Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.
December 4, 2013 at 10:55 AM
A reader writes, under the heading: “Care to explain the reasons for the dramatic rise in the stock market indices since 1/01/13?:
Low federal minimum wage? Low minimum wage affects only a very, very small segment of all people employed in this country, and even smaller portion of the number of people casting votes for president in 2012.
Leftist’s goal is something close to equality of outcomes. Not mathematical equality, but something closer to equality of outcomes.
Are you aware of any instances where machines are being yarded-out in order to make room for more employees? Higher minimum wage advocates are complaining about symptoms, paying no attention to causes of inequality. The pickle that the (so-called) machinists are in vividly demonstrates what higher wage costs do; drive employment away. The desire for higher profits on the part of shareholders is a given, and not easily satisfied.
The pickle that the City of Detroit is in can be attributed to a few things, higher employment costs being one of them, street gangs and unbelievable violent crime rates being others. “Rent-seeking” in Detroit was and probably still is rampant. Want to be elected in Detroit? Promise a fat pension, then face no consequences when unable to deliver 30 years down the road.
The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation will not be required to help.
How do you like long dead liberal politicians now?
The assembly line, improved upon by Henry Ford, cut unit labor required to build an automobile by about 90%.
Cutting recruitment and training costs more than made up for increases in hourly labor rates. H. Ford was not a shining example of an altruist.
October 4, 2013 at 10:30 AM
Twitter, the social-network outfit that made 140 characters famous and turned millions of us into tweeps who tweet (I’m @jontalton), is preparing for its initial public offering. Its prospectus, made public on Thursday, revealed that it has been steadily losing money, has yet to turn a profit, and has seen user growth slow since the end of last year even as mobile advertising is increasing.
There’s little question that an IPO will make the company’s executives and investors rich. But will it succeed as a publicly traded stock? Last year, Facebook went public and flopped before beginning a steady climb since the summer. Don Dion of DRD Investments writes on Seeking Alpha that Twitter will work to avoid Facebook’s IPO blunders and that aggressive investors should buy this “exciting” offering. But he also noted:
Questions about the structure of the company have surfaced, regarding the competence of the engineering team that was entrenched since the company’s start and their choice of team members along the way. Some ex-employees have noted that this leadership system made it impossible to rise in the company. Other problems with rumors that leak from high leadership positions cause concerns whether the company is ready for the changeover. However, as with any tech company, Twitter is likely to make necessary changes quickly, if reluctantly, in future years.
What do you think?
Read on for some of the best business and economy stories of the week, and the haiku…
This Week’s Links:
• Where poor and uninsured Americans live — and where Medicaid won’t be expanded (interactive map) | NY Times
• Will financial markets crash before October 17th or after? | Jeff Frankel
• Smaller aerospace companies most at risk from U.S. shutdown | Flightglobal
• The end of convergence? | Project Syndicate
• Wealth patterns and retirement readiness | Tim Taylor
• Some economic consequences of the shutdown | NYT Economix
• The loss of U.S. preeminence | Simon Johnson
• Repealing the medical-device tax: The plan to give GE more money | Beat the Press
Today’s Econ Haiku:
The board whacked Ballmer
Good corporate governance
Hope that doesn’t change
June 21, 2013 at 10:34 AM
This week the National Institute on Retirement Security released a report showing that 90 percent of working-age households aren’t saving enough for retirement. About 45 percent have nothing saved. The result is a retirement savings gap between $6.8 trillion and $14 trillion. For those near retirement, the median retirement account balance is $12,000, and for all households it totals $3,000.
The findings confirm that the American Dream of retiring comfortably after a lifetime of work will be impossible for many. Based on 401(k)–type account and IRA balances alone, some 92 percent of working households do not meet conservative retirement savings targets for their age and income. Even when counting their entire net worth, 65 percent still fall short.
This is not exactly new-news. The baby boomers were the first generation to be forced into 401(k)s instead of pensions, and all too often they were given little schooling about the mechanics or stakes of this dramatic change. The new benefits were hostage to the stock market and the participants were completely on their own. Company matching contributions became more rare. In addition, changes in the economy such as globalization and the decimation of unions left huge portions of the workforce without any job-related retirement benefits at all, even as overall wages were stagnating. Much wealth was lost in the housing crash. This squeeze is worse for younger workers facing lower wages and high college debt. To make matter worse, politicians keep wanting to cut “entitlements,” including Social Security that is essential to senior citizens (it would be better to call them what they are: Earned benefits). And if we’re expected to work until we die, there have to be jobs and employers willing to hire older workers.
In a heavily unequal America, the top 20 percent or so will do fine. What about you? (Honor system: Answer if you are not retired already, having benefited from the middle class at its zenith).
Read on for some of the important stories you might have missed.
April 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM
Today’s “disappointing” jobs report shouldn’t be a surprise. Corporations are sitting on record cash, but not using it to add jobs. Most of the gambling in the $600 trillion derivatives market is all about rent-seeking, not creating jobs. Poor earnings and falling wealth for average Americans translates into weaker demand. So does government austerity. As I write, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about 110 points and the S&P 500 off about 1 percent. The stock rally has had more to do with abundant money from the Federal Reserve than the underlying condition of the real economy or dangers overseas (the eurozone, Syria, North Korea).
So what happens now?
Read on for the top links of the week and the haiku:
March 19, 2013 at 10:44 AM
The Wall Street Journal reports today, “Workers and employers in the U.S. are bracing for a retirement crisis, even as the stock market sits near highs and the economy shows signs of improvement.” According to a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 57 percent of workers surveyed had less than $25,000 in total household savings and investments (excluding their homes), up from 49 percent with so little in 2008. According to the report, “Retirement savings may be taking a back seat to more immediate financial concerns: Just 2 percent of workers and 4 percent of retirees identify saving or planning for retirement as the most pressing financial issue facing most Americans today. Both workers and retirees are most likely to identify job uncertainty (30 percent of workers and 27 percent of retirees) and making ends meet (12 percent each).” Only 18 percent were very confident they would have a financially secure retirement.
This is only the latest evidence of the challenges facing large numbers of aging Americans. This is the first generation that will retire heavily dependent on the social experiment called 401(k)s — and they’re proving to be a disaster. In 2010, the median household retirement account balance for those between 55 and 64 was only $120,000. And that’s if they have a 401(k) or set up an IRA in an era of diminishing wages and benefits: One third of households don’t have a retirement account of any kind. The average monthly Social Security benefit of $1,230 won’t go far.
The Great Recession destroyed 40 percent of Americans’ personal wealth — unless you’re in the 1 percent — and, as the Washington Post reported:
For the first time since the New Deal, a majority of Americans are headed toward a retirement in which they will be financially worse off than their parents, jeopardizing a long era of improved living standards for the nation’s elderly, according to a growing consensus of new research.
March 14, 2013 at 10:14 AM
If the Dow Jones Industrial Average closes higher today, it will mark the longest winning streak since November 1996. We’ve discussed before why the Dow is a highly flawed measure of the overall economy and even the stock market, but it still gets attention. What could possibly go wrong?
1. It’s not a November 1996 economy, when unemployment was low, average Americans were seeing improved wages compared to the declines experienced since the late 1970s and the economy was highly dynamic. If you lost your job one day, you likely had another the next day. NAFTA had not begun its giant sucking sound. China was not in the World Trade Organization, playing by its own rules. The economy was not as financialized as today and banks were still relatively highly regulated. Americans were not nearly as in debt.
2. The market has been seized by lemming mentality and valuations are starting to detach from reality. Sure, some stocks are undervalued, but others are not. Bonds are producing little return, hence the allure of stocks — that could change.
3. Shocks will sink this market in a Wall Street minute. Among the potential black swans: North Korea really does it this time; China’s property bubble pops; growing dissatisfaction with Beijing’s response to pollution and inequality leads to civil unrest; a miscalculation in Asia leads to a hot confrontation between China and Japan (or Vietnam or the Philippines); the eurozone crisis heats up again; the Middle East blows up; Pakistan spins out of control; a terrorist attack.
March 6, 2013 at 10:20 AM
The Dow Jones Industrial Index is a great indicator of the great divergence facing America today. The Dow hit a new record on Tuesday — although adjusted for inflation, it’s still below its 2000 level — and was still rising this morning. The index has its critics simply as a market measure, but there’s no doubt that thanks to easy money from the Federal Reserve and record corporate profits, the stock market has enjoyed a good four years. So much for Obama “socialism.” Meanwhile, unemployment remains stubbornly high, middle-class wealth is devastated from the housing crash and years of stagnant wages, while economic mobility is largely stuck. The hangover from the Great Recession includes a $1 trillion gap in output. Nearly 48 million are on food stamps. Political paralysis makes it impossible to engage in the stimulus, especially infrastructure spending, that would help. Instead, we’re doing austerity, which has failed across Europe. Naked Capitalism comments:
The Fed has been trying to reflate asset values to goose the real economy. What it has done instead is goose the incomes of the top 1% while everyone else is on the whole worse off. But the central bank is suffering from a very bad case of “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” syndrome. It’s unwilling or unable to admit that its program is working only for a very few. It has convinced itself that if it just keeps on the same failed path long enough, things will turn around. As we can see from Japan, “long enough” can exceed 20 years, and it is not clear that the latest Japanese pump priming will finally pull the economy out of the ditch.
Stock ownership is heavily concentrated among the wealthy. About 21 million households own stocks directly. Most own stocks indirectly, through mutual funds, often from their 401(k) accounts, many of them small. According to the Investment Company Institute, an industry group, 44 percent of American households were invested in mutual funds in 2011 vs. a record 45.7 percent in 2000.
October 26, 2012 at 10:15 AM
Equities have had a good run. Big companies, especially, that came through the Great Recession often ended up with very strong balance sheets, lean operations and rising profits. That last part may be changing as the third-quarter results come out. The markets had serious swoons over three sessions and have been tepid ever since. Of course, October is often a bad month, even in bull markets. So what do you think?
Read on for the best links of the week and the haiku:
October 8, 2012 at 10:30 AM
Whatever happens in the American electioneering over the next month, here are a few things to watch that touch only peripherally on the campaigns:
1. Slowing in Asia. The World Bank today lowered its growth forecast for East Asia and the Pacific region, chiefly because of China’s ongoing slowdown and lack of effective stimulus. This will have a direct effect on the Pacific Northwest because of our trade dependency on Asia (China is Washington’s No. 1 export destination).
2. The eurozone. Yes, this is getting old, but it’s not getting better. Greece is still in the monetary union, barely. Germany continues to resist more aggressive measures to restart growth. Austerity is causing a deep recession in many eurozone nations. It’s amazing how far they can kick the can down the road. But the best outcome on this trajectory is a long downturn complete with social unrest. The worst: A sudden crisis that causes all the dominoes to fall down.
China economy and business, Debt ceiling debate, Dollar, Eurozone, Federal Reserve, Interest rates, Macro/Big picture, Oil prices, Outlook, Pacific Northwest economy, Politics and the economy, Stock marketMore in
August 7, 2012 at 10:15 AM
With the Dow back above 13,000, a reader asks, “what options investors really have instead of the market for their 401k portfolios?” He continues, “With so many companies eliminating defined benefit retirement and pushing employees into investment-based plans, that money every payday has to go into something that has the potential to create some growth. That creates a continuing demand for stocks and bonds, despite the risk, and it would seem that the demand keeps the Dow up.”
It’s an interesting theory. But Dow 13,000 won’t survive the next big bump in Europe or an inability in the Other Washington to avoid the fiscal cliff. As to other options, let me give a few caveats. I’m not a certified financial planner. I also believe there are only two personal finance stories: 1) Don’t be greedy, and 2) Don’t be stupid.
That said, we are long past the long bull market of the 1990s. In his latest outlook, PIMCO’s Bill Gross bluntly states “The cult of equity is dying.” From 1912 on, stocks produced a solid 6.6 percent real return. But for a variety of reasons, investors may face much lower returns in the future.