Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

What Can We Learn From the Goldman Sachs Affair?

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Investment-banking giant Goldman Sachs is facing a federal indictment.
By far the most significant thing about this indictment is the public reaction to it. Press accounts have not focused on the issue of fraud, which is what Goldman Sachs is actually charged with. Instead, the headlines screamed that Goldman Sachs’ managers “gloated” when housing prices plummeted in 2007 because the firm had sold mortgage securities instruments short – essentially betting that their value would decline. The clear implication in the news stories was that millions of people were economically devastated by the price declines and that Goldman Sachs employees were rejoicing [...]

A Worthwhile Economic Indicator

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

The April, 2010, issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine contains an article that is useful on several levels. “Should You Buy or Rent?” is intended as a primer for readers in the market for a home. It does that job well. It may be worth more, however, for something that its author did not intend – providing a leading economic indicator for our time.
Buy or Rent?
The article’s basic purpose is to dampen the ardor of would-be home buyers attracted by the promise of low prices, low interest rates, and a first-time home-buyer tax credit. The fundamental choice faced by potential [...]

The Trade Deficit is Falling. Should We Care?

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal announced that the U.S. trade deficit had fallen for the second consecutive month. Should we care about that datum? The trade deficit is one of several economic indices that receive stylized media treatment: They are solemnly reported, their accuracy is taken for granted and their importance is assumed. In the case of the trade deficit, none of this is appropriate.
 What is the Trade Deficit?
The term “trade deficit” relates to a line item on the U.S.’s balance of international payments. The balance of payments is a double-entry accounting summary of aggregate economic transactions [...]

The Season for Buying – and Selling

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

To everything, there is a season – and a time for every purchase under heaven. No, that‘s not a misprint – just an economist’s reworking of the Biblical passage.
Every recession brings with it a curious phenomenon. Non-professional investors exit the stock market like a herd of lemmings with an appointment at the edge of the cliff. Eventually, the same people stampede into the stock market during the expansion phase of the cycle. Typically, net stock-market inflows peak at or around the apex of the cycle.
This is no way to run a railroad.
The general idea behind portfolio investment is to make [...]

How is the Municipal Bond Market Like the Grocery-Checkout Line?

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Bonds are big these days. They’ve always been big among fixed-income investors – older people who have begun to prize the return of their money more than the return on their money, in Will Rogers’ immortal phrase. These security-conscious people are also the same kind of people who buy annuities. Nowadays more people are thinking about safety in investments than at any time in living memory.
Municipal Bonds – a Paragon of Bond Safety
Municipal bonds enable cities and states to borrow to finance big projects like roads and bridges. Sometimes municipal bonds are backed by the general revenue collected by the [...]

Where Is the Market Headed?

Friday, January 29th, 2010

The exact date and location of America’s first cocktail party is lost in the mists of time, but we know what the main topic of conversation was. “Where is the market headed?” ranks with weather and sports as one of the three conversational mainstays. Notwithstanding all the effort and attention paid to it, the level of forecasting expertise is no higher for the stock market than for the other two.
You Can’t Beat the Market
The world’s leading portfolio managers are unable to consistently forecast the prices of individual stocks well enough to “beat the market” – that is, compile a rate [...]

Home Ownership: Retirement Nest Egg?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

For years, conventional wisdom – no, let’s call it conventional thinking – held that owning your own home was the best investment you could make. As it happens, that belief was partly based on misunderstanding.
Now the market for residential real estate is in shambles throughout large sections of the country. Commercial real estate is not much better off. We are continually assured that prosperity is just around the corner, but every time we reach the corner we find that the data on prices or new construction have worsened. This must mean that home ownership is a lousy investment for retirement [...]

Are Consumers Rational?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

The financial crisis of 2008 had numerous repercussions, many of which are still percussing. Perhaps the most profound was the shaken faith in the efficacy of markets.
This complaint is not new. It origin goes at least as far back as the 19th century. How much of it is true?
What Happened to the Irrational Housing Consumers?
As a preface to the answer, consider this bit of news. Bloomberg Financial News Service reports that home mortgage applications fell during the first week in November to their lowest level in nearly 9 years. Why? Because Congress was considering a bill that would extend a [...]

What is Government Regulation Trying to Accomplish?

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

A few months ago, the Federal Reserve made a bid to enlarge its current responsibilities. Not content with control of monetary policy, the Fed proposed to tackle the problem of “systemic risk” – the question of which firms should be bailed out by taxpayers in order to prevent economywide collapse.
Now Democrats in the U.S. Senate have entered a competing bid. They have proposed not one, but three brand new federal government agencies to handle financial regulation. The chief proposer was Senator Christopher Dodd, who when last heard from was trying to escape responsibility for having helped to engineer the housing [...]

Does the Placebo Effect Explain Government Intervention?

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

The news ( brings word that many doctors occasionally prescribe or recommend substances that have no physical effect on their patients, but that are intended to instill the belief that the patient will improve. This result is called the “placebo effect.” The news report claims that it “accounts for about a third of the benefits of any treatment….”
It seems outrageous that doctors deliberately advise a course of treatment that has no objective basis. Yet they have a justification. Placebos work – or at least they often make the patient feel better.
It is hard to avoid the reaction that the vast [...]