Tuesday, August 20, 2019

20/8/19: Public Spending in the Euro Area: Post-Crisis Austerity?


Given the never-ending repetition of the 'austerity narrative' in European economic analysis, it is virtually impossible to conclusively address the issue of changes in public spending during the crisis and the post-crisis periods and the relationship between fiscal policies and economic growth. Thew reason for this is the lack of singular set metrics that can capture these dimensions of the debate.

However, this lack should not be a reason for not trying.

Here is an interesting chart (based on the IMF WEO data and 2019 forecasts), plotting average Government expenditure as a share of GDP for two periods for euro area economies. The two periods under consideration are: 2000-2007 and 2013-2019. I am also showing two metrics for Ireland: the GDP (a measure of economic activity that vastly overstates the true extent of national economic activity) and GNI* (an official Irish Government metric of national economic activity). Note: using 2014-2019 average paint effectively the same picture.


The picture is worrying. Thirteen out of nineteen euro area economies have witnessed a rise in Government spending as a share of GDP in post-crisis period compared to pre-crisis period, two experienced virtually no change, and four experienced declines. In other words, based on the ratio of Government spending to economic activity, only four states exhibit a clear case of 'austerity'.

Ireland is an interesting outlier to the picture (hence, reporting of GNI* metric): based on GDP measure, Ireland's Government spending as a share of GDP averaged 32.85 percent per annum in 2000-2007, and this fell to 30.32 percent in 2013-2019 - an austerity gap of 2.53 percentage points per annum. But based on GNI* measure, Ireland's Government spending rose from 38.69 percent in pre-crisis years to 45.51 percent in post-crisis period - an expansion gap of 6.82 percentage points.

Overall, using the above metric, top austerity countries in the euro area are:

  • Malta (gap of -4.86 percent)
  • Ireland (GDP gap of -2.53 percent)
  • Germany (gap of -2.227 percent)
  • Austria (gap of -1.311 percent)
Top fiscal expansion countries are:
  • Finland (7.514 percent)
  • Ireland (GNI* gap of 6.822 percent)
  • Spain (4.3 percent)
  • Estonia (4.26 percent)


Monday, August 19, 2019

19/8/19: Import Zamescheniye: Replacing Imports with Imports in the Age of Trade Wars


Trump trade wars have led to increasing evidence of substitution by Chinese exporters to the U.S. with exports via third countries and supply chain outsourcing from China to other destinations. While direct evidence of these trends is yet to be provided (data lags are substantial for detailed flows of goods across borders) and is never to be treated as fully conclusive (due to differences in trade goods designations), here is some macro-level snapshot of latest data on U.S. imports shares for selective countries:

The chart above shows that based on trends, U.S. imports arrivals from China are down in 2017-2019, and they are up, significantly for Vietnam and Taiwan, with less pronounced evidence of imports substitution from other Asia-Pacific countries.

Given several caveats (listed below), the above chart is a 'messy' one:

  1. Supply chain substitution takes time and may not be fully reflected in the 2018 data, or to a lesser extent, in 2019 data to-date; and
  2. The above chart is based on monthly frequency data, which is volatilion (e to begin with.
With these caveats in mind, here is a chart based on annualized data:


Now, it is easier to spot the trends:
  • China exports to the U.S. are down, sharply, especially considering pre-Trade Wars averages against Trade Wars period 2019 averages;
  • Vietnam, Taiwan and Mexico are major channels for trade/import substitution (using Kremlin's term "import zamescheniye").
  • Japan and Thailand are smaller-scale winners.
  • Malaysia and Indonesia are basically static.
Now, historically, China has been beefing up its corporates' use of Vietnam, Thailand, and Mexico as platforms for supply chain diversification, which is consistent with the data responses to the Trade Wars. Indonesia and Malaysia are two surprises in this, although both experienced uptick in FDI from China in late 2018, so the data might not be showing these investments, yet.

18/8/19: Migration Policy vs the Law of Unintended Consequences


President Trump's policies are a rich field for sowing evidence on the application of the law of unintended consequence in economic policies. Take his Trade War with China that so far resulted in ca USD20 billion in fiscal receipts and USD26 billion payouts in subsidies to U.S. farmers, netting a fiscal loss of USD 6 billion (https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/06/17619-lose-lose-and-lose-some-more.html), while generating gains for European exporters (https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/08/15819-winning-trade-wars-round-3.html) and shrinking net real exports for the U.S. economy (https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/08/1919-losin-spectacularly-trump-trade.html) and driving losses to the U.S. exporters (https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/07/31719-fed-rate-cut-wont-move-needle-on.html). Another example, the never-ending rhetorical and regulatory war against skilled (and other) migration.

On the latter, we have plenty of evidence drawn from Mr. Trump's predecessors that conclusively shows the costs of severely restrictive application of the skills-based migration quotas. And, thanks to Mayda, A M, F Ortega, G Peri, K Shih, and C Sparber 2017 paper, titled “The Effect of the H-1B Quota on Employment and Selection of Foreign-Born Labor” (NBER Working Paper No. w23902, https://www.nber.org/papers/w23902.pdf), we now have an in-depth analysis of the mechanics by which unintended consequences of restricting skilled migration impose these economic losses on the U.S.

The authors looked at how changes in H-1B policy, enacted over the years, affect the characteristics of migrants entering the U.S. and how these changes alter U.S.-wide productivity and wages.

Per authors, "The economic intuition [behind the study] is simple. Firms across the globe compete to hire highly skilled workers. The strict quota and the lottery allocation generate uncertainty in acquiring the legal right to work in the US even after securing a job offer. Hence, talented foreign nationals might elect to work elsewhere. Similarly, US firms face uncertainty over whether they will be allowed to employ the top job candidates they have identified. Some firms might elect to forgo this uncertainty altogether by turning to alternative labour sources."

"First, we examine H-1B quality. ... ...H-1B restrictions have particularly hindered the employment of the highest ability foreign-born workers. Anyone who believes immigration policy should be designed to attract ‘the best and brightest’ workers to the country should be troubled by the discovery that restrictions to aggregate inflows generate the opposite effect. Quantitatively, the number of new H-1B workers from the highest wage quintile is nearly 50% lower than it would have been in the absence of H-1B restrictions, but the number of new H-1B workers in the median wage quintile is unchanged." In other words, if wages are a proxy for talent, skills and productivity, reducing H1B quotas appears to reduce availability of more skilled, more talented and more productive foreign workers, while having zero impact on availability of mid-range skills, talents and productivity workers.

Worse, reduced H1B quotas also increased concentration of H1B attaining firms (or reduced the pool of employers with a meaningful access to H1B workers). Authors conclude that "It is possible that when faced with the uncertainty and costs of the H-1B hiring process, economies of scale and network externalities arise that favour firms specialising in H-1B employment and workers with specialised knowledge about the legal hiring process." Or put differently, H1B quotas restriction may be fuelling increase in the share of foreign talent brought into the U.S. by outsourcing agencies and a handful of very larger employers. This selection bias does not appear to be linked to higher productivity and is, therefore, welfare reducing as compared to a system where firms that can generate higher productivity increases by employing foreign workers gain better access to H1B via markets.

In summary, "we presume that by reducing the H-1B cap from 195,000 in 2001-2003 to 85,000 today, policymakers intended to reduce new H-1B employment at for-profit firms and possibly increase employment of competing US-born workers. The policy achieved the first but not the second goal. Moreover, the cap restriction also generated consequences that were likely unintended. The policy change has particularly deterred workers with the highest earnings potential from entering the US labour market. Given the potential for productivity-enhancing technological gains generated by H-1B workers, this loss could reverberate throughout the economy. Other important effects are distributional and favour computer-related occupations and firms that use the H-1B programme heavily."

Consequences. A lesson for MAGA crowd from their predecessors.

Friday, August 16, 2019

16/8/19: Post-Millennials and the falling trust in institutions of coercion


A neat chart from Pew Research highlighting shifting demographics behind the changing trends in the U.S. public trust in core institutions:

Source: https://www.people-press.org/2019/07/22/how-americans-see-problems-of-trust/

Overall, the generational shift is in the direction of younger GenZ putting more trust in scientists and academics, as well as journalists, compared to previous generations; and less trust in military, police, religious leaders and business leaders. Notably, elected officials have pretty much low trust across all three key demographics.

16/8/19: U.S. Military Presence Worldwide


Generally, I do not find Politico to be a great source for geopolitical analysis and data, but here is one exception - a handy map of U.S. military bases, smaller deployment platforms and unconfirmed deployment platforms worldwide:


Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, one country remains completely and comprehensively surrounded by the U.S. military deployment platforms (and these exclude non-U.S. Nato platforms): Russia.

The map does not show the U.S. navy and airforce reach zones, nor does it include Nato's non-U.S. troops bases.

Some 'Peace Dividend' this is, especially given the threat rhetoric from Washington. And any wonder, Russian geopolitical stance remains that of a country under the siege?

Source for the chart: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/us-military-bases-around-the-world-119321.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

15/8/19: Winning Trade Wars: Round 3


A couple of days ago, Germany's info Institute published two scenarios estimating the impacts of the latest President Trump threats to China, the imposition of a 10% tariff on Chinese exports to the U.S.

Per ifo's Scenario 1: "If the US imposed 10 percent tariffs on additional imports worth USD 300 billion, this would mean additional income of EUR 94 million for Germany, EUR 129 million for France, EUR 183 million for Italy, EUR 25 million for Spain, and EUR 86 million for the United Kingdom. It would amount to EUR 1.5 billion for the EU28 and EUR 1.8 billion for the US. China would see losses of EUR 24.8 billion." Note: the U.S. 'gains' do not account for U.S. agricultural subsidies supports increases announced by the Trump Administration, but include estimated consumer impact. Potential depreciation of yuan was also not accounted for in these estimates.

Summarising Scenario 1, ifo noted that "The additional tariffs on US imports from China threatened by US President Donald Trump would negatively impact China, while giving the US, Europe, and the UK moderate advantages."

"However, Chinese retaliatory tariffs could turn the US advantage into a disadvantage, while somewhat reducing China’s losses," ifo notes in relation to the estimates of the impact under Scenario 2 that includes retaliatory tariffs by China. "These retaliatory measures would lead to even greater advantages for the UK and the EU. ...If China imposes a further 10 percent tariff on US imports, it could see its losses fall to EUR 21.6 billion, while turning profits for the US into losses of EUR 1.5 billion. The UK and the EU would have the last laugh and come off best. Germany would see additional income of EUR 323 million, with EUR 168 million for France, EUR 231 million for Italy, EUR 25 million for Spain, and EUR 58 million for the United Kingdom. The EU28 would benefit to the tune of EUR 1.7 billion."


Saturday, August 10, 2019

10/8/19: Irish Debt Sustainability Miracle(s): ECB and MNCs


As a part of yesterday's discussion about the successes of Irish economic policies since the end of the Eurozone crisis, I posted on Twitter a chart showing two pivotal years in the context of changing fortunes of Irish Government debt sustainability. Here is the chart:


The blue line is the difference between the general Government deficit and the primary Government deficit, which captures net cost of carrying Government debt, in percentages of GDP. In simple terms, ECB QE that started in 2015 has triggered a massive repricing of Eurozone and Irish government bond yields. In 2012-2014 debt costs remained the same through 2015-2019 period, Irish Government spending on debt servicing would have been in the region of EUR 49.98 billion in constant euros over that period. As it stands, thanks to the ECB, this figure is down to EUR 27.94 billion, a saving of some EUR 4.41 billion annually.

Prior to 2015, another key moment in the Irish fiscal sustainability recovery history has been 2014 massive jump in real GDP growth. Over 2010-2013, the economic recovery in Ireland was generating GDP growth of (on average) just 1.772 percent per annum. In 2014, Irish real GDP growth shot up to 8.75 percent and since the start of 2014, growth averaged 6.364 percent per annum even if we are to exclude from the average calculation the bizarre 25 percent growth recorded in 2015. Of course, as I wrote on numerous occasions before, the vast majority of this growth between 2014 and 2019 is accounted for by the tax-optimisation transfer pricing and assets redomiciling by the multinational corporations - activities that have little to do with the real Irish economy.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

8/8/19: Irish New Housing Markets Continue to Underperform


New stats for new dwelling completions in Ireland are out today and the reading press releases on the subject starts sounding like things are getting boomier. Year on year, single dwellings completions are up 15.5% in 2Q 2019, scheme units completions up 2.6%, apartments up 55.6% and all units numbers are up 11.8%. Happy times, as some would say. Alas, sayin ain't doin. And there is a lot of the latter left ahead.

Annualised (seasonally-adjusted) data suggests 2019 full year output will be around 18,000-18,050 units, which is below the unambitious (conservative) target of 25,000. And this adds to the already massive shortage of new completions over the last eleven years. Using data from CSO (2011-present), cumulated shortfall of new dwellings completions through December 2018 was 125,800-153,500 units (depending on target for annual completions set, with the first number representing 25K units per annum target, and the second number referencing target of 25K in 2011, rising to 30K in 2016 and staying at 30K through 2019). By the end of this year, based on annualised estimates, the shortfall will be 132,400-162,250 units. Taking occupancy at 2.1 persons per dwelling, this means some 278,000-341,000 people will be shortchanged out of purchasing or renting accommodation at the start of 2020.

Here is a chart summarising the stats:

Let's put the headline numbers into perspective: at the current 'improved' construction supply levels (using annualised 2019 figure), it will take us between 6.3 and 7.7 years to erase the already accumulated gap in demand. If output of new dwellings continues to grow at 11.8% per annum indefinitely, Irish construction sector will be able to close the cumulative gap between supply and demand by around 2029 in case of the targeted output at 25K units per annum, or worse, by 2031 for the output target of 30K units per annum.

8/8/19: Upbeat Jobs Reports Miss Some Real Points


Unemployment claims down, the weekly jobs report seemed to have triggered the usual litany of positive commentary in the business media


But all is not cheerful in the U.S. labor markets, once you start scratching below the surface. Here are two broader metrics of labor markets health: the civilian employment to population ratio and the labor force participation rate, based on monthly data through July:


The above shows that

  1. Civilian labor force participation rate is running still below the levels last seen in the late 1970s, and the current recovery period average (close to the latests monthly running rate) is below any recovery period average since the second half 1970s recession end.
  2. You have to go back to the mid-1980s to find comparable 'expansion period'-consistent levels of labor force participation rate as we have today. This is dire. Current recovery-period and President Trump's tenure period averages for labor force participation rate sit below all recovery periods' averages from 1984 through 2006. 
So much for upbeat jobs reports.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

6/8/19: El Paso and Dayton mark 2019 as the worst year for mass shooting violence in America on record


In the wake of the extremely sad events of the last two weeks, it took me some time to run through the data from the https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/ on mass shootings in the U.S. 2014-2019 (to-date), and the numbers are shocking. The El Paso, TX shooting of August 3, followed by the Dayton, OH incident on August 4  (with combined numbers of those killed or injured at 82 with 30 people dead, may they rest in peace) have shaken the world (see, for example, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/06/world/europe/mass-shooting-international-reaction.html). 

Here is a summary table on U.S. mass shootings over the last 5 years and 7 months:


So far, 2019 has been the deadliest year on record in terms of overall number of mass shooting incidents, in terms of the numbers of people killed and injured, in terms of the number of people killed, in terms of the number of people injured, and in terms of the number of incidents with 10 or more people killed and injured.

Here is a summary of the 26 largest mass shootings on record:


There appears to be little in terms of distributional trends, especially given small number of years in data coverage, but so far, data suggests that there can be an ongoing increase in the number and severity of mass shootings over the years, with 2019-to-date reconfirming 2016-2017 dynamics that were partially reversed in 2018.

Two visualisation charts, identifying the Texas mass shooting of August 3rd:

 


As the charts above clearly show, August 3, 2019 shooting in Texas is the fourth largest in terms of people either killed or injured (46) after October 1, 2017 mass shooting in Nevada (500), June 12, 2016 shooting in Florida (103), and November 5, 2017 mass shooting in Texas (47).

Overall, there has been 1,925 mass shootings in the U.S. over 2042 days since the start of 2014, with 2,163 people killed and 8.160 people injured. Since January 1, 2014 through August 4 2019, on average, almost 1.06 persons died and 4 persons were injured in mass shootings per day.

The impact of these horrific incidents is, of course, far deeper-reaching, touching the lives of those close to people killed or injured, as well as those in public vicinity of those directly impacted. There is also an unquantifiable broader impact on the society at large. We need better data to better understand these deeper and broader impacts.

We also need better data to try and decipher any causal links and drivers for these horrific crimes. And we need more analysis of the deeper roots and causes of these.


As a tail end of the post, my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those taken away by the gunmen in mass shootings, and indeed by all gunmen in all guns-involved violent events, and my best wishes for full and speedy recovery for all those injured by them.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

1/8/19: Wages vs GDP growth: when economic growth stops benefiting workers


I have posted earlier some data on the gap between real GDP and real disposable income per capita in the U.S. (see here: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/08/1819-debasement-of-real-disposable.html) that evidences the longer-term nature of the ongoing debasement of real incomes in the repeated cycles of financialisation of the U.S. economy. Here is another view of the same subject matter:

Per chart above, consistent with my arguments in the case of disposable income, U.S. labor incomes have been sustaining ongoing deterioration relative to overall economic growth since at least the 1970s. In fact, the current expansionary cycle (yellow line) shows relatively benign speed of deterioration in real wages or labor income share of total real GDP, although the length of the cycle means that the total end-of-recession-to-present decline of ca 54 percent is deeper than that in the expansion of the 2000s (decline of 50 percent).

A different view of the same data is presented below, plotting historical gap between wages and GDP over longer horizon and showing expansion-periods' averages, contrasted against Trump Administration tenure average:


Once again, all evidence points to the decreasing, not increasing rate of wages fall relative to GDP over the years.

Of course, the effects are cumulative, which means that our perceptions of labor share collapse and the amplifying pressure on labor income earners in the economy is warranted.

1/9/19: 'Losin Spectacularly': Trump Trade Wars and net exports


U.S. net exports of goods and services are in a tailspin and Trump Trade Wars have been anything but 'winning' for American exporters. You can read about the effects of Trade Wars on corporate revenues and earnings here: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/07/31719-fed-rate-cut-wont-move-needle-on.html. And you can see the trends in net exports here:


This clearly shows that 'Winning Bigly' is really, materially, about 'Losin Spectacularly'. Tremendous stuff!

1/8/19: Debasement of Real Disposable Income share of GDP: Historical Trends


I have been crunching some data recently on the historical gap between real GDP growth and wages/income of households. Some of this work will be forthcoming in an article due later this month, so keep an eye out for it. Some of it is post-dating the article submission. Here is an example of the latter. The following chart plots index of real GDP from 1Q 1959 through 1Q 2019 against the index of real disposable income per capita. Both indices are set at 100 at 1959 average.


There are 5 distinct periods over which growth in real GDP moved further and further away from growth in real disposable income. All are associated with monetary accommodation periods post-recessions, and all are associated with increasing post-recession financialization of the U.S. economy and financial or real estate asset booms.

Interestingly, the current rate of acceleration in the gap between economic growth and disposable income growth is... underwhelming. It pales in comparison to what was witnessed in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. To see this, consider the chart showing this gap by itself:


Despite our commonly-expressed public, media and analysts' perceptions of the declining share of economic growth going to disposable personal incomes being a new (current) phenomena, the reality of historical data paints a different picture. Most of declines in the share of economic activity accruing to wages, bonuses and investment and retirement incomes have taken place in previous decades, with the ratio of real GDP to real disposable income being relatively stable from the start of 2013 on. Prior to that rate of the decline in the relative share of disposable income has been less sharp from 1999 through 2012, when compared against all other decades.

The debasement of real incomes has been a steady and historical continuous process over the last 60 years.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

31/7/19: Fed rate cut won't move the needle on 'Losing Globally' Trade Wars impacts


Dear investors, welcome to the Trump Trade Wars, where 'winning bigly' is really about 'losing globally':

As the chart above, via FactSet, indicates, companies in the S&P500 with global trading exposures are carrying the hefty cost of the Trump wars. In 2Q 2019, expected earnings for those S&P500 firms with more than 50% revenues exposure to global (ex-US markets) are expected to fall a massive 13.6 percent. Revenue declines for these companies are forecast at 2.4%.

This is hardly surprising. U.S. companies trading abroad are facing the following headwinds:

  1. Trump tariffs on inputs into production are resulting in slower deflation in imports costs by the U.S. producers than for other economies (as indicated by this evidence: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/07/22719-what-import-price-indices-do-not.html).
  2. At the same time, countries' retaliatory measures against the U.S. exporters are hurting U.S. exports (U.S. exports are down 2.7 percent in June).
  3. U.S. dollar is up against major currencies, further reducing exporters' room for price adjustments.
Three sectors are driving S&P500 earnings and revenues divergence for globally-trading companies:
  • Industrials,
  • Information Technology,
  • Materials, and 
  • Energy.
What is harder to price in, yet is probably material to these trends, is the adverse reputational / demand effects of the Trump Administration policies on the ability of American companies to market their goods and services abroad. The Fed rate cut today is a bit of plaster on the gaping wound inflicted onto U.S. internationally exporting companies by the Trump Trade Wars. If the likes of ECB, BoJ and PBOC counter this move with their own easing of monetary conditions, the trend toward continued concentration of the U.S. corporate earnings and revenues in the U.S. domestic markets will persist. 

31/7/19: Canary in the Treasuries mine


Judging by U.S. Treasuries, things are getting pretty ugly in the economy:


The gap between long-dated bond yields and short-dated paper yields has accurately predicted/led the last three recessions (the latter are marked by red averages in the chart).

Saturday, July 27, 2019

27/7/19: A Cautionary Tale of Irish-UK Trade Numbers


Per recent discussion on Twitter, I decided to post some summary stats on changes in Irish total trade with the UK in recent years.

Here is the summary of period-averages for 2003-2017 data (note: pre-2003 data does not provide the same quality of coverage for Services trade and is harder to compare to more modern data vintage).


So, overall, across three periods (pre-Great Recession, 2003-2008), during the Great Recession (2009-2013) and in the current recovery period (2014-2017, with a caveat that annual data is only available through 2017 for all series), we have:

  • UK share of total exports and imports by Ireland in merchandise trade has fallen from an average annual share of 23.31 percent in pre-Great Recession period, to 18.06 percent in the post-crisis recovery period.
  • However, this decline in merchandise trade importance of the UK has been less than matched by a shallower drop in Services trade: UK share of total services exports and imports by Ireland has fallen from 64.86 percent in pre-crisis period to 62.97 percent in the recovery period.
  • Overall, taking in both exports and imports across both goods and services trade flows, UK share of Irish external trade has risen from 41.43 percent in the pre-crisis period to 45.4 percent in the current period.
  • Statistically, neither period is distinct from the overall historical average (based on 95% confidence intervals around the historical mean), which really means that all trends (in decline in the UK share in Goods & Services and in increase across all trade) are not statistically different from being... err... flat. 
  • Taken over shorter time periods, there has been a statistically significant decline in UK share of Merchandise trade in 2014-2017 relative to 2003-2005, but not in Services trade, and the increase in the UK share of Irish overall trade was also statistically significant over these period ranges. 
  • Overall, therefore, Total trade and Services trade trends are relatively weak, subject to volatility, while Merchandise trend is somewhat (marginally) more pronounced.
Here are annual stats plotted:

Using (for accuracy and consistency) CSO data on Irish trade (Services and Merchandise) by the size of enterprise (available only for 2017), the UK share of Irish trade is disproportionately more significant for SMEs:

In 2017, SMEs (predominantly Irish indigenous exporters and importers who are the largest contributors to employment in Ireland, and thus supporters of the total tax take - inclusive of payroll taxes, income taxes, corporate taxes, business rates etc) exposure to trade with the UK was 51.2 percent of total Irish exports and imports. For large enterprises, the corresponding importance of the UK as Ireland's trading partner was 13.62 percent. 

In reality, of course, Irish trade flows with the UK are changing. They are changing in composition and volumes, and they are reflecting general trends in the Irish economy's evolution and the strengthening of Irish trade links to other countries. These changes are good, when not driven by politics, nationalism, Brexit or false sense of 'political security' in coy Dublin analysts' brigades. Alas, with more than half of our SMEs trade flows being still linked to the UK, it is simply implausible to argue that somehow Ireland has been insulated from the UK trade shocks that may arise from Brexit. Apple's IP, Facebook's ad revenues, and Google's clients lists royalties, alongside aircraft leasing revenues and assets might be insulated just fine. Real jobs and real incomes associated with the SMEs trading across the UK/NI-Ireland border are not.

Whilst a few billion of declines in the FDI activity won't change our employment rosters much, 1/10th of that drop in the SMEs' exports or imports will cost some serious jobs pains, unless substituted by other sources for trade. And anyone who has ever been involved in exporting and/or importing knows: substitution is a hard game in the world of non-commodities trade.

Friday, July 26, 2019

26/7/19: Stop Equating Low Unemployment Rate to High Employment Rate


There is always a lot of excitement around the unemployment stats these days. Why, with near-historical lows, and the talk about 'full employment', there is much to be celebrated and traded on in the non-farm payrolls stats and Labor Department press releases. But the problem with all the hoopla around these numbers is that it too often mixes together things that should not be mixed together. Like, say, mangos and frogs, or apples and moths.

Take a look at the following data:

Yes, unemployment is low. Civilian unemployment rate is currently at seasonally-adjusted 3.7% (June 2019), and Unemployment rate for: 20 years and over, at 3.3%, seasonally adjusted. On 3mo average basis, last time we have seen comparable levels of Civilian unemployment was in 1969, and 20+ Unemployment rate was in 2000. Kinda cool, but also revealing: historical lows in unemployment require  Civilian unemployment metric to confirm. Which means that factoring in Government employment, things are bit less impressive today. But let us not split hairs.

Here is the problem, however: record lows in unemployment are not the same as record levels in employment. Low unemployment, in fact, does not mean high employment.

To see this, look at the solid red line, plotting Employment rate for 20 years and older population. The measure currently sits at 71.2 percent and the last three months average is at 71.1 percent.  Neither is historically impressive. In fact, both are below all months (ex-recessions) for 1990-2008. Actually, not shown in the graph, you would have to go back to 1987 to see the same levels of employment rate as today. Oops...

But why is unemployment being low does not equate to employment being high? Well, because of a range of factors, the dominant one being labor force participation. It turns out (as the chart above also shows), we are near historical (for the modern economy's period) lows in terms of people willing to work or search for jobs. Or put differently, we are at historical highs in terms of people being disillusioned with the prospect of searching for a job. Darn! The 'best unemployment stats, ever' and the worst 'willingness to look for a job, ever'.

U.S. Labor Force Participation rate is at 62.9 percent (62.8 percent for the last three months average). And it has been steadily falling from the peak in 1Q 2000 (at 67.3 percent).

When we estimate the relationship between the Employment rate and the two potential factors: the Unemployment rate and the Participation rate, historically (since 1970s) and within the modern economy period (since 1990) as well as in more current times (since 2000), and since the end of the Great Recession (since 2010) several things stand out:

  1. Unemployment rate is weakly negatively correlated with Employment rate, or put differently, decreases in unemployment rate are associated with small increases in employment; across all periods;
  2. Labor force participation rate is strongly positively correlated with Employment rate. In other words, small increases in labor force participation rate are associated with larger increases in employment; across all periods;
  3. Labor force participation rate, in magnitude of its effect on Employment rate, is roughly 14-15 times larger, than the effect of Unemployment rate on Employment rate; across all periods; and
  4. The relatively more important impact of Labor force participation rate on Employment, compared to the impact of Unemployment rate on Employment has actually increased (albeit not statistically significantly) in the last 9 years.
These points combined mean that one should really start paying more attention to actual jobs additions and employment rate, as well as participation rate, than to the unemployment rate; and this suggestion is more salient for today's economy than it ever was in any other period on record.

But above all, please, stop arguing that low unemployment rate means high employment. Bats are not cactuses, mangos are not moths and CNN & Fox kommentariate are not really analysts.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

22/7/19: What Import Price Indices Do Not Say About Trump's Trade War


A few days ago, I saw on Twitter some economics commentators, not quite analysts, presenting the following 'evidence' that Trump tariffs are being paid for by China: the U.S Import Price index has declined in recent months, to below 100. In the view of some commentators, this signifies the fact that the U.S. is now paying less for imports from the ret of the world because Chinese producers are taking a hit on tariffs imposed onto their goods by the Trump Administration and do not pass through these tariffs onto the U.S. consumers.

The argument is a total hogwash. For a number of reasons.

Firstly, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes (see https://www.bls.gov/mxp/ippfaq.htm), import price indices do not incorporate tariffs and duties charged at the border. They actually explicitly exclude these. The indices do not include any taxes, by design.

The indices are quality-balanced, so they are rebalanced to reflect relative quality of goods and commodities supplied. If the U.S. importer gets a better quality (new model, improved model etc) of a good from the exporting country for the same price as the older model, this registers as a decrease in the import price index.

Worse, as BLS notes: "Import/Export Price Indexes cannot be used to measure differences in price levels among different products and services or among different localities of origin. A higher index number for locality A (or product X) does not necessarily mean that prices are higher than for locality B (or product Y) with a lower index number. It only means that prices have risen faster for locality A (or product X) since the reference period."

Note the words: "reference period". Which leads to yet another major problem with the argument that BLS index shows that 'China is absorbing tariffs costs' from the Trump Trade War: it is based on a spot (one point) observation. So let's take a look at the time series. Remember, Trump Trade War started at the very end of 1Q 2018 (March 2018). So here are 'reference period' consistent comparatives for import price indices for a range of regions and countries:


What the chart above tells us is that over the period of the trade war so far, U.S. imports price index indicates some deflation of imports costs, somewhere in the region of 1.13 percentage points. But over the same period of time, China index experienced a decline of 1.36 percentage points. If China is 'paying for U.S. tariffs', the U.S. is paying more than China does, which is of course, entirely possible, but immaterial to the data at hand.

Worse, if declining import price indices are an indicator of a country 'paying for tariffs', well, Canada seems to be paying for most of the Trump Trade War globally, while Japan is paying a little-tiny-bit. Tremendous! Art of the Deal! And all the rest applies.

Of course, what the declines in the vast majority of import price indices suggests is the opposite of the 'China is paying for the U.S. tariffs' story. Instead, they tell us about the inherent weakening in the global demand, the deflationary pressures in key commodities markets (yes, oil, but also soy beans, etc), the deflationary pressures from new technologies and, finally, the changes in currencies valuations.

No, folks, there are no winners in the trade wars, but there are smaller losers and bigger losers. When you impose tariffs on final and intermediate goods, consumers and producers loose. When you impose trade restrictions on imports of basic commodities, without altering global markets supply and demand, you are simply substituting suppliers (see https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/05/14519-agent-trumpovich-fails-to-deliver.html).  The latter change might involve some costs, but these costs are much lower than restricting trade in higher value added goods.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

21/7/19: The Budgets of Wars: An Updated Study of U.S. Military Stocks Performance


A new and much-improved version of our paper "The Budgets of Wars: Analysis of the U.S. Defense Stocks in the Post-Cold War Era" is now available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2975368.

Enjoy.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

17/9/19: Flight from Fundamentals is Flight from Quality: Corporate Risk


Great chart via @jessefelder highlighting the extent to which the bond markets are getting seriously divorced from the normal 'fundamentals' of corporate finance:



Corporate debt has expanded at roughly x2 the rate of growth of corporate earnings since the start of this decade. And corporate bond yields are persistently heading South (see: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/07/16719-corporate-yields-are-heading.html) and investment for growth is falling (see: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2019/07/7719-investment-for-growth-is-at-record.html). Which continues to put more and more pressure on corporate valuations. As a friend recently remarked, at 2% interest rates, the game will be over. It might be over at 2% or 3% or 1.5%... take your number pick with a pinch of sarcasm... but one thing is certain, earnings no longer sustain markets valuations, real corporate investment no longer sustains financialized investment models, and economy no longer sustain real, broadly-based growth. Something must give.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

16/7/19: Corporate Yields are Heading South in the Euro Land


Some of the euro area's junk-rated corporate debt is now trading at negative yields, and over 15% of near-junk debt is also charging the lenders to provide cash to financially weaker companies:

Source: WSJ

While the overall stock of negative yielding debt (sovereign and corporate) is now nearing $13.5 trillion worldwide:
Source: Bloomberg

All in 51 percent of all European Government bonds are trading at negative yields, and just over 30 percent of all investment grade corporate bond issued in Euro.

The percentage of negative yielding debt amongst junk-rated corporates is small. Bank of America ML estimated that the percentage of BB-rated European corporate bonds with negative yield rose from 0.225% at the end of May to 1.5% at the end of June. Back then, 14 companies had junk-rated bonds rated BB or lower with negative yields, with total market value of $3 billion.

The chart below plots corporate junk-rated bond yields index for the euro issuers:


Meanwhile, Greek Government bonds auction this week went into a massive demand overdrive. Greece sold more than EUR13 billion worth of 7-year bonds, almost EUR11 billion more than it planned originally, at the yields of 1.9 percent, or 2.4 percentage points above the Eurozone benchmark average. The spread to Eurozone benchmark has now fallen from 3.73 percent in March sale. In fact, U.S. 7 year bonds are selling at a yield of 1.97 percent, implying lower yields for Greek debt than the U.S. debt.

Here is the chart plotting Euro area sovereign yield curves for AAA-rated and for all bonds:


The yields on AAA-rated debt are negative out to 13 years maturity, and for all bonds to 8 years maturity. 

16/7/19: Monetary Policy Paradigm: To Cut or To Cut, and Not to Not Cut


QE is back... almost. After a decade plus of failing to deliver on its core objectives, and having primed the massive bubble in risky assets, while pumping sky high wealth inequality through massive monetary transfers to the established Wall Street elites... all while denying that we are in an ongoing secular stagnation. So, courtesy of the unpredictable, erratic and highly uneven economic parameters performance of the last 12 months, we now have this:


Because, for all the obvious reasons, doing more of the same and expecting a different result is the wisdom of the policymaking in the 21st century.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

13/7/19: A New Era of Entrepreneurship? Not in Data so Far...


We are living in the Great New Era of Entrepreneurship that started in 2013 (according to someone at Forbes) and the academia is pumping high entrepreneurship training and education (the Golden Era, according to some don from Stanford). Living in all of this 'game changing' stuff around you can be daunting, inducing FOMO and other behavioural nudges toward dropping everything and launching that new unicorn doing something disruptive and raking in the miracle dollars that everyone around you seems to be minting out of thin air. Right?

Well, not so fast. Here's the data from the U.S. - that 'super-charged engine of enterprising folks':


Hmm... anyone can spot the 'New Era' in entrepreneurship out there, other than the one with historically low rates of business creation?

13/7/19: Mapping the declines in jobs creation


Increasing market power concentration, falling entrepreneurship, rising concentration amongst the start ups, unicorns and billions in investment, the markets have been rewarding larger companies at the expense of the smaller and medium enterprises for years. And this has had a problematic impact on human capital and jobs creation.

Here is the data on the levels of employment in medium-large companies over the years, based on the U.S. markets data:


In simple terms, per each dollar of investors' money, today's companies are creating fewer jobs - a trend that was present since at least 2000, and consistent with the onset of the Goldilocks Economy. But the most pronounced collapse in jobs creation from investment has been since 2017. Excluding recessionary periods, in 2002-2006 average annual decline in the number of employees per $1 billion in market valuation was 3.45%. Over 2009-2013 this number rose to 4.73% and in 2014-2019 the rate of decrease averaged 8.05% per annum.

13/7/19: BRICS and G7


As a side note: the BRICS now have a bigger share of the world economy than the Euro area and the U.S. combined:

In 2019, BRICS combined GDP will surpass (using PPP-adjusted GDP) that of G7 economies, and in 2020, based on IMF forecasts, it will exceed the combined share of the world GDP for the US + EU27 economies.

Not a single BRICS economy is currently represented in G7. Dire...

13/7/19: BRICS Current Account Surpluses: Its Russia and China Story


China and Russia dominate BRICS' current account dynamics and this is not about to change.


Both China and Russia have been posting strong current account figures in recent years, and this is not changing with the onset of the Russia sanctions in 2014 and the Trump Trade Wars in 2018. The two economies clearly dominate the emerging markets' current account dynamics in terms of both the sign of the balances (surpluses) and their magnitudes.

The caveat for Russia is that its current account gains are coming in at the time of relative weakness in its exports and net capital outflows:


Meanwhile, per latest data, U.S. trade deficit with China has widened once again as Chinese exports to the U.S. contracted by ca 7.8 percent y/y, while U.S. exports to China fell 31.4 percent. Which means the U.S. trade deficit with china is up 3 percent compared to June 2018.

It is a classic textbook example on how to lose 'bigly' from a trade war.

13/7/19: Russian v European Dependency Ratios: 1950-2100


Doing some numbers crunching on a different project, I just came across this interesting database from the UN showing population projections through 2100. One interesting aspect of this data is the forecasts/projections for the dependency ratio - basically, a number of working age population per 100 people of non-working age.

There are caveats attached to the analysis of this data, including the changes in the duration of the working age (over the years, younger age dependency has moved toward 24 years from 19 years due to extended period spent in education, while for older age dependency, the mark has been moving from 64 years to 69 years as the last year in working age group). These caveats aside, here is a really eye-opening chart:


We consistently hear about the demographic catastrophe that has visited Russia since 1990-1991 collapse of the USSR. We are also constantly hearing the claim that the Russian society is demographically so challenged, it is running out of people. The chart above shows that, actually, that is not exactly true. Russia has been showing pretty decent readings on population dependency ratio compared to its peers ever since the mid-1970s. More so, through 2020, the estimates from the UN suggest that Russia is performing better than its peers in Europe in terms of overall dependency. This is expected to change - to the detriment of the Russian society and economy - in 2030-2040, but thereafter, Russia is expected to once again perform better than overall Europe.

Similar picture arises when one looks at more modern definition of dependency age ranges:


This data suggests that the popular narrative about the relative decline of Russian population dynamics compared to other European states is at least highly imperfect.

13/7/19: Great Recession in Europe and the U.S. Great Depression


In a one-chart summary, why Euro has been a painfully failing experiment in monetary policy:


The above chart shows the comparative in real GDP levels between the Great Depression in the U.S. (1929-1936) and the Great Recession in Greece (starting from 2008 with data through 2018, and then using IMF estimate for 2019 published in April 2019 WEO, and IMF WEO forecasts from 2020 through 2024, data from 2025 on is taken at a linear trend using 2024 growth forecast). In simple terms, the U.S. real GDP reached its pre-Great Depression levels in the 7th year following the onset of the crisis, although some estimates put this to year 10, depending on the base used.  Greek Great Recession is now in year 11, and counting. By the end of 2019, the IMF estimates that the Greek economy will be 22.1 percent below the 2007 levels, and by 2024 (the furthest IMF forecast we have), it is expected to be 16.2 percent below the 2007 levels.

While one can make the point on Greece's 'unique status' as an economy that should never have been in the Euro in the first place, three arguments stand out against this point:

  1.  Greece is a member of the Eurozone, and if this membership was attained over all rational arguments against it, this very fact shows that the Euro is a poorly structured monetary arrangement; 
  2. As a member of the Eurozone, Greece should have been provided with monetary and fiscal tools for addressing the massive crisis the country experienced. Per chart above, it clearly was not accorded such: and
  3. Greece is hardly the only economy in this situation. Italy is patently in the same boat, and as shown in the chart below, nine out of the EA19 states have experienced longer duration of recovery from the Great Recession than the U.S. from the Great Depression.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

10/7/19: Financialising Stagnant Growth: From Japanified Economy to Christine Lagarde


Monetary policy since the GFC of 2008 has been characterised by the near-zero (and even negative) policy rates, negative bank rates, negative Government debt yields and rampant asset price inflation. The result has been zombification of the advanced economies.

Here is the latest advanced estimate of the Eurozone real GDP growth based on the CEPR/Banca d'Italia Eurocoin indicator:
Current forecast for 2Q 2019 growth in the Eurozone, based on Eurocoin indicator is for 0.17% q/q expansion. June Eurocoin sits at 0.14%, the lowest since September 2013. The growth rate forecast has now been sub-0.25% (below 1% annual) in five months (through June 2019) and counting. Meanwhile, the link between growth and inflation has been weakening, as shown in the chart below:


Both, from the point of view of view of the current data relative to 1Q 2019 and to 2Q 2018 and to Q1 2018, growth rates are shrinking, per above. The ECB, however, remains stuck in the proverbial hard corner (chart next):

 Five years into zero policy rates, inflation is gradually creeping up (chart above), but growth is nowhere to be seen (chart next):

Worse, tangible fundamentals (captured by the models, like Eurocoin) of economic growth are becoming less and less consistent with actual growth outruns - a feature of the economy that is becoming dependent on things other than real investment and real demand for generating expansion in GDP. Both, the chart above and the chart below, highlight this troubling fact.
All of this suggests that we are in the period in economic development that is fully consistent with the secular stagnation thesis: traditional tools of monetary and fiscal policies are no longer sufficient in generating real economic growth. Instead, these tools help sustain economies overloaded with debt. It is an extend-and-pretend model of economic development: as long as corporates and households can be supported in carrying existent debt loads through monetary accommodation, the economy remains afloat (no recession, nor crisis blowout), but the levels of debt are so prohibitively high that no new debt can be accumulated to generate economic expansion.

The markets know as much. Investors know that zombie loans (loans with no capacity of servicing them should interest rates rise) mean zombie banks. Zombie banks mean zombie new borrowing markets. Zombie new borrowing markets mean zombie real investment by households and companies. Zombie investment means zombie demand. Zombie demand means deflationary supply. Rinse and repeat.

This knowledge in the markets is tangible. It takes a change in investors expectations (as in recent changes in outlook toward the reversal of the monetary tightening in the U.S. and Europe) to reprice assets. No actual value added growth enters the equation. Assets are no longer being priced on their productive capacity. And the markets are now fully finacialised. Which is to say, they are now fully monetary policy-driven.

Enter Christine Lagarde, the new head of the ECB. Lagarde's appointment is hardly an accident or a politically correct nod to women in leadership. It is the only logical choice of the financialised zombie economics of the monetary policy. To re-start borrowing or debt cycle, the EU is hoping for mutualisation of the sovereign debt markets. In other words, it is hoping to leverage the only unencumbered asset the EU still has: surplus countries' bonds. Lagarde's job at the ECB will be to run the creation of the eurobonds, bonds that will proportionally link euro area members' bonds into a single product to be monetised by the ECB as a support for market pricing. There is probably EUR 2-3 trillion worth of the international and monetary demand for these, opening up the room for more borrowing and more fiscal spending.

Monday, July 8, 2019

7/7/19: Employment to Population Rate in the U.S.: General Labor Force vs African Americans


With 'booming' and 'tight' labor markets, the White House is only happy to argue these days that we are in a Golden Era of employment/unemployment for all, including the African Americans. Is this, in fact, the case?

Firstly, I am not too keen on the arguments that any President in office should get the credit for jobs creation. At the very best, Presidential decisions simply support jobs creation by the private sector, and can be instrumental in creating jobs (albeit less in sustaining them) in the public sector. Secondly, jobs are just numbers, unless they are distinguished by their quality - something that is hard to do.

But the White House claims are usually about the aggregate jobs numbers / statistics, as opposed to the more granular analysis. So it might be worth taking them to the test.

One comparable - across different cohorts and time periods, as well as business cycles - metric is that of employment to population ratio. It takes total number in employment and divides it into the total population of working age for a specific group. Here is the chart (data from FRED database with calculations performed by myself):


Across the entire workforce, E-to-P ratio is sitting at 60.6%, statistically indistinguishable from the historical average of 60.64%, and 4.1 percentage points below all time high of 64.7%. For the category 'Black or African American', the E-to-P ratio is currently at 58.2%, which is above 55.13% historical average and is 3.2 percentage points below all time high of 61.4%.

Which means that current reading for African Americans population in terms of employment-to-population ratio is better, relative to their own historical trends than for the overall population. But, the ratio is still lower for African Americans than for the overall population in level terms.

What about the historical positioning of the gap between the overall population E-to-P ratios and that for the African Americans?

The gap between the employment-to-population ratio for the African Americans and that for the overall population is around the lowest levels it has ever been and is well below the historical average.

So, yes, the claims that employment has been relatively strong for both the general population and for the African Americans pans out to be true in at least this metric, which is - as noted above - by far not the only metric that matters.