Jeffrey P. Snider

Jeffrey P. Snider

Jeffrey P. Snider is the head of Global Investment Research of Alhambra Investment Partners (AIP). Jeffrey was 12 years at Atlantic Capital Management where he anticipated the financial crisis with critical research. His company is a global investment adviser, hence potential Swiss clients should not hesitate to contact AIP

Articles by Jeffrey P. Snider

China: Losing Economic ‘Reflation’

China Fixed Asset Investment Jul 2012-2017

If “reflation” was born last year in Japan, and I think it was, it was surely given its most tangible dimensions in China. The idea that the Bank of Japan was going to do something magnificent was perhaps always a longshot, but enough given the times for people to hope (sentiment) they might try (helicopter). The Chinese, however, have been relatively more pragmatic. Authorities began 2016 with an actual rather than imagined “stimulus” injection that by around mid-year appeared to be paying off.

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Oil Prices, CPI: Why Not Zero?

Figuring Inflation 2004-2017

In the early throes of economic devastation in 1931, Sweden found itself particularly vulnerable to any number of destabilizing factors. The global economy had been hit by depression, and the Great Contraction was bearing down on the Swedish monetary system. The krona had always been linked to the British pound, so that when the Bank of England removed gold convertibility (left the gold standard) from its notes on September 19 that year the Swedish currency fell into desperate trouble.

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Real GDP: The Staggering Costs

How do we measure what has been lost over the last ten years? There is no single way to calculate it, let alone a correct solution. There are so many sides to an economy that choosing one risks overstating that facet at the expense of another. It’s somewhat of an impossible task already given the staggering dimensions.

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Industrial Production: Irreführende Statistiken

Germany Industrial Production, SA 1997-2017

Germany’s Federal Statistical Office (DeStatis) reported today disappointing figures for Industrial Production. The seasonally-adjusted series fell in June 2017 month-over-month for the first time this year, last declining in December 2016. The index had been on a tear, rising nearly 5% in the first five months of this year.

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Oil Prices: The Center Of The Inflation Debate

Real GDP in the Eurodollar Era 1993-2017

The mainstream media is about to be presented with another (small) gift. In its quest to discredit populism, the condition of inflation has become paramount for largely the right reasons (accidents do happen). In the context of the macro economy of 2017, inflation isn’t really about consumer prices except as a broad gauge of hidden monetary conditions.

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China Exports, China Imports: Textbook

China Exports 2013-2017

China’s export growth disappointed in July, only we don’t really know by how much. According to that country’s Customs Bureau, exports last month were 7.2% above (in US$ terms) exports in July 2016. That’s down from 11.3% growth in June, which as usual had been taken in the mainstream as evidence of “strong” or “robust” global demand.

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U.S. Treasuries: Not Really Wrong On Bonds

U.S. Treasury Bond Futures

It is often said that the market for US Treasuries is the deepest and most liquid in the world. While that’s true, we have to be careful about what it is we are talking about. There is no single US Treasury market, and often differences can be striking. The most prominent example was, of course, October 15, 2014.

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Inflation Is Not About Consumer Prices

Eurozone Gross Domestic Product, 1993 - 2017

I suspect President Trump has been told that markets don’t like radical changes. If there is one thing that any elected official is afraid of, it’s the internet flooded with reports of grave financial instability. We need only go back a year to find otherwise confident authorities suddenly reassessing their whole outlook.

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U.S. Consumer Price Index, Oil Prices: Why It Will Continue, Again Continued

Quarterly Report on Bank Derivatives, Jan 1998 - 2017

Part of “reflation” was always going to be banks making more money in money. These days that is called FICC – Fixed Income, Currency, Commodities. There’s a bunch of activities included in that mix, but it’s mostly derivative trading books forming the backbone of math-as-money money. The better the revenue conditions in FICC, the more likely banks are going to want to do more of it, perhaps to the point of reversing what is just one quarter shy of a decade-long decay.

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Reports on a Quarterly Survey Conducted: Qualifying Shortage (Labor)

US Nonfarm Payrolls Missing

There isn’t a day that goes by in 2017 where some study is released or anecdote is published purporting a sinister labor market development. There is a shortage of workers, we are told, often a very big one. The idea is simple enough; the media has been writing for years that the US economy was recovering, and they would very much like to either see one and be proven right (and that recent revived populism is illegitimate), or find an excuse why they weren’t really wrong (so that populism can be described as indirectly illegitimate).

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U.S. Industrial Production: Industrial Drag

U.S. Industrial Production, YoY 2015 - 2017

Completing a busy day of US economic data, Industrial Production was, like retail sales and inflation data, highly disappointing. Prior months were revised slightly lower, leaving IP year-over-year up just 2% in June 2017 (estimates for May were initially 2.2%). Revisions included, the annual growth rate has been stuck around 2% now for three months in a row, suggesting like those other accounts a pause or even possible end to the mini-improvement cycle.

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Retail Sales Conundrum

U.S. Retail Sales All Weakness, Jun 2011 - 2017

Retail sales were thoroughly disappointing in June. Whereas other accounts such as imports or durable goods had at least delivered a split decision between adjusted and unadjusted versions, for retail sales both views of them were ugly. Seasonally-adjusted first, spending last month was down for the second straight time. Worse than that, estimated sales were just barely more than in January.

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Wholesale: No Acceleration, No Liquidation

Wholesale Sales and Inventory, NSA

In the same way as durable goods orders and US imports, wholesale sales in May 2017 were up somewhat unadjusted but down for the third straight month according the seasonally-adjusted series. As with those other two, the difference is one of timing. In other words, combining the two sets, seasonal and not, we are left to interpret a possible recent slowing in activity.

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China Imports and Exports: The Ghost Recovery

China Trade Ghost Cities

To the naked eye, it represents progress. China has still an enormous rural population doing subsistence level farming. As the nation grows economically, such a way of life is an inherent drag, an anchor on aggregate efficiency Chinese officials would rather not put up with.

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Competing CPI,PPI, Industrial Production and Retail Sales: No Luck China, Either

China Retail Sales and Industrial Production

Former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff warned today on CNBC that he was concerned about China. Specifically, he worried that country might “export a recession” to the rest of Asia if not the rest of the world. I’m not sure if he has been paying attention or not, but the Chinese economy since 2012 has been doing just that to varying degrees often just shy of that level.

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US Federal Funds, Bond Market and WSJ Economic Survey: The Hidden State of Money

US WSJ Economic Forecast Survey

Correctly interpreting the bond market is more than just how and when to invest your money in UST’s. Not that it isn’t useful in such a money management capacity, but interest rates starting at the risk-free tell us a lot about what is wholly unseen. There is simply no way to directly observe inside an economy what is taking place at all levels and in all transactions. We try to estimate as best we can in the aggregate, but the real economy works itself out far over the horizon.

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Vehicle Sales, Consumer Price Index and Average Weekly Hours: More Than Minor Auto Potential

US JD Power and LMC Automotive Vehicle Sales

According to Edmunds.com, in June 2017 the average length of a new vehicle loan has been stretched to a record 69.3 months. JD Power says that incentives last month were running at more than 10% of MSRP, the eleventh time over the past twelve months where manufacturers have so heavily discounted. And yet, the auto industry would have us believe that the problem is one of fleet sales rather than of consumers.

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US Imports, Exports and Trade Stalls, Too

US Imports

US imports rose year-over-year for the seventh straight month, but like factory orders and other economic statistics there is a growing sense that the rebound will not go further. The total import of goods was up 9.3% in May 2017 as compared to May 2016, but growth rates have over the past five months remained constrained to around that same level. It continues to be about half the rate we should expect given the preceding contraction.

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U.S. Gross Domestic Products: Near Record Expansion (Really Reduction)

US Real GDP

Real GDP in the US was revised up to 1.41% quarter-over-quarter (annual rate), still the fourth of the last six to be less than 1.5%. While economists and policymakers have taken to judging the economy by its downside, that is only because the extent of the global problem is revealed by complete absences of an upside. The occasional decent quarter doesn’t come close to making up for the more plentiful disappointing ones, let alone to still resolve the massive contraction in 2008 and 2009.

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Pending Home Sales: Home Attitude Adjustments

US Pending Home Sales

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported today that pending home sales declined for the third straight month. As with so many other accounts, it’s not really the downside that is relevant but how instead there has been little to no growth for quite some time now. The NAR’s index value, which is how the organization reports the level of pending sales, was 108.5 in May 2017. That’s up 42% from the low in 2010, but also slightly less than the peak in June 2013.

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Maybe Deep Dissatisfaction Has A Point

Economic Baselines in the Eurodollar Era, January 1993 - January 2017

To complete a trifecta, maybe someone could interview Alan Greenspan about rational exuberance. The last of the latest Fed Chairmen, Janet Yellen, purports today that the next financial crisis will not be in “our lifetimes.” The issue, however, isn’t even crisis so much as credibility. Given that she and the rest of them had no idea about the last one until it was almost over, we might be forgiven for rejecting her thesis outright – and it having nothing at all to do with the current or expected future state of finance. She is nearly the last person that should be speaking on that topic.

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Oil Prices and Manufacturing PMI: No Backing Sentiment

Oil Prices

When the price of oil first collapsed at the end of 2014, it was characterized widely as a “supply glut.” It wasn’t something to be concerned about because it was believed attributable to success, and American success no less. Lower oil prices would be another benefit to consumers on top of the “best jobs market in decades.”

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Weird Obsessions

US Banks Claims On Total Europe

People often ask why I care so much about China. In some ways the answer is obvious, meaning that China is the world’s second largest economy (the largest under certain methods of measurement). Therefore, marginal changes in the Chinese economy are important to understanding our own global situation.

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Brazil’s Reasons

Brazil Eurodollar University

Brazil is another one of those topics which doesn’t seem to merit much scrutiny apart from morbid curiosity. Like swap spreads or Japanese bank currency redistribution tendencies, it is sometimes hard to see the connection for US-based or just generically DM investors. Unless you set out to buy an emerging market ETF heavily weighted in the direction of South America, Brazil’s problems can seem a world away.

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Basic China Money Math Still Doesn’t Add Up To A Solution

China Basic Money Math

There are four basic categories to the PBOC’s balance sheet, two each on the asset and liability sides of the ledger. The latter is the money side, composed mainly of actual, physical currency and the ledger balances of bank reserves. Opposing them is forex assets in possession of the central bank and everything else denominated in RMB.

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Fading Further and Further Back Toward 2016

U.S. Disposable Personal Income

Earlier this month, the BEA estimated that Disposable Personal Income in the US was $14.4 trillion (SAAR) for April 2017. If the unemployment rate were truly 4.3% as the BLS says, there is no way DPI would be anywhere near to that low level. It would instead total closer to the pre-crisis baseline which in April would have been $19.0 trillion. Even if we factor retiring Baby Boomers in a realistic manner, say $18 trillion instead, what does the world look like with that additional $3.6 trillion of American income?

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Now China’s Curve

China Treasury Bond Curve

Suddenly central banks are mesmerized by yield curves. One of the jokes around this place is that economists just don’t get the bond market. If it was only a joke. Alan Greenspan’s “conundrum” more than a decade ago wasn’t the end of the matter but merely the beginning. After spending almost the entire time in between then and now on monetary “stimulus” of the traditional variety, only now are authorities paying close attention.

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More Pieces of Impossible

CPI: Wireless Telephone Services

On his company’s earnings conference call back on Valentine’s Day, T-Mobile CEO John Legere was unusually feisty. Never known for shyness, Legere had reason behind his bluster. T-Mobile had practically built itself up on price, being left the bottom tier of the wireless space practically to itself. That all changed, however, as both Verizon and Sprint were set to escalate the wireless price war.

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Chinese Basis For Anti-Reflation?

China Industry Drives Its Consumers

Yesterday was something of a data deluge. In the US, we had the predictable CPI dropping again, lackluster US Retail Sales, and then the FOMC’s embarrassing performance. Across the Pacific, the Chinese also reported Retail Sales as well as Industrial Production and growth of investments in Fixed Assets (FAI). When deciding which topics to cover yesterday, it was easy to leave off the Chinese portion simply because much of it didn’t change.

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Defying Labels

US Industrial Production, January 2010 - June 2017

Last month US Industrial Production rose rather quickly. Gaining more than 1.1% month-over-month, it might have appeared that the US economy once dragged into downturn by manufacturing and industry was finally about to experience its belated upturn. But frustration is how it has always gone, not just in this latest phase but for all phases since around 2011. Each good month is followed immediately by a disappointing one. What should be uninterrupted positivity is left instead as going nowhere.

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Repeat 2015; An Embarrassing Day For The Fed

Today started out very badly for the FOMC. At 8:30am the Commerce Department reported “unexpectedly” weak retail sales while at the very same time the BLS published CPI statistics that were thoroughly predictable. Markets, at least credit and money markets, have gained a clearer idea what the Fed is actually doing and why. It’s not at all what the media suggests.

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Retail Sales Weren’t All That Bad, Meaning They Were The Worst

Retail Sales All Weak

Taken in comparison to the last few years, today’s retail sales report wasn’t that bad. Total sales for May 2017, including autos, grew by 5.17% year-over-year (NSA). That was the highest growth rate since last February. The 6-month average is now just shy of 4%, the best since early 2015. It is clear the US economy has shrugged off the effects of last year’s downturn.

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Repeat 2014: Praying Again To The God of ‘Global Growth’

CPI Changes on Energy 2016-2017

One of the more troubling aspects of mainstream commentary in 2014 was its blandness. Statements were made with a purpose but also purposefully avoiding specifics. It was common to hear or read “the economy is improving” without being shown why or how in convincing fashion. After suffering a second bout of weakness in 2012 and 2013, unexpected of course, everyone simply believed those words because why not.

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American Expectations, Chinese Prices

FRBNY Survey Of Consumer Expectations, November 2013 - May 2017

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has for the past almost four years conducted its own assessment of consumer expectations.Though there are several other well-known consumer surveys, FRBNY adding another could be helpful for corroborating them. Unfortunately for the Fed, it has.

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Deciphering Curves

RHINO Curves, April 2008 - June 2017

What is the yield curve supposed to look like? It’s a simple question that doesn’t actually have an answer. And because it doesn’t, there is a whole lot of confusion about bond yields.

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Wealth Paradox Not Effect

U.S. Household Net Worth, April 1954 - April 2016

US Household Net Worth rose to a record $94.8 trillion in Q1 2017. According to the Federal Reserve’s Financial Accounts of the United States (Z1), aggregate paper wealth rose by more than 8% year-over-year mostly as the stock market shook off the effects of “global turmoil.” It was the best rate of expansion since the second quarter of 2014 just prior to this “rising dollar” interruption.

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Questions Persist About China Trade

China Exports, January 2008 - June 2017

Chinese trade statistics were for May 2017 better than expected by economists, but on the export side questions remain as to their accuracy. Earlier this year discrepancies between estimates first published by the General Administration of Customs (GAC), those you find reported in the media, and what is captured by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), backed up by data from the Ministry of Commerce, became noticeable.

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Europe’s Non-linear

Europe Real GDP, January 1996 - January 2017

Europe is as we all are. Ben Bernanke wrote a few years ago that his tenure at the Fed must have been a success in his view because the US economy didn’t perform as badly as Europe’s. As usual, this technically true comparison is for any meaningful purpose irrelevant.

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All About Inventory

Crude Oil Stocks, January 2009 - June 2017

Andy Hall has been called the God of Oil. As chief of Astenbeck Capital, he has proven at times that even gods can be mortal. In the “rising dollar” period, for example, after making money on the way down Mr. Hall went bullish.

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Forced Finally To A Binary Labor Interpretation

U.S. Job Openings, December 2000 - June 2017

JOLTS figures for the month of April 2017, released today, highlight what is in the end likely to be a more positive outcome for them. It has very little to do with the economy itself, as what we are witnessing is the culmination of extreme positions that have been made and estimated going all the way back to 2014.

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Signs of Something, Just Not Wage Acceleration

Average Weekly Earnings Production And Nonsupervisory, January 1990 - May 2017

I have been writing for many years that they really don’t know what they are doing. I only wish it was that simple. There has been developing another layer or dimension to that condition, a second derivative of stupid, whereby when faced with this now well-established fact the same people, experts and authorities all, they have no frame of reference to figure out what next to do. In other words, they really don’t know what to do when they realize they really don’t know what they are doing.

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The Anti-Perfect Jobs Condition

Unemployment Rate, January 2013 - May 2017

The irony of the unemployment rate for the Federal Reserve is that the lower it gets now the bigger the problem it is for officials. It has been up to this year their sole source of economic comfort. Throughout 2015, the Establishment Survey improperly contributed much the same sympathy, but even it no longer resides on the plus side of the official ledger.

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Dollars And Sent(iment)s

ISM Manufacturing PMI, July 2014 - May 2017

Both US manufacturing PMI’s underwhelmed just as those from China did. The IHS Markit Index was lower than the flash reading and the lowest level since last September. For May 2017, it registered 52.7, down from 52.8 in April and a high of 55.0 in January. Just by description alone you can appreciate exactly what pattern that fits. The ISM Manufacturing PMI was slightly higher in May than April, 54.9 versus 54.8, but still down from a February peak at 57.7.

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Pay No Attention To 50

China NBS Manufacturing PMI, May 2007 - May 2017

China’s PMI’s were uniformly disappointing with respect to what Moody’s was on about last week. Chinese authorities expended great effort and resources to get the economy moving forward again after several years of “dollar”-driven deceleration. here was a massive “stimulus” spending program where State-owned FAI expenditures of about 2% of GDP were elicited to make up for Private FAI that at one point last year was actually contracting.

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Simple (economic) Math

Average Weekly Earnings Production And Nonsupervisory, January 2007 - May 2017

The essence of capitalism is not strictly capital. In the modern sense, the word capital has taken on other meanings, often where money is given as a substitute for it. When speaking about things like “hot money”, for instance, you wouldn’t normally correct someone referencing it in terms of “capital flows.” Someone that “commits capital” to a project is missing some words, for in the proper sense they are “committing funds to capital.”

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Not Do We Need One, But Do We Need A Different One

Chinese Money, Oil Prices And Asian "Dollars" , January 2006 - July 2009

On March 24, 2009, then US President Barack Obama gave a prime time televised press conference whose subject was quite obviously the economy and markets. The US and global economy was at that moment trying to work through the worst conditions since the 1930’s and nobody really had any idea what that would mean.

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Suddenly Impatient Sentiment

Fed Fifth District Survey Of Manufacturing, January 2014 - May 2017

Two more manufacturing surveys suggest sharp deceleration in momentum, or, more specifically, the momentum of sentiment (if there is such a thing). The Federal Reserve’s 5th District Survey of Manufacturing (Richmond branch) dropped to barely positive, calculated to be just 1.0 in May following 20.0 in April and 22.0 in March.

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Less Than Nothing

Eurodollar Futures Dimensions, 2005 - 2007

As I so often write, we still talk about 2008 because we aren’t yet done with 2008. It doesn’t seem possible to be stuck in a time warp of such immense proportions, but such are the mistakes of the last decade carrying with them just these kinds of enormous costs.

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Commodity and Oil Prices: Staying Suck

U.S. Industrial Production, 2006-2017

The rebound in commodity prices is not difficult to understand, perhaps even sympathize with. With everything so depressed early last year, if it turned out to be no big deal in the end then there was a killing to be made. That’s what markets are supposed to do, entice those with liquidity to buy when there is blood in the streets. And if those speculators turn out to be wrong, then we are all much the wiser for their pain.

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Trying To Reconcile Accounts; China

China Fixed Asset Investment, April 2013 - April 2017

Chinese economic data for April 2017 has been uniformly disappointing. External trade numbers resembled too much commodity prices, leaving an emphasis on them rather than actual economic forces. The latest figures for the Big 3, Industrial Production, Retail Sales, and Fixed Asset Investment, unfortunately also remained true to the pattern.

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Reasonable Retail (Therefore Consumer) Expectations

Transitory Retail Sales, January 2013 - May 2017

Retail sales estimates are not adjusted for inflation, but even so whenever they get down toward the 3% growth level you can be sure there is serious economic trouble. The 6-month average for overall retail sales dropped below 3% in March 2001, the month that marked the start of the official dot-com recession (though that is not the official name for the cyclical peak, it probably should be).

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Hopefully Not Another Three Years

The Still-Shrinking 'Recovery'

The stock market has its earnings season, the regular quarterly reports of all the companies that have publicly traded stocks. In economic accounts, there is something similar though it only happens once a year. It is benchmark revision season, and it has been brought to a few important accounts already. Given that this is a backward looking exercise, that this season is likely to produce more downward revisions shouldn’t be surprising.

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China Inflation Now, Too

China Producer Price Index, April 2007 - May 2017

We can add China to the list of locations where the near euphoria about inflation rates is rapidly falling apart. This is an important blow, as the Chinese economy has been counted on to lead the world out of this slump if through nothing other than its own sheer recklessness. “Stimulus” was all the rage one year ago, and for a time it seemed to be producing all the right effects. This was “reflation”, after all.

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Lackluster Trade, China April Edition

China’s trade statistics for April 2017 uniformly disappointed. They only did so, however, because expectations are being calibrated as if the current economy is actually different. It is instead merely swinging between bouts of contraction and low-grade growth, but so low-grade it really doesn’t qualify as growth.

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Inflation Is Oil, But Inflation Is Much More Than Consumer Prices

CPI Changes On Energy, January 2016 - May 2017

The average annual change in the WTI benchmark price was in April about 25%. That was still a sizable increase year-over-year, and just marginally less than March’s average of 33%. For calculated inflation rates, it represents the last of the base effects that have to this point made it appear as if economic improvement was possibly serious.

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Lackluster Trade

US Imports, June 1989 - May 2017

US imports rose 9% year-over-year (NSA) in March 2017, after being flat in February and up 12% in January. For the quarter overall, imports rose 7.3%, a rate that is slightly more than the 2013-14 comparison. The difference, however, is simply the price of oil.

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The Wrong People Have An Innate Tendency To Stand Out

Japan Government Bond Yields, January 1985 - May 2017

I don’t think Milton Friedman would have made much of chess player. For all I know he might have been a grand master or something close to that rank, but as much as his work is admirable it invites too the whole range of opposite emotion. He was the champion libertarian of the free market who rescued economics from the ravages of New Deal socialism, but in doing so he simply created the avenue for where Economics of that kind could be transposed directly from the Treasury Department to the central bank.

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Noose Or Ratchet

Quarterly Report On Bank Derivative Activities, April 1995 - April 2016

losing the book on Q4 2016 balance sheet capacity is to review essentially forex volumes. The eurodollar system over the last ten years has turned far more in this direction in addition to it becoming more Asian/Japanese. In fact, the two really go hand in hand given the native situation of Japanese banks.

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Auto Pressure Ramps Up

Motor Vehicle Sales And Production, January 2011 - May 2017

The Los Angeles Times today asked the question only the mainstream would ask. “Wages are growing and surveys show consumer confidence is high. So why are motor vehicle sales taking a hit?” Indeed, the results reported earlier by the auto sector were the kind of sobering figures that might make any optimist wonder.

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China: Blatant Similarities

China NBS Manufacturing PMI, April 2007 - April 2017

Declines in several of the world’s PMI’s in April have furthered doubts about the global “reflation.” But while many disappointed, some sharply, it isn’t just this one month that has sown them. In China, for example, both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing sentiment indices declined to 6-month lows.

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This Is Not Expansion

Real GDP Trends 2011-2017

Back in October, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released GDP figures that suggested what those behind “reflation” had hoped. After a near miss to start 2016, the economy had shaken off the effects of “transitory” weakness, mainly manufacturing and oil, poised to perform in a manner consistent with monetary policy rhetoric.

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Clickbait: Bernanke Terrifies Stock Investors, Again

Unstable GDP Revised, April 2011 - April 2017

If you are a stock investor, you should be terrified. The most disconcerting words have been uttered by the one person capable of changing the whole dynamic. After spending so many years trying to recreate the magic of the “maestro”, Ben Bernanke in retirement is still at it.

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Defining Labor Economics

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, Dec 2000 - 2016

Economics is a pretty simple framework of understanding, at least in the small “e” sense. The big problem with Economics, capital “E”, is that the study is dedicated to other things beyond the economy. In the 21st century, it has become almost exclusive to those extraneous errands. It has morphed into a discipline dedicated to statistical regression of what relates to what, and the mathematical equations assigned to give those relationships some sort of meaning.

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‘Dollar’ ‘Improvement’

US TIC Official Buying Of US Treasury Bonds And Notes, February 2013 - February 2017

According to the headline TIC statistics, foreign central banks have in the past six months sold the fewest UST’s since the 6-month period ended November 2015. That may indicate an easing of “dollar” pressure in the private markets due to “reflation” sentiment.

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PBoC: Mechanical Tightening PBoC is China Central Bank

PBOC Balance Sheet, March 2011 - March 2017

The mainstream narrative as it relates to Chinese money is “tightening.” Having survived the economic downturn last year, we are to believe that the PBOC is once again on bubble duty. They raised their reverse repo rates, considered to be their policy benchmarks, three times up to mid-March.

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To The Asian ‘Dollar’, And Then What?

TIC - US Banking Data Claims On Foreigners, February 1979 - February 2017

The Bretton Woods system was intentionally set up to funnel monetary convertibility through official channels. The primary characteristic of any true gold standard is that any person who wishes can change paper claims into hard money. It was as much true in any one country as between those bound by the same legal framework (property).

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Money In America

Economic Baselines in the Eurodollar Era, January 1993 - 2016

In 1830, France was once more swept up in revolution, only this time at the end of it was installed one king to replace another. Louis-Phillipe became, in fact, France’s last king as a result of that July Revolution. The country was trying to make sense of its imperial past with the growing democratic sentiments of the 19th century.

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New Patterns of Disturbance

Industrial Production, 1991 - 2016

Having finally established that the economy of the “rising dollar” was appreciably worse than first estimated, we can turn our attention back toward figuring out what that means for the near future and beyond. According to the latest estimates for Industrial Production, growth has returned but in the same weird asymmetric sort of way that is actually common for the past decade. Year-over-year IP expanded by 1.5% in March 2017, the highest growth rate since February 2015 more than two years ago.

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Now You Tell Us

US Industrial Production, Jan 2006 - 2017

As we move further into 2017, economic statistics will be subject to their annual benchmark revisions. High frequency data such as any accounts published on or about a single month is estimated using incomplete data. It’s just the nature of the process. Over time, more comprehensive survey results as well as upgrades to statistical processes make it necessary for these kinds of revisions.

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The Expanded Retail Sales Gap

US Retail Sales Trade, Jan 1993 - 2017

Retail sales growth in February 2017 was going to be low by virtue of its comparison to February 2016 and the extra day in that month. The Census Bureau’s autoregressive models are supposed to normalize just these kinds of calendar irregularities so that we can make something close to apples to apples comparisons. The seasonally-adjusted estimate for February, however, was calculated to be less than the one for January 2017, therefore suggesting that weakness in the prior month wasn’t entirely related to the non-economic reasons of a leap year.

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Assessing China’s Economic Risks

China Industrial Production 2009-2017

First quarter GDP in China rose 6.9%, better than expected and above the government’s target (6.5%) for 2017. It stands to reason, however, that if Communist officials thought they could get 6.9% to last for the whole year they would have made it their target, especially since 6.5% would be less than the GDP growth rate for 2016 (6.7%). In only that one way is China’s GDP statistic meaningful.

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What Was Chinese Trade in March?

China Exports, Jan 2008 - 2017

As with all statistics, there are discrepancies that from time to time may obscure the meaning or validity of the particular estimate in question. For the vast majority of the time, any such uncertainties amount to very little. Overall, harmony among the major accounts reduces the signal noise from any one featuring a significant inconsistency.

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Earnings per Share: Is It Other Than Madness?

S&P 500 Earnings Per Share 2014-2018

As earnings season begins for Q1 2017 reports, there isn’t much change in analysts’ estimates for S&P 500 companies for that quarter. The latest figures from S&P shows expected earnings (as reported) of $26.70 in Q1, as compared to $26.87 two weeks ago. That is down only $1 from October, which is actually pretty steady particularly when compared to Q4 2016 estimates that over the same time plummeted from $29.04 to $24.16. At $26.70, that would represent about 23% growth over Q1 2016.

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Optimal Lunacy

Federal Funds Rate 2010-2018

In June 2012, Janet Yellen, then the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve, addressed an audience in Boston with what for the time seemed like a radical departure. It was the latest in a string of them, for conditions throughout the “recovery” period never did quite seem to hit the recovery stride. Because of that, there was constant stream of trial balloons suggesting how the Federal Reserve might try to overcome this economic inertia.
At that juncture about five years ago, there were only whispers of “structural” economic forces conspiring against full recovery. As Ms. Yellen said in her speech:
All told, only about half of the collapse in private payroll employment in 2008 and 2009 has been reversed. A critical question for monetary policy is the extent to which these numbers reflect a

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The Global Burden

Germany 2-year Bund Yield 2009-2017

Bundesrepublik Deutscheland Finanzagentur GmbH (German Finance Agency) was created on September 19, 2000, in order to manage the German government’s short run liquidity needs. GFA took over the task after three separate agencies (Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Securities Administration, and Deutsche Bundesbank) had previously shared responsibility for it.

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It Was And Still Is The Wrong Horse To Bet

Payrolls Establishment Survey 2010-2017

The payroll report disappointed again, though it was deficient in ways other than are commonly described. The monthly change is never a solid indication, good or bad, as the BLS’ statistical processes can only get it down to a 90% confidence interval, and a wide one at that. It means that any particular month by itself specifies very little, except under certain circumstances.

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US Jobs: Who Carries The Burden of Proof?

Belly of the Curve Gone Flat 2009-2017

The idea that interest rates have nowhere to go but up is very much like saying the bond market has it all wrong. That is one reason why the rhetoric has been ratcheted that much higher of late, particularly since the Fed “raised rates” for a third time in March. Such “hawkishness” by convention should not go so unnoticed, and yet yields and curves are once more paying little attention to Janet Yellen.

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Ultra-Loose Terminology, Not Policy

Return of Lending in Europe 2007-2017

As world “leaders” gathered in Davos in January 2016, they did so among financial turmoil that was creating more economic havoc than at any time since the Great “Recession.” Having seen especially US QE as the equivalent of money printing, their focus was drawn elsewhere to at least attempt an explanation for the contradiction.

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We Need To Define The ‘Shadows’, And All Parts of Them; or, ‘Rising Dollar’ Kills Another Recovery Narrative

Total Credit Market Instruments

JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon caused a stir yesterday with his 45-page annual letter to shareholders. The phrase that gained him so much widespread attention was, “there is something wrong with the US.” Dimon mentioned secular stagnation and correctly surmised it was the right idea if for the wrong reasons. He then gave his own which included a litany of globalist agenda items, including not enough access to mortgages.

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February US Trade Disappoints

US Imports, Jun 1989 - 2016

The oversized base effects of oil prices could not in February 2017 push up overall US imports. The United States purchased, according to the Census Bureau, 71% more crude oil from global markets this February than in February 2016. In raw dollar terms, it was an increase of $7.3 billion year-over-year. Total imports, however, only gained $8.4 billion, meaning that nearly all the improvement was due to nothing more than the price of global oil.

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Systemic Depression Is A Clear Choice

Japan CPI, Jan 2010 - 2017

Looking back on late 2015, it is perfectly clear that policymakers had no idea what was going on. It’s always easy, of course, to reflect on such things with the benefit of hindsight, but even contemporarily it was somewhat shocking how complacent they had become as a global group.

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Incomes Always Deviate Negative

Real DPI per Capita, Jan 2010 - 2017

Personal Income growth in February 2017 was more mixed than it had been of recent months. Nominal Disposable Per Capita Income increased 3.73% year-over-year, while in real terms Per Capita Income was up 1.57%. For the former, that was among the better monthly results over the past year, while the latter was near the worst.

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Consensus Inflation (Again)

Europe Harmonized Inflation Consumer Prices , 2013 - 2019

Why did Mario Draghi appeal to NIRP in June 2014? After all, expectations at the time were for a strengthening recovery not just in Europe but all over the world. There were some concerns lingering over currency “irregularities” in 2013 but primarily related to EM’s and not the EU which had emerged from re-recession. The consensus at that time was full recovery not additional “stimulus.” From Bloomberg in January 2014:

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The Power of Oil

Oil Prices WTI, May 2007 - 2017

For the first time in 57 months, a span of nearly five years, the Fed’s preferred metric for US consumer price inflation reached the central bank’s explicit 2% target level. The PCE Deflator index was 2.12% higher in February 2017 than February 2016. Though rhetoric surrounding this result is often heated, the actual indicated inflation is decidedly not despite breaking above for once.

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Ending The Fed’s Drug Problem

GDP Corp Profits After Tax, Jan 2010 - 2017

Gross Domestic Product was revised slightly higher for Q4 2016, which is to say it wasn’t meaningfully different. At 2.05842%, real GDP projects output growing for one quarter close to its projected potential, a less than desirable result. It is fashionable of late to discuss 2% or 2.1% as if these are good numbers consistent with a healthy economy.

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The Inverse of Keynes

S&P 500 EPS Q4 2016

With nearly all of the S&P 500 companies having reported their Q4 numbers, we can safely claim that it was a very bad earnings season. It may seem incredulous to categorize the quarter that way given that EPS growth (as reported) was +29%, but even that rate tells us something significant about how there is, actually, a relationship between economy and at least corporate profits.

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All In The Curves

Notable events in the 2003 deflation scare

If the mainstream is confused about exactly what rate hikes mean, then they are not alone. We know very well what they are supposed to, but the theoretical standards and assumptions of orthodox understanding haven’t worked out too well and for a very long time now. The benchmark 10-year US Treasury is today yielding less than it did when the FOMC announced their second rate hike in December.

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TIC Analysis of Selling

When the Treasury Department released its Treasury International Capital (TIC) data for December, what was a somewhat obscure report suddenly found mainstream attention. Private foreign investors had sold tens of billions in US securities primarily US Treasury bonds and notes which the media then made into some kind of warning to then-incoming President Trump. It was supposed to be a big deal, the kind of rebuke reserved for disreputable leaders of banana republics.

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Durable Goods After Leap Year

Durable Goods New Orders, NSA 1993-2017

New orders for durable goods (not including transportation orders) were up 1% year-over-year in February. That is less than the (revised) 4.4% growth in January, but as with all comparisons of February 2017 to February 2016 there will be some uncertainty surrounding the comparison to the leap year version.

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Non-Randomly Surveying RMB

PBOC RMB Liquidity Management 2014-2017

China’s central bank, unlike other central banks, is constantly active almost never resting. Because it is always in motion, the PBOC can seem to be “adding” liquidity at the very same time it might be “draining” it. Its specific actions should never be interpreted as standalone procedures related solely to some unknown policy stance. That is particularly true given that we know what their stance is and has been – neutral.

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Economics Through The Economics of Oil

The last time oil inventory grew at anywhere close to this pace was during each of the last two selloffs, the first in late 2014/early 2015 and the second following about a year after. Those events were relatively easy to explain in terms of both price and fundamentals, though the mainstream managed to screw it up anyway (“supply glut”).

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Pressure, Sure, But From Where?

Belly of the Curve Gone Flat 2009-2017

It may just be that in life you have to get used to disappointment. Though not for lack of trying, I have spent a great deal of time over the years intending to piece together exactly what happened on days like October 15, 2014. The official explanation is an obvious whitewash, one so haphazard that I doubt it will ever be referred to again outside of ridicule.

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Was There Ever A ‘Skills Mismatch’? Notable Differences In Job Openings Suggest No

JOLTS - Job Openings, Acceleration, Dec 2000 - 2016

Perhaps the most encouraging data produced by the BLS has been within its JOLTS figures, those of Job Openings. It is one data series that policymakers watch closely and one which they purportedly value more than most. While the unemployment and participation rates can be caught up in structural labor issues (heroin and retirees), Job Openings are related to the demand for labor rather than the complications on the labor supply side.

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Industrial Symmetry

Industrial Production YoY, Jun 1995 - Jan 2017

There has always been something like Newton’s third law observed in the business cycles of the US and other developed economies. In what is, or was, essentially symmetry, there had been until 2008 considerable correlation between the size, scope, and speed of any recovery and its antecedent downturn, or even slowdown. The relationship was so striking that it moved Milton Friedman to finally publish in 1993 his plucking model theory he had first written in 1964.

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Retail Sales: Extra Day Likely, no Meaningful Difference

Retail Sales, Jan 1993 - 2017

Retail sales comparisons were for February 2017 skewed by the extra day in February 2016. With the leap year February 29th a part of the base effect, the estimated growth rates (NSA) for this February are to some degree better than they appear. Seasonally-adjusted retail sales were in the latest estimates essentially flat when compared to the prior month (January). That leaves too much guesswork to draw any hard conclusions.

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Further Unanchoring Is Not Strictly About Inflation

University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers Inflation Expectations, Jan 1990 - 2017

According to Alan Greenspan in a speech delivered at Stanford University in September 1997, monetary policy in the United States had been shed of M1 by late 1982. The Fed has never been explicit about exactly when, or even why, monetary policy changed dramatically in the 1980’s to a regime of pure interest rate targeting of the federal funds rate.

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Mugged By Reality; Many Still Yet To Be

Friedman's Plucking Model

In August 2014, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer admitted to an audience in Sweden the possibility in some unusually candid terms that maybe they (economists, not Sweden) didn’t know what they were doing. His speech was lost in the times, those being the middle of that year where the Fed having already started to taper QE3 and 4 were becoming supremely confident that they would soon end them.

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Do Record Debt And Loan Balances Matter? Not Even Slightly

Z1 Total Debt Securities, 1980 - 2016

We live in a non-linear world that is almost always described in linear terms. Though Einstein supposedly said compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe, it rarely is appreciated for what the statement really means. And so the idea of record highs or even just positive numbers have been equated with positive outcomes, even though record highs and positive growth rates can be at times still associated with some of the worst. It may seem like a paradox, but that is only because of the linear frame of reference.

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Payrolls Still Slowing Into A Third Year

Payrolls Est Survey, Jan 2010 - 2017

Today’s bland payroll report did little to suggest much of anything. All the various details were left pretty much where they were last month, and all the prior trends still standing. The headline Establishment Survey figure of 235k managed to bring the 6-month average up to 194k, almost exactly where it was in December but quite a bit less than November. In other words, despite what is mainly written as continued “strength” is still pointing down in all the key places.

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Time, The Biggest Risk

Oil WTI, May 2016 - February 2017

If there is still no current or present indication of rising economic fortunes, and there isn’t, then the “reflation” idea turns instead to what might be different this time as compared to the others. In 2013 and 2014, it was QE3 and particularly the intended effects (open ended and faster paced, a bigger commitment by the Fed to purportedly do whatever it took) upon expectations that supposedly set it apart from the failures of QE’s 1 and 2. This time it is more fiscal than monetary, a potential difference that isn’t lost on “reflation” believers.

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No Paradox, Economy to Debt to Assets

Household Net Worth, April 1951 - 2016

It is surely one of the primary reasons why many if not most people have so much trouble accepting the trouble the economy is in. With record high stock prices leading to record levels of household net worth, it seems utterly inconsistent to claim those facts against a US economic depression.

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Same Country, Different Worlds

China CPI PPI, February 2007 - 2017

To my mind, “reflation” has always proceeded under false pretenses. This goes for more than just the latest version, as we witnessed the same incongruity in each of the prior three. The trend is grounded in mere hope more than rational analysis, largely because I think human nature demands it. We are conditioned to believe especially in the 21st century that the worst kinds of things are either unrealistic or apply to some far off location nowhere near our experience.

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US Trade Skews

US Trade Export, NSA 1989-2016

US trade statistics dramatically improved in January 2017, though questions remain as to interpreting by how much. On the export side, US exports of goods rose 8.7% year-over-year (NSA). While that was the highest growth rate since 2012, there is part symmetry to account for some of it.

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Do Record Eurodollar Balances Matter? Not Even Slightly

Nonbanks TIC Other Outbound, Nov 1978 - 2016

The BIS in its quarterly review published yesterday included a reference to the eurodollar market (thanks to M. Daya for pointing it out). The central bank to central banks, as the outfit is often called, is one of the few official institutions that have taken a more objective position with regard to the global money system. Of the very few who can identify eurodollars, or have even heard of them, the BIS while not fully on board is at least open to the possibility that perhaps maybe their constituent central bankers don’t know what they are talking about.
So it was with some surprise to find that the piece was quite positive overall. It concludes that the market is, “not suffering a dollar shortage as in 2008-09.” This is misleading, for the statement is qualified in two very important

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Manufacturing Back To 2014

Factory Orders for All Manufacturing Industies, SA 1992-2016

The ISM Manufacturing PMI registered 57.7 in February 2017, the highest value since August 2014 (revised). It was just slightly less than that peak in the 2014 “reflation” cycle. Given these comparisons, economic narratives have been spun further than even the past few years where “strong” was anything but.

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Economic Dissonance, Too

Germany Industrial Production, SA 1997-2016

Germany is notoriously fickle when it comes to money, speaking as much of discipline in economy or industry as central banking. If ever there is disagreement about monetary arrangements, surely the Germans are behind it. Since ECB policy only ever attains the one direction, so-called accommodation, there never seems to be harmony.

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True Cognitive Dissonance

Inflation In Japan 2011-2016

There is gold in Asia, at least gold of the intellectual variety for anyone who wishes to see it. The Chinese offer us perhaps the purest view of monetary conditions globally, where RMB money markets are by design tied directly to “dollar” behavior. It is, in my view, enormously helpful to obsess over China’s monetary system so as to be able to infer a great deal about the global monetary system deep down beyond the “event horizon.”

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Real Disposable Income: Headwinds of the Negative

PCE Chain-type Price Index 2008-2017

The PCE Deflator for January 2017 rose just 1.89% year-over-year. It was the 57th consecutive month less than the 2% mandate (given by the Fed itself when in early 2012 it made the 2% target for this metric its official definition of price stability).

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Some Notes On GDP Past And Present

GDP PCE Deflator QQ YY, January 2009 - April 2016

The second estimate for GDP was so similar to the first as to be in all likelihood statistically insignificant. The preliminary estimate for real GDP was given as $16,804.8 billion. The updated figure is now $16,804.1 billion. In nominal terms there was more variation, where the preliminary estimate of $18,860.8 billion is now replaced by one for $18,855.5 billion.

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Durable Goods Groundhog

Durable Goods New Orders, NSA 1993-2017

If the economy is repeating the after-effects of the latest “dollar” events, and it does seem more and more to be that case, then analysis starts with identifying a range for where it might be in the repetition. New orders for durable goods (ex transportation) rose 4.3% year-over-year in January 2017 (NSA, only 2.4% SA), the highest growth rate since September 2014 (though not meaningfully faster than the 3.9% rate in November 2016).

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It Was ‘Dollars’ All Along

Giant Sucking Sound 1960 - 2015

Ross Perot famously declared the “giant sucking sound” in the 1992 Presidential campaign. The debate over NAFTA did not end with George H. W. Bush’s defeat, as it simmered in one form or another for much of the 1990’s. Curiously, however, it seemed almost perfectly absent during the 2000’s, the very decade in which Perot’s prophecy came true. Americans didn’t notice because there was a bubble afoot.

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Not Recession, Systemic Rupture – Again

Pyramid - Total US Gold Stock, January 2017

For the very few in the mainstream of economics who venture further back in history than October 1929, they typically still don’t go much last April 1925. And when they do, it is only to further bash the gold standard for its presumed role in creating the conditions for 1929. The Brits under guidance of Winston Churchill made a grave mistake, one from which gold advocates could never recover given what followed.

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The Market Is Not The Economy, But Earnings Are (Closer)

S&P 500 EPS April 1996 - April 2016

My colleague Joe Calhoun likes to remind me that markets and fundamentals only sound like they should be related, an observation that is a correct one on so many different levels. Stock prices, in general, and GDP growth may seem to warrant some kind of expected correlation, but it has proven quite tenuous at times especially in a 21st century sense.

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The Stinking Politics of It All

Potential Real Gross Domestic Products 1999Q1 - 2017Q1

It is largely irrelevant, but still the political theater is fascinating. As is now standard operating procedure, whatever comes out of the Trump administration immediately is conferred as the standard for awful. This is not my own determination, mind you, but that of the mainstream, whatever that is these days. And so it is with the first set of budget figures that include very robust growth projections, a point of contention and an obvious one regardless of the politics.

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No Acceleration In Industry, Either

U.S. Industrial Production Jan 2000 - Jan 2017

Industrial Production in the United States was flat in January 2017, following in December the first positive growth rate in over a year. The monthly estimates for IP are often subject to greater revisions than in other data series, so the figures for the latest month might change in the months ahead. Still, even with that in mind, there is no acceleration indicated for US industry.

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Their Gap Is Closed, Ours Still Needs To Be

Potential Real GDP, 1999Q1 - 2009Q1

There are actually two parts to examining the orthodox treatment of the output gap. The first is the review, looking backward to trace how we got to this state. The second is looking forward trying to figure what it means to be here. One final rearward assessment is required so as to frame how we view what comes next. As I suggested earlier this week, the so-called output gap started at the trough of the Great “Recession” at around 10% of the CBO’s January 2008 calculation for potential.

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Why Aren’t Oil Prices $50 Ahead?

Oil Prices Oil Inflation Economy Circular

Right now there are two conventional propositions behind the “reflation” trade, and in many ways both are highly related if not fully intertwined. The first is that interest rates have nowhere to go but up. The Fed is raising rates again and seems more confident in doing more this year than it wanted to last year. With nominal rates already rising in the last half of 2016, and with more (surveyed) optimism than even 2014, it may at times seem the path of least resistance.

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U.S. CPI after the energy push

U.S. Consumer Prices Changes on Energy January 1995 - 2017

The Consumer Price Index for January 2017 rose 2.5%, pulled upward by its energy component which thanks to oil prices now being comparing to the absolutely lows last year saw that part of the index rise 11.1% year-over-year. Given that oil prices bottomed out on February 11, 2016, this is the last month where oil prices and thus energy inflation will be at its most extreme (except, of course, should WTI actually rise between now and the end of February off $53 – $54 a barrel where it has been stuck for quite some time).

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Real Wages Really Inconsistent

Average Weekly Earnings Production and Nonsupervisory August 2007 - February 2017

Real average weekly earnings for the private sector fell 0.6% year-over-year in January. It was the first contraction since December 2013 and the sharpest since October 2012. The reason for it is very simple; nominal wages remain stubbornly stagnant but now a rising CPI subtracts even more from them.

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A New Frame Of Reference Is Really All That Is Necessary To Start With

Evolution Fractional Lending Bank Reserves 1900 - 1921

In the middle of 1919, the United States was beset by a great many imbalances. Having just conducted a wartime economy, almost everything before then had been absorbed by the World War I effort. With fiscal restraint subsumed by national emergency, inflation was the central condition. Given that the Federal Reserve was by then merely a few years old, no one was quite sure what to do about it.

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Brazil: Continuing Problems

Brazil Industrial Production 1975 - 2016

The cruelest part, perhaps, of this economic condition globally is how it plays against type. In all prior cycles, economies of all kinds and orientations all over the globe would go into recession and then bounce right of it once at the bottom. It was often difficult to see the bottom, of course, but once recovery happened there was no arguing against it.

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No China Trade Interpretations

China Exports and Imports, January 2011 - January 2017

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of China does not publish any of the big three data series (Industrial Production, Retail Sales, Fixed Asset Investment) for the month of January. It combines January data with February data because of the large distortions caused by Lunar New Year holidays.

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Jobless Claims Look Great, Until We Examine The Further Potential For What We Really, Really Don’t Want

Initial Jobless Claims, January 1967 - January 2017

Initial jobless claims fell to just 234k for the week of February 4, nearly matching the 233k multi-decade low in mid-November. That brought the 4-week moving average down to just 244k, which was a new low going all the way back to the early 1970’s. Jobless claims seemingly stand in sharp contrast to other labor market figures which have been suggesting an economic slowdown for nearly two years.

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We Know How This Ends – Part 2

History Most Definitely Rhymes

In March 1969, while Buba was busy in the quicksand of its swaps and forward dollar interventions, Netherlands Bank (the Dutch central bank) had instructed commercial banks in Holland to pull back funds from the eurodollar market in order to bring up their liquidity positions which had dwindled dangerously during this increasing currency chaos.

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