Wednesday, June 19, 2019

19/6/19: In an Alternate Ireland, Captain Leary...


Big congratulations to my friend and co-author (on economics and finance matters), Prof. Brian M. Lucey @brianmlucey on his debut in fiction writing... unlike in our usual finance papers, suspenseful dulness of stats and econometric has been suspended by him to narrate the tale of Captain Leary (not, not the one of the Ryanair empire, who in "an alternate Ireland... battles to save the Emperor [not Bertie], save the space elevator [not in an Anglo-funded building], dodge the assassins [not the Russian variety, I am assuming], thwart English terrorists [Brexit forecasts?]" and deliver "flowers for the girl". Oh, yes... it is available right here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TC8LNFS/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?keywords=learys+empire&qid=1560951929&s=gateway&sr=8-1


18/6/19: In May, 12 month forward probability of a U.S. recession has jumped up


The NY Fed estimated risk of recession (12 months forward) has hit another business cycle high of 29.62% for May 2020, up from 27.49% for April 2020, marking seventh consecutive monthly increase.

Historically, probability of a recession 9-15mo ahead of the actual recession realisation has been at 18.45%, which is significantly below the current running 3 months average of 28.06%.

To put these levels into perspective, here is the chart of the time series:


The current levels of the index are clearly in line with the historical trends for the 9-12 months recession expectations. More so, they are actually in line with 3-6 months recession expectations. In fact, we have to go back to 1967-1968 to find the only episode in the entire history of the data series where current levels of the index were not coincident with an actual recession or with 3-6 months-lagged realisation of a recession.

May 2020 reading is the ninth highest probability estimate for the probability of a recession in history for any period outside and actual recession + 6 months prior and 3 months after.

18/6/19: OECD-led Tax Reforms: A Prescription for a Less Competitive Economy



I have just posted a draft of my paper on the OECD BEPS proposals from May-June 2019 here: Gurdgiev, Constantin, OECD-led Tax Reforms: A Prescription for a Less Competitive Economy (June 18, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3406260

18/6/19: Obama v Trump: Jobs Creation


Who had the more impressive numbers in terms of jobs creation: President Obama or President Trump? This question is non-trivial. For a number of reason.

Take first the superficially-simple comparative:

  • On a y/y basis, average monthly change in total non-farm payrolls under the last 28 months of President Obama Administration was 2,704,000 using non-seasonally-adjusted data. For the first 28 months of the Trump Administration, the same figure was 2,394,000. So by this metric, things were better under Obama Administration last 28 months in office.
  • The caveat to the above is that as jobs numbers grow, each consecutive period, new additions of jobs should be harder and harder to come up with, especially during the mature period of the expansion cycle. In other words, after some number of quarters of economic recovery, creating more new jobs gets harder, primarily because the pool of potential employees to be hired into jobs shrinks. So, adjusting Obama figures and Trump figures for this, we can use rate of change in 28 months averages. This is not easy to do, because we do not have consecutive 28 months periods of first rising, then falling jobs additions averages for any period, except for the 1990s. Back then, jobs creation first run at 483,000 monthly average in 1991-1993, 3,124,000 in 1993-1995, 2,889,000 in 1996-1998 and 3,080,000 in 1998-2000. So within upside cycle, the net decline in jobs creation was between 1.74% and 7.2%. Applying these to Obama Administration’s peak jobs creation rate over any 28 months period gives us the rate of Obama Administration cycle-adjusted jobs creation of between 2,509,150 and 2,656,775 - both of these figures are higher than the raw numbers for the Trump Administration’s first 28 months in office. 
  • In monthly average jobs creation measured on m/m basis, Obama Administration’s last 28 months in offer yielded 128,000 monthly jobs additions on average. The Trump Administration’s comparable figure is 294,000, vastly outpacing Obama Administration’s record. This means that, in total,  during the Obama Administration last 28 months in office, the U.S. economy has created net 2,527,000. In Trump’s Administration 28 months in office, the economy generated 7,206,000 jobs. 
  • The above figures, however, is heavily weighted against the last 28 Obama Administration period due to the final two months of the period coinciding with heavily seasonality-related effects (December and January effects). Controlling for seasonality effects, Obama Administration comparable net jobs creation over that period was 7,139,000 against Trump’s 7,206,000.
  • Finally, looking at the entire jobs cycle, as illustrated in the chart below:


Note, I consider the period of Obama Administration with sustained jobs creation - a sort of
‘jobs creation upside cycle’ that started in March 2011. Based on this comparative, Obama Administration did outperform Trump Administration so far into the latter tenure in office (see steeper slope in the trend line for Obama Administration, and flatter slope for Trump Administration.


Draw your own conclusions out of all of this, but there are my top level ones:

  1. Whilst it is other daft to argue whether one Administration was able to ‘create’ more jobs than the other - the comparatives are a bit too sensitive to differences in economic environments and yearly cycles, overall, Obama Administration’s last 28 months in office seem to have been creating comparable number of jobs to the Trump Administration’s first 28 months in office.
  2. Trump Administration has seen more substantial monthly increases than Obama Administration did, but annually, Obama Administration outperformed Trump Administration in this comparative.
  3. In overall terms, jobs creation remained similar across both Administrations to-date, once we adjust for skewed seasonality effects, but Obama Administration appears to have outperformed the Trump Administration over the cycle of jobs expansion.

Monday, June 17, 2019

17/6/19: Lose-Lose-and-Lose-Some-More Trade War: Trumpism in Action


Recently, I have posted on the latest Fed research covering the impact of the President Trump's trade war with China, showing that the tariffs collected by the U.S. Federal Government are not being paid for by the Chinese producers, but are fully covered out of the American consumers' and firms' pockets.

Here is an interesting note via CFR on the balance of tariffs and farms subsidies dolled out as a compensation for the Trump trade wars: https://www.cfr.org/blog/130-percent-trumps-china-tariff-revenue-now-going-angry-farmers.

via @CFR_org

The point is that tariff revenues are a tax on American economy (households and firms), and these tax revenues collected by the U.S. Federal Government are not enough to cover compensation to the U.S. farmers for their losses due to China's retaliatory tariffs. Agrifood commodities are a buyers market: soybeans are sourced globally, traded globally and their prices are set globally. When China imposes tariffs on imports of soybeans from the U.S., the Chinese consumers do not pay the tax on their purchases of these, instead they substitute by purchasing readily available soybeans from other parts of the world. On this, see: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/05/14519-agent-trumpovich-fails-to-deliver.html. Brazilian farmers win, American farmer lose. Uncle Sam subsidises U.S. farmers to compensate, using tax revenues it collected from the American consumers of Chinese goods.

But farming lobby is strong in the U.S. Thus, total quantity of compensation awarded to the farmers in now in excess of total tax revenues collected from the American consumers. It's a lose-lose-and-lose-some-more proposition of economics of trade.

Friday, June 14, 2019

14/6/19: Rising Concentration Risk in S&P500 Earnings and Revenues


S&P 500 companies earnings and revenues are heading for another round of de-diversification (increasing concentration of earnings and revenues toward the U.S. markets), per Factset latest data:


14/6/19: The Real U.S. Migration Crisis is Not at the Border, but at Home


I recently wrote about the new data from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on crime amongst the illegal and legal immigrants in the U.S. here: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/06/3619-what-customs-and-border-protection.html. The key conclusion from this earlier post is that there is no evidence (based on arrests) of a large scale crime wave perpetrated by the legal and illegal aliens in the U.S.

New research from the Pew Research published this week shows that, just as with the migrant crime rates, there is no new migration crisis at the U.S. borders. However, there is a crisis in the U.S. migration, a crisis of different nature.

Take the headline figure:
Number of unauthorised immigrants in the U.S. has fallen 14 percent from the peak in 2007. While the overall numbers remain elevated at close to, but below, 2004 levels, the numbers are not consistent with the claim of a 'crisis on the border'.

However, the real crisis in the U.S. immigration system is the one related to policy and legislation:
Over the years, there has been a steady increase in illegal immigrants with long term U.S. residence. In fact, the increase has been shockingly unchecked. Currently, estimated 66 percent of all illegal aliens in the U.S. have been resident here for more than 10 years. Which exposes the simple fact of life: the U.S. system does not have functional avenues for long term illegal aliens - people who have higher chances of being assimilated into the American society, establishing family roots in the country and forming families in their place of residence - to legalise their status. In fact, Pew Research data shows that the median years of U.S. residence for the unauthorised adult immigrants has risen from 7.2 in 2000 to 15.1 today.

The very purpose of a well-functioning migration system is to encourage and support integration of migrants into the host society. By failing to create a functioning, effective and efficient pathways for illegal migrants with long term tenure in the country to legalise their status, the U.S. immigration system is actively preventing millions of well-integrated residents from securing their future in the place they called home for 15 years or more.

Full Pew Research note is available here: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/12/us-unauthorized-immigrant-population-2017/.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

13/6/19: Russian International Reserves and Government Debt


Earlier today, an esteemed colleague of mine tweeted out the following concerning Russian foreign reserves:

Which is hardly surprising, as Russia has been beefing up its reserves for some time now, following the crisis of 2014-2016 and in response to the continued pressures of Western sanctions. I wrote about this before here: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/04/10419-russian-foreign-exchange-reserves.html.

It is interesting in the light of the above news to look at Russian Government 'net worth' or 'net debt' (note: this is not the total external debt of Russia, nor Government external debt, but the total Russian Government debt comparative). Here is the chart based on the OECD data, with added estimate for Russia for 1Q 2019 based on IMF data and the latest data from CBR:


Based on my estimates and on OECD data itself, Russian Government has the largest positive net worth (lowest net debt) of any country in top 10 countries in the world (measured using nominal GDP adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity), and it is in this position by a wide margin.

The caveat is that India, China and Indonesia are not reported in the OECD data. China's Government net worth is virtually impossible to assess, because the country debt statistics are incomplete and measuring the gross wealth of the Chinese Government is also impossible. India and Indonesia are easier to gauge - both have positive net debt (negative net worth). IMF WEO database shows estimated General Government Net Debt for Indonesia at 25.5 percent of GDP in 2018. India has substantial gross Government debt of ca 70% of GDP (2018 figures), and the Government holds minor level resources, with country's sovereign wealth fund totalling at around 5 billion USD.

Another caveat is where the debt is held (Central Banks holdings of debt are arguably low risk) and whether or not assets held by the Governments are liquid enough to matter in these calculations (for example, Russian gold reserves are liquid, while some of the Russian funds investments in local enterprises are not). These caveats apply to all of the above economies.

On the net, this means that Russian Government is financially in a strongest leveraging position of all major economies in the world.



12/6/19: Irish Self-Employment Data: What It Says About the Entrepreneurial Nation


Official Ireland is quick to promote Irish indigenous entrepreneurship as evidence of a diversified economy, with domestic risk-takers bent on capturing international markets with new, innovation-intensive and modern goods and services. The reality, of course, is somewhat different. In 2017, based on the IMF estimate, sales of iPhones (not physically manufactured in Ireland at all) accounted for 25% of the state's GDP growth. And, on the other side, domestic self-employment, the cradle of entrepreneurship, has been on a decline.

Here are the latest statistics and trends:


Share of Irish labour force participants in employment that were engaged in self-employment has declined, on trend, from the late 1990, as did the share of those in self-employment with employees has been down-trending since around 2000-2001.  Some might think that the trend is driven by the self-employed construction workers, but that is not the case, since they bump in share of all self-employed run below the trend line in 2003-2006, and many of these workers exited employment in the crisis.

What about self-employed as the share of overall relevant (age 15 and older) population? Similar trends:

Current total self-employment share in overall population is on-trend, and that trend is down, not up. Self employment with employees trend is similar.

So about that entrepreneurship, and about the claims that the younger generations are becoming even more entrepreneurial, and about all those universities and ITs offering vast arrays of entrepreneurship programs, and about the preaching of entrepreneurial ethos and values... ahem...

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

12/6/19: Credit Markets vs Banks Loans: Europe vs US


Related to the earlier post on investment markets composition by intermediary (see: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/06/12619-investment-intermediaries-europe.html), here is more evidence, via @jerrycap of the massive share of intermediated debt / banks dependency in European markets:

A caveat worth noting: European data includes the UK, where equity markets and hybrid financing are both more advanced than in the Continental Europe, which suggests that the share on non-bank share of debt markets is even smaller than the 25% currently estimated.

12/6/19: Japanifying the World


Heard on the sidelines of the QE: "Honey, we've Japanified the World..."

Chart via Wells Fargo Research team.

12/6/19: All's Well in the Euro Paradise


All is well in the Euro [economy] Paradise...


Via @FT, Germany's latest 10 year bunds auction got off a great start as "the country auctioned 10-year Bunds at a yield of minus 0.24 per cent, according to Germany’s finance agency. The yield was well below the minus 0.07 per cent at the previous 10-year auction in late May. The previous trough of minus 0.11 per cent was recorded in 2016. Notably, demand in Wednesday’s auction was the weakest since late January, with investors placing bids for 1.6-times more than the €22bn that was issued."

Because while the "Euro is forever", economic growth (and the possibility of monetary normalisation) is for never... 

12/6/19: Investment Intermediaries: Europe vs U.S.


Investment markets intermediaries by type and origin (via @schuldensuehner):


Caveat: In the case of Ireland and Switzerland, the data is not representative of the domestic markets.

Loads of interesting insights, but one macro-level important is the role of the non-banking investment players, especially domestic ones, in the economies of the U.S. and Germany, Italy, Spain and France. This highlights the huge role of direct investment channels (equity, debt, hybrids) in the U.S. market and the corresponding weight of intermediated bank debt in Europe. We highlight this anomaly and the failures of the EU to diversify capital funding channels

  • In our paper here: Gurdgiev, Constantin and Lyon, Tracy Lee and Cohen, Alexandra and Poda, Margaret and Salyer, Matthew, Capital Markets Union: An Action Plan of Unfinished Reforms (March 21, 2019). with Tracy Lee Lyon, Alexandra Cohen, Margaret Poda and Matthew Salyer (Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS); GUE/NGL Group, European Parliament, Policy Analysis Paper, March 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3357380 and 
  • In a recent article for the LSE Business Review here: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/05/27519-lse-business-review-capital.html



Monday, June 3, 2019

3/6/19: Average Duration of Unemployment in the U.S.: Still High by Historical Comparatives


Remember my 'scary chart' from the day back? The one plotting the persistently high - relative to the business cycle - duration of unemployment in the U.S.?

I have not updated this chart for some years now. So here is a new version based on the latest data:


Two things worth noting:

  1. Declines in unemployment and rises in employment in recent years have been accompanied by a rather dramatic decline in the average duration of unemployment claims in the U.S. This is reflect in the drop in the cyclically-adjusted average duration of claims evidenced in the chart.
  2. However, by all historical comparatives, the current business expansion cycle continues to be associated with significantly higher average duration of unemployment, compared to the pre-recession average.
In other words, not all is rosy in the labor markets.

3/6/19: Three Periods in labor Force Participation Rate Evolution and Secular Stagnations


The state of the global labor markets is reflected not only in the record lows in official unemployment statistics, but also in the low labor force participation rates:


In fact, chart above shows three distinct periods of evolution of the labor force participation rates in the advanced economies, three regimes: the 1970s into 1989 period that is marked by high participation rates, the period of 1990-2004 that is marked by the steadily declining participation rates, and the period since 2005 that is associated with low and steady participation rates.

This is hardly consistent with the story of the labor markets spectacular recovery that is presented by the official unemployment rates. In fact, the evidence in the above chart points to the continued importance of the twin secular stagnations hypothesis that I have been documenting on this blog.

3/6/19: What Customs and Border Protection Data Says About Illegal Migration and Crime


The Customs and Border Protection, a U.S. agency responsible for border protection, publishes handy stats on its enforcement actions "related to arrests of criminal aliens for Fiscal Years 2016 - 2018, and FY 2019 TD (to date) (October 1, 2018 - April 30, 2019)". Here is a link to the reported data: https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/cbp-enforcement-statistics/criminal-alien-statistics. A summary of all annual reports available so far is provided in the table below:


Here are some takeaways from the data (subject to many caveats):

  1. There is no 'criminals at the border' crisis anywhere in sight. In fact, total number of recorded crimes committed by illegal aliens has dropped from an average 20,047 in 2015-2016 to 7,208 in 2018-2019 (using annualized figure for 2019 to-date). That is a decline of 64 percent. 
  2. The reductions in crimes are broadly-based. Homicides and manslaughter crimes dropped 85 percent, although the numbers were extremely small to begin with. The second largest drop between 2015-2016 average and 2018-2019 average was recorded in Burglary, robbery, larceny, theft, fraud category, where the decline was 76 percent. The smallest decline of 57 percent was recorded in illegal entry and re-entry category, numbers of which have declined from 9.614 in 2015 to 3,175 in 2019 (annualized).
  3. The reductions did not increase during the Trump Administration crackdown on migration. As the table above shows, largest (in percentage terms) declines took place under the Obama administration in five out of nine categories of crimes, and three largest drops took place during the transitionary period (when Obama policies continued to apply over the longer part of the year). Trump administration can claim the top rate of reductions at most in only one category reductions 'Other' category. In six out of nine categories of crime, Trump administration efforts to reduce migrants-related crime have been responsible for the lowest rates of reductions for any year between 2015 and 2019. 
  4. In terms of overall crimes recorded, Obama's 2015-2016 and 'largely Obama's' 2016-2017 fiscal years recorded crime reductions of 33 percent and 32.9 percent respectively. Trump Administration years (2018 and 2019) generated reductions of 22.9 percent and 26.9 percent, respectively - both significantly lower than Obama administration period records.
In summary, no, there is no emergency of crime at the border (at least not in the CBP data), and no, Trump administration's policies and executive orders are not effective at reducing crime beyond the past historical trends. In fact, they are not even sustaining past trends.

Friday, May 31, 2019

31/5/19: Generational Gap in Self-reported Satisfaction with Life is at Whooping 28 percentage points


Commonly discussed in the media and amongst economists, generational gap in quality of life and socio-economic environments is also evident in the self-reported satisfaction with life surveys. Here is the recent data from Gallup (link: https://news.gallup.com/poll/246326/six-seven-americans-satisfied-personal-lives.aspx) released back in February 2019:


In 2017, 57% of Americans of all ages were very satisfied and 30% somewhat satisfied with their lives. This remained relatively stable in 2019 poll (56% and 30%, respectively). However, over the same period of time percentage of those in the age group of 18-29 year old reporting their status as "very satisfied" with their lives dropped from 56% to 40%, and for the group of those aged 30-49 years, the corresponding decline was from 58% to 55%. In 2007 through 2011, generational gap was at a maximum point 8 percentage points wide. This rose to 16 percentage points in 2013, before blowing up to a massive 28 percentage point by 2019.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

28/5/19: Why some long trend estimates start looking shaky for Ireland's property markets


There are many ways for analysing the long-term trends in real estate prices. One way is to use dynamics for the periods when price appreciation was consistent with underlying economic growth fundamentals and project price levels forward at the rates, on average, compatible with these periods.

And some exercises in assessing Irish house prices relative to trend are starting to sound like an early alarm bell going off.

In Ireland's case, organic growth-based period of the Celtic Tiger can be traced to, roughly, 1992/1993 through 1998. In terms of real estate prices (housing), this period corresponds to the post-1987 recovery of 1988-1990, followed by a house price 'recession' of 1991-1993 and onto the period of recovery and economic growth-aligned appreciation of 1994-1996. During this period, average price inflation in Irish house prices was 3.94% per annum.

Using the data from 1970 through 2018 based on the time series from the BIS and CSO, we can compare current price indices to those that would have prevailed were the 1988-1996 trend growth to continue through 2018. Chart below shows the results:


Several things worth noting:

  1.  At the end of 2018, Irish house price index stood some 5.7 percent below where it would have been if the longer term trend prevailed from 1997 on.
  2. Taking into the account moderating house price growth of 2016-2018 and projecting house prices forward from 2018 levels onto 2022 shows that by the end of 1Q 2020, Irish house prices can be expected to catch up with the longer-term trend.
  3. The longer-term trend does capture quite well the effect of the massive price bubble of 1998-2007: the trend line hits almost exactly the 2009-2018 index average at 2010-2011. 
  4. The pre-crisis peak levels of house prices can be expected to reach (on-trend) by 2022 implying that the house price bubble of 1998-2007 has, in effect, accelerated house price inflation by roughly 15 years, or 50-62 percent of the 25-30 year mortgage duration, which is consistent with the peak-to-trough decline in Irish house prices (53.3 percent) during the crisis.
  5. The drop in Irish house prices during the crisis overshot the long-term trend by roughly 31 percent - a steep price to pay for massive excesses of the Celtic Garfield era of 2003-2007.
  6. At the start of 2004, Irish house prices were 50 percent above their long term trend line, which is pretty much bang on with my estimate back in 2004 that I published here: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2016/01/10116-my-2004-article-on-irish-property.html as a warning to Irish policymakers - a warning, as we all know well - that was ignored.
  7. Referencing 2018 data, while the price dynamics so far appear to be catching up with the longer run trend, there is an increasing risk of a new price bubble forming, should price inflation continue unabated. For example, at an average rate of house price inflation of 11.34 percent (2014-2018 average), by the end of 2022, Irish house prices can exceed long-term trend by more than 15 percent.
Of course, a warning is due: this exercise is just one of many way to assess longer term sustainability trends in house price dynamics.  

For example, historical average rate of growth in house prices across 24 countries reported by BIS for 1970-2006 period is 2.34 percent per annum. Were we to take this rate of growth from 1998 through 2018 as the longer term trend indicator, Irish house prices would stand 32.7 percent above the long-run trend levels in 2018, implying that 
  • Irish house prices reached long run equilibrium around 1Q 2015, and
  • At the end of 2018, we were close more than 1/4 of the way toward the next bubble peak, in which case, by the end of 2021 we should be half way there.
Numbers are not simple. But numbers are starting to warrant some concerns. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

27/5/19: LSE Business Review: Capital Markets Union: An Assessment


Our article for the LSE Business Review blog on the research paper covering the European Capital Markets Union reforms is available here: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2019/05/23/the-unfinished-business-of-the-eus-capital-markets-union/.


Link to the full paper here: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/04/2419-capital-markets-union-action-plan.html

27/5/19: Which part of the Federal spending poses a greater fiscal threat?


An interesting chart via Cato on the number of Federal state aid programs in the U.S.


The grand total of these programs in terms of annual spending is roughly US$697 billion. The issue here is that these programs are continuing to increase in scale and scope despite the so-called 'strongest economy, ever' (excluding the recent changes under the Trump Administration that propose significant cuts to some of these programs on the social welfare, public health and education sides for Budget 2020) .

Here is the summary of the main program headlines and outlays:
Source for both charts: https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa868.pdf

Nonetheless, whether or not the state supports and welfare entitlement programs can be afforded into the future (yes, demographics of ageing are driving up the demand for many of these programs, while also making them more politically feasible with older voters, yet reducing the capacity of the economy to carry these increases), the major issue that is left un-addressed by the American analysts is the overall composition of the U.S. Federal spending.

As discussed in this article: https://bit.ly/2VU39Hj, current 2020 budgetary outlook envisions a massive increases in military spending, offset by the reductions in assistance to the low income families, education and public health. Here is the summary slide on this from my new course slides on the subject of the Twin Secular Stagnations:


The key quote from the above: "In fact, the proposed FY2020 military and war budget makes up $989 billion of the Federal Government’s $1,426 billion Discretionary Budget. This represents a staggering 69 percent of the total Federal Discretionary Budget for FY2020!"

No matter how concerned we might be with the sustainability of the Federal fiscal policies, transfers to the States from Washington are, de facto, a form of local monetization of the Fed monetary policies, some of which is being cycled into state-level investments in public infrastructure and education, as well as public health. Pentagon's spending, in contrast, carries virtually no investment-like benefit for the rest of the society, and much of the 'securing our nation' argument in favor of spending almost a trillion dollars on weaponry and military personnel is bogus as well (unless you still, for some unfathomable reason, believe that demolishing Libya or Syria are of some benefit to the actual American society or that the likes of Iraq and Iran pose a truly existential threat to America).

Thursday, May 23, 2019

23/5/19: Winning the Trade War: Easily and Bigly


NY Fed just published some interesting numbers on President Trump's Trade War with China. Available here: https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2019/05/new-china-tariffs-increase-costs-to-us-households.html, the Fed note states that per recent study "the 2018 tariffs imposed an annual cost of $419 for the typical household. This cost comprises two components: the first, an added tax burden faced by consumers, and the second, a deadweight or efficiency loss... the tariffs that the United States imposed in 2018 have had complete passthrough into domestic prices of imports, which means that Chinese exporters did not reduce their prices. Hence, U.S. domestic prices at the border have risen one‑for-one with the tariffs levied in that year. Our study also found that a 10 percent tariff reduced import demand by 43 percent."

Thus, in simple terms, China is not paying the tariffs, American consumers are paying the tariffs. Just as Mexico is not paying for the Wall, and just as Mr. Trump is probably not paying his taxes in full (legally or not - a different matter). Same as the Trump Organization is not employing the greatest bestest American workers, preferring to employ cheaper legal and illegal migrants. And same as the Trump Organization is not paying their employees 'tremendous' salaries. And... well, you get the drift.

The Fed note states that, of course, the net loss to the U.S. economy is mitigated by the fact that the tariffs revenue is collected by the Federal Government and "could , in principle, be rebated". Alas, this is of little help to ordinary American households, because the U.S. Federal Government is not particularly know to be efficient spender of the money it collects. One can't really argue that taking $419 from an average household and pumping the cash into, say, new missiles and bombs to be dropped in Yemen is an equivalent economic activity. Or, for that matter, spending the same $419 on fighting in Afghanistan, or subsidizing loss-making perpetually insolvent boatbuilding docks in the U.S. that are already reliant on the atavistic Jones Act to sustain any pretence at building something. And so on... you get the drift.

The Fed researchers go on: "Some firms may also reorganize their supply chains in order to purchase their products from other, cheaper sources. For example, the 10 percent tariffs on Chinese imports might cause some firms to switch their sourcing of products from a Chinese firm offering goods for $100 a unit to a less efficient Vietnamese firm offering the product for $109. In this case, the cost to the importer has risen by nine dollars, but there is no offsetting tariff revenue being paid to the government. This tariff-induced shift in supply chains is therefore called a deadweight or efficiency loss." And the deadweight loss is fully, even in theory - forget practice - carried by the households.

Worse, "economic theory tells us that deadweight losses tend to rise more than proportionally as tariffs rise because importers are induced to shift to ever more expensive sources of supply as the tariffs rise."

How does that work? Marvellously, of course.

"... Compare the estimates of the costs of the 2018 tariffs with those of the recently announced higher tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese products. ...in November 2018, purchasers of imports were paying $3 billion per month in added tax costs and experiencing another $1.4 billion in deadweight losses. Thus, the total bill for U.S. importers was $4.4 billion per month. If we annualize these numbers, they amount to a cost of $52.8 billion, or $414 per household. Of this cost, $282 per household per year was flowing into government coffers as a tax increase and could theoretically be rebated. ... However, deadweight losses accounted for an additional $132 to households per annum and represent a net loss to the U.S. economy that is in excess of any tariff revenue collected by the government."

And the Fed analysis shows the effect of the rising deadweight loss on the U.S. households under the latest bout of tariffs hikes: under 2018 tariffs, deadweight loss was $132 per household per annum, and the total loss to the household was $414 per annum. Under 2019 tariffs, the deadweight loss is estimated to rise to $620 per annum per household and the loss to household budget of $831 per annum.

Now, the Fed study does not take into the account that higher prices charged on consumers as the result of tariffs are also subject to sales taxes imposed at the State level. Which means that for a 7% sales tax state, actual out of pocket losses for 2018-2019 tariffs war for an average household will be in the region of $889 per annum.

Based on the most recent data from the Tax Policy Center, "the middle one-fifth of income earners [in the U.S.] got an average tax cut of $1,090 — about $20 per biweekly paycheck" as a result of 2017 2017 Tax and Jobs Act (TCJA or Trump tax cuts). Transfers from corporate tax cuts to average salaried employee amounted to additional $233 per annum pre-tax. So an average household with two working parents gained somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,330 per annum from the 'massive tax cuts'.

You get $1,330, we take $889 back, and we call it 'America winning the trade war. Easily. And bigly!'

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

21/5/19: 'Popping up everywhere' or not? Entrepreneurship and start ups


Much has been written, taught and said about the New Age of Entrepreneurship and the new generations of entrepreneurs, allegedly springing up across the modern economies. The problem is, for all the marketing hype and academic programs enthusiasm, entrepreneurship (new business formation) is actually running pretty low.

Here is the U.S. data on new business formation:


While other data, e.g. Kauffman Foundation, shows relatively stable and even higher rates of entrepreneurship over recent years, much of this data aggregates both incorporated and non-incorporated businesses, including sole traders and self-employed. This is reflected in the fact that entrepreneurship rates in recent years have been sustained solely by a massive increase in entrepreneurship uptake by individuals with less than high school education and of older age cohorts:

Source: https://indicators.kauffman.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/02/2017-National-Report-on-Early-Stage-Entrepreneurship-February-20191.pdf

Over the same time, cohorts with higher education have seen a decrease in their entrepreneurship rates, driven in part by their rising share of population, their rising numbers, and, well, yes, lower incentives to undertake entrepreneurial risks.

Now, as to the age of entrepreneurs we have.
Source: https://indicators.kauffman.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/02/2017-National-Report-on-Early-Stage-Entrepreneurship-February-20191.pdf 

In  summary, the above table shows that the rates of entrepreneurship amongst the Millennials have declined, the rates for GenX-ers (35-44 cohort) have risen, but are quite volatile, with significant increases (2009-2010) associated with greater involuntary entrepreneurship (high unemployment), while overall increases in entrepreneurship have ben sustained by entrepreneurs of ages 45 and older.

So, to that often repeated popular and academist 'truism' of the New Age of Entrepreneurship and the great entrepreneurial spirit of the younger generations... errr, not quite.

Note: caveats notwithstanding, good data on the subject is available here: https://www.kauffman.org/currents/2019/02/indicators-provides-early-stage-entrepreneurship-data.

Monday, May 20, 2019

19/519: FocusEconomics 75 Top Economics Influencers List


Delighted to make @FocusEconomics top 75 Economics Influencers to Follow list:


Honoured to be in the company of some really inspiring people talking about economics, economic policy and research!

See the full list here: https://www.focus-economics.com/blog/top-economics-influencers-to-follow.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

16/5/19: Identifying Debt Bubble 4.0


Having just posted on the debt supercycle-related comments from Gundlach (https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/05/16519-gundlach-on-us-economy-and-debt.html), here is a chart identifying these super-cycles in the U.S. economy:


The periods of significant leverage in the U.S. economy have been identified as follows:

  • First, I took nominal GDP growth rates (q/q) snd nominal total non-financial debt growth rates (also q/q) for the entire period of data coverage for which all data points are available (since 1Q 1966). 
  • Second, I adjusted nominal non-financial debt growth rates to reflect the evolving ratio of debt to U.S. GDP.
  • Third, I subtracted adjusted debt growth rates from nominal GDP growth rates to arrive at change in leverage risk direction. This is the difference figure shown in the chart below. Positive numbers reflect quarters when GDP growth rate exceeded growth in GDP-ratio-adjusted debt and are periods of deleveraging in the economy, and negative periods correspond to the situation where GDP growth rate was exceeded by GDP-ratio-adjusted growth rate in debt.
  • Fourth, I calculated 99% confidence interval for historical average difference (shown in the chart below).
  • Fifth, I identified three regimes of debt evolution: Regime 1 = "Deleveraging" corresponds to the Difference variable being non-negative (periods where the gap between growth rate in GDP and growth rate in debt is non-negative); Regime 2 = "Non-significant leveraging up" corresponds to periods where the gap (difference) between GDP growth rate and debt growth rate is between zero and the lower bound of the confidence interval for historical average difference; and Regime 3 = "Significant Leveraging up" corresponds to the periods where statistically-speaking, the negative gap between growth in GDP and growth in debt is statistically significantly below the historical average.
I highlighted in the above chart four periods of significant, persistent leveraging up, identified as Debt Bubbles 1-4. There is absolutely zero (statistical) doubt that the current period of economic recovery is yet another manifestation of a Debt Bubble. And, given the composition of the debt increases since the end of the Global Financial Crisis, this latest Bubble is evident across all three components of non-financial debt: the households, corporates and the U.S. Federal Government. 


16/5/19: Gundlach on the U.S. Economy and Debt Super-cycle


U.S. growth over the past five years is based “exclusively” on government, corporate and household debt, according to Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, as reported by Reuters (link below). This is hardly surprising. In my forthcoming article for Manning Financial (in print since last week), I am covering the shaky statistical nature of the U.S. GDP growth figures, and the readers of this blog would know my view on the role of leverage (debt) in the real economy as a drug of choice for boosting superficial medium term growth prospects in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere around the world. What is interesting in Gundlach's musings is that we now see mainstream WallStreet admitting the same.

Per Gundlach, the U.S. economy would have contracted in nominal GDP terms (excluding inflation effects) three out five last years if the United States had not added trillions in new government debt. Just government debt alone. “One thing everybody seems to miss when they look at these GDP numbers ... they seem to not understand that the growth in the GDP it looks pretty good on the screen is really based exclusively on debt - government debt, also corporate debt and even now some growth in mortgage debt.”

And if private sector debt did not expand, U.S. "GDP would have been very negative.” Per Reuters report, nominal GDP rose by 4.3%, but total public debt rose by 4.7% over the past five years, Gundlach noted. "Against this debt backdrop and financial markets “addicted to Federal Reserve stimulus,” these are “very, very dangerous times” for the next U.S. recession, Gundlach ...said."

Per CMBC report on the same speech, Gundlach said that “Any thoughtful person would be concerned... It’s sounding like a pretty bad cocktail of economic risk, and risk to the long end of the bond market.”

As reported by Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-funds-doubleline-gundlach/u-s-growth-would-have-contracted-without-trillions-in-government-consumer-debt-gundlach-idUSKCN1SK2KW and by CNBC https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/14/doublelines-gundlach-warns-of-recession-cocktail-of-economic-risk.html

As the charts below show, Gundlach is correct: we are in a continued leverage risk super-cycle. While nominal debt to nominal GDP ratio remains below pre-GFC peak, nominal levels of debt are worrying and debt dynamics are showing sharpest or second sharpest speed of leveraging during the current recovery phase. Worse, since the start of the 1990s, all three non-financial debt sources, households, corporates and the Government, are drawing increasing leverage. 




Tuesday, May 14, 2019

14/5/19: Agent Trumpovich Fails to Deliver... Again...


In the months following China's retaliatory introduction of tariffs on U.S. soybean exports, both traditional and social media were abuzz with the screeching sound of 'analysts' claiming that Trump Administration trade war with China is a boon to Vladimir Putin's Russian economy.

Behold this from the




 Alas, given that Russia supplies less than 1% of Chinese imports of soybeans, it might take a major Congressional investigation and a few PoliSci 'Russia experts' to get serious imaginary beef on the Trump Administration's alleged Russia-benefiting policies. Here is the data from ... well... Bloomberg, via Global macro Monitor (https://global-macro-monitor.com/2019/05/14/who-pays-the-tariffs/) showing that Russia is hardly a major winner from Trump's Trade Wars when it comes to soybeans:


Let's put the thin blue line of 'Russia winning, thanks to Trump' through some analysis:
  1. There is no dramatic massive rise in Russian exports of soybeans to China in 2018, and some dip in 2019.
  2. 2018 increase - moderate - came in after 2017 moderate decrease.
  3. Russian exports of soybeans to China have been rising-falling-rising very gently since 2013.
Friendly Canada quietly dramatically increased its sales of soybeans to China in the wake of the Trade War, although its exports were rising since 2015. Argentina also acted as a substitute supplier to China during the Trade War period so far, but that increase came on foot of massive collapse in exports to China since the start of this decade. In fact, while the U.S. share of Chinese imports of soybeans fell 30 percentage points, Brazil's share rose 35 percentage points. Trump's Administration-triggered Trade War with China has helped Brazil first, followed by Canada and Argentina. Russia hardly featured in this dastardly plot to serve Vladimir Putin's interests by Agent Trumpovsky.

Sorry, my dear friends in American mass media. You've faked another factoid.

14/5/19: TrueEconomics makes Top 100 Blogs by the Intelligent Economist


Delighted to see TrueEconomics making it (for the fourth year running) into https://www.intelligenteconomist.com/economics-blogs/ Intelligent Economist's Top 100 Economics Blogs of 2019.


14/5/19: Monetary Policy at the edge of QE


My new column for the Cayman Financial Review on the current twists in global Monetary Policies is now available on line: https://www.caymanfinancialreview.com/2019/05/07/monetary-policy-at-the-edge-of-qe/.

14/5/19: Trump's Trade Wars and Global Growth Slowdown Put Pressure on Corporate Earnings


The combined impacts of rising dollar strength, reduced growth momentum in the global economy and President Trump's trade wars are driving down earnings growth across S&P500 companies with double-digit drop in earnings of companies with more global (>50% of sales outside the U.S.) as opposed to domestic (<50 exposures.="" of="" p="" sales="" the="" u.s.="" within="">
Per Factset data, released May 13, "The blended (combines actual results for companies that have reported and estimated results for companies yet to report) earnings decline for the S&P 500 for Q1 2019 is -0.5%. For companies that generate more than 50% of sales inside the U.S., the blended earnings growth rate is 6.2%. For companies that generate less than 50% of sales inside the U.S., the blended earnings decline is -12.8%."


Sunday, May 5, 2019

5/5/19: House Prices and Household Incomes


A recent note from Brookings on the nature of the ongoing housing crisis in America has opened up with a bombastic statement:
"Over the past five years, median housing prices have risen faster than median incomes (Figure 1). While that’s generally good news for homeowners, it puts additional pressure on renters. Because renters generally earn lower incomes than homeowners, rising housing costs have regressive wealth implications." 

It sounds plausible. And it sounds easy enough to understand for politicos of all hues to take up the claim and run with it. There is is even a handy chart to illustrate the argument:


Except the claim is not exactly consistent with the evidence presented in that chart.

For starters, Case-Shiller Index covers 20 largest metropolitan areas of the U.S., which is a sizeable chunk of population, but by far not the entire country. And rents, as the Brookings article correctly says, are rising across whole states (the article, for example referencing California, which is way larger than the largest urban areas of the state alone). Second point, the article is completely incorrectly uses nominal house prices inflation against real (inflation-adjusted) income growth figures. If the converse of the article claim held, and real incomes exceeded housing price inflation, it would mean rising purchasing power for American households shopping for houses. However, that is not what the housing markets are historically, longer-term about. They are more about hedging inflation. The third, and more important point is that the article refers to the last 5 years. Why? No reason provided. But even a glimpse at the chart supplied in Brookings paper is enough to say that the same problem persisted prior to the Great Recession, was reversed in the Great Recession, and then returned post-Great Recession.

What's really happening here?

Ok, let's take four time series:

  • House prices 1: Median Sales Price of Houses Sold for the United States, Dollars, Annual, Not Seasonally Adjusted;
  • House prices 2: S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index, Index Jan 2000=100, Annual, Seasonally Adjusted (same as in Brookings article);
  • Income 1: Real Median Household Income in the United States, 2017 CPI-U-RS Adjusted Dollars, Annual, Not Seasonally Adjusted (same as in Brookings article); and 
  • Income 2: Nominal Median Household Income in the United States, Current Dollars, Annual, Not Seasonally Adjusted
Observe that we have data only through 2017 for the last two measures due to data reporting lags.

Now, compute annual rates of growth in all four and plot them:

Blue line is the reference point here. Notice that the grey line (real household income growth) is really underperforming house price growth over virtually all periods, except for one: the Great Recession. Yellow line, however, is less so. Nominal incomes have more benign relationship to nominal prices than real incomes do to nominal house prices. Why would that be surprising at all? I am not sure. It did surprise folks at the Brookings, though.

Let's compute some average rates of growth for all four series and calculate the difference between:
  1. Real Median Household Income growth rate and the growth rate in the Median Sales Price of Houses, percentage points; and
  2. Nominal Median Household Income growth rate and the growth rate in the Median Sales Price of Houses, percentage points.
Instead of using an arbitrary 5 years horizon, consider instead the business cycle and longer term averages. Here they are:

Historical averages are, respectively, -3.71 percent and -1.31 percent. Across the last Quantitative Easing cycle, -2.94 percent and -1.60%, ex-QE cycle, -4.05% and -1.19%. 

So what does the above tell us? Things are not as dramatic, using nationwide house prices, than the Brookings claim makes it sound, and, more importantly, there is no evidence of a significant departure in the current QE cycle from the past experiences. When it comes to property prices, hoses inflation seems to be much less divorced from real and nominal income growth rates in the last four years (the recovery period post-Great Recession) than in the periods prior to the GFC.

Friday, May 3, 2019

3/5/19: The Rich Get Richer when Central Banks Print Money



The Netherlands Central Bank has just published a fascinating new paper, titled "Monetary policy and the top one percent: Evidence from a century of modern economic history". Authored by Mehdi El Herradi and Aurélien Leroy, (Working Paper No. 632, De Nederlandsche Bank NV: https://www.dnb.nl/en/binaries/Working%20paper%20No.%20632_tcm47-383633.pdf), the paper "examines the distributional implications of monetary policy from a long-run perspective with data spanning a century of modern economic history in 12 advanced economies between 1920 and 2015, ...estimating the dynamic responses of the top 1% income share to a monetary policy shock." The authors "exploit the implications of the macroeconomic policy trilemma to identify exogenous variations in monetary conditions." Note: the macroeconomic policy trilemma "states that a country cannot simultaneously achieve free capital mobility, a fixed exchange rate and independent monetary policy".

Per authors, "The central idea that guided this paper’s argument is that the existing literature considers the distributional effects of monetary policy using data on inequality over a short period of time. However, inequalities tend to vary more in the medium-to-long run. We address this shortcoming by studying how changes in monetary policy stance over a century impacted the income distribution while controlling for the determinants of inequality."

They find that "loose monetary conditions strongly increase the top one percent’s income and vice versa. In fact, following an expansionary monetary policy shock, the share of national income held by the richest 1 percent increases by approximately 1 to 6 percentage points, according to estimates from the Panel VAR and Local Projections (LP). This effect is statistically significant in the medium run and economically considerable. We also demonstrate that the increase in top 1 percent’s share is arguably the result of higher asset prices. The baseline results hold under a battery of robustness checks, which (i) consider an alternative inequality measure, (ii) exclude the U.S. economy from the sample, (iii) specifically focus on the post-WWII period, (iv) remove control variables and (v) test different lag numbers. Furthermore, the regime-switching version of our model indicates that our conclusions are robust, regardless of the state of the economy."

In other words, accommodative monetary policies accommodate primarily those with significant starting wealth, and they do so via asset price inflation. Behold the summary of the last 10 years.

3/5/19: Global and BRIC Manufacturing PMIs signal ongoing growth declines


The latest data, released this week by Markit under their PMI headings, shows that manufacturing sector global slowdown has entered into its 6th consecutive quarter in the first month of 2Q 2019. In line with this momentum, BRIC economies overall, with exception (for now) of Russia and China have also posted slower growth in April compared to 1Q 2019 average:


Russia posted slightly more upbeat growth in April at 51.8 compared to 1Q 2019 average growth of 51.3. China has barely bounced back into growth in April 2019 compared to 1Q 2019 reading of 49.7. Brazil slowdown was marked, with PMI for Manufacturing down from 53.0 in 1Q 2019 to 51.5 in April, while India suffered an even more significant fall-off in activity, with Manufacturing PMI falling from 1Q 2019 average of 53.6 to April reading of 51.8.

Global Manufacturing sector PMI averaged 50.7 in 1Q 2019, and in April it fell to 50.3, statistically implying zero growth in the sector. One has to go back to 3Q 2013 to see a reading at or below April 2019 levels. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

30/4/19: Journal of Financial Transformation paper on cryptocurrencies pricing


Our paper with O’Loughlin, Daniel and Chlebowski, Bartosz, titled "Behavioral Basis of Cryptocurrencies Markets: Examining Effects of Public Sentiment, Fear and Uncertainty on Price Formation" is out in the new edition of the Journal of Financial Transformation Volume 49, April 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3328205 or https://www.capco.com/Capco-Institute/Journal-49-Alternative-Capital-Markets.



Tuesday, April 23, 2019

23/4/19: Income per Capita and Middle Class


New research reported by the Deutsche Bank Research shows that, on average, there is a positive (albeit non-linear) relationship between the per capita income and the share of middle class in total population:
Source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D42GiWNXkAMpID2.png:large

There is an exception, however, although DB's data does not test formally for it being an outlier, and that exception is the U.S. Note, ignore daft comparative reported in chart, referencing 'levels' in the U.S. compared to Russia, Turkey and China: all three countries are much closer to the regression line than the U.S., which makes them 'normal', once the levels of income per capita are controlled for. In other words, it is the distance to the regression line that matters.

Another interesting aspect of the chart is the cluster of countries that appear to be statistically indistinguishable from Russia, aka Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. All three are commonly presented as more viable success stories for economic development, contrasting, in popular media coverage, the 'underperforming' Russia. And yet, only Latvia (completely counter-intuitively to its relative standing to Estonia and Lithuania in popular perceptions) appears to be somewhat (weakly) better off than Russia in income per capita terms. None of the Baltic states compare favourably to Russia in size of the middle class (Latvia - statistically indifferent, Lithuania and Estonia - somewhat less favourably than Russia).

23/4/19: Property, Property and More Property: U.S. Household Wealth Bubble


According to the St. Luis Fed, U.S. household wealth has reached a historical high of 535% of the U.S. GDP (see: https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-04-16/where-inflation-hiding-asset-prices).


There is a problem, however, with the above data: it reflects some dodgy ways of counting 'household wealth'. For two primary reasons: firstly, it ignores concentration risk arising from wealth inequality, and secondly, it ignores concentration risk arising from households' exposure to property markets. A good measure of liquidity risk controlled allocation of wealth is ownership of liquid equities (note: equities, of course, and are subject to Fed-funded bubble dynamics). The chart below - via https://www.topdowncharts.com/single-post/2019/04/22/Weekly-SP-500-ChartStorm---21-April-2019 shows a pretty dire state of equity markets (the source of returns on asset demand side being swamped over the last decade by shares buybacks and M&As), but it also shows that households did not benefit materially from the equities bubble.


In other words, controlling for liquidity risk, the Fed's meme of historically high household wealth is seriously challenged. And controlling for wealth inequality (distributional features of wealth), it is probably dubious overall.

So here's the chart showing just how absurdly property-dependent (households' home equity valuations in red line, index starting at 100 at the end of the Global Financial Crisis) the Fed 'wealth' figures (blue line, same starting index) are:


In fact, dynamically, rates of growth in household home equity have been far in excess of the rates of growth in other assets since 2012.  In that, the dynamics of the current 'sound economy' are identical (and actually more dramatic) to the 2000-2006 bubble: property, property and more property.