Purchasing Power Parity GDP Per Capita – Geo-FRED Interactive Map

As with a number of measures that have recently called our traditional models into question and the way we understand economic activity, the FRED Blog suggests there may be limitations to some of the mechanisms we have used for more than seventy years:

GDP has been used as a measure of economic well-being since the 1940s: It measures the total economic output by individuals, businesses, and the government and is a tangible way to quantify the state of the economy. However, some economists have questioned how well GDP measures well-being: For example, GDP fails to account for the quality of goods and services, the depletion of natural resources, and unpaid jobs that are nevertheless important (e.g., household chores). Although this criticism may be well founded, GDP is highly correlated with other measures of well-being, such as life expectancy at birth and the infant mortality rate, both of which capture some aspects of quality of life.

It’s a self-obviating point that developed nations would have much “higher levels of per capita GDP have, on average, higher levels of income and consumption,” or purchasing power. But other factors weigh into the question of how well off we are in terms of quality of life. Measures such as life expectancy and general health add to the discussion of well-being.

See the interactive map below for a “correlation between GDP and other measures of well-being” where GDP is “still a reasonable proxy of the overall well-being” for any given economy:

See the full FRED post here.

CEPR: Dodd-Frank’s Seventh Birthday – Will It Be Around to Celebrate Its Eighth?

CEPR economist Eileen Appelbaum gives a concise overview of some of the implications of the Dodd-Frank Act, which may not see its 8th year:

As memories of the great recession and financial crisis fade, the landmark financial reform law passed seven years ago today, in the aftermath of that economic disaster, is on the chopping block. A Republican Congress and the Republican President are intent on rolling back the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that have increased transparency and limited risk in our financial system. The Financial Choice Act, first introduced in Congress in 2016 by Texas Representative Jeb Hensarling, is poised for a comeback.

…Key provisions slated to be rolled back are those that kept private equity funds and hedge funds out of the shadows. In the first 30-plus years of their existence as major financial actors, private funds were able to structure themselves in ways that exempted them from the many laws designed to protect investors and enabled them to avoid regulatory scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Dodd-Frank introduced oversight and regulation that has been a boon to investors in private equity. Now, Section 858 of the CHOICE Act proposes once again exempting private equity fund advisors from registration and reporting requirements. It states, “no investment adviser shall be subject to the registration or reporting requirements of this title with respect to the provision of investment advice relating to a private equity fund.”

See the full post here with links to peer reviewed articles and helpful background information including SEC actions.

FRED Blog: Healthcare Inflation vs. General CPI

In an interesting post from the FRED Blog, Healthy inflation? Inflation in the healthcare industry vs. general CPI, a comparison is set up between elements of the consumer price index, versus the rate of rising costs related to healthcare. The authors point out (what most of us have known for decades) that medical care has risen faster than the other components in the CPI basket:

Going back as far as the series are available, since 1948, the price of medical care has grown at an average annual rate of 5.3% while the entire basket, headline CPI, has grown at an average annual rate of 3.5%. In the past 20 years, in the regime of stable inflation, headline CPI has grown at an average annual rate of 2.2%, whereas the price level of medical care has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6%—about 70% faster.

The post continues addressing why this matters, beyond the obvious and anecdotal, namely, policy implications, impact to the average consumer, retirees and those with stagnant wages:

The implication of these two features is far reaching: It’s symptomatic of the increasing share of income the U.S. spends on medical care. Beyond macro trends, the features of these two series themselves have policy implications. Indeed, indexing government healthcare budgets to overall CPI rather than medical care prices has implications for spending in real terms. This gap could also widen during recessions, when government help may be most in demand.

This does not bode well given current policy discussions, as noted in the Wall Street Journal, “any replacement health plan that satisfied GOP conservatives was likely to be opposed by the party’s centrists, and vice versa.” See the full FRED post here.

Motor Intelligence June 2017 Auto Sales

Earlier this week MotorIntelligence released its update and SAAR data. As expected, sales are somewhat reduced on a year-over-year basis:

ALTSales 2017 06

Most notably, the seasonally adjusted annual rates for autos are continuing to fall with truck sales continuing to post positive results for most manufacturers – Nissan with a whopping 21% + year-over-year truck sales with an additional 73,186 units sold over the prior year (though the company’s total car sales are off almost 12%). The Wall Street Journal cites that part of the reason for reduced sales is due to fewer vehicles being sent to rental companies:

The move away from rental sales reinforces a newfound discipline for domestic players that have been riding a seven-year growth streak since GM and Chrysler sought bankruptcy protection in 2009. The Detroit 3 reported tens of billions in profits during that span, bolstered by tailwinds from falling gas prices and surging demand for profit-rich trucks and SUVs.

Overall industry demand softened over the first half of 2017, however, falling about 2% through six months, according to JD Power. The development ushers in an expected plateau for auto sales, an important driver for the broader U.S. economy.

The fleet-sales pullback is having a disproportionate impact on wider volumes. Sales to retail customers at dealerships is down less than 1%, but sales to non-retail customers such as government fleets, commercial buyers and rental-car companies is off 7.8%, according to JD Power.

WSJ Summer Slump

 As mentioned previously, this was not unexpected given the volume of auto sales in the last three years that have extended beyond most expectations. Auto manufacturers seem to be signaling more slowdowns as the New York Times reports:

Automakers said this week that sales dropped in June for a sixth consecutive month, falling by 3 percent from a year ago, a trend that analysts do not see letting up anytime soon. And as demand falls, there is less work in the nation’s auto-assembly plants — primarily those that build traditional passenger cars…scaling back jobs in car plants is part of a newfound discipline among automakers to avoid bloated payrolls and inventories when sales start slipping.

While this trend is not all that alarming, two things are worth noting in this “post peak” period, both related to the financing of new vehicles and leases. The first is from Edmonds.com, where based on their analysis:

The average loan term for new vehicles soared to a record high of 69.3 months in June, an increase of 1 percent from June 2016 and up 6.8 percent from five years ago. In addition, the average amount financed by new-car buyers jumped to $30,945, which is a 2.6 percent increase from this time last year and 17.2 percent more than five years ago. And the average monthly car payment is now $517: That’s 2.1 percent more than in June 2016 and an 11.3 percent increase over five years.

In addition, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, close to $400 billion has been added to securitized loans as a result of auto sales in the last five years. Unless this trend continues, it could put a dent in sales:

FRED Auto CDO

Philadelphia Fed Forecast: Slightly Stronger vs. Three Months Ago

According to the Philadelphia Fed’s Real-Time Data Research Center, the outlook for 2017 is slightly upbeat, particularly compared to a few months back:

The U.S. economy over the next four quarters looks slightly stronger now than it did three months ago…forecasters predict real GDP will grow at an annual rate of 3.1 percent this quarter, up from the previous estimate of 2.3 percent. Quarterly growth over the following three quarters also looks improved. On an annual-average over annual-average basis, the forecasters predict real GDP will grow 2.1 percent in 2017, 2.5 percent in 2018, 2.1 percent in 2019, and 2.3 percent in 2020.

An improved outlook for the unemployment rate accompanies the outlook for growth. The forecasters predict that the unemployment rate will average 4.5 percent in the current quarter, before falling to 4.4 percent in the next two quarters, and 4.3 percent in the first two quarters of 2018. The projections for the next four quarters (and the next four years) are below those of the last survey, indicating a brighter outlook for unemployment.

The forecasters assign the following mean probability to GDP growth rates this year:

Mean Probability

Note on Inflation

One persistent element is the inflation outlook in the coming years.  The forecasters note a downward revision:

The forecasters expect current-quarter headline CPI inflation to average 1.6 percent, lower than the last survey’s estimate of 2.3 percent. Similarly, the forecasters predict current-quarter headline PCE inflation of 1.2 percent, also lower than the 2.0 percent predicted three months ago.

Measured on a fourth-quarter over fourth-quarter basis, headline CPI inflation is expected to average about 2.3 percent in each of the next three years, little changed from the last survey. The forecasters have revised downward their projections for headline PCE inflation in 2017 to 1.8 percent, but they pegged the rates for 2018 and 2019 at 2.0 percent, unchanged from the last survey.

Over the next 10 years, 2017 to 2026, the forecasters expect headline CPI inflation to average 2.30 percent at an annual rate, unchanged from the last survey. The corresponding estimate for 10-year annual-average headline PCE inflation is 2.09 percent, little changed from the 2.10 percent predicted in the previous survey.

While not completely unexpected, this inflation forecast demonstrates an interesting shift, especially given the state of full employment. See the full writeup with lots of stats here.

Fed: One Foot on the Brake, One on the Gas

Per the Wall Street Journal, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen sees enough strength in the economy to continue the process of normalizing interest rates over this year and the next, after finally topping a 2.1% inflation target in February. The Fed chair reports growth, but “at a modest pace.” As such, the policy calls for action seeking a middle ground:

Where before we had our foot pressed down on the gas pedal trying to give the economy all the oomph we possibly could, now [we’re] allowing the economy to kind of coast and remain on an even keel,” she said. “To give it some gas, but not so much that we’re pressing down hard on the accelerator.”

Another interesting note is what may happen to the Fed’s $4.5 trillion portfolio:

Fed officials raised rates in March for only the third time since the financial crisis, to a range between 0.75% and 1%. But they have penciled in two more rate increases this year, followed by three in 2018. They are also considering reducing the Fed’s $4.5 trillion portfolio of cash and securities, acquired during three rounds of asset purchases aimed at lowering long-term borrowing costs after the recession.

It also seems the inflation target is going hold at 2%, which may be much more realistic in the long term, per the chair, “Evidence suggests that the population roughly expects inflation in the vicinity of 2%.”

Volume at the Ports: Record Year at the Port of Los Angeles

It was a record year at the Port of Los Angeles:

Cargo volumes at the Port of Los Angeles reached 8,856,782 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in 2016, marking the busiest year ever for a Western Hemisphere Port. The previous record was set in 2006, when the Port of Los Angeles handled 8,469,853 TEUs.

Attributed to the success is cited as understanding:

…”the importance of innovating and collaborating to move our economy forward,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “We have seen incredible progress over the last two years, and it speaks to the hard work and partnership between the City, business leaders, and the workers who keep our port running smoothly every day.”

The Port finished the year strong, with December volumes of 796,536 TEUs, a 27 percent increase compared to the same period last year. It was the Port’s busiest December and fourth quarter in its 110-year history. Overall in 2016, cargo increased 8.5 percent compared to 2015.

The end of the calendar year 2016 showed the following shipment activity:

Port of Los Angeles Container Trade TEUs 2000-2016

To put this milestone into perspective, look at the same time span filtered to total containers only (this illustrates the long crawl forward since the mid-2000s): Total Containers POLA

The Port of Long Beach had a little different year, but still posted strong results in spite of challenges:

Slowed by industry headwinds and challenges that included a major customer declaring bankruptcy, the Port of Long Beach still moved almost 6.8 million containers in 2016, its fifth best year ever.

Overall cargo declined 5.8 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, as the Port was impacted by new ocean carrier alliances and the August bankruptcy of Hanjin Shipping, a South Korean company and former majority stakeholder at the 381-acre Pier T container terminal — Long Beach’s largest.

By year’s end, the Harbor Commission had approved an agreement for a subsidiary of Mediterranean Shipping Co., one of the world’s largest container ship operators, to take sole control of the long-term lease at Pier T.

…“Last year was turbulent, with numerous ocean carrier mergers and other changes,” said Harbor Commission President Lori Ann Guzmán. “Now we have one of the largest ocean carriers in the world as a major partner and we’re well positioned to rebound in 2017. While the industry strives for equilibrium, Long Beach will continue be a reliable port of entry and continue to provide the fastest, most efficient services for trade from the Far East.”

 

Plot 378

Again, the change in volume since the mid-2000s is even more felt when viewing total containers only:

Total Containers POLB

20th Anniversary of One of the Most Iconic Expressions in Finance: Irrational Exuberance

Irrational exuberance has been one of the most iconic and recognizable phrases in the financial markets for the last twenty years – to the day. I remember this like it was yesterday, being a recent graduate and shortly after, working in the capital market. This really was the advent of an era where there has been no looking back: a tenuous and ambivalent relationship with the Fed and every nuance uttered by the Chair. Here is the full quote in its context:

Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy? We as central bankers need not be concerned if a collapsing financial asset bubble does not threaten to impair the real economy, its production, jobs, and price stability. Indeed, the sharp stock market break of 1987 had few negative consequences for the economy. But we should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy. Thus, evaluating shifts in balance sheets generally, and in asset prices particularly, must be an integral part of the development of monetary policy.

Read the full speech from the minutes here.

Interestingly enough, here is some commentary in our present time declaring, “rationally exuberant,” (caveat emptor on long positions if you ask me):

Not everyone is convinced of this view to be sure:

In recent years the Fed has only doubled down on these policies by directly pursuing a “wealth effect.” Rather than give a boost to the broad economy, however, these central bankers have only accomplished an even greater and more pervasive financial asset perversion. Stocks, bonds and real estate have all become as overvalued as we have ever seen any one of them individually in this country. The end result of all of this money printing and interest rate manipulation is the worst economic expansion since the Great Depression and the greatest wealth inequality since that period, as well.

See the full post here.

Apps for Economics

I found this excellent site in the Journal of Economic Education as I was researching another topic. In that article, the following overview describes the useful content cataloged on the site:

As the digitization of teaching resources becomes increasingly available, instructors can adapt by making course pedagogy more mobile through incorporating “bring your own device” into the course design. The number of available apps can be overwhelming. We identify many of the best apps with user rankings on a 5-point qualitative scale from Awful (1) to Excellent (5).

Why should we use apps in economics? Strategic selection of an app engages students. This selection offers understanding throughout a range of cognitive domains while providing connections to learning styles that link to individual strengths. Apps provide a hands-on study of economics that can intrigue and satisfy. When students have fun engaging economic apps, their learning and retention increases. Our Web site arranges the apps into seven categories: Study Aids, Calculators, Data, Events, Feedback, Quizzes, and Simulations. Study Aids provide resources for better understanding principles of economics. Calculators identify spreadsheets as well as financial, mortgage, and currency calculators. Data apps profile domestic and international macroeconomic data sources. Events allow class members to keep abreast of current events. Feedback offers instructors a variety of mechanisms to gather classroom responses. Quizzes afford students tools for selftesting of economic concepts. Simulations generate a virtual world to put economics into practice. (Cochran, Velikova, Childs & Simmons, 2015).

 The site is authored by an excellent team of innovators, researchers and educators who have a “passion for technology.” This site is an excellent resource and I hope it continues to be updated.

 

Reference:

Cochran, H. H., Velikova, M. V., Childs, B. D., & Simmons, L. L. (2015). Apps for Economics. Journal Of Economic Education, 46(2), 231. doi:10.1080/00220485.2015.1006745

WSJ: Is Growth in the Gig Economy Stalling Out? – Flattening Growth Trend in Uber, Etsy and Airbnb

The Wall Street Journal asks, Is Growth in the Gig Economy Stalling Out? Flattening trends are seen using information from Morgan Chase & Co. related to earnings from “Uber, TaskRabbit, eBay, Airbnb and nearly 40 other sites considered part of the “gig economy.””

These new sites and platforms hold the potential to radically reshape the American workforce, leaving a growing number of employees severed from traditional payroll jobs. But just how much is that actually happening? Research has suggested that most of the rise in independent contracting has been happening outside of these high-profile online platforms. And now, the latest data from JPMorgan suggests growth in the number of active users of online platforms is slowing down.

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The report distinguishes between two types of platforms: those where users sell “capital,” whether it’s goods on eBay or Etsy or renting apartments, and those where users sell “labor,” such as Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit and so on. They find that about 1% of adults are active on such platforms in any given month. That’s up, but only a little bit, from estimates made earlier this year. The period of explosive growth for this type of work may be over. (Only a trivial number of people use both types of platforms.)

This extraordinarily high turnover “implies that growth in online platform participation is highly dependent on attracting new participants or increasing the attachment of existing participants,” the report says. In other words, if companies in the gig economy want to keep growing, they need a strategy to stop people from quitting after a few months.

The post cites a remarkable number of adults who have participated in shared economy jobs but an extraordinarily high rate of churn from these jobs inside of a year. This actually resembles similar trends that occur during normal economic slowdowns where professionals or skilled labor temporarily take on unrelated, sometimes reasonable earning temporary work. But it appears there is a shift back to traditional jobs rather than a new trend that was going to change the world.

Motor Intelligence July Auto Sales

Results from Motor Intelligence returned the following for the nation’s top three automakers:

Autodata 2016 08 02

From the Wall Street Journal:

Sales for the top three auto makers selling in the U.S. slipped in July, reinforcing the view that the light-vehicle market has plateaued after six consecutive annual volume increases.

Declines at General Motors Co., Ford Motor and Toyota Motor Corp. overshadow increases by smaller players; including Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. The sustained run of sales gains in the U.S. since the financial crisis has allowed most auto makers to limit reliance on discounts and keep inventories lean, padding profits generated by increased demand for trucks and sport-utility vehicles.

…The auto industry’s recovery has been a bright spot for the U.S. economy, with high factory utilization spurring new jobs, investment in American facilities and wage growth for Detroit’s auto workers. Car buyers spent $49 billion on light vehicles in July, according to TrueCar Inc., up 1% amid longer loan terms and a boom in subsidized auto leases—trends that keep monthly payments on par with a decade ago even as sticker prices go up.

…Overall retail sales are a trouble spot as purchases made by individual customers in showrooms have stalled this year, down slightly for the first seven months, according to JD Power. Auto makers are betting sales to government agencies, rental-car firm and commercial fleets will continue to grow.

…July’s results follow the sober view Ford executives gave last week when reporting second quarter earnings.

BT-AK221_CARSAL_9U_20160802134810

This is certainly a flattening trend from last year’s high, but I would tend to agree with the article’s assessment (quote), “this isn’t doomsday.” In other words, slowing, flattening and even headwinds is not the same thing as a crash, but in our projections for the coming year, we should at least take note and plan accordingly.

 

 

Residential Homeownership at More than a 50-Year Low

The Census Bureau updated its quarterly Housing Vacancies and Homeownership (CPS/HVS) and returned the following results:

Table 4 2016-07-28

As illustrated by the information in the table, homeownership in the U.S. continues to produce negative results as noted by the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. homeownership rate fell to the lowest level in more than 50 years in the second quarter of 2016, a reflection of the lingering effects of the housing bust, financial hurdles to buying and shifting demographics across the country.

But the bigger picture also suggests more Americans are gaining the confidence to strike out on their own, albeit as renters rather than buyers.

The homeownership rate, the proportion of households that are owner-occupied, fell to 62.9%, half a percentage point lower than the second quarter of 2015 and 0.6 percentage point lower than the first quarter 2016, the Census Bureau said on Thursday. That was the lowest figure since 1965.

These last statistics are reflected in the interactive FRED chart below:


One very interesting element of the homeownership trend is the sociological shakeout among generational groups, with some results as expected, and others left for more in-depth studies:

NA-CJ738_GENX_9U_20160408150908

Source: The Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/housing-bust-lingers-for-generation-x-1460142759

The full Bureau of Census report can be viewed here and the quarterly updates here.