Connect with us

Economics

The US economy as seen from 30,000 feet

As the Covid-19 panic fades into the sunset, it’s time to climb to 30,000 feet and review some of the economy’s macro vital signs.Despite the destructive impact of economic and social shutdowns which resulted in millions of lost jobs and businesses and…

Published

on

As the Covid-19 panic fades into the sunset, it's time to climb to 30,000 feet and review some of the economy's macro vital signs.

Despite the destructive impact of economic and social shutdowns which resulted in millions of lost jobs and businesses and untold damage to the physical and mental health of even more millions, and despite the government's efforts to ameliorate the damage by borrowing trillions in order to shovel money from the pockets of some into the pockets of many, the economy has emerged in amazingly good shape. In fact, the private sector is wealthier and more prosperous than ever before—although the benefits have undoubtedly been distributed unequally and often rather crudely. The public sector, on the other hand, has rung up a tab that will take generations to cover.

Lurking in the background of this surprisingly good news, however, is inflation, which is very much alive and well and prospering.

Chart #1

The Federal Reserve today released its estimates of household balance sheets, which are summarized in Chart #1. (Nonprofit organizations are included in these numbers.) Household wealth has blossomed, thanks to strong financial markets, lots of saving, real estate appreciation, and only a modest accumulation of debt.  

Chart #2

Chart #2 converts the net worth numbers in the first chart to real (inflation-adjusted) figures. Note that the y-axis is logarithmic, which renders steady growth rates into a straight line. Note further that the real net worth of the US private sector has risen slightly more than an annualized 3.6% per year over the past 70 years. It's worthwhile comparing this chart to Chart #16 in my previous post. Both paint a similar picture: net worth and equity prices have appreciated on average by a fairly steady rate over the long haul, and the trend lines I have added to each chart do a fairly good job of dividing above- and below-trend years into equal amounts. Both suggest that valuations and net worth today are somewhat above long-term trends, but not by an egregious amount. In short, the current period does not stand out in any extraordinary way from our long-standing experience.

Chart #3

Chart #3 uses the data from Chart #2 and divides it by the population of the US to get real per capita net worth (currently, the average person's share of total wealth is about $410,000). Here again we see a fairly steady rate of growth over time, but a bit more above trend in the past year. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from all of these charts is that further wealth and equity price gains are likely to be a lot less exciting in coming years than they have been in previous years. 

Chart #4

Chart #4 shows the ratio of total household debt to total household assets, which can be likened to the average degree of leverage employed by the private sector. Here we see a rather dramatic and ongoing decline in financial leverage that began back in 2008, in the depths of the Great Recession. That recession, as you might recall, owed quite a bit to the private sector's use of excessive leverage to buy homes in previous years. We've now rolled back the clock on leverage to the levels of the early 1970s. Which, curiously, was just before the great wave of inflation that lifted housing prices. (I daresay that the recent boom in inflation and housing prices are likely two sides of the same coin.)

Chart #5

In this umpteenth appearance of Chart #5, we see that the gains in equity prices in the past year have been accompanied by a decline in the Vix "fear" index. The Vix is still a bit above the levels that seem to prevail in "normal" times, so there may be room for further gains provided we avoid unpleasant surprises.

Chart #6

Chart #6 tracks the rolling 12-month total of federal spending and tax revenues. Covid-19 provided cover for the most dramatic increase in federal spending since WW II. Things are beginning to return to normal, it would seem, thanks to May's avalanche of tax receipts (thanks in turn to the capital gains generated by a strong stock market in late 2020) and a lessening in the pace of growth of spending. Still, the federal budget is for all intents and purposes very nearly out of control. Spending MUST be reined in or there will be hell to pay at some point. The problem is not so much the amount of debt, but rather the fact that enormous levels of spending are hugely wasteful and make for fertile terrain for graft and corruption. No country has ever borrowed and spent its way to prosperity. That we are not in ruins today is testimony to the hard work and prudence of our private sector, as the charts above document. 

The most important reason to cut spending is to improve the health of the economy, since government can never spend taxpayers' money as prudently, wisely, and efficiently as taxpayers can.

Chart #7

Chart #7 shows total federal revenues on a rolling 12-month basis (blue line) and its major components. The recent surge in revenues owes a lot to a surge in individual income tax receipts, which in turn have been boosted by capital gains revenue thanks to the strong stock market. Corporate income taxes have also increased thanks to strong profits growth in the latter half of the year.

Chart #8

Chart #8 makes a repeat appearance using the latest data. It's hard to believe, but true: the burden of the federal debt (measured as total interest payments as a percent of GDP) today is about as low as it has ever been, even though total debt as a percent of GDP is higher than it has ever been (save for the WW II years). The circle is squared by the level of interest rates, which remain very near all-time historic lows. The blue line on this chart is virtually certain to start rising within the next year as market interest rates rise—as they must, given the huge rise in inflation shown in the following charts.

Chart #9

Chart #9 plots the level of the CPI index ex-energy on a log scale. Here we see how inflation by this measure has averaged just about exactly 2% per year over the past two decades. But note how the index jumps in the past several months above trend. The year over year rate has been boosted to a degree due to the dip in the level of the index in April and May of last year (the so-called "base effect"), but that dip was fully reversed by August last year. What we've seen in recent months is a mini-boom in the index above and beyond its long-term trend growth rate. This makes me think that rising inflation is not just transient. But tell that to the Fed, whose members are inordinately afraid to pull the punchbowl this time around, after doing so prematurely too many times in the past.

Chart #10

Chart #10 looks at the 6-mo. annualized change in the CPI (both with and without energy) to get a better idea of what has happened since the very weak CPI data in the first half of last year. By this measure inflation is running at a 4-6% annualized rate. And even higher—prices are up at a 7-8% annualized rate over the past 3 months! All of this is very reminiscent of what happened to inflation in the mid 2000s when it gradually became obvious that the Fed had failed to tighten policy sufficiently. And when they did manage to tighten policy we ended up with the Great Recession which began in 2008. I would further note that the 10-yr Treasury yield rose from 3.5% in 2003 to a high of 5.5% in 2006. We could easily see a repeat of this in the years to come. Beware fixed income bonds.

It's hard to believe, but today the 10-yr Treasury yield is a mere 1.4%, which is way less than the current rate of inflation. Way less. The entire Treasury curve is well below the current rate of inflation, which means that Treasuries are generating losses in real terms that are on the order of $0.5-0.7 trillion per year (and possibly more). Uncle Sam doesn't mind, though, since he is the world's biggest debtor. (The debt holder's loss is the debt issuer's gain.) Uncle Sam is currently benefiting from a "stealth" tax which is otherwise known as an inflation tax, and it's generating a not insignificant amount of money—much more than all corporate income tax receipts.

Read More

Continue Reading

Economics

Extra Crunch roundup: TC Mobility recaps, Nubank EC-1, farewell to browser cookies

What, exactly, are investors looking for?

Published

on

What, exactly, are investors looking for?

Early-stage founders, usually first-timers, often tie themselves in knots as they try to project the qualities they hope investors are seeking. In reality, few entrepreneurs have the acting skills required to convince someone that they’re patient, dedicated or hard working.

Johan Brenner, general partner at Creandum, was an early backer of Klarna, Spotify and several other European startups. Over the last two decades, he’s identified five key traits shared by people who create billion-dollar companies.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


“A true unicorn founder doesn’t need to have all of those capabilities on day one,” says Brenner, “but they should already be thinking big while executing small and demonstrating that they understand how to scale a company.”

Drawing from observations gleaned from working with founders like Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, and iZettle’s Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson, Brenner explains where “VC FOMO” comes from and how it drives deal-making.

We’re running a series of posts that recap conversations from last week’s virtual TC Mobility conference, including an interview with Refraction AI’s Matthew Johnson, a look at how autonomous delivery startups are navigating the regulatory and competitive landscape, and much more. There are many more recaps to come; click here to find them all.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Founded in 2013 and based in São Paulo, Brazil, Nubank serves more than 34 million customers, making it Latin America’s largest neobank.

Reporter Marcella McCarthy spoke to CEO David Velez to learn about his efforts to connect with consumers and overcome entrenched opposition from established players who were friendly with regulators.

In the first of a series of stories for Nubank’s EC-1, she interviewed Velez about his early fundraising efforts. For a balanced perspective, she also spoke to early Nubank investors at Sequoia and Kaszek Ventures, Latin America’s largest venture fund, to find out why they funded the startup while it was still pre-product.

“There are people you come across in life that within the first hour of meeting with them, you know you want to work with them,” said Doug Leone, a global managing partner at Sequoia who’d recruited Velez after he graduated from grad school at Stanford.

Marcella also interviewed members of Nubank’s founding team to better understand why they decided to take a chance on a startup that faced such long odds of success.

“I left banking to make a fifth of my salary, and back then, about $5,000 in equity,” said Vitor Olivier, Nubank’s VP of operations and platforms.

“Financially, it didn’t really make sense, so I really had to believe that it was really going to work, and that it would be big.”

Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Image Credits: Didi

In his last dispatch before a week’s vacation, Alex Wilhelm waded through the numbers in Didi’s SEC filing. The big takeaways?

“While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive,” he writes.

However, “Didi is not as unprofitable as we might have anticipated. That’s a nice surprise. But the company’s regular business has never made money, and it’s losing more lately than historically, which is also pretty rough.”

What’s driving the rise of robotaxis in China with AutoX, Momenta and WeRide

AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country.

They also talked about overseas expansion — a common trajectory for China’s top autonomous vehicle startups — and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market.

The air taxi market prepares to take flight

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

“As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors,” Aria Alamalhodaei writes. “A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.”

But while some electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — valuations are skyrocketing.

“Electric air mobility is gaining elevation,” she writes. “But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.”

The demise of browser cookies could create a Golden Age of digital marketing

Though some may say the doomsday clock is ticking toward catastrophe for digital marketing, Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, which does away with automatic opt-ins for data collection, and Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies do not signal a death knell for digital advertisers.

“With a few changes to short-term strategy — and a longer-term plan that takes into account the fact that people are awakening to the value of their online data — advertisers can form a new type of relationship with consumers,” Permission.io CTO Hunter Jensen writes in a guest column. “It can be built upon trust and open exchange of value.”

If offered the right incentives, Jensen predicts, “consumers will happily consent to data collection because advertisers will be offering them something they value in return.”

How autonomous delivery startups are navigating policy, partnerships and post-pandemic operations

Nuro second gen R2 delivery vehicle

Image Credits: Nuro

We kicked off this year’s TC Sessions: Mobility with a talk featuring three leading players in the field of autonomous delivery. Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom, and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to the category.

The trio discussed government regulation on autonomous driving, partnerships with big corporations like Walmart and Domino’s, and the ongoing impact the pandemic has had on interest in the space.

Waabi’s Raquel Urtasun explains why it was the right time to launch an AV technology startup

Image Credits: Waabi via Natalia Dola

Raquel Urtasun, the former chief scientist at Uber ATG, is the founder and CEO of Waabi, an autonomous vehicle startup that came out of stealth mode last week. The Toronto-based company, which will focus on trucking, raised an impressive $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures.

Urtasun joined Mobility 2021 to talk about her new venture, the challenges facing the self-driving vehicle industry and how her approach to AI can be used to advance the commercialization of AVs.

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

How to create effective, engaged workplace teams after the COVID-19 pandemic

Post-pandemic, the world of work will probably never be the same again. And that’s probably a good thing. We now have an opportunity to make it better.

For workplace teams returning to the office post-pandemic, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences. (Pixabay)

Well into the pandemic’s second year, we are beginning to see light on the horizon. We’re not out of the woods here in Canada. As some areas of the country continue to struggle to contain the virus, others are optimistic due to lowering case counts thanks to restrictions and lockdown measures.

Ontario — the country’s largest province by population — is now in the first step of its reopening, and officials have said the majority of those who want to receive a vaccine could be fully immunized by the end of the summer.

The rolling lockdowns and public health restrictions of the pandemic response meant a massive shift to remote and virtual work for many workplaces. As we look towards and plan for the post-pandemic future, businesses and organizations need to thoughtfully consider what the future of work looks like for them.

They will need to reflect on their operations pre-pandemic, consider what they learned from the disruption of the crisis, and ask themselves: How can we build back better?

Structure shift

Recent decades have seen a shift in the structure of businesses and organizations, away from hierarchical models in favour of cross-functional and, at times, self-managing networks of teams. In fact, a 2016 survey found the majority of large corporations rely on interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams. In 2019, 31 per cent of respondents said that most or almost all work is performed in teams.

For many of these organizations, the pandemic saw these teams transition from in-person work to remote interactions via video-conferencing services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.

Many appreciated the comfort and autonomy inherent in working from home, but the erosion of work-life balance and social interaction has caused challenges.

As we come out of the pandemic, workplace teams will need an environment that retains the experience of autonomy while also providing a sense of belonging. Employees should be free to decide where they want to work and when they want to work whenever possible. But we must also address the negative impact of isolation — loneliness, fatigue or even depression, all of which have been frequently reported during the pandemic.

Five women at a desk have a conversation.
Effective workplace teams will be critical to building back better. (Piqsels)

Research on workplace teams finds that autonomy can in fact co-exist with a sense of belonging and cohesion. For this to be achieved, organizations need to find a balance, and need to organize teams according to these structural considerations:

• Teams have a strong leader, or they can feature shared leadership.

• Teams have clearly defined task interdependencies and interfaces among team members, or team members can perform their work largely in isolation.

• Teams have the same goals and rewards for all members, or they can offer individualized goals and rewards.

• Teams communicate virtually, or they can communicate so face-to-face.

• Teams have a shared history and aspirations, or they operate for a limited time, after which they disband.

A strong leader, alongside clearly defined task interdependencies, focuses on the team as a whole, whereas virtual teamwork and individual rewards emphasize the individual team member.

Combining features of teamwork that promote autonomy with other features that foster cohesiveness and a sense of belonging is likely the best path forward.

Emphasize shared goals

As long as employees continue to operate in a virtual setting, it’s important for leaders to define shared goals and rewards. Teams must share a vision of the future that complements the larger degree of autonomy they’ve experienced through virtual teamwork.

Focusing on elements of teamwork that bring team members closer together should not be left to chance. As some organizations learned during the pandemic, scheduling social hours can replace the spontaneous conversations at the water cooler. A book club can replace the informal learning over a lunch chat. A fireside Zoom chat on company values and goals can replace an in-person town hall.

But post-pandemic, few organizations will maintain an all-virtual presence. Many will move towards a hybrid model. For those teams returning to the office, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences.

The pandemic has also almost eliminated a troublesome feature of organizational life: presenteeism, or showing up to work when sick. We must not go backwards in this regard. Workers must protect themselves and their team members from the consequences of illness.

Post-pandemic, the world of work will probably never be the same again. And that’s probably a good thing. We now have an opportunity to make it better.

Matthias Spitzmuller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Read More

Continue Reading

Economics

EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

In an unexpected move, the European Union has decided to shut out some of the world’s biggest banks from sales of bonds for the EU’s COVID recovery fund, expected.

Published

on

EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

In an unexpected move, the European Union has decided to shut out some of the world's biggest banks from sales of bonds for the EU's COVID recovery fund, expected to be the largest supranational bond offering yet.

According to the FT, the EU excluded 10 banks - including JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America and Barclays - from running bond sales as part of its €800 billion ($968.5 billion) recovery fund due to what the FT described as "historic breaches of antitrust rules". Specifically, the EU is seeking to punish the banks for their roles in the series of market-rigging scandals (which infamously started with rigging of the Libor before investigators moved on to currency and fixed income markets) that broke early in the last decade. The move is especially bold because many of the banks being shut out of the deal are some of the world's biggest players in international debt markets.

In other words, simply by shutting them out of this massive deal, the EU could shake up the league tables as the banks that win its business will undoubtedly be handsomely rewarded for their work. The borrowing spree - Brussels' biggest-ever - will begin Tuesday with the sale of a new 10-year eurobond to fund the NextGenerationEU pandemic program. 7 of the 10 banks excluded are among the biggest sellers' of European debt. Before they will be allowed to sell the bonds, the EU wants them to demonstrate that they have "taken remedial measures" to prevent this from happening again.

In other words, Brussels is serious about preventing banks from stuffing their pockets with public money.

Banks found to have breached EU competition rules “will not be invited to tender for individual syndicated transactions”, said a spokesman for the European Commission, which handles debt issuance on behalf of the EU. “The Commission implements a strict approach to ensuring that the entities with whom it works are fit to be a counterparty of the EU."

Banks found guilty of antitrust breaches will be required to show they have taken “remedial measures” to prevent them happening again before they will be allowed to bid for syndications, the spokesman added.

Bank of America, Natixis, Nomura, NatWest and UniCredit have been prevented from taking part due to a Commission antitrust ruling last month that they participated in a bond trading cartel during the eurozone debt crisis a decade ago.

Citigroup, JPMorgan and Barclays — in addition to NatWest — have also been barred due to a finding two years ago that they were involved in manipulating currency markets between 2007 and 2013, people familiar with the matter said. Deutsche Bank and Crédit Agricole are also excluded due to an April ruling that they were involved in a different bond trading cartel, the people said. All the banks declined to comment.

Despite this, Reuters reported earlier (citing a senior banker in charge of the deal) that the EU's first offering of €20 billion ($24.3 billion) in bonds was heavily oversubscribed. The popularity isn't that surprising, considering that Triple-A rated debt in the region can be hard to come by (since the ECB owns much of the market). And the EU bonds feature a slight yield premium to German bunds. Investors placed upwards of €140 billion in orders for the €20 billion of debt, according to bankers who spoke to Reuters.

The new EU bond, due July 4 2031, will price 2 basis points below the mid-swap rate, according to the lead manager. That is equivalent to a yield of around 0.06%, according to Reuters calculations, down from around one basis point over the mid-swap level when the sale started on Monday.

Since October, the EU has already issued 90 billion euros to help finance its unemployment support program SURE.

The EU is managing these bond sales like a national debt offering, which is appropriate since they will likely transform the bloc into the world’s biggest supranational debt issuer.

All ten banks are among the 39 approved "primary dealers" which have a responsibility to bid for bonds during government auctions. One anonymous source told the FT that the EU's decision to bar the top dealers could create unnecessary complications for the sales. "There’s a delicate equilibrium in the relationship between issuers and primary dealers, and this risks upsetting that,”" said a senior banker at one of the lenders barred from syndicated deals. "These issues they are bringing up are from a long time ago, and they have been settled."

The banks working on Tuesday’s inaugural recovery fund bond are BNP Paribas, DZ Bank, HSBC, Intesa Sanpaolo, Morgan Stanley, Danske Bank and Santander.

The EU is expected to sell two more syndicated bonds by the end of July.

Tyler Durden Tue, 06/15/2021 - 09:49

Read More

Continue Reading

Trending