" Where economics isn't just a job, but an adventure"
Quote of the Week
Left the Bed in the up position
Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes you're stupid and make bad decisions.
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BLOG Topics 2013
January Do Protected Seals lead to Depleted Fish Stocks February Prohibition: Profits to Cartels & Increased Violence for Americans March Increased Minimum Wage & Extended benefits lead to Higher Unemployment April Ethanol from corn & Agflation May Cash for Clunkers lead to Higher Used Car Prices & Wasted Tax Dollars June The Affordable Care Act; Anything but Affordable Part 1 July The Affordable Care Act; The poster Child for False Advertising August Detroit: Higher Taxes + Liberal Benefits = Bankruptcy September No Keystone Pipeline leads to more pollution October Global Warming! Or is it Global Cooling! November Poverty & Benefits December Does Affirmative Action lead to Reverse Discrimination?
Blog Topics 2014
January Will Lake Meade become another Aral Sea February Does Taxing the rich hurt the economy March The Cause of the Great Depression April Temporary Agricultural Subsidies lead to wealthy Farmers and Higher Prices May The Presidents Stance on Gun Control leads to Increased Gun Ownership June Is there really a Gender Pay Gap July Did the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade lower the crime rate August The Department of Education and wasted Money October The Financial Follies of the EPA November Social Security and Portfolio Diversification December The White House and Terrorism
Obamacare is back before the Supreme Court, and despite what the administration states publicly, I believe they are concerned. The Affordable Care Act called for the establishment of exchanges through which Americans can purchase health insurance. Those who earn less than four times the poverty level can qualify for subsidies to help pay for their monthly premiums. The case, King v. Burwell, revolves around whether enrollees in these 34 states can receive federal subsidies. The challengers argue that the section of the law governing subsidies -- which refers to exchanges "established by the State" -- applies only to the 16 states with their own exchanges. If the administration looses, the subsidies will be banned in the states with federal exchanges all but killing the Affordable Care Act. The average subsidy for 7.5 million people is $268/Month which cover 72% of the premium. If you do the math, $268, the average subsidy, times 12 months/year times 7.5 million people, the cost to taxpayers is $241 billion/year, times 10 years is 2.4 trillion;SIGNIFICANTLY MORE THAN THE $859 billion the administration stated as the 10 year cost. These figures are from the solicitor general, Obamacare is back before the Supreme Court. The case was heard today and the Court should issue a decision by July.
In other news: One hour into the trading day, the Dow is down 153 points, at 18050. The suspects are poor economic data. The ADP private payrolls report showed a gain of 212,000 in February, below expectations and the slowest pace since August 2014. The January private payrolls report was revised up to 250,000. The ADP data is considered a pre-indicator of Friday's labor market report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yes, this Friday is jobs Friday when we get the unemployment figures for the month of February. In addition, you are seeing profit taking.
Oil remains in the $50/barrel range (slightly above), gold is in the $1200/oz range (slightly above) and the national average for gas is up once again at $2.45/gallon.
With two hours left before the market closes, the Dow is down 106 points at 18,182. February auto sales are up, but not as much as expected. Best Buy came in with good earnings but there just seems to be a general malaise in the market and investors are taking profits off the table. If you look at the chart to the left, Tesla is continuing its downward spiral, and unless it breaks that resistance line, I wouldn't touch this stock unless you're doing some day trading. After a Stellar few years, I believe that reality has finally caught up with this stock. CEO, Elon Musk stated that he didn't see the car company realizing a profit until 2020. Oil continues to trade in the $50 range (within a couple of dollars each way for the past week) however gas continues to rise which is a function of refineries changing from winter to summer gas. This diminishes supply in addition to the fact that summer gas is more expensive since it has more additives (compliments of the EPA) and the only sector in the green today is the previously beaten down energy sector.
U.S. stocks closed higher on Monday, with the Nasdaq above the psychologically key level of 5,000 for the first time since March 2000 and the Dow and S&P 500 at records as investors cheered U.S. economic data and an interest rate cut in China. The Nasdaq Composite last hit 5,000 during the tech bubble peak in March 2000. The index tumbled in the months following to land at 1,108.49 in October 2002. Obviously, the late 90's was a period of greed buying immediately followed by panic selling. It took 15 years, but the NASDAQ recovered and it is fairly valued where it was severely overbought in 2000. The Dow set another record after advancing 156 points to close at 18,289. In addition to favorable news from China, the markets were also driven by favorable domestic news. Personal income increased of 0.3 percent, while personal spending fell 0.2 percent in January. "All in all I think it's a reasonably good report (on the U.S. economy), even with the West Coast port shutdown, and the market is liking it," said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at Voya Investment Management. Berkshire Hathaway is in focus following the release of Warren Buffett's annual investment letter and the company's latest earnings. Those numbers did fall short of estimates, and Buffett said it was likely that although Berkshire would outperform other companies in the future, its size may make it impossible to equal past gains.
Even tho the Dow fell 81 points to finish the week and month at 18132, it was the best month for stocks since October, 2011 with the Dow rising 6% for the month. This doesn't happen that often: the S&P has been up five percent or more in a month only 10 times since the financial crisis in 2009. To put it in perspective, stock guru, Warren Buffet, says that you should strive for a 5-8% increase in your portfolio for the year, expect profit taking. Crude oil rose but remains below $50 a barrel as crude gained $1.59 to $49.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. However, U.S. crude oil was set to end February with its first monthly rise in eight months, with signs of a pick-up in Chinese demand and supply outages in the North Sea lifting sentiment in oil markets in addition to the diminished rig count (1600 to 1000 since last June), in the US. Oil prices are still down 60% from last June. The average price of a gallon of regular gas is $2.37/gallon up from the low earlier this month of $2.03/gallon The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2% from 2.03% late Thursday as bond purchases increased. The rate on the 10 year is closely followed since mortgage rates are generally 2-3% above the yield rate on the 10 year.
After advancing only 15 points, the Dow set its 2nd record high of the year finishing the day at 18,225. It was a fairly lackluster day as Janet Yellen (the chairwoman of the FED) addressed the House of Representatives after addressing the Senate yesterday and nothing new was stated. The Fed chair's testimony before Congress comes at a critical time for America's central bank: when will it raise rates? Some say June, others say September or later. The stock market shot up yesterday with the Dow hitting a new record during her testimony as many on Wall Street interpreted her remarks as further indication that an interest rate increase won't come until June or later. Senator Elizabeth Warren is at it again, pushing yet another effort to help America's middle class. Warren and a colleague announced they're launching the Middle Class Prosperity Project, which her office says will look at "how the nation's economic system has been rigged against the middle class over the past several decades." What Senator Warren doesn't seem to understand is that "You can't legislate equality". As I've said many times before, the best way to get ahead in life is with an education a good work ethic (and save your money by investing at an early age). Weekly jobless claims and other data on Thursday will put the U.S. economy firmly at the center of investor focus. Initial claims for unemployment for the week of Feb. 15, released at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, are expected to increase moderately to 285,000 from 283,000 the week prior. The consumer price index also comes out at 8:30 a.m., with analysts expecting a flat read on January. Durable Goods orders at 8:30 a.m. are expected to show slight gains in January, after a 3.4 percent decline in the prior month. Durable goods orders are one of the leading economic indicators that are a predictor of economic activity 3-6 months down the road.
After a rise of 92 points, the Dow finished the day at 18,209, a new record and the 2nd of the year. Yellen, in her semi-annual testimoney before the Senate banking committee, used a word familiar to investors when she reiterated that the central bank will be "patient" on raising interest rates for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. Traders took that as a sign that interest rates would remain unchanged until autumn. Yellen's dovish tone touched off a rally and it was off to the races for the Dow. The US markets were also helped by Greece. Greece's ASE index skyrocketed 8.7% after the government submitted the list of reforms and EU officials gave their OK Tuesday. A Greek government official said the reforms would focus on curbing tax evasion, corruption, smuggling and excessive bureaucracy while also addressing poverty caused by a six-year recession.
In other news, President Obama vetoed the bill that would have authorized construction of the Keystone pipeline (see blog, September of 2013). Both the house and Senate (which had bi-partisan support for the bill) will have to scramble in order to override the veto. The House appears to be short by 11 votes, and the Senate by 4 votes. The Presidents logic appears to be that the 700,000 barrels/day that will flow thru the pipeline will contribute significantly to pollution. However, instead of the oil being transported by the pipeline. it id being transported by Rail, specifically Burlington Northern Railroad which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet) who is a major supporter of Obama. Obama's veto doesn't mean the end of the Keystone debate. Obama could still approve the project on his own authority, although he has suggested that its environmental impacts would outweigh any economic benefits. Do you think the president smells what he is shoveling?
In West Virginia, Monday, a train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed and spilled oil into the Kanawha River igniting more than 10 tankers and sparking 1 house fire. The Kanawa River is the water supply for a number of local communities in the area and the water treatment facilities have been shut down. If the oil was flowing thru a pipeline, this wouldn’t have happened. If you read my September, 2013 blog, you will see my prediction came true. The blog was on the Keystone Pipeline that Obama has not approved and threatened to veto if Congress should pass a bill approving construction. Under pressure from the Environmental lobby, especially the Sierra Club, by nixing the pipeline, it was hoped that the flow of oil from oil shale would stop. Hardly; instead of oil flowing thru the pipeline, it was being shipped by train, and derailments are a fact of life. Derailments don’t happen when oil flows thru a pipeline and the cost is cheaper. In my opinion both the President and Sierra Club give mental Myopia new meaning. The Dow finished Thursday up 28 points, falling just 6 points of its record high of 18,053. It appears Wall Street is not betting on a Greek Debt Tragedy, and there is hope for a loan restructuring; significantly better than prospects looked over the weekend. Evidently, the secret to a game of chicken is knowing when to flinch, and it appears that Greece is flinching by trying to negotiate better terms. In other financial news, Apple now has a market cap of over $700 billion. That is the largest market cap ever and dwarfs number 2 Exxon-Mobile by 100%. That’s $100 for every man, women and child on earth. Oil increased to over $52/barrel, the national price for a gallon of gas is up to $2.27/gallon and the Dow is down 50 at the open. Mortgage Giant, Fannie Mae was up over 20% Tuesday, and as of the time of this writing, I haven’t been able to find a reason; stay tuned.
January Jobs Report 2-6-2015
The economy was expected to create 229,000 jobs for January and the actual figure was 257,000 which makes 3.1 million jobs that have been created year over year. The unemployment rate drifted higher to 5.7% from 5.6%, but this was a function of more people entering the labor force which caused the labor force participation rate to increase to 62.9%, and the real unemployment rate, U-6, ( this includes temporary/part-time workers and marginally attached workers) also increased slightly to 11.3% from 11.2. Very good news was the increase in average hourly earnings of 0.5% which is the largest increase since November of 2008. This is in part due to 9 states increasing their minimum wage. There are currently 29 states that have a minimum wage above the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25/hour. The number of long term unemployed remained unchanged and accounted for 31.5% of the unemployed (which is down from January,2014 when it was 48%. This is significant since that was when long term unemployment benefits (99 weeks), expired. Part time/temporary workers numbered 6.8 million and there were 2.2 million marginally attached; of the marginally attached, there were 682,00 discouraged workers. Teenage unemployment was 18.8%, and the lowest unemployment rate by ethnic group was Asians at 4%.
4th Quarter GDP GDP figures for the 4th quarter are in and they were lower than expectations at 2.6%. Estimates were the economy would grow at a rate of 3.3%. However, there will be 2 more revisions in the following month. For the year GDP rose 2.4% compared to 2.2% in 2013. The slowdown, which follows two back-to-back quarters of very strong growth, is likely to be short-lived given the enormous tailwind from lower gasoline prices.Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, advanced at a 4.3 percent pace in the fourth quarter—the fastest since the first quarter of 2006 and an acceleration from the third quarter's 3.2 percent pace. The number's weren't all rosey. The strong pace of consumer spending, was eclipsed by a drop in capital expenditure (part of the Investment portion of GDP). Business spending on equipment fell at a 1.9 percent rate. It was the largest contraction since the second quarter of 2009.Most economists believe fundamentals in the United States are strong enough to cushion the blow on growth from weakening overseas economies. Economists are predicting GDP for 2015 to be slightly over 3% (the 40 year average is 3.1%).
Obamacare Revised Costs
More on Obamacare In a recent survey by the New York FED on businesses, the median increase in healthcare premiums is expected to be 10%. More than a quarter of the manufacturing and service firms surveyed said they either have or will boost prices for goods and services "because of the effects that the ACA is having on your business." About 20 percent of respondents said they were reducing their number of workers and/or raising the share of part-time workers as a result of the ACA. His is in stark contrast to the presidents remarks earlier this year that healthcare costs are decreasing. Maybe CEO's were right when they said the president "Just doesn't get it".
Commentary on Minimum Wage
There is currently a debate in the state of NH on whether to increase the minimum wage to 8.25 from 7.25. The main argument is that it will help to alleviate poverty. That is clearly not the case. As you can see from the chart at the left, the poverty rate dropped dramatically in the 1960's. This was a function of great society legislation; specifically, increase in Social Security benefits in addition to the inception and implementation of Medicare and Medicaid. Since then, the poverty rate has fluctuated between 9-15% and is highly correlated with the unemployment rate. The vertical grey area's in the graph represent periods of recessions in the US. As can be expected, unemployment rises during recessions and peaks at the end (unemployment is said to be a lagging indicator). As you can also see from the chart, so too does the poverty rate. There is no indication whatsoever that the poverty rate is affected by increases in the minimum wage. Generally, this is quite the contrary. As can be evidenced from the below left chart, increases in minimum wage can contribute to unemployment and as we can infer from the above chart, as unemployment increases so to does poverty. If you look at NH, they have the lowest state poverty rate in the nation and it generally parallels the national unemployment rate. By raising the minimum wage, you increase business costs. As a result; businesses either pass these costs onto the consumer (in which case inflation nullifies any wage increase), substitute capital for labor, or simply go out of business. If you look at the chart below right, UAW (United Auto Workers) membership has decreased in the late 1970's from 1.5 million to 350,000 in 2009. The reason for this is simple. Detroit isn't making fewer cars, they are making more, but they have made their assembly lines more robotic and have substituted capital for labor, which became cheaper in the long run. This can also happen to those fast food workers who want a $15 minimum wage. There is currently a machine on the market that can make 300 burgers/hour. In other words, capital can be substituted for labor. Someone please e-mail me and explain how someone is better off unemployed at $8.25/hour as opposed to being gainfully employed at $7.25/hour
You cannot legislate equality. If you want to decrease poverty, implement policies to insure that higher levels of education is available to all.
The Congressional Budget Office predicted this week that more than 2 million people will leave the labor force because of Obamacare. Specifically, more people will leave the labor force or reduce their hours, to stay under the cap for federal subsidies. If you are a family of 4, and household income is under, WAIT FOR IT, $94,000, you are eligible for a federal subsidy. The number of part time/temporary workers has already increased by 35% since Obamacare was passed in 2010; and yes it will get worse, wait until 2015 when it becomes mandatory for businesses.
For a good laugh on Obamacare, go to this web site and watch this video; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpa-5JdCnmo. It shows the president on 36 different occasions stating that if you like your healthcare plan you can keep it. Obviously there are 1 of two explanations for this misunderstanding. He was ill advised on the 2700 page, 4500 provision Affordable Care Act, or he knew about it and lied. According to a study by Forbes magazine, the ACA will increase premiums to men under 27 by 77%, 40 year olds, 37% and 64 year olds by 37%.
When Obamacare was 1st released, The Congressional Budget Office predicted that it would cost $900 billion over 3 years. At the time, I made a prediction to my students that I estimate the final cost would be closer to $3 trillion. Three years later, the CBO has raised it's estimate to $1.6 trillion. At this rate, we are on pace to reach the $3 trillion mark. www.healthcare.gov, the official website to sign up for Obamacare had an original cost of $100 million. That cost is now up to $292 million dollars and rising. If the government can't manage the costs on a web site, and these costs have trippled since it opened on October 1, how can it possible manage a 2700 page, 4500 provision bill. The words of Nancy Pelosi (see above) are acting as a harbinger of doom: "We have to pass the bill, so we can find out what's in it."
The United States has amongst the lowest savings rate for all technological nations. The iOMe challenge is a nationwide competition between Colleges where teams submit a 10,000 page essay on how Americans can improve their savings rates. In addition, teams must produce an approximate 60 second video which complements the essay. If you click on the iOMe logo above, it will take you to Bentley University's 2012 video submission. The faculty adviser for the challenge is John Tommasi and is offered during his Fall EC 351 course, Contemporary Issues in Economics. I'm pleased to announce that on February 15, Bentley was declared the winner of the iOMe video portion of the contest. Congrats to the team members and great job!
EC 3900 Energy Economics
EC 3900, Energy Economics and International Markets, is a 3 credit, Short Term Program, that is offered during Spring semester. After 7 weeks of lecture, the class takes a 10 day educational/cultural tour to France where 80% of their electricity is produced by nuclear power. During the 10 day trip, students travel to, and tour various nuclear facilities Last year's class visited; Marsailles, Aix en Provance, Lyons, Brest and 4 days in Paris.
If there were ever words that can strike fear into the hearts of any man women or child, it's: "I'm from the Government and I'm here to help". On a monthly basis my blog, from an economic standpoint, will explore government laws, decisions and actions, which while well intentioned, had inadvertent results that were either disastrous, or made a bad situation worse. It wouldn't surprise me if you reached the conclusion that congress does two things well, nothing and overreact; and you may ask yourself, do Congressional members vote for what is best for the economy, or what will get them re-elected.