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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…

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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.

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Government

Pentagon Boss ‘Clarifies’ Russia & China Pose Biggest Threats After Biden Says It’s Climate Change

Pentagon Boss ‘Clarifies’ Russia & China Pose Biggest Threats After Biden Says It’s Climate Change

On Wednesday, President Biden told US troops stationed in the UK that the Joint Chiefs told him "the greatest threat facing America" is…

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Pentagon Boss 'Clarifies' Russia & China Pose Biggest Threats After Biden Says It's Climate Change

On Wednesday, President Biden told US troops stationed in the UK that the Joint Chiefs told him "the greatest threat facing America" is "global warming" - a curious pivot from "white supremacy."

On day later, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs 'corrected' Biden, asserting instead that the biggest threats facing the US are China and Russia, according to US News, (and who allegedly had a big role in scamming half of pandemic unemployment funds to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars).

"Climate change does impact, but the president is looking at a much broader angle than I am," Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional panel Thursday morning in response to a question by Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) "I'm looking at it from a strictly military standpoint. And from a strictly military standpoint, I'm putting China, Russia up there."

Milley then backpedaled a bit, saying "Climate change is a threat. Climate change has a significant impact on military operations, and we have to take that into consideration."

"Climate change is going to impact natural resources, for example," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee,adding, "It's going to impact increased instability in various parts of the world, it's going to impact migrations and so on."

When asked how his assessment that Russia and China pose the biggest threats, Milley said "This is not, however, in conflict with the acknowledgement that climate change or infrastructure or education systems– national security has a broad angle to it. I'm looking at it from a strictly military standpoint."

On Wednesday, Biden spoke to US forces at Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall, where he recounted an alleged discussion which took place while he was Vice President with the Joint Chiefs in their cloistered "tank" meeting room at the Pentagon.

"This is not a joke. You know what the Joint Chiefs told us the greatest threat facing America was? Global warming," he claimed.

In response to Biden's Wednesday comments, former President Trump issued a statement.

"Biden just said that he was told by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Climate Change is our greatest threat. If that is the case, and they actually said this, he ought to immediately fire the Joint Chiefs of Staff for being incompetent," said Trump.

Tyler Durden Fri, 06/11/2021 - 19:20

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Spread & Containment

Middle-aged Americans in US are stressed and struggle with physical and mental health – other nations do better

Adults in Germany, South Korea and Mexico reported improvements in health, well-being and memory.

Middle age was often a time to enjoy life. Now, it brings stress and bad health to many Americans, especially those with lower education levels. Mike Harrington/Getty Images

Midlife was once considered a time to enjoy the fruits of one’s years of work and parenting. That is no longer true in the U.S.

Deaths of despair and chronic pain among middle-aged adults have been increasing for the past decade. Today’s middle-aged adults – ages 40 to 65 – report more daily stress and poorer physical health and psychological well-being, compared to middle-aged adults during the 1990s. These trends are most pronounced for people who attained fewer years of education.

Although these trends preclude the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19’s imprint promises to further exacerbate the suffering. Historical declines in the health and well-being of U.S. middle-aged adults raises two important questions: To what extent is this confined to the U.S., and will COVID-19 impact future trends?

My colleagues and I recently published a cross-national study, which is currently in press, that provides insights into how U.S. middle-aged adults are currently faring in relation to their counterparts in other nations, and what future generations can expect in the post-COVID-19 world. Our study examined cohort differences in the health, well-being and memory of U.S. middle-aged adults and whether they differed from middle-aged adults in Australia, Germany, South Korea and Mexico.

A middle-aged woman looking sad sitting in front of artwork.
Susan Stevens poses for a photograph in her daughter Toria’s room with artwork Toria left behind at their home in Lewisville, N.C. Toria died from an overdose. Eamon Queeney/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

US is an outlier among rich nations

We compared people who were born in the 1930s through the 1960s in terms of their health and well-being – such as depressive symptoms and life satisfaction – and memory in midlife.

Differences between nations were stark. For the U.S., we found a general pattern of decline. Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s experienced overall declines in well-being and memory in middle age compared to those born in the 1930s and 1940s. A similar pattern was found for Australian middle-aged adults.

In contrast, each successive cohort in Germany, South Korea and Mexico reported improvements in well-being and memory. Improvements were observed in health for each nation across cohorts, but were slowed for Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s, suggesting they improved less rapidly than their counterparts in the countries examined.

Our study finds that middle-aged Americans are experiencing overall declines in key outcomes, whereas other nations are showing general improvements. Our cross-national approach points to policies that could could help alleviate the long-term effects arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will COVID-19 exacerbate troubling trends?

Initial research on the short-term effects of COVID-19 is telling.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fragility of life. Seismic shifts have been experienced in every sphere of existence. In the U.S., job loss and instability rose, household financial fragility and lack of emergency savings have been spotlighted, and children fell behind in school.

At the start of the pandemic the focus was rightly on the safety of older adults. Older adults were most vulnerable to the risks posed by COVID-19, which included mortality, social isolation and loneliness. Indeed, older adults were at higher risk, but an overlooked component has been how the mental health risks and long-haul effects will likely differ across age groups.

Yet, young adults and middle-aged adults are showing the most vulnerabilities in their well-being. Studies are documenting that they are currently reporting more psychological distress and stressors and poorer well-being, compared to older adults. COVID-19 has been exacerbating inequalities across race, gender and socioeconomic status. Women are more likely to leave the workforce, which could further strain their well-being.

A older women hugs her daughter.
Middle-aged people often have parents to take care of as well as children. Ron Levine/Getty Images

Changing views and experiences of midlife

The very nature and expectations surrounding midlife are shifting. U.S. middle-aged adults are confronting more parenting pressures than ever before, in the form of engagement in extracurricular activities and pressures for their children to succeed in school. Record numbers of young adults are moving back home with their middle-aged parents due to student loan debt and a historically challenging labor and housing market.

A direct effect of gains in life expectancy is that middle-aged adults are needing to take on more caregiving-related duties for their aging parents and other relatives, while continuing with full-time work and taking care of school-aged children. This is complicated by the fact that there is no federally mandated program for paid family leave that could cover instances of caregiving, or the birth or adoption of a child. A recent AARP report estimated that in 2020, there were 53 million caregivers whose unpaid labor was valued at US$470 billion.

The restructuring of corporate America has led to less investment in employee development and destabilization of unions. Employees now have less power and input than ever before. Although health care coverage has risen since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, notable gaps exist. High numbers of people are underinsured, which leads to more out-of-pocket expenses that eat up monthly budgets and financially strain households. President Biden’s executive order for providing a special enrollment period of the health care marketplace exchange until Aug. 15, 2021 promises to bring some relief to those in need.

Promoting a prosperous midlife

Our cross-national approach provides ample opportunities to explore ways to reverse the U.S. disadvantage and promote resilience for middle-aged adults.

The nations we studied vastly differ in their family and work policies. Paid parental leave and subsidized child care help relieve the stress and financial strain of parenting in countries such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Research documents how well-being is higher in both parents and nonparents in nations with more generous family leave policies.

Countries with ample paid sick and vacation days ensure that employees can take time off to care for an ailing family member. Stronger safety nets protect laid-off employees by ensuring that they have the resources available to stay on their feet.

In the U.S., health insurance is typically tied to one’s employment. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic over 5 million people in the U.S. lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs.

During the pandemic, the U.S. government passed policy measures to aid people and businesses. The U.S. approved measures to stimulate the economy through stimulus checks, payroll protection for small businesses, expansion of unemployment benefits and health care enrollment, child tax credits, and individuals’ ability to claim forbearance for various forms of debt and housing payments. Some of these measures have been beneficial, with recent findings showing that material hardship declined and well-being improved during periods when the stimulus checks were distributed.

I believe these programs are a good start, but they need to be expanded if there is any hope of reversing these troubling trends and promoting resilience in middle-aged Americans. A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that paid family leave has a wide range of benefits, including, but not limited to, addressing health, racial and gender inequities; helping women stay in the workforce; and assisting businesses in recruiting skilled workers. Research from Germany and the United Kingdom shows how expansions in family leave policies have lasting effects on well-being, particularly for women.

Middle-aged adults form the backbone of society. They constitute large segments of the workforce while having to simultaneously bridge younger and older generations through caregiving-related duties. Ensuring their success, productivity, health and well-being through these various programs promises to have cascading effects on their families and society as a whole.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

Frank J. Infurna receives funding from the National Institute on Aging and previously from the John Templeton Foundation. The content is solely his responsibility and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

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Economics

Inflation In Context: A Liquidity Adjusted CPI Index

First, folks, please send your prayers, thoughts, good feelings, positive energy, miracles, healing touch, whatever you got, and whatever it takes to GMM’s beloved Carol K., who keeps battling, never giving up against a serious disease in Boston at…

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First, folks, please send your prayers, thoughts, good feelings, positive energy, miracles, healing touch, whatever you got, and whatever it takes to GMM’s beloved Carol K., who keeps battling, never giving up against a serious disease in Boston at one, if not the best hospital in the world.  Even in her critical condition, she contributed to this post — though she may not agree with all its final points.  She’s truly an amazing and incredibly strong human being.  Semper Fi and Godspeed, CK.  

We had a few requests to write up something about today’s hot U.S consumer price inflation data. So we put together a quick note in honor of our friend from down in the Land of Oz, GMac, one of the most decent human beings on earth. He is one proud father of a super studly 18-year son, who is an incredible surfer and someday wants to surf Mavericks.  God. Bless. His. Soul.

Let us preface our inflation note with one of our favorite quotes:

World War II was transitory – GMM

Recall our post in January, Ready For 4 Percent CPI By Mid-Year?, when we speculated the U.S. would be experiencing 4 percent inflation, possibly 5 percent by mid-year.  We were beaten down like a red-headed stepchild (I am at liberty to say that as I have been a ginger most of my life).

GMM was also one of the first to point out the base effects (12-month comps) would kick in April and May 2021 due to the deflation that troughed last year from the COVID crash.  But don’t be gaslighted the lastest few month-on-month core prints essentially negate the base effect excuse for high inflation as three-month core CPI is now running at 7.9 percent on an annual basis.

We don’t know for certain if inflation will stick and move higher or lower but as better folk we are taking the over, however.

Liquidity Tsunami

We do know the major global central banks have pumped in a shitload of high-powered money into the global financial system over the past year — as in around $10 trillion, close 50 percent increse of their collective balance sheets.   Here’s Dr. Ed’s excellent chart,

Moreover, banks now seem eager to start lending, thus creating more endogenous money on top of the trillions upon trillions of base money central banks have already injected.

Transitory?  Yeah, right.   

It’s not a question whether the Fed has the tools to reign it in, it’s do they have the ‘nads?  Given the multiple asset bubbles that would burst, and bust spectacularly, if the Fed draws it word,  we seriously doubt it. 

The following chart from Dr. Ed also illustrates not only has the digital printing press been working overtime, the credit system is just fine and dandy as deposits are expanding.  Don’t be confused by, yes, the base effect, as the money aggregates have a much large base to grow from they did a year ago before the pandemic.

Tough to beat comps after expanding over 25 percent 

Note, these are monetary aggregates, which include cash in circulation, bank deposits among near money and other short-term time deposits, not the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, though it does hugely influence the data.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is yardeni.png

Big spurts from the digital printing press without a credit crisis and an impaired financial system — as was the case after the Great Financial Crisis — will almost always generate inflationary pressures.   Stimulating demand without production during a supply shock is not optimal unless carefully targeted to those who need it most.   

It’s very amusing to us to see the FinTweets, “peak inflation has arrived.”  True, if the financial markets crash.  But what do they base their conclusion on?  A warm feeling in their tummy?   

Show me the money data, Jerry.  

Banks Itching To Lend

Banks now seem eager to start lending, thus creating more endogenous money on top of the trillions of base money central banks have injected.  

Loans are “starting to pick up,” and there’s plenty of borrowing capacity because companies have unused credit lines, {BofA CEO Brian ]Moynihan said. Loan growth has been a challenge across the banking industry because many consumers and businesses are sitting on cash from savings and stimulus during the pandemic. – Bloomberg, June 6

This should send shivers up the Fed’s spine, but we are not so sure.  We are also not so sure they are not flying blind and will again miss the next big one just as they have in the past. 

The Chart: Liquidity Adjusted Inflation. 

It’s late and we want to present the chart in honor of GMac. 

We have taken the non seasonaly adjusted year-on-year change of CPI and subtracted a scaled up version of the Chicago Fed’s  National Financial Conditions Index (NFCI), which measures how loose or tight monetary conditions are in the U.S..  It’s has been running at an extreme historical low — i.e., very loose financial conditions.   

You can see the 105 indicators it is based upon here.

We are trying to give context to the inflation data of how loose and accomodative finnancial market and monetary conditions are currently.   As you can see, today’s year-on-year CPI print less the NFCI is at the highest level since November 1990, which was in the middle of the first Gulf war, Where the Fed was facing spiking inflation due to the run-up in oil and a recession.  

Prior to that our adjusted inflation index hasn’t been so high since the high inflation late 197Os and early ‘80s.  Gulp. 

Clearly, it is a different environment in today’s economy.  In fact, just the opposite – the economy is ready to roar for the next several quarters as consumers are flush with cash, the supply chain is still a mess due to the “bullwhip effect” (more on this in a future post), and new businesses should be looking for credit and loans to rebuild and start new ventures.    

Most of all, folks, the central banks still have their pedal to the metal and balls to the walls, and as we all know (well some of us),

Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output. – Milton Friendman 

The Upshot

Inflation is way too high given exremely easy financial and monetary conditions.  There will be blood. 

Finally 

Life is transitory. 

Inflation has eroded my purchasing power in my transitory life.  Bring back the $.35 Big Mac, which was only about 20 percent of the minimum wage.  Now?  About 40-50 percent.  Enough to spark a revolution. 

Finally, the Democrats should begin to worry.

Stay tuned. 

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