Power & Market

Fed: "Underlying Inflation" Climbs to 13-Year High

10/11/2018Ryan McMaken

According to the Federal Reserve's Underlying Inflation Gauge, the 12-month inflation growth in June (the most recent month reported) was at 3.33 percent. That's the highest rate recorded in 158 months, or more than 13 years. The last time the UIG measure was as high was in April 2005, when it was at 3.36 percent. 

The Fed began publicly reporting on new measure in December of last year, and takes into account a broader measure of inflation than the more-often used CPI measure.

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Not shockingly, the UIG has shown a higher rate of inflation than the CPI, most of the time in recent years, although this gap has narrowed in recent months.

For both CPI and UIG, the general trend has been upward since 2014. The UIG, however, stands out because it shows a sizable amount of price inflation compared to the recent past. the CPI growth rate, for example, remains below where it was in 2011, while we must go all the way back to 2004 to find a UIG growth rate comparable to what we're seeing now.

Moreover, the UIG holds promise as a better indicator of an approaching recession. For example, we know that the economy was already softening in 2006 and into 2007 before the last financial crisis. And yet the CPI shows continued and sizable growth right up until late 2008 even though the Great Recession had started in late 2007 — at least according to the NBER. The UIG, however, shows weakening prices before both of the two most recent recessions.

The most recent UIG data, however, is fairly old — being June data — so it remains to be seen if there is any sign, by this measure, of a weakening economy in late 2018.

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Fed Raises Target Rate Again: Will It Have Time to Normalize Before the Next Recession?

09/26/2018Ryan McMaken

The Federal Reserve today raised the the Federal Funds Rate to a target/range of 2.0-2.25 percent:

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According to Business Insider:

The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday, after a two-day policy meeting, that it would raise interest rates for the third time this year.

The decision, which had been widely expected, raised the federal funds rate by 25 basis points, to a range of 2% to 2.25%.

It was the eighth time the Federal Open Market Committee has raised borrowing costs since late 2015. It held rates near zero after the Great Recession to speed up the economic recovery.

Accordingly, the Fed removed language in its statement that had characterized its policy as "accommodative." Still, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a press conference that the Fed did not have a precise estimate of where accommodation ends.

A look at rates over time shows that at 2.25 percent, the Federal Funds Rate has not been this high since January of 2005. At the time, however, the Fed still had more than two-and-a-half years before indications of an imminent recession led the Fed to begin cutting rates again in September of 2007. Rates peaked during the last cycle at 5.25 percent for 15 months.

It remains to be seen if the Fed will have a similarly broad period of time during which to "normalize" rates after more than seven years of a near-zero target rate. The Fed's pledge to "unwind" its extremely accommodative monetary policy is still a long way from coming to tuition. The Fed's balance sheet, after all, remains enormous by historical standards:

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Moreover, if a recession begins within the next year, the Fed will find itself in a place where it will want to pursue "stimulus" by slashing the target rate, but will have to cut rates from a starting point of around 3 percent. That leave considerably less room to move than it had when the target rate was over five percent in 2007.

Given that most everyone expects the Fed to continue with its practice of buying up assets for stimulus purposes, it will then need to add "underpriced" assets to an existing portfolio of over 3 trillions dollars — even assuming the Fed manages to shed a sizable amount of its portfolio over the next year.

Such moves would be unprecedented in the history of American central banking, and we may get to find out what happens if the Fed tries it.

Note: for additional context, here's a longer time horizon on the federal funds rate levels. In recent years, the federal funds rate has been spending more and more time at rock-bottom levels, and with a result of arguably more anemic growth in real incomes.

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Fed: "Underlying Inflation" at a 13-Year High

09/07/2018Ryan McMaken

According to the Federal Reserve's Underlying Inflation Gauge , the 12-month inflation growth in June was 3.33 percent. That's the highest rate recorded in 158 months, or more than 13 years. The last time the UIG measure was as high was in April 2005, when it was at 3.36 percent.

uig1.png

The Fed began publicly reporting on new measure in December of last year, and takes into account a broader measure of inflation than the more-often used CPI measure.

Not shockingly, the UIG has shown a higher rate of inflation than the CPI, most of the time in recent years.

uig2.png

In June, while the UIG was 3.33 percent, the CPI growth rate was 2.9 percent. This was a 76-month high for the CPI.

The use of only consumer prices in the CPI has long been a problem, in that the cost of living and planning for the future does not involve only the basket of goods used in the CPI calculations. A wide variety of assets affect the American economy as well.

As explained by the New York Fed's summary of the UIG measure:

We use data from the following two broad categories: (1) consumer, producer, and import prices for goods and services and (2) nonprice variables such as labor market measures, money aggregates, producer surveys, and financial variables (short- and long-term government interest rates, corporate and high-yield bonds, consumer credit volumes and real estate loans, stocks, and commodity prices).

But don't expect the Fed to abandon its fondness for the CPI and the arbitrary "2-percent inflation" goal any time soon. The fact that the broader measure of inflation is climbing to the highest level seen in more than a decade is apparently not a matter of concern.

In fact, there is now speculation that the Fed — recognizing that tariffs will harm economic growth  — may back off its stated plans for continues small hikes in the key rate.

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Farmers and Businesses Are Failing Under the Weight of Trump's Tariffs

09/03/2018Doug French

Brian Price interviewed Max Wolff, chief economist at the Phoenix Group for Real Vision. Wolff believes the bloom will be coming off the Trump economic rose (Wolff contends it’s a continuation of the Obama boom) and was most testy about the president’s trade policy. “Two hundred years of economic wisdom versus a tier two real estate developer from New York. I’m not going with the tier two real estate developer from New York.

More than a little of that economic wisdom came from Ludwig von Mises, who explained,

All varieties of (government) interference with the market phenomena not only fail to achieve the ends aimed at by their authors and supporters, but bring about a state of affairs which — from the point of view of the authors' and advocates' valuations — is less desirable than the previous state of affairs which they were designed to alter. If one wants to correct their manifest unsuitableness and preposterousness by supplementing the first acts of intervention with more and more of such acts, one must go farther and farther until the market economy has been entirely destroyed and socialism has been substituted for it.

The tier two Trump “administration said it would make $4.7 billion in payments to U.S. farmers to offset losses from trade battles rippling across the globe,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

There is $12 billion in taxpayer funds just waiting to be distributed to farmers impacted by what Trump calls “unjustified retaliation.” So Tier Two Donald whips out tariffs, other countries retaliate, and while a few more steel workers are hired, a few farmers may go out of business. At what point does it end? What was left of the market economy, according to Mises, is substituted with socialism.

“Problems caused by unjustified tariffs could not have come at a worse time,” said [Agriculture Secretary Sonny] Perdue said on Monday. He added the aid will give the Trump administration time to strike trade deals that benefit the entire U.S. economy, including agriculture.

Farmers, he said, “cannot pay their bills with simple patriotism.”

Meanwhile, aluminum workers in Missouri had tears in their eyes talking about Trump’s tariffs on HBO’s Vice . “He done exactly what he said he was gonna do,” said Derrick Cummins. “I wish I could meet him. I’d give him a big old hug.”

So, with the aluminum workers handled, the USGA is handing out hush money, as Jesse Newman and Heather Haddon write,

Soybean farmers are slated to get roughly three-fourths of the direct payments, or $3.6 billion, followed by producers of pork, cotton, sorghum, dairy and wheat.

Pork products will benefit the most from a related program to purchase excess commodities, at $558 million out of an estimated $1.2 billion. Apples, dairy and pistachios would be targeted for roughly $90 million each from the program.

USDA officials said they could decide on a second wave of payments to farmers by December, if difficult market conditions persist.

Also in the midwest, Mid-Continent Nail Corporation, the largest nail producer in the country, has lost 70 percent of its business since Trump’s tariffs began. The company shuttered one entire plant virtually overnight.

Murray Rothbard explained,

In short, it is best for all of us to allow the free market, and the international division of labor, to operate across international boundaries (“freedom of trade”). Furthermore, economics shows us that even if another country places artificial barriers on trade, it is still better for us as consumers to allow free trade; any sort of retaliatory tariffs, quotas, or enforced cartels only cut off our noses to spite our faces.

Trade wars create winners and losers, at home and abroad. American consumers lose, as the prices are hiked while capital and labor are misallocated. This makes everyone, over time, poorer--even the tier two real estate developer.

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Forget Security Clearance, John Brennan Should Be Prosecuted

08/16/2018Tho Bishop

In the year 2018, it is not remotely shocking to see media attention shift seamlessly from reality show villains to former CIA directors. The Trump Administration’s announcement that it has revoked the security clearance for John Brennan, America’s former Communist-sympathetic spymaster, naturally resulted in a race to see who among the professional political class could be most dramatic in their condemnation.

Many, including Brennan himself, bizarrely argued that the Trump Administration’s action was a “1st Amendment violation.” As Jim Bovard quipped on Twitter, “Can someone show me the asterisk in the First Amendment that says that former govt. officials have a divine right to confidential inside govt. info in perpetuity?”

Most entertaining was the response from ex-VP and amateur masseuse Joe Biden, who tweeted:

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In Washington, you can always identify how dependable an ally is by the size of the lies they are willing to tell in your defense.

After all, Brennan’s tenure at the CIA was rampant with dishonesty, unaccountability, and hypocrisy – and that’s before looking at Brennan’s long record of support for war crimes.

It was Brennan’s CIA, after all, that was found guilty of spying on Senate computer servers and threatened to prosecute Intelligence community staffers investigating CIA interrogation practices. He then lied about it repeatedly until investigation into the matter made doing so indefensible.

The conduct of Brennan’s CIA wasn’t limited simply to the Senate. Though in his current capacity as an MSNBC contributor, Brennan is now a passionate defender of the 1st Amendment and free press, his agency also hacked and spied on American journalists reporting on CIA torture.

As the McClatchy reported at the time:

The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.

Of course it is understandable that Brennan was so interested in keeping CIA torture practices as hidden as possible, particularly since he himself was an advocate for them. These included waterbordering, rectal feeding, beatings, and other sometimes fatal practices. Additionally the CIA’s conduct during this period was without any sort of accountability, keeping other government agencies and even the White House in the dark. Inevitably many innocent people became ensnared by the actions of America’s rogue spy agency.

Naturally the media and the anti-Trump left would now treat a defender of these practices as a moral defender of American democracy.

If Trump really wanted to act on the Deep State, he wouldn’t settle for simply revoking John Brennan’s security clearances. He should move to strip his pension and have him prosecuted for his past actions. While it's fair to question whether the current legal system would actually allow anything to happen to Brennan, doing so would force renewed focus on his past actions and help highlight the dangers of leaving the CIA unchecked. Trump is a fan of spectacles, let this one play out for the nation to see. 

Then he should do the same for James Clapper.

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Facebook Censored Me, Criticize Your Government and It Might Censor You Too

08/09/2018James Bovard

Responding to Russian-funded political advertisements, Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg declared last month that “we will do our part to defend against nation states attempting to spread misinformation.” But Facebook is effectively sowing disinformation by kowtowing to foreign regimes and censoring atrocities such as ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. In the name of repressing fake news and hate speech, Facebook is probably suppressing far more information than Americans realize.

Facebook blocked a post of mine last month for the first time since I joined it nine years ago. I was seeking to repost a blog article I had written on Janet Reno, the controversial former attorney general who died last year. I initially thought that Facebook was having technical glitches (no novelty). But I checked the page and saw the official verdict: “Could not scrape URL because it has been blocked.”

“Pshaw!” I said, or some other one-syllable epithet. I copied the full text of the article into a new blog post. Instead of using “Janet Reno, Tyrant or Saint?” as the core headline, I titled it: “Janet Reno, American Saint.” Instead of a 1993 photo of the burning Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, I substituted an irreproachable official portrait  of Reno. Bingo — Facebook instantly accepted that crosspost. I then added a preface detailing the previous blockage and explaining why I sainted Reno. The ironic headline attracted far more attention and spurred a torrent of reposts by think tanks and other websites.

I contacted Facebook’s press office to learn why the initial post was blocked. Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhraja checked into the matter and notified me that I would be permitted to post that link. "But why was it blocked?" I replied. She responded: “There was an image in the post that incorrectly triggered our automation tools. That issue has been corrected.”

So when did showing the home of more than 70 people engulfed in flames after a FBI assault become beyond the pale? Facebook presumably blocked everyone who sought to share that image from the most vivid law enforcement debacle of the 1990s.

This was not the first time Facebook erased an iconic image that the U.S. government would be happy to see vanish. Facebook likely deleted thousands of postings of the 1972 photo of a young Vietnamese girl running naked after a plane dropped napalm on her village.  After coming under severe criticism last year, Facebook announced that it would no longer suppress that image. Unfortunately, Facebook is unlikely to disclose a list of the images it bans. Because most Americans are clueless about current events and recent history, they will have little idea of what vanishes into the Memory Hole.

Read the full article at USA Today
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Forget the Human Rights Council, Why Not Leave the Entire UN?

06/20/2018Tho Bishop

The Trump Administration recently announced that the US will withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Their justification is that the council consists of human rights violators, such as Cuba, China, and Venezuela, and has demonstrated a bias against Israel.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to further expand on the decision, writing:

After more than a year of unsuccessful efforts to fix these fundamental defects, the U.S. delegation announced Tuesday our withdrawal from the council. Our country will no longer be party to this deeply flawed institution, which harms the cause of human rights more than it helps it....

In the end, our allies’ case for the U.S. to stay on the council was actually the most compelling argument to leave. They said American participation was the last shred of credibility left in the organization. But a stamp of legitimacy on the current Human Rights Council is precisely what the U.S. should not provide.

Of course the exact same logic could be used to advocate the United States from pulling out of the UN entirely.

The UN’s website outlines the five core missions for the organization. These include:

  • Maintain International Peace and Security
  • Protect Human Rights
  • Deliver Humanitarian Aid
  • Promote Sustainable Development
  • Uphold International Law

Its failure to maintain international peace and security is obvious, though obviously the United States raising that objection would open America to deserved ridicule. The failure of the United Nations, however, to restrain fifteen years of US militarism points to the inherent weakness of the organization.

The disastrous human rights record of the UN also goes deeper than the criticism of the HRC. While, again, it’s not surprising for the US government being hesitant in raising particular objections, in recent years the UN has witnessed member countries resurrect widespread torture programs and help foster an active slave market in Libya.

As Lucy Wescott wrote in Newsweek, international human rights organizations have been vocal in questionining the usefulness of the UN:

The U.N. remains vulnerable after a number of governments have stopped it from preventing mass atrocities, including wars in Syria and Yemen. Syria is an example of “a systematic failure of the U.N. to fulfill its vital role in upholding rights and international law and ensuring accountability,” according to the report.

“[The U.N. is] certainly an organization that is creaking at the seams, that was designed for the 20th century,” Richard Bennett, head of Amnesty International’s U.N. office, tells Newsweek. “ There are questions about whether it’s fit for purpose in the 21st century.”

While the UN does manage to carry out some humanitarian aid missions, these too are plagued with expected problems of a vast international bureaucracy. The organization’s own estimates place the rate of fraud at 30%, but even those numbers understate the bleak reality that the biggest winners of the UN’s programs tend to be government officials who are the most to blame for international poverty.

William Easterly, co-director of New York University’s Development Research Institute, has written on how the United Nation's humanitarian model gets everything wrong:

[The UN swoops] into third-world countries and offer purely technical assistance to dictatorships like Uganda or Ethiopia on how to solve poverty.

Unfortunately, dictators’ sole motivation is to stay in power. So the development experts may get some roads built, but they are not maintained. Experts may sink boreholes for clean water, but the wells break down. Individuals do not have the political rights to protest disastrous public services, so they never improve. Meanwhile, dictators are left with cash and services to prop themselves up–while punishing their enemies.

This same top down approach underscores the failures of the UN’s “sustainable development” objective as well. Unsurprisingly, the inherent fallacies of economic central planners don’t vanish when executed by a vast international organization. Instead, we have bad economic policy, usually backed by Malthusian fearmongering, empowering globalist bureaucrats who aspire to one day be able to impose direct taxes on sovereign countries.

For those reasons and more, Trump should do what he does best and disrupt the status quo by pulling the US out of the UN and evict the organization from New York City. Then, if he wants to actually succeed where the UN has failed, he’d find a way to make his truly free trade zone happen. After all, nothing is better for peace, development or human rights as the wonders of international trade.

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Fed Raises Rates, Projects More Increases This Year

06/13/2018Mises Institute

Today Jerome Powell announced another .25% increase in the Federal funds rate, bringing it to a range between 1.75% and 2%. In a corresponding move, interest paid on excess reserves by on 20 basis points, rather than 25. This is a small but significant change to Fed policy, a reaction to the Federal funds rate moving steadily towards the Fed's upper target range in recent months. 

The FOMC also increased its inflation outlook from last May's meeting, now projecting 2.1% inflation in 2019 and 2020. Other measures of inflation are much higher still, with the consumer price index hitting a 6 year high at 2.8. 

In response to projected growth and inflation pressure, the FOMC also projected an additional interest rate hike in 2018. The underlying narrative of today's announcement is the US economy is strong and good times are here. We will see if that bears out the rest of the year. 

The Wall Street Journal notes the changes in the Fed's statement from its May release:

 

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Federal Reserve Nominee Wants To Take Your Cash And Track How You Spend

05/17/2018Connor Boyack

Central banks are shrouded in secrecy and few understand how they operate. These institutions handle economic matters that we’re told are far too complex for average people to understand.

The Federal Reserve’s secrecy originated from its inception, when created by a group of elite men using secret code names at a place named Jekyll Island a century ago. No doubt at least one mustache was twirled mischievously. Of course the day to day of monetary policy is far less thrilling, but that doesn’t mean the consequences of these bankers’ actions are any less dramatic.

A decade after the latest financial crisis — fueled by the cheap money policies of former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan — low interest rates and “quantitative easing” have continued to inflate what Donald Trump once rightly called a “big, fat, ugly bubble.”  The monetary policies that the Fed imposes bring significant harm to many Americans who are impacted by the whims of bureaucratic economists with unchecked egos.

For all the secrecy afforded to the Fed and other central banks, most of these decisions are made in plain view of the public, enjoying the protection that comes with dreadfully dull technical language of modern economics. For an example, look no further than the nomination battle going on right now over Marvin Goodfriend to the board of governors.

Read the full article at The Federalist
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Fed Keeps Rates Same, Changes Inflation Language

05/02/2018Tho Bishop

The FOMC announced that they will leave interest rates unchanged today, as was expected.

What was noteworthy about the Fed's announcement was a changes made to language about inflation. 

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The significance here is that it indicates the Fed is not concerned with short-term inflation rates above 2%, as we've seen in recent months. (The Fed's other inflation measure, "Underlying Inflation," has been over 3% - a 12 year high - since last month.) The Fed is hoping to continue with it's slow, steady, increase in interest rates to the rest of the year.

The question is how will the Powell Fed respond act if interest rates continue to creep upwards?

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