The silver lining: “Amid Higher Unemployment, Fewer Workplace Injuries”

One more reason I love the Wall Street Journal.

The Labor Department’s report of occupational injuries and illnesses that required days away from work mimicked the shifts the recession caused in the labor market in 2008. Hard-hit sectors, such as construction and retail, reported fewer injury and illness cases. Older workers experienced more injuries as their labor force participation rose. And incidents among younger workers fell as fewer remained employed.

The end of the end of the Great Recession

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place. – Mencken

Remember all that robust economic activity we heard so much about last month? The stuff about the economy expanding at 3.5% for the third quarter of this year and “officially” marking an end to the Great Recession? Ooops.

It was only 2.8% according to revised Commerce Department numbers. (And every reporter who is even semi-competent knew this reduction was coming. This number will be revised at least once more.)

That 0.7% difference is big. It means the basis of all this activity was mostly a result of the Federal gov’t running up its credit card and not by the creation of goods and services as a result of non-government created demand. Most of the spending was the result of government subsidies of the housing and auto industries via the Cash For Clunkers program and the $8,000 tax “credit” for 1st time homebuyers. It had been hoped that these would spur ancillary spending and thereby help the economy. This was not the case. People spent only on the things they could get a deal on.

And even that spending was problematic as the FHA seems intent on recreating the subprime insanity that got us into this mess.

Robert Toll, CEO of Toll Brothers, said today at a New York home builders conference that FHA lending could create another huge crisis in the mortgage industry, referring to it as “yesterday’s subprime.” He also went as far as calling it a “definite train wreck,” noting that a “flag will go up in the next couple of months” for bail out money.

It is worth pointing out that Mr. Toll’s money comes from the FHA so he  has a vested interest in NOT saying this.

Nor were individuals the only ones to reign rein in their spending:. Via AP: “Companies cut back spending on commercial construction — a weak spot in the economy — at 15.1% annualized pace. That was deeper than the 9% annualized cut back first estimated.” On the plus side: Corporate profits climbed by the most in five years.

Oh, wait, you mean you aren’t a corporation?

OOOOOPS, again.

Maybe that’s not good news.

The AP story tries so hard to offer both sides of the story that it contradicts itself in places:

For the current quarter, some economists think economic growth will slow to around a 2.5 percent pace, though others say it could reach 3 percent if holiday sales turn out better than expected. [I would like some drug testing done on those “others”.]

Most say they think the economy will weaken again next year, with growth at a pace of around 1 percent as the impact of the $787 billion stimulus package fades and consumers keep tightening their belts under the strain of high unemployment and hard-to-get credit.*

So for some reason consumers are going to shell out in this quarter but then stop. I may have missed it but I don’t think there has been a subsidy for Christmas presents. Unlike some other economists, I think most people know January follows December and behavior that won’t make sense then doesn’t make sense now.

By the way, the professional wishful thinking classes will be out in force for Black Friday so make sure not to believe a single damn thing they say. Reporting false bright numbers about the coming weekend is an annual and longstanding tradition. See: Journalists still too lazy to report truth about Black Friday

Journalists deeply irritated at working over the long weekend writes stories that begin: “Great Black Friday sales numbers mean a big shopping season. Insert somebody’s numbers to support this and then a quote or two from an analyst.” Publish, forget, and hope no one notices that they are ALWAYS — even in good economic times — WRONG.

I don’t know which irritates me more, that we are being lied to so badly or that we are so eager to go along with it.

PS: The FDIC Deposit Insurance fund is now in “Negative Territory” (ie, broke) as the number of bank failures continues to increase.

*The article has a great example of how journalists say what they believe to be true without getting caught at it: “What’s not clear is whether the recovery can continue after government supports are gone. If consumers clam up, the economy could tip back into recession.”

Why I don’t believe in this recovery

What’s the opposite of cherry picking? Prune picking? This may be an exercise in that but this “recovery” looks like smoke without mirrors. Here’s a reader of items that explain my thinking.

First, the decrease in the rate of unemployment as positive sign is pure spin and doesn’t reflect the actual situation at all.

The Spin: Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) — The number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits fell unexpectedly last week, a sign the labor market is deteriorating at a slower pace as the economy pulls out of the recession.

A: NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Five states posted jobless rates above 12% in August, according to federal data released Friday. California, Nevada and Rhode Island each hit record-high rates, the Labor Department said. Michigan led the nation in unemployment, with a rate of 15.2%, while Nevada was next at 13.2% and Rhode Island was third at 12.8%. California and Oregon were tied for the fourth spot, each with unemployment at 12.2%.

B: After reviewing the various unemployment calculations maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I have come to the conclusion that the U6 calculation (Unemployed, discouraged and underemployed workers) is the most relevant, which increased 0.5 percentage points in August to a whopping 16.8 percent, representing a total of roughly 20 million people in the U.S. And remember, this is “less bad”.  I like that the U6 number includes underemployed workers, because these are people that have jobs but aren’t making as much money as they are accustomed; they have been forced into part time work. This can impact payments to ARM companies.

Second, housing starts are at a nine month high! Great, just when a huge amount of housing stock is about to be dumped on the market, aka, more foreclosures.

The Spin: Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) — Housing starts in the U.S. rose to the highest level in nine months … adding to evidence an economic recovery is taking hold.

A: WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The federal government and states are girding themselves for the next foreclosure crisis in the country’s housing downturn: payment option adjustable rate mortgages that are beginning to reset. "Payment option ARMs are about to explode," Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said after a Thursday meeting with members of President Barack Obama’s administration to discuss ways to combat mortgage scams.

B: While this index (and single family starts) are well above the massively depressed levels recorded late last year and early this year, this has in all likelihood been a rebound from unsustainably weak results that was reinforced by a temporary boost to demand from the $8000 first time homebuyer tax incentive that applies to purchases that close before December 1. Gains from here on will probably be much more difficult to achieve, as poor labor market conditions, tight credit, overly leveraged household balance sheets, and still considerable inventory of new and existing homes all exert downside pressures. –Joshua Shapiro, MFR Inc.

And who is relying on all those mortgages to keep it out of bankruptcy? No, not the banks but the US government.

 The Fed’s balance sheet expanded again in the latest week, rising to $2.125 trillion from $2.072 trillion, but the increase came primarily from purchases of mortgage-backed securities, Treasurys and agency debt. Holdings of mortgage-backed securities alone jumped by nearly $60 billion, and now make up nearly a third of the overall balance sheet. The Fed started a program in March to ramp up such acquisitions in order to keep long-term interest rates low. Nearly all of the programs set up as emergency facilities to prop up the financial system posted declines. Direct-bank lending remains at its the lowest level since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and central-bank liquidity fell again. The commercial paper and money market facilities also dropped and are at their lowest levels since inception. Companies lately have decided to take their funds out and tap investors directly as sentiment in the market improves. The only emergency facility posting gains was the TALF program aimed at spurring consumer lending.

Take note of which parts of the government are being particularly hurt:

WASHINGTON – The Federal Housing Administration said Friday its cash cushion will dip below mandated levels for the first time, but officials insist it won’t need a taxpayer rescue. The agency, a growing source of funds for first-time homebuyers, faces mounting concerns that it will soon need a taxpayer bailout. As of this summer, about 17 percent of FHA borrowers were at least one payment behind or in foreclosure, compared with 13 percent for all loans, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. bank regulators will meet at the end of the month to explore options, possibly including some that are not well-known, to replenish the dwindling fund that safeguards bank deposits, the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp said on Friday.

By December 2010 the state expects its unemployment trust fund, which is being tapped $31.7 million per month, will run out. The fund, which contained $430 million at the end of 2008, could dip to $118.5 million by year’s end. … Hawaii is not alone; at least 14 other states are insolvent, and four more are on their way. (Emphasis added)

But the stock market broke 9800 yesterday, so happy days are here again.

Welcome to the boomtown
Pick a habit
We got plenty to go around
Welcome, welcome to the boomtown
All that money makes such a succulent sound
Welcome to the boomtown

David & David, Welcome to the Boomtown

The whistling at the financial graveyard grows increasingly repetitive

This brilliant post is entirely from the great blog Financial Armageddon

These days, lots of people seem to be reading from the same script:

"CBI Says Worst of British Recession Over" (Reuters)
"China’s Premier Says Economy Better than Expected" (Associated Press)

"Dubai’s Ruler Says the Worst Is Over" (Financial Times)

"U.S. Officials Suggest Worst of Recession Is Over" (Reuters)

"Italy Employers See Signs Worst Over in Crisis" (Reuters)

"Worst Over? Just Maybe" (Associated Press)

"’Worst Is Over; India to Be on Recovery Path in 2-3 Quarters’" (Business Line)

"US Hopes the Worst Is Over" (The National)

Hmmm, those words sound awfully familiar…ah, yes, now I remember:

"Lehman CEO Says Worst Is Over, Yet Troubles Ahead" (Reuters)

"Bear Stearns Says Worst Is Over After Writedown" (CNBC)

"Citigroup Chief Says Worst of Crisis Is Over" (Evening Standard, May 7, 2008)

"Legg Mason’s Miller Sees Recovery for Stocks; ‘Worst Is Behind Us,’ Famed Fund Manager Tells Beleaguered Shareholders" (MarketWatch, April 23, 2008)

"Is the Worst Over for Detroit?" (SmartMoney, July 18, 2005)

AIG claims it is paying bonuses to retain “best and brightest talent”

“We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.” — Edward M. Liddy, government-appointed chairman of A.I.G.

Congrats to Mr. Liddy for calling the people in question “the best and the brightest” – a description famously applied to the folks who got us into Vietnam.

And what would these folks be talented at? While getting someone else to pay for bankrupting a company is quite a talent it’s not one to reward.

Lawyers at both the Treasury Department and AIG have concluded that the firm would risk a lawsuit if it scrapped the retention payments at the AIG Financial Products subsidiary, whose troublesome derivative trading nearly sank AIG. The company promised before the government started bailing out the firm in September that employees would be awarded more than $400 million in retention pay this year and next.

Which is worse – losing a lawsuit or needing around-the-clock security for all your senior executives? I’m pretty sure the phrase “hanging is too good for them” is echoing around a lot of people’s minds right now.

BTW, the $165M in bonuses is in addition to a previously scheduled $121M:

The payments to A.I.G.’s financial products unit are in addition to $121 million in previously scheduled bonuses for the company’s senior executives and 6,400 employees across the sprawling corporation. Mr. Geithner last week pressured A.I.G. to cut the $9.6 million going to the top 50 executives in half and tie the rest to performance.

Yep, more than a quarter of a billion bucks being paid to the folks who put the I in incompetent.

To quote Mr. Mencken: “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

UPDATE:

In New Terror Video, AIG Demands Huge Ransom from U.S.

Shadowy Group Seeks Bonuses, Golf Retreats

New Hyundai warranty covers job loss*

*Mostly.

hyundaiIn a mark of how bad things are “Hyundai is providing a complimentary vehicle return program for the first year on every new Hyundai that is financed or leased for owners who experience an involuntary loss of income within 12 months of the purchase date.

What that actually means is Hyundai is offering to cover up to $7.5K of the debt on a new car in case of

  • Involuntary unemployment
  • Physical disability
  • Loss of driver’s license due to medical impairment
  • International employment transfer
  • Self-employed personal bankruptcy
  • Accidental death

Details: You have to have made at least two payments; you are still on the hook for everything over $7.5K and; they get the car back.  Which means if you bought the bottom line Accent with nothing added to it (MSRP $9.9K) and make just the two payments you are only on the cuff for about two grand. Not great but so far it’s better than anything else out there. (What dumbass wrote that? Truth is below)

You are on the hook for only the depreciation OVER $7500. Example: if the car had an msrp of around 25 grand and you were on the peverbial hook for the whole magilla and the depreciation over the first 10 months was 30% ( 7.5 large ) you would owe nada.

The deal looks even better when you consider that none of your tax dollars have gone into propping the company up.

So the new motto is, “Hyundai — the car to buy if you think you’re going to get canned.”

Cut the bull and call it a Depression already

More of my happy thoughts from over at BlownMortgage:

Two weeks ago the National Bureau of Economic Research officially confirmed what we already knew: We have been in a recession for the past year. This begs the question, how long until we declare World Depression II?

The (disputed) technical definitions of Recession and Depression make them lagging economic nomenclature. Economists debate whether we are in a swamp while everyone else worries about the ever-increasing number of alligators. The lack of an official declaration of recession mostly just gives the chattering classes something to do while avoiding taking action.

“Is it a crisis?”

“There is no crisis!”

“Is there a large, green creature eating my leg?”

“There is no large, green creature eating your leg!”

Allow me to go out on a very, very sturdy limb and declare a Depression. The economy isn’t going to recover by the end of next year. There is a only a dim possibility it will recover the year after that. But no one in an “official” position is willing to be the bearer of that piece of bad news.

Doubt that it is (or soon will fit the technical definition of) a Depression? Look at the actual numbers…

Buy 1, get 1 free is worldwide trend among car dealers

Can the US get the same deal with car makers?

I totally fail to understand the economics on this for the dealers beyond: UH OH.

When all else fails … hope for divine intervention:

With sport-utility vehicles at the altar and auto workers in the pews, one of Detroit’s largest churches on Sunday offered up prayers for Congress to bail out the struggling auto industry.

“We have never seen as midnight an hour as we face this week,” the Rev. Charles Ellis told several thousand congregants at a rousing service at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple. “This week, lives are hanging above an abyss of uncertainty as both houses of Congress decide whether to extend a helping hand.”

Local car dealerships donated three hybrid SUVs to be displayed during the service, one from each of the Big Three. A Ford Escape, Chevy Tahoe from GM and a Chrysler Aspen were parked just in front of the choir and behind the pulpit.

SHOCKER: Survey sez recession adding stress to holidays

CNN, doing it’s part to keep pollsters employed now that the election is over.

Americans say the sagging economy is making the 2008 holiday season more stressful than previous years, according to a CNN poll out Monday, with up to two-thirds of them reporting some belt-tightening.

Next up: Most Americans say water IS wet!

HUZZAH!!! Recession declared! (and backdated!)

With the horses so long out of the barn that they are now baseballs and glue, officials have decided to nail the barn door shut and call it a recession. “The U.S. economy entered a recession in December 2007, a committee of economists at the private National Bureau of Economic Research said Monday.” The official declaration comes a mere EIGHT MONTHS after even most economists were saying this was the case. Of course it is also a mere EIGHT MONTHS after the Anderson Forecast from UCLA predicted we would avoid a recession.

“We don’t see that happening,” said Edward Leamer, director and co-author of the forecast released Tuesday [March 10]. “This is a tough call, but I will be very surprised if this thing actually precipitates into recession.”

Waiter, I’d like some of what he’s smoking…

What has me worried is all the official assurances that it will never turn into a depression.

What is the definition of “depression”?

More from me at BlownMortgage:

It is difficult to believe but earlier this year people were still debating whether or not we were in a recession. The debate broke down along the lines of, “We haven’t met the technical definition of a recession” vs. “If it smells, like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck then it’s a duck.”

One of the reasons for the debate was because there are so many different definitions of a recession.

The standard definition used by idiots and journalists (like me!) is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more consecutive quarters.

Idiots and economists (like them!) don’t like this because it leaves out the unemployment rate and consumer confidence as indicators. “By using quarterly data this definition makes it difficult to pinpoint when a recession begins or ends. This means that a recession that lasts ten months or less may go undetected.” Sadly, that’s not going to be an issue this time around.

BTW, now that the extension of unemployment benefits has passed the Senate expect to see a sharp increase in the unemployment rate — which only counts people who are collecting unemployment insurance. You are no longer officially counted as unemployed if you are not collecting insurance. A lot of people who used up their benefits but aren’t employed will now re-appear magically on the roles. They will just as magically disappear in seven weeks when their benefits are used up and the rate will go down again. However, those people won’t be any more employed.

Coming soon to an ad near you: “Our gift cards insured by the FDIC”

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the entity that guarantees bank deposits, has issued an opinion stating that funds on gift cards and other stored value cards qualify as deposits and will be covered under FDIC insurance if those funds have been placed at an insured depository institution.

bankrupt-wheelI’d love to file this under “You know it’s gotten bad when …” but we’re too far past that. Wonder who will be the first retailer to plug this into its ads? “The latest in worry-free shopping: You can put up to $250K on a gift card! Guaranteed by the FDIC even if we bite the dust!”

Oy.

Wall Street sets record for most bounces from a single dead cat

My latest from BlownMortgage:

The markets continue to stagger around like  drunks after last call and with every bit as much connection to reality. As I write this, a half hour before the final bell, the Dow is up 11%, nearly 900 points for the day. The NASDAQ and S&P 500 are both up around 10%. All this despite reports of consumer confidence and home prices dropping faster than President Bush’s approval ratings.

Wall Street’s Queens of Denial were apparently responding to talk that the Fed will cut the prime rate by at least half a percent. This is just one more measure of how the markets are now a faith-based initiative. It doesn’t matter how low the rate is when there is no money to borrow. The system is still facing a liquidity crisis and even if it wasn’t we’d still be tanking. For better and mostly for worse consumers still drive the economy. Those of them fortunate enough not to be losing their houses are losing equity at an astounding clip. …

Would you buy a used economic commentary from this man?

My latest over at BlownMortgage:

The Fed has announced it will now buy commercial paper from money market mutual funds and endorsed the idea of another economic stimulus package. Far be it from me to turn up my nose at free money. I could use a handout … I mean stimulus check as much if not more than most of Wall Street. But I am disturbed that these efforts continue are in keeping with previous Bush Administration policy to never have a clue how something – like a war or a however many bailouts there will be – will be paid for.

Click for more of this and my paen to William Proxmire.

Congress doesn’t even want to fiddle while Rome burns

I’ve got a gig as a guest blogger over at BlownMortgage.com. Here’s the start of my first post:

Every news story about the bailout makes it sound as if Friday is some sort of do-or-die deadline. It’s not. It is just the day Congress wanted to adjourn so they could get home and do some campaigning. Given the magnitude of the crisis and the size of the pig in this particular poke, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities in order. If ever there was a piece of legislation that needed to be carefully considered, this is it.

Click above to read more.

This is truly a bipartisan issue. Regardless of your political affiliation I urge you to do what I have already done and call your rep, senators and the Speaker of the House about this.

Do I think calling these people will make any difference? No idea. I take the approach of the baseball manager who was asked why he argued with the ump. “It’s all I can do.”