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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Alan Greenspan blames Irrational Risk-Taking and not his Keynesian Policies for the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 26th, 2013

Week in Review

Since the Keynesians took over monetary policy we’ve had the Great Depression, the inflation racked Seventies, the dot-com bubble/recession of the late 1990s/early 2000s and the subprime mortgage crisis.  It’s also given Japan their Lost Decade, a deflationary spiral that started in the late Eighties that they are still fighting today.  As well as the sovereign debt crisis still ongoing in Europe.  So Keynesian economics has a record of failure.  Yet governments everywhere embrace it.  Why?  Because they love having the power to create money.  Especially when it’s ostensibly for helping the economy.  Which it never does.  As efforts to do so resulted in the carnage noted above.  But it always gives a good excuse for another surge in government spending.  And Keynesians love government spending.

Why does Keynesian economics fail?  Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve whose policies helped create some of this carnage (dot-com bubble and subprime mortgage crisis), explains (see Greenspan ponders the roots of a financial crisis he failed to foresee by Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press, posted 10/21/2013 on The Star).

Now, Alan Greenspan has struck back at any notion that he — or anyone — could have known how or when to defuse the threats that triggered the crisis. He argues in a new book, The Map and the Territory, that traditional economic forecasting is no match for the irrational risk-taking that can inflate catastrophic price bubbles in assets like homes or tech stocks.

This is why the Soviet Union lost the Cold War.  Because their managed economy failed.  As all managed economies fail.  Because it is impossible to know the decisions of hundreds of million people in the market.  These people making decisions for themselves result in economic activity.  But when governments try to decide for them you get Great Depressions, debilitating inflation, bubbles and nasty recessions.  As well as the collapse of the Soviet Union.

People only took irrational risks when the Federal Reserve (the Fed)/government interfered with market forces.  The dot-com bubble grew because the Fed kept interest rates artificially low.  So was it irrational for people to take advantage of those artificially low interest rates and make risky investments they otherwise wouldn’t have made?  Yes.  But if the Fed didn’t keep them artificially low in the first place there would have been no dot-com bubble in the second place.

Was it irrational for people to buy houses they couldn’t afford when the Clinton administration forced lenders to qualify the unqualified for mortgages they couldn’t afford?  Was it irrational behavior for people to buy houses they couldn’t afford because of artificially low interest rates, ‘cheap’ adjustable rate mortgages, zero-down mortgages, interest only mortgages and no-documentation mortgages?  Yes.  But if the Fed/government did not interfere with market forces in the first place to increase home ownership (especially among those who couldn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage) there would have been no subprime housing bubble in the second place.

The problem with Keynesians is they call anyone who doesn’t behave as they hope to make people behave with their policies irrational.  That is, people are irrational if they don’t think like a Keynesian and therefore cause Keynesian policies to fail.  But before there could be irrational exuberance there has to be a climate that encourages irrational exuberance first.  For if we went back to the banking system where our savings rate determined our interest rates as well as the investment capital available there would be no bubbles.  And no irrational exuberance.  What kind of a banking system would that be?  The kind that vaulted the United States from their Founding to the number one economic power in the world in about one hundred years.  And they did that without making money.  Unlike today.

Q: The size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet stands at a record $3.7 trillion, reflecting all the Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities the Fed has bought to push long-term interest rates down. You have expressed concerns about this size, which is more than four times where the balance sheet stood before the start of the financial crisis. What are your worries?

A: My basic concern is that we have to rein this thing in well before the demand for funds picks up and makes it very difficult to rein in. (Inflation) is not immediate. It is down the road. But historically, there are no cases where central banks blow up their balance sheets or where countries print money which doesn’t hit (with higher inflation).

The balance sheet is four times what it was before the Great Recession?  That’s an enormous amount of new money created to stimulate the economy.  And yet we’re still wallowing in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  I don’t know how much more you can prove the failure of Keynesian economics than this.  About five years of priming the economic pump with stimulus stimulated little.  Other than rich Wall Street investors who are using this easy money to make more money.  While the median household income falls.

Keynesian economics attacks the middle class.  While enriching the ruling class.  And their crony friends on Wall Street.  These policies further the divide between the rich and everyone else.  Yet they continually say these same policies are the only way to reduce the divide between the rich and everyone else.  The historical record doesn’t prove this.  And those familiar with the historical record know this.  Which is why the left controls public education.  So people don’t learn the historical record.  Because once they do it becomes harder to win elections when you’re constantly lying to the American people.

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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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Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were Good for the World but Bad for Special Interests

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 14th, 2013

Week in Review

People either loved Margaret Thatcher.  Or they hated her.  And it all came down to their political ideology.  If you were pro-capitalism you loved her.  If you preferred socialism you hated her.  And the biggest socialist to hate her (and her friend Ronald Reagan) was the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR).  Not only did the success of her economic policies make the failure of the Soviet economic policies stark by comparison she was outspoken about her hatred of communism.  Even allowed her good friend, Ronald Reagan, base American nuclear cruise missiles on British soil.

Capitalism’s victory over Soviet socialism was so apparent that Mikhail Gorbachev opened dialogue with the Great Margaret Thatcher.  Ultimately bringing about the Soviet’s defeat in the Cold War.  Because socialism as an economic system doesn’t work.  Which is why Britain soared to new heights under the capitalist policies of Margaret Thatcher.  While the Soviet Union collapsed under their socialist policies.  And she entered office when Britain was at its worst (see To blame Margaret Thatcher for today’s problems is to misunderstand history by Allister Heath posted 4/9/2013 on The Telegraph).

[Margaret Thatcher] inherited a basket case of an economy, crippled by obsolete state-owned firms, a legacy of decades of poor policies. Management was insular and demoralised, the workforce used as pawns by militant union leaders who would call strikes at every opportunity, customers treated like dirt and production techniques stuck in the past.

Productivity was appalling, overmanning the norm and the quality of UK-made goods notoriously poor. Britain was sclerotic, anti-entrepreneurial and anti-innovation, often specialising in industries with no long-term future.

Yet it is a little-known fact that manufacturing output actually went up during her time in office, despite the necessary liquidation of so many unviable plants.

This was basically the problem they were having in the Soviet Union.  Everything was state-owned.  Production techniques were stuck in the past.  No one clamored to get their hands on good Soviet products.  Because there were no good Soviet products.  And they had far too many workers in their plants building stuff no one wanted.  While store shelves sat empty and people went without the basic necessities.  Britain was far along the path to outright socialism.  While Soviet Union was nearing the end of that path.  Margaret Thatcher turned the country around before they could end up where the Soviet Union was.  And the sun began to shine once more on the British Empire.  Albeit a smaller one.

Output had grown another 4.9pc by the start of 1997, when the Tories were booted out. Given the bitterness of the 1980s’ recession, caused by the desperate need to wring out extreme levels of inflation from the system by using high interest rates, it shows just how effective her supply-side reforms turned out to be…

…She was right to slash income tax, to repeal capital controls and to shake up the City of London with Big Bang. Most of her reforms to retail banking, including allowing banks and building societies to compete with one another, were spot-on.

There were some bad changes, however, though not the ones usually cited: still-high inflation made the ultra-safe saving banks unviable, especially after the EU forced the UK to introduce retail deposit insurance in 1979; there was a counter-productive move away from individual responsibility in retail financial services; and the UK signed up to the Basel Accords in 1990, a flawed international system to regulate banks that triggered all sorts of dangerous unintended behaviour and ensured financial institutions retained far too little reserves. In all cases, however, these were changes that didn’t really follow her basic philosophy…

Thatcherism was about choice, individual responsibility and independence from the state, not the politicised, artificially pump-primed markets we ended up with by the mid-2000s. She hated bail-outs, government subsidies and nationalisations; and would have looked on in horror at the gradual socialisation of losses and privatisation of profit in the financial services industry in the 15 years running up to the crisis.

Starting with the rescue of the LTCM fund in 1998 in New York, regulators decided that no large financial institution could ever fail. Alan Greenspan saw himself as an economist-king, manipulating interest rates to bolster financial markets and ensure perpetual growth, and triggering a giant bubble that burst twice. This was corporatism, not genuine capitalism.

Under the new order, including Gordon Brown’s late, unlamented Financial Services Authority, banks were disciplined neither by the free market – the authorities were there as a backstop, so there was no chance of going bust – nor by regulators, who allowed risk to build up unchecked. Greed was no longer balanced out by fear; moral hazard had replaced prudence. Thatcher, the grocer’s daughter and keen student of F.A Hayek, would have despaired.

A genuinely Thatcherite government in the 2000s is unlikely to have tolerated the explosion in the money supply – and house price madness – that Brown allowed, not least because Lord Lawson made a similar mistake in the late 1980s when he was Chancellor, triggering an earlier, disastrous house price bubble and bust. The parallels between the two episodes are striking but bizarrely uncommented upon.

So it is silly to blame Thatcher for today’s problems. If only one of her disciples had been in power in the 2000s, we wouldn’t be in anything like the mess we are in today.

Supply-side reforms?  Those were the same kind of reforms that her good friend, Ronald Reagan, favored.  And by using them he undid the Keynesian damage of his predecessors (LBJ, Nixon, Ford and Carter).  Pulling the United States off the path towards socialism.  Long before they got where Britain was before Thatcher.  But like in Britain it didn’t take long to return to the failed policies of the past.  The Keynesians returned in full force.  Playing with interest rates.  Keeping them artificially low to interfere with market forces.  Causing great irrational exuberance.  Those famous words uttered by Alan Greenspan.  An irrational exuberance his Federal Reserve policies enabled. Allowing people to borrow cheap money to invest with abandon.  With no fear of the economic fallout.  Pure Keynesian economics.  This wasn’t capitalism.  For capitalism would have raised those interest rates before they created such great bubbles.  And capitalism would have disciplined those free markets.  By checking greed with fear and having serious consequences for irrational exuberance.  Not government bailouts.

If Thatcher and Reagan were in office in the past decade things would be a lot better now.  And the simple proof of that is that when we moved away from their policies we created the mess we have today.

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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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Clinton Tax Rates, Japan’s Lost Decade, Irrational Exuberance, Dot-Com Bubble, EBT and Job-Creating Capital

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 14th, 2012

History 101

The Economy of the Nineties boomed because of Japan’s Lost Decade and Irrational Exuberance

President Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy.  He wants to go back to the Clinton tax rates.  The economy was booming during the Clinton Nineties.  Better than it is now.  Tax rates were higher in the Nineties than they are now.  While the deficit is greater now than it was in the Nineties.  And the debt is greater than it was in the Nineties.  The conclusion?  Higher tax rates improve economic activity.  Produce smaller deficits.  And grow the debt at a slower rate.  At least, that’s what those who want to raise tax rates say.  The only problem with this is that there are reasons why the economy was booming in the Nineties.  And it didn’t have to do with tax rates.  But, instead, the Japanese.  And irrational exuberance.

The Japanese government partnered with business in the Eighties.  Corporations worked closely together for the good of the export economy.  And the national economy.  This was Japan Inc.  And the economy surged.  Fueled by low interest rates.  People in America worried about the Japanese buying American landmark assets with their fat profits.  An American magazine joked that America would become a wholly owned subsidiary of a Japanese corporation.  A Democrat presidential candidate said America was a fool for not doing what the Japanese were doing.  But the good times didn’t last.  That inflationary monetary policy caused a massive asset bubble.  And when it burst the Japanese suffered a deflationary spiral that last a decade or more.  Their Lost Decade.  This great contraction weakened America’s greatest economic competitor.  Greatly helping the US economy.

Also during the Nineties the Internet was coming of age.  In the Eighties there was the personal computer.  Silicon Valley.  And Microsoft.  A lot of investors were looking for the Microsoft of the Nineties.  No one knew who that was going to be.  But one thing everyone knew was that it was going to be a dot-com.  Investors poured money into dot-coms that didn’t have anything to sell.  Hence the irrational exuberance.  Dot-coms built great office buildings and technology corridors in cities.  New ‘Silicon Valleys’ were appearing across the country.  Kids went to college to learn how to make websites and set up ecommerce.  All these young kids filled these new dot-com buildings.  But when the investment money ran out these companies went bankrupt.  As they had no revenue.  Or anything to sell.  The dot-com bubble burst after Clinton’s Nineties.  Giving George W. Bush a bad recession at the beginning of his first term.  Also, President Clinton pressured lenders to qualify the unqualified for mortgages they couldn’t afford.  Starting a great real estate bubble.  That burst after Clinton’s Nineties.  Causing the subprime mortgage crisis about a decade later.

The Government taxes Small Business Owners as Rich People even though they’re not really Rich People

So there is more to the Nineties than those Clinton tax rates.  The Japanese gave them an able assist.  Then a lot of bad investing creating a lot of artificial economic activity that created a bubble.  That crashed into a recession.  Thanks to a lot of governmental interference in the private sector economy.  They kept interest rates artificially low.  And offered a lot of incentives to get those dot-coms to build in their cities.  Leaving cities with a lot of empty buildings, budget deficits, bloated public sector payrolls and no increase in tax revenue to pay for the additional infrastructure and services.  This is what the Clinton policies gave us.  Not sustained economic activity.  Or a budget surplus.  So going back to the Clinton tax rates is not likely to produce sustained economic activity.  Or a budget surplus.  Especially when President Obama has outspent Clinton over a trillion dollars a year.

So returning to the Clinton tax rates won’t help to reduce the deficit unless they return to the Clinton spending as well.  And that’s not likely to happen.  So what will the increase in tax rates do?  Well, we can get an idea by comparing the Clinton tax rates (1999) to the last tax rates we used (2011).  As they apply to a small business.  The following is an income statement for what could be a typical small business with about $1.8 million in annual sales revenue.

This is a very summarized income statement using some typical percentages for cost of sales and overhead.  This also assumes about $350,000 of debt on the company books.  Giving an interest expense of about $28 grand.  When you subtract all of these expenses from revenue you arrive at an earnings before taxes (EBT) of $358,016.73.  For many small business owners this EBT flows to their personal income tax return as personal income.  Which sounds like a lot.  But business owners will leave most of this money in their businesses.  So while the government taxes them as rich people they’re not really rich people.  For what the government doesn’t tax away will become retained earnings.  And reinvested back into their businesses.

Higher Taxes and Higher Regulatory Costs hurt Job Growth by taking away Job-Creating Capital from Businesses

All right, so let’s look at what the government would tax away.  Based on the 1999 tax rates.  And the 2011 tax rates.  Using the tax rates for married filing jointly we get the following income tax for each set of tax rates.

The 1999 tax brackets give an effective tax rate of 31.4%.  In 2011 that fell 4.7 points to 26.7%.  Which increased net profit from 13.7% in 1999 to 14.6%.  An increase of 0.93 points.  Not as big a change as in the income tax rate.  But it’s an additional $16,730.50 the small business would have to reinvest into the business.  Which could pay for a lot (even help pay their interest expense).  Especially over time.  In two years that’s about $33,461.  In five years that’s about $83,650.  In ten years that’s about $167,300.  That’s a lot of ‘free’ money the business could use to grow their business that they didn’t have to pay back.  But if we returned to the Clinton tax rates that’s money these businesses would no longer have to invest into their business.  Forcing them to pay to borrow money.  Adding additional interest expense.  And burdening the business with greater debt.  Which would be a disincentive to add additional costs.  Like creating new jobs and hiring people.

A lot of small business owners don’t pay themselves.  That is, they don’t get a paycheck like everyone else in their business.  Instead they distribute earnings from the business.  People think all business owners are rich.  But here’s something they don’t understand.  Even though they pay income taxes on their total business earnings they may only take a small percentage of their earnings out of the business.  In this example the married couple draws $75,000 a year to live on.  Even though they paid income taxes on $358,016.73.  Netting only $75,000 on these earnings would be like having 79.1% of your earnings withheld in taxes from your paycheck.  While these numbers vary among business owners this generally holds true.  They pay taxes on amounts far greater than what they take out of their business to live on.

If we go back to the Clinton tax rates it will reduce the amount of investment capital owners have to grow their business.  Which new regulations have already reduced by increasing costs.  With the unknowns of Obamacare basically freezing all new hiring.  As small business owners don’t know if the government will leave them enough money to grow their businesses.  Or even enough to maintain their current business operations.  Which is how higher taxes and higher regulatory costs hurt job growth.  By taking away job-creating capital from businesses.

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FT122: “Japan’s Lost Decade helped the Clinton economy by reducing imports while the global slowdown does nothing for the Obama economy.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 15th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

The Japanese Government made Money Cheap and Plentiful to Borrow creating a Keynesian Dream but an Austrian Nightmare

Once upon a time Americans feared the Japanese.  Their awesome might.  And their relentless advances.  One by one the Japanese added new properties to their international portfolio.  They appeared unstoppable.  Throughout the Eighties everything was made in Japan.  Government partnered with business and formed Japan Inc.  And they dominated the world economy in the Eighties.  A U.S. Democrat nominee for president held up Japan Inc. as the model to follow.  For they had clearly shown how government can make the free market better.  Or so this candidate said.

But it didn’t last.  Why?  Because in the end the Japanese just interfered too much with market forces.  Businesses invested in each other.  Insulating themselves from the capital markets.  Allowing them to make bad investments to sustain bad business planning.  All facilitated with cheap credit.  Government made money cheap and plentiful to borrow.  And they borrowed.  A Keynesian dream.  But an Austrian nightmare.  Because they used that money to make even more bad investments (or ‘malinvestments’ in the vernacular of the Austrian school of economics).  Creating a real estate bubble.  And a stock market bubble.  Bubbles are never good, though.  Because they can’t last.  They must pop.  And when they do it isn’t pretty.

The U.S. just went through real estate bubble that peaked in 2006.  Money was so cheap to borrow that people were buying $300,000+ McMansions.  Anyone could walk in and get a no-documentation loan with nothing down.  People were buying houses and flipping them.  And people who couldn’t qualify for a mortgage could get a subprime mortgage.  Further pushing house prices higher.  Not because of real demand.  But because of this artificial tweaking of the free market by the government.  Making that money so cheap to borrow.  And when all that cheap credit caused inflation elsewhere in the economy the Fed finally tapped the brakes.  And increased interest rates.  Raising monthly payments on all those subprime mortgages.  Leading to a wave of defaults.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

Japan’s Deflationary Spiral gave American Domestic Manufacturers a Huge Advantage

This is basically what happened in Japan during the Nineties.  The government had juiced the economy so much that they grew great big bubbles.  Ran up asset prices to incredible heights.  But then the bubble burst.  And those prices all fell.  They fell for so long and so far that Japan suffered a deflationary spiral.  Throughout the Nineties (and counting).  The Nineties were a painful economic time.  After a decade or so of inflation the market corrected that with a decade of recession.  And deflation.  A decade of economic activity the Japanese just lost.  The Lost Decade.  But it wasn’t all bad.

At least, in America.  There was still some Reaganomics in the American economy.  Producing real economic growth.  But there was also a bubble.  In the stock market.  The dot-com bubble.  The Internet was brand new and everybody was hoping to be in on the next big thing.  The next Microsoft.  Or the next Apple.  Also, unable (or unwilling) to learn from the mistakes of the Japanese real estate bubble the Clinton administration was making it very uncomfortable for banks to NOT approve mortgage applications for people who were unqualified.  Putting more people into houses who couldn’t afford them.

So while the Clinton administration was trying to change America (during the first 2 years they tried to nationalize health care against the will of the people) the economy did well.  For awhile.  Irrational exuberance was pushing the stock market to new heights as investors poured money into companies that didn’t have a dime of revenue yet.  And never would.  Clinton had to renege on his promise on the middle class tax cut because things were worse than he thought when he promised to make that middle class tax cut.  (Isn’t it always the way that when it comes to tax cuts some politicians can’t keep their promise because they were too stupid to know how bad things really were?)  Added into this mix was Japan’s Lost Decade.  Their deflationary spiral increased the value of the Yen.  And made their exports more expensive.  Giving the American domestic manufacturers a huge advantage.  The economy boomed during the Nineties.  For a mix of reasons.  They even projected a budget surplus thanks to the economic woe of the Japanese.  But then the dot-com bubble burst.  Giving Bill Clinton’s successor a nasty recession.

When a Recession ails you the Best Medicine has been and always will be Reaganomics

The Left always talks about fair trade.  And about the unfair practice of foreign manufacturers giving Americans inexpensive goods that they want to buy.  So their answer to make these unfair trade practices fair is to slap an import tariff on those inexpensive foreign goods.  To protect the domestic manufacturers.  For they believe it’s that simple.  And plug their ears and sing “la la la” when you discuss David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage.  Ricardo says countries should specialize in the things they’re good at.  And import the things others are better at.  When everyone does this we use our resources most efficiently.  And the overall wealth in the international economy increases.  Making the world a better place.  And increases our standard of living.  But the rent-seekers disagree with this.  They want high tariffs.  And obstacles for foreign imports.  To protect the domestic businesses that can’t sell as inexpensively or at such high levels of quality.

Some would point to Japan’s Lost Decade as proof.  Where their deflationary spiral removed a lot of foreign competition to American manufacturing.  Allowing them to sell at higher prices and lower quality.  All the while protecting American jobs.  And, yes, Japan’s woes did help the American domestic manufacturers during the Nineties.  But it wasn’t because they could raise prices and lower quality in the face of low foreign competition.  It was because there was still enough Reaganomics in the country to produce some vibrant economic activity.  That encouraged entrepreneurs to take chances and bring new things to market.  Which is a huge difference from the current economic picture.

The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis has plunged Europe into a recessionary freefall.  Much like the Japanese suffered in the Nineties.  Yet the American domestic manufacturers aren’t benefiting from this huge decline in foreign competition.  Why?  Because the Obama administration has excised any remaining vestiges of Reaganomics out of the economy.  Everything the rent-seekers could ever hope for they have.  Only without tariffs.  And yet the Obama economy still lingers in recession.  Because irrational exuberance and barriers to free trade don’t create real economic growth.  And an administration hostile to capitalism doesn’t inspire entrepreneurs to take chances.  No.  What encourages them to take chances are low taxes.  And less costly and less punishing regulations.  For programs like Obamacare just scare businesses from hiring any new employees.  Because they have no idea the ultimate costs of those new employees. 

Now contrast that to the low taxation and relaxed regulatory climate of Reaganomics.  That produced solid economic growth.  And this growth was BEFORE Japan’s Lost Decade.  Which just goes to show you how solid that growth was.  And proved David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage.  For both Japan and the United States did well during the Eighties.  Unlike Clinton’s economy in the Nineties that only did well because Japan did not.  But the good times only lasted until the irrational exuberance of the dot-com bubble brought on an American recession.  Which George W. Bush pulled us out of with a little Reaganomics.  Tax cuts.  Proving yet again that higher taxes and higher regulations don’t create economic activity. Tax cuts do.  And fewer regulations.  In other words, when a recession ails you the best medicine has been and always will be Reaganomics.

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Versailles Treaty, Marshall Plan, Post-War Japan, MITI, Asian Tigers, Japan Inc., Asset Bubbles, Deflationary Spiral and Lost Decade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 21st, 2012

History 101

Douglas MacArthur brought some American Institutions into Japan and unleashed a lot of Human Capital

At the end of World War I the allies really screwed the Germans.  The Treaty of Versailles made for an impossible peace.  In a war that had no innocents the Allies heaped all blame onto Germany in the end.  And the bankrupt Allies wanted Germany to pay.  Placing impossible demands on the Germans.  Which could do nothing but bankrupt Germany.  Because, of course, to the victors go the spoils.  But such a policy doesn’t necessarily lead to a lasting peace.  And the peace following the war to end all wars wasn’t all that long lasting.  Worse, the peace was ended by a war that was worse than the war to end all wars.  World War II.  All because some corporal with delusions of grandeur held a grudge.

The Americans wouldn’t repeat the same mistake the Allies made after World War II.  Instead of another Versailles Treaty there was the Marshal Plan.  Instead of punishing the vanquished the Americans helped rebuild them.  The peace was so easy in Japan that the Japanese grew to admire their conqueror.  General Douglas MacArthur.  The easy peace proved to be a long lasting peace.  In fact the two big enemies of World War II became good friends and allies of the United States.  And strong industrial powers.  Their resulting economic prosperity fostered peace and stability in their countries.  And their surrounding regions.

MacArthur changed Japan.  Where once the people served the military the nation now served the people.  With a strong emphasis on education.  And not just for the boys.  For girls, too.  And men AND women got the right to vote in a representative government.   This was new.  It unleashed a lot of human capital.  Throw in a disciplined work force, low wages and a high domestic savings rate and this country was going places.  It quickly rebuilt its war-torn industries.  And produced a booming export market.  Helped in part by some protectionist policies.  And a lot of U.S. investment.  Especially during the Korean War.  Japan was back.  The Fifties were good.  And the Sixties were even better. 

By the End of the Seventies the Miracle was Over and Japan was just another First World Economy 

Helping along the way was the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).  The government agency that partnered with business.  Shut out imports.  Except the high-tech stuff.  Played with exchange rates.  Built up the old heavy industries (shipbuilding, electric power, coal, steel, chemicals, etc.).  And built a lot of infrastructure.  Sound familiar?  It’s very similar to the Chinese economic explosion.  All made possible by, of course, a disciplined workforce and low wages.

Things went very well in Japan (and in China) during this emerging-economy phase.  But it is always easy to play catch-up.  For crony capitalism can work when playing catch-up.  When you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.  But just trying to duplicate what others have already proven to work.  You can post remarkable GDP growth.  Especially when you have low wages for a strong export market.  But wages don’t always stay low, do they?  Because there is always another economy to emerge.  First it was the Japanese who worked for less than American workers.  Then it was the Mexicans.  Then the South Koreans.  The three other Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan).  China.  India.  Brazil.  Vietnam.  It just doesn’t end.  Which proves to be a problem for crony capitalism.  Which can work when economic systems are frozen in time.  But fails miserably in a dynamic economy.

But, alas, all emerging economies eventually emerge.  And mature.  By the end of the Seventies Japan had added automobiles and electronics to the mix.  But it couldn’t prevent the inevitable.  The miracle was over.  It was just another first world economy.  Competing with other first world economies.  Number two behind the Americans.  Very impressive.  But being more like the Americans meant the record growth days were over.  And it was time to settle for okay growth instead of fantastic growth.  But the Japanese government was tighter with business than it ever was.  In fact, corporate Japan was rather incestuous.  Corporations invested in other corporations.  Creating large vertical and horizontal conglomerates.  And the banks were right there, too.  Making questionable loans to corporations.  To feed Japan Inc.  To prop up this vast government/business machine.  With the government right behind the banks to bail them out if anyone got in trouble.    

Low Interest Rates caused Irrational Exuberance in the Stock and Real Estate Markets

As the Eighties dawned the service-oriented sector (wholesaling, retailing, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, communications, etc.) grew.  As did government.  With a mature economy and loads of new jobs for highly educated college graduates consumption took off.  And led the economy in the Eighties.  Everyone was buying.  And investing.  Businesses were borrowing money at cheap rates and expanding capacity.  And buying stocks.  As was everyone.  Banks were approving just about any loan regardless of risk.  All that cheap money led to a boom in housing.  Stock and house prices soared.  As did debt.  It was Keynesian economics at its best.  Low interest rates encouraged massive consumption (which Keynesians absolutely love) and high investment.  Government was partnering with business and produced the best of all possible worlds.

But those stock prices were getting way too high.  As were those real estate prices.  And it was all financed with massive amounts of debt.  Massive bubbles financed by massive debt.  A big problem.  For those high prices weren’t based on value.  It was inflation.  Too much money in the economy.  Which raised prices.  And created a lot of irrational exuberance.  Causing people to bid up prices for stocks and real estate into the stratosphere.  Something Alan Greenspan would be saying a decade later during the dot-com boom in the United States.  Bubbles are bombs just waiting to go off.  And this one was a big one.  Before it got too big the government tried to disarm it.  By increasing interest rates. But it was too late.

We call it the business cycle.  The boom-bust cycle between good times and bad.  During the good times prices go up and supply rushes in to fill that demand.  Eventually too many people rush in and supply exceeds demand.  And prices then fall.  The recession part of the business cycle.  All normal and necessary in economics.  And the quicker this happens the less painful the recession will be.  But the higher you inflate prices the farther they must fall.  And the Japanese really inflated those prices.  So they had a long way to fall.  And fall they did.  For a decade.  And counting.  What the Japanese call their Lost Decade.  A deflationary spiral that may still be continuing to this day.

As asset prices fell out of the stratosphere they became worth less than the debt used to buy them.  (Sound familiar?  This is what happened in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.)  Played hell with balance sheets throughout Japan Inc.  A lot of debt went bad.  And unpaid.  Causing a lot problems for banks.  As they injected capital into businesses too big to fail.  To help them service the debt used for their bad investments.  To keep them from defaulting on their loans.  Consumption fell, too.  Making all that corporate investment nothing but idle excess capacity.  The government tried to stop the deflation by lowering interest rates.  To stimulate some economic activity.  And a lot of inflation.  But the economy was in full freefall.  (Albeit a slow freefall.  Taking two decades and counting.)  Bringing supply and prices back in line with real demand.  Which no amount of cheap money was going to change.  Even loans at zero percent.

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LESSONS LEARNED #79: “Tax cuts stimulate. Not tax hikes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 18th, 2011

With Bubbles the Ride Down is never as Enjoyable as the Ride Up

Bill Clinton dealt George W. Bush a horrible hand.  Clinton enjoyed the irrational exuberance.  He rode the good side of the dot-com bubble.  Saw the treasury awash in cash.  Dot-com people cashing in their stock options and paying huge capital gains taxes.  There was so much money pouring in that projections showed a balanced budget for the first time in a long time.  As long as the people stayed irrationally exuberant.  And that damn Alan Greenspan didn’t raise interest rates.  To rain on his parade.

But he did.  The days of free money were over.  (For awhile, at least).  Because people where bidding up stock prices for companies that hadn’t produced a product or provided a service.  Money poured into these dot-coms as investors were ever hopeful that they had found the next Microsoft.  These companies hired programmers.  Colleges couldn’t graduate enough of them.  To program whatever these companies would eventually do.  But with the spigot of free money turned off these companies ran out of startup capital.  As most of these businesses had no revenue they went out of business.  By the droves.  Throwing these programmers out onto the street.

And then the great contraction.  Which follows a bubble after it is a bubble no more.  Prices fell as deflation replaced inflation.  And as prices fell, unemployment went up.  The phantom prosperity at the end of the Nineties was being corrected.  And the ride down is never as enjoyable as the ride up. 

Easy Monetary Policy and lack of Congressional Oversight of Fannie Mae and Fannie Mac

And then there was, of course, 9/11.  Which further weakened an already weakened economy.  So that’s the backstory to the economic activity of the 2000s.  A decade that began with the aftermath of one bubble bursting.  And ended with an even worse bubble bursting.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  It was a decade of government stimulus.  George W. Bush used both tax cuts (at the beginning of his presidency).  And then a more Keynesian approach (tax rebates and tax incentives) at the end of his presidency.  In other words, tax and spend.

But the subprime mortgage crisis was so devastating that the 2008 stimulus urged by Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve) to ward off a possible recession failed.  The easy monetary policy and lack of Congressional oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused big trouble.  And put far too many people into houses who couldn’t afford them.  The housing bubble was huge.  And because Fannie and Freddie were buying these risky mortgages and repackaging them into ‘safe’ securities, the fallout went beyond the housing market.  Pension funds, IRAs and 401(k)s that bought these ‘safe’ securities lost huge swaths of wealth.  The economic fallout was vast.  And global.

And then came Barack Obama.  A Keynesian if there was ever one.  With the economy in a free fall towards a depression, he signed into law an $800 billion stimulus package.  Not surprisingly, it turned out that about 88% of that was pure pork and earmarks.  Making his ‘stimulus’ stimulate even less than the George W. Bush $152 billion stimulus package.  And worked about as well.

Home Ownership was the Key to Economic Prosperity in the U.S.

So let’s look at the numbers.  Below is a chart graphing GDP, the unemployment rate and the inflation rate for the 2000s.  GDP is in billions of 2005 dollars.

(Sources: GDP, unemployment, inflation.  *Average to date (GDP – 2 quarters, unemployment rate – 7 months and inflation – 7 months).)

You can see the fallout of the dot-com bust.  The decade opens with deflation and a rising unemployment rate.  GDP, though, was still tracking upward.  After the bush tax cuts in 2001 (Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001) and 2003 (Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003) you can see improvement.  Unemployment peaks out and then falls.  Inflation replaces deflation.  And GDP grows at a greater rate. 

Things were looking good.  But lurking in the background was that easy credit.  And federal policies to qualify unqualified people for mortgages.  To put them into houses they couldn’t afford.  All because home ownership was the key to economic prosperity in the U.S.

Which makes the rising rate of inflation a concern.  Rising inflation (i.e., expansionary or ‘easy’ monetary policy) created the dot-com bubble.  A rising inflation rate can be bad.  But at least during this period the growth rate of GDP is greater than the growth in the inflation rate.  Which indicates real economic growth.  Accompanied by a falling unemployment rate.  All nice.  Until…

Bernanke and Company Crapped their Pants

Those people approved for mortgages they weren’t qualified for?  Guess what?  They couldn’t make their mortgage payments.  And because Fannie and Freddie bought so many of these risky mortgages, these defaults weren’t the banks’ problems.  They were the taxpayers’ problems.  And anyone who bought those ‘safe’ securities.

Long story short, Bernanke and company crapped their pants.  He urged the $152 billion Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 to ward off a possible recession.  This was a Keynesian stimulus.  Remember that summer when you got those $300 checks?  This was that stimulus.  But it didn’t stimulate anything.  People used that money to pay down debt.  Because they were crapping their pants, too.

The good times were over.  That huge housing bubble was bursting.  And nothing was going to stop it.  Certainly not more of the same (Keynesian stimulus).  GDP fell.  Unemployment rose.  Inflation became deflation.  And Bernanke stepped in and turned the printing presses on.  Desperate not to make the same mistake the Fed made during the Great Depression.  When bad Fed policy caused all of those bank runs.

An Inflation Rate Greater than the GDP Growth Rate may Return us to Stagflation

The Obama administration (all Keynesians) pushed for a massive stimulus to fix the economy.  The best and brightest in the administration, Ivy League educated economists, guaranteed that if passed they could hold the unemployment rate under 8%.  So they passed it.  And Bernanke kept printing money.  In other words, more of the same.  More of what gave us the dot-com bubble.  And more of what gave us the housing bubble.  Inflationary monetary policy.  And more government spending.

Didn’t work.  It took a year for the deflation to end.  As the market corrected prices.  And readjusted supply to match actual demand.  The unemployment rate maxed out around 10%.  And the Obama stimulus didn’t move it much from that high. 

GDP growth resumed.  However, the growth of inflation is now greater than the growth of GDP.  A very ominous sign.  Indicating that GDP growth is not real.  And will likely collapse once the ‘free money’ Fed policies end.  Or the growth of inflation coupled with high unemployment return us to the Jimmy Carter stagflation of the Seventies.

Keynesian Stimulus is the way to go if you want Deflation and Recession 

Further Keynesian stimulus may only make a bad situation worse.  And prolong this economic ‘recovery’.  These policies make bubbles.  Which are fine and dandy until they burst.  Giving us deflation and recession.  And the bigger the bubble, the greater deflation and recession that follows.

Tax cuts stimulate.  They ended the dot-com recession.  All Keynesian attempts during the 2000s have failed.  Proving again that tax and spend doesn’t work.  Easy monetary policy and government spending does not end well.  Unless you want deflation and recession.  Then the Keynesian way is the way to go.  But if you want to stimulate economic activity.  If you want real GDP growth.  Then you have to go with tax cuts.  As their track record of success shows.

 www.PITHOCRATES.com

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The Problem with Building Car Batteries is that People aren’t Buying Electric Cars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 22nd, 2011

The Dot-Com Bubble and Green Energy

Bill Clinton has all the answers.  He knows how to fix the economy.  How to fine tune it so it purrs.  Just like he did during the dot-com boom and bust (see It’s Still the Economy, Stupid by Bill Clinton posted 6/19/2011 on Newsweek).

When I was president, the economy benefited because information technology penetrated every aspect of American life. More than one quarter of our job growth and one third of our income growth came from that. Now the obvious candidate for that role today is changing the way we produce and use energy.

But most of it was just an illusion.  It was a bubble.  There was an explosion in dot-com companies trying to be the next Microsoft.  Investors bid Stocks up into the stratosphere.  Alan Greenspan called it irrational exuberance.  It wasn’t healthy economic growth.  It was only a bubble.  And the bubble eventually popped.  As they always do.  And with the bubble went a lot of those jobs.

Of course, when he says energy, he doesn’t mean drilling for oil.  He means green energy.  As in batteries.  For all those electric cars the president is urging GM to build.

On the day President Obama took office, the U.S. had less than 2 percent of the world market in manufacturing the high-powered batteries for hybrid or all-electric cars. On the day of the congressional elections in 2010, thanks in large part to the cash—incentive policy, we had 20 percent of global capacity, with 30 new battery plants built or under construction, 16 of them in Michigan, which had America’s second—highest unemployment rate. We have to convince the Republican Congress that this is a good thing.

One thing Bill Clinton is right on is the similarity between information technology and green energy.  One was a bubble.  And the other is sure to be one, too.

The Biggest Problem of Electric Cars is the Battery

The all-electric car is an elusive dream.  Hybrids have had some moderate success.  Because they come with a backup internal combustion engine that makes up for all the shortfalls of an all-electric car.  The battery (see Better Batteries Will Save the World by Farhad Manjoo posted 6/21/2011 on Slate).

If we had batteries that matched the price and performance of fossil fuels, we would not only have cleaner cars, but we might be able to remake much of the rest of the nation’s energy infrastructure, too. Wind and solar power are generated intermittently—sometimes the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine—and batteries can moderate that volatility. Stores of batteries placed in the electric grid could collect energy when the sun shines or when the wind blows and then discharge it when we need it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you might say that the future of the world depends on better batteries—a better battery would alter geopolitics, mitigate the disasters of climate change, and spur a new economic boom.

This glosses over an important point that few discuss.  Batteries are not energy.  They store energy.  Energy that we have to create.  And right now, because we don’t have a massive infrastructure to store energy when the wind does blow and the sun does shine, that leaves fossil fuels.  Which means there is no net saving in carbon emissions if we start driving electric cars.  This just transfers the pollution our cars emit to the power plants.  Most of which use the most polluting of all fossil fuels.  Coal.  So going all electrical in our cars may actually increase pollution.

This aside there are other problems with batteries that make gasoline a better choice.

The fundamental problem with batteries is the existence of gasoline. Oil is cheap, abundant, and relatively easy to transport. Most importantly, it has a high “energy density”—meaning that it’s phenomenally good at storing energy for its weight. Today’s best lithium-ion batteries can hold about 200 watt-hours per kilogram—a measure of energy density—and they might theoretically be able to store about 400 watt-hours per kilogram. Gasoline has a density equivalent of around 13,000 watt-hours per kilogram.

The only reason electric cars might one day compete with cars that rely on internal combustion is that gasoline engines are highly inefficient; nearly all of the energy stored in gasoline is lost to heat. But gasoline makes up for that flaw with another advantage: When your car’s out of gas, you can refill it in a few minutes. With today’s electrical infrastructure, batteries need many hours to recharge. There’s some hope that we might one day install fast-charging stations across the country, but the researchers Fletcher interviews point out that this is a daunting challenge. The battery in today’s Tesla roadster needs about four hours to charge. If you wanted to charge that battery in 15 minutes, you’d need a 200-kilowatt electric substation feeding the charging station. “Your house takes 1 kilowatt,” one expert tells Fletcher. “If you want to have something like a gasoline fuel station that is all electrical, you’re talking about multimegawatts of power at that station. And I just don’t see that happening.”

It’s that energy density of gasoline that lets you sit in rush hour traffic in February with your lights on and your heater keeping you toasty warm.  And alive.  But should you run low on gas you can always take 10 minutes and fill your tank.  Then you can rejoin that rush hour traffic.  And sit in it.  With your lights on.  And your heater still keeping you toasty warm.  And alive. 

The other nice thing about gasoline is that it’s pretty safe to handle.  Most gas stations in America are self-serve.  People pump gas without a second thought about safety.  For an electrical ‘quick’ charge, though, you’re playing with electrical energy that typically only skilled electricians work with.  After extensive safety training.  And while wearing special protective clothing and gear.  Probably not the kind of thing you want your daughter playing with on her way home from the big game.  Unless she is a highly skilled electrician.

In theory, the lithium-air battery could store 11,000 watt-hours per kilogram, which makes it, Fletcher says, “the best chance battery scientists have to beat gasoline.” A lithium-air battery could allow a car to drive 500 miles before recharging. With that range, you wouldn’t need a nationwide system of quick-charging stations. You could drive pretty much wherever you wanted all day, and then recharge your car at night.

But lithium-air is the cold fusion of the battery world—a would-be game-changer that has the unfortunate downside of being impossible to achieve (probably).

There is a battery technology out there in the research and development stage.  But it’s a long way from a manufacturing plant.  Right now the electric car is far inferior to the gasoline-powered car.  And if you want a car to take you to and from some place safely, you’re probably buying something with a gasoline engine.  A car where you can use the heat and switch on the lights without worrying if you’ll have enough juice to make it home.  And that’s just something the internal combustion engine will always be able to do better than the all-electric car.  Get you home.

Electric Cars not Selling Well

With Bill Clinton convinced that car batteries for electric cars are an important part of our economic revival, let’s take a look at some electric car sales numbers.  I mean, if everything is contingent on these things, let’s just make sure people are buying them to support this battery economy.  Before we build more plants that may end up building something people don’t want to buy (see Sales update: Nissan Leaf hits 573, Chevy Volt at 493 in April posted 5/3/2011 on Autoblog).

The latest cumulative U.S. sales totals for the plug-in duo, since launching in late 2010, has the Volt leading the pack with 2,029 units sold, while the Leaf comes in at 1,044. Year-to-date, Volt sales stand at 1,703, while Nissan says Leaf production had, as of April 15th, hit nearly 8,000.

And it doesn’t look like people want to buy these electric cars.  Nissan built 8,000 Leafs and only sold 1,044 of them.  That’s pretty bad.  There appears no point in building them anymore.  Not with a backlog of just under 7,000.  And with 87% of all Leafs built sitting unsold, there’s no point in building batteries for more of these cars.

Okay.  Let’s take a closer look at the Volt to see how viable a business model that is (see Will GM’s 2011 Chevy Volt Evolve Or Become A Costly Dead End? by George Parrott posted 6/20/2011 on Green Car Reports).

While the 2011 Chevy Volt will find its way to between 10,000 and 15,000 U.S. buyers, that’s far from enough volume to make any car a production success–or to make it profitable.

Most mainstream car models must sell 100,000 or more units a year to produce black ink.

No point in making batteries for these cars either.  No one’s buying them.  Other than then environmentalists.  Or rich people who can afford a toy car that they can take out for show while using their real internal combustion engine car to commute to work and take on vacations.  And it’s a money hole for GM.  Not exactly what they need while coming out of a ‘bankruptcy’.  If they’re smart they’d give up on the Volt before they have another round of financial problems.

The Irrational Exuberance of Green Energy

There’s a similarity between information technology and green energy.  And that similarity is irrational exuberance.  The market for all those dot-com companies was illusionary.  As is the market for electric cars.  So it makes little sense in building more batteries for cars people aren’t buying.

Adding batteries to our electric grid will be an enormous investment of tax dollars to improve the efficiency of some of the most inefficient energy sources.  Wind.  And solar.  Besides, for anyone who has suffered through multiple power outages each year, do you really want to add more complexity to the electric grid?  Something else that lightning can strike?  Something that is so complex that can’t be repaired or replaced as easily as a downed wire?  I shudder to think about waiting for that power restoration.

The point of green energy is twofold.  To get us off of expensive foreign oil.  And to stop global warming.  But the green energy solution is going to cost us more in the long run than foreign oil.  And with the science telling us sunspot activity may be heading towards a Maunder Minimum, we’re probably going to see some global cooling coming our way.  Not warming.  So what’s the point?  We don’t need green energy right now.   Especially if it costs more than foreign oil.  And we don’t need a bubble of green energy jobs to come back and bight us in the ass when that bubble pops.  As all bubbles do.

We use a lot of oil.  We should build on that.  For now.  Create some good, high paying jobs in the oil business.  Drill for more oil.  And bring it to market.  To meet a soaring demand.  You see, that’s an economic model that works.  Meeting demand with supply.  It works.  Always has.   And always will.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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