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Do Declining Imports Signal an Imminent Recession?

Maybe. Maybe not. Some reasons to wonder. As Calculated Risk notes, LA port traffic is down. A decline in port traffic usually signals a downturn in imports….

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Maybe. Maybe not. Some reasons to wonder.

As Calculated Risk notes, LA port traffic is down. A decline in port traffic usually signals a downturn in imports. Figure 1 shows the evolution of these two series before and during the pandemic.

Figure 1: Goods imports in billions Ch.2012$/mo, n.s.a. (blue, left log scale), and containers (TEUs) at LA and Long Beach ports, n.s.a. (tan, log right scale). Real imports calculated deflating by import price deflator obtained from seasonally adjusted series. NBER defined peak-to-trough recession dates shaded gray. Source: Census, Port of LA, Port of Long Beach, NBER, and author’s calculations.

 

A regression of one series on the other yields an adj-R2 of 0.32, with a slope coefficient (log-log) of 0.32. Each 1% increase in container traffic at LA and Long Beach ports is associated with a 0.3% increase in real goods imports.

Imports are indeed declining as far as we can tell, for data going through December, and if port traffic is any indicator, January (n.s.a.) imports will remain depressed relative to past peak.

Figure 2: Goods imports ex-oil (blue, left log scale), and monthly GDP (red, right log scale), both in billions Ch.2012$ SAAR. Source: BEA/Census and IHS Markit/SP Global.

In fact, imports have fallen more drastically than GDP in the last 3 recessions (and in fact, GDP did not fall in the 2001 recession). In the 2007-09 recession, I noted that the collapse in imports suggested a deep recession was likely (see top right graph in Figure 3 below).

Figure 3: GDP (tan), and imports of goods ex-oil (blue), both in logs, normalized to 0 at NBER peak (red dashed line). Normalization for 2022 assumes peak at 2022Q4. Source: BEA, NBER, and author’s calculations.

Interestingly, the current situation differs from past; non-oil imports have been falling as GDP has risen, in the past two quarters (taking 2022Q4 as peak).

One reason not to think imports predict a recession this time around is the anomalous behavior of goods consumption during the pandemic. Figure 3 shows the goods consumption and imports consumption relative to levels at 2020M02 (NBER defined peak).

Figure 4: Goods imports ex-oil (blue), and consumption of goods (red), both difference from 2020M02, in billions Ch.2012$ SAAR. NBER defined peak-to-trough recession dates shaded gray. Source: BEA, NBER, and author’s calculations.

Imports of goods were high because consumption of goods was high. The deceleration of the latter is then consistent with the depressed (relatively) level of goods imports.

So it might be the case that lower goods imports are signalling a slowdown. Indeed, that is at least part of the story (as can be seen in lower aggregate — goods and services — consumption, which peaked in 2022M10). But the other part of the story is the normalization of consumption patterns, and a reallocation of spending toward services and away from goods.

That being said, consensus is still for recession, in Q1 (IHS Markit/SP Global) or 2023H2 (for others), while GS has taken the likelihood to 35%.

 

 

 

 

 

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When words make you sick

In a new book, experts in a variety of fields explore nocebo effects – how negative expectations concerning health can make a person sick. It is the…

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In a new book, experts in a variety of fields explore nocebo effects – how negative expectations concerning health can make a person sick. It is the first time a book has been written on this subject.

“I think it’s the idea that words really matter. It’s fascinating that how we communicate can affect the outcome. Communication in health care is perhaps more important than the patient recognises,” says Charlotte Blease, who is a researcher at the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at Uppsala University. 
Along with colleagues at Brown University in the United States and the University of Zurich in Switzerland she has written the book “The Nocebo Effect: When Words Make You Sick”. Nocebo is sometimes called the placebo’s evil twin. A placebo effect occurs when a patient thinks they feel better because of receiving medicine and part of that perception is due not to the drug but to positive expectations. The concept of the nocebo effect means that harmful things can happen because a person expects it – unconsciously or consciously. This is the first time the phenomenon has been addressed in a scholarly book. Researchers in medicine, history, culture, psychology and philosophy have examined it, each in their own particular area. 

Credit: Catherine Blease

In a new book, experts in a variety of fields explore nocebo effects – how negative expectations concerning health can make a person sick. It is the first time a book has been written on this subject.

“I think it’s the idea that words really matter. It’s fascinating that how we communicate can affect the outcome. Communication in health care is perhaps more important than the patient recognises,” says Charlotte Blease, who is a researcher at the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at Uppsala University. 
Along with colleagues at Brown University in the United States and the University of Zurich in Switzerland she has written the book “The Nocebo Effect: When Words Make You Sick”. Nocebo is sometimes called the placebo’s evil twin. A placebo effect occurs when a patient thinks they feel better because of receiving medicine and part of that perception is due not to the drug but to positive expectations. The concept of the nocebo effect means that harmful things can happen because a person expects it – unconsciously or consciously. This is the first time the phenomenon has been addressed in a scholarly book. Researchers in medicine, history, culture, psychology and philosophy have examined it, each in their own particular area. 

“It’s a very new field, an emerging discipline. Even if the nocebo effect is documented far back in history, it perhaps became especially obvious during the coronavirus pandemic,” Blease says.

A previous study of patients during the pandemic (see below) shows that as many as three quarters of the reported side-effects of the coronavirus vaccine may be due to the nocebo effect. The study involved more than 45,000 participants, approximately half of whom were injected with a saline solution instead of the vaccine but despite this still experienced many side-effects such as nausea and headache. In the book, the authors highlight that one issue that disappeared in the discussion of side-effects during the coronavirus pandemic was that many of these were actually due to the nocebo effect.

“Whether this is due to expectations – the nocebo effect – remains to be understood. However, it is curious that so many participants reported side-effects after receiving no vaccine. Regardless, some people may have been put off by what they heard about side-effects,” Blease comments.


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Manufacturing and construction vs. the still-inverted yield curve

  – by New Deal democratProf. Menzie Chinn at Econbrowser makes the point that the yield curve is still inverted, and has not yet eclipsed the longest…

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 - by New Deal democrat


Prof. Menzie Chinn at Econbrowser makes the point that the yield curve is still inverted, and has not yet eclipsed the longest previous time between onset of such an inversion and a recession. So he believes the threat of recession is still on the table.


And he’s correct about the yield curve, although it is getting very long in the tooth. In the past half century, the shortest time between a 10 minus 2 year inversion (blue in the graph below) to recession has been 10 months (1980) and the longest 22 months (2007). For the 10 year minus 3 month inversion (red), the shortest time has been 8 months (1980 and 2001) and the longest has been 17 months (2007):



At present the former yield curve has been inverted for 20.5 months, and the latter for 16.5 months. So if there is no recession by May 1, we’re in uncharted territory as far as the yield curve indicator is concerned.

My view for the past half year or so has been much more cautious. While there has been nearly unprecedented Fed tightening (only the 1980-81 tightening was more severe), on the other hand there was massive pandemic stimulus, and what I described on some occasions as a “hurricane force tailwind” of supply chain unkinking. If the two positive forces have abated, does the negative force of the Fed tightening, which is still in place, now take precedence? Or because interest rates have plateaued in the past year, is it too something of a spent force? Since I confess not to know, because the situation is unprecedented in the modern era for which most data is available, I have highlighted turning to the short leading metrics. Do they remain steady or improve? Or do they deteriorate as they have before prior recessions?

First of all, let me show the NY Fed’s Global Supply Chain Index, which attempts to disaggregate supply sided information from demand side information. A positive value shows relative tightening, a negative loosening:



You can see the huge pandemic tightening in 2020 into 2022, followed by a similarly large loosening through 2023. For the past few months, the Index has been close to neutral, or shown very slight tightness.

Typically in the past Fed tightenings have operated through two main channels: housing and manufacturing, especially durable goods manufacturing.

Let’s take the two in reverse order.

Manufacturing has at very least stalled, and by some measures turned down to recessionary levels.  Last week I discussed industrial production (not shown), which peaked in late 2022 and has continued to trend sideways to slightly negative right through February.

A very good harbinger with a record going back 75 years has been the ISM manufacturing index. Here’s its historical record through about 10 years ago (when FRED discontinued publishing it):



And here is its record for the past several years:



This index was frankly recessionary for almost all of last year. It is still negative, although not so much as before.

Two other metrics with lengthy records are the average hourly workweek in manufacturing (blue, right scale), which is one of the 10 “official” leading indicators, as well as real spending on durable goods (red, measured YoY for ease of comparison, left scale):



As a general rule, if real spending on durable goods turns negative YoY for more than an isolated month, a recession has started (with the peak in absolute terms coming before). Also, since employers generally cut hours before cutting jobs, a decline of about 0.8% of an hour in the average manufacturing workweek has typically preceded a recession - with the caveat in modern times that it must fall to at least roughly 40.5 hours:



The average manufacturing workweek has met the former criteria for the last 9 months, and the latter since November. By contrast, real spending on durable goods was up 0.7% YoY as of the last report for January, and in December had made an all-time record high.

But if some of the manufacturing data has met the historical criteria for a recession warning, it is important to note that manufacturing is less of US GDP than before the year 2000, and had been down more in 2015-16 without a recession occurring.

Further, housing construction has not meaningfully constricted at all. The below graph shows the leading metric of housing permits (another “official” component of the LEI, right scale), together with housing units under construction (gold, *1.2 for scale, right scale), and also real GDP q/q (red, left scale):



Housing permits declined -30% after the Fed began tightening, which has normally been enough to trigger a recession. *BUT* the actual measure of economic activity, housing units under construction, has barely turned down at all. In comparison to past downturns, where typically it had fallen at least 10%, and more often 20%, before a recession had begun, as of last month it was only 2% off peak!

The only other two occasions where housing permits declined comparably with no recession ensuing - 1966 and 1986 - real gross domestic product increased robustly. This was similarly the case in 2023.

An important reason is the other historical reason proppin up expansions: stimulative government spending. Here’s the historical record comparing fiscal surpluses vs. deficits:



Note the abrupt end of stimulative spending in 1937, normally thought to have been the prime driver of the steep 1938 recession. Note also the big “Great Society” stimulative spending in 1966-68, when a downturn was averted (indeed, although not shown in the first graph above, there was an inverted yield curve then as well). Needless to say, there as been a great deal of stimulative fiscal spending since 2020 as well.

Fed tightening typically works by constricting demand. Both government stimulus and the unkinking of supply chains work to stimulate supply. 

All of which leads to the conclusion that, while manufacturing has reacted to the tightening, the *real* measure of construction activity has not, or not sufficiently to be recessionary.

Tomorrow housing permits, starts, and units under construction will all be updated. Unless there is a sharp decline in units under construction, there is no short term recession signal at all.

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Half Of Downtown Pittsburgh Office Space Could Be Empty In 4 Years

Half Of Downtown Pittsburgh Office Space Could Be Empty In 4 Years

Authored by Mike Shedlock via MishTalk.com,

The CRE implosion is picking…

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Half Of Downtown Pittsburgh Office Space Could Be Empty In 4 Years

Authored by Mike Shedlock via MishTalk.com,

The CRE implosion is picking up steam.

Check out the grim stats on Pittsburgh.

Unions are also a problem in Pittsburgh as they are in Illinois and California.

Downtown Pittsburgh Implosion

The Post Gazette reports nearly half of Downtown Pittsburgh office space could be empty in 4 years.

Confidential real estate information obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette estimates that 17 buildings are in “significant distress” and another nine are in “pending distress,” meaning they are either approaching foreclosure or at risk of foreclosure. Those properties represent 63% of the Downtown office stock and account for $30.5 million in real estate taxes, according to the data.

It also calculates the current office vacancy rate at 27% when subleases are factored in — one of the highest in the country.

And with an additional three million square feet of unoccupied leased space becoming available over the next five years, the vacancy rate could soar to 46% by 2028, based on the data.

Property assessments on 10 buildings, including U.S. Steel Tower, PPG Place, and the Tower at PNC Plaza, have been slashed by $364.4 million for the 2023 tax year, as high vacancies drive down their income.

Another factor has been the steep drop — to 63.5% from 87.5% — in the common level ratio, the number used to compute taxable value in county assessment appeal hearings.

The assessment cuts have the potential to cost the city, the county, and the Pittsburgh schools nearly $8.4 million in tax refunds for that year alone. Downtown represents nearly 25% of the city’s overall tax base.

In response Pittsburgh City Councilman Bobby Wilson wants to remove a $250,000 limit on the amount of tax relief available to a building owner or developer as long as a project creates at least 50 full-time equivalent jobs.

It’s unclear if the proposal will be enough. Annual interest costs to borrow $1 million have soared from $32,500 at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to $85,000 on March 1. Local construction costs have increased by about 30% since 2019.

But the city is doomed if it does nothing. Aaron Stauber, president of Rugby Realty said it will probably empty out Gulf Tower and mothball it once all existing leases expire.

“It’s cheaper to just shut the lights off,” he said. “At some point, we would move on to greener pastures.”

Where’s There’s Smoke There’s Unions

In addition to the commercial real estate woes, the city is also wrestling with union contracts.

Please consider Sounding the alarm: Pittsburgh Controller’s letter should kick off fiscal soul-searching

It’s only March, and Pittsburgh’s 2024 house-of-cards operating budget is already falling down. That’s the clear implication of a letter sent by new City Controller Rachael Heisler to Mayor Ed Gainey and members of City Council on Wednesday afternoon.

The letter is a rare and welcome expression of urgency in a city government that has fallen in complacency — and is close to falling into fiscal disaster.

The approaching crisis was thrown into sharp relief this week, when City Council approved amendments to the operating budget accounting for a pricey new contract with the firefighters union. The Post-Gazette Editorial Board had predicted that this contract — plus two others yet to be announced and approved — would demonstrate the dishonesty of Mayor Ed Gainey’s budget, and that’s exactly what’s happening: The new contract is adding $11 million to the administration’s artificially low 5-year spending projections, bringing expected 2028 reserves to just barely the legal limit.

But there’s still two big contracts to go, with the EMS union and the Pittsburgh Joint Collective Bargaining Committee, which covers Public Works workers. Worse, there are tens — possibly hundreds — of millions in unrealistic revenues still on the books. On this, Ms. Heisler’s letter only scratched the surface.

Similarly, as we have observed, the budget’s real estate tax revenue projections are radically inconsistent with reality. Due to high vacancies and a sharp reduction in the common level ratio, a significant drop in revenues was predictable — but not reflected in the budget. Ms. Heisler’s estimate of a 20% drop in revenues from Downtown property, or $5.3 million a year, may even be optimistic: Other estimates peg the loss at twice that, or more.

Left unmentioned in the letter are massive property tax refunds the city will owe, as well as fanciful projections of interest income that are inconsistent with the dwindling reserves, and drawing-down of federal COVID relief funds, predicted in the budget itself. That’s another unrealistic $80 million over five years.

Pittsburgh exited Act 47 state oversight after nearly 15 years on Feb. 12, 2018, with a clean bill of fiscal health. 

It has already ruined that bill of health.

Act 47 in Pittsburgh

Flashback February 21, 2018Act 47 in Pittsburgh: What Was Accomplished?

Pittsburgh’s tax structure was a much-complained-about topic leading up to the Act 47 declaration. The year following Pittsburgh’s designation as financially distressed under Act 47 it levied taxes on real estate, real estate transfers, parking, earned income, business gross receipts (business privilege and mercantile), occupational privilege and amusements. The General Assembly enacted tax reforms in 2004 giving the city authority to levy a payroll preparation tax in exchange for the immediate elimination of the mercantile tax and the phase out of the business privilege tax. The tax reforms increased the amount of the occupational privilege tax from $10 to $52 (this is today known as the local services tax and all municipalities outside of Philadelphia levy it and could raise it thanks to the change for Pittsburgh).

The coordinators recommended an increase in the deed transfer tax, which occurred in late 2004 (it was just increased again by City Council) and in the real estate tax, which increased in 2015.

Legacy costs, principally debt and underfunded pensions, were the primary focus of the 2009 amended recovery plan. The city’s pension funded ratio has increased significantly from where it stood a decade ago, rising from the mid-30 percent range to over 60 percent at last measurement.

The obvious question? Will the city stick to the steps taken to improve financially and avoid slipping back into distressed status? If Pittsburgh once stood “on the precipice of full-blown crisis,” as described in the first recovery plan, hopefully it won’t return to that position.

The Obvious Question

I could have answered the 2018 obvious question with the obvious answer. Hell no.

No matter how much you raise taxes, it will never be enough because public unions will suck every penny and want more.

On top of union graft, and insanely woke policies in California, we have an additional huge problem.

Hybrid Work Leaves Offices Empty and Building Owners Reeling

Hybrid work has put office building owners in a bind and could pose a risk to banks. Landlords are now confronting the fact that some of their office buildings have become obsolete, if not worthless.

Meanwhile, in Illinois …

Chicago Teachers’ Union Seeks $50 Billion Despite $700 Million City Deficit

Please note the Chicago Teachers’ Union Seeks $50 Billion Despite $700 Million City Deficit

The CTU wants to raise taxes across the board, especially targeting real estate.

My suggestion, get the hell out...

Tyler Durden Mon, 03/18/2024 - 12:10

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