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July 31, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Paul Krugman: China’s Naked Emperors

Posted: 31 Jul 2015 01:08 AM PDT

What can we learn from the response of the Chinese government to the problems in China's stock market?:

China's Naked Emperors, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... We've seen ... strange goings-on in China's stock market. In and of itself, the price of Chinese equities shouldn't matter all that much. But the authorities have chosen to put their credibility on the line by trying to control that market — and are in the process of demonstrating that, China's remarkable success over the past 25 years notwithstanding, the nation's rulers have no idea what they're doing. ...
China is at the end of an era — the era of superfast growth... Meanwhile, China's leaders appear to be terrified — probably for political reasons — by the prospect of even a brief recession. ... China's response has been an all-out effort to prop up stock prices. Large shareholders have been blocked from selling; state-run institutions have been told to buy shares; many companies with falling prices have been allowed to suspend trading. ...
What do Chinese authorities think they're doing?
In part, they may be worried about financial fallout. It seems that a number of players in China borrowed large sums with stocks as security, so that the market's plunge could lead to defaults. This is especially troubling because China has a huge "shadow banking" sector that is essentially unregulated and could easily experience a wave of bank runs.
But it also looks as if the Chinese government, having encouraged citizens to buy stocks, now feels that it must defend stock prices to preserve its reputation. And what it's ending up doing, of course, is shredding that reputation at record speed.
Indeed, every time you think the authorities have done everything possible to destroy their credibility, they top themselves. Lately state-run media have been assigning blame for the stock plunge to, you guessed it, a foreign conspiracy against China, which is even less plausible than you may think: China has long maintained controls that effectively shut foreigners out of its stock market, and it's hard to sell off assets you were never allowed to own in the first place.
So what have we just learned? China's incredible growth wasn't a mirage, and its economy remains a productive powerhouse. The problems of transition to lower growth are obviously major, but we've known that for a while. The big news here isn't about the Chinese economy; it's about China's leaders. Forget everything you've heard about their brilliance and foresightedness. Judging by their current flailing, they have no clue what they're doing.

Links for 07-31-15

Posted: 31 Jul 2015 12:06 AM PDT

Fed Watch: GDP Report

Posted: 30 Jul 2015 01:45 PM PDT

Tim Duy:

GDP Report, by Tim Duy: The second quarter GDP report, while not a blockbuster by any measure, will nudge the Fed further in the direction of a September rate hike. At first blush this might seem preposterous - 2.3% growth is nothing to write home about in comparison to history. But history is deceiving in this case. It remains important to keep in mind that 2% is the new 4%.
Year-over-year growth rates continue to hover around 2.5%:


While the 2.3% quarterly rate of the second quarter was below consensus forecasts, the first quarter figure was revised up from -0.2% to 0.6%. That said, the annual revisions from 2012-2014 disappointed. Average annual growth from 2011 to 2014 dropped from a previsouly reported 2.3% to 2.0%. Sad, very sad.
That was still enough growth, however, to sustain fairly solid job growth and sharp declines in the unemployment rate, suggesting that potential output growth is indeed fairly anemic. The Fed staff appear to agree; see their very low potential growth numbers in the accidentally released forecasts (and for more on the implications of those forecasts, see Gavin Davies). Note also the low end of the range of potential growth estimates from FOMC meeting participants is 1.8%. Furthermore, San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams wants the Fed to guide the economy to a 2.0% growth rate in 2016. Hence 2.3% growth when the economy is operating near full-employment is sufficient for many policymakers to pull the trigger on the first rate hike.
A second implication of the revisions is that they provide no relief for those pondering low productivity growth. Indeed, it is quite the opposite, and they suggest downward revisions to productivity. Low productivity plus low labor force growth equals low potential output growth. 2% is the new 4%. And don't expect that all the data will fall into the same nice, consistent patterns we typically see in a business cycle. Some indicators will point up, others down, leading to many erroneous calls that a recession is soon upon us.  
As an aside, solid research and development spending gives hope that productivity growth will accelerate:


We can only wait and see.
The inflation numbers also point to a September hike. Recall that the Fed is waiting until they are reasonably confident that inflation is heading back to target. Headline and core PCE rebounded to 2.15% and 1.81% annual growth rates in the first quarter, respectively, adding weight to the Fed's conviction that the inflation weakness of the first half was indeed transitory. To be sure, these gains have yet to translate into higher year-over-year numbers. But a forward looking Fed will expect they will head higher.
Separately, the forward-looking indicator of initial unemployment claims continues to hover at very low levels:


A reminder that layoffs are few and far between as we head into next week's employment report for July.
Bottom Line: An unspectacular recovery, but sufficient to keep the Fed on track for raising rates this year. The case for September further strengthens.

'Dentists and Skin in the Game'

Posted: 30 Jul 2015 10:41 AM PDT

Paul Krugman:

Dentists and Skin in the Game: Wonkblog has a post inspired by the dentist who paid a lot of money to shoot Cecil the lion, asking why he — and dentists in general — make so much money. Interesting stuff; I've never really thought about the economics of dental care.

But once you do focus on that issue, it turns out to have an important implication — namely, that the ruling theory behind conservative notions of health reform is completely wrong.

For many years conservatives have insisted that the problem with health costs is that we don't treat health care like an ordinary consumer good; people have insurance, which means that they don't have "skin in the game" that gives them an incentive to watch costs. So what we need is "consumer-driven" health care, in which insurers no longer pay for routine expenses like visits to the doctor's office, and in which everyone shops around for the best deals. ...

As it turns out, many fewer people have dental insurance than have general medical insurance; even where there is insurance, it typically leaves a lot of skin in the game. But dental costs have risen just as fast as overall health spending...

Higher-Than-Expected Second Quarter Growth

Posted: 30 Jul 2015 09:25 AM PDT

Dean Baker:

Consumption Spending and Net Exports Spur Higher-Than-Expected Second Quarter Growth: Downward GDP revisions show economy falling further behind potential output from 2011–2014.
The Commerce Department reported the economy grew at a 2.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, a substantial improvement from the 0.6 percent rate in the first quarter. The latter number was an upward revision from a previously reported decline of -0.2 percent. The biggest factors were a turnaround in the trade balance and an uptick in the rate of consumption growth.

In the first quarter, exports fell at a 6.3 percent annual rate. This was partly the result of the rise in the value of the dollar in 2014, but also partly the result of slowdowns at West Coast ports due to a labor dispute. With the labor dispute now settled, exports rose at a 5.3 percent rate in the second quarter, still leaving them below their level from the fourth quarter of 2014. The improvement in the trade balance contributed 0.13 percentage points to growth after subtracting 1.92 percentage points in the first quarter.

Consumption grew at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the second quarter, up from a weather-depressed 1.1 percent rate in the first quarter. The biggest change was in durable goods. People who put off buying cars in the harsh winter weather instead bought in the second quarter, leading to a 7.3 percent rate of increase in durable good sales compared to a 2.0 percent rate in the first quarter. Consumption contributed 1.99 percentage points to growth in the second quarter compared to 1.19 percentage points in the first quarter.

The personal saving rate was 4.8 percent for the quarter, the same as the average of 2014. This should end speculation about why people are not spending their dividend from lower gas prices, since the data indicate they are. Consumption is at near-record highs as a share of GDP, which makes the frequent fretting over cautious consumers seem more than a bit peculiar.


Investment was very weak in the quarter, shrinking at a 0.6 percent annual rate. Equipment spending fell at a 4.1 percent rate, and spending on structures fell at a 1.6 percent rate after dropping at a 7.4 percent rate in Q1. It is likely that overbuilding in some areas will lead to further weakening of structure investment in future quarters. Residential construction grew at a 6.6 percent rate, down from a 10.1 percent rate in the first quarter. Government spending rose at a 0.8 percent rate as a 2.0 percent rise in state and local spending more than offset a drop of 1.1 percent at the federal level.

The revisions show the recovery to have been weaker than previously reported. Growth for the years 2012–14 averaged just 2.0 percent, down from a previously reported 2.3 percent. This means the economy was growing less rapidly than most estimates of potential GDP growth, implying the economy was falling further below its potential level of output during this period instead of making up the ground lost during the recession.

The revised data also show a somewhat smaller profit share in the last two years. Before-tax profits were revised down by $69.5 billion (3.3 percent) in 2013 and $16.9 billion (0.8 percent) in 2014. With these revisions, the profit share of corporate income peaked in 2012 and has been drifting downward for the last two years.

The data on health care spending continue to look very good. Spending on health care services, which accounts for the vast majority of health care spending, rose at a 2.7 percent annual rate in the quarter, virtually the same as the rate over the last three years. Spending on drugs has been rising considerably more rapidly. Inflation continues to be very much under control. Over the last year, the core personal consumption expenditure (PCE) has risen by 1.3 percent, well below the Fed's 2.0 percent target.

On the whole, this report suggests that the economy is likely to continue to grow at a very modest pace. Consumption growth will likely be slower in the second half of the year, with investment likely to be somewhat stronger. The net is likely to lead to a growth rate of close to 2.0 percent. If it had not been for extraordinarily weak productivity growth, this would imply a very slow rate of job creation.

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