began keeping records a half century ago…

Last year was also the fifth straight year that sales have fallen. It followed five straight years of record highs, when housing was booming.

The housing market is bad.  There’s no denying that.  And this affects everyone.  Not just homeowners.  Because where the housing market goes the economy follows.

While new homes represent less than one-fifth of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Jobs and taxes.  Both of which the government is having trouble generating these days.  That’s why they are desperately trying to stimulate the housing market with all that easy monetary policy.  Getting interest rates to their lowest in years.  If not of all time.  Because new houses equals jobs.  And tax revenue.  Especially when housing values increase over time.

Home prices have dropped more since the recession started, on a percentage basis, than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It took 19 years for prices to fully recover after the Depression.

But not so much when they don’t.

Worse than the Great Depression.  Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.

One of the missions of the Federal Reserve was to prevent another Great Depression.  In particular, preventing a devastating deflationary spiral.  Such as we’re seeing in home prices now.  Looks like they’ve failed.  Or rather, Keynesian Economics has failed.

The problem is the dependence on Keynesian Economics.  Which uses monetary policy to maintain economic growth.  By having permanent but ‘sustainable’ inflation.  But the structural defect in this model is that sustained inflation creates asset bubbles.  As people bid up the prices of these assets.  Like houses prior to the subprime mortgage crisis.  And when these bubbles burst these asset prices have to fall back to market levels.  Like house prices are doing right now.  And apparently will do for another 19 years.  Give or take.

It is the High Cost of Labor that is Hurting the Advanced Economies

Manufacturing has been better than the housing market.  But it’s not looking too promising right now (see U.S. manufacturing slowdown: 4 cities at most risk posted 9/26/2011 on CNN Money).

U.S. manufacturing has been one of the rare bright spots in an otherwise annoyingly slow economic recovery…

But expectations of slower growth could threaten the rebound and cities that have gained from it. The ongoing European debt crisis and efforts to curb worries over inflation in China have analysts predicting lower demand for everything from American-made electronics to machinery.

U.S. manufacturing grew 6% during the economic recovery after declining 13% following the financial crisis in 2007. IHS Global Insight economist Tom Runiewicz says the industry has grown 4.5% so far this year. While that’s still robust growth, he expects manufacturing growth to slow to 2.9% next year.

The American consumer may not have been buying but consumers in other countries were.  A good example of American exports is the delivery of the first Boeing 787 to ANA.  And Boeing’s 747-8, too.   Though the largest U.S. exporter, Boeing won’t be able to fix the economy alone.  Especially when they’re competing against Airbus.

It is the high cost of labor that is hurting the advanced economies.  The Europeans subsidize some of their industries to make up for this economic disadvantage.  Boeing charges Airbus with getting subsidies that lets them compete unfairly.  And Airbus, of course, accuses Boeing of the same.   To help gain a competitive edge over Airbus, Boeing wanted to expand production in South Carolina.  A right to work state.  Which the Obama administration has opposed.  In support of their union donors.

The lesson of the Boeing-Airbus rivalry is this.  They’d be able to sell more planes if they could cut their labor costs.

Listening to the Private Sector turned around the German Economy and is why they can Bail Out the Euro

Germany’s high cost of labor was crippling her economy.  BMW and Mercedes-Benz built plants in America to escape their high cost of labor.  But things are different in Germany these days.  In fact, the country is so rich that the hopes of saving the Euro common currency falls on the German economy.  The only European economy rich enough to save the Euro.  So how did they make this turnaround?  Through reforms (see Getting People Back to Work by Matt Mitchell posted 9/26/2011 on Mercatus Center at George Mason University).

Germany’s unemployment rate is only 6.2 percent today. This is pretty remarkable given the severity of the recent recession, the slow growth of Germany’s trade partners (including the U.S.) and the unfolding fiscal crisis in the Eurozone.

NPR’s Caitlin Kenney attributes Germany’s relative success to a number of reforms adopted a decade ago. Kenney reports:

To figure out how Germany got where it is today, you need to go back 10 years. In 2002, Germany looked a lot like the United States does now, they had no economic growth and their unemployment rate was 8.7 percent and climbing. The country needed help, so the top man in Germany at the time, Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor, made in an emergency call to a trusted friend.

So who did he turn to?  A government bureaucrat?  Or someone from the private sector?

The friend was Peter Hartz, a former HR director whom Schroder knew from his VW days. Schroder put Hartz in charge of a commission, the mission of which was to find a way to make Germany’s labor market more flexible. The Hartz commission made it easier to hire someone for a low-paying, temporary job, a so-called “mini job”:

A mini-job isn’t that great of a deal for workers. In these jobs, they can work as many hours as the employer wants them to, but the maximum they can earn is 400 Euros per month. On the plus side, they get to keep it all. They don’t pay any taxes on the money. And they do still get some government assistance.

He went to the private sector.  To get advice of how to create jobs in the private sector.  And he listened to what they said.  The cost of labor and regulatory costs were crippling job creation.

Generous unemployment insurance and regulations that add to the cost of employment tend to make for a static, unhealthy labor market. Though designed to make life better for workers, these policies may do them more harm than good.

Listening to the private sector turned around the German economy.  Made it the dynamo it is today.  And it is why that the German economy is the only economy that can bail out the Euro.

Economic Recovery Requires New Jobs

The economy still looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  Whereas the Germans are doing so well that they may single-handedly bailout the Eurozone from their sovereign debt crisis.  And a lot of Americans are saying that should be us.  Not the bailing out the Eurozone part.  But having the ability to do that.

And that could have been us.  And should have been.  Like it used to be.  When America led the world in creating jobs.  So what happened?  The same thing that had happened in Germany.  The cost of employment grew.  And as it grew new job creation declined.

Economic recovery requires new jobs.  The Germans understood that.  And they did something about it.  So should we.  And the sooner we do the sooner we will see that economic recovery.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Internet Sales under Assault

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 19th, 2011

The Public Sector against the Consumer

According to some, Amazon.com hates teachers.  And children.  Because their Internet sales are shorting tax coffers everywhere that pay for teachers and child welfare (see States look to Internet taxes to close budget gaps by Chris Tomlinson posted 6/19/2011 on the Associated Press).

State governments across the country are laying off teachers, closing public libraries and parks, and reducing health care services, but there is one place they could get $23 billion if they could only agree how to do it: Internet retailers such as Amazon.com.

That’s enough to pay for the salaries of more than 46,000 teachers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In California, the amount of uncollected taxes from Amazon sales alone is roughly the same amount cut from child welfare services in the current state budget.

So they want to tax the Internet.  So they can keep 46,000 teachers on the payroll.  And if my math is correct ($23 billion/46,000) that comes to $500,000 per teacher.  Wow.  We do pay teachers well.  Maybe that’s the problem.  The cost of the public sector.  I’m willing to guess that most teachers are not quite making $500,000 per year.  If you were listening to the news during that Scott Walker episode in Madison, Wisconsin, you’re more under the impression that a ‘typical’ teacher makes less than $100,000.  So if that is true, where is all of that money going?  And should we even be trying to sustain such a grossly inept and mismanaged system where one teacher costs on average $500,000 per year?

Internet retailers are required to collect sales tax only when they sell to customers living in a state where they have a physical presence, such as a store or office. When consumers order from out-of-state retailers, they are required under state law to pay the tax. But it’s difficult to enforce and rarely happens.

What?  Do you mean people are not reporting their out of state purchases so they can pay their use tax?  Why, that’s preposterous.  Why would anyone do that?  We’re not overtaxed.  Then again, maybe we are.  Perhaps the people are speaking.  And that’s what they’re telling us.

With sales tax revenue slumping more than 30 percent in most states between 2007 and 2010, lawmakers across the country are grasping for ways to collect those unpaid taxes. Retailers and lawmakers in several states have proposed ways to solve the problem, some with more support than others.

“The problem is that some out-of-state e-retailers openly flaunt the law, arguing that it doesn’t apply to them,” said Texas state Democratic Rep. Elliot Naishtat, who has offered a bill to require more Internet sellers to collect Texas sales tax. “It’s about potentially generating hundreds of millions of dollars for our state.”

But it’s not a simple matter of getting them to collect out of state sales taxes.  These Internet retailers will have to hire an army of people just to process all these extra taxes.  For example, New York state has a sales tax.  So does New York City.  Over in Illinois, Cook Country has their own county tax.  State taxes.  County taxes.  City taxes.  It can get pretty complex.  I mean, the brick and mortar store doesn’t have a problem.  Every sale has the same tax.  It’s a bit different selling nationally.

“There are over 8,000 taxing jurisdictions in the United States,” said Jonathan Johnson, president of Overstock.com, which has offices only in Utah. “We think it’s wrong that states are trying to cause out-of-state retailers to be their tax collectors.”

After all, Johnson said, these retailers do not use any state services where they don’t have offices.

The added cost would be huge.  And ultimately passed on to the consumer.  Sure, they’re trying to shake down the big Internet sellers, but all that money will be coming out of our wallets.  And purses.

Traditional retailers are complaining loudly to their elected officials, saying the current structure creates an unfair playing field…

“We get people all the time who come in, talk to a salesman for 15 minutes to half an hour … and then go, and we know they are going to buy it online because they can save money. In theory, they are stealing our time,” Burger said. “We’re losing at least 15 percent to online, out-of-state, so we’re losing anywhere between $3 million and $5 million a year in business.”

As it always is when a consumer finds a bargain.  It’s the competition that complains.  Not the consumer.  They attack anyone who can give the consumer the same value for less.  But they do have a point.  They are losing sales because of their physical location.  And the high taxes that they can’t escape.  Owed to an out of control public sector that can never collect enough taxes to satiate their desire to spend.  I mean, when was the last time any government jurisdiction ever lowed their tax rate?

“Local retailers complained that the big-box stores were coming in and taking their business, and the Wal-Marts of the world said they had a better business model and the world has changed,” Johnson said. “Today, the business model has changed and we can take cost out of the supply chain by doing business the way we do on the Internet. And for Wal-Mart, of all people, to be saying it’s not fair that Amazon and Overstock can’t be forced to be tax collectors is ironic.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.  Stomping out their competition was one thing.  But having the shoe on the other foot is just unfair.

Traditional retailers have lobbied for the Main Street Fairness Act, which was reintroduced in Congress this spring by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois. The act would be “a helping hand to state and local governments at a time that they need it the most,” he said.

To help state and local governments?!?  This should be our concern?  Helping those people who can’t control their spending?  While Americans suffer through record long-term unemployment during the worst recession since the Great Depression?  We want to figure out how to take more money away from consumers so we can afford more $500,000 teachers?  All the while further stifling economic activity?  Just so we can help the more important people?  Those in the public sector?  Our servants?  Yeah, right.

A component of the proposed federal law is a requirement for states to adopt the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, which would standardize sales tax laws and filing requirements for Internet retailers. To sweeten the pot, states would reimburse companies for any additional costs involved in collecting it…

Overstock’s Johnson and Paul Misener, vice president for global public policy at Amazon, said they would support a national standard using the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement.

“We’ve long supported a truly simple, national approach, evenhandedly applied,” Misener said. “This is federalism at work, and many states are making the right decision to seek a federal solution.”

Federalism at work?  Thomas Jefferson would beg to differ.  Consolidating more power into the federal government is not federalism.  It’s consolidation.  It’s a weakening of the states.  And a weakening of federalism.  A national sales tax?  Everyone knows the federal government has always wanted this.  And once they get it that will be another tax rate that they will never lower.  With a federal debt already over $14 trillion dollars, do we really want to give them a new tax that can justify even more spending?

Pulling more Money out of the Private Sector during a Recession is a Bad Idea

Government has a spending problem.  At the federal, state, county and local level.  The IMF has warned that we are playing with fire with our budget deficits.  And S&P may downgrade our credit rating.  Perhaps this is a good time to cut some of that spending.  To eliminate some of that spending that’s giving us those deficits.  Instead of pulling more money out of the private economy which will only make a bad situation worse.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Debt Crises are Far Greater than Many choose to Believe

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 17th, 2011

Was it the Plan to Bankrupt the Nation?

The IMF is worried about a technical default on U.S. debt.  But it’s the budget deficits that really concerns the IMF.  In the U.S.  And in Europe.  For the entitlement spending of these welfare states has proven to be beyond unsustainable.  They’re downright dangerous.  And if unchecked, it will destroy these nations (see IMF cuts U.S. growth forecast, warns of crisis by Luciana Lopez posted 6/17/2011 on Reuters).

The International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth on Friday and warned Washington and debt-ridden European countries that they are “playing with fire” unless they take immediate steps to reduce their budget deficits.

They’re not saying that the U.S. had better raise their debt limit.  They’re saying that they better reduce their deficit.  Either by raising taxes.  Or cutting spending.  And with the IMF cutting their forecast for U.S. economic growth, that pretty much means they’re leaning towards cutting spending.  Because higher taxes don’t stimulate economic growth.  And the U.S., and all countries with huge budget deficits, needs as much economic growth as possible.  For ‘economic growth’ means ‘tax revenue’ growth.  And that’s what they need.  Tax revenue.  Add to that spending cuts and you start making headway in reducing those deficits. 

Meanwhile, Greece has edged closer to default as euro zone officials disagree on a possible second aid package for the indebted country. With strikes and protests around the country, political turmoil has added to uncertainty, stoking fears that the government will not be able to tighten its belt enough to reduce crippling deficits.

“If you make a list of the countries in the world that have the biggest homework in restoring their public finances to a reasonable situation in terms of debt levels, you find four countries: Greece, Ireland, Japan and the United States,” Vinals said.

With strikes and protests over austerity measures to reduce their deficit, it doesn’t look good in Greece.  They’re getting closer and closer to a default on their debt.  And not a technical default as in being late on an interest payment.  But an all out default as in making their bonds worthless.  What’s worse is that the U.S. made it to the short list of nations with the absolute worst public finances.  And that’s before Obamacare adds another trillion dollars or so of federal spending.

You know this didn’t happen overnight.  We knew about the crushing weight of U.S. entitlement spending for decades.  Even Ronald Reagan raised taxes to save these programs.  So it wasn’t a secret.  And for the Obama administration to spend to the tune of a $1.4 trillion deficit was ill advised to say the least.  Unless the plan was to bankrupt the nation.  If that was the plan then kudos to them.  They may actually have something work as planned yet.

Overheating Economies are a Bitch on the Downside

Greece may be beyond saving.  Worse, when she goes under she may drag others with her (see IMF warns of increased risks to the world economy posted 6/17/2011 on the BBC).

Many analysts believe Greece will not be able to pay back all the money it has borrowed.

“I don’t think there is a question over whether Greece is going to default, it is just a question of whether it is an orderly or disorderly one,” says George Magnus, senior economic adviser at UBS.

The IMF warned that if Greece was unable to pay its debts, other countries such as Spain or Portugal may also be affected.

A cascading electrical blackout is a lot like bank failures.  The North American electrical grid is interconnected.  Power plants attach locally but their power can be sent almost anywhere on the grid depending on demand.  Back in the Northeast Blackout of 2003, downed high voltage power lines triggered a sequence of events.  With some power disconnected from the grid, more power flowed from other sources to make up for the loss.  Higher currents caused these lines to sag and eventually they, too, failed.  Other lines then surged with higher currents to make up for the loss supply and then they failed.  As lines failed power plants disconnected from the grid.  Those still attached tried to make up for the lost supply.  Until they exceeded their safe limits and then disconnected from the grid to protect themselves.  And this continued until a large part of Northeast North America lost all electrical power.

Now think of governments as power stations.  Government spending as high currents in power lines.  The economy as the electric grid.  And Greece as the first failure.  Right now the European Union and the European Central Bank are trying to minimize the cascading damage.  Before financial trouble spreads further and stresses other governments.  Causing additional stresses on the European banking system.  But it doesn’t look good.  All that spending has only overheated those ‘power lines’.  But the problem is still attached to the grid.  Greek spending.  Unable to stop their spending (i.e., commit to their austerity plans), that ‘power station’ will fail.  And then the cascading will begin.

Outside Europe, the fund said it expected economic growth in developing countries to remain strong.

This, in turn, presents a risk of overheating – where economies grow too fast leading to a rapid contraction later.

Like in Japan in the 1980s (Japan Inc).  The U.S. in the 1990s (the dot-com bubble).  And the U.S. again in 2007 (the housing bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis).  Overheating economies can be a whole lot of fun on the upside.  But they’re a bitch on the downside.  Not to mention the economic impact on the rest of the world economy.  And it’s the rest of this world economy that’s scaring the IMF.  For it’s these growing economies that are buying what little manufacturing there is in the older established economies.

It’s going to Suck Worse before it gets Better

There’s no relief for the American consumer.  But the stock market is doing well.  In a normal economic recovery this would benefit the consumer.  But this isn’t a normal economic recovery (see U.S. Confidence Out of Sync With Stock Gains by Bob Willis and Alex Tanzi posted 6/17/2011 on Bloomberg).

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index has stalled near its recession average as the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen 83 percent from a 12-year low in March 2009. A tight correlation between the index and Dow that lasted more than two decades has broken down as joblessness above 9 percent, stagnant wages and near $4-a-gallon gasoline outweigh the benefits of higher share prices, even after a 6.6 percent retreat in the Dow since the end of April.

“Consumers are fairly depressed, yet the stock market continues to improve,” Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia, said in an interview. “It’s foreign demand that is really pushing corporate profitability. Consumer confidence is pretty constrained by the labor market.”

U.S. manufacturers in particular have profited from faster growth in emerging economies, including Colombia and Indonesia, where expanding middle classes are demanding more roads and utilities, as well as higher-protein foods and more consumer goods. Deere & Co. (DE), the world’s largest farm-equipment maker, raised its fiscal 2011 earnings forecast on May 18 to $2.65 billion from $2.5 billion, citing increased demand for farm and construction machinery outside the U.S, along with growth in America.

If it wasn’t for these emerging economies there would probably be no corporate profitability.  High unemployment, stagnant wages and $4-a-gallon gasoline is leaving the American consumer little disposable cash to stimulate anything.  That’s why they’re depressed.  Because it sucks out there.

U.S. corporations have gotten “a pickup in sales growth, but they’re not responding with a big pickup in wages and labor growth,” said Rob Carnell, chief international economist at ING Bank in London. “This is helping them to keep their margins intact in the backdrop of rising commodity prices…”

The 18-month recession shaved 4.1 percentage points off gross domestic product before ending in June 2009, making it the deepest downturn since the 1930s. Growth has averaged about 2.8 percent since then, enough to restore only 1.8 million of the 8.8 million jobs lost as a result of the slump.

And now inflation is raising commodity prices.  That means corporations, small businesses and consumers all have less disposable cash.  Which means there will be no job creation.  Because there is no new demand they need to hire people to meet.  Which means it’s going to suck worse out there before it gets better.  Which makes it hard to believe that the recession ended in June of 2009.  High unemployment.  Low economic growth.  Stagnant wages.  If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we’re probably still in a recession.  The worst one since the Great Depression.  And if things continue as they are we may have to call the Great Depression the worst economic downturn before the Great Recession that started in 2007.

Making the easy Difficult

Things are looking bleak for Greece.  And the other three nations that have spending problems as bad as theirs.  Ireland, Japan and the United States.  Boy.  I’d sure hate to be in our shoes.

We know what caused their problems.  Excessive government spending.  So you’d think it’d be easy to fix their problems.  Just stop spending so much.  But when you get people used to that government spending.  And politicians get used to the votes that spending buys, it makes the easy difficult.  So they continue to spend.  Ask for bailouts.  And plead to Congress to raise the debt ceiling so they can spend some more.

The politicians either don’t believe in the magnitude of the problem.  Or they are counting on being dead before they have to pay the piper.  But someone will eventually pay the piper.  And it’s going to hurt.  And the longer we wait to pay the more it’s going to hurt.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Obama Reelection Strategy: Increase Gas Prices to Crash Economy to Lower Gas Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 29th, 2011

The 2nd Largest Oil Reserves in the World

Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world.  Take a guess who has the 2nd largest oil reserves in the world.  Kuwait?  Iraq?  Iran?  Libya?  Nigeria?  Venezuela?  Qatar?  Angola?  Algeria?  Ecuador?  United Arab Emirates?  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  Uh…um, no.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  Could it be the United States?  It could be.  But it’s not.  With so much U.S. land off limits to drilling who knows how much oil they have.  So who has the second largest oil reserves in the world?  Here’s a hint.  Think Wayne Gretzky.  Who used to play on a team called the Oilers.  In the city of Edmonton.  In the province of Alberta.  In, of course, Canada.

Yes, Canada has the second largest oil reserves in the world.  But this oil reserve isn’t in pools underground waiting for someone to pump it up.  It’s in the Athabasca oil sands.  Think of hot oil spilled into sand which then cools into a thick tar.  Once upon a time this type of oil was worthless.  Because you just couldn’t drill for it and pump it.  You have to process this tar into useful oil.  And the cost to do this used to be prohibitive.  But with the price of oil today, this once worthless tar is now a very valuable form of crude oil.

America, the world’s largest economy, imports the majority of her oil from Canada.  In fact, the Canadians export more oil to the U.S. than they consume themselves.  Which is rather interesting when you consider Canadian gas prices are higher than American gas prices.  Now oil is oil.  And one would assume that the Canadians make their gasoline from the same oil we make our gasoline from.  Canadian oil.  Yet their gas prices are higher than in the U.S.  Why?  Because when it comes to their gasoline, they’re a lot like the Europeans.  They tax the bejesus out of it.  Taxes average about a third of the price at pump.

Even with all that Oil Canadian Gas Prices are High

With the world’s second largest oil reserves, one can’t blame the lack of supply for high prices.  They have supply.  So much that they export more than they use.  Could they have a refinery shortage?  If they did, they could fix that easily by building more refineries.  I mean, with the domestic oil reserves, the Canadians are in the driver’s seat when it comes to their gasoline prices.  It would be pretty darn hard for their gas prices to be ‘too high’ to affect their economy.  So how are the little guys doing in Canada?  The small business owners (see Rising fuel costs hit small businesses by Anita Elash posted 4/29/2011 on The Globe and Mail)?

Steak is off the menu, comfort food is in and prices are up by as much as 20 per cent at the Yellow Belly Brewery in St. John’s, Nfld., this spring, partly because of rising fuel costs.

Owner Brenda O’Reilly says her expenses have increased steadily since she opened her micro-brewery and gastro pub three years ago, but the sudden price hike at the gas pumps this year has been “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

In addition to coping with higher labour costs and escalating commodity prices, her main supplier has slapped a steadily rising fuel surcharge, now up to $3.50, on every delivery – a cost that significantly cuts into profits.

I guess the price of Canadian gas can be ‘too high’. 

Forced menu changes and higher restaurant prices are just one of the ways record-high fuel costs are affecting small business this spring. Surveys for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business show that fuel costs are now the biggest concern for small business owners. Seventy-five per cent of members said they’re worried about rising fuel prices, compared to 50 per cent who were worried two years ago.

CFIB chief economist Ted Mallett said wide fluctuations in fuel prices over the past few years have created a lot of uncertainty for business owners and make planning especially difficult. Many have signed contracts or service agreements based on costs several months ago, and “if they guessed wrong about fuel prices, it comes out of their bottom line.”

These are the kind of problems they’re having in the U.S.  Because the Americans have no control over gas prices.  They are at the mercy of the oil exporters.  Exporters like Canada.  Which begs the question.  How can both the United States and Canada have such high gas prices?  If the Canadians are getting rich off of the Americans, they should be able to lower their own gas prices.  If they’re giving the oil away, then the Americans should be able to lower their gas prices.  It’s hard to imagine how the second largest oil reserves in the world results in high prices in both the U.S. and Canada.  Unless they’re both taxing the bejesus out of their gasoline.

High Gas Prices Kill Anemic Economic Recovery

The Canadian consumer is making things hard for Canadian small business.  And it’s no different in the U.S. (see Gas costs siphon off much of March rise in incomes by Martin Crutsinger, Associated Press, posted 4/29/2011 on USA Today).

Consumer spending had been expected to post solid gains this year, helped by stronger employment growth and a two percentage-point cut in Social Security payroll taxes. But Americans are paying more for gas, prompting economists to scale back their growth forecasts…

“The increase in prices is absorbing pretty much all of the windfall from the payroll tax cut,” said Paul Dales, an economist with Capital Economics. “If gasoline prices were to stop rising, real consumption could bounce back in the second quarter. But even then, jobs growth and wage growth are not strong enough to result in a significant and sustained acceleration in consumption growth. This economic recovery is going to continue to disappoint both this year and next.”

Consumers are spending more.  But they’re getting less.  Any extra disposable income is just paying for the higher cost of gasoline.  Which means consumer spending is flat.  And will remain flat.  For another two years.  Or more.  Because of the cost of gasoline.  The environmentalists may be happy.  But high gas prices are making the rest of us make a lot of sacrifices we’d rather not.  And it’s killing off what anemic economic recovery there was.

The Weak U.S. Dollar Increases World Oil Prices

There is a reason gasoline prices are soaring.  And it’s just not demand outpacing supply.  Though that is a huge part of it.  But it’s another government policy that is compounding the supply problem (see Oil edges up, but choppy, as weak dollar supports by Robert Gibbons posted 4/29/2011 on Reuters).

“Oil is reacting to the dollar…,” said Richard Ilczyszyn, senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago.

Higher interest rates in Europe compared to the U.S. have undermined support for the U.S. dollar, pushing up the euro by 11 percent so far this year.

The weak dollar also helped push spot gold to a new record as investors continued to seek alternative assets to hedge against inflation.

Thursday’s report that growth in the U.S. gross domestic product slowed more than expected to an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the first quarter from a fourth-quarter pace of 3.1 percent, reinforced the perception that the U.S. central bank will continue with its loose monetary policy.

It’s not the greedy oil companies.  Or their record profits driving up prices.  It’s Federal Reserve policy.  All that quantitative easing.  Printing money.  They just increased the money supply so much that they devalued the dollar.  Which gives us price inflation.  Where everything costs more because our money is worth less.  And we price oil in U.S. dollars in the international markets.  Which means American monetary policy is increasing world oil prices.  Not the oil companies.  Their getting obscenely rich is just a byproduct of loose U.S. monetary policy.

Oil’s price rise could be tempered by increasing evidence that high prices will erode demand.

U.S. consumer spending rose as households stretched to cover the higher cost for food and gasoline as inflation posted its biggest year-on-year rise in 10 months.

But all is not lost.  Oil prices will come down.  Like they did in 2008.  Because that’s what recessions do.  They lower prices.  When people don’t have jobs they don’t buy gas.  Which lowers demand.  And this lower demand will bring down gasoline prices.

If you Like Stagflation and Misery, Vote Obama

Perhaps this is the Obama reelection strategy.  Ramp up inflation to crash the economy.  Thus lowering gas prices.  It may work.  If people don’t mind another ‘worst recession’ since the Great Depression.  As long as gas is more affordable.  It’s a risky plan.  And it hasn’t had a successful track record.  It made Jimmy Carter a one-term president.  But perhaps Obama can succeed where Jimmy Carter failed. 

Interestingly, stagflation and economic misery are not the only things these presidents have in common.  Both were/are engaged in the Middle East, too.  Carter brought peace between Israel and Egypt while Obama has…

Perhaps they should consider another reelection strategy.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

« Previous Entries