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Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Bookmarked

This NY Times article to read. So far it is not encouraging.

I had another stroke last week. This article seems designed to produce yet another.

From page 6:
The competitiveness theme, which will be prominent in the State of the Union address, is a convenient rubric that encompasses trade as well as other presidential priorities like more education-accountability reforms, more federal support for research and innovation, more green technology industry like the advanced battery plants Obama likes to visit and more infrastructure like high-speed trains.
Apparently the idea of checking on progress has not occurred to him. It's gotta be exciting and bold. We've got themes, we've got "green", we've got the "advanced" word, we've got the "innovation" word. We've got everything but jobs.

Geeze, it's like Groundhog Day for the economy - another six years of malaise guaranteed. I feel sick.

PS: The article in question was written by Peter Baker. One of his previous efforts was the famed "I like taupe" interview. The Chief and I had a big argument over that piece - I claimed it was a hatchet job, and the Chief claimed that it was accurate reporting.

PS: And now we're going to have a FEDERAL research center to develop medicines.

"So far it is not encouraging."

I figured you read the first page. I just read the last page.

Let's hope pages 2-6 aren't on the trend line. I'm afraid to look.
I scanned the whole thing. What I saw was a recounting of the problems among Obama's economic advisers. What stood out though was that Obama and company are still thinking more, more, more government meddling in the economy to shape it in their vision of the "green" future. What I didn't see was any discussion of less, less, less government growth, spending, regulation, and meddling.

Obama is not vocally demonizing business anymore, but he is apparently incapable of understanding that government cannot create private sector jobs. He doesn't get that government can only set the conditions that allow the private sector to flourish. That means less, not more government interference.

This article and the comments should be required reading for the President and Congress:
Mark - by now, I'm afraid to read the last page.

The edge-of-the-cliff crisis he inherited had passed, but with more than 14 million Americans still out of work, he was looking for bold ways to bring down unemployment. The ideas presented to him, though, seemed familiar and uninspired. “You know, guys,” he said, according to someone in the room, “I’ve told you before, I want you to come to me with ideas that excite me.”
Exciting? Bold? When mortgages got exciting and bold disaster was only a step away....

Much of the effort that goes into business endeavors is designed to get the excitement out and the profit in.

I think we have a fundamental disconnect....
To follow up on my recommendation of the National Journal article.

The article shows that job growth in the U.S. has become less robust in the last ten years even though the unemployment rate was quite low during the Bush years.
What they don't see is the way our jobs situation has morphed as we have gradually shut down our manufacturing, minerals extraction, logging, and other "dirty" jobs as well as the growth of the legal industry that sues any business for any slight damage it might cause.

I just reread the article and comments. Disappointed to find that they had removed most of the comments that had some good suggestions about getting more jobs in the country. WTF?
It makes me want to start a "Draft Mitch Daniels" movement.

I am not a very ideological person, but this level of misunderstanding is frightening.

I noticed Rick Caird reacted in the same way as me, although it appears that Blogger ate it.
Rick Caird commented:

"Mark, you got me to read the last page, too. But, I see this mostly as a puff piece trying to explain why Obama's plans have done nothing while at the same time claiming, with no evidence at all, that it could have been worse. I do not see a "stay the course" strategy with its $1.5 trillion annual deficit to be viable.

More than anything, the statement in the first paragraph sums up the problem:

"'I’ve told you before, I want you to come to me with ideas that excite me.'". What works is often not exciting. Fifty yard runs and 75 yard interceptions are exciting, but they do not happen if the team does not do the basic blocking and tackling. Obama refuses bother with the basics because they are not exciting. But, without the basics, none of the exciting things happen.

Obama's whole career has been about skipping the basics. It has caught up with him. "

I think Obama ran for President thinking Hillary
would get the nod and he'd wind up as vice president.
When it became clear he was going to possibly win the
nomination and be President, he figured he would
delegate and depend on others to carry the workload.
He is in over his head and at the very worst time.
It's not just Obama, but a whole generation.

Spork, that's my hunch too. But he seems to believe that he's doing a good job. He has a very academic view of things.

In any case, all presidents rapidly succumb to Inside-The-Beltway syndrome.

The first Bush never did catch on to what the country was experiencing in the wake of the 91 recession.

Mark - the trend is not your friend! I finally made it all the way through.

"I want you to come to me with ideas that excite me."

Unemployment Survivor

"14 million contestants are left stranded on the tiny island of Australia where they must provide food, water, fire, and shelter for themselves, while competing in challenges..."

Never mind. My girlfriend is unemployed. I'm not sure we'd be fans of that option.

I forgot to mention that Blogger has been eating comments left for me more than usual lately.

The SPAM filter grabs mine. They aren't gone. I just have to go in and unspam them. It's in the comment moderation section.

You might try looking there.
Mark, I get them emailed to me.

Sometimes, it arrives in the email and not on the blog. Sometimes it arrives on the blog and not in the email.

Sometimes, it works right, and moderated comments only go to the email until I release them or deepsix them.

ONLY BLOGGER KNOWS what it is doing.
PS: Mark, after brooding upon your graph, I think the problem is that the rate of change doesn't matter once one gets close to the tipping point.

That's the European fallacy - they have a 3% deficit limit, but what does that do for a country when its debt is 120% of GDP?

Mind you, I like your graph. It does look reassuring. But the reality is that as total debt grows, the deficit can grow ever higher but still be a smaller percentage.

For example, 10% of 50% of GDP would look worse on that graph than 5% of 100% of GDP, but the real world result is very different.

I mean, haha, we could go like Japan (if we can find the suckers) and get our debt to GDP ratio up to 200% of GDP, and that would make an annual deficit of say a trillion look pretty good as a percent. But at that point, I would not be buying treasuries.

And yes, I tried to comment on your blog and was rudely rebuffed by the wrathful, rejecting god Bl_gg_r. Maybe it is planning a run for s_n_t_r.
Mark - isn't our current dumping of the 99'rs a version of "Unemployment Survivor"?

I have always found these reality shows to be a little sick. It reminds me a bit of the Roman games.

So no, I'm not a fan.
Oh boy, a Federal Research Center to develop new drugs. Because the big pharma companies aren't following through on promisng drugs? Have they examined the legal risk that big pharma now faces if a tiny percentage of patients has adverse side affects?
If they find promising new drugs, do they think the private companies will leap at a chance to be sued out of their profits?

Tort reform in this country needs to consider more than just medical malpractice. I see ads now where the lawyers are going after the producers of Darvon. Hell, that's a drug that has been in wide use since the 60s at least. It gave me wonderful pain relief after back surgery, with nary a problem.
The John Edwardses and Erin Brockovitchs need to be reined in some.
Well I hope you are on aspirin therapy. All my best wishes.
MoM: Please accept my best wishes for your improving health.

As to Obama and the SOTU address: just repeat "I love the smell of disaster in the morning."
Slack demand combined with over capacity in many industries such as auto/new housing means its very hard to imagine that business will start building new plants or big expansion plans no matter what tax schemes D.C. can come up with. How about logging equipment, bet you could get some great deals on a wide variety of highly tech equipment that can strip any forest down to finished grade quick but little demand for that output in our over built housing markets. The TV tonight had numerous ads for a American auto's company, no money down, no interest 72 months payment plan which will spur competitors to offer similar deals then the Asian models will join the party but in reality new car sales volumes are not sustainable given the stagnant and declining medium American household income levels.
Stagnant consumer incomes,industrial overcapacity,overbuilt residential homes along with commercial points to many more lost decades ahead.

"PS: Mark, after brooding upon your graph, I think the problem is that the rate of change doesn't matter once one gets close to the tipping point."

I hear you. I was worried when I made the chart that it would take -2% unemployment to get debt growth down to inflation growth (plus population growth perhaps). Then we'd know for sure we'd passed the tipping point. Needing 4% unemployment to get there is still bad obviously, especially at the rate we're creating jobs.

I would point out that I am still "very bearish long-term". If you see optimism on my blog it is generally relative to that benchmark.

"And yes, I tried to comment on your blog and was rudely rebuffed by the wrathful, rejecting god Bl_gg_r. Maybe it is planning a run for s_n_t_r."

Your comment is gone. It's not being moderated. It's not SPAM. Perhaps blogger has a new category called "Double Secret Probation", lol. Sigh.

"Mark - isn't our current dumping of the 99'rs a version of "Unemployment Survivor"?"

It is, but I'm still trying to figure out who the winner is. All contestants seem to go home(less) empty handed.

"I have always found these reality shows to be a little sick. It reminds me a bit of the Roman games."

I don't watch Survivor. I must admit I have watched Hell's Kitchen though. It's definitely a blood sport. Perhaps deep down I am subconsciously thinking that I'm actually watching Hell's Banking System. Most of the most memorable quotes would apply.

Warning: This Hell's Kitchen quote is not suitable for all readers. I can certainly picture that exact quote being said within Lehman Brothers though.

I meant to discuss the interest on the debt. Since I was using inflation adjusted debt in my chart it would probably be best to look at inflation adjusted interest rates to spot the potential pain.

Note that the 5-Year TIPS actually pay negative interest right now and I-Bonds pay 0.0%.

Although we are definitely at serious risk of the debt growing so large that we cannot service it (in inflation adjusted terms), I would argue that perhaps investors will simply settle for less return on their investments in this brave new world (especially if China stumbles). I already am. My latest 10-Year TIPS purchase had the lowest real rate of return yet.

That said, I would not draw any comfort in seeing a declining economy and a rise in real interest rates.

This depressed economy is not taxing me as much as I had planned. The government will get more revenue from me if it can get the inflation rate up to even 2% to 3%. At the present inflation levels, I'm practically living income tax free. The tax on inflation is just not kicking in.
Mark - it seems to me that inflation in the sense of rising prices for most goods are sharply limited by real income declines for most consumers.

This economy will really start to "recover" when incomes for the majority begin to rise, and so far that has only happened through non-payment of debt, or paydowns of debt. We are well along that road, but as another commenter remarked, the need to buy transportation will limit further dramatic declines.

Also, many have been getting free rent through non-payment of mortgages, and this year most of that will end.

So I would expect further household consolidation, slow consumption gains, limited hiring, etc.
Hah! Mark, right after posting that last I flipped over to Bloomberg, and lo and behold, found this article.

"There has been no better place in the U.S. government bond market since 2008 than in debt that protects against faster inflation. Now, traders now say the securities may be poised to fall as consumer prices rise too slowly to justify the gains. "

"There has been no better place in the U.S. government bond market since 2008 than in debt that protects against faster inflation. Now, traders now say the securities may be poised to fall as consumer prices rise too slowly to justify the gains. "

I know! It prompted me to move to cash in my IRA last August. I only recently jumped back in (a bit prematurely in hindsight).

It's funny though. I'm just trying to lock in real purchasing power. I seem to be one of the few.

I see value in 2% real rates over inflation even if inflation is 0%.

In fact, as a saver that's what I root for!

I posted these thoughts on the TIP message board quite a few months ago. One poster didn't quite get it.

He wanted to earn 12% with inflation at 10% than earn 2% with inflation at 0%. I guess he must just love the thought of paying tax on all those inflationary gains (and thereby reduce his purchasing power).

I must be one of the only investors who buys inflation protected treasuries and actively roots for less inflation.

My word verification is "teastful". Those hoping for higher inflation to increase bond returns are falling for a tasteful tease! ;)
I'm also trying to figure out a way to graph our version of the "European fallacy" you spoke of.

I might graph the inflation adjusted growth in the interest on the debt.

The chart would probably not show the fallacy (thanks to falling interest rates for the past few decades) but the trend line over the ultra long-term might.

Clearly the growth in inflation adjusted interest payments cannot grow faster than inflation adjusted wages over the long-term. And if we are in a new world where inflation adjusted wages aren't growing at all, then there is a serious problem.

That problem might appear all at once, without warning, much like the last straw on a camel's back. Sigh.

One more thought about how the TIPS pricing affects me. Even though TIPS are in a bull market and I did well on paper, my tax preparer will give me a hard time about it. At tax time only two things drive the investment. Low inflation hasn't pushed up the taxable gains much. Low real yields haven't kicked out all that much interest. Market value won't enter in to play. She'll suggest I could have done much better elsewhere (again). There's just no pleasing some people, lol.

I don't even know how my TIPS have done in the market other than casually glancing at them. I just hold until maturity. What the market thinks they are worth at any given time doesn't affect my long-term inflation adjusted returns. It is the real yield at the time of purchase that matters to me. I therefore find myself rooting for higher real yields and lower market bond prices even though bonds are what I own.
One more thought (as if I haven't rambled enough).

I will be participating in February's 30-Year TIPS auction. The inflation adjusted yield is about 2% right now.

I honestly hope that the recent TIPS selloff continues. As a long-term saver, you will never see me root for lower real yields. Ever.
MoM, DON'T DO THAT! let the banksters have the strokes,have coffee instead. Speaking of giving banksters strokes, the successful quiet title actions in Utah, Ibanez and Bevilacqua should encourage more than a few heart attacks as well as strokes. A godawful mess for the Real Estate market,but enjoyable. I do expect Scalia and Thomas to get involved "To protect the children" which will be quite a show.
Dean Baker notes this morning that" investment in equipment and software has already been growing rapidly. Over the last four quarters it has grown at almost a 20 percent annual rate."
The problem is this equipment and software is designed to replace labor
which has become the role of technology in our economy not creating jobs with new frontiers but getting rid of overhead. Get ready for many years of office staff reductions and not due to outsourcing but software apps.
Hope you're feeling better MOM.

I noticed that article seemed to feel that the real issue is that they haven't gotten the word out about the wonderful things they've done for the economy. It seems to be a regular solution for this administration. It's sort of like their tax break, which gave us all an extra $10-$15 dollars in our pocket each paycheck. The inflation they generated pretty much ate that up early on.
It's like "The West Wing" meets "The Office".
I have always found these reality shows to be a little sick. It reminds me a bit of the Roman games.

That, plus all the judging shows in syndication, along with American Idol, Dancing W/stars, et al.

It's all judging with the appearance of thinking but without any actual critical thought involved. Not unlike TV news.

And people wonder why I rarely watch TV. I'd love to watch TV if it didn't require selling my soul.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery, MOM. Do NOT have any sequels!
John - this was the third one in four months.

I'm on the mat and the count is up to 7.
Respectfully, please quit that! Can't afford to lose any people who can keep their eyes on both the forest and the trees.
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