Archive for December, 2010

Hope and jobs

24 December 2010

Optimism is breaking out among economic forecasters. I admit, I share their optimism, as should be clear from my recent posts. My optimism is bolstered by the latest Index of Leading Economic Indicators, which rose in November for the fifth straight month and by the most (1.1%) in eight months.

Two of the big banks cited in today’s New York Times article (first link) predict 4% real GDP growth for 2011, i.e., fast enough to actually reduce the unemployment rate. Unfortunately, as Princeton’s Alan Krueger suggests in the article, that would only be enough to make a modest dent in the unemployment rate. Does the Times still run those “Remember the neediest” taglines, I wonder?

Much as I think recovery is already underway and will pick up steam in 2011, I can’t stop thinking that this recovery, like most recoveries in the past several decades, is likely to leave millions of Americans behind. Will the new Congress care? My main hope is that Republicans’ love of all things voucher will extend to relocation vouchers for the unemployed, to encourage them to move from places like Detroit and Upstate New York to where the jobs are.

P.S. The second link, from 24/7WallSt.com, includes a helpful discussion of the Conference Board’s index of ten Leading Economic Indicators, namely what they are and how some of them might be more like coincident or lagging indicators. The index is still useful, but there’s a reason why nobody is able to extract airtight forecasts from it.

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The Fed does not print money

23 December 2010

The Fed creates reserves, not money.  I’ve covered this one before.  Fed Chair Ben Bernanke has been making the same distinction lately, though it seems he’s muddied it in the past.

Once again:  The Fed creates reserves, not money.  The Fed buys securities from banks and pays for them by giving the banks reserves, e.g., if it buys a $1000 Treasury bond from a bank, it pays the bank by adding $1000 to the bank’s reserve account  at the Fed.  This is not the same thing as giving the banks money, because it ain’t money unless it’s (1) cash circulating outside of the banking system or (2) in someone’s checking, savings, or other deposit account at a bank or money-market fund.

This distinction might sound nitpicky, but it’s all-important.  The process by which these reserves become money is the process by which monetary policy works, or fails to work.  What’s supposed to happen is this:

Fed creates reserves –> banks loan out reserves to households and businesses –> households and businesses spend those funds (raising the Consumption and Investment parts of GDP, hence raising GDP) –> whoever gets paid by them deposits some of those funds in the banks or in money-market funds, and spends some of it –> whoever gets that money deposits some of it and spends some of it –> etc.  Money does get created, indirectly, when those loans are deposited or redeposited in the banking system, but not before then.

That’s what happens when monetary policy works.  (And yes, there may be some inflation, if the increased demand for consumption and investment goods isn’t met by an increase in their availability.)  But that’s not what’s been happening since 2008 — the Fed has been creating reserves, and banks have mostly been sitting on those reserves.  Thus no big increase in Consumption, Investment, or GDP, and no corresponding increase in the money supply.

When someone says “The Fed prints money,” what they’re really saying is that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Ask what you can do for the banks

13 December 2010

Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican and incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, lets us know who’s his daddy:

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

The honesty’s too much.

Hat tip and emphasis: Matt Yglesias.

If we make it through December

3 December 2010

The BLS unemployment report for November is out, and it ain’t pretty.  Less than a third as much job creation (+39,000) as expected, not nearly enough to absorb new entrants into the labor force, so the official unemployment rate edged up to 9.8%.  (The comprehensive U-6 unemployment rate was unchanged at 17.0%.)

The private sector added 50,000 more jobs, and the government shed 11,000 jobs.  It is a bit hard to disentangle private sector jobs from the government, in view of the fact that the $787 billion stimulus went mostly to the private sector as opposed to new government jobs, but it is rather remarkable how little the government is doing in terms of direct job creation.  At the federal level this comes down to politics — in this conservative age, creating 3.5 million temporary government jobs, as the New Deal did each year, is considered a bad thing.  Indirectly creating or saving 3.5 million jobs, as the Obama Administration credits the stimulus with having done, is politically viable (or was in early 2009) but hard to prove, which is probably why the stimulus is unpopular with most of the public.  At the state and local level, of course, it comes down to balanced-budget requirements — with tax revenues down for the count, everyone’s cutting government payrolls to try to close the budget gap.  (Without emergency federal aid to make up the difference, the recession gets magnified at the state and local government level.)   If I eyeballed the numbers correctly, employment is down for the year at all three levels of government.

The only good news I noticed in the report was that the number of temp workers, a leading economic indicator of employment, increased for the fourth straight month.  (And even then, the increase is smaller than in several months earlier this year.)  Another leading indicator, weekly hours worked, did not improve, instead holding steady at 34.3 hours.

Now, the unemployment rate is a lagging indicator, and there are positive signs of recovery elsewhere, but that’s cold comfort to the nation’s 15 million unemployed. Seems like we’re back to where Merle Haggard  was in 1973, especially with Republicans in Congress so far refusing to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless: