Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Housing Echo-Bubble Is Popping

There is nothing remotely "normal" about the echo-bubble's rise, and we can anticipate that its deflation will be equally abnormal.

Conventional wisdom on the resurgence of the housing markets takes one of two paths:

1. Housing is not in a bubble, it is merely returning to "normal"

2. Housing is bubbly in some markets, but prices will continue to rise

Here's an alternative view: housing is in an echo-bubble that's popping. Courtesy of the excellent Market Daily Briefing, here are some charts that make the case that the housing echo-bubble was just another Federal Reserve-induced speculative asset bubble that's popping, like every other speculative bubble in recorded history.

First up: home prices, as measured by the Case-Shiller Price Index. Note the near-perfect symmetry of the echo-bubble: it has taken roughly the same time-span to inflate and reach a top as the first housing bubble from January 2004 to its peak 2+ years later.

The echo-bubble has topped out at about 50% of the decline from the primary bubble top to the trough in 2012.
The distorted fundamentals of the echo-bubble are revealed in this chart of mortgage debt to wages. Current levels of mortgage debt are double historic levels, and 35% above the level of 2001, when the primary housing bubble lifted off.
The third charts tells us the echo-bubble is popping. Note that housing sales lead price by about six months: sales started falling in late 2005, and prices rolled over in mid-2006.

Housing sales rolled over in December 2013, and sure enough, prices are starting to weaken in many markets.

The echo-bubble doesn't pass the sniff test as a "normal" housing recovery. Exhibit #1: who's buying and who's not buying:

1. Marginal buyers using 3% down-payment FHA/VA loans who wouldn't qualify for conventional mortgages. The risk of marginal borrowers defaulting is high, a reality reflected in FHA's default rate:

When lending sources dried up during the financial crisis, the FHA propped up the housing market by insuring the lenders it works with against losses and enticing them back into the market. But the FHA’s default rate shot up as its loan volume expanded, depleting its cash reserves to levels below what is required by law. In September 2013, the FHA tapped taxpayer money to cover its losses for the first time in the agency’s 80-year history.

2. Who's not buying: Upper-Income, Educated, Married with Children, and Still Not Buying:Declining Homeownership among "Prime" First-Time Home Buying Candidates (Fannie Mae Housing Insights, Volume 4, Issue 4)

3. The dominance of all-cash buyers--generally investors (those close to the money spigots of the Fed's free money for financiers) and foreign buyers.

Note the difference between mortgage credit expansion, which has lagged price gains. This suggests many of the sales (about 35% in many hot markets) were all-cash purchases that did not require a mortgage

Take away the Fed's zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP), its free money for financiersand foreign buyers seeking a safe haven for their hot money, and what's left of the supposedly "normal" housing recovery? Not much.
There is nothing remotely "normal" about the echo-bubble's rise, and we can anticipate that its deflation will be equally abnormal.

How do we know when an asset class is in a bubble? When everyone who stands to benefit from the continuation of the expansion declares it can't be a bubble.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.


You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.


Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.


So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.


It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.


I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.


Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20


"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube) 



NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Steve S. ($5/month), for your splendidly generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, Jennifer G. ($50), for your superbly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Artifice Rules the World: We Have No Choice

There's only one small problem with relying on artifice: we haven't actually fixed what's broken in the real world.

As I noted yesterday, we now game dysfunctional systems rather than actually repair them. Rather than fix the dysfunctional system of higher education, for example (as I proposed in my book The Nearly Free University and The Emerging Economy), students and their parents go to extraordinary lengths to game the Ivy league university admissions system.

Rather than actually address the structural causes of unemployment, we lower interest rates to zero and reckon the resulting financial bubble will fix unemployment (and everything else).

To avoid having to deal with unemployment as an issue, the unemployment rate is heavily gamed by counting marginal jobs (working 1 hour a week--you're employed!) and removing tens of millions of unemployed people from the work-force.

The primary tool of increasing prosperity is the expansion of asset bubbles that supposedly boost the wealth effect, an internalized belief that one is wealthier. This internal belief is presumed to encourage more borrowing and spending which is then presumed to lift all boats in the economy.

This is of course all artifice: the elaborately choreographed applications to the Ivy League, the massaged statistics designed to manage our perceptions of reality rather than address reality itself, and the selling offree money for financiers as a policy that magically helps everyone, even those far from the money spigots of the Federal Reserve.

How did we arrive at a systemic dependence on contrivance and artifice to manage problems? We have no choice. Why do we have no choice?

Because any attempt to actually fix dysfunctional systems necessarily steps on the toes of deeply entrenched vested interests that profit from the dysfunctional Status Quo-- interests who will devote every resource in their command to water down, co-opt, divert or defeat any reforms that lessen their share of the national income or their political power.

As a result, true reform of hopelessly dysfunctional systems is politically impossible. Since politicians are elected to give everyone more of what they want, politicos have no choice to but to game the dysfunctional systems via perception management and statistical sleight of hand to make them appear to give everyone more of what they want. Meanwhile, the politicos collect personal fortunes from the Elites and insiders benefiting from the dysfunctional Status Quo.

Artifice and perception management appear to be win-win: everybody seems to win if they see dysfunction as not just "the way the world works," but as a positive approach that benefits everyone in some fashion.

There's only one small problem with relying on artifice: we haven't actually fixed what's broken in the real world, and those dysfunctions continue to fester beneath the glossy surface of gamed statistics and happy stories we tell ourselves about how well everything is working.

At some point--the actual date is unpredictable, but 2021-2025 is as good a guess as any--the dysfunctional systems will break down and no amount of artifice, bogus statistics or perception management will mask the rot.

Once reality crashes through the thick constructs of artifice, faith in the Status Quo will be lost. At that fragile juncture of destiny, the opportunity to fix what is broken will finally emerge.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube) 



NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Price T. ($50), for your splendidly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, William H. ($50), for your superbly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's Not Just Politics That's Broken--The Status Quo's Model of "How the World Works" Is Broken

The Status Quo is dysfunctional because its model of how the world works is broken.

Much has been written about the dysfunction in Washington D.C. Pundits have been wringing their hands for years over the rise of bitter partisan politics and the resulting gridlock. The impact of this--what I have termed profound political disunity--extends beyond the narrow confines of domestic politics, a reality reflected in Foreign Affairs new survey of our winter of political discontent, Dysfunction Junction.

But all these discussions of our dysfunctional politics ignore the larger truth, which is the entire model of the Status Quo is broken. Even if reformers succeeded in ridding the political system of cronyism and favors-for-campaign-contributions--two essentially impossible reforms, given the legalistic cover provided for cronyism and bought and paid for representatives, the basic model of "how the world works" that dominates the world-view of leaders across the political spectrum would remain broken.

There are only three alternatives:

1. The current gridlock continues, and the policies in place grind on with minor tweaks.

2. The Democrats win a sweeping victory and are able to unilaterally impose their reforms.

3. The Republicans win a sweeping victory and are able to unilaterally impose their reforms.

Why do we know the entire model is broken? Because all three alternatives lead to a continuation of the same ruinous model of "how the world works":

1. A continued reliance on Keynesian Cargo Cult "stimulus," i.e. borrowing and blowing trillions of dollars to prop up inefficient, bloated, corrupt, wasteful crony-capitalist cartels and politically untouchable fiefdoms.

2. The continued destruction of open, transparent markets via intervention by the central state and bank.

3. The continued expansion of the Welfare State, i.e. entitlements such as Medicaid and ObamaCare subsidies and implicit entitlements such as farm price supports, corporate tax breaks, mortgage interest deductions, etc.

4. The continued expansion of the National Security State, whose premises are A) everyone on the planet is guilty until proven innocent and B) only Total Information can protect "us" (i.e. the National Security State itself) from threats.

5. The continued erosion of civil liberties via death by a thousand cuts.

6. The rising dependence on borrowed money to fund standard government services.

7. The rising dependence on manipulated/gamed statistics to manage perceptions that the Status Quo is eternal, powerful and improving everyone's lives, even as it serves the narrow interests of self-serving Elites and insiders.

8. The expansion of a Permanent War State that recognizes no boundaries between domestic and international threats, hence the militarization of local police forces and the rise of private mercenaries in the guise of for-profit domestic prisons and police forces.

9. A central bank (the Federal Reserve) that will continue to support the most rapacious, opaque and self-serving financial Elites with free money for financiers.

10. The continuing purchase of political favors by monied Elites via lobbying and campaign contributions.

11. An ever-rising dependence on generating the appearance of stability, transparency, competence and expertise as a substitute for actual stability, transparency, competence and expertise. In other words, an expanding reliance on gaming dysfunctional systems rather than actually repairing dysfunctional systems.

12. An increasing reliance on zero-interest rates, debt and free money for financiers as the "fix" for every economic ill.

The Status Quo is dysfunctional because its model of how the world works is broken. It won't matter if gridlock remains in place or one of the parties gets to impose its "brand" of policy-tweaks; since no one on the political spectrum has any concept that the current model described in these 12 points is broken, fixing the political dysfunction won't fix the systemic dysfunction.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.
You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube) 



NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Aryeh N. ($5/month), for your fabulously generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, Henry G. ($5/month), for your wondrously generous re-subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The New Misery Index

The Status Quo is desperate to mask the declining fortunes of those who earn income from work, and the Misery Index 2.0 strips away the phony facade of bogus unemployment and inflation numbers.

The classic Misery Index is the sum of unemployment and inflation, though later variations have added interest rates and the relative shortfall or surplus of GDP growth.

Since the Status Quo figured out how to game unemployment and inflation to the point that these metrics are meaningless except as a meta-measure of centralized perception management, the Misery Index has lost its meaning as well.

I propose a Misery Index 2.0 of four less easily manipulated (and therefore more meaningful) metrics:

1. The participation rate: the percentage of the working-age population with a job

2. Real (adjusted for inflation) median household income: an imperfect but still useful measure of purchasing power

3. Labor share of the non-farm economy: how much of the national income is going to wage-earners

4. Money velocity: a basic measure of economic vitality

The foundation of Misery Index 2.0 is jobs, earned income and the purchasing power of earnings.Inflation is easily gamed by underweighting big-ticket expenses and offsetting increasing costs with hedonic adjustments, and unemployment is easily gamed by shifting people from the work-force to not in the workforce. This category of zombies--not counted in measures of unemployment--has skyrocketed:


The participation rate is the more telling metric: if fewer people of working age have jobs, the claim that the Main Street economy is "doing better" rings false.


Even though the rate of inflation is heavily gamed, real median household income is the best available gauge of purchasing power. Purchasing power simply means how many goods and services will your income buy?

For example: if your daily salary buys 20 gallons of gasoline, and a year from now you get a raise but your daily pay only buys 15 gallons of gasoline, the purchasing power of your earnings fell despite the higher nominal salary.

Real median household income has declined, meaning the purchasing power of earnings fell.


This chart also shows labor's share of the non-farm economy: that broad measure of earned income (as opposed to corporate profits, unearned income and rentier income) relfects a steady decline in labor's share of the national income.

Once again, claims that the Main Street economy is "doing better" make no sense if labor's share of the national income is declining.

An economy in rude good health has a high velocity of money. An economy bedeviled with high taxes, rentier skims, cartels, politically untouchable fiefdoms, quasi-monopolies and free money for financiers provided by the central bank has a declining velocity of money.
You can fake unemployment and inflation, but it's harder to paper over the weakness reflected in money velocity:


Central-planning always leads to ginned-up phony statistics, because centrally planned economies always stagnate due to corruption, malinvestments, and some are more equal than others skims and scams by insiders, cronies, cadres and apparatchiks.

The Status Quo is desperate to mask the declining fortunes of those who earn income from work, and the Misery Index 2.0 strips away the phony facade of bogus unemployment and inflation numbers.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube) 



NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Arooj S. ($300), for your outrageously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.Thank you, Creig F. ($25), for your wondrously generous re-subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Is the $5 Bill the New $1 Bill?

Events, food purchased away from home and live entertainment are increasingly unaffordable to the bottom 90%.


It's starting to feel like a $5 bill is the new $1 bill: everything that could be purchased with one or two dollars not that long ago is now $5 or even $10. A few days ago I was enjoying the Butte County Fair in California's farmbelt (the Central Valley), and it seemed like a rural county fair was a price baseline that was far enough away from the urban artifice of $100 meals at fancy bistros to reflect the statistically elusive real-world inflation.

Everything was $5, or close to it: the carnival rides for kids: $5. The games (ring toss, etc.): $5. Funnel cakes, cotton candy, etc.: $5.

Whatever wasn't $5 was $10: pulled pork sandwich, etc. There was almost no need for $1 bills, except at the admission booth: adults, $8/day, kids/seniors $4.

So let's add up the costs for a family of two adults and two kids. Let's say the kids each get four rides--that's 4 X $5 = $20 X 2 = $40. Each kid gets two food items: $5 X 2 = $10 X 2 = $20, and gets to play two games: $5 X 2 = $10 X 2 = $20.

That's $80. The parents get something to eat and maybe play a game or two: that another $40. The admission fee is $16 for adults and $8 for the kids, $24. Parking is $5.

The family spends about $150 at the county fair for a day. Add an extra kid or a few other purchases and the cost pushes up to $200.

This trend of $5 being the minimum purchase price and outings costing $200 is not unique to county fairs. Some friends attended a S.F. Giants baseball recently, and they were delighted to buy seats online for a discounted price of $64 each. Add in $25 parking (or $20 in BART train fare) and a few $10 cups of beers and $10 hotdogs, and it costs $200 for two people to attend a major-league baseball game (at least in a desirable locale with a winning team).

Now I readily confess to being frugal. Not making much money for extended periods of time tends to encourage frugality. Frugality is also only way most of us non-silver-spoon types can accumulate capital (savings) to invest in ourselves and our own enterprises.

$200 seems like a lot of money when I think of what else it can buy. $200 bought all the gasoline for our 2,000-mile camping trip last summer (our 1998 Honda Civic gets 40 miles to the gallon on the highway), and all the groceries for our household for a month (recall we have a garden, eat low on the food chain and shop almost exclusively at Costco and ethnic markets).

$200 will buy a new Skil 77 worm-drive Skilsaw ($149.99) or a new designer-label men's suit at a premium outlet (after being dragged to the outlet by foreign friends awhile back, I bought an excellent Calvin Klein suit for less than $200 that will last decades).

Meanwhile, earned income is declining when measured in purchasing power. The median household income in Butte County is about $43,000, and $54,000 nationally.

Courtesy of chartist extraordinaire Doug Short, here is a chart of the changes in median household income since June 2009:


How long can households afford $200 outings as their real (adjusted for purchasing power) incomes continues eroding?

We are constantly reassured that inflation near-zero--2% annually or less. On the ground, it seems that stuff manufactured in the global supply chain is still relatively cheap, as are energy and food, at least compared to what they cost elsewhere or could cost if supply chains get disrupted.

There are no limits on the cost of government services or government-controlled sectors such as healthcare. Our city garbage service fees just jumped from $356 quarterly to $453, a 27% increase. Note to Federal Reserve: 27% is not 2%.

Our monthly healthcare insurances (paid entirely by us, as we're self-employed) leaped $300 per month over the past few years, from $900/month to $1,200/month. These increases add up to thousands of dollars a year. That is not 2% inflation.

Clearly, healthcare, government services, events, food purchased away from home and live entertainment are increasingly unaffordable to the bottom 90%.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube) 





NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.


Thank you, Murphy Design ($50), for your superbly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, Wendell D. ($25), for your most-excellently generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Read more...

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