Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Should Your Investmests Be In Stronger Currencies?

Inflation is being manifest in commodity prices. Food prices topped the high they reached in 2008. Producer prices were up 4.1 percent over a year ago driven by commodity prices. An oversupply of dollars is behind the global commodity boom as we export our inflation to the booming BRICs.

Portfolio manager, Bill Gross manages more bonds than anyone in the world.  Pimco's founder talks to Barron's Michael Santoli  on the improving economic outlook for 2011. Problems loom with declining dollar, government debt and high unemployment:

Meanwhile, the Reserve bank of India has raised its benchmark rates, yet prices may be outpacing the increases in rates. Dow Jones Newswires' Mark Cranfield reports:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jamie Dimon is our favorite banker. His bank, JP Morgan-Chase, is one of three banks that come out big winners from the financial crisis. The other two are Toronto Dominion (TD Bank in the U.S.) and Wells Fargo. (Bank of America made most of the right moves and was forced into the Merrill Lynch merger and the jury is still out whether they should be added to the list.)

If you want to hear the world's top banking talking fast and not hiding under a grey flannel suit, fire up this interview with CNBC:

In the interests of full disclosure, the Harris family owns modest amunts of JP Morgan stock, some of which was bought in March, 2009.

Friday, January 07, 2011

America's unemployment rate dropped from 9.8% to 9.4%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its employment report for December. America's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 9.8% to 9.4% in December. Is this proof that the household survey is inherently unreliable or that this is a reversal of trend?


The unemployment rate has been following a slow downward trend since the fall of 2009. Now looking at the seasonally unadjusted data, we also see it has been falling for five straight months relative to the same month last year (SPLY in postalese.) This trend has been masked by the seasonal adjustment process (see the previous post.)

No doubt analysts will be disappointed by the small increase in jobs (103,000) reported by the establishment survey. Do not give it too much weight. These data will be revised, perhaps drastically in February, leading also to substantial revisions to the GDP series. This will cause the whole history of the recovery to be rewritten.

The good news is that the establishment data may become a more useful real time cyclical indicator. The BLS announced, "Effective with the release of January 2011 data on February 4, 2011, the establishment survey will begin estimating net business birth/death adjustment factors on a quarterly basis, replacing the current practice of estimating the factors annually. This will allow the establishment survey to incorporate information from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages into the birth/death adjustment factors as soon as it becomes available and thereby improve the factors. Additional information on this change is available at"

And that is very good news. Tracking the next cycle with the jobs data will be more accurate.

On a sour note, the BLS will update the household estimates with new population data in February. Historically the gnomes resident in the Postal Square Building have not been time series friendly in their population updates.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Maybe America's Employment Malaise Is Not as Bad As It Seems

Tomorrow we get to see the December employment data.  It may well show that things are not as gloomy as we have been seeing.    Certainly America's 9.8% unemployment in November was depressing and in that vein, I wrote "A quick survey of the numbers demonstrates that the national economy is mired in a malaise worse than in any previous postwar U.S. recession."

Wall Street has grasped at any number of straws in the wind to convince itself that things are looking up.  Unemployment claims are down, manufacturing purchasing mangers are saying things are up.  Can the stock market's upbeat tea reading be right?  Yes, it can.  

Whatever tomorrow's data show, the employment scene may not be as bad as it now looks.  I am mostly looking at the household survey data.  The last two recessions demonstrate that the establishment data is an unreliable real time guide to cyclical trends.   The survey is badly biased during downturns and perhaps recoveries.  It misestimates the cyclical impact of births and deaths of firms on employment.  

Why might the data paint an overly gloomy picture?  I have come to believe that the seasonal adjustment overcompensates during cyclical swings.  Consider these data:  while the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 9.8%, the unadjusted rate for November is 9.3%.  Not surprising.  Retailers hire going into the Christmas season. On a seasonal adjusted basis, retail employment was down from October (establishment data); yet that same survey shows retail employment was up over November, 2009.  Curious.  Moreover, the national seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate (household survey) is down from a year ago for four straight months.

The seasonal adjustment process averages data over thirty years.  It is a blunt instrument for dealing with the massive impact household deleveraging is having on retail sales, the structure of the retail sector, and thus seasonal retail employment.  Indirectly, this affects the estimate of the seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate as well.

Before you break out the champagne,  note my favorite long term cyclical indicator, the employment rate peaked in April.

While I am backtracking on what I said about the national employment picture a little, I stand by my two conclusions on our long term prognosis and Wichita's prospects:

"The fundamental dislocations that led to the recession of 2007 to 2009 have not been addressed." and

"We have three significant strengths on which [to buck the national] trend...: exports, energy and entrepreneurship."