Category Archives: The Economy

Macflation

I was able to find the March 2002 Big Mac price for the US, $2.49.

Using the BLS calculator, it “should” be $3.38 in 2017, instead it is $5.06. So while CPI-U inflation for the period was 2.06% annually,  BMI (Big Mac Index) inflation was 4.84% annually.

So basically if you didn’t make 5% a year after tax, you weren’t keeping up. Scary.

Consumer Prices

Everybody has a bias when it comes to measuring price inflation. Reports like the Devonshire one come out quite frequently, usually complaining that the government indexes understate inflation. They all say, well the numbers don’t reflect reality. The problem is, they don’t know what reality is any more than the government does. My reality and the next person’s are completely different because we buy different things. Cheap loans have allowed universities to raise prices in an outrageous fashion – but our kids have long since graduated so it doesn’t affect me, although anyone putting kids through college is being eviscerated. Consumers react to prices. Technology changes. Quality changes. Fashions change. And so on. All these things make any index pretty much useless, except for making political arguments. So one has to ask, in the famous words of Ms. Clinton – “What difference does it make?”

If you ask someone in Venezuela right now, of course, you would get an expletive for an answer. There is massive consumer price inflation because there are not enough consumer goods to meet demand, and so people are going hungry and without toilet paper. They are driving up prices, trying to outbid one another to compete for what little supply there is. But even in that desperate situation, there is no agreement on what consumer prices actually are, even by disinterested parties. The only way to fix the problem in Venezuela is to get goods back on the shelves. If the Venezuelan government can do that, then consumer prices will reflect the value of the bolivar and general world price levels.

There’s your clue. If you want to measure consumer prices, it is easy. Just use the Big Mac, as the Economist does. It works. 2016 USA Big Mac price inflation was 2.6%. Venezuela Big Mac prices in bolivars:

July 2014: 75

December 2014: 245

July 2015: 485

December 2015: 940

December 2016: 3550

Looks like a pretty decent metric. It tells you what you need to know – there’s a big problem.

But the economy does not run on Big Macs, and I’m interested in the inputs, not the outputs so much. And those are labor and energy. Nothing else much matters.

The End Of Volatility?

This morning, the VIX has a 9 handle. The stock market has gone 8 days without a move of more than 0.2%. Buffett, Grantham and others are arguing that this time really is different. In fact, they agree that the market has reached a permanently high plateau, although they do not dare us those words. Who are these people and what have they done with Warren Buffett and Jeremy Grantham?

Of course it is different. It is always different. History never repeats itself. In the first four months of 2017, according to Bank of America, central banks – mostly the ECB and BoJ – purchased more than $1 trillion in securities, a record rate. So of course that means blue skies forever.

And that blue sky is full of tree-tops. As the Chinese proverb goes, this too will pass. That massive liquidity pumping is not benign, it is a symptom of panic as economies refuse to respond to the therapy the bankers prescribe.

As John Hussman observes, these signs and portents are a call to lace up the gloves, not hang them up. Extended periods of low volatility and excessive bullishness are always followed by the converse. Commodities and trade are quietly collapsing, GDP barely has a heartbeat and subprime defaults are rising, especially in cards and autos, pension funds are struggling, valuations are beyond extreme.

Beware the gathering storm.

Fed Day

Fed says the economic weakness is “transitory.”

I say “We’ll see about that.” Of course, if “transitory” is referring to geological epochs, then I’ll agree.

Nothing Really Matters

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah
Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters nothing really matters to me

Anyway the wind blows

— Freddy Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody

Source: zero hedge, of course.

Timber!

I’m holding to my opinion that CADUSD will see 0.65 before 1.00, and here’s a little confirmation bias.

I’m Yelling Timber! CAD’s Going Down!

In addition to the collapse of the housing bubble, commodity prices, especially energy, are going to take a hit. And that could be right now – it looks like the oil longs – the hedgies – are already getting nervous about OPEC’s ability and/or willingness to sacrifice their cash flows in order to bolster the oil price.

The Dog That Didn’t Bark

The boyz pulled out all the stops today, including a spectacular VIX slam, to squeeze the shorts. This travesty of a market responded as usual. However, what is unusual and interesting is that crude oil is not participating in the bullish euphoria. At least so far today, 3pm, it has extended yesterday’s losses as OPEC jawboning has failed to generate any enthusiasm.

Inventories continue to set new records as OPEC production cuts are offset by weaker demand from a slowing economy. My suspicion is that it will be a  serious sell-off in crude that triggers the next major stock market decline.

Blood In The Sand

The Atlanta Fed forecast for Q1 GDP now stands at 0.5% annualized, in other words not statistically different from zero or even small negative numbers.

Treasuries and equivalents are reacting accordingly, but in stocks it is the same old thing – any attempt to sell down is met with VIX slams and all manner of manipulation to preserve the status quo. Needless to say, this is just building up pressure as the prudent exit stage left, leaving the wild-eyed bulls snorting center stage while the matador sharpens his swords in the wings.

It is not so much that the bulls feel lucky,  but that they are being cozened into a feeling of security by the matador’s assistants.

Trumpets

Markets are all excited because Trump declared that the dollar is “too strong” and Ms Yellen is “not toast.” Not crumpet either, I would say, and Trump clearly knows his crumpet.

Short Memories

Consumer Confidence was reported this morning to have risen sharply, to the highest since December 2000. Stocks rose and bonds fell, taking this news as a sign of economic strength, one presumes. Obviously the buyers do not remember what happened in 2001. when the market fell to a loss of 27% by September.

Oh, and by the way, there is essentially no historical correlation between changes in the reported Consumer Confidence and changes in actual retail spending. Just sayin’