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  • Retail Sales Continue 2014 Rise

    Retail sales rose again in May, increasing 0.3 percent over April sales. All in all, the last three months have seen a welcome boost for retailers, with the Commerce Department sharing revised numbers for April showing 0.5% growth that month. From the Census Bureau : Nonetheless, Bloomberg 's Jeanna Smialek reports that the retail data came in below expectations . So we'll file this under, "watch this space" for now. Read the release here .
  • Nouriel Roubini on Economic Roots to 'New Nationalismm'

    At Project Syndicate , Nouriel Roubini raises some concerns over the rising nationalism in Europe. Rising economic populism is a logical result of slow recovery. Policy makers must pick up the pace of recovery among poor Europeans, and especially among young workers, he argues. This new nationalism takes different economic forms: trade barriers, asset protection, reaction against foreign direct investment, policies favoring domestic workers and firms, anti-immigration measures, state capitalism, and resource nationalism. In the political realm, populist, anti-globalization, anti-immigration, and in some cases outright racist and anti-Semitic parties are on the rise. These forces loath the alphabet soup of supra-national governance institutions – the EU, the UN, the WTO, and the IMF, among others – that globalization requires. Even the Internet, the epitome of globalization for the past two decades, is at risk of being balkanized as more authoritarian countries – including China, Iran, Turkey, and Russia – seek to restrict access to social media and crack down on free expression. The main causes of these trends are clear. Anemic economic recovery has provided an opening for populist parties, promoting protectionist policies, to blame foreign trade and foreign workers for the prolonged malaise. Add to this the rise in income and wealth inequality in most countries, and it is no wonder that the perception of a winner-take-all economy that benefits only elites and distorts the political system has become widespread. Nowadays, both advanced economies (like the United States, where unlimited financing of elected officials by financially powerful business interests is simply legalized corruption) and emerging markets (where oligarchs often dominate the economy and the political system) seem to be run for the few. For the many, by contrast, there has been only secular stagnation, with depressed employment and stagnating wages. The resulting economic insecurity for the working and middle classes is most acute in Europe and the eurozone, where in many countries populist parties – mainly on the far right – outperformed mainstream forces in last weekend’s European Parliament election. As in the 1930’s, when the Great Depression gave rise to authoritarian governments in Italy, Germany, and Spain, a similar trend now may be underway. Read The Great Backlash here .
  • Personal Income Still Rising, But Consumer Spending Dropped in April

    Personal income rose again in April, though not at the rate of previous months this year, while consumer spending dropped for the first time in 2014, according to the Commerce Department . Real disposable personal income continued its steady climb rising 0.3%. Real consumer spending dropped 0.3%. The savings rate and prices also rose in April. From the Bureau of Economic Analysis release: Private wages and salaries increased $16.9 billion in April, compared with an increase of $44.6 billion in March. Goods producing industries' payrolls decreased $0.1 billion, in contrast to an increase of $10.2 billion; manufacturing payrolls decreased $1.2 billion, in contrast to an increase of $7.8 billion. Services-producing industries' payrolls increased $16.9 billion, compared with an increase of $34.5 billion. Government wages and salaries increased $1.4 billion, compared with an increase of $0.9 billion. Read the BEA's full report here .
  • Spain's Path to Recovery

    It was bad enough to be in economic turmoil, but Spain had the additional indignity to be included in a group of economies that we labeled either PIGS or PIIGS (depending on whether we included both Ireland and Italy). The PIIGS were EU nations that had amassed so much public debt that they were threatening to bring down the EU economy as a whole. So it is nice to read about signs of a turnaround. At Project Syndicate , Michael Spence writes that investors are beginning to find Spain attractive again. Spain was not in an enviable position. The rapid deterioration of fiscal position after the crisis made any substantial countercyclical response impossible, while regulatory constraints limited the economy’s structural flexibility. The path to recovery, though difficult and lengthy, has been relatively clear and specific. First, unit labor costs needed to decline toward productivity levels to restore competitiveness – a painful process without the exchange-rate mechanism. In fact, there has been substantial post-crisis re-convergence toward German levels. Second, both capital and labor needed to flow to the tradable sector, where demand constraints can be relaxed as relative productivity converges. Like many other southern European countries, however, labor-market and other rigidities dramatically reduced the speed and increased the costs of structural economic adjustment, resulting in lower levels of growth and employment, especially for young people and first-time job-seekers. But Spanish policymakers and business leaders appeared to grasp the nature of the pre-crisis economic imbalances – and the importance of the tradable sector as a recovery engine. Recognizing that the economy could not benefit from a partial restoration of competitiveness without structural shifts, the government passed a significant labor-market reform in the spring of 2013. It was controversial, because, like all such measures, it rescinded certain kinds of protections for workers. But the ultimate protection is growing employment. With a lag, the reform now appears to be bearing fruit. Read The Gain in Spain here .
  • IMF's Blanchard: Focus of Global Recovery Should Now Be On Supply Side

    The global economy has a supply side problem. That is, the global marketplace needs more buyers. IMF director of research Olivier Blanchard notes that while he and his team are projecting 3.6 percent growth this year, and 3.9 percent growth next year, it all depends on a "broader" recovery. First, potential growth in many advanced economies is very low. This is bad on its own, but it also makes fiscal adjustment more difficult. In this context, measures to increase potential growth are becoming more important—from rethinking the shape of some labor market institutions, to increasing competition and productivity in a number of non-tradable sectors, to rethinking the size of the government, to reexamining the role of public investment. Second, although the evidence is not yet clear, potential growth in many emerging market economies also appears to have decreased. In some countries, such as China, lower growth may be in part a desirable byproduct of more balanced growth. In others, there is clearly scope for some structural reforms to improve the outcome. Finally, as the effects of the financial crisis slowly diminish, another trend may come to dominate the scene, namely rising inequality. Though inequality has always been perceived to be a central issue, until recently it was not seen as having major implications for macroeconomic developments. This belief is increasingly called into question. How inequality affects both the macroeconomy, and the design of macroeconomic policy, will likely be increasingly important items on our agenda for a long time to come. Read the full post here . And watch Blanchard discuss the global recovery below:
  • The Rise and Fall of Real Interest Rates

    Ahead of biennial meetings with the World Bank in Washington this week, the IMF 's research department has put out an interesting analysis of interest rates around the world. In the last thirty years, real interest rates have plummeted, from an average of 5.5% in the early 1980s to 0.33% post global economic crisis. From the report: The decline in real interest rates in the mid-2000s has often been attributed to two factors: • a glut of saving stemming from emerging markets economies, especially China; and • a shift in investors’ preferences toward fixed income assets—such as bonds—rather than equity, such as stocks. Both these factors put downward pressure on real interest rates globally while the expected return to invest in equities increased. The substantial increase in saving in emerging market economies, especially China, in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century was responsible for more than half of the decline in real rates (Chart 2). This was only partly offset by the reduction in saving in advanced economies. High-income growth in emerging market economies during this period seems to have been the most important factor driving the increase in savings. The IMF is now projecting a rise in real interest rates, but not to anywhere near the levels of the 1980s: Read the report here .
  • SF Fed Economic Letter: 'Career Changes Decline During Recessions'

    The great recession has spawned something of a jobless recovery--at least for the long term unemployed. As Carlos Carrillo-Tudela , Bart Hobijn , and Ludo Visschers note in a new Economic Letter for the San Francisco Fed , many of the jobs lost during the recession have gone away. So it would make sense if we saw a lot of people changing careers. But that isn't happening. Figure 1 shows the fraction of hires out of unemployment that change industries (panel A) and occupations, (panel B). The shaded areas depict recessions. Because industry and occupation definitions and classification systems have changed over time, data are not continuous for the period we study, as shown by the vertical dashed lines in 1983, 1992, and 2003. Two other dashed lines in 1985 and 1995 show periods when we cannot link CPS respondents across surveys. The more detailed our industry and occupation categories are, the more career changes we identify. This is why the line showing changes in industry and occupation groups at the major level lies below that showing the most detailed code level in both panels. Though the levels of industry and occupational mobility vary with the level of detail, the fluctuations in mobility over the business cycle are remarkably similar for both levels. These patterns for occupational switches also appear in data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (see Carillo-Tudela and Visschers 2013). The common cyclical pattern between these series clearly shows that the fraction of unemployed people who change careers upon getting rehired declines during recessions. All the recessions in our sample follow this pattern, from those in the early 1980s to the Great Recession that started in 2007. Likewise, the figures show that career changes increase when the labor market is strong, as at the end of the 1980s and the 1990s. The fact that the rate of career change for unemployed workers declines during recessions seems counterintuitive, but there are several possible explanations for this phenomenon. These explanations can be divided into two broad categories. The first focuses on why those unemployed during recessions are less likely to pursue a change in career. For example, Carrillo-Tudela and Visschers (2013) consider aggregate unemployment fluctuations based on unemployed workers’ decisions to change occupations. They argue that in recessions, two factors reduce the incentives for unemployed people to change careers. One, though their job opportunities in their old careers might have dried up during the recession, it is also harder to find jobs in the alternate careers that they consider pursuing. And two, workers take into account that they may be less likely to start a particularly successful career path during a recession, which further reduces their incentives to change careers. Read the full letter here .
  • Personal Income and Spending Continue to Climb

    Personal income is steadily rising, according to the Commerce Department . Income and disposable personal income both rose by 0.3 percent in February, after rising 0.2% in January. Spending is just a step behind income (perhaps as it should be). Real consumer spending rose 0.2% after rising 0.1% in January. Take a look at the monthly change: From the Bureau of Economic Analysis release: Private wages and salaries increased $13.0 billion in February, compared with an increase of $17.2 billion in January. Goods producing industries' payrolls increased $5.2 billion in February and were unchanged in January; manufacturing payrolls decreased $0.3 billion in February, compared with a decrease of $2.8 billion in January. Services-producing industries' payrolls increased $7.8 billion, compared with an increase of $17.3 billion. Government wages and salaries increased $2.0 billion, compared with an increase of $1.2 billion. Read the BEA's full report here .
  • Charities Aid Foundation Ranks U.S. As Most Charitable Nation

    Ted Hart , the CEO of the the American branch of the Charities Aid Foundation , recently heralded the giving record of Americans in an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review . "Americans give more to charity, both overall, and per capita, than any other nation," Hart writes. He goes on to note that Americans are also more engaged in charitable activity than people in any other country, based on CAF's measurements, which you can find at the end of the CAF's World Giving Index . One has to be careful not to equate charitable giving with caring for others, as the different social spending records of countries based on their tax structures surely has to be considered, but that should not take away the value of watching the trends within countries. And it appears the recovery in giving in the U.S. has outpaced GDP growth post-recession. You can read the full report here . Many of the key findings are in this infographic:
  • Shiller on Narratives and the Psychology of the Global Economy

    "We seem to be at the mercy of our narratives," writes Robert Shiller at Project Syndicate . On a speaking tour in Japan, Shiller was struck by how people there responded to the "positive change" in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic reforms. A "comprehensive" and seemingly effective plan led to greater optimism, and then a narrowing of the gap between actual GDP and potential GDP. Shiller says our collective optimism was up in the early 2000s (to our detriment, as it turned out). We kept the real estate bubble going because we wanted to believe it could last forever. Then the financial crisis erupted, scaring the entire world. A story of opportunity and riches turned into one of corrupt mortgage lenders, overleveraged financial institutions, dimwitted experts, and captured regulators. The economy was careening like a rudderless ship, and the sharp operators who had duped us into getting on board – call them the 1% – were slipping away in the only lifeboats. By early 2009, the plunge in stock markets around the world reached its nadir, and fear of a deep depression, according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey, was at its highest level since the second oil crisis in the early 1980’s. Stories of the Great Depression of the 1930’s were recalled from our dimmest memories – or from our parents’ and grandparents’ memories – and retold. To understand why economic recovery (if not that of the stock market) has remained so weak since 2009, we need to identify which stories have been affecting popular psychology. One example is the rapid advance in smartphones and tablet computers. Apple’s iPhone was launched in 2007, and Google’s Android phones in 2008, just as the crisis was beginning, but most of their growth has been since then. Apple’s iPad was launched in 2010. Since then, these products have entered almost everyone’s consciousness; we see people using them everywhere – on the street and in hotel lobbies, restaurants, and airports. This ought to be a confidence-boosting story: amazing technologies are emerging, sales are booming, and entrepreneurship is alive and very well. But the confidence-boosting effect of the earlier real-estate boom was far more powerful, because it resonated directly with many more people. This time, in fact, the smartphone/tablet story is associated with a sense of foreboding, for the wealth that these devices generate seems to be concentrated among a tiny number of tech entrepreneurs who probably live in a faraway country. These stories awaken our fears of being overtaken by others on the economic ladder. And now that our phones talk to us (Apple launched Siri, the artificial voice that answers your spoken questions, on its iPhones in 2010), they fuel dread that they can replace us, just as earlier waves of automation rendered much human capital obsolete. Read The Global Economy's Tale Risks here .
  • Economic Letter: 'Private Credit and Public Debt in Financial Crises'

    In a new San Francisco Fed Economic Letter , economists Òscar Jordà , Moritz Schularick , and Alan M. Taylor try to settle the debate over whether private credit or public debt was the bigger culprit in the global economic crisis. They award points to each. In short, their research seems to show that private credit booms put economies in difficult positions. And public debt makes it difficult for economies to recover. The narrative of the recent the global financial crisis in advanced economies falls into two camps. One camp emphasizes private-sector overconfidence, overleveraging, and overborrowing; the other highlights public-sector profligacy, especially with regard to countries in the periphery of the euro zone. One camp talks of rescue and reform of the financial sector. The other calls for government austerity, noting that public debt has reached levels last seen following the two world wars. Figure 1 Credit and debt since 1870: 17-country average Credit and debt since 1870: 17-country average Source: Jordà, Schularick, and Taylor (2013). Figure 1 displays the average ratio of bank lending and public debt to GDP for 17 industrialized economies (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Although public debt ratios had grown from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, they had declined toward their peacetime average before the 2008 financial crisis. By contrast, private credit maintained a fairly stable relationship with GDP until the 1970s and then surged to unprecedented levels right up to the outbreak of the crisis. Spain provides an example of the woes in the euro zone periphery and the interplay of private credit and public debt. In 2007, Spain had a budget surplus of about 2% of GDP and government debt stood at 40% of GDP (OECD Country Statistical Profile). That was well below the level of debt in Germany, France, and the United States. But by 2012, Spain’s government debt had more than doubled, reaching nearly 90% of GDP, as the public sector assumed large losses from the banking sector and tax revenues collapsed. Thus, what began as a banking crisis driven by the collapse of a real estate bubble quickly turned into a sovereign debt crisis. In June 2012, Spanish 10-year bond rates reached 7% and, even at that rate, Spain had a hard time accessing bond markets. Once sovereign debt comes under attack in financial markets, banks themselves become vulnerable since many of them hold public debt as assets on their balance sheets. The new bout of weakness in the banking system feeds back again into the government’s future liabilities, setting in motion what some have called the “deadly embrace” or “doom loop.” The conundrum facing policymakers is this: Implement too much austerity and you risk choking off the nascent recovery, possibly delaying desired fiscal rebalancing. But, if austerity is delayed, bond markets may impose an even harsher correction by demanding higher interest rates on government debt. Matters are further complicated for countries in a monetary union, such as Spain. Such countries do not directly control monetary policy and therefore cannot offset fiscal policy adjustments through monetary stimulus by lowering domestic interest rates. In addition, central banks in these countries have limited capacity to stave off self-fulfilling panics since their lender-of-last-resort function evaporates. Fluctuations in fiscal balances over the business cycle are natural. As economic activity temporarily stalls, revenues decline and expenditures increase. With the recovery, fiscal balances typically improve. But the debate on what is a country’s appropriate level of public debt in the medium run continues to rage. It is unclear whether high debt is a cause or a consequence of low economic growth. That said, public debt is not a good predictor of financial crises. Read the full letter here .
  • Retail Sales Rebound in February

    After a rough January for retailers, consumers picked up the purchasing pace in February, as retail sales improved, according to the latest data from the Commerce Department . Advance estimates for U.S. retail and food services came in at $427.2 billion, a 0.3% increase over January. Sales were up 1.3% over February 2013. From the Census Bureau : Bloomberg 's Victoria Stilwell reports that the retail data was welcome news and exceeded economists' expectations by 0.1%. Read the release here .
  • Lagarde: Three Reform Steps for Spain (and Europe)

    Christine Lagarde was in Bilbao, Spain this morning to discuss the state of the economy in Europe in general, and Spain in particular. The IMF managing director noted that there are encouraging signs of growth across the EU. But the big challenge remains the high unemployment rates in member nations. Spain, of course, is the poster child for the jobs problem. Lagarde: I am here reminded by President Rajoy who said: “Spain is out of recession but not out of the crisis….The task now is to achieve a vigorous recovery that allows us to create jobs." I fully agree—creating jobs must be the overriding focus for Spain. What does this mean in practical terms? It means there can be no let-up in the reform momentum. The strong reform momentum must be maintained. And we can see three key areas where further progress will be crucial. The first area is labor market reforms—which need to be deepened so that they can work for all. Both firms and their workers need to be assured that they can reach appropriate agreements on working conditions and wages. This is essential for jobs to be protected and created. Workers need to be directly supported as well—through enhanced skills training and job-search assistance for the unemployed. And by further cutting the tax costs of employing people, especially the low-paid, the unemployed would face fewer barriers in finding work. The second area concerns debt—which needs to be lowered. For firms, this means helping insolvent but viable ones restructure their debts, so they can stay in business and continue to invest and hire people. For the government, it means continuing to reduce the fiscal deficit in a gradual, growth-friendly way—especially by relying more on indirect taxes. The third and final area is the business environment—which needs to be strengthened. Making it easier for businesses to start up and grow will lift their capacity to create employment. Making domestic firms more competitive will also boost their employment and productivity. The government’s plans to liberalize professional services and promote free trade among Spain’s regions go very much in this direction. Read the full speech here .
  • NY Fed Household Debt and Credit Report for 4th Quarter 2013

    When the global financial crisis hit, Americans got more concerned about debt. Household debt continued to drop almost every quarter over the next 5 years, with only tiny increases in the first quarter of 2011 and the fourth quarter of 2012. That trend seems to have turned. Household debt increased $127 billion in the third quarter of 2013, and then another $241 billion last quarter, according to the New York Fed . That's a 2.1% increase. From the NY Fed quarterly report: Mortgages, the largest component of household debt, increased 1.9% during the fourth quarter of 2013. Mortgage balances shown on consumer credit reports stand at $8.05 trillion, up by $152 billion from their level in the third quarter. Furthermore, calendar year 2013 saw a net increase of $16 billion in mortgage balances, ending the four year streak of year over year declines. Balances on home equity lines of credit (HELOC) dropped by $6 billion (1.1%) and now stand at $529 billion. Non-housing debt balances increased by 3.3%, with gains of $18 billion in auto loan balances, $53 billion in student loan balances, and $11 billion in credit card balances. Delinquency transition rates for current mortgage accounts are near pre-crisis levels, with 1.48% of current mortgage balances transitioning into delinquency. The rate of transition from early (30-60 days) into serious (90 days or more) delinquency dropped, to 20.9%, while the cure rate – the share of balances that transitioned from 30- 60 days delinquent to current –improved slightly, rising to 26.9%. Read the full report here .
  • Growth Picks Up the Pace in Europe

    The rate of growth picked up in Europe at the end of the year. According to data released by Eurostat this morning, GDP across the euro area rose 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2013. That's following third quarter growth of 0.1%. For the EU overall, the numbers were better. GDP for the EU28 rose by 0.4% in the fourth compared with 0.3% for the third quarter. . The Czech Republic and Romania had standout quarters, with growth rates of 1.6% and 1.7%, respectively, for the quarter. Cyprus, on the other hand, had the biggest drop at -1.0%, and Finland came in at -0.8%. The data for each country is available here .
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