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.

Brand Value! Los Pollos Hermanos and the New Season of Better Call Saul

Talk about brand value! For the upcoming (and very anticipated) Season 3 of Better Call Saul, AMC promotes with a very clever tie-in to a social icon from Breaking Bad: Los Pollos Hermanos. From Forbes, “Los Pollos Hermanos was an iconic location in Breaking Bad, with the Mexican themed chicken restaurant serving as the front for Fring’s meth empire.”

From the AMC site:

This imminent existential threat presses Jimmy’s faltering moral compass to the limit. Meanwhile, Mike searches for a mysterious adversary who seems to know almost everything about his business. As the season progresses, new characters are introduced and backstories are further illuminated with meaningful nods to the Breaking Bad universe.

Yes, the end won’t be better than the beginning but the journey is going to be excellent.


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.

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.


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.

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:


Source: The Wall Street Journal:

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

In a Knowledge Worker Economy – Risk OVER the Status Quo?

Nearly thirty years ago, Peter Drucker saw the need for and wrote of the imperative of change management within an information based, highly educated, “knowledge worker” economy and workforce:

To be sure, the fundamental task of management remains the same: to make people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure, and the training and development they need to perform and to respond to change. But the very meaning of this task has changed, if only because the performance of management has converted the workforce from one composed largely of unskilled laborers to one of highly educated knowledge workers.

We live in a world obsessed with safety, and mitigation of risk. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with either of these elements, except for the fact that no matter how hard we try, we cannot guarantee either absolute safety or the absence of risk.

In an excellent post in the Harvard Business Review, as summarized in this morning’s Management Tip of the Day, the whole concept of risk versus safety is put to a challenge:

Most of us consider ourselves to be risk averse, but what we consider “safe” behavior often contains much more uncertainty than we suspect…The challenge is that there are very few environments that remain static. “Safe” investments like gold can lose value. You could be fired from your “safe” job. And yet we behave as if the current state will persist in perpetuity. While no one can predict the future, there are a few tactics you can use to get better at evaluating risk. Before you make a decision, do your research on all of the potential avenues of action. Ask credible experts to weigh in. And don’t forget to evaluate the inherent risk of doing nothing. Sometimes the status quo is actually riskier than taking a leap into the unknown.

Excellent advice, see the full post here. Of course, as noted above, risk must be carefully researched and thought out. To use an old word, to exercise prudence, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as the, “ability to recognize and follow the most suitable or sensible course of action; good sense in practical or financial affairs; discretion, circumspection, caution.” In short, to exercise judgement when making a decision about the future. But too much caution, or worse, being restrained by fear amounts to the idea that we are actually in more control than we are, and that is little more than self-deception.

Hulu Expanding Skinny Options for Cord Cutters – First Step Toward True Broadcast Streaming?

A Wall Street Journal article confirms that, “Hulu is developing a subscription service that would stream feeds of popular broadcast and cable TV channels.” Although the specifics are still a way off, a couple notable highlights from the article:

    • Targeting around a $40 price point for monthly subscriptions, “Many [competing services] are seeking to deliver a subscription pay-TV package that includes a dozen or so popular channels for a price between $24.99 and $39.99″
    • Major networks are involved, “Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox, which are co-owners of Hulu, are near agreements to license many of their channels for the platform…Disney’s ABC, ESPN and Disney Channel are expected to be available on the service along with the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, FX and Fox’s national and regional sports channels”

Competition is fierce, which is good for consumers as the rivals seek to hit a price point and array of options that make sense. The article notes Apple’s frustration with, “its efforts to license programming from big media companies at rates that would allow it to keep retail prices attractive to cord-cutters.”

The Implications of Policy on Public Behavior

The FRED Blog posted a very interesting dataset that illustrates the sway that public policy holds on public behavior, spending decisions and in this case, wealth preservation, “taxpayers adjusted their various income streams by trying to shift income from the beginning of 2013 to the end of 2012. This shift applies primarily to capital income.” The results are illustrated below in a customizable FRED graph:

Other comments in the post help explain the variance between two identical datasets (with the same label):

Both lines have the same title, real disposable personal income per capita, and yet they look very different. The extra careful reader will notice one series has a yearly frequency and the other has a monthly frequency. Here, frequency matters a lot, but not because of the usual concerns about seasonality. Income climbs steeply at the end of 2012 before falling dramatically in January 2013. This has to do with the so-called fiscal cliff: A series of temporary income tax cuts were set to expire on December 31, 2012, increasing the tax rate on personal income for many people in potentially significant ways.

This is quite interesting as it relates to this particular variance, but take a look at the same data from the last sixteen years:

What explains the variances showing very similar patterns? (Including a spike/cliff right in the middle of the Great Crash of 2008.) See the full post here.

Travel Adventure Roulette: Bargain Basement Prices with One Little Catch…

The Wall Street Journal reports that if you are traveling within Europe, there is an option for those looking for ultra low priced fares known as “blind bookings.” The tickets as low as $37 round trip come with one caveat: the airline chooses your destination and you only find out (to where) after your trip is booked. The parameters you are in control of are the dates, as well as an array of interests (culture, shopping, etc.), and then surprise! Find out where you are headed.

Who is Germanwings currently targeting?

For Germanwings, the cheap prices have been particularly popular with American expats and military families in Germany interested in seeing more of Europe. Jenny Crossen and her husband Bill, posted in Germany with the U.S. Army, heard about the fares from a co-worker. The couple has taken three blind-booking trips as a way to see more of Europe together. Ms. Crossen said the uncertainty was “kind of exciting while you wait for the big reveal.’’

And the article rightly questions whether such a service would work here in the States – as there are an awful lot of places that may not make for an exciting destination.

What I love about this story is how this all got started,

Blind bookings were conceived in 2007 by a university student who did a thesis on ways airlines could get more fliers without cannibalizing higher-fare ticket sales. Often when an airline launches a sale, business travelers take advantage of discounts. The student’s work included an internship at Germanwings, and his idea focused on student travel habits. “Students ask, Where could we go without paying much? They don’t care where they go, just choose,’’ said Oliver Scheid, head of revenue management and pricing at Germanwings.

This is business in the social era: customer experience, engagement, input and (indirectly) partnership with the organizations providing the product or service. See more here:

An Aging Nation: U.S. Census Interactive Graphic

Last year, the U.S. Census issued an excellent report, An Aging Nation: The Older Population in
the United States - Population Estimates and Projections and as you might guess, the findings are nothing short of alarming. Why? Because the findings in the report have a number of significant implications connected with aging in general and all its added responsibilities such as health care and social security. What’s more, the very large baby boom cohort (the report uses the traditional timespan of those born from 1946-1964) has for some time represented such a significant part of the work force, but now its rotation out of the workforce is adding to the weight of what the report labels, “older population” (defined as those above 65 years of age). Combine this with the extrapolation of the older Generation X cohort in the next few decades, plus overall mortality projections showing increased life expectancies and you have a mind boggling number of people not only meeting the definition of older, but in excess of 85 years of age.

Historical Look Using an Interactive Graphic

Below is an interactive graphic from the Census Bureau that can be used in two ways. Slide the year along the bottom for a view of the population breakdown by age at a given point in time in the last ten to fifteen years. Going back fifteen years to the year 2000, you see a very large cohort in their thirties to early fifties. As you slide the year to the right (toward the present), you see the rising age, which is somewhat self-obviating given the starting point. But then as you reach the near present, you see a surprising trend of a new cohort, now in their early twenties to early thirties, representing a significant part of the population.

Implications of the Elderly

According to the projections in the Census report:

Between 2012 and 2050, the U.S. population is projected to grow from 314 million in 2012 to 400 million in 2050, an increase of 27 percent…By 2030, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents are projected to be aged 65 and over, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and 9.8 percent in 1970.

The report identifies mortality rates as the driver of trends:

The size and composition of the older population in 2050 will be largely determined by two factors: the size and composition of the population 27 years and over in 2012 and the future course of mortality for that population. While past fertility rates were the main driver shaping the size of these cohorts to date, mortality will influence the pace at which that population declines at the older ages.

…The mortality assumptions for these population projections are guided by past trends and current levels of mortality observed in the United States and in other developed nations. Trends in health-related conditions such as smoking and obesity were also assessed.

Survivorship rates have shown improvement for many decades. In the United States, life expectancy at age 65 was 15.2 years in 1972 and rose to 19.1 years in 2010—a net gain of 3.9 years. The survival gains for those turning 85 have also been impressive. In 1972, the average time to live for someone turning 85 was 5.5 years. By 2010, this had risen to 6.5 years—a net gain of 1 year. Similar trends have been observed in almost all developed nations. For example, life expectancy at age 65 in Sweden increased from 15.7 years in 1972 to 19.8 years in 2010. Life expectancy at age 85 in Sweden increased from 4.9 years in 1972 to 6.2 years in 2010.8

There is a little bit of irony in these trends. On the one hand, you have things like the reduction of smoking that is practically guaranteed to reduce health risks and increase life span in most people. But on the other:

The incidence of obesity increased dramatically between 1980 and 2008, doubling for adults and tripling for children (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2011)…The direct effect of obesity on survival is less than that for smoking, and there is evidence that the trend is leveling off. The longer-term implications are yet unknown, but could dampen continued improvements in survivorship in future years.

These trends may simply point to the advancements of medicine and technology, but as the above quote points out, the long-term implications of this fairly recent trend are yet unknown. Where is this all leading? As mentioned previously, there are significant implications for Social Security and Medicare, but these are only two examples (although the largest by far) as there are many pension and health care systems throughout the different states and regions of the U.S. There is also the continuous discussion of potential growth in the overall economy. The idea that traditional growth of 4% is not currently realistic (or possible) given the number of workers from the boomer cohort reducing labor participation rates and thus reducing spending, is a common assumption. On the other hand, the very large cohort representing a younger population as well as those in their prime working ages cannot be ignored. While it’s true that availability of workers does not produce jobs, if a number of fundamentals change in the next few years, there could be expansion that we have not seen in years. How might this match off against the implications of an aging population? One thing is certain, in the traditional sense of employment, we have not yet figured out (cumulatively) how to best utilize this large, younger cohort. And we have still not yet adjusted to a post industrial era.