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  • Time to Put a New Economic Tool in the Box

    Last week we took a deep dive into how the concept of GDP (gross domestic product) came about. We looked at some of the controversies surrounding GDP statistics that we use to measure the growth of the economy, and we noted that the GDP tool seems designed to reflect and serve an economic theory (Keynesianism) that prefers to focus on the demand side of economic activity. If your measurement of the growth of the economy is entirely defined by final consumption (that is, consumer spending) and government spending, then if you want to try to improve growth you are left with just two policy dials to adjust..

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  • A Most Dangerous Era

    The devil is in the details, we are told, and the details are often buried in an appendix or footnote. This week we were confronted with a rather troubling appendix in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Affordable Care Act, which suggests that the act will have a rather profound impact on employment patterns. You could tell a person's political leaning by how they responded. Republicans jumped all over this. The conservative Washington Times, for instance, featured this headline: "Obamacare will push 2 million workers out of labor market: CBO." Which is not what the analysis says at all. Liberals immediately downplayed the import by suggesting that all it really said was that people will have more choice about how they work, giving them more free time to play with their kids and pets and pursue other activities. Who could be against spending more time with your children?

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  • A Lost Generation

    It is pretty well established that a tax increase, especially an income tax increase, will have an immediate negative effect on the economy, with a multiplier of between 1 and 3 depending upon whose research you accept. As far as I am aware, no peer-reviewed study exists that concludes there will be no negative effects. The US economy is soft; employment growth is weak – and yet we are about to see a significant middle-class tax increase, albeit a stealth one, passed by the current administration. I will acknowledge that dealing a blow to the economy was not the actual plan, but that is what is happening in the real world where you and I live. This week we will briefly look at why weak consumer spending is going to become an even greater problem in the coming years, and we will continue to look at some disturbing trends in employment.

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  • It’s All About Jobs

    Today's employment numbers were decidedly soft, but the unemployment rate went down anyway, and that is about the best you can say. And this being a holiday weekend, it provides us an opportunity to look deep into the employment numbers, while we put off thinking about Spain for at least a week. And who knew that being an unmarried Asian-American in the US was a risk for unemployment? Plus a few other interesting items will make for an interesting letter.

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  • Where Will the Jobs Come From?

    Each month investors and politicians in countries all over the world obsess over the release of the monthly employment numbers. Even though these numbers are likely to be revised significantly from the original release, the markets can't help responding to the variations from the expected number. Why the focus on numbers that are likely to be proven wrong in the coming years? Because the single most important factor in the direction of an economy is employment. Consumer spending, personal income, tax revenue, corporate profits, and a host of other variables all swing on rising and falling employment.

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  • Who Took My Easy Button?

    Everyone knows by now that the US is facing difficult choices. Depending on what assumptions you use, the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare are between $50 and $80 trillion and rising. It really doesn’t matter, as there is no way that much money can be found, given the current system, even under the best of assumptions. Things not only must change, they will change. Either we will make the difficult choices or those changes will be forced by the market. And the longer we put off the difficult choices, the more painful the consequences.

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  • Time to Bring Out the Howitzers

    It is now common to use the termbazooka when referring the actions of governments and central banks as they try to avert a credit crisis. And this week we saw a coordinated effort by central banks to use their bazookas to head off another 2008-style credit disaster. The market reacted as if the crisis is now over and we can get on to the next bull run. Yet, we will see that it wasn't enough. Something more along the lines of a howitzer is needed (keeping with our WW2-era military arsenal theme). And of course I need to briefly comment on today's employment numbers. There is enough to keep us occupied for more than a few pages, so let's jump right in. (Note: this letter may print long, as there are a lot of charts.)

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  • Where Will the Jobs Come From?

    Where Will the Jobs Come From?
    Stupid Government Tricks
    Let’s Tax the Millionaires
    Kilkenny, Atlanta, DC, and Home

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  • It’s All About the Jobs… and Gold

    The Flat Earth (Employment) Society
    Let’s Do a Little Time Travel
    The Implications of an Older Workforce
    How Do We “Fix” the Employment Problem?
    Some Thoughts on Gold
    Europe, New York, Conferences, Etc.

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  • Kicking the Can Down the Road One More Time

    In This Issue:

    Kicking the Can Yet Again
    It’s Not Just Greece
    Who is Going to Buy that Debt?
    You Have to Admire the Commitment
    The Problem with US Employment
    Washington DC, Vancouver, NYC, Maine, and now Europe

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  • What Happened to the Jobs?

    In This Issue:

    So How’s That Stimulus Thing Working Out?
    This Time Is Different
    Vancouver, New York, and Maine

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  • Time to Get Outraged

    Is It Time to Buy a House?
    Time to Get Outraged by the Banks
    We Need a Mulligan
    A Congressional Investigation Is Needed
    How We Get Out of This
    20 Policies to Implement to Create Jobs
    Tuscany, Kiev, Geneva, and London

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  • A Random Walk Around the Frontlines

    In This Issue:

    An Improving Economy
    But Where Are the Jobs?
    Time for the Fed to Declare Victory and Go Home
    Home, Fed Friday, and Tokyo


    I am on yet another plane and writing, and I'll finish this letter in Phoenix. As I start, I am not sure of a theme for this week's letter, so (with a tip of the hat to my friend Burton Malkiel, who I will see at Rob Arnott's conference in a few months), today we do a Random Walk Around the Frontlines, surveying what's going on in the world. We'll start with the Fed and interest rates, look at inflation, and see how far we get. And I might get a little controversial, but long-time readers know that is not all that unusual.

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  • It's More Than Just Birth-Death

    Just how dynamic is the US job market? If I told you we created over 4 million jobs in April, would you believe me? I had a long conversation with Mohamed El-Erian of PIMCO yesterday. He is openly speculating that employment may no longer be just a lagging indicator but may also be predictive. It is an interesting insight, which we will explore as we take a very deep look at US employment. And I answer a few questions about my thought that there is a 60% chance for a recession in 2011, and why there is a 40% chance we won't. What could change those numbers? We explore that and more, while I suffer from the injustice that LeBron will play with Wade and Bosh. Where's a nonproliferation treaty when you need it?

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  • Faith-Based Economics

    Why does government data need to be revised so often? Is it conspiracy, as some claim, or is it methodology? And if it is methodology that leads to faulty data, then why not change the methodology? Is unemployment a lagging indicator, as conventional wisdom suggests? We look again at the underlying assumptions to suggest that things are not always the same. And finally, we look at unsustainable trends, fiscal deficits, and health care -- there is a connection.

    But first, a quick note about the latest 'Conversations with John Mauldin' that I just did with Don Coxe and Gary Shilling. These two esteemed analysts have different views on whether commodity prices will rise or fall, and are not afraid to make their views known. I edited the final transcript today, and I can tell you that even though I was 'at the table' I learned a lot reading it the second time. If you want to understand the nature of what is a very central debate, this is a must-read. This was a VERY lively debate. Most of my friends know that I am not shy, but it was hard to get a word in edgewise as these guys went at it. It was great fun to watch....