Friday, August 22, 2014

ECB's Draghi: Unemployment in the euro area

by Bill McBride on 8/22/2014 03:06:00 PM

From ECB President Mario Draghi at Jackson Hole: Unemployment in the euro area

No one in society remains untouched by a situation of high unemployment. For the unemployed themselves, it is often a tragedy which has lasting effects on their lifetime income. For those in work, it raises job insecurity and undermines social cohesion. For governments, it weighs on public finances and harms election prospects. And unemployment is at the heart of the macro dynamics that shape short- and medium-term inflation, meaning it also affects central banks. Indeed, even when there are no risks to price stability, but unemployment is high and social cohesion at threat, pressure on the central bank to respond invariably increases.

1. The causes of unemployment in the euro area

The key issue, however, is how much we can really sustainably affect unemployment, which in turn is a question – as has been much discussed at this conference – of whether the drivers are predominantly cyclical or structural. As we are an 18 country monetary union this is necessarily a complex question in the euro area, but let me nonetheless give a brief overview of how the ECB currently assesses the situation.

ATA TruckingFigure 1: Change in the unemployment rate since 2008 – the euro area and the US

The long recession in the euro area

The first point to make is that the euro area has suffered a large and particularly sustained negative shock to GDP, with serious consequences for employment. This is visible in Figure 1, which shows the evolution of unemployment in the euro area and the US since 2008. Whereas the US experienced a sharp and immediate rise in unemployment in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the euro area has endured two rises in unemployment associated with two sequential recessions.

From the start of 2008 to early 2011 the picture in both regions is similar: unemployment rates increase steeply, level off and then begin to gradually fall. This reflects the common sources of the shock: the synchronisation of the financial cycle across advanced economies, the contraction in global trade following the Lehman failure, coupled with a strong correction of asset prices – notably houses – in certain jurisdictions.

From 2011 onwards, however, developments in the two regions diverge. Unemployment in the US continues to fall at more or less the same rate. In the euro area, on the other hand, it begins a second rise that does not peak until April 2013. This divergence reflects a second, euro area-specific shock emanating from the sovereign debt crisis, which resulted in a six quarter recession for the euro area economy. Unlike the post-Lehman shock, however, which affected all euro area economies, virtually all of the job losses observed in this second period were concentrated in countries that were adversely affected by government bond market tensions.
On Fiscal Policy:
Turning to fiscal policy, since 2010 the euro area has suffered from fiscal policy being less available and effective, especially compared with other large advanced economies. This is not so much a consequence of high initial debt ratios – public debt is in aggregate not higher in the euro area than in the US or Japan. It reflects the fact that the central bank in those countries could act and has acted as a backstop for government funding. This is an important reason why markets spared their fiscal authorities the loss of confidence that constrained many euro area governments’ market access. This has in turn allowed fiscal consolidation in the US and Japan to be more backloaded.

Thus, it would be helpful for the overall stance of policy if fiscal policy could play a greater role alongside monetary policy, and I believe there is scope for this, while taking into account our specific initial conditions and legal constraints. These initial conditions include levels of government expenditure and taxation in the euro area that are, in relation to GDP, already among the highest in the world. And we are operating within a set of fiscal rules – the Stability and Growth Pact – which acts as an anchor for confidence and that would be self-defeating to break.
Unemployment in the euro area is a complex phenomenon, but the solution is not overly complicated to understand. A coherent strategy to reduce unemployment has to involve both demand and supply side policies, at both the euro area and the national levels. And only if the strategy is truly coherent can it be successful.

Without higher aggregate demand, we risk higher structural unemployment, and governments that introduce structural reforms could end up running just to stand still. But without determined structural reforms, aggregate demand measures will quickly run out of steam and may ultimately become less effective. The way back to higher employment, in other words, is a policy mix that combines monetary, fiscal and structural measures at the union level and at the national level. This will allow each member of our union to achieve a sustainably high level of employment.

We should not forget that the stakes for our monetary union are high. It is not unusual to have regional disparities in unemployment within countries, but the euro area is not a formal political union and hence does not have permanent mechanisms to share risk, namely through fiscal transfers. [19] Cross-country migration flows are relatively small and are unlikely to ever become a key driver of labour market adjustment after large shocks.

Thus, the long-term cohesion of the euro area depends on each country in the union achieving a sustainably high level of employment. And given the very high costs if the cohesion of the union is threatened, all countries should have an interest in achieving this.
Draghi is pleading for help from fiscal policymakers (Bernanke also pleaded with Congress in US for fiscal help - to no avail - but as the graph shows, the situation is even worse in Europe).

ATA Trucking Index increased 1.3% in July

by Bill McBride on 8/22/2014 02:01:00 PM

Here is a minor indicator that I follow, from ATA: ATA Truck Tonnage Index Increased 1.3% in July

American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 1.3% in July, following a decrease of 0.8% the previous month. In July, the index equaled 130.2 (2000=100) versus 128.6 in June. The index is off just 0.6% from the all-time high in November 2013 (131.0).

Compared with July 2013, the SA index increased 3.6%, up from June’s 2.3% year-over-year gain. The latest year-over-year increase was the largest in three months. ...

“After a surprising decrease in June, tonnage really snapped back in July,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “This gain fits more with the anecdotal reports we are hearing from motor carriers that freight volumes are good.”

Costello added that tonnage is up 4.9% since hitting a recent low in January.

“The solid tonnage number in July fits with the strong factory output reading and a jump in housing starts for the same month,” he said. “I continue to expect moderate, but good, tonnage growth for the rest of the year.”
emphasis added
ATA Trucking Click on graph for larger image.

Here is a long term graph that shows ATA's For-Hire Truck Tonnage index.

The dashed line is the current level of the index.

The index is now up 3.6% year-over-year.

DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven increased 0.9% year-over-year in May

by Bill McBride on 8/22/2014 12:22:00 PM

The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported:

Travel on all roads and streets changed by +0.9 (2.4 billion vehicle miles) for May 2014 as compared with May 2013. Travel for the month is estimated to be 264.2 billion vehicle miles.

Cumulative Travel for 2014 changed by +0.2 (2.9 billion vehicle miles).
The following graph shows the rolling 12 month total vehicle miles driven.

The rolling 12 month total is still mostly moving sideways ...

Vehicle Miles Click on graph for larger image.

In the early '80s, miles driven (rolling 12 months) stayed below the previous peak for 39 months.

Currently miles driven has been below the previous peak for 78 months - 6 1/2 years - and still counting.  Currently miles driven (rolling 12 months) are about 2.2% below the previous peak.

The second graph shows the year-over-year change from the same month in the previous year.

Vehicle Miles Driven YoY In May 2014, gasoline averaged of $3.75 per gallon according to the EIA.  That was up from May 2013 when prices averaged $3.67 per gallon.

Of course gasoline prices are just part of the story.  The lack of growth in miles driven over the last 6+ years is probably also due to the lingering effects of the great recession (high unemployment rate and lack of wage growth), the aging of the overall population (over 55 drivers drive fewer miles) and changing driving habits of young drivers.

With all these factors, it might take a few more years before we see a new peak in miles driven - but it does seem like miles driven is now increasing slowly.

Fed Chair Yellen: Unemployment Rate "somewhat overstates" Improvement in Labor Market

by Bill McBride on 8/22/2014 10:00:00 AM

From Fed Chair Janet Yellen at Jackson Hole Economic Symposium: Labor Market Dynamics and Monetary Policy. Excerpts:

One convenient way to summarize the information contained in a large number of indicators is through the use of so-called factor models. Following this methodology, Federal Reserve Board staff developed a labor market conditions index from 19 labor market indicators, including four I just discussed. This broadly based metric supports the conclusion that the labor market has improved significantly over the past year, but it also suggests that the decline in the unemployment rate over this period somewhat overstates the improvement in overall labor market conditions.
emphasis added
More excerpts:
[W]ith the economy getting closer to our objectives, the FOMC's emphasis is naturally shifting to questions about the degree of remaining slack, how quickly that slack is likely to be taken up, and thereby to the question of under what conditions we should begin dialing back our extraordinary accommodation. As should be evident from my remarks so far, I believe that our assessments of the degree of slack must be based on a wide range of variables and will require difficult judgments about the cyclical and structural influences in the labor market. While these assessments have always been imprecise and subject to revision, the task has become especially challenging in the aftermath of the Great Recession, which brought nearly unprecedented cyclical dislocations and may have been associated with similarly unprecedented structural changes in the labor market--changes that have yet to be fully understood.

So, what is a monetary policymaker to do? Some have argued that, in light of the uncertainties associated with estimating labor market slack, policymakers should focus mainly on inflation developments in determining appropriate policy. To take an extreme case, if labor market slack was the dominant and predictable driver of inflation, we could largely ignore labor market indicators and look instead at the behavior of inflation to determine the extent of slack in the labor market. In present circumstances, with inflation still running below the FOMC's 2 percent objective, such an approach would suggest that we could maintain policy accommodation until inflation is clearly moving back toward 2 percent, at which point we could also be confident that slack had diminished.

Of course, our task is not nearly so straightforward. Historically, slack has accounted for only a small portion of the fluctuations in inflation. Indeed, unusual aspects of the current recovery may have shifted the lead-lag relationship between a tightening labor market and rising inflation pressures in either direction. For example, as I discussed earlier, if downward nominal wage rigidities created a stock of pent-up wage deflation during the economic downturn, observed wage and price pressures associated with a given amount of slack or pace of reduction in slack might be unusually low for a time. If so, the first clear signs of inflation pressure could come later than usual in the progression toward maximum employment. As a result, maintaining a high degree of monetary policy accommodation until inflation pressures emerge could, in this case, unduly delay the removal of accommodation, necessitating an abrupt and potentially disruptive tightening of policy later on.

Conversely, profound dislocations in the labor market in recent years--such as depressed participation associated with worker discouragement and a still-substantial level of long-term unemployment--may cause inflation pressures to arise earlier than usual as the degree of slack in the labor market declines. However, some of the resulting wage and price pressures could subsequently ease as higher real wages draw workers back into the labor force and lower long-term unemployment. As a consequence, tightening monetary policy as soon as inflation moves back toward 2 percent might, in this case, prevent labor markets from recovering fully and so would not be consistent with the dual mandate.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lawler: Fannie Survey on How Lenders “Adapt” to ATR/QM

by Bill McBride on 8/21/2014 07:59:00 PM

From housing economist Tom Lawler:

The Fannie Mae Economic & Strategic Research Group released the results of a recent survey of senior mortgage executives designed to see how mortgage lenders had and/or would “adapt” to the new Ability-To-Repay (ATR) and Qualified Mortgage (QM) standards that become effective January 10, 2014. A total of 201 executives representing 186 institutions completed the survey between May 28 – June 8,2014.

Here are the results for a subset of the questions.

Impact of ATR/QM Rules (% of Respondents)
  EaseBasically UnchangedTighten
Credit Standards6%58%36%
  IncreaseRemain About the SameDecrease
Operational Costs74%19%7%
Strategy on Non-QM Mortgage Loans
  Actively PursueWait and SeeDo NOT Plan to Pursue
Non-QM Loans19%46%34%

A presentation on the survey results is available at Impact of Qualified Mortgage Rules and Quality Control Review

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