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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Negative News Flow

by Calculated Risk on 8/14/2010 08:55:00 AM

Although not unexpected, the news flow is about to take a more negative tone starting with the existing home sales report on August 23rd. We've been discussing this for some time ... and I'd like to highlight just a few pieces of forthcoming data:

  • The existing home sales report will show that sales collapsed in July (this is showing up in all the regional reports).

  • The existing home months-of-supply will jump to double digits.

  • House prices are probably falling again, although this might not show up in the repeat sales indexes until September or October (this data is released with a lag).

  • On August 27th, the second estimate of Q2 GDP will be released. This will probably show a significant downward revision from the preliminary estimate of 2.4% annualized growth. The downward revision is due to lower construction spending than the BEA initially estimated, less contribution from inventory adjustments, and the June surge in exports.

  • The unemployment rate will probably start ticking up again soon (or the participation rate will fall further).

    Just something to be aware of ...

  • Friday, August 13, 2010

    Port traffic may slow as retailers turn cautious

    by Calculated Risk on 8/13/2010 09:53:00 PM

    This is a followup to my earlier post today on LA port traffic in July ...

    From Ronald White at the LA Times: Ports wary of stunted holiday rush

    The bad news for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — part of a supply-chain infrastructure that employs dockworkers, truck drivers, railroad employees, warehouse and distribution center staffs and logistics experts — the big bump in holiday-season cargo jobs may not come this year.

    Consumers remain very cautious about the safety of their own jobs, and retailers are paying attention to those signals, experts said.

    "Retailers are monitoring demand very closely and hoping to see increases in employment and other areas that will boost consumer confidence," said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation.
    This is something to watch over the next few months. Exports have already slowed, and it is possible that import growth will slow too.

    Bank Failure #110: Palos Bank and Trust Company, Palos Heights, Illinois

    by Calculated Risk on 8/13/2010 08:10:00 PM

    Palos Bank and Trust
    Friday the thirteenth has come
    Unlucky indeed!

    by Soylent Green is People

    From the FDIC: First Midwest Bank, Itasca, Illinois, Assumes All of the Deposits of Palos Bank and Trust Company, Palos Heights, Illinois
    As of June 30, 2010, Palos Bank and Trust Company had approximately $493.4 million in total assets and $467.8 million in total deposits. ... The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $72.0 million. Compared to other alternatives, First Midwest Bank's acquisition was the least costly resolution for the FDIC's DIF. Palos Bank and Trust Company is the 110th FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the fourteenth in Illinois. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Ravenswood Bank, Chicago, on August 6, 2010.
    It is Friday!

    LA Port Traffic: Imports increase, Exports Flat

    by Calculated Risk on 8/13/2010 05:21:00 PM

    This data last month gave the first hint of the sharp increase in the U.S. trade deficit in June.

    Notes: this data is not seasonally adjusted. There is a very distinct seasonal pattern for imports, but not for exports. LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic.

    The following graph shows the loaded inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). Although containers tell us nothing about value, container traffic does give us an idea of the volume of goods being exported and imported.

    LA Area Port Traffic Click on graph for larger image in new window.

    Loaded inbound traffic was up 26% compared to July 2009. Inbound traffic is now up 4% vs. two years ago (July '08).

    Loaded outbound traffic was up 10% from July 2009. Exports were off almost 4% from May 2010. Unlike imports, exports are still off from 2 years ago (off 17%).

    For imports there is usually a significant dip in either February or March, depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year, and then usually imports increase until late summer or early fall as retailers build inventory for the holiday season. So part of this increase in July imports is just the normal seasonal pattern.

    Based on this data, it appears the trade deficit with Asia increased again in July. Not only have the pre-crisis global imbalances returned, but the flat line in exports, after declining in June, is concerning (there is no clear seasonal pattern for exports).

    Double Dip Debate

    by Calculated Risk on 8/13/2010 03:40:00 PM

    From CNBC: US 'Virtually Certain' to Fall Into A New Recession: Rosenberg

    The risks of a double-dip recession—if we ever got out of the first one—are actually a lot higher than people are talking about right now," [David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff] said. "I think that it's almost a foregone conclusion, a virtual certainty."
    And here is an interview today of Rosenberg at the WSJ: The Big Interview with David Rosenberg
    In an interview with WSJ's Kelly Evans, Gluskin Sheff's Chief Economist David Rosenberg warned that the chances of a double-dip recession are greater than 50-50 and that the recession may not have ended last year at all.
    And Neil Irwin at the WaPo has a summary of a Goldman Sachs research note by Ed McKelvey: Goldman Sachs economists: No double dip (probably)
    "We think a double dip [recession] has a meaningful probability--25 to 30% in our estimation--but it is not in our base case. A big reason for this judgment is that several key components of private-sector activity have already fallen to levels that are quite low relative to historical averages or underlying fundamentals."

    "We note the following five sources of protection against a renewed downturn in economic activity--areas where we think the scope for further downside to US real GDP is limited."
    I've made a number of the same arguments as McKelvey ... I noted that "usually a recession (or double-dip) is preceded by a sharp decline in Residential Investment (housing is the best leading indicator for the business cycle), and it [is] hard for RI to fall much further" and on the personal saving rate, I noted "most of the drag from a rising saving rate appears to be behind us".

    I think we will avoid a technical double dip recession (or a continuation of the "great recession", see Recession Dating for the difference), but the odds are uncomfortably high - and it will probably feel like a recession to millions of Americans. It will be especially discouraging when the unemployment rate starts increasing again (I think that is likely) and when reported house prices start falling (very likely).

    Social Security Benefits and Maximum Contribution Base: Probably No Increase for 2011

    by Calculated Risk on 8/13/2010 12:17:00 PM

    The BLS reported this morning that the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) was at 213.898 in July. This means it is very likely there will no change to Social Security Benefits and the Maximum Contribution Base again this year.

    Here is an explanation ...

    The calculation dates have changed over time (see Cost-of-Living Adjustments), but the current calculation uses the average CPI-W1 for the three months in Q3 (July, August, September) and compares to the average for the highest previous average of Q3 months. Note: this is not the headline CPI-U.

  • In 2007, the average of CPI-W was 203.596. In 2008, the average was 215.495. That gave an increase of 5.8%.

  • In 2009, the Q3 average of CPI-W was 211.013. That was a decline of -2.1% from 2008, however, by law, the adjustment is never negative - so the benefits remained the same this year.

    CPI-W and COLA Adjustment Click on graph for larger image in new window.

    This graph shows CPI-W over the last ten years. The red lines are the Q3 average of CPI-W for each year.

    The COLA adjustment is based on the increase from Q3 of one year from the highest previous Q3 average. So a 2.3% increase was announced in 2007 for 2008, and a 5.8% increase was announced in 2008 for 2009.

    In Q3 2009, CPI-W was lower than in Q3 2008, so there was no change in benefits for 2010.

    Even though there was no increase last year, and there will probably be no increase this year, those receiving benefits are still ahead because of the huge increase in Q3 2008.

    For 2011, the calculation is not based on Q3 2010 over Q3 2009, but Q3 2010 over the highest preceding Q3 average ... the 215.495 in Q3 2008. This means CPI-W in Q3 2010 has to average above 215.495 or there will be no increase in Social Security benefits in 2011.

    In July 2010, CPI-W was at 213.898, so CPI-W will have to average above 216.294 in August and September for the Q3 average to be at or above Q3 2008. That suggests an increase in COLA is very unlikely right now.

    Contribution and Benefit Base

    The law - as currently written - prohibits an increase in the contribution and benefit base if COLA is not greater than zero. However if the there is even a small increase in CPI-W, the contribution base will be adjusted using the National Average Wage Index.

    From Social Security: Cost-of-Living Adjustment Must Be Greater Than Zero
    ... ... any amount that is directly dependent for its value on the COLA would not increase. For example, the maximum Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment amounts would not increase if there were no COLA.

    ... if there were no COLA, section 230(a) of the Social Security Act prohibits an increase in the contribution and benefit base (Social Security's maximum taxable earnings), which normally increases with increases in the national average wage index. Similarly, the retirement test exempt amounts would not increase ...
    This is based on a lag. If there had been an increase in COLA last year, the contribution and benefit base would have increased by about 2.3% based on the increase in wages from 2007 to 2008. The National Average Wage Index is not available for 2009 yet, but wages probably declined - but it probably won't matter for the maximum contribution base since COLA will probably be zero.

    To summarize (assuming no new legislation):

  • In 2011, for benefits, there will probably be no increase (although we need to see CPI-W for August and September to know for sure).

  • For the contribution base in 2011 there will probably be no change too. However, if the COLA is even slightly positive, the increase will be based on changes in the national average wage index (not COLA).

    (1) CPI-W usually tracks CPI-U (headline number) pretty well. From the BLS:
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes CPIs for two population groups: (1)the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which covers households of wage earners and clerical workers that comprise approximately 32 percent of the total population and (2) the CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) ... which cover approximately 87 percent of the total population and include in addition to wage earners and clerical worker households, groups such as professional, managerial, and technical workers, the self- employed, short-term workers, the unemployed, and retirees and others not in the labor force.