Linking ≠ endorsement.
⇧ The False Hope of Chinese Economic Rebalancing | The National Interest
Christopher Whalen, "Senior Managing Director and Head of Research at Kroll Bond Rating Agency":
While services led this quarter and manufacturing held up, retail weakened for the fourth straight quarter. This complicates the rebalancing story, since rebalancing toward services is occurring but rebalancing toward consumption is not. Other aspects of rebalancing appear fleeting: Export orders picked up more than domestic orders in Q4, reflecting stronger demand abroad than from business and consumers back home. Property is also sending mixed signals, with a collapse in construction partially obscured by better performance in realty.
What CBB suggests is that while China is not following the script regarding increase consumption mandated by Beijing (and parroted by many foreign analysts), China is in fact experiencing the very same deflationary pressures that are causing weak retail and consumer activity around the world.
⇧ FHA to lower cost of mortgage insurance
Diana Olick reports:
In a move designed to bring more first-time homebuyers into the housing market, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the government insurer of home loans, will lower its annual insurance premiums from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent.
For the typical FHA applicant, the reduction in premiums means a savings of about $80 on their monthly payment, according to CoreLogic's chief economist, Sam Khater.
Lowering the premium will bring volume back to the FHA, but it will also bring back risk.
"That is clearly the tension with any lending program that encourages low down payment," said Stevens. "But we are in a different position. We are clearly in an environment where home prices are very stable with steady growth. You don't have the dynamics to create any type of housing bubble."
However, watch those dynamics creep back into the system. It would take a great awakening for them not to. They always have before. People say "never again," and then it happens anyway. A new generation comes up that just doesn't believe such things can happen again, especially to them.
⇧ Coal-fired heating likely sparked Yampa hotel fire | GJSentinel.com
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A problem with the coal-fired heating system in Yampa's Royal Hotel is believed to have caused the fire that destroyed the historic building.
⇧ When Wonks Get Things Wrong
When people don't understand how the monetary system works they make gross errors which can lead to unfortunate conclusions and damaging policy recommendations. Raising interest rates because of a mistaken belief that high reserve balances arise from people hoarding cash would be catastrophic in a recessionary economy. I find it very worrying that two Federal Reserve economists are apparently so ignorant of the system of which they are part.
I'm not about to tell you whether people not spending causes the economy to stagnate, or vice versa. After all, one should never deduce causation from an identity.
As for the first paragraph there, that's why we always endeavor to differentiate excess from regular reserves because lending moves excess reserves to the regular account.
Concerning the second paragraph, we don't think it's going out on a limb to say that it's both. People not spending causes the economy to stagnate, and a stagnant economy causes people not to spend. Although, it's more the former (and we aren't talking about everyone but just some people, though a good measure). Ask them.
⇧ USA Today Makes Sure Rich Don't Get Blamed for Middle-Class Stagnation
While it's hard to see how a story that blames income stagnation on "too many regulations" fits with the steady income growth that accompanied the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Glass Steagall, the Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act etc., followed by decades of stagnation that coincided with the era of financial deregulation. But the assertion that wealthy elites are rigging the system against the middle class is harder to dismiss.
⇧ Brownback's results in Kansas scaring Republicans away from tax cuts
See, if you heat the water too fast, the frog will jump out of the Laffer Curve pot. Heat the tax cut water just a little more slowly and incrementally, and you can slow-boil your way to a no-tax, no-service state. That seems to be the new Republican paradigm in the wake of Brownback's tax cut catastrophe.
⇧ The inflation chicken littles were so wrong: The dollar is on a tear – The Washington Post
In the interest of fair disclosure, we thought inflation would rev up because we thought the US government would overshoot the target via extremely massive fiscal spending (tens of trillions of dollars). We had no idea just how stubbornly and foolishly ingrained anti-Keynesianism had become. In other words, we gave way too many people way too much credit for having a reasonable degree of intelligence.
Then there are those who wanted, and still want, to personally benefit from austerity and privatization at the hugely negative expense of others. They are foolish and stubborn too, but they knew, and still know, they were, and are, working hyper-selfishness, even greed.
Why has Paul Ryan been wrong about everything? Well, he missed what a lot of people miss, which is that the rules change when interest rates are zero. The Fed can't boost the economy like it normally does—buying short-term debt with newly-printed money—because short-term debt and money are pretty much the same when interest rates are zero. The Fed has to buy other stuff with newly-printed money instead, but even that won't help a lot unless it also convinces people that inflation will go up in the future. If it doesn't, which the Fed didn't, then lenders won't want to lend, borrowers won't want to borrow, and all the new money the Fed prints will just pile up in the banks. That's what happened in 1930s America when interest rates were zero, it's what happened in 1990s Japan when interest rates were zero, and, yes, it's what's happened in 2010s America too.
You won't learn that from Ayn Rand's books, though.
⇧ How will cheap oil affect the housing market?
Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko is on the same page we've been since oil prices started dropping.
Oil prices have plunged from over $100/barrel in July 2014 to around $50/barrel in early January 2015, threatening oil-producing economies around the world. Within the U.S., big oil price drops have historically been associated with job losses and falling home prices in energy-producing regions. In particular, plummeting oil prices in the 1980s were followed by declines in employment and home prices in Houston, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, New Orleans, and other nearby markets.
⇧ Dear Monty: Eight great tips to ponder before investing in real estate – News – Holbrook Sun – Holbrook, MA
The most common methods to participate in real estate are:
Work within the industry to earn and learn; real estate sales, property management or appraisals. Observing customer behavior and internal practices in these areas provides on-the-job experience that applies for your benefit.
⇧ New York City Real Estate Market – Business Insider
No surprise here:
New York City regained its top position among global commercial real estate buyers, unseating London and highlighting the appeal of U.S. properties in general, according to a survey of international investors released Tuesday.
⇧ U.S. Mortgage Rates Fall With 30-Year at a 19-Month Low – Businessweek
U.S. mortgage rates dropped to the lowest level in more than a year and a half as falling oil prices and concerns about the strength of the euro drove investors to the safety of the U.S. government bonds that guide borrowing costs.
⇧ Seattle Bans Throwing Food Away in Trash | Washington Free Beacon
Seattle residents can no longer throw food away in their garbage due to a new law that went into effect Jan. 1.
Seattle residents are on board with the nanny state as 74 percent supported the measure, and only 11 percent opposed.
What some people ("libertarians") call "the nanny state" others call intelligent democracy. We're on board with the latter.
⇧ What's that? Boa constrictor slinks out of San Diego toilet – CNN.com
Landlords and managers, do you allow tenants with snakes? Even if you don't, just how far can snakes move through the sewers and up and down pipes? Amazing:
This had us in stitches. Watch the video on the CNN page.
No, we're not sadistic. We just don't jump on tables when we see a mouse. Well, this writer doesn't anyway.
Animal control is taking the boa to a veterinarian. Wells hopes it finds a good home with people who leave their toilet seats down.
Honestly though, we can understand how those young women were shocked and feel that they'll never trust a toilet again.
Let's see, patent idea: snake-proof toilet. That'll work. We know of at least two buyers already.
⇧ The Next Chinese Economy by Zhang Monan – Project Syndicate
China's easy growth is over in the minds of the highly optimistic. "Zhang Monan is a fellow of the China Information Center, a fellow of the China Foundation for International Studies, and a researcher at the China Macroeconomic Research Platform":
After more than 30 years of extraordinary growth, the Chinese economy is shifting onto a more conventional development path — and a difficult rebalancing is underway, affecting nearly every aspect of the economy.
We recommend this article but caution you concerning the optimism at the end. The next couple of years are going to be very telling for China. We think that by then, what's actually been happening will show through more. Unless China has some cards up its sleeve, we don't see how there can be much more lag time than say 2 years.
The stronger slowdown certainly does seem to have occurred right around when we called it. The things China has tried so far were not able to do more than raise the spirits of optimists. Those spirits were reduced in fairly short order.
What will it take for people to come to the realization that China's leadership is not capable of pulling off a miracle? The easy growth is over. The only question is just how deep the fall that started months ago will be.
We'd like to be wrong. We'd love for the Chinese Communist Party leadership to see the light and to allow a real multi-party democracy (not "controlled capitalism," which is highly undemocratic), but we are definitely not going to hold our breath. It may happen, but we don't see it happening soon enough to avoid China tripping over its huge economic errors, some of it inexperience, some just plain bad ideology (not that we're advocating laissez-faire capitalism).
⇧ Dissecting the hawks of the ECB | Money matters? Perspectives on Monetary Policy
…the conclusion that the ECB should wait further before taking additional measures is not justified and the "wait a while longer" conclusion of the hawks is not empirically founded. In a post published in March of last year I argued that inflationary expectations had already moved from being firmly to weakly anchored…. Now the situation has clearly worsened and further waiting is not justified.
My overall conclusion is that neither the argument that one should wait further before taking new measures to comply with the ECB price stability objective nor the expectation that the balance sheet of the ECB will reach back the level of March 2012 find empirical support. Then, the reader may ask, what is their logical basis? I am afraid I do not find one and I am left with the worrying thought that they are based on ideology more than reasoning.
Ideology isn't the only possibility, unless one concludes that the given supposed or possible ideology encompasses deliberately setting up the world for utter privatization, which would end in catastrophe — epic, global, and anthropogenic.
⇧ Can we curb the capacity of banks to create crises? | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian
George Magnus, former chief economist, UBS:
Perhaps we should be more realistic and accept that recurring financial crises go back a long time. The economist J K Galbraith judged that they occur because, in every generation, the specious association is made between money and intelligence.
He observed that history counts for little in the finance world, and that "past experience, to the extent that it is part of memory at all, is dismissed as the primitive refuge of those who do not have the insight to appreciate the incredible wonders of the present." This is a wonderful description of finance in the 2000s, and still today.
…The credit system isn't working properly again, banks are still 'too big to fail', and we still couldn't cope well with a systemic problem.
We've tried to make banks safer — while succumbing to lobbying pressure for dilutions and caveats — without trying to make the banking system safer. …
Instead, we could change the way the system works by restricting the extent to which banks create money, or in an extreme version, prohibit them from doing so altogether. Building societies didn't create money in the way banks do, and are still managed to serve the community and make a return for shareholders.
We could require banks to hold substantially higher reserves or risk-free government bonds against their deposits, in effect curtailing their ability to use leverage and create money.
There are alternative and contentious ways of creating money in which the government and the central bank would do what the private sector has done until now.
If this is too extreme, then we should….
No, no, no, it is not too extreme. It is exactly what is needed. Get completely on board, George. We need you.
⇧ The Record of Austerity – NYTimes.com
How many people, I wonder — even among economists who have eagerly taken sides in the austerity debate — have a sense of what the overall picture looks like since the great turn to austerity in 2010? I don't mean what happened in country X in year Y, which you imagine supports your position; I mean the overall shape of events across many countries and multiple years.
Well, here's a quick and easy picture. I've taken annual data on the growth of real GDP and of government purchases from Eurostat, using every country for which data are available 2010-2013. I was tempted to edit out minor countries like Malta, but decided to do this as cleanly as possible. What we get are 33 countries for 4 years, 132 observations.
R squared of 1 would be a perfect fit.
Note the cluster in the upper-right quadrant. That's where more government spending occurred and GDP went up.
There are countries in both the upper-left and lower-right where less spending still saw higher GDP and more spending saw lower GDP respectively.
Nevertheless, note the trend line does run from the lower-left to the upper-right. That and the cluster really suggests that it would be worth while investigating the explanations for the outliers: the "stuff happens."
Graduate-students' project, anyone?
⇧ Kocherlakota takes on the hottest controversy in monetary policy | MinnPost
Louis D. Johnston:
Throughout the Great Moderation there were economists who pointed to an equally likely possibility: that we were lucky and that since the mid-1980s the industrialized world had not experienced any violent economic shocks such as the rapid increases in oil prices seen in the 1970s or the financial crises of the 1930s. They pointed to the period 1880 to 1914, when a period of relative stability was often attributed to the benefits of following the rules of the gold standard but was actually the result of a convergence of a variety of favorable economic factors unrelated to monetary policy. They warned that policymakers and economists were mistaking luck for virtue.
The financial crises of 2007-2008 and the Great Recession convinced many economists that good luck was far more important to the Great Moderation than were the adoption of monetary rules. This hasn't shaken the theoretical case for rules instead of discretion, however, and this is where President Kocherlakota's recent talk enters the picture. Rather than simply appealing to recent history, Kocherlakota took on the rules versus discretion topic from a theoretical perspective in light of that history.
We don't think this is the hottest controversy in monetary policy except when limited to inside-the-Fed context.
The hottest issue is whether we should have the Fed at all and whether the money issued should be sovereign and debt-free rather than privatized and debt-based (as it is now). Of course, we think it should be sovereign and debt-free (no bonds and regardless of whether the interest is paid back into the general revenue of the federal government or not).
That said, if we limit ourselves to considerations within the Fed context, we definitely side with Narayana Kocherlakota.
⇧ The Republican Strategy To Repeal Dodd-Frank | The Baseline Scenario
Do you know what's going on? Simon Johnson:
On January 7, 2015, Day 2 of the new Congress, the House Republicans put their cards on the table with regard to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms. The Republicans will chip away along all possible dimensions, using a combination of legislation and pressure on regulators — with the ultimate goal of relaxing the restrictions that have been placed on the activities of very large banks (such as Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase).
The initial target is the Volcker Rule, which limits the ability of megabanks to place very large proprietary bets — and their ability to incur massive losses, with big negative consequences for the rest of us. But we should expect the House Republican strategy to be applied more broadly, including all kinds of measures that will reduce capital requirements (i.e., make it easier for the largest banks to fund themselves with relatively more debt and less equity, taking more risk while remaining Too Big To Fail and thus benefiting from larger implicit government subsidies.)
The House Republican rhetoric will be "technical fixes" and "job creation". But the reality is that they are determined to strip away all meaningful restrictions imposed on Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and other megabanks — and to roll-back Dodd-Frank as far as possible, until it becomes meaningless or they are finally able to repeal it completely.
What the anti-New Dealers are up to is what they've always been up to, taking the country right back to what caused the Great Depression and the Great Recession: inadequate regulations.
They are getting paid to do it. It may seem indirect, but they are getting paid. If they weren't willing to do it, the plutocrats would simply find others. It will only end when no one will agree to do their bidding. That will be some enlightened generation!
⇧ Henry A. Giroux | Authoritarianism, Class Warfare and the Advance of Neoliberal Austerity Policies
This ties in with the linked article immediately above.
Along with health care, public transportation, Medicare, food stamp programs for low-income children, and a host of other social protections, public goods and social provisions are being defunded or slashed as part of a larger scheme to dismantle and privatize all public services, goods and spheres.
You see, if the banks can cause crashes and the common taxpayers must bail out those banks, then less will be spent on the general welfare mentioned in the US Constitution. The bankers will get people to clamor for privatizing the programs so that the privatizers will make a cut that they don't make when the program is fully public.
That's how it works. It's not complicated.
There are those who put making money first, and then there are those who put the welfare of the masses of the people first.
The true welfare of the people can be put first while the economy grows and does so without doing environmental harm; however, the current batch of privatizers wouldn't reap the lions share. They care most about reaping the lions share even if it means that many people go without entirely.
It's sociopathic and very bad economics because it always comes back to haunt everyone. The sociopaths, however, hope to be dead before it gets them; but regardless, they rather gamble and win for a while than never reap the lions share instead of generally sharing across-the-board.
⇧ Russia Blamed, US Taxpayers on the Hook, as Fracking Boom Collapses
Since we posted from Truth Out above, we thought we'd include this one also because it is at least 99% correct. It's not what you usually see on mainstream-business sites. It should be though. Ben Ptashnik:
The heavy-handed move by the financial industry has outraged progressives and libertarians alike.
Most bank customers and voters don't know that Congress has already written into finance regulations that, in the case of insolvency, financial institutions could grab the assets of depositors and "bail-in" – which means they can save themselves from their losses in gambling operations at their investment divisions by grabbing cash assets of depositors, even those that are FDIC guaranteed [highly doubtful], and legally convert them to bank stocks. That means that in the event of another market crash, Chase and Citi could take their depositors' cash in savings accounts or CDs, and give the customers back a bank stock certificate (of questionable value) instead.
So, whom will the banks, brokers and investors scapegoat for this upcoming crash? Some predict that they will likely use every available media outlet to blame community activists, Democrats and Obama for stopping the Keystone pipeline and for opposing the fracking industry. And as in the climate change denier movement, the narrative will probably use "communist" and "socialist" rhetoric, which is why the Russian card is so important to play: Hence the Higgins article.
The pundits on Fox will likely play on the patriotism of the right and use their Big Lie ploy (say something enough times, it becomes the truth) to the hilt. Six months from now, while studiously avoiding mention of our "allies," the Saudis, or the Wall Street banks, they will likely be vociferously defending those poor "beleaguered US oilmen" who could have made our country strong and inde pendent again in energy, but were broken by the Democrats and those "commie environmentalists" working for Putin. The market crash will be blamed on the "climate hoax."
Look, your small and medium businesses depend upon not allowing the banks and others to crash the economy via their finance/gambling capitalism.
We need industrial capitalism if we are to have a mixed economy at all, and we sure won't do well with a pure laissez-faire capitalist system. That would be going back to the worst days of the capitalist/industrial revolution in England.
Every progressive law would be undone. Terrible working conditions would reappear. Children would work in sweatshops rather than go to school. Work days would become 12 hours long. Workers compensation would disappear. The reversals would continue until there would be nothing but sickly wage slaves dropping left and right like flies. The environment would become so polluted that some people would simply rather be dead than to live in the toxic environment.
Come on, do we really want to let them drag our society into such an utter dystopia?
⇧ Volatile Week Ahead of Employment Report – Tim Duy's Fed Watch
Tim Duy is a constant Fed watcher. We think he became too optimistic but still certainly worth reading. He comes back down closer to earth in this one but not far enough in our view. Read why.
At the moment, there are many different competing threads in the tapestry of monetary policy, with another thread entering the pattern with tomorrow's employment report. In short, the Fed is balancing clear evidence of accelerating US activity in the back half of 2014 against the implications of declining oil prices and a host of international weaknesses that are roiling financial markets. The reality of volatility in asset prices was on full display this week. The Fed desire to begin normalizing policy with a rate hike in the middle of this year certainly appears in jeopardy. They very much need continued solid data on the US side of the equation to push forward with their plans.
Bottom Line: Fed wants to begin normalizing policy, but sees a murkier path compared to even just last month. They need hard US data to overwhelm the oil/international driven fears. An acceleration of wage growth would help put some light on the path they want to follow.
What you don't see in Tim's analysis is anything mentioned in the Truth Out article above.
Is Tim out of that loop the way so many others are? It would seem so.
The junk bonds/derivatives of the fracking industry are just way too big an issue to be missing and especially since the White House and Congress went along with the gutting of Dodd-Frank exactly concerning that issue.
Is the economy going to weather the storm such that the Fed raising interest rates will remain under consideration at all?
⇧ Pressure grows on universal banking – YouTube
With a rising tide of banking regulation and capital standards how worthwhile is it now to be a universal bank? FT columnist John Gapper debates with City editor Jonathan Guthrie.
⇧ Deflation: transitory? – YouTube
On the day the eurozone officially dropped into deflation, John Authers looks at growing market worries about disinflation in the US. Will the oil price fall…
⇧ Senate approves terror insurance bill | TheHill
Well, this is breaking news of mixed results.
The Senate approved legislation Thursday to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) for six years, over the objections of some Democrats who criticized a provision they said would weaken Wall Street regulations.
Many Democrats — including Warren — opposed a provision that would amend the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. The measure, sought in some sectors of the financial services industry, would scrap certain regulations for nonfinancial institutions — dubbed "end users" — that are applied to big banks.
We are for the TRIA but opposed to the further weakening of Wall Street regulations.
It appears that weakening regulations will be attached to every important bit of legislation until there are no regulations remain and Wall Street banks may gamble and lose with impunity again, all at the taxpayers' expense.
So, we'll be insured against physical terrorists but not the financial ones (who will threaten the US economy again that unless they are completely bailed out, the entire economy will collapse — which won't be true even though many people will fall for it as they did before in 2007-8).
Well, maybe after the next Wall Street induced collapse, the people will wake up and demand real and permanent monetary and banking reforms on the order we've been advocating.
⇧ Fire causes $85,000 in damage to home in Wilmington – SFGate
The Delaware State Fire Marshal's Office said Sunday that the fire was caused by a faulty wood-burning fireplace.
⇧ Owner Torched Restaurant to Collect Insurance Money: Feds | NBC Connecticut
Federal prosecutors said 51-year-old John A. Barile torched Enzo's Restaurant and Lounge on Main Street in Middletown shortly after midnight on Jan. 10, 2010, then left the restaurant and locked the doors while the other owner was still inside.
⇧ Ten Reasons Why the TPP Must Be Defeated | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community
US Senator Bernie Sanders:
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multi-national corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy. It will also negatively impact some of the poorest people in the world.
If it's so bad, why are so many US House and Senate members and the Obama administration backing it? They've been purchased. They've sold themselves.
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