“There are an amazing number of good ideas and interesting points made in Unintended Consequences. The thinking underlying it, and the obvious depth of understanding of the author, are very impressive.” - Steven Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics; 2004 John Bates Clark Medal
.@GeneralTheorist notes that, while durable goods are deflating, service inflation has decelerated from 7.2% in the three months ending October to 4.7% in December, but remains well above the 2% pre-pandemic run-rate.
While underlying durables are now deflating, underlying services remain high—at about 5% over 3 months, accelerating to 7% month-over-month annualized in Dec. On the bright side, adjusted core service inflation has decelerated from 7.2% over 3 months (annualized) to Oct. to only 4.7% in Dec. This is clearly an improvement. But is that only because Oct. and Nov. prints were unusually soft, or was Dec. the outlier in an otherwise strong disinflation trend? The fear for the Fed then is super core services settling around 4-5% annualized instead of returning to the 2% run-rate that characterized the pre-pandemic norm. What will it be? It may take until March until we can be sure.
.@Brad_Setser and @EtraAlex note Japanese investors are withdrawing from global debt markets, selling $200B of debt in 2022 relative to buying a mean of $100B a year over the previous decade.
The global economy has already adjusted to a slowdown in Japanese institutional fixed-income demand—Japanese investors have gone from buying about $100 billion a year of foreign bonds on average over the last ten years to selling close to $200 billion in 2022. The most likely outcome in 2023 is a continuation of the roll down in Japanese holdings of foreign bonds observed in 2022, as the large pool of hedged Japanese investors allow maturing bonds to roll off at par rather than reinvest abroad. That more mundane reality still implies the large flow into global fixed income from Japanese institutional investors over the last decade will dwindle to a relative trickle.
.@M_C_Klein notes the major buyer of Treasury debt has shifted from the Federal Reserve to US households and foreign buyers.
The Fed switched to “quantitative tightening”—an inelegant term for “letting some bonds mature”—which meant that new buyers needed to be found. State and local governments continued their purchases, but money-market funds shed Treasury bills and coupons for reverse repos with the Fed, while other buyers cut back on their purchases. The resulting mix of buyers in the first three quarters of 2022 looked a lot different than in prior periods. The entire net issuance was covered by the two most opaque sectors in the financial accounts: “households and nonprofit organizations” and “the rest of the world”.
Firms are using technology to shift work to remote employees and third-party subcontractors. Outsourcing intensity has doubled from 11% in 2005 to 22% in 2021, which may compress white-collar wages going forward. @TheEconomist
Pinning down just how much firms depend on outsiders is tricky—companies do not advertise this sort of thing. A measure, “outsourcing intensity,” [tracks] a firm’s external purchase commitments in the upcoming year as a share of its cost of sales. The Economist has calculated the measure using data from financial reports for a sample of large listed firms from America and Europe. Average outsourcing intensity across our sample has nearly doubled from 11% in 2005 to 22% in the most recent year of data (either 2021 or 2022). This growth is especially pronounced among tech titans such as Apple and Microsoft; businesses that grew little over the analyzed period, such as Unilever, a British consumer-goods giant, saw only small increases. This is consistent with research which finds that as firms grow ever larger and adopt more technologies, thus becoming more complex and unwieldy, they outsource more operations—precisely as Coase would have predicted.
.@joshrauh of the Stanford Graduate School of Business presents evidence that migration from California is being driven by high taxes rates, suggesting California has limited ability to raise taxes without losing revenue.
Figure 2 shows the net departure rates from the state by income tax bracket between 2003 and 2018. Since 2003, only middle-income earners in the 9.3 percent income tax bracket have entered California at higher rates than left during any year over the time period. The top bracket, and the highest earners within the top bracket in particular, display the highest net out-migration rate over the whole period. Higher-income earners who leave the state are not being replaced by other high earners at the same rate. California's top earners are particularly mobile, showing the highest rates of departure around tax policy changes such as Proposition 30 in 2012 and the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 as well as the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Consequently, potential net outflows of taxable income spiked to nearly $4 billion in the year TCJA was implemented and $10.7 billion around COVID-19. High-earning movers have been consistently more likely to leave California for zero-income tax states since 2012, and those who experienced larger tax increases under TCJA were more likely to depart.
New @nberpubs notes that the demand for safe assets from 1990-2020 grew even faster than the supply of safe assets, as rapidly growing emerging economies increasing desired to hold safe assets as FX reserves.
The sharp, secular decline in the world real interest rate of the past thirty years suggests that the surge in global demand for financial assets outpaced the growth in their supply. This phenomenon was driven by faster growth in emerging markets, changes in the financial structure of both emerging and advanced economies, and changes in demand and supply of public debt issued by advanced economies. The net foreign liabilities of advanced economies grew massively. The net foreign assets of advanced economies, as a share of their collective GDP, fell from close to zero at the beginning of the 1990s to about -20 percent in 2020.
The US and Japanese armed forces have “seen exponential increases…just over the past year” in their joint preparations for a possible conflict with China, according to Lieutenant General James Bierman, the commanding general of Marine Forces Japan. @ft
The US and Japanese armed forces are rapidly integrating their command structure and scaling up combined operations as Washington and its Asian allies prepare for a possible conflict with China. The two militaries have “seen exponential increases . . . just over the last year” in their operations on the territory they would have to defend in case of a war, Lieutenant General James Bierman, commanding general of Marine Forces Japan, told the Financial Times in an interview. “Why have we achieved the level of success we’ve achieved in Ukraine? A big part of that has been because after Russian aggression in 2014 and 2015, we earnestly got after preparing for future conflict: training for the Ukrainians, pre-positioning of supplies, identification of sites from which we could operate support, sustain operations,” he said. “We call that setting the theatre. And we are setting the theatre in Japan, in the Philippines, in other locations.”
New @nberpubs research finds that Americans are working 3% fewer hours annually in the aftermath of the pandemic. This reduction in hours worked means labor markets are even tighter than LFP would imply.
The negative impact of the Great Recession on aggregate hours worked and the ensuing slow recovery through 2019 materialized almost exclusively along the extensive margin. However, of the 3% decline in annual hours worked per person (including those who do not work) between 2019 and 2022, more than half is accounted for by the intensive margin. That is, focusing only on the extensive margin (lower employment and participation rates) will underestimate the total decline in labor supply by more than half. The most striking fact is the lower participation of young male cohorts without a bachelor's degree, whose participation rate is up to 7pp below that of older cohorts at the same age. The Great Recession seems to be casting a very long shadow, even on those who were in their teens when it happened.
J.P. Morgan estimates consumers still have $900B of excess savings, down from a peak of $2.1B in August 2021.
From March 2020 to August 2021, consumers amassed a peak $2.1 trillion in excess savings relative to the pre-pandemic trend. Since August 2021, consumers have drawn down on these excess savings. Household debt payments were 9.8% of disposable personal income in Q4 ’22 vs. a peak of 13.2% in Q4 of ’04.
.@davidautor shows high school workers’ wage growth overtaking college wage growth in the aftermath of the pandemic and argues that higher wages better reflect rising productivity as companies compete more intensively for workers.
For first time in four decades, wage inequality falling, due to rising lower tail. Despite inflation, real wages rising among young HS grads, 1st quartile workers. It’s tempting to attribute this change to ‘tight’ labor markets—but what does this mean in practice? The simplest explanation is that labor markets are operating on a higher point on the labor demand curve. Evidence indicates this explanation too simple: Competition has intensified. Distinction is critical: Rising competition means higher wages that better reflect productivity and higher aggregate productivity — a double dividend.
The American college workforce is 5% larger than in Feb 2022, whereas the high school workforce is 4% smaller. This has likely contributed to the decrease in earnings inequality in the post-pandemic period. @Greg_Ip
In the decades before the pandemic, the wages of lower-paid, less skilled hourly employees steadily lost ground to those of skilled workers, college graduates, managers, and professionals. In the two years since, those trends have sharply reversed. We don’t know if this narrowing in inequality will last. Perhaps it is a function of labor shortages that, like semiconductor shortages, will disappear as the pandemic recedes. Maybe it is the result of a tight labor market whose days are numbered as the Federal Reserve seeks to cool the economy. Some of this was catalyzed by the pandemic, which shrank the supply of people willing to do traditionally low-paid work. Many dropped out of the labor force, retired, or died from Covid-19. The college-educated labor force was 5% larger last month than in February 2020; the high school-educated and high school dropout labor force is 4% smaller. (Data between the two periods isn’t strictly comparable.)
.@mfariacastro at @stlouisfed estimates that the decline in asset values in 2022 drove 170,000 workers aged 51-65 back into the labor force. This represents 16% of the increase in LFP from Jan through Oct 2022.
The figure above plots the estimated average change in net worth per head of household age category during 2022. People between the ages of 55 and 74 lost, on average, over $100,000 in net worth due to falling asset returns between January and October 2022. This partly reverses some of the net worth gains in 2020-21, which were particularly high for these age groups. This is explained by the high exposure (in absolute terms) of people in these age groups to asset classes such as stocks and bonds, which performed reasonably well in 2020-21 but posted significant negative returns during 2022. Focusing on only people between the ages of 51 and 65, whose decision to participate in the labor force tends to be more sensitive to wealth effects, we find that the decline in asset values may have caused an extra 170,000 people to return to the labor force. This corresponds to an increase in the LFP rate of 0.06 percentage points, or about 16% of the total increase observed through October 2022.
Bank of America notes evidence of reshoring to Mexico at the expense of China with imports of Mexican low-tech goods such as plastics and textiles up ~60% relative to pre-pandemic levels.
Another big winner in the U.S.-China trade war could be Mexico. It has lower wages than China, an established manufacturing sector anchored by the automotive industry, and the perfect geographic position for serving the U.S. market—particularly since the rise of videoconferencing, which has increased the importance of being in the same time zone. Analysts at Bank of America already see some evidence that this is happening, with U.S. imports of Mexican manufactured goods roughly 60% higher than before the pandemic as of October. Interestingly, Mexico has gained share of U.S. imports in some low-tech industrial sectors such as plastics and textiles, while China has lost share.
According to recent surveys, recently laid-off tech workers are quickly finding new employment with 40% accepting a new position within 30 days. @WSJ
About 79% of workers recently hired after a tech-company layoff or termination landed their new job within three months of starting their search, according to a ZipRecruiter survey of new hires. That was just below the 83% share of all laid-off workers who were re-employed in the same time frame. Nearly four in ten previously laid-off tech workers found jobs less than a month after they began searching, ZipRecruiter found in the survey.
An analysis by @jburnmurdoch suggests millennials in the US and UK are breaking a historical pattern of becoming more conservative in their voting behavior as they age.
By my calculations, members of Britain’s “silent generation”, born between 1928 and 1945, were five percentage points less conservative than the national average at age 35, but around five points more conservative by age 70. The “baby boomer” generation traced the same path, and “Gen X”, born between 1965 and 1980, are now following suit. Millennials — born between 1981 and 1996 — started out on the same trajectory, but then something changed. The most likely explanation is a cohort effect — that millennials have developed different values to previous generations. This is borne out by US survey data showing that, having reached political maturity in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, millennials are tacking much further to the left on economics than previous generations did, favoring greater redistribution from rich to poor.
Independent analyst @JosephPolitano notes that the primary driver of capacity under-utilization for American manufacturing firms has shifted from insufficient orders to insufficient supply of labor and materials.
American manufacturing firms are also citing materials and labor shortages as major constraints to production at the highest levels in decades. Everywhere you look, supply chains seem to be in disarray—and demand seems to be off the charts.
cording to @jmhorp Millennials are keeping pace with Baby Boomers and Gen X in terms of generational wealth per capita.
Millennials are roughly equal in wealth per capita to Baby Boomers and Gen X at the same age. Gen X is currently much wealthier than Boomers were at the same age: about $100,000 per capita or 18% greater. Wealth has declined significantly in 2022, but the hasn’t affected Millennials very much since they have very little wealth in the stock market (real estate is by far their largest wealth category.)
.@FiveThirtyEight analyst @geoffreyvs finds that Fetterman’s margin of victory was provided by non-college white voters: Fetterman polled 7pp better than Biden in counties dominated by non-college whites.
John Fetterman bettered Biden’s margin across almost the entire state on his way to defeating Republican Mehmet Oz by about 5 percentage points, his largest improvements over Biden tended to be in red-leaning counties with higher shares of white residents without a college degree. In counties with a population that’s at least 60 percent white without a college degree — which together produced about 36 percent of the state’s 2022 vote — Fetterman’s margin was 7 points better than Biden’s, on average, compared with just 3 points better elsewhere.
Americans are drinking at elevated levels in the aftermath of the pandemic with inflation-adjusted spending up 15% in 2022 vs. just before the pandemic. @foxjust
There is clear evidence that more people are drinking too much. Deaths from alcohol-induced causes rose from 39,043 in 2019 to 54,258 in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the population-adjusted death rate is now more than double what it was in the 2000s. Provisional data also show an encouraging decline in alcohol-induced deaths in the first half of 2022, although that trend could change as final numbers become available. Even after the big increases of the past couple of years, US alcohol consumption likely still lags that of many affluent countries, especially in Europe. And yes, Americans drank lots more back in the 1970s — not to mention the 1830s, when estimated per-capita consumption was nearly three times what it was in 2020.
During Biden’s first two years in office, he has approved at least $4.8T of new borrowing according to @BudgetHawks.
Since January 2021, the Biden Administration has enacted policies through legislation and executive actions that will add more than $4.8 trillion to budget deficits between 2021 and 2031. The $4.8 trillion is the net result of roughly $4.6 trillion of new spending, about $500 billion of tax cuts and tax breaks, and $700 billion of additional interest costs that are partially offset by $400 billion of spending cuts and $600 billion of revenue increases.