The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Labor Force Participation Rate from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 10th, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published May 21st, 2013)

The DJIA and the Labor Force Participation Rate tell us how both Wall Street and Main Street are Doing

Rich people don’t need jobs.  They can make money with money.  Investing in the stock market.  When you see the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) increasing you know rich people are getting richer.  Whereas the middle class, the working people, aren’t getting rich.  But they may be building a retirement nest egg.  Which is good.  So they benefit, too, from a rising DJIA.  But that’s for later.  What they need now is a job.  Unlike rich people.  The middle class typically lives from paycheck to paycheck.  So more important to them is a growing job market.  Not so much a growing stock market.  For the middle class needs a day job to be able to invest in the stock market.  Whereas rich people don’t.  For a rich person’s money works enough for the both of them.

So the Dow Jones Industrial Average shows how well rich people are doing.   And how well the working class’ retirement nest eggs are growing for their retirement.  But it doesn’t really show how well the middle class is living.  For they need a job to pay their bills.  To put food on their tables.  And to raise their families.  So the DJIA doesn’t necessarily show how well the middle class is doing.  But there is an economic indicator that does.  The labor force participation rate.  Which shows the percentage of people who could be working that are working.  So if the labor force participation rate (LFPR) is increasing it means more people looking for a job can find a job.  Allowing more people to be able to pay their bills, put food on their tables and raise their families.

These two economic indicators (the DJIA and the LFPR) can give us an idea of how both Wall Street and Main Street are doing.  Ideally you’d want to see both increasing.  A rising DJIA shows businesses are growing.  Allowing Wall Street to profit from rising stock prices.  While those growing businesses create jobs for Main Street.   If we look at these economic indicators over time we can even see which ‘street’ an administration’s policies favor.   Interestingly, it’s not the one you would think based on the political rhetoric.

Wall Street grew 75% Richer under Clinton than it did under Reagan while Main Street grew 65% Poorer

Those going through our public schools and universities are taught that capitalism is unfair.  Corporations are evil.  And government is good.  The Democrats favor a growing welfare state.  Funded by a highly progressive tax code.  That taxes rich people at higher tax rates.  While Republicans favor a limited government.  A minimum of government spending and regulation.  And lower tax rates.  Therefore the Republicans are for rich people and evil corporations.  While the Democrats are for the working man.  Our schools and universities teach our kids this.  The mainstream media reinforces this view.  As does Hollywood, television and the music industry.  But one thing doesn’t.  The historical record (see Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950-Present and Dow Jones Industrial Average Index: Historical Data).

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Reagan

The Democrats hated Ronald Reagan.  Because he believed in classical economics.  Which is what made this country great.  Before Keynesian economics came along in the early 20th Century.  And ushered in the era of Big Government.  Reagan reversed a lot of the damage the Keynesians caused.  He tamed inflation.  Cut taxes.  Reduced regulation.  And made a business-friendly environment.  Where the government intervened little into the private sector economy.  And during his 8 years in office we see that BOTH Wall Street (the Dow Jones Industrial Average) and Main Street (the labor force participation rate) did well.  Contrary to everything the left says.  The DJIA increased about 129%.  And the LFPR increased about 3.4%.  Indicating a huge increase of jobs for the working class.  Showing that it wasn’t only the rich doing well under Reaganomics.  The policies of his successor, though, changed that.  As Wall Street did better under Bill Clinton than Main Street.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Clinton

Despite the Democrats being for the working man and Bill Clinton’s numerous statements about going back to work to help the middle class (especially during his impeachment) Wall Street clearly did better than Main Street under Bill Clinton.  During his 8 years in office the LFPR increased 1.2%.  While the DJIA increased 226%.  Which means Wall Street grew 75% richer under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  While Main Street grew 65% poorer under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  Which means the gap between the rich and the middle class grew greater under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  Clearly showing that Reagan’s policies favored the Middle Class more than Clinton’s policies did.  And that Clinton’s policies favored Wall Street more than Regan’s did.  Which is the complete opposite of the Democrat narrative.  But it gets worse.

The Historical Record shows the Rich do Better under Democrats and the Middle Class does Better under Republicans

The great economy of the Nineties the Democrats love to talk about was nothing more than a bubble.  A bubble of irrational exuberance.  As investors borrowed boatloads of cheap money thanks to artificially low interest rates.  And poured it into dot-com companies that had nothing to sell.  After these dot-coms spent that start-up capital they had no revenue to replace it.  And went belly-up in droves.  Giving George W. Bush a nasty recession at the beginning of his presidency.  Compounded by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Bush

The LFPR fell throughout Bush’s first term as all those dot-com jobs went away in the dot-com crash.  Made worse by the 9/11 attacks.  As all the malinvestments of the Clinton presidency were wrung out of the economy things started to get better.  The LFPR leveled off and the DJIA began to rise.  But then the specter of Bill Clinton cast another pall over the Bush presidency.  Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending forced lenders to lower their lending standards to qualify more of the unqualified.  Which they did under fear of the full force and fury of the federal government.  Using the subprime mortgage to put the unqualified into homes they couldn’t afford.  This policy also pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy these toxic subprime mortgages from these lenders.  Freeing them up to make more toxic loans.  This house of cards came crashing down at the end of the Bush presidency.  Which is why the DJIA fell 19.4%.  And the LFPR fell 2.1%.  Even though the economy tanked thanks to those artificially low interest rates that brought on the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession both Wall Street and Main Street took this rocky ride together.  They fell together in his first term.  Rose then fell together in his second term.  Something that didn’t happen in the Obama presidency.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Obama

During the Obama presidency Wall Street has done better over time.  Just as Main Street has done worse over time.  This despite hearing nothing about how President Obama cares for the middle class.  When it is clear he doesn’t.  As his policies have clearly benefited rich people.  Wall Street.  While Main Street suffers the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  So far during his presidency the LFPR has fallen 3.7%.  While the DJIA has risen by 86%.  Creating one of the largest gaps between the rich and the middle class.  This despite President Obama being the champion of the middle class.  Which he isn’t.  In fact, one should always be suspect about anyone claiming to be the champion of the middle class.  As the middle class always suffers more than the rich when these people come to power.  Just look at Venezuela under Hugo Chaves.  Where the rich got richer.  And the middle class today can’t find any toilet paper to buy.  This is what the historical record tells us.  The rich do better under Democrats.  And the middle class does better under Republicans.  Despite what our schools and universities teach our kids.  Or what they say in movies and television.

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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.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Labor Force Participation Rate from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 21st, 2013

History 101

The DJIA and the Labor Force Participation Rate tell us how both Wall Street and Main Street are Doing

Rich people don’t need jobs.  They can make money with money.  Investing in the stock market.  When you see the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) increasing you know rich people are getting richer.  Whereas the middle class, the working people, aren’t getting rich.  But they may be building a retirement nest egg.  Which is good.  So they benefit, too, from a rising DJIA.  But that’s for later.  What they need now is a job.  Unlike rich people.  The middle class typically lives from paycheck to paycheck.  So more important to them is a growing job market.  Not so much a growing stock market.  For the middle class needs a day job to be able to invest in the stock market.  Whereas rich people don’t.  For a rich person’s money works enough for the both of them.

So the Dow Jones Industrial Average shows how well rich people are doing.   And how well the working class’ retirement nest eggs are growing for their retirement.  But it doesn’t really show how well the middle class is living.  For they need a job to pay their bills.  To put food on their tables.  And to raise their families.  So the DJIA doesn’t necessarily show how well the middle class is doing.  But there is an economic indicator that does.  The labor force participation rate.  Which shows the percentage of people who could be working that are working.  So if the labor force participation rate (LFPR) is increasing it means more people looking for a job can find a job.  Allowing more people to be able to pay their bills, put food on their tables and raise their families.

These two economic indicators (the DJIA and the LFPR) can give us an idea of how both Wall Street and Main Street are doing.  Ideally you’d want to see both increasing.  A rising DJIA shows businesses are growing.  Allowing Wall Street to profit from rising stock prices.  While those growing businesses create jobs for Main Street.   If we look at these economic indicators over time we can even see which ‘street’ an administration’s policies favor.   Interestingly, it’s not the one you would think based on the political rhetoric.

Wall Street grew 75% Richer under Clinton than it did under Reagan while Main Street grew 65% Poorer

Those going through our public schools and universities are taught that capitalism is unfair.  Corporations are evil.  And government is good.  The Democrats favor a growing welfare state.  Funded by a highly progressive tax code.  That taxes rich people at higher tax rates.  While Republicans favor a limited government.  A minimum of government spending and regulation.  And lower tax rates.  Therefore the Republicans are for rich people and evil corporations.  While the Democrats are for the working man.  Our schools and universities teach our kids this.  The mainstream media reinforces this view.  As does Hollywood, television and the music industry.  But one thing doesn’t.  The historical record (see Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950-Present and Dow Jones Industrial Average Index: Historical Data).

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Reagan

The Democrats hated Ronald Reagan.  Because he believed in classical economics.  Which is what made this country great.  Before Keynesian economics came along in the early 20th Century.  And ushered in the era of Big Government.  Reagan reversed a lot of the damage the Keynesians caused.  He tamed inflation.  Cut taxes.  Reduced regulation.  And made a business-friendly environment.  Where the government intervened little into the private sector economy.  And during his 8 years in office we see that BOTH Wall Street (the Dow Jones Industrial Average) and Main Street (the labor force participation rate) did well.  Contrary to everything the left says.  The DJIA increased about 129%.  And the LFPR increased about 3.4%.  Indicating a huge increase of jobs for the working class.  Showing that it wasn’t only the rich doing well under Reaganomics.  The policies of his successor, though, changed that.  As Wall Street did better under Bill Clinton than Main Street.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Clinton

Despite the Democrats being for the working man and Bill Clinton’s numerous statements about going back to work to help the middle class (especially during his impeachment) Wall Street clearly did better than Main Street under Bill Clinton.  During his 8 years in office the LFPR increased 1.2%.  While the DJIA increased 226%.  Which means Wall Street grew 75% richer under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  While Main Street grew 65% poorer under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  Which means the gap between the rich and the middle class grew greater under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  Clearly showing that Reagan’s policies favored the Middle Class more than Clinton’s policies did.  And that Clinton’s policies favored Wall Street more than Regan’s did.  Which is the complete opposite of the Democrat narrative.  But it gets worse.

The Historical Record shows the Rich do Better under Democrats and the Middle Class does Better under Republicans

The great economy of the Nineties the Democrats love to talk about was nothing more than a bubble.  A bubble of irrational exuberance.  As investors borrowed boatloads of cheap money thanks to artificially low interest rates.  And poured it into dot-com companies that had nothing to sell.  After these dot-coms spent that start-up capital they had no revenue to replace it.  And went belly-up in droves.  Giving George W. Bush a nasty recession at the beginning of his presidency.  Compounded by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Bush

The LFPR fell throughout Bush’s first term as all those dot-com jobs went away in the dot-com crash.  Made worse by the 9/11 attacks.  As all the malinvestments of the Clinton presidency were wrung out of the economy things started to get better.  The LFPR leveled off and the DJIA began to rise.  But then the specter of Bill Clinton cast another pall over the Bush presidency.  Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending forced lenders to lower their lending standards to qualify more of the unqualified.  Which they did under fear of the full force and fury of the federal government.  Using the subprime mortgage to put the unqualified into homes they couldn’t afford.  This policy also pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy these toxic subprime mortgages from these lenders.  Freeing them up to make more toxic loans.  This house of cards came crashing down at the end of the Bush presidency.  Which is why the DJIA fell 19.4%.  And the LFPR fell 2.1%.  Even though the economy tanked thanks to those artificially low interest rates that brought on the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession both Wall Street and Main Street took this rocky ride together.  They fell together in his first term.  Rose then fell together in his second term.  Something that didn’t happen in the Obama presidency.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Obama

During the Obama presidency Wall Street has done better over time.  Just as Main Street has done worse over time.  This despite hearing nothing about how President Obama cares for the middle class.  When it is clear he doesn’t.  As his policies have clearly benefited rich people.  Wall Street.  While Main Street suffers the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  So far during his presidency the LFPR has fallen 3.7%.  While the DJIA has risen by 86%.  Creating one of the largest gaps between the rich and the middle class.  This despite President Obama being the champion of the middle class.  Which he isn’t.  In fact, one should always be suspect about anyone claiming to be the champion of the middle class.  As the middle class always suffers more than the rich when these people come to power.  Just look at Venezuela under Hugo Chaves.  Where the rich got richer.  And the middle class today can’t find any toilet paper to buy.  This is what the historical record tells us.  The rich do better under Democrats.  And the middle class does better under Republicans.  Despite what our schools and universities teach our kids.  Or what they say in movies and television.

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Economic Indicators

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2013

Economics 101

To Better Understand the Economy we should Study the Economic Indicators Investors Study

If you’ve lost your job you have a pretty good idea about the state of the economy.  It’s bad.  An unemployed person is like a soldier in the trench.  He or she doesn’t need to examine any data to understand what’s happening in the economy.  They know firsthand how bad things are.  But generals far behind the lines don’t have that up close and personal economic experience.  So they have to examine data to understand what’s going on.  Just as government officials, investors and economic prognosticators have to examine data.  Giving them an understanding of the state of the economy.  So they can know what the unemployed know.  The economy sucks.

Government officials want positive economic data so they can say their policies are working.  Whether they are or not.  In fact, they will parse the data to serve them politically.  When necessary.  Such as during the run-up to an election.  So their reports on the economy are not always, how should we say, full of truthiness.  For they can take some bad economic data and put a positive spin on it.  Completely changing the meaning of the data.  The unemployed won’t believe the rosy picture they’re painting.  But those in the trenches may.  And those in the rear with the gear.  After all, they have jobs.  So things don’t really seem that bad to them.

No, for a better picture of the economy you should listen to the people with skin in the game.  Those who are making bets on the economy.  Investors.  And business owners.  Who are risking their money.  And if we look at what they look at we can get a better understanding of the economy.  See what bothers them.  What pleases them.  And what excites them.  So what do they look at?  Economic data we call economic indicators.  Because they indicate the health of the economy.  And give an idea of what the future holds.  There are a lot of economic indicators.  The government compiles most of them.  They each give a little piece of the economic puzzle.  And when you put them together you see the bigger picture.

With a Rise in Housing Starts a Rise in Durable Goods should Follow Creating a lot of New Jobs

As far as economic indicators go retail sales is a big one.  Because consumer spending is the vast majority of economic activity in the new Keynesian economy.  (John Maynard Keynes changed the way governments intervene in the private sector economy in the early 20th century.)  Keynesians believe consumer spending is everything.  Which is why governments everywhere inflate their money supplies.  To keep their interest rates artificially low.  To encourage people to borrow money.  And spend.  When they do retail sales increase.  Signaling a healthy economy.  When they fall it may mean a recession is coming.  Of course, if retail spending rises more than expected investors get nervous.  Because it could mean inflation is coming.  Which the government will try to prevent by raising interest rates.  Thus cooling the economy.  And hopefully sending it into a soft landing.  But more often than not they send it into recession.

Another economic indicator is housing starts.  A lot of economic activity comes from building houses.  Building them generates a lot.  And furnishing them generates even more.  So governments are always trying to do everything within their power to encourage new housing.  They keep interest rates artificially low.  Encouraging people to get mortgages.  And they’ve pressured lenders to lower their lending standards.  To get more people with bad credit (or no credit) into houses.  Which led to subprime lending.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.  So more housing starts can be good.  But too many housing starts can be bad.  Generally, though, if they are increasing it’s a sign of an improving economy.

Before Keynesian economics the prevailing school of economic thought was classical economics.  Which we used to make America the world’s number one economic power.  Unlike Keynesians in the classical school we looked higher in the stages of productions.  Where real economic activity took place.  Raw material extraction.  Industrial processing.  Manufacturing.  And wholesaling.  An enormous amount of activity before you reach the consumer level.  All of these higher order economic activities fed into the making of durable goods.  Those things we bought to fill those new houses.  Which is why we like rising housing starts.  Because a rise in durable goods should follow.  And when we’re producing more durable goods we’re employing more people.  Making the durable goods economic indicator a very useful one.

One should Always be Skeptical when the Government says their Policies are Improving the Economy

The Producer Price Index (PPI) tells us how the prices are moving above the consumer level.  So if the PPI is rising it tells us the costs to produce consumer goods are rising.  And these higher costs will flow down the stages of production to the consumer level.  Causing a rise in consumer prices.  So the PPI forecasts what will happen to the CPI.  The consumer price index.  When it rises it means inflation is entering the picture.  Which the government will try to prevent by raising interest rates.  To cool the economy down.  And lower the prices at both the consumer and producer level.  Again, trying to send the economy into a soft landing.  But usually sending it into recession.  Which is why investors pay close attention to the PPI.  So they can get an idea of what will happen to the CPI.  So they can buy and sell (stocks and/or bonds) accordingly.

The rest of us can get an idea of what these investors think about the economy by following the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA).  Which is the weighted ‘average’ of 30 stocks.  (We calculate it by dividing the sum of the 30 stock prices by a divisor that factors in all stock splits and changes of companies in the Dow 30).  As a company does well in a growing economy its stock price grows.  And if investors like what they see in other economic indicators they bid up the stock price even further.  So a rising DJIA indicates that investors believe the economy is doing well.  And will probably even improve.  But sometimes investors have a little irrational exuberance.  Such as during the dot-com bubble in the Nineties.  Where they poured money into any company that had anything to do with the Internet.  Making a huge bet that they found the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  Of course, when that blind hope faded and reality set in those inflated stock prices came crashing down to reality.  Causing a long and painful recession in the early 2000s.  So even investors don’t always get it right.

When the dot-com bubble burst it threw a lot of people out of a job.  Increasing the unemployment rate.  Another big economic indicator.  But one that can be massaged by the government.  For they only count people out of a full-time job who are looking for full-time work.  The official unemployment rate (what we call the U-3 rate) doesn’t count people who gave up looking for work.  Or people who took a couple of part-time jobs to make ends meet.  A more accurate unemployment rate is the U-6 rate that counts these people.  For while the official unemployment rate fell below 8% during the run-up to the 2012 election the U-6 rate was showing a much poorer economic picture.  And the labor force participation rate showed an even poorer economic picture.  The labor force participation rate shows the percentage of people who could be working who were actually working.  So the lower this is the worse the economy.  The higher it is the better the economy.  So while the president highlighted the fall of the U-3 rate below 8% as a sign of an improving economy the labor force participation rate showed it was the worst economy since the Seventies.  Something the unemployed could easily understand.  But those who had a job believed the less than honest U-3 economic indicator.  Believed the president was making the economy better.  When, in fact, he had made it worse.  Which is why one should always be skeptical when the government says their policies are improving the economy.  For they are more concerned about winning the next election than the people toiling away in the trenches.

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Failed Keynesian Policies cause Jump in Suicide Rates

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 4th, 2013

Week in Review

Those people who can afford to pay a little more?  Those 50-year olds in established careers?  Those people President Obama has been relentlessly attacking as being greedy and selfish?  They appear to be killing themselves in record numbers (see Suicide rate rose sharply among middle-aged Americans, CDC finds by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian posted 5/2/2013 on Reuters).

The suicide rate among Americans aged 35 to 64 rose sharply between 1999 and 2010, a trend that could reflect the stresses of a sharp economic downturn as well as other traditionally overlooked challenges of middle age, according to a federal report released on Thursday.

The annual rate of suicide rose 28 percent among Americans aged 35 to 64 during the study period, but changed little for older and younger people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The number of suicides among people in their 50s doubled in that time frame…

The increase in the U.S. over the past two decades may also reflect the influence of the weak economy – suicides generally rise during downturns – and an increase in the use of prescription opioid painkiller drugs, the CDC said.

The U.S. economy twice went into recession during the study period, briefly in 2001 and sharply during the so-called Great Recession of December 2007-June 2009 that sent the unemployment rate as high as 10 percent…

In 2010, there were 33,687 U.S. deaths from motor vehicle crashes, compared to 38,364 suicides, according to the CDC.

Suicides kill more than cars.  And cars kill more than guns.  Yet the Obama administration is putting all of their efforts behind new gun control legislation.  Instead of trying to stop something that kills more Americans then guns or cars.  A bad economy.

This is an indictment of Keynesian economics.  Alan Greenspan kept interest rates artificially low during the Nineties.  Keynesian-style.  People were borrowing that cheap money and making a lot of bad investments with it.  Greenspan called it irrational exuberance when testifying before Congress.  And later admitted that he waited too long to start raising interest rates.  Which is why the early 2000s recession was such a painful one.  After the dot-com bubble burst.  All those dot-coms that had no profits or even a product to sell went belly up.  After irrational investors had poured billions into them.  Raising the market value of publicly traded Internet companies to over a trillion dollars.  Most of which disappeared after the bubble burst.

Bud did the Keynesians in Washington learn?  No.  They went back to keeping interest rates artificially low.  Creating a housing bubble.  An even more insidious one.  Going beyond irrational exuberance.  Thanks to Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Using the full weight of the federal government to force lenders to qualify the unqualified.   Creating a housing bubble full of toxic subprime loans.  And when this bubble burst the recession was so bad we had to put the word ‘Great’ in front of it.

A terrible one-two punch for those in the workforce building their families and their retirement portfolios.  Thanks to Keynesian economics and those artificially low interest rates.  Which only lead to great big bubbles.  That burst into great big recessions.  Can you imagine someone losing big in the early 2000s recession?  Working hard to recover their losses?  And just get back on track only to see their mortgage go underwater in the Great Recession?  Forcing them to dip into what little there was remaining in their retirement accounts.  While they are taking care of their kids.  Their aging parents.  And hearing their doctors say for the first time in their life, “Your blood pressure is a little high.”

Perhaps the government should spend less time trying to outlaw guns and more time on the economy.  And by more time I mean less.  They need to pull the government out of the private sector economy.  And let market forces take over.  Including those interest rates.  Perhaps then they can stop one of the greatest killers in our lives.  Keynesian economics.  That take us from exuberant highs.  To crushing lows.  Wiping out our finances in the process.  Leaving us filled with despair.  Which is probably why suicide rates have soared in the past decade.  Because of the Keynesian policies of our government.  Those failed policies of the past that they refuse to let go of.

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The Roaring Twenties and the Stock Market Crash of 1929

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 23rd, 2013

History 101

The Roaring Twenties gave us the Modern World and one of the Greatest Economic Booms in History

When the steam engine hit the American farm it increased farm production.  By mechanizing the farm fewer farmers could farm more land.  Allowing American farmers to produce bumper crops.  Creating a boom in farm exports.  Especially during World War I.  As Europeans farmers exchanged their plows for rifles Europe had no one to grow their food.  So even though the mechanization of the American farm caused crop prices to fall the increase in sales volume brought in more farm revenue.  Life was good for the American farmer.  For businesses manufacturing all of that mechanized farm equipment.  And the banks making loans to farmers so they could mechanize their farms.

The1920 presidential election pitted a progressive Democrat against a conservative Republican.  The progressive promised to raise tax rates to pay down the war debt.  Andrew Mellon, Warren Harding’s treasury secretary, found that high tax rates were counterproductive.  They actually reduced tax revenue.  As wealthy people invested their money out of the country to avoid high tax rates.  So when Harding won the election they cut tax rates.  With no need to shelter their income the wealthy invested their money in the United States.  Pouring their money into the domestic economy caused great economic activity.  Great returns on investment.  And great income tax revenue.  The wealthy paid almost three times as much in tax revenue.  While the tax burden on the poor fell.  And the national debt fell by one third.

Harding died in office but Calvin Coolidge continued his policies.  He slashed government spending along with those tax cuts.  Pulling the government out of the private sector economy.  And the private sector economy responded.  Creating a lot of jobs.  Unemployment fell to as low as 2%.  And living standards soared.  For everyone.  Not just those in the unions.  In fact, this general rise in living standards weakened the unions.  For you didn’t need to belong to a union to live well.  It was the beginning of the modern world.  Brought about by a burst of innovation and manufacturing that lasted 8 years.  One of the greatest economic booms in history.  Henry Ford’s moving assembly line made the car affordable for the working man.  Auto registrations rose from 9 million in 1921 to 23 million by 1929.  An increase of 156%.  And keeping pace with the auto manufacturers were their suppliers.  Metal, steel, paint, lumber, leather, cotton, glass, rubber, etc.  And especially the oil industry.  That made lubricating oils and greases.  And the gasoline that powered all of these cars.  With so many jobs per capita income increased from $522 in 1921 to $716 in 1929.  An increase of 37%.  With people earning more home ownership soared.  And this boom in economic activity didn’t end there.

Herbert Hoover thought Government could better Manage the Economy than Messy Laissez-Faire Free Market Forces

Electric utilities were bringing the new electric power to industrial users and private homes during the Twenties.  Industry was using 300% more electric power than they were in 1899.  And it changed home life.  As electric clothes irons, vacuum cleaners, clothes washers, toasters and refrigerators became common household items by the end of the Twenties.  Households that had a telephone increased by 51% during the Twenties.  People were watching movies.  And saw the first talkies in the Twenties.  The radio also became a household fixture with some 7.5 million radio sets sold by 1928.   The economy was booming.  The middle class was expanding.  Consumer prices fell due to increases in productivity giving people more disposable income than they ever had before.  Causing an increase in consumer spending.  Allowing 1 in 5 Americans to own a car.  And increasing the number of people who could afford to fly from 40,000 in 1920 to 417,000 in 1930.  An increase of 943%.  So Americans were buying a lot.  But they were also saving a lot.  And investing.  Some 28% of American families owned stock.  Something once the exclusive privilege of the rich.  Wage earners were even buying life insurance policies to provide for their families in the event of their death.  Things were happening in the United States during the Twenties.  And the innovation and economic tsunami coming out of America had those in Europe worried.  So worried that they were discussing forming a United States of Europe to compete with the American system.

But all was not good.  During the Twenties those Europeans traded their rifles back for plows.  Reducing the export market for American farmers.  And when European governments threw up tariffs on America farm goods that export market disappeared.  Putting great surpluses into the American market.  Causing crop prices to fall further.  Crashing farm incomes.  Making some farmers unable to service their debt for all of that mechanized equipment they financed.  And when they defaulted on their loans en masse banks in the farming regions failed.  And when they did the money supply contracted.  The Federal Reserve made no effort to stop this contraction.  Which had a cooling effect.  Tapping the breaks on an expanding economy.

Coolidge chose not to run for a second term.  His successor, Herbert Hoover, was a progressive Republican.  And was everything Coolidge was not.  Hoover favored a big government perfecting the country.  He was a professional bureaucrat.  He loved bureaucracies.  And he loved paperwork and forms.  Which he wanted to bury private business in.  He thought the government could manage the economy better than messy laissez-faire free market forces.  Those very forces that created the Roaring Twenties.  He wanted to partner government with business.  With the emphasis on government.  (As president he increased the size of the Commerce Department and deepened its reach into the private sector economy.)

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff caused Investors to Dump their Stocks causing the Stock Market Crash of 1929

The Federal Reserve misjudged the stock market.  They thought it was nothing but speculation.  Citing radio maker RCA’s stock price’s meteoric rise.  So the Fed tapped the breaks further to cool this ‘speculative’ fervor.  Further contracting the money supply.  But this wasn’t speculation.  The rate of growth in radio sales actually was greater than the rate of growth in the stock price.  Making it more likely that the stock was undervalued.  Not overvalued.  But the Fed went ahead and contracted the money supply anyway.  Making it difficult for business to get funding for continued growth.  Despite there still being people out there who hadn’t bought a car, a house, electric appliances or a radio yet.  And wanted to.

In 1929 a new tariff bill was moving through Congressional committees.  The Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Which would raise taxes on imports by up to 30%.  Which would greatly increase the cost of business.  Because most if not all of American manufacturing used some imported raw materials.  Which would increase their selling prices.  Making them less competitive.  Worse, if the U.S. slapped tariffs on imports it was certain their trading partners would respond with some retaliatory tariffs.  Which would just shut down their export markets.  Much like those tariffs shut down the export markets for American farmers.  Then in the autumn of 1929 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff passed critical votes in committee.  Sending the tariff bill on its way to becoming law.  This was not good news for investors.

It was all too much.  The coming expansion of government regulation over the private sector economy.  Higher taxes to pay for this bigger government.  The contraction of the money supply.  And then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Investors could read the writing on the wall.  None of this would be good for business.  It would just smother the economic growth of the Twenties.  For if you increase businesses’ costs and decrease their markets you will slash their profits.  Which will reduce the value of these companies.  And reduce the value of their stock prices.  As investors live by the adage of “buy low, sell high” they’d want to sell those stocks fast before the Smoot-Hawley Tariff sent their prices into a tailspin.  Which they did.  Causing a great selloff starting in October.  That led to the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Now contrast that with a true speculative bubble.  The dot-com bubble.  Where investors poured money into these dot-com companies eager to find the next Microsoft.  Aided and abetted by the Federal Reserve that was keeping interest rates artificially low.  To encourage all sorts of investment.  Including ones driven by irrational exuberance.  So investors were bidding those stock prices into the stratosphere.  For companies that had no profits.  For companies that didn’t have a product or service to sell.  But these investors were looking with great anticipation at their future profits.  Even though they really didn’t understand the Internet.  They just knew that computers were involved.  Which is what made Microsoft rich.  Producing software to run on computers.  And every investor was sure their dot-com was going to produce something to run on computers.  Making that company rich.  And their investors.  But when the start-up capital ran out there were no earnings to replace it.  And the speculative bubble burst beginning on March 11, 2000.  And those highly overvalued stock prices began to fall back to earth.  With the tech-laden NASDAQ losing 78% of its value before it was all over.  Now THAT is a speculative bubble that the Federal Reserve should have tried to prevent.  Not the economic boom of the Twenties where companies were building real things that real people were buying.

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Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950-Present

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 9th, 2013

History 101

LBJ was able to pass JFK’s Tax Cuts resulting in a Long Period of Economic Growth

The official unemployment rate is stuck around 8%.  But if you count all the people who can’t find a full-time job the actual unemployment rate is closer to 14%.  With every jobs report we hear the positive spin from the government about another down tic in the official unemployment rate.  And the hundreds of thousands of new jobs created.  But after three years or so of hearing these reports people start questioning the numbers.  And the rosy spin.  Because despite all the good news they tell us people are disappearing from the civilian labor force.  Which is the only reason why the official unemployment rate is falling.  Because they’re not counting a lot of unemployed people.  So looking at the civilian labor force may be a better indicator of the health of the economy.  Or better yet, the civilian labor force participation rate (CLFPR).  Which is basically the percent of those who can work that are working.  So let’s do that.  Starting with the Fifties.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950 to 1959

After World War II veterans went to college on the G.I. Bill.  These new college graduates with degrees in science, engineering and business management entered the workforce in the Fifties.  Helping the United States to develop new technologies.  New industries.  And a lot of new jobs.  American wells were busy pumping domestic oil.  Keeping gasoline cheap.  Having escaped the damage of war the American economy exported to those countries that didn’t.  And consumer spending took off.  Thanks to the new advertising industry telling Americans about all the great things to buy.  They bought houses and cars with borrowed money.  And used the new credit card to spend even more money they didn’t have.  Changing the American economy into a consumer-based economy.  Making the Fifties one of the most prosperous times in U.S. history.  Despite the Korean War.  And the Cold War.  Which was getting underway in a big way.  There was a burst of inflation to help pay for the Korean War.  When it ended they contracted the money supply to get rid of that inflation sending the economy into recession.  But once the recession ended the economy took off with all that consumerism.  Shown by the sharp rise in the CLFPR.  To correspond with the very good economic times of the Fifties.  Another monetary contraction happened in 1957 to tamp out some price inflation.  With a corresponding fall in the CLFPR.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1960 to 1969

The Sixties started with another recession.  After it ended, though, the CLFPR continued to fall.  The recession was officially over but the economy was not doing well.  The CLFPR fell for almost three years following the recession.  Things were different from the Fifties.  For one, a lot of those war-torn economies were up and running again.  Providing some competition.  Especially a little island nation by the name of Japan.  Which one day would build all the televisions sold in America.  It was because of this fall in economic activity that JFK started talking about tax cuts in 1963.  Congress blocked his attempt to cut tax rates.  But after his assassination LBJ was able to pass the Revenue Act of 1964.  This lowered the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 70%.  And lowered the corporate income tax from 52% to 48%.  Among other favorable business measures.  Resulting in a long period of economic growth.  And a long upward trend in the CLFPR.

The Tax Cuts and Deregulation of the Eighties created one of the Longest Periods of Economic Growth

But following the Revenue Act of 1964 came the Great Society.  The Vietnam War.  And the Apollo moon program.  All paid for with a huge surge in federal spending.  Deficits began to grow.   As the government struggled to pay for everything.  And were unwilling to cut anything.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1969 to 1979

The economy fell into a mild recession in 1970.  The CLFPR remained relatively flat.  To meet their spending needs they started printing money.  Devaluing the dollar.  Still part of Bretton Woods the dollar was still pegged to gold at $35/ounce.  That is, the U.S. agreed to exchange gold for dollars at $35/ounce.  But as they devalued the dollar our trading partners no longer wanted to hold dollars.  Because they were losing their purchasing power.  They wanted the gold instead.  So they began exchanging their dollars for gold.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the U.S.  Causing a problem for President Nixon.  He didn’t want the U.S. to lose all of their gold reserves.  But he didn’t want to cut any spending.  Which meant he didn’t want to stop printing money.  In fact, he wanted to print more money.  And the easy way out of his dilemma was by doing the most irresponsible thing.  He slammed the gold window shut in 1971.  And refused to exchange gold for dollars anymore.  And when he did there was no restriction to the amount of money they could print.  And they printed it.  A lot.  Creating double-digit inflation before the Seventies were over.  The inflation caused prices to rise.  Which Nixon tried to prevent with wage and price controls.  Causing a shortage of available rental property as people converted them into condos to get away from the rent control.  Gasoline stations ran out of gas as people filled their tanks with below-market priced gas.  And meat disappeared from grocery stores.  Wage controls kept wages from keeping pace with inflation.  So even though people had jobs they lost more and more purchasing power.  Or simply found there was nothing to purchase.  Throwing the economy into recession in 1973.  After the recession the CLFPR grew throughout the remainder of the Seventies.  But it wasn’t good growth.  It was growth sustained with double-digit inflation.  A bubble of artificial economic activity.  That would have to crash.  As all inflationary periods must crash.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1979 to 1989

In the Eighties Paul Volcker, Federal Reserve Chairman, raised interest rates to double digits to wring out the double-digit inflation from the economy.  To restore people’s purchasing power.  And return the nation to real economic growth.  The tax cuts and deregulation of the Eighties created one of the longest sustained periods of economic growth in U.S. history.  With one of the longest upward trends in the CLFPR ever.  Indicating a growing economy.  With more and more people who could work finding work.  Proving that Reaganomics worked.  And worked very well.

If JFK or Ronald Reagan were President Today we wouldn’t be seeing a Freefall of the CLFPR

But it wouldn’t last.  Thanks to the government’s interference into the banking industry.  They had set a maximum limit on interest rates S&Ls (and banks) could offer.  When inflation took off people pulled their money from their savings accounts.  Putting it in higher earning instruments.  So they didn’t lose their savings to inflation.   This bad banking policy begat more bad banking policy.  They deregulated the S&Ls and banks.  So they could do other things to make up for their lost savings business.  And that other thing was primarily real estate.  They borrowed short-term money to make long-term loans.  Helping to create a housing bubble.  And when they began to wring that inflation out of the economy interest rates rose.  When those short-term loans came due they had to refinance them at higher interest rates.  While the interest they were earning on those long-term loans remained the same.  So their interest expense soon exceeded their interest income.  Creating the savings and loan crisis.  And a severe recession that ended the economic expansion of the Eighties.  With a corresponding fall in the CLFPR.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1990 to 2000

Once the recession ended the CLFPR resumed a general upward growth.  But not as good as it was in the Eighties.  Also, it would turn out that much of the growth in the Nineties was artificial.  Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending forced lenders to lower their lending requirements.  And to qualify the unqualified.  Which created a surge in subprime lending.  And the beginning of a housing bubble.  The Internet entered the economy in the Nineties.  Just as the personal computer entered the economy in the Eighties.  Making Bill Gates a very rich man.  Investors were anxious to find the next Bill Gates.  Taking advantage of those low interest rates creating that housing bubble. And poured money into dot-com start-ups.  Companies that had no revenues.  Or products to sell.  Creating a dot-com bubble.  And a surge in computer programming jobs.  Also, as the century came to a close there was the Y2K scare.  Creating another surge in computer programming jobs.  To rewrite computer code.  Changing 2-digit date codes (i.e., ’78) to 4-digit codes (i.e., 1978).

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 2000 to 2013

The Y2K scare proved to be greatly overblown.  Which put a lot of computer programmers out of a job in January of 2000.  And they wouldn’t find a dot-com job for the dot-com bubble burst in the same year they lost their Y2K job.  Throwing the economy into recession in 2001.  And then making everything worse came the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Prolonging the recession.  As can be seen by the long decline in the CLFPR.  Which leveled out after the Bush tax cuts.  But then that housing bubble peaked in 2006.  And burst in 2007 into the subprime mortgage crisis.  Thanks to all those toxic mortgages Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending forced lenders to make.  And because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought these toxic mortgages and had Wall Street package them into collateralized debt obligations this crisis spread worldwide.  Selling what they told unsuspecting investors were high yield, low risk investments.  Because they were backed by the safest of all loans.  Mortgages.  What they failed to tell these investors was that these mortgages were not safe 30-year conventional mortgages.  But highly risky subprime mortgages.  In particular adjustable rate mortgages.  Where the monthly payment would increase with an increase in interest rates.  And that is what happened.  And when it happened the unqualified could not afford the new monthly payment.  And defaulted.  Kicking off the Great Recession.  And because President Obama was more interested in national health care than ending the Great Recession he didn’t cut taxes.  Or cut regulations.  Instead, he increased taxes and regulations.  Making the current recovery one of the worst in U.S. history.  As can be seen in the greatest decline in the CLFPR since the Great Depression.  If you look at a continuous graph from 1950 to the present you can see just how bad the Obama economic policies are.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950 to Present

The JFK and Reagan tax cuts caused the greatest economic expansions.  And the greatest rise in the CLFPR.  Also, after most recessions there was a return to a growing CLFPR.  Interestingly, the two times that didn’t happen are tied to Bill Clinton.  Who created two of the greatest bubbles.  The dot-com bubble in the Nineties.  And the subprime mortgage bubble that was built in the Nineties and the 2000s.  The growth was so artificial in building these bubbles that the CLFPR did not recover following the bursting of these bubbles.  It might have following the dot-com bubble if the subprime mortgage crisis didn’t follow so soon after.  The current recovery is so bad that it has taken the CLFPR back to levels we haven’t seen since the Seventies.  Making the current recovery far worse than the official unemployment rate suggests.  And far worse than the government is telling us.  So why are they not telling us the truth about the economy?  Because the government wants to raise taxes.  And if the economy is improving there is no need for recession-ending tax cuts.  So they say the economy is improving.  As they hate tax cuts that much.  Unlike Ronald Reagan.  Or JFK.  And if either of them were president today we wouldn’t be seeing a freefall of the CLFPR.

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Banking, Lending Standards, Dot-Com, Subprime Mortgage and Bill Clinton’s Recessions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 19th, 2013

History 101

Lending more made Banks more Profitable as long as they Maintained Good Lending Standards

Money is a commodity.  And like any commodity the laws of supply and demand affect it.  If a lot of people want to borrow money interest rates rise.  This helps to make sure the people who want to borrow money the most can.  As they are willing to pay the higher interest rates.  While those who don’t want the money bad enough to pay the higher interest rates will let someone else borrow that money.  If few people want to borrow money interest rates fall.  To entice those people back into the credit markets who had decided not to borrow money when interest rates were higher.

Okay, but who is out there who wants people to borrow their money?  And why do they want this?  The key to any advanced civilization and the path to a higher standard of living is a good banking system.  Because if ordinary people can borrow money ordinary people can buy a house.  Or start a business.  Not just the rich.  For a good banking system allows a thriving middle class.  As people earn money they pay their bills.  And put a little away in the bank.  When a lot of people do this all of those little amounts add up to a large sum.  Which converts small change into capital.  Allowing us to build factories, automobiles, airplanes, cell towers, etc.  Giving us the modern world.  As banks are the intermediary between left over disposable cash and investment capital.

Banks are businesses.  They provide a service for a fee.  And they make their money by loaning money to people who want to borrow it.  The more money they lend the more money they make.  They pay people to use their deposits.  By paying interest to people who deposit their money with them.  They then loan this money at a higher interest rate.  The difference between what they pay to depositors and what they collect from borrowers pays their bills.  Covers bad loans.  And gives them a little profit.   Which can be a lot of profit if they do a lot of lending.  However, the more they lend the more loans can go bad.  So they have to be very careful in qualifying those they lend money to.  Making sure they will have the ability to pay their interest payments.  And repay the loan.

With the Federal Reserve keeping Interest Rates low Investors Borrowed Money and Poured it into the Dot-Coms

Just as a good banking system is necessary for an advanced civilization, a higher standard of living and a thriving middle class so is good lending standards necessary for a good banking system.  And when banks follow good lending standards economic growth is more real and less of a bubble.  For when money is too easy to borrow some people may borrow it to make unwise investments.  Or malinvestments as those in the Austrian school of economics call it.  Like buying an expensive car they don’t need.  A house bigger than their needs.  Building more houses than there are people to buy them.  Or investing in an unproven business in the hopes that it will be the next Microsoft.

America became the number one economic power in the world because of a good banking system that maintained good lending standards.  Which provided investment capital for wise and prudent investments.  Then the Keynesians in government changed that.  By giving us the Federal Reserve System.  America’s central bank.  And bad monetary policy.  The Keynesians believe in an active government intervening in the private economy.  That can manipulate interest rates to create artificial economic activity.  By keeping interest rates artificially low.  To make it easier for anyone to borrow money.  No matter their ability to repay it.  Or how poor the investment they plan to make.

The Internet entered our lives in the Nineties.  Shortly after Bill Gates became a billionaire with his Microsoft.  And investors were looking for the next tech geek billionaire.  Hoping to get in on the next Microsoft.  So they poured money into dot-com companies.  Companies that had no profits.  And nothing to sell.  And with the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates artificially low investors borrowed money and poured even more into these dot-coms.  Classic malinvestments.  The stock prices for these companies that had no profits or anything to sell soared.  As investors everywhere were betting that they had found the next Microsoft.  The surging stock market made the Federal Reserve chief, Alan Greenspan, nervous.  Such overvalued stocks were likely to fall.  And fall hard.  It wasn’t so much a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when’.  He tried to warn investors to cool their profit lust.  Warning them of their irrational exuberance.  But they didn’t listen.  And once that investment capital ran out the dot-com bubble burst.  Putting all those newly graduated computer programmers out of a job.  And everyone else in all of those dot-com businesses.  Causing a painful recession in 2000.

Based on the Labor Force Participation Rate we are in one of the Worse and Longest Recession in U.S. History

Encouraging malinvestments in dot-coms was not the only mismanagement Bill Clinton did in the Nineties.  For he also destroyed the banking system.  With his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Where he fixed nonexistent discriminatory lending practices by forcing banks to abandon good lending standards.  And to qualify the unqualified.  Putting a lot of people into houses they could not afford.  Their weapon of choice for the destruction of good lending practices?  Subprime lending.  And pressure from the Clinton Justice Department.  Warning banks to approve more loans in poor areas or else.  So if they wanted to stay in business they had to start making risky loans.  But the government helped them.  By having Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying those risky, toxic loans from those banks.  Getting them off the banks’ balance sheets so they would make more toxic subprime loans.  And as they did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac passed these mortgages on to Wall Street.  Who chopped and diced them into new investment vehicles.  The collateralized debt obligation (CDO).  High-yield but low-risk investments.  Because they were backed by the safest investment in the world.  A stream of mortgage payments.  Of course what they failed to tell investors was that these were not conventional mortgages with 20% down payments.  But toxic subprime mortgages where the borrowers put little if anything down.  Making it easy for them to walk away from these mortgages.  Which they did.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

So Bill Clinton and his Keynesian cohorts caused some of the greatest economic damage this nation had ever seen.  For Keynesian policies don’t create real economic activity.  They only create bubbles.  And bubbles eventually burst.  As those highly inflated asset prices (stocks, houses, etc.) have to come back down from the stratosphere.  The higher they rise the farther they fall.   And the more painful the recession.  For this government intrusion into the private economy caused a lot of malinvestments.  A tragic misuse of investment capital.  Directing it into investments it wouldn’t have gone into had it not been for the government’s interference with market forces.  And when the bubble can no longer be kept aloft market forces reenter the picture and begin clearing away the damage of those malinvestments.  Getting rid of the irrational exuberance.  Resetting asset prices to their true market value.  And in the process eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Jobs the market would have created elsewhere had it not been for the Keynesian interference.  We can see the extent of the damage of these two Clinton recessions if we graph the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) along with the labor force participation rate (the percentage of those who are able to work who are actually working).  As can be seen here (see Percent change from preceding period and Employment Situation Archived News Releases):

Labor Force Participation Rate and GDP Growth

The first Clinton recession caused a decline in the labor force participation rate (LFPR) that didn’t level out until after 2004.  Even though there were not two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth during this time.  Usually what it takes to call an economic slump a recession.  But the falling LFPR clearly showed very bad economic times.  That began with the dot-com bubble bursting.  And was made worse after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Eventually George W. Bush pulled us out of that recession with tax cuts.  The much maligned Bush tax cuts.  Which not only caused a return to positive GDP growth.  But it arrested the decline of the LFPR.  But the good times did not last.  For the second Clinton recession was just around the corner.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  Created with President Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  That unleashed real economic woe.  Woe so bad we call it the Great Recession.  The little brother of the Great Depression.

This recession not only had two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth but five of six consecutive quarters showed negative growth.  And one of those quarters nearly reached a negative ten percent.  Which is when a recession becomes a depression.  This recession was so long and so painful because those artificially low interest rates and the pressure on bankers to lower their lending standards created a huge housing bubble.  Pushing housing prices so high that when the housing bubble burst those prices had a very long way to fall.  Worse, President Obama kept to the Keynesian policies that caused the recession.  Trying to spend the economy out of recession.  Instead of cutting taxes.  Like George W. Bush did to pull the economy out of the first Clinton recession.  Worse, anti-business policies and regulations stifled any recovery.  And then there was Obamacare.  The great job killer.  Which he helped pass into law instead of trying to end the Great Recession.  GDP growth eventually returned to positive growth.  And the official unemployment fell.  A little.  But the president’s policies did nothing to reverse one of the greatest declines in the LFPR.  More people than ever have disappeared from the labor force.  That will take a lot of time and a lot of new, real economic activity to bring them back into the labor force.  And no matter what the current GDP growth rate or the official unemployment rate are it doesn’t change the reality of the economy.  Based on the LFPR it is in one of the worse and longest recession in U.S. history.  And the worse recovery since the Great Depression.  Because of President Obama’s embrace of Keynesian policies.  Which do more to increase the size of government than help the economy.

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Two Consecutive Negative Quarterly Growth Rates in Business Earnings say we’re in a Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2013

Week in Review

Business earnings drive everything in the economy.  Every dollar a person spends in the economy came from a business.  From someone spending their paycheck.  To someone spending their government assistance.  Because business provides every tax dollar the government collects.  Whether from the business directly.  Or from their employees.  So business earnings are everything.  If they’re not earning profits they’re not creating jobs.  And the fewer people that are working the less tax revenue there is.

Lakshman Achuthan with the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) looks at business earnings and has found a direct correlation between the growth rate of business earnings and recessionary periods.  Finding that whenever there were 2 or more consecutive quarters of a falling growth rate in business earnings we were in a recession.  Business Insider has reproduced his chart showing this correlation as well as quoting from his report (see CHART OF THE DAY: A Stock Market Trend Has Developed That Coincided With The Last 3 Recessions by Sam Ro posted 3/6/2013 on Business Insider).

This is a bar chart of S&P 500 operating earnings growth going back a quarter of a century on a consistent basis, as we understand from S&P. Others can choose their own definitions of operating earnings, but this is the data from S&P. In this chart, the height of the red bar indicates the number of consecutive quarters of negative earnings growth.

It is interesting that, historically, there have never been two or more quarters of negative earnings growth outside of a recessionary context. On this chart, showing the complete history of the data, the only times we see two or more quarters of negative growth are in 1990-91, 2000-01, 2007-09 and, incidentally, in 2012. This data is not susceptible to the kind of revisions one sees with government data. The point is that this type of earnings recession is not surprising when nominal GDP growth falls below 3.7%. So, even though the level of corporate profits is high, this evidence is also consistent with recession.

Follow the above link to see this chart.

The stock market is doing well now thanks to the Federal Reserve flooding the market with cheap dollars.  Investors are borrowing money to invest because of artificially low interest rates.  So the rich are getting richer in the Obama recovery.  But only the rich.  For an administration that is so concerned about ‘leveling the playing field’ their economic policies continually tip it in favor of the rich.  Who can make money even if the economy is not creating new jobs.  Which it isn’t.

All of these recessions can be traced back to John Maynard Keynes.  And Keynesian economics.  Playing with interest rates to stimulate economic activity.  The 1990-91 recession was made so bad because of the savings and loan (S&L) crisis.  Which itself is the result of government interventions into the private economy.  First they set a maximum limit on interest rates S&Ls (and banks) could offer.  Then the Keynesians (in particular President Nixon) decoupled the dollar from gold.  Unleashing inflation.  Causing S&Ls to lose business as people were withdrawing their money to save it in a higher-interest money market account.  Then they deregulated the S&Ls to try and save them from being devastated by rising inflation rates.  Which the S&Ls used to good advantage by borrowing money and loaning it at a higher rate.  Then Paul Volcker and President Reagan brought that destructive high inflation rate down. Leaving these S&Ls with a lot of high-cost debt on their books that they couldn’t service.  And while this was happening the real estate bubble burst.  Reducing what limited business they had.  Making that high-cost debt even more difficult to service.  Ultimately ending in the S&L crisis.  And the 1990-91 recession.

Fast forward to the subprime mortgage crisis and it was pretty much the same thing.  Bad government policy (artificially low interest rates and federal pressure to qualify the unqualified) created another massive real estate bubble.  This one built on toxic subprime mortgages.  Which banks sold to get them off of their books as fast as possible because they knew the mortgage holders couldn’t pay their mortgage payment if interest rates rose.  Increasing the rate, and the monthly payment, on their adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought and/or guaranteed these toxic mortgages and sold them to their friends on Wall Street.  Who chopped and diced them into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).  Sold them as high-yield low-risk investments to unsuspecting investors.  And when interest rates rose and those ARMs reset at higher interest rates, and higher monthly payments, the subprime borrowers couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  Causing a slew of foreclosures.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

In between these two government-caused disasters was another.  The dot-com bubble.  Where artificially low interest rates and irrational exuberance gave us the great dot-com bubble.  As venture capitalists poured money into the dot-coms who had nothing to sell, had no revenue and no profits.  But they could just as well be the next Microsoft.  And investors wanted to be in on the next Microsoft from the ground floor.  So they poured start-up capital into these start-ups.  Helped by those low interest rates.  And these start-ups created a high-tech boom.  Colleges couldn’t graduate people with computer science degrees fast enough to build the stuff that was going to make bazillions off of that new fangled thing.  The Internet.  Even cities got into the action.  Offering incentives for these dot-coms to open up shop in their cities.  Building expansive and expensive high-tech corridors for them.  Everyone was making money working for these companies.  Staffed with an army of new computer programmers.  Who were living well.  The brightest in their field earning some serious money.  So they and their bosses were getting rich.  Only one problem.  The companies weren’t.  For they had nothing to sell.  And when the start-up capital finally ran out the dot-com boom turned into the dot-com bust.  As the dot-com bubble burst.  And when it did the NASDAQ crashed in 2000.  When it became clear that all of President Clinton’s prosperity in the Nineties was nothing more than an illusion.  There would be 4 consecutive quarters of negative growth in business earnings before the dust finally settled.  One quarter worse than both the S&L crisis and the subprime mortgage crisis recessions.

And now here we are.  With 2 consecutive quarters of negative earnings growth under our belt.  Based on this chart this has happened only three times in the past 3 decades.  The 1990-91 recession.  The 2000-01 recession.  And the 2007-09 recession.  Which if his theory holds we are in store for another very nasty and very long recession.  No matter what the government economic data tells us.

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Bill Gates, Microsoft, Dot-Com Companies, Dot-Com Bubble, Green Energy and Green Energy Companies

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 18th, 2012

History 101

Investors poured Money into Dot-Com IPOs to get in on the Ground Floor of the next BIG Thing

Cash is king.  It is the lifeblood of a business.  The most serious business issues are discussed in blood metaphors.  When a company’s operations are losing money the company is ‘in the red’.  When the company’s losses are so great that there is a high probability of bankruptcy business analysts may say the company is ‘bleeding (or hemorrhaging) red ink all over their balance sheet’.  Indicating the death of the business is imminent.  For if the company is bleeding too much cash it simply won’t have the cash to pay its people, its vendors, its taxes, etc.  And it will cease to be.  Like any living organism that loses too much blood.

Healthy cash flows in a business are so important that analysts, investors, bankers, etc., will review one particular financial statement, the statement of cash flows, for an immediate assessment of a business’ health.  This statement shows the three sources of cash a business has.  Operating activities, investing activities and financing activities.  A successful business can generate all the cash they need from their operating activities.  To get there, though, they need startup capital.  Which comes from their financing activities.  The companies that are preparing for a surge in growth will look for venture capital.  And the inevitable initial public offering (i.e., going public).  For many companies the IPO is the measure of success.  Because going public is what makes these entrepreneurs millionaires.  And billionaires.

In the Eighties one such entrepreneur that became a billionaire is Bill Gates.  Mr. Microsoft himself.  Who made a fortune.  And is now working to give it away.  Just like Andrew Carnegie.  And John D. Rockefeller.  This geek made so much money with his software company that he made a lot of people wealthy who were smart enough to buy Microsoft stock early.  How these stockholders loved Bill Gates.  And every investor since has been waiting for the next Bill Gates to come along.  So they can get in on the ground floor of the next BIG thing.  And they thought they found him.  Rather, they thought they found a whole bunch of him.  Pouring their money into IPO after IPO.  Just waiting for the nascent dot-com companies to take off and soar into the stratosphere of profits.  For the Internet had arrived.  Few knew what it did.  But everyone knew it was the next BIG thing.

The Dot-Coms survived on Venture Capital and the Proceeds from their IPOs as they had no Sales Revenue

And these dot-coms took their money and spent it.  They hired programmers like there was no tomorrow.  They built office buildings.  Cities even offered lucrative incentives to attract these dot-coms to tech corridors they were building in their cities.  And splurged on infrastructure to support them.  The dot-coms bought advertising.  They spent a fortune to develop their brand identity.  Making them common place names in the new high-tech economy.  There was only one thing they didn’t do.  Develop something they could actually sell.

Those on the Left keep talking about how great the Clinton economy was in the Nineties.  Despite higher marginal tax rates than we have now.  These people who don’t even like Wall Street say the stock market did better under Clinton.  Apparently getting rich in the stock market was okay in the Nineties.  Today it only attracts occupy movements to protest the evil that stock profits now are.  But there was one subtle difference between the economy in the Nineties and the boom of the Eighties.  Most of the Nineties was a bubble.  A dot-com bubble.  It wasn’t real.  It was all paper profits that sent stock prices of companies that had nothing to sell soaring.  As all those stockholders sat and waited for these companies to sell the next BIG thing.  Taking them on a whirlwind ride to riches that never came.  Because once that startup capital petered out so did these dot-coms.  Leaving George W. Bush to deal with the resulting Clinton recession.

A review of their statement of cash flows for all of these failed dot-coms would show the same thing.  They would show tremendous flows of cash.  But it all flowed from their financing activities to their operating activities.  Which was nothing but a black hole for that startup capital.  All of these companies survived on venture capital and the proceeds from their IPOs.  They paid all their programmers, bought their buildings, paid for advertising and developed their brand with money from investors.  A healthy business eventually has to replace that startup capital with money from their operating activities.  Businesses that don’t fail.  Because even the most diehard of investors will stop investing in a company that can’t do anything but bleed red ink all over their balance sheet.

Instead of Investors taking the Loss on Green Energy Investments it’s the American Taxpayer taking the Loss

Bill Clinton had his dot-coms.  While President Obama has his green energy companies.  Which are similar to the dot-coms but with one major difference.  Instead of investors pouring money into these companies for a whirlwind ride to riches they’re sitting out the green energy industry.  Because it is a bad investment.  There will be no Microsoft in green energy.  Because it is a horrible business model.  The cost to harness the free energy out of wind and solar is just prohibitive.  The amount of infrastructure required is so costly that there can never be a return on investment.  Like there can be for a coal-fired power plant.  Which is something investors will invest their money in.

Green energy cannot compete in the marketplace unless the government subsidizes it with tax dollars.  Green industries cannot even build a factory.  While they have some private investors it is never enough.  Most green investors typically support these companies with a token investment.  But the real investors who expect a return on investment look at a green energy prospectus and say, “Thank you but no.  It is a horrible investment.”  And the people who want to build these plants know they’re horrible investments as they want to risk other people’s money.  Not theirs.  Which leaves but one source for startup capital.  A source that is so inept about business that they will pour money into a horrible investment.  The government.

The Energy Department invested heavily into these bad investments.  And a lot of them ended the same.  Just like the dot-coms.  The cash on their statement of cash flows went from financing activity to operating activities.  Another black hole for investment capital.  They spent that startup capital on plants and buildings.  Hired people.  And paid themselves very well.  But eventually they ran through that startup capital.  And were unable to get any more.  And with their operating activities unable to generate cash like in a healthy business many of the green energy companies went the way of the dot-coms.  Only instead of investors taking the loss it’s the American taxpayer taking the loss.  As it is their money that is bleeding out in red ink all over these green energy balance sheets.

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