Economics

James Mackintosh

Some interesting charts from Credit Suisse this morning are testing the idea that eurozone unemployment looks particularly awful.

Adjust for the rising number of people participating in the workforce in the eurozone, and the falling number willing to work in the US, and unemployment is just about the same in both. Read more

John Authers

The Bank of England has hit the target at last. UK inflation is at 2 per cent, bang in line with the Bank’s target, for the first time since the end of 2009. This is good news for the UK, which had been buffeted by an incipient inflation problem. But it is part of a global trend that could be far more problematic: deflationary pressure.

As the chart shows, the BoE now completes a set of all the four major developed market banks – along with the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank – to have inflation at or below the target of 2 per cent. Read more

John Authers

At first, the idea that the Nobel economics prize should be shared between Eugene Fama and Robert Shiller sounds absurd – akin to making Keynes and Friedman share the award.

Gene Fama, of the University of Chicago, is famous as the father of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, after all, while Yale’s Bob Shiller is famous primarily for being the principal critic of that hypothesis. Read more

James Mackintosh

With the US government missing in action, the statisticians who usually draw up Friday’s non-farm payrolls numbers are kicking their heels at home. In their absence, the market is likely to turn to today’s estimates from payrolls processor ADP – which has direct access to data on about a fifth of total pay packets.

This should make ADP’s numbers more reliable than those from the government. But because investors focus on the government survey, rather than ADP, what really matters is how close the ADP estimates are to the official figures. At first glance they look pretty good:

ADP v non-farm payrolls Read more

James Mackintosh

Economists often seem to be living in a different world, not least when their forecasts of future recessions – or more precisely the lack of them – are examined.

Now two economists have confirmed that economists are on a quite different plane to the rest of the population, by exploring their views on policy issues facing America. Two Chicago-based finance professors, Paola Sapienza of Northwestern and Luigi Zingales of Chicago Booth, tried to identify issues on which economists generally agreed.

Only two issues garnered complete agreement: every single economist questioned (as part of a regular survey) said it was hard to predict share prices, and not one thought US healthcare was sustainable.

By contrast only a small majority of Americans (55 per cent) agree that share prices are tough to forecast, and two-thirds think US healthcare is financially sustainable.

This might just suggest that the average American hasn’t paid enough attention, since shares are patently hard to forecast (not necessarily impossible, as the efficient market theory beloved of so many economists posits, but certainly very difficult). Equally, even America’s politicians agree that healthcare spending at the current level is unsustainable; part of the original justification of Obamacare was to reduce costs, after all.

But the general pattern is continued on many other topics: the views of economists are furthest from the general public on those issues where the economists agree the most. Read more

John Authers

Ben Bernanke can move markets, and sometimes his words are too strong for his own good. That may have been true of his press conference last month, when he announced that he planned to start tapering off QE bond purchases later this year, and end them altogether by next summer. That drove a dramatic rise in Treasury yields, and in the dollar.

For a further classic example, look at the speed with which currency markets responded late on Wednesday and early on Thursday to a speech he made in Massachusetts, and to the minutes from last month’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, published on Wednesday. The euro gained 4.5 cents against the dollar in a matter of minutes, while the pound gained almost 4 cents (or about 2.6 per cent). Read more

James Mackintosh

The US Federal Reserve’s support for the markets can be measured lots of ways, from the impact on bond yields through to comparisons of equity prices and the central bank’s balance sheet. Here’s one I rather like, with a hat tip over to BNP Paribas’s William De Vijlder.

The third round of the Fed’s quantitative easing, or QE∞, is now 41 weeks old, and during that time there hasn’t been a single really bad week, which I defined as a loss of 2.5 per cent or more. The last time there was such a long period without a big down week was during QE2. Before that it hadn’t happened since early 1997.

Equities and the Bernanke put

The total loss of all the down weeks since QE∞ began, including weeks with only a small loss (a somewhat odd measure, obviously offset by plenty of up weeks) has been just under 18 per cent, close to the lowest reached over rolling 41-week periods during the “great moderation” of 2003-2007, and to that reached under QE2. Read more

James Mackintosh

Ooh la la! French consumer confidence figures just came in, and they aren’t pretty. The index just matched its lows from late 2008, itself the lowest ever.

So far, so eurozone. It isn’t exactly new news that the French economy is in terrible shape. But this chart shows how consumer confidence has broken away from share prices, something it usually tracks closely. Read more

James Mackintosh

Economic bloggers love Excel, so they have leaped on the discovery that Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, two of the most famous economists out there, aren’t very good at spreadsheets.

The story is told elsewhere in detail, and the academic paper debunking R&R’s maths is full of delicious examples of mistakes (look at footnote 6 for a lovely example).

The gist of it is that enormous weight is given to one year in New Zealand, 1951, when R&R recorded GDP falling by 7.6 per cent.

This year is given a lot of weight for three reasons: First, four previous post-war years were excluded. Second, the average was worked out by producing an average for each country, then averaging those. The combined effect was to give one year in NZ the same weight as 19 years of Greece. Third, a whole bunch of other countries were excluded by mistake.

R&R admit the Excel error in excluding other countries, but are sticking to their other exclusions (because their data on debt-to-GDP had gaps at that point), and to their method of averaging. They also point out that the broad conclusion, that growth slows as debt rises, is still supported by the data, just not so dramatically.

The New Zealand figure is intriguing, though. The 7.6% drop in GDP appears to come from a series compiled by the late Angus Maddison, the great economic historian.

But 1951 was a very strange year for the Kiwis, and the falling GDP then is not an example of weak growth with high debt. The price of wool tripled in 1949-50, and since it made up about half of the country’s exports this boosted GDP enormously. When prices fell back, GDP fell again. Government debt really wasn’t an issue. Read more