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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Looking at the Economic Data it’s getting hard to tell who’s President, Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 22nd, 2011

Keynesian Economists’ Poor Forecasts suggests their Keynesian Economics doesn’t Work

More bad news for the housing market.  Not that this is a surprise.  That was a pretty big housing bubble that the Fed created.  With their stimulative low interest rates.  And the bigger they are the harder they fall.  Or pop, as it were.  And as the market corrected the Fed’s damage, it threw a slew of people out of work (see Early Mortgage Delinquencies Rise to Highest in Year as U.S. Economy Slows by Kathleen M. Howley posted 8/22/2011 on Bloomberg). 

The percentage of U.S. mortgages overdue by one month rose to the highest level in a year in the second quarter as homeowners who lost jobs were unable to make their payments…

The gain in early delinquencies signals a slowing economy may increase foreclosures, said Jay Brinkmann, chief economist of the trade group. The unemployment rate in the three months ended June 30 rose to 9.1 percent from 8.9 percent, the first quarterly increase since 2009, according to the Labor Department. Jobless claims jumped to an eight-month high in late April, government data show.

For the quarter ending June 30 unemployment was at 9.1 percent.  Ouch.  Remember why it was so urgent to pass the Obama Keynesian stimulus?  To keep the unemployment rate under 8%.  That was in February of 2009.  That’s two years ago.  Guess Keynesian economics doesn’t work.

The world’s largest economy grew at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said on July 29. That was less than the increase of 1.8 percent forecast by economists surveyed by Bloomberg. A Federal Reserve report last week showed manufacturing in the Philadelphia region contracted in August by the most in more than two years as orders fell and factories fired workers.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. lowered their forecasts for U.S. gross domestic product last week. The U.S. will expand 1.5 percent this year, down from a previous forecast of 1.7 percent, according to Goldman economists in New York. JPMorgan predicts 1 percent growth in U.S. GDP in the fourth quarter, down from an earlier projection of 2.5 percent, the bank said last week.

And the news just keeps getting better.  And by better I mean worse.  Again another record.  This one for manufacturing.  And actual GDP numbers are coming in under economists’ estimates.  The numbers are so bad these economists are revising their future projections down.  It should be noted that the vast majority of mainstream economists are Keynesian economists.  Which suggests their Keynesian economics doesn’t work very well.

Inflation Growing at a Greater Rate than Wages equals Real Pay Cuts

These mainstream economists said the Great Recession ended by July 2009.  Said that the Obama administration followed their Keynesian advice.  Kicked that recession in the behind.  And launched the recovery with a Recovery Summer.  Yay said the Keynesians.  Everything was going to be all right.  And yet two years later here we are.  Where things are still not right (see Survey: US companies say they’re planning another year of small raises for workers in 2012 by the Associated Press posted 8/22/2011 on The Washington Post). 

After increasing salaries by 2.6 percent this year and last year, companies are planning a 2.8 percent bump in 2012, benefits and human resources consultancy Towers Watson reported Monday.

That’s somewhat smaller than raises in the last decade. From 2000 to 2006, the year before the Great Recession began, salaries rose an average 3.9 percent for workers who were not executives.

And the modest bump may not help add much buying power for shoppers. In the 12 months through July, prices for consumers have risen 3.6 percent, according to the government’s latest calculations.

Those lucky enough to have a job are taking real pay cuts to keep those jobs.  Inflation is growing at a greater rate than their wages.  Which means as prices go up their pay checks will buy less.  Despite those raises.  High unemployment.  And rising inflation.  The last time the economy saw numbers this bad was during the Seventies.  When we called it stagflation.  And blamed Jimmy Carter.  Who became a one-term president because of it.

Obama Cares enough about the People to Hide from them on the Golf Course

President Obama is aware of the nation’s woes.  He is even thinking about them while on vacation.  On Martha’s Vineyard.  Playground for the uber rich (see President keeps low profile on Martha’s Vineyard by Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein posted 8/20/2011 on the boston.com).   

But it was later, at the Vineyard Golf Course in Edgartown, where the president’s recalcitrance was most evident. Approaching the eighth tee in a golf cart with friend and frequent golfing buddy Eric Whitaker, the president noticed three TV cameras and a Globe photographer across the street. Rather than stop and be photographed teeing off, the president skipped the hole.

That’s how much he cares.  He’ll skip a hole during a round of golf just so we don’t see him living well during these bad economic times.  Talk about sacrifice.  He’s just not playing 17 holes instead of 18.  Skipping that hole may have an adverse affect on his handicap.  He called for fair-share sacrifice.  And he, too, is sacrificing.  Walking it like he talks it.  So think about this noble act before you start bitching about another tax hike.  He skipped a hole of golf.

Obama bailed out General Motors and Chrysler and put Detroit back to Work

But it’s back to work after Martha’s Vineyards.  Just like the rest of us after our vacations.  Though our vacations are a bit more Spartan these days.  And rarely venture farther than our own backyards (see Obama to join unions’ Labor Day festivities in Detroit by Aaron Kessler posted 8/22/2011 on the Detroit Free Press). 

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will join thousands of union members at Labor Day festivities in Detroit, the Free Press has learned,

Obama will deliver remarks at a Labor Day event sponsored by the Metro Detroit Labor Council, according to a White House official with knowledge of the trip.

While no other details were immediately available, it is likely he would again use the opportunity to tout his administration’s role in the rescues in 2009 of General Motors and Chrysler.

So the president is going to Detroit to celebrate Labor Day.  It makes sense.  I mean, he bailed out General Motors and Chrysler, didn’t he?  And put the good people of Detroit back to work.

With 13.7% Unemployment where’s the Summer Recovery in Detroit?

Then again, looking at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it would appear that he has not put the good people of Detroit back to work (see Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Summary posted 8/3/2011 on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). 

Eleven of the most populous metropolitan areas are made up of 34 metropolitan divisions, which are essentially separately identifiable employment centers. In June 2011, Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, Fla., and Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich., registered the highest jobless rates among the divisions, 13.9 and 13.7 percent, respectively. Nashua, N.H.-Mass., reported the lowest division rate, 5.4 percent, followed by Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md., 5.8 percent. (See table 2.)

No wonder Maxine Waters is so angry.  He skips Detroit on his ‘listening’ bus tour.  And vacations on the very exclusive Martha’s Vineyards.  While the Detroit area is suffering double-digit unemployment.  If he was listening anywhere, it should have been in Detroit.

The Detroit area unemployment rate is 13.7%.  While the national rate is only 9.1% for the same period.  Yes, the national rate is bad.  But it’s not Detroit bad.  And this after the automotive bailouts.  That put the good people of Detroit back to work.  On top of the Obama stimulus.  So where’s the Summer Recovery in Detroit?  What’s happened to the Motor City? 

So this is what a Second Jimmy Carter Term would have been Like 

In a word, Obamanomics.  His Keynesian policies that were supposed to save jobs have killed jobs.  In Detroit.  And across the nation.  Worse, on top of high unemployment these policies have ignited inflation.  Unemployment plus inflation equals stagnation.  Misery.  And malaise

So this is what a second Jimmy Carter term would have been like.  Makes one want to say, “Welcome back Carter.”  But not in that warm nostalgic way like in that Seventies sitcom (Welcome Back Kotter).  Of course you never saw Jimmy Carter living it up like Obama.  So there are some differences.

This economy will not help Obama in 2012.  Worse, the American people will get no relief until after 2012.  For it’s like Ronald Reagan said in his campaign against Jimmy Carter (see President Ronald Reagan – Liberty State Park [Pt. 1] at 5:26).  A recession is when your neighbor loses his job.  A depression is when you lose yours.  And recovery is when Barack Obama loses his.

I’m paraphrasing, of course.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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