Linking ≠ endorsement.
⇧ Europeans defy US to join China-led development bank – FT.com
Wow, US hegemony appears to be falling apart.
France, Germany and Italy have all agreed to follow Britain’s lead and join a China-led international development bank, according to European officials, delivering a blow to US efforts to keep leading western countries out of the new institution.
Australia, a key US ally in the Asia-Pacific region which had come under pressure from Washington to stay out of the new bank, has also said that it will now rethink that position.
South Korean media have reported that Seoul will also now rethink its decision not to join the AIIB. Japan, the US ally in the region that is most worried by China’s growing influence, is not expected to become a member.
What will the US do? Will it become desperate and do something reckless? Let’s hope that people with cool, analytical, risk-management heads hold full sway.
⇧ Surprise: U.S. Economic Data Have Been the World’s Most Disappointing – Bloomberg Business
Fed officials have shown a willingness to look through a few bad pieces of economic data—”noisy” as Yellen called a pickup in inflation last year that turned out to be meaningless.
Data can be noisy, and a loud surprise on the downside can pave the way for performances that go on to beat expectations.
That’s true so long as the Fed doesn’t clamp down prematurely.
⇧ ‘Chapter not closed’? Greece WWII reparations cause split among German MPs — RT News
We hadn’t thought it went away.
Several senior Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens have for the first time acknowledged that Greece has a case for WWII reparations. This contradicts the stance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government which had ruled it out.
In our view, it’s not as it appears on the surface. We think Greece is using it as part of their overall negotiating strategy, not that they aren’t serious about it.
Were Angela Merkel to loosen up and to stop pushing unnecessary and counter-productive austerity measures, Greece would likewise ease up on the call for reparations.
⇧ ekathimerini.com | Athens reacts to Eurogroup suggestion of capital controls
Not helpful at this point:
The chairman of the Eurogroup, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, on Tuesday became the first European Union official to suggest the possibility of capital controls to prevent Greece leaving the euro, drawing a furious reaction from Athens, which accused him of “blackmail.”
Greece needs to be looked at as a humanitarian catastrophe needing Europe to draw together to rescue Greece without worrying about who will pay for it, not looked at as just a seriously troubled loan.
⇧  Pettifor: “They are currency wars” – YouTube
We couldn’t agree more. At 3:49:
…Ann Pettifor — director of PRIME Economics and author of “Just Money: How Society Can Break the Despotic Power of Finance.” Ann gives us her take on what we’ll hear at this week’s Federal Reserve meetings and tells us that the dollar and financial stability is outside of the US as a big concern at the Fed because the Fed is concerned with narrow US domestic interests, as this is its mandate. The juxtaposition sets the global economy up for volatility going forward due to “massive imbalances”. In the US, she believes there is justifiable anxiety about the robustness of the US economy. Ann continues the conversation with pointed words about the way the Greek situation has been handled, making recommendations of the right way to frame the situation.
⇧ Insurance Information Institute Challenges Our Workers’ Comp Investigation. We Respond – ProPublica
You’re a landlord or a management firm. You have employees you cover via workers compensation insurance. You want to pay the lowest rates while affording your employee’s the best coverage. Employees who are injured on the job who don’t get the best care for the dollar not only cost you as an employer but tug at your heart because you really do care about your workers. You also view workers comp in terms of a general benefits for the whole of society, all the places you do business with, the places your family members work outside your own business, etc., and see workers comp as a good thing for governments to have mandated.
What you don’t want are falling premiums due to falling care with widening profit margins of carriers. You want cost savings passed on to you and not at the expense of coverage and care.
At the same time, you realize as a business person that insurance carriers deserve fair earnings for the services the industry renders.
We, as insurance producers, are prohibited by law from disparaging the insurance industry, carriers, other producers, etc.
With that in mind, we provide this link without staking out a position that violates the law.
We provide it solely from a public-policy standpoint wherein we encourage our industry to be sure our profits are fair and balanced.
We have not fact checked all of the statements made by either ProPublica and NPR or the Insurance Information Institute. We cannot say that industry profits concerning workers comp are exorbitant or even out of line with fundamental fairness and the legal standards of the various states. If we were to conclude that they are, we’d address the issue through proper, legal channels. We trust you understand.
The laws that tie our tongues, so to speak, are designed to keep the public from losing confidence in the industry and the regulatory system overseeing it. Insurance commissioners around the country work very hard to analyze rates and to not allow the industry to be damaged by bad rate-settings and changes in coverages. The proper way for people in the industry to deal with such matters is by adhering to the laws, rules, and regulations of the applicable states and within industry associations where such matters may be discussed in private without giving the industry unnecessary black eyes. Ethics is very high on the list in the insurance industry, and we don’t want to lose the people’s trust. That said, the industry is not perfect; but what industry is?
For our part, we believe in strong regulations and strong regulators. Workers comp was created by progressives. We are strongly in favor of a solid workers-comp program and all the other solid coverages for employees and workers.
We welcome your comments and ask you to keep in mind that we cannot and will not reply in any way or ways where any insurance commissioner could rightly say we’ve violated the law of the given state.
⇧ mainly macro: Radical macro lessons from the Great Recession
Helicopter money is essentially giving the central bank an additional instrument – a form of fiscal stimulus. In that sense it is rather different from NGDP targets or a higher inflation target, because it involves instruments rather than the objectives of monetary policy. For that reason, in principle it could be a complement to both the other radical suggestions. In a way helicopter money is best seen as an alternative to Quantitative Easing, and there is no reason in principle why QE is not compatible with NGDP targets or a higher inflation target. It is possible of course that if helicopter money was shown to be effective in dealing with liquidity traps, then it would make the case for other radical changes less compelling.
If I’m being realistic, I think that if the first sentence of this post turns out to be true, the chances of any of these radical changes being adopted before the next liquidity trap episode are very small. A period of strong growth will be sufficient for policy makers to pretend that the slow recovery from the financial crisis was either a one-off or the best that could be done in the circumstances. Instead I suspect that as the economy moves ever closer to its pre-crisis trend, the demand group of economists will convince more of the supply group that they were wrong. This will give greater credibility to the idea that radical changes to policy are required, and each alternative will receive greater analysis and probably greater support amongst economists by the time the next liquidity trap episode occurs.
Simon is probably right as far as he wrote, which left a huge gap in his article.
The problem is that it ignores the malignant aspect of some profit-seekers. There are many who pose as ideologues while they really want to take the suckers in those posers’ confidence schemes.
What we are dealing with is not simply a lack of understanding concerning economics but a global issue of ethics and crime (fraud).
Anyway, more power to Simon in getting his fellow economists to make it harder for the schemers to hide behind “economics is complicated” and “the free market,” etc.
You may think we’re being harsh, but please understand that insurance deals with risk and criminality is a huge part of risk. We see it all the time at all levels.
An academic economist typically isn’t bathed in it. Bill Black is an exception though, and Simon would serve himself well to avail himself of Bill’s expertise in fraud committed by bankers and those in governments who wittingly, intentionally let those bankers get away with it for whatever reasons.
Simon doesn’t think like a criminal. That’s obviously good on one level but lacking on the one we’ve pointed out.
Simon, be as harmless as a dove but as wise [clever] as the serpent. Know your adversaries. They will definitely criminally conspire to keep you from holding enough sway.
The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_K. _Black
⇧ BoJ inflation promise comes unstuck – FT.com
Japan’s economy was hit hard by last year’s sales tax rise, which hurt household consumption. Combined with the fall in oil prices, that has thwarted progress towards 2 per cent inflation.
However, the big fall in the yen has started to boost exports, while there are signs of faster wage rises from a tight labour market. The BoJ hopes a gradual increase in demand will push prices higher.
Well, before they did it, we repeated said the tax increase would turn out to be a large mistake.
Also, there is good deflation for the average consume and some industries. Lower oil prices is one of them.
Finally, Japan is in a global competitive market for increasing inflation. It’s a currency war and a clear reason why the Fed should not raise the Fed rate or take any other steps to slow the US economy.
⇧ Some Implications of the Dollar’s Rise | Econbrowser
This article drives home our point concerning the immediately preceding link. Absolutely correct: Menzie Chinn:
One way they can weaken the dollar relative to the counterfactual (I know many readers don’t believe in such things, but this is the right way to think about it) is, given the policy rate is essentially at zero, to maintain an accommodative stance in terms of forward guidance.
⇧ Yellen Strikes a Dovish Tone – Tim Duy’s Fed Watch
She did say wage growth was not a precondition for [a] rate hike. I tend to think that unemployment dropping to 5% or an acceleration in wage growth is sufficient to prompt the first rate hike, either of which could still happen by the time of the June meeting. That said, at this point, the inflation and growth data point to a later lift-off, and weighting the expectations for a rate hike at a later date seems appropriate at this juncture.
Bottom Line: Yellen does it again – she moves the Fed both closer to and further from the first rate hike of this cycle. By moving toward the markets on the path of rate hikes, the Fed acknowledges that they are eager to let this recovery run on. Moreover, they proved that they are in fact data dependent by moving policy in the direction of the data.
We see no magic in a 5% unemployment rate when there would still be plenty of slack. Let’s see how many people get out there looking for work again first.
The dual mandate definitely should not err on the side of first keeping inflation down at the cost of people unnecessarily being without sufficient wages.
⇧ FRB: Press Release–Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement–March 18, 2015
Consistent with its previous statement, the Committee judges that an increase in the target range for the federal funds rate remains unlikely at the April FOMC meeting. The Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term. This change in the forward guidance does not indicate that the Committee has decided on the timing of the initial increase in the target range.
… The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.
We see that as saying that we’re going to surprise those who think we will raise the rate in June.
The Fed is doing a vastly better job than it has ever done before even while looking at more variables and in scanning the entire global horizon.
They should have mentioned that regular consumers (households) who don’t have to, aren’t spending the gas savings. That’s holding down the economy but isn’t the wrong thing for those consumers to be doing. Get rid of the student-loan problem. That would go a very long way to helping the whole economy. Write it all off via the general revenues of the federal government.
⇧ Falling incomes hit poorest Londoners hardest, says new LSE research | Trust for London
Inequality of income and property is becoming an ever greater problem through little to no fault of the poor. The problem lies in governmental policies and practices, simply whom government favors or rather for whom government works.
There is absolutely no reason that the well off couldn’t remain so while the poor are lifted right up.
• Richest 10% of Londoners a quarter wealthier in 2010/12 than before recession
• Poorest 10% of Londoners lost nearly a fifth of net income over similar period
New analysis by academics at LSE shows that the capital’s economic success and relative resilience following the crash has not translated into gains for the poorest Londoners.
The research, funded by independent charity Trust for London, looks at changes in economic inequality during and in the aftermath of the recession (2007-2013).
“To start closing the gap and to tackle poverty, we need to address the issue of housing, which for many in London is their single biggest cost of living. Quite simply, we need more homes in London — to rent and to buy. These homes need to be affordable, with affordability linked to something sensible such as people’s incomes. We must challenge the view that has grown up in this country of property primarily being an asset rather than a home and a basic human need.”
⇧ Shale Shakes Up Energy Sector
“Shale is the future, it’s the future on a global basis as well,” he [Ross Payne, managing director of Wells Fargo Securities] said. The country with the largest shale reserves, he noted, is Russia, with the United States in second place. “We’re obviously the largest producer of shale crude, and China is number three. On the natural gas side, China is number one and the U.S. is number four.”
Well, Russia recently banned fracking due to the litany of problems endemic to the technology, not the least of which are earthquakes. We see water and air contamination as well, not to mention anthropogenic global warming, which both the Pentagon and the insurance industry acknowledge exists.
Our view is that battery technology will outstrip fracking, and the sooner the better.
⇧ Japan’s Accounting Problem by Adair Turner – Project Syndicate
Good piece by Adair Turner:
The official doctrine is that the BOJ eventually will sell back all of the government bonds that it has acquired. But it need not do so. Indeed, the BOJ could maintain its current level of government-debt holdings indefinitely, making new purchases as existing bonds mature. And if the money created — in the form of commercial bank reserves at the BOJ — ever threatened to support excessive credit growth and inflation, the BOJ could offset that danger by imposing reserve requirements on the banks.
The Japanese authorities are thus doing what former US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke proposed in 2003 — using monetized fiscal deficits to put spending power directly into the hands of companies and households. The BOJ rejected Bernanke’s advice at the time, insisting instead that all deficits must be financed with bonds; now, however, the BOJ is effectively monetizing past and current deficits alike. If it had done so earlier, Japan would have experienced less deflation and slightly higher growth, and would now have smaller public debts. But better late than never.
“The Japanese authorities could make their monetization explicit by replacing some of the interest-bearing debt held by the BOJ with a perpetual non-interest-bearing bond.” That’s another great way of handling it. It would have much the same impact as issuing bond-free currency to begin with, which we advocate. We may have earlier misunderstood Adair Turner if he put that forth before where we saw or heard it.
⇧ UPDATE 1-Brazil comptroller to probe more contractors in Petrobras scandal | Reuters
This link is a bit atypical for us, but we want to draw attention to the fact that governmental corruption is a hugely important risk-management issue.
We don’t know all the facts in this case, and we hope that the corruption didn’t reach the top; however, if it did, then the current government should be replaced and anti-corruption measures should still be greatly enhanced. The corruption may be so great that the current government should be replaced simply for not having been vigilant enough to prevent it.
We feel for Brazil.
Brazil’s Comptroller-General Office on Wednesday added another six construction and engineering firms to an investigation of contractors that allegedly participated in a corruption ring at state-run oil company Petrobras.
⇧ Ingredients Missing for a Turnaround in Brazil | BlackRock Blog | Global Market Intelligence
We aren’t a securities site, but it is a good idea to take the market’s temperature when considering the macro and micro of economics and risk. Russ Koesterich:
…our outlook is not positive and hasn’t improved since the October election. For one, we don’t think Brazilian stocks are cheap enough to attract value investors. Despite trading roughly at 1.25 times the price-to-book value, the market was a bigger bargain back in late 2013 (in both absolute and relative terms). And without a clear catalyst, a stock rally is unlikely to happen. Last year’s bounce back, while short-lived, was built on the possibility of change. Unless the current Dilma Rousseff administration focuses more on structural reforms and efforts to spur growth, the stock market will probably need to fall further before investors are willing to take another chance on Brazil.
⇧ Tax Cuts Still Don’t Pay for Themselves – NYTimes.com
You can get essentially any answer you want out of a dynamic tax model by changing the assumptions about economic behavior that you plug into it. If you turn the dials far enough, you’ll get a report that shows a tax cut will pay for itself, even if it won’t.
In the case of the Tax Foundation, the optimistic results come mostly from assumptions about business investment being wildly responsive to tax policy. …
You might think a cut in taxes on investment would increase returns to investors in the long run. But the Tax Foundation’s model says that isn’t so — instead, it assumes investment would rise as much as was necessary to bid down pretax returns so that aftertax returns were unchanged. …
This assumption led various economists to invoke the names of small islands.
“That’s true for the Netherlands Antilles, it’s not true for us,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, the former head of the Congressional Budget Office who was John McCain’s top economic adviser during his 2008 campaign.
“It’s a model that might be appropriate for Bermuda,” Mr. Kotlikoff said.
In a very small, very open economy, the Tax Foundation might be right: Cuts in investment taxes would drive a flood of foreign capital, producing a huge percentage increase in investment. But the United States is simply too big for that to work. The U.S. economy also is not perfectly open; for example, we have some restrictions on trade. Therefore, estimates of the amount of investment created by investment tax cuts should be more modest. Economists also criticized the Tax Foundation model for assuming all that new investment would fall into place very rapidly, and for failing to address economic effects from spending cuts or increased borrowing that the tax cuts would require in their first years.
Don’t they get write-offs for research and development? That’s where the emphasis needs to be. That’s where we’ve been slowing down and will fall well behind if we don’t do anything about it.
⇧ How a Rising Dollar Is Creating Trouble for Emerging Economies – NYTimes.com
The risen US dollar has been jerking large entities around.
The soaring value of the American dollar is rippling across the globe. As it rises, it is threatening emerging economies where companies have taken on trillions’ worth of dollar-based debt in recent years. …
the rising dollar and falling emerging-market currencies cut both ways for the economies in question. Even as companies that gorged on dollar debt run into trouble, falling currency values make exporters more competitive on global markets. The International Monetary Fund projects that emerging economies worldwide will grow 4.3 percent this year, compared with 2.4 percent for the advanced economies.
⇧ Chinese Developer Evergrande Gets $16 Billion Lifeline Amid Slump – NYTimes.com
China is really beginning to show that it’s in economic and financial trouble.
Chinese banks have extended $16 billion in credit lines to shore up one of the country’s largest and most heavily indebted home builders, as pressure mounts on developers short of cash in a slumping property market.
The move by a group of mainly state-run banks to bolster the builder, Evergrande Real Estate Group, which is controlled by the billionaire Hui Ka Yan, is the latest sign of tumult in China’s sprawling housing sector.
Developers are rushing to secure financial support as sales volumes and housing prices plunge, weighed down by a growing overhang of unsold homes. …
After years of increases, home prices in China have begun to drop. This is good news for buyers, but bad news for residents of the Xixi Moho apartment complex that developers stopped building.
The Chinese leadership is concerned about the health of the country’s property market because it is so deeply interconnected with other parts of the economy. Real estate is an important driver of steel consumption, loan growth and jobs for sales agents and migrant construction workers. A drop in home prices hurts ordinary Chinese because they tend to invest a disproportionate amount of their savings in real estate.
On Wednesday, China published monthly property market figures showing that prices fell in February in 66 of the 70 cities surveyed when compared with a year earlier. Data released last week showed that new housing starts, measured by floor space, fell 20 percent in the first two months of the year compared with a year earlier, while new land purchases by developers fell 32 percent.
We’re still waiting to see how China’s supposed to avoid a hard landing. We’ve heard the talk, but it has never been compelling to us.
⇧ Low oil prices and monetary easing triggering modest acceleration of global recovery
Low oil prices and monetary easing are boosting growth in the world’s major economies, but the near-term pace of expansion remains modest, with abnormally low inflation and interest rates pointing to risks of financial instability, according to the OECD’s latest Interim Economic Assessme
We think they may be high on US growth and are definitely high concerning China (fudging numbers by China). The dollar won’t stay as strong as it is because the Fed can’t afford to let it. It will be either that or the Fed will have lost sight of its mandate, which we just don’t see happening under Yellen. She’s been too consistent to suddenly fall apart.
⇧ February Architecture Billings Index Improves, Halting a Contraction Streak Before it Started | Architect Magazine
Design billings for residential projects had its first negative month in over three years….
Multifamily Residential: This sector experienced contractions for the first time in more than three years. The score fell from 50.4 in January to 48.9 in February.
⇧ How Far Will the Euro Fall? by Anatole Kaletsky – Project Syndicate
Anatole Kaletsky, Chairman, Institute for New Economic Thinking:
While higher US interest rates will attract some investors, others will move away from the dollar if the combination of a more competitive euro, the ECB’s enormous monetary stimulus, and an easing of fiscal pressures in France, Italy, and Spain generates a genuine economic recovery in Europe. The resulting flows of global capital into European shares, property, and direct investment — all of which are now substantially cheaper than corresponding US assets — could easily outweigh the cash and bond investments attracted by rising US interest rates.
In other words, we never achieve equilibrium but are always chasing it, overshooting/undershooting, reversing, and overshooting or undershooting again and all the while the target is moving, becoming hazy, disappearing, and popping up where and when unexpected….
⇧ IMF Considers Greece Its Most Unhelpful Client Ever – Bloomberg Business
Where’s a word about people committing suicide at a high rate because the grinding poverty in Greece becomes intolerable. If Germans were starving, what would Angela Merkel have to say to the leaders of other nations telling Germany to pay up and shut up?
Reckless lenders who demand to be paid are more culpable than average Greek citizens who didn’t know what was going on at the top.
⇧ Press Conference with Chair of the FOMC, Janet L. Yellen – YouTube
It appears that Janet Yellen has modified a bit concerning wage-rate increases. We are having a difficult time with the Phillips Curve under stagnant wage rates. There have been moral pleas out there for a higher minimum wage, and various companies, some quite large, have agreed to raise their minimum-pay levels. That though doesn’t seen enough to indicate price inflation based upon a lower unemployment-rate.
Changing from 5.5% down to 5.2 or even 5.0 doesn’t appear to be backed up by any data. Frankly, we think they should leave it wide open and let the market find the percentage by simply waiting until price inflation really occurs. Being ahead of a curve that may not kick in until 4.8 or lower by targeting even 5.0 could cause a 1937-style needless slump.
Being behind the curve is nothing to fear. Paul Volcker proved that the Fed can wring out inflation. The problem we’ve seen is that the Fed can’t create a rapid and dramatic recovery, especially near or below a zero-interest rate.
⇧ No impatience – YouTube
John Authers comments on a dramatic market reaction to the latest words from the Federal Reserve. It is data-dependent – so volatility lies ahead.
⇧ Greek parliament passes poverty bill – YouTube
The Greek parliament has passed a poverty bill much to the annoyance of its international lenders
Under the new law the poor will be given free electricity and about 300,000 Greeks will get food vouchers. The measures also include a rent allowance of up to 220 euros a month for 30,000 action to prevent home foreclosures.
The legislation however disregards bailout requirements for more austerity measures.
The lenders are not saying to “let them eat cake” but to “let them eat nothing.” It’s unconscionable. It’s inexcusable behavior for civilized nations to treat each other that way.