I’m finishing up a paper today that’s off to be published on Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS). Don’t worry! I won’t bore you with the details but it’s basically about locating speculation bubbles like the one that happened in real estate markets in the 2000s. There were a lot of folks that made money off of that ride although most of us little guys lost a lot. The reason I’m bringing it up is that my first read of the day is a Paul Krugman response to Allan Greenspan’s critique of Obama’s economic policy. I just wanted to remind you of what a mess the first part of the century has been and that many of the pots and the kettles still appear to be confused about their true nature. I mean, the entire mess has given me a great research agenda, but at what cost?
Greenspan’s tut tuts Obama’s ability to create economic chaos in the academic journal International Finance (pdf here). While most of us are still trying to figure out what went so horribly wrong, Greenspan is trying to pin the blame on the new guys. I’m going to quote his abstract because it’s just more of the same old same old from one of the beasts that brought us to this mess and its worth the bask in the arrogance to just remember his access to power. Greenspan says it’s too much government regulation and Obma activism that’s hampering the recovery and that he can prove it with bad, outdated statistical methods. This comes from the man that gave Wall Street a lot of cheap money and no regulation so they could go hog wild. The recovery may be tepid, the stock market may be recovering, but I’ll be damned if there’s any regulation left standing upon which he can float his argument. Oh, Krugman dismisses the methods by which Greenspan infers that it’s government activism and its inherent chaos that’s created a stale recovery. To be honest, a first year doctoral student would use better methodology and know the literature better. That really scares me, frankly. What did he do while at the Fed? Reread The Fountainhead?
So, here’s the bubblemeister’s blowing you know what up you know where with techniques that wouldn’t get me published in a mimeographed neighborhood newsletter let alone International Finance. Why hasn’t this man retired to an island somewhere?
The US recovery from the 2008 financial and economic crisis has been disappointingly tepid. What is most notable in sifting through the variables that might conceivably account for the lacklustre rebound in
GDP growth and the persistence of high unemployment is the unusually low level of corporate illiquid long-term fixed asset investment. As a share of corporate liquid cash flow, it is at its lowest level since 1940.
This contrasts starkly with the robust recovery in the markets for liquid corporate securities. What, then, accounts for this exceptionally elevated level of illiquidity aversion? I break down the broad potential sources, and analyse them with standard regression techniques. I infer that a minimum of half and possibly as much as three-fourths of the effect can be explained by the shock of vastly greater uncertainties embedded in the competitive, regulatory and financial environments faced by businesses since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, deriving from the surge in government activism. This explanation is buttressed by comparison with similar conundrums experienced during the 1930s. I conclude that the current government activism is hampering what should be a broadbased robust economic recovery, driven in significant part by the positive wealth effect of a buoyant U.S. and global stock market.
So, here’s Paul Krugman with ‘Rantings of an Ex-Maestro’.
He’s no longer the Man Who Knows; he’s the man who presided over an economy careening to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — and who saw no evil, heard no evil, refused to do anything about subprime, insisted that derivatives made the financial system more stable, denied not only that there was a national housing bubble but that such a bubble was even possible.
If he wants to redeem himself through hard and serious reflection about how he got it so wrong, fine — and I’d be interested in listening. If he thinks he can still lecture us from his pedestal of wisdom, he’s wasting our time.
Brad Delong actually does some analysis over at his blog Grasping Reality.
I don’t see how this hangs together in any coherent fashion at all.
If businesses are unwilling to invest in illiquid capital out of the fear that government action will impair the value of their investments, businesses must also fear that government action will impair the value of their existing illiquid investments. What is the value of their existing illiquid investments? The value of their existing illiquid investments is nothing more than the stock market value of their companies–liquid stock market value is, in the last analysis, nothing more than the cash flows proceeding from the illiquid investments that companies have made that generate the profits.
A much better and more sensible explanation for the relatively high value that the stock market places on existing illiquid corporate assets and the relatively low value that companies place on illiquid investments to expand their fixed capital is precisely that capacity utilization is low–so why spend more money now building factories when doing so would be more expensive and only add to your idle capacity?
And, indeed, if you ask people running businesses what is their single most important problem, they say that it is not (as they sometimes say it is) taxes; they say that it is not (as they said it was at the start of 2000) the cost and quality of labor; it is not (as they said it was in 2004) the availability and cost of insurance; it is not (as they briefly said it was at the start of 1993) government requirements. What do they say their biggest problem is? Poor sales.
Yup, it’s pretty basic. You gotta have customers and those customers gotta have jobs and decent paychecks. That’s the problem right now.
I woke up this morning to a chill in the air. When I came back home from university today it was a chilly 60 in the house. There’s a frost warning for the North Shore and I had to put the heater back on and pull at the flannels. I walked the dog in a fleece jacket and had to put socks on. This weekend was just warm, sunny, and great and the Strawberry Festival was in full swing? WTF happened here in Southeastern Louisiana? One day I’m basking in the first hint of a warm sun enjoying fresh strawberry shortcake and the next I’m hoping that the magnolia blossoms are safe. Yes, there’s a Strawberry Queen, a Strawberry Ball, and Strawberry Royalty. If you gotta work somewhere, it might as well be the Strawberry Capitol of the Word.
So, having been raised in the Great Flyover and spent most of my childhood watching my Dad’s business sell F-150s to the local farmers, I know a lot about a false spring. That’s when Mother Nature messes with you by giving you just enough spring to think the worst of winter is over and then hits you with the cold blast of reality. Thankfully, my cold blast didn’t include the blizzard that hit the heartland, but it is a cold blast. That’s why I’m having so much fun with the economic word-de-jour. That would be Ben Bernanke’s “green shoots”. An Ivy-leaguer from South Carolina should know about about false springs. Bloomberg picks at the analogy too in Bernanke ‘Green Shoots’ May Signal False Spring Amid Job Losses.
April 6 (Bloomberg) — It will be months before it’s clear whether what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke calls the U.S. economy’s “green shoots” represent the early onset of recovery, or a false spring.
The Labor Department’s April 3 report that the economy shed an additional 663,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent, will be followed by months more of bad-news headlines, economists say. The recession, now in its 17th month, has already cost 5.1 million Americans their jobs, the worst drop in the postwar era; unemployment may hit 9.4 percent this year, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey, and may top out above 10 percent in 2010.
The risk is that the jobs picture turns even more bleak than forecast or the drumbeat of bad news still to come causes consumers, whose spending has firmed up in recent months, to hunker down again.
“If something happens to spook consumers and they crawl back into their tortoise shells, that would be terrible news,” says Alan Blinder, former Fed vice chairman and now an economics professor at Princeton University.
Consumer spending, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the economy, rose 0.2 percent in February after climbing 1 percent in January, breaking a six-month string of declines.