Category Archives: Stimulus spending

Legal Insurrection: Key Numbers In Unemployment Report Not So Good

Le·gal In·sur·rec·tion analyzes today’s employment report and the results are not good despite the headline decline in unemployment from 9.8% to 9.4%. (Reposted with permission. Original post here.)

Needless to say, administration supporters will be touting that the unemployment rate released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning dropped from 9.8% to 9.4%.  Politically, this is good news for Obama, at least in the short run.

Dig just a bit deeper, and you will see that 0.2% of that drop (or half the total drop) was from a decrease in the “participation rate” from 64.5 to 64.3 of the population.  So half of the good news reflects that people have dropped out of the work force and have given up looking for work.

To put this in context, I ran a chart from the BLS website historical statistics database, showing the participation rate over the past 20 years, which shows that we are at a 20-year low:

The other disheartening statistic is reflected in the chart combining the unemployment, marginal and discouraged workers (in short, everyone who is not working but currently or at one time wanted to work, or who is employed part time because full time work was unavailable).  Combine all those and the total is 16.6% up from 16.3% November not seasonally adjusted (seasonally adjusted it is 16.7% down from 17%).  This is the highest number since 1994 (first year data available):

Here are two other charts showing the depth of the problem.  The first shows the average length of unemployment (in weeks) and the second the median length of unemployment:

While the drop in the unemployment rate from 9.8% to 9.4% is good political news, it’s hard to see any real improvement below the surface.

This gives further evidence that the American economy is still in decline. All that government stimulus accomplished nothing except for putting us further in debt.

Irish bonds fall, CDS and insurance rates hit new highs. Spain’s economy suffering. Sovereign debt crisis continues.

A couple of news stories in the ongoing sovereign debt crisis.

Bad news for Ireland:

The cost of insuring Irish debt against default hit a fresh record Friday with investors fearing that Ireland’s draconian budget cuts will slow economic growth and further weaken public finances.

Spreads on Irish five-year sovereign credit default swaps topped 6.10 percentage points Friday, according to data provider Markit, after having briefly touched 600 basis points Thursday.

This means that investors will have to pay EUR610,000 annually to ensure EUR10 million Irish debt against default. Some market watchers note that CDS trading starts to dry up at these levels as investors worry about being caught on the wrong side of the trade.

CDS are tradable, over-the-counter derivatives that function like an insurance contract for defaulting on debt. If a borrower defaults, the protection buyer is paid compensation by the protection seller.

The Irish 10-year yield spread over German bunds, which show how large a premium investors demand to hold Irish bonds versus more-stable German debt, also hit a record of 5.31 percentage points Friday.

Bad news for Spain:

The Bank of Spain on Friday said it estimates third-quarter gross domestic product in the country was unchanged from the prior quarter. That follows a gain of 0.2% in the second and 0.1% in the first quarter. In a monthly economic bulletin, the Bank of Spain said the economy likely grew 0.2% on an annual basis in the third quarter. Official third-quarter GDP data will be released by the National Statistics Institute on Nov. 11. The Bank of Spain said growth was likely stymied by government austerity measures and the effects of consumers tightening spending as value-added taxes went up from July 1.

Today, the Dollar is up as traders sell Euros. Even with the Dollar up (which usually hurts commodity prices), gold and the other precious metals are rallying to record highs. Traders are looking for safety as the chances of an Irish default increase. Furthermore, we are seeing in Spain that “austerity” is a bitter but necessary medicine.

After years of liberal government spending and big deficits, Ireland and Spain (along with Greece and Portugal) are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Unfortunately, the United States is not that far behind them.

Britain to fire 500,000 public sector employees. But not really.

As mentioned earlier, Britain is finally taking action to stave off a credit crisis and possible bankruptcy. Some are reporting that Britain will be firing 500,000 public sector employees.

For example, The Week reports:

David Cameron is laying off 500,000 government employees.

However, that will not be the case. As the Mail reports:

500,000 public sector jobs to go

1 in 10 public sector jobs to go as government gambles on private recovery

According to the story, this 10% reduction will take 4 or 5 years:

But they make clear that the Government has adopted the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast that 490,000 jobs in the public sector will go by 2014/15.

If the average public sector employee works for 40 years, 10 percent of them would retire within 4 years. In other words, the government will likely lay off very few people. Instead, the British government simply will not fill vacant positions.

This is great news, on the one hand, because the British are working to solve their financial problems and this job reduction it is quite easily achievable because it does not actually require firing many people. However, let us not be under the misapprehension that the British government is making a tough choice here. Do not believe the talk that half a million will be laid off. That is simply untrue.

Enumerated Powers Amendment for the Constitution

In addition to repealing the 16th and 17th Amendments and getting rid of the Federal Reserve (all of which began in 1913), I propose this new Amendment:

The federal government shall have no powers beyond those specifically enumerated in the Constitution or absolutely required for the enforcement of those enumerated powers.

The general welfare and commerce clauses do not give the federal government any powers beyond those specifically expressed elsewhere in the Constitution.

All commitments and liabilities of the United States must be honored and paid out either immediately or in their due course. No new commitments or liabilities from unconstitutional programs may be added after the ratification of this amendment.

If anybody has suggestions to improve this amendment, feel free to comment below or email me from the contact page.

Britain takes action to save country from bankruptcy. United States still has its head in the sand.

Marketwatch reports:

Britain will stick to its timetable for making the largest cuts in government spending in decades, the chancellor of the exchequer said Wednesday, vowing that the sweeping measures would bring the country “back from the brink” of bankruptcy.

Critics charge that the plan to cut spending by 83 billion pounds ($130.4 billion) between 2011 and 2015 threatens to send the economy back into recession, just as a recovery is losing steam.

Delivering the long-awaited, comprehensive spending review to parliament, Osborne said the austerity plan “is a hard road, but it leads to a better future.”

The plan will reduce spending across government departments by an average of 19% over four years and is expected to result in 490,000 public-sector job losses over that period.

There is no doubt about it; these cuts will be painful, but not nearly as painful as doing nothing and going bankrupt. Too many governments, political leaders, and populations have their heads in the sand. Action needs to be taken to stave off a credit crisis. Those countries that do so may feel some short-term pain, but they will be at a competitive advantage five or ten years from now.

Meanwhile, the US has not cut a dime from its budget. Instead, all the talk in the current Congress and the White House has been about more stimulus. Hopefully, this will change on November 2.

Sovereign debt crisis spreading to first world countries.

I’ve written about the sovereign debt crisis numerous times already. See here, here, here, here, and here. But so far, I’ve only written about those “at-risk” countries such as Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Ireland or individual states such as Illinois. In other words, the sovereign debt crisis has so far been limited to “small” countries or states. Debt defaults among these countries or states certainly would cause problems and a sharp decline in financial markets, but likely wouldn’t break the bank. But if this crisis spreads to larger, more financially important countries, it would obviously have a much larger impact, possibly one similar to the stock market crash of 1929.

Marketwatch reports that the sovereign debt crisis may in fact be spreading to a first world nation:

There’s no ‘B’ in PIIGS, but Belgium could eventually cause headaches of its own for the euro zone if a bitter and protracted political fight prevents the country from hitting its deficit-reduction targets.

Belgium, in northern Europe, has seemed an unlikely candidate for sovereign-debt troublemaker. From a fiscal perspective, the country, whose capital Brussels is the home of the vast EU bureaucracy, has been associated more with the so-called core of the euro zone than the troubled “periphery.”

But an increasingly bitter political divide along linguistic lines has left Belgium without a government since April and is beginning to raise some concerns.

Belgium, which has enjoyed solid growth, appears on track to reduce its budget deficit to 4.8% of gross domestic product this year from 5.6% in 2009, economists said. The nation’s deficit is among the lowest in the euro zone and compares well with other core countries, including Germany at 4.5% of GDP, France at 8% and the Netherlands at 6%.

But if a government isn’t formed soon, the 2011 fiscal target of a reduction to 4.1% could be in jeopardy, said Philippe Ledent, an economist at ING Bank in Brussels. That in turn would make it all the more difficult for Belgium to meet its target of bringing its deficit down to 3% of GDP, the EU limit, in 2012.

In reality, a 4.1%, 4.8%, or 5.6% don’t seem too bad, especially considering the 10.6% deficit here in the US for 2010 and 8.3% deficit expected for 2011.

Belgium’s deficit figures raise few alarms, but government debt stands at around 100% of GDP, which compares more closely with Greece and Italy.

U.S. debt, by comparison, also stands at about 100% of GDP.

The financial markets are starting to notice Belgium’s problem:

Belgium has had no problems selling its government bonds. Borrowing costs have risen, however, with the yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Belgian debt over benchmark German bunds standing at around 0.8 percentage point, up from around 0.4 percentage point around the same time last year.

But borrowing costs are far from problematic, Ledent said. Belgium’s premium remains nowhere near comparable to Spain’s, for example, which is at around 1.6 percentage points, much less Ireland’s at around 4 percentage points.

The cost of insuring Belgian debt against default is up sharply since the April elections, but well off the peak seen in mid-June. The spread on five-year sovereign credit-default swaps was at 119 basis points last Thursday, according to data provider CMA. That means it would cost $119,000 a year to insure $10 million of Belgian government debt against default for five years.

The spread stood at around 60 basis points in mid-April before the latest round of political turmoil and peaked at 149 basis points in late June.

“Up to now, there has been no strong impact [on borrowing costs], but I’m not sure it will continue like that,” Ledent said. “If in two, three, four months we still don’t have any government, financial markets will consider that we won’t reach the [budget] target and then there could be an impact on the spread.”

How long can countries like Belgium or the United States continue to borrow at low interest rates? These are countries with deficits exceeding 4% of GDP, in Belgium’s case, or 8-10%, in the United States, with debts equal to 100% of GDP. Logic tells us that in these countries, either taxes have to rise significantly or government spending has to fall sharply. Neither Belgium nor the U.S. is doing much to reduce their deficits and even less to cut government spending. Both countries, along with all other nations, are hoping for and relying on an economic recovery to lift their finances. What if we enter another recession? What if the recovery is slower than they expect, as it has been so far? All this talk of deficit reduction will be gone and we’ll be looking at even larger deficits and debt levels.

Worse yet, what happens when investors demand higher interest rates? As mentioned above, Belgium is already paying an extra 0.4% interest on its debt. That does not sound like much, but with government debt at 100% of GDP, the deficit increases by 0.4% just from the interest payment. This is an additional cost on government at a time when it needs to reduce its costs. It increases the deficit just as the country is trying to reduce it. Furthermore, this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: worries of a debt crisis will cause a country’s interest payment to rise and deficit to increase, thus increasing the chances of a crisis.

So I will repeat what I’ve written many times: The sovereign debt crisis is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning.

TARP was a waste of money, despite what the Treasury Department tells you.

The Treasury announced that the total cost of TARP would be just $50 billion. In their perverse logic, the Administration and media played this up as a government success story. But we really should look at TARP as an investment. Congress approved spending $700 billion for TARP, of which only $296 billion was spent. Looking at TARP as an investment, the government lost 16.9% over a two year period. And they call that a success!

What else could the government have done with the $296 billion? Since TARP was signed into law on October 3, 2008, the following instruments have produced these returns:

TARP Troubled Asset Relief Program -16.9%
SPY S&P 500 9.1%
TLT iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treas Bond 15.7%
IEF iShares Barclays 7-10 Year Treasury 19.3%
SHV iShares Barclays Short Treasury Bond 0.7%
GLD SPDR Gold Shares 57.8%
XLF Financial Select Sector SPDR -18.8%

All major markets (stocks, long-term bonds, intermediate-term bonds, short-term bonds, and gold) posted positive returns. In some cases, very good returns. As you can see, I added the Financial sector into that table, which declined slightly more than TARP. Most of TARP’s investment were in the financial sector. The small difference is largely a rounding error because I am looking at XLF’s return up to today whereas the Treasury is using expected returns as of some future date. And that is assuming you trust their accounting…

But this raises the question of why they invested in the worst performing market sector? Those of us who argued that they were throwing good money after bad were correct. Maybe Treasury lost less money than we expected, but we were still correct in predicting negative returns on this investment.

Of course, the government claims that TARP saved the financial system from utter destruction. Oh, to live in a world where you can make outrageous claims without any proof. Next thing you know, the government will claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus bill, “created or saved” millions of jobs, even though the unemployment rate has remained steady near the 10% level.