"Property taxes are equitable and efficient, but underutilized in many economies. The average yield of property taxes in 65 economies (for which data are available) in the 2000s was around 1 percent of GDP, but in developing economies it averages only half of that (Bahl and Martínez-Vázquez, 2008). There is considerable scope to exploit this tax more fully, both as a revenue source and as a redistributive instrument, although effective implementation will require a sizable investment in administrative infrastructure, particularly in developing economies (Norregaard, 2013)." - IMF
While the Fed's interventions have certainly bolstered asset prices by driving a "carry trade," these programs do not address the central issue necessary in a consumer driven economy which is "employment." In an economy that is nearly 70% driven by consumption, production comes first in the economic order. Without a job, through which an individual produces a good or service in exchange for payment, there is no income to consume with. With the Federal Reserve now effectively removing the "patient" from life support, we will see if the economy can sustain itself. If this recent Bloomberg poll is correct, then we are likely to get an answer very shortly, and it may very well be disappointment.
The Fed and the other major central banks have been planting time bombs all over the global financial system for years, but especially since their post-crisis money printing spree incepted in the fall of 2008. Now comes a new leader to the Eccles Building who is not only bubble-blind like her two predecessors, but is also apparently bubble-mute. Janet Yellen is pleased to speak of financial bubbles as a “misalignment of asset prices,” and professes not to espy any on the horizon. Actually, the Fed’s bubble blindness stems from even worse than servility. The problem is an irredeemably flawed monetary doctrine that tracks, targets and aims to goose Keynesian GDP flows using the crude tools of central banking. Not surprisingly, therefore, our monetary central planners are always, well, surprised, when financial fire storms break-out. Even now, after more than a half-dozen collapses since the Greenspan era of Bubble Finance incepted in 1987, they don’t recognize that it is they who are carrying what amounts to monetary gas cans.
For all the chest-thumping from policymakers about the declining unemployment rate and increase in GDP growth in the second half of last year, these statistics are easily misread. More telling indicators, such as private domestic demand, haven’t picked up at all. Nor would you expect a robust recovery as long as employers create mostly lousy jobs. In the horse race between the real economy and the risk of financial instability, the real economy seems to be falling behind. Financial risks are growing steadily, as we discussed in “Tracking ‘Bubble Finance’ Risks in a Single Chart.” The real economy, on the other hand, is held back by weak income growth.
Since Ukraine is the only wildcard variable in the news these past few days, it was to be expected that following i) the end of the large Russian military drill begun two weeks ago and ii) a press conference by Putin in which he toned down the war rhetoric, even if he did not actually say anything indicating Russia will difuse the tension, futures have soared and have retraced all their losses from yesterday. And not only in the US - European equity indices gapped higher at the open this morning in reaction to reports that Russian President Putin has ordered troops engaged in military exercises to return to their bases. Consequent broad based reduction in risk premia built up over the past few sessions meant that in spite of looming risk events (ECB, BoE policy meetings and NFP release this Friday), Bund also failed to close the opening gap lower. At the same time, USD/JPY and EUR/CHF benefited as the recent flight to quality sentiment was reversed, with energy and precious metal prices also coming off overnight highs.
Moments ago the BEA disclosed the January personal income and spending data, which surprised to the upside on both sides: Personal Income rose 0.3% in January, on expectations of a 0.2% increase, while spending roared up by 0.4% well above the 0.1% expected. Great news right? Well, not exactly. What happened in January to account for this spending spree? The chart below of spending on Services should explain it.
- Russian markets hit as Putin tightens grip on Crimea (Reuters)
- Ukraine Sees More Russian Incursions as Standoff Worsens (BBG)
- Ukraine Crisis Roils Global Markets (WSJ)
- Cold War Ghosts Haunt East Europe in Moves for Crimea (BBG)
- How Moscow Orchestrated Events in Crimea (WSJ)
- Russia Gas Threat Shows Putin Using Pipes to Press Ukraine (BBG)
- Euro-zone PMI slowed less sharply than estimated (MW)
- Two top Microsoft execs to leave in reshuffle (Reuters)
- Soaring Luxury-Goods Prices Test Wealthy's Will to Pay (WSJ)
- IQ-Boosting Drugs Aim to Help Down Syndrome Kids Learn (BBG)
We were perhaps even more amused than our readers by our Friday headline "Stocks Close At New Record High On Russian Invasion, GDP Decline And Pending Home Sales Miss." It appears that today the market forgot to take its lithium, and is finally focusing on the Ukraine part of the headline, at least until 3:30 pm again when everything should once again be back to market ramp normal. As expected, the PMI data from China and Europe in February, was promptly ignored and it was all about Ukraine again, where Russia sternly refuses to yield to Western demands, forcing the shocked market to retreat lower, and sending Russian stocks lower by over 11%. This is happening even as Ukraine is sending Russian gas to European consumers as normal, gas transport monopoly Ukrtransgas said on Monday. "Ukrtransgas is carrying out all its obligations, fulfilling all agreements with Gazprom. The transit (via Ukraine to Europe) totalled 200 million cubic meters as of March 1," Ukrtransgas spokesman Maksim Belyavsky said. In other words, it can easily get worse should Russia indeed use its trump card.
Today, we got the credit side of the "savings debit" ledger with the December consumer credit report, in which we learned that in addition to the now traditional draw of Car and Student loans, which came out to $13.8 billion, or exactly in line with the 12 month average draw, sending the total notional to a record $2.24 trillion, it was revolving credit, i.e., credit cards, which saw a substantial $5 billion increase in outstandings - the most since May 2013 - bringing total revolving credit to $862 billion if still far below the nearly $1.1 trillion in student loans outstanding. So just as the US consumer was tapped out, and saw their personal income remain unchanged from November and real disposable income cratered, as a result having to draw down on their savings, the remainder of all purchases was funded through the use of credit cards, which may or may not be repaid in 2014. There is always hope that this time will be different and incomes finally pick up.
The problem for the state is that its success in imposing exorbitant fees and taxes will simply drive low-income people scratching out a minimal living in the gray market to other networks that do not even have a corporate structure to tax. To wit: "The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers." Phantom economies tend to give rise to gray and black markets in proportion to the deviance of the phantom economy from reality.
This past week we read some very diverse articles, which, hopefully, will stimulate your grey matter over the weekend as you indulge in melted artifical cheese, processed fillers, and copious amounts of artificial colorings and flavors during the Super Bowl showdown (assuming you did not order any of the party packs). With everybody hoping that someone else is going to pull them out of the quicksand - who is left to do the pulling?
We may not know much about "Keynesian economics" (and neither does anyone else: they just plug and pray, literally), but we know one thing: when real disposable personal income drops by 0.2% from a month earlier, and plummets by 2.7% from a year ago, the biggest collapse since the semi-depression in 1974, something is wrong with the US consumer.
Americans Burned Through $46 Billion In Savings To Fund December Purchases: Savings Rate Lowest Since January 2013Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/31/2014 09:48 -0400
If there was any confusion where the funding for what little shopping spree Americans engaged in during December, it should all go away now. While the street was expecting a 0.2% increase in both personal income and personal spending in the month of December, what it got instead was a flat print in income (i.e. unchanged from November) while spending (mostly for non-durable goods) spiked by 0.4% meaning there was a 0.4% funding hold that had to be filled somehow. That somehow we now know is personal savings, which tumbled from a revised 4.3% to 3.9% - the lowest since January 2013, only back then incomes would rise for the rest of the year driven by the 30% increase in the S&P "wealth effect." This time, with the Fed now tapering QE, the only way is down for both the "wealth effect" and Personal Incomes... and thus Personal spending, that majority component of US GDP. Finally, this data means that according to the BEA in December US consumers funded some $46 billion in spending through burning down their savings.
- Even Obama's fans has turning on him: "The Decline and Fall of 'Hope and Change'"
- European Stocks Drop, Head for Worst January Since 2009 (BBG)
- Euro-Area Inflation at 0.7% Builds Rate Pressure on ECB (BBG)
- Japan’s Inflation Accelerates as Abe Seeks Wage Gains (BBG)
- Unpossible - this is the USSA: Detroit Debt Proposal Favors Pension Funds (WSJ)
- Keystone Report Said Likely to Disappoint Pipeline Foes (BBG)
- YHOO still pretending someone cares about it: Yahoo says detected hacking attempt on email accounts (Reuters)
- How Google's Costly Motorola Maneuver May Pay Off (WSJ)
- Mexico Surpassing Japan as No. 2 Auto Exporter to U.S. (BBG)