Perry Glasser

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Tulips and BitCoins

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance on December 7, 2017 at 9:00 pm

Tulips

In 1636, Holland discovered the tulip. They were imported. People went crazy for them. Everybody wanted them. No one could get enough of them, and the more rare they seemed, the more valuable they became. The cost of tulip futures for some bulbs rose to prices worth more than 20 acres of land. I am not making this up.

It’s easy to laugh, but open your closet and count your Beanie Bag Babies stash. How many collectibles have you bought recently? Holy bananas, have you been buying fake money and stamps with baseball players on them from small Caribbean states as family heirlooms?!?

But God forbid, have you considered BitCoins?

The Wizards on Wall Street are fainting. They notice that Bitcoin rose above $15,000 this week, and is up from $800 a year ago.  Remember, always that Wall Street Wizards invest in nothing, but they want a piece of every transaction. They earn profits when money changes hands, and if that is when your kid’s college education turns to dust, well, that’s a shame.

BitCoins are an imaginary currency backed by the full faith and credit of nothing, not nobody, not nohow.  The dollar, on the other hand, is a currency backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, which Dollars$ admits may not be all that much more, but has to be worth more than a few beeps and blips on some kid’s garage in a Tokyo sub-basement. Sorry, Binky, but the gold in Fort Knox has not been seen for decades. Every bill in your American wallet is a promise to pay–later.

The US dollar is also the standard for several other currencies, small countries, mostly, that cannot risk having speculators manipulate their money. In  the currency markets where money floats, the US dollar is relatively stable.  On the other hand, people who invest in Bitcoins either live too far from a decent casino or think Monopoly money is tricky stuff. They plan on being the last person through the exit when the inevitable collapse occurs, but do you know what happens when all the elephants try to get through the door at the same time?

BitCoin is the preferred currency among drug dealers and computer hijackers, those rascals who are the cousins to that Nigerian prince who offer you millions if you’ll send just a few thousand. The Prince makes that offer by email; the BitCoin pirates fly the Jolly Roger  while sailing through cyberspace.

You get your choice.

bitcoin

look that them digits!

jolly roger

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WEALTH INEQUALITY

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, TAXES on December 5, 2017 at 10:40 pm

bossy sisterWhenever my big sister played Monopoly, if the game was going against her she would toss the playing board in the air. My hotels and houses would scatter across the living room carpet as she shouted, “Salugi!” (a New York-ism pronounced “suh-LOO-gee”)and lunged across the table to confiscate most of my deeds, especially Boardwalk and Park Place.

When I was able to read the rules of the game, I learned there was no allowance for tossing the game in the air or confiscating my property. My sister was cheating! But since I was 8 and she was 14, she was able to meet my accusation by beating me up.

The History of Wealth Redistribution

My sister was a revolutionary.

To be sure, Dollar$ reminds readers that rebels object to rules, but revolutionaries rewrite them. Rebellions are common; revolutions are rare.

The folks who threw the board in the air in the past have cried, “Justice!” not “Salugi!” They had names like Washington, Lenin, Mao, and Castro.

Note that political persuasion—Left or Right—has nothing to do with revolutionary status. Mao and Washington might have discussed military tactics, but Dollar$ suggests they would have come to no agreement about economic systems or the function of government.

The Function of Governmentpreamble-20532-20120118-55

It’s less complicated than Monopoly.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Washington (the dude on the $1) believed that the function of government was primarily to protect the rights of the individual, rights that most often needed protection from government itself. If no military personnel have been billeted in your living room, thank Washington.

Washington may have noted that to promote the general welfare required some redistribution of wealth to insure equal opportunity and to insure domestic tranquility, but that does not guarantee equality of status among citizens.

Washington’s pal was the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton (the dude on the $10). Hamilton understood that wealth concentration in institution like banks were a social good, provided the bank used that concentration of wealth to fund the visions of a greater society, lending money to visionaries and giving stability to the economic infrastructure by protecting wealth from being squandered by a ruling class on personal indulgences. Hamilton, an orphan at 11 and the illegitimate son a British West Indies plantation owner, would likely not endorse a notion that the function of government was to protect the rights of the filthy rich to become obscenely rich.

The Situation Today

Some of Dollar$’s best friends sink into fuzzy thinking when talk comes around to how wealth is created and distributed in the United States. They lose sleep fearful that someone, somehow, somewhere, is leveraging assets to optimize profit.  They simple-mindedly believe that economics is a zero-sum game and cannot imagine economic growth. If an organization makes a dollar, someone must be a dollar poorer.

No. That simply is untrue. If it were so, you and I would enjoy the same standard of living as Washington and Hamilton. But the fact is that economies grow.  At issue is how they grow, not whether they should grow at all, though there are indeed some who think that a good idea, too.

The deluded friends of Dollar$ from time to time propose bold programs to redistribute wealth, programs they understand as pursuing Justice.

There two reasons those cannot and should not work.

1. Nowhere in the US Constitution will one find the word corporation. True, we reserve the right to free assembly, but that does not elevate any assembly of citizens devoted to profit a guaranteed right to speak lies in its advertising or compensate its directors and executive officers so rapaciously that shareholders who hope to partake of the boons of the system see their profit participation reduced by rapacious Buccaneers.

Oliver-Wendell-Jr-Holmes-9342405-1-402
Not Sherlock; not Mycroft, just Oliver

2. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. The idea is carved in stone on the IRS building in DC., but let’s note that corporations do not pay taxes, they collect them.  If you think they do not, you are submitting to a distraction. Dollar$ hastens to explain that citizens are consumers. Tax us, and we bleed money. Bleeding, we consume or save less, neither of which are good things, though it does not follow consumers should not be taxed. Civilization is messy, but must be purchased. But to a corporation, taxes are a cost of doing business, like labor, supplies, and logistics.

Raise corporate tax rates, and corporations will only raise their prices.

Guess who pays the difference?

Today’s  Lesson

Remember, friends, we cannot pursue social justice by confiscating wealth. We can, however:

  • Limit executive compensation by law to some multiple of the lowest worker in an organization;
  • Create progressive income tax brackets that limit the shift of American wealth to the rich from the poor;
  • Lower repatriation taxes so that companies that keep their money off-shore are encouraged to bring it home where they can invest in more factories and create jobs here–better to collect 15 percent of something than 30 percent of nothing;
  • Demand that higher education is a matter of national security, and so to insure the blessings of liberty are  free to all;
  • To insure the blessings of liberty on ourselves and our posterity, give tax breaks to organizations that train employees instead of demanding that future employees borrow so much money to gain perceived needed skills that students have no choice except a life of indentured servitude;
  • Regulate publicly traded corporations by disallowing aggregation of profits as cash without paying shareholder dividends, a means to share in that profit. Can we stop the nonsense that hoarding cash is good corporate financial strategy when all it does is spike share prices that are subsequently used to calculate executive performance compensation? (Are you listening Apple Computer?)
  • Return to personal income tax rates that  reflect the needs of our society. Under Eisenhower, we built the interstate highway system and taxed marginal income as much as 92 percent.

We don’t have to throw the game board in the air to start over again: all we need to do is play by the rules.

DEMONIZE THE OTHER GUY

In Business, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, TAXES on December 4, 2017 at 5:50 pm
screwed1

Citizen

Dollar$ sadly notes that social media has reduced American political discourse into rabidly demonizing the other guy. I wish we could say Dollar$ is surprised.

If you dislike the proposed tax bill, it cannot be that in 500+ pages there is not a line or page you admire. If you admire the new tax bill, it cannot be the in 500+ pages there is not a page that is wrong-headed.

Here’s a challenge: call your representative and ask him or her what he or she likes (or dislikes) about the bill. Make them reverse field. Watch them cry.

Real-world logic allows for conversation and (gulp) compromise. Instead, we see Republicans who simply walked away from their responsibilities for the final year of President Obama’s tenure and refused to act on anything at all; we now have Democrats who think what citizens want is for them to do the same, to get even.

You know, like a kid in a school yard with a grudge.

Wake up, ladies and gentlemen who  represent us—none of us voted for you to do that.

Is it any wonder that Congressional approval ratings linger under 15%? Think of it, 6 of 7 Americans think their representatives are a bunch of horses’ asses.

Guess who is getting screwed?

Congress at work.

Congress at work

WUBBA-WUBBA – IT’S TAXES!!!!

In Business, Economy, EDUCATION, TAXES on December 2, 2017 at 1:57 pm

Monster1My friends (Dollar$ has a few) who are academics are running in small circles and tearing at their hair because both tax plans coming from Congress will require graduate students to declare their free tuition as real dollar income. Sesame Street’s Grover would respond to stress by running in small circles and tearing at his hair while crying “Wubba Wubba.”

Maybe the blue Muppet is a professor.
Academics aren’t as smart as Muppets, so we should charitably give them a bit of latitude. Many seem to believe that graduate education in America is done, another victim of a vengeful carrot-topped president who despises anyone with an IQ above room temperature.

But the same folks who picket and bemoan how their institutions exploit graduate students and adjuncts should be celebrating this tax reform.

Glad you asked. Let’s think before we run in circles and cry, “Wubba-Wubba.”

Suppose (God forbid) you are the president of Big Ass University (BAU), a research institution. Down in the labs they are doing unspeakable things to rats and monkeys; in the Humanities they are lying on tattered divans reading books, rising only to apply for grants to allow them to lie on European divans read European books; every two or three years the faculty reorganize the required curriculum to reflect the newest political orthodoxy. As the head honcho at BAU, you spend most of your time gazing at the blueprints for the next architectural triumph that will mark your legacy, residence halls to rival the Marriott, gymnasia, and perhaps a library, albeit one with as few books as possible insofar as the digital age puts texts and other documents in the hands of students’ smartphones. Books are high maintenance; get rid of them and you can be rid of librarians, as well. The renderings of these oncoming innovations hang on the walls near your office, granting you bragging rights before a single spade of earth is turned. The local construction unions have gifted you with a decorative hardhat.

Your most difficult chore is to staff several thousand classrooms with teachers. It’s a real challenge. The people who write checks to BAU have come to expect something more than a 4-year cruise with aerobics, bull sessions, and yoga classes.

Your noteworthy faculty would prefer to remain unmolested by such niceties. Their important research absorbs their time, so they heartily endorse a system that brings your cheap labor to the front of lecture halls. You hire that cheap labor by paying with scrip, that scrip being free tuition and fee waivers that cannot be ported to any institution other than your own. They can’t pay the butcher with it; they can’t pay a landlord for some close-to-campus vermin infested hovel. The resemblance to the Company Store in a 1930s coal town in West Virginia to BAU should evade no Dollar$ readers.

Note carefully, the dollar value of their pay is calculated by you and has little or nothing to do with their time, labor, or even intelligence—it is a figure calculated by what you are NOT collecting.

Now up steps the Fed with its infernal new tax plan. The Fed will insist your employees declare the scrip that you give them to be income, just like they expect you to declare your limo, clothing allowance, and the two cellphones that come with the job. The Fed now expects to extract taxes from graduate student income in the same way.

How will you ever staff those classes?

PAY THEM WHAT THEY ARE WORTH!

If your professors can earn $100,000 by teaching six or eight classes in a year, they are earning at least $12,500 per class. If a graduate teaching assistant teaches 2 sections in Fall, 2 more in Spring, and 2 more in Summer, at $12, 500 per section, they are good for a salary of $75,000 per year.

What? You say that’s too much? That graduate teaching assistants were meant to be exploited? Wasn’t that you Dollars$ saw on the picket line demanding equal pay for equal work?

What? You fear people will stop going to graduate school and so to cover lower division classes BAU will have to create more tenure-track jobs??? How will adjuncts in dead-end careers stand it? Job openings????

Wubba-wubba, wubba wubba wubba..

CONSPIRACY THEORY

In Business, Economics, Economy, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, Wall Street on February 12, 2016 at 1:09 pm
Janet Yellen

Wizard-in-Chief

Dollar$, always eager to explain the inexplicable world of Finance, that realm in which Wall Street Wizards and Corporate Buccaneers run rampant in their never-ending struggle to own, pervert, master, and control Political Weasels, has developed a theory.

 

Why should Plain Money Talk  be any different from every other blog?

 FACTS

2015 saw:

  • unemployment drop to new lows,
  • minimum wage adjusted up,
  • auto sales rise to recent highs,
  • home sales rise to recent highs with no speculative bubble,
  • the cost of gasoline and heating oil sink to new lows,
  • the United States become an oil exporter.

The Fed is so concerned at all this good news that Janet Yellen has begun to tighte credit, a tactic employed to throttle growth and forestall inflation. Yes, the Wizard-in-Chief, Janet Yellen, is worried things are too good.

Some apologist is sure to point out that the second largest economy in the world, China, is hurting. Dollar$ will give that point of view some quick attention.

CHINA

China’s weakening economy should mean the cost of living in the US will drop, meaning you and I will have more money in our pockets to pay off debt or buy more stuff, everything from furniture to T-shirts at Wal-Mart. The US – China trade balance is heavily weighted toward China—the US imports far more goods from China than China imports from the US. If those good become less expensive, the American consumer benefits. This does NOT harm American business.  Maintaining profit margins at lower prices is easy to do. The cost of commodities the world over is dropping because of the slowdown in Chinese demand. Commodities are the stuff that comes out of the ground from tin to lumber and to gold, the stuff from which everything else is made. Everything should be getting cheaper. Every time Wizards predict that Apple will stop selling iPhones in Shanghai, Apple sells another few million units, but at a lesser price. With inexpensive gasoline, Citizens will be driving  to Disneyworld this year, and they will be able to afford the Mouse’s uptick in prices.

This phenomenon confounds the Wizards., who have learned that bad predictions are clickbait, and clicks drive revenues. No one watches CNN until the shit hits the fan and the shelter under the table grows crowded and cramped.

In the face of positive economic news, the US stock market should be soaring. Instead, the Dow-Jones average has stepped off a cliff in 2016, shedding 2,000 points in 8 weeks, more than a trillion dollars worth of value has been erased from the books.

THE CONSPIRACY

Cui bono?

For the past 30 years,  at every presidential election, commentators complained of the choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. But this year, it ain’t so.

weasel candidates in days of yore.

US Presidential Candidates Since 1964

 

This year, on the one hand, we have a wealthy, self-funded foul-mouthed injudicious narcissist celebrity never elected to anything anywhere who is much favored by people who have felt disenfranchised for a generation. On the other hand, we have a New York Jew now from Vermont who has never accepted a dime from Buccaneers or Wizards. An older man, his followers are youth because he demands payback from the banks and companies who were too big to fail and in the past 20 years have sucked the economy dry, indenturing students with education debt. On the third hand, we have a woman who is indebted to the old politics, and on the fourth hand, we have a clown car of interchangeable Republicans who lacking economic issues promise to disallow what your neighbors do in their bedrooms while coyly ignoring that for those promises to be fulfilled they will have to rollback several Supreme Court decisions by what by any account has been a conservative court.

Dollar$ sees the common threat. The two leading candidates are not in thrall to Wizard or Buccaneers. Should either get elected, the summer house in the Hamptons, the private jet, and the 10-room Manhattan  condo are all in jeopardy.

How to dissuade Citizens from voting for either?

Scare the piss out of them. Scare the piss out of them by manipulating stock prices downward. It’s only temporary, and it’s not as tricky as it sounds.

  • Claim good news is bad.
  • Threaten us with defunded pensions, evaporating college savings, and the elimination of savings toward the American Dream, a house.
  • Imply that unless Citizens vote the status quo and allow rapacious policies to continue, grass will grow on Main Street as economic activity collapses.

The stock markets should be soaring, but never forget that 90 percent of all trading is electronic and that computer algorithms engage in a global battle to take advantage of a quarter point’s worth of arbitrage. There is no longer any such thing as investor sentiment. As they now say in Wizard country, My algorithm can beat up your algorithm!

Fear is the most potent means of keeping the harridans out of the White House. Without the creation of synthetic Terror, Weasel Business As Usual will come to a halt.

O the horror!

 

PARANOIA STRIKE DEEP

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, Wall Street on January 27, 2016 at 5:20 pm

WIZARD OF FINANCE

Suppose the financial community is conspiring to collapse the stock market.  I mean, just suppose.

Heavens to Murgatroyd! Why would they do that???

Glad you asked.

Since the only reason financial Wizards do anything is for more profit, Dollar$ in a fever of dread will outline the conspiracy scenario for you.

Dollar$ notes that Republicans Weasels, who represent monied interests, have no issue on which to run for the America presidency. They can manufacture some issues, but the American economy have just enjoyed:

  • plummeting energy costs
  • record automobile sales
  • the lowest unemployment in a decade
  • a rising minimum wage
  • rising home sales
  • a strong dollar
  • and the completion of a tax year that allowed investors to book profits with a Dow-Jones Industrial Average at an all time high.

Now that the record-breaking year is over, it is time to hammer stocks and terrify Citizens. Citizens  who believe the economy and the stock market are the same thing are sadly vulnerable. If the Wizards and Buccaneers can delude enough Citizens into believing the United States is in trouble, they might not vote for a Democrat!!!

screwed1

Citizen

There is no rational reason to think the US economy is troubled. Nor is there something called “market sentiment,” that outmoded fiction contradicted by the fact that 90 percent of all market volume is done by computers at the speed of light. Market perturbations are in fact a contest among algorithms.

Nor is the charade fooling the Fed—which refused to raise interest rates again today. Grass will not be growing in the streets of every American village any time soon. There is not coming financial collapse.

We are not even in the midst of a contraction.

What we’ve got is a bunch of rapacious bastards willing to endure paper losses for a half year in hopes of assuring future revenues and the continuation of the financial environment that enriches very few by squeezing the rest of us.

Call me paranoid.

END THE WAR ON YOUTH!

In Business, Economy, EDUCATION, Political Economy, Politics on January 9, 2015 at 3:31 pm
Home of the Weasel in Chief

Home of the Weasel in Chief

The White House is catching up to Dollar$ thought-leadership. President Obama yesterday tested the waters to float the idea—community college education should be free. Dollar$ is way ahead of the West Wing on this one, but admits it is nice to know we are being read at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the West Wing and Oval Office.

Last May, Dollar$ wrote,

So with apologies to followers of Senator Elizabeth Warren other well-intentioned Weasels and the legions of Wizards ever-eager to brew a new potion of loan and grant combination to foist on youth, Dollar$ maintains the solution is not to make higher education “affordable.”

The solution is to champion higher education as an entitlement.
Education must be free….

Access to two years of higher education is a right of every citizen.

The program is necessary for the preservation of our democracy, the maintenance of our standard of living, and to liberate forthcoming generations from a lifetime of debt.”

Now is the time.

The Right's Leadership at Work

The Right’s Leadership at Work

The Republican-controlled House and Senate should endorse this one, provided no one is stupid enough to present this as some populist giveaway. Nothing marshals the Blue Meanies faster than the word “entitlement,” but the fact is that expanding our notion of minimal education to include skills and knowledge through the 14th grade makes good economic sense.

  • For more than a decade, Business leaders have bemoaned the American workforce lacks necessary skills.
  • For more than a decade, Business leaders have outsourced training to American education.
  • For more than a century, the American Education sector has been a worldwide draw: sure, there are universities all over the world, but the best and brightest come here from Russia, Japan, China, and anywhere they can scrape together tuition.

If we go forward with this no-brainer, we will prosper. If we fail… well, it’s back on the road to Palookaville.

The Dollar$ Lowdown

What do we suppose will happen if the first two years of higher education can be had for free?  If the academic credits can be transferred to four-year institutions, only the arrogant rich will continue to send their off-spring to four-year institutions at $50-75,000 per year.  Harvard and Yale won’t starve, but say a prayer for Old State U.  How will the pale Ivies, the Tufts, William and Marys, Swarthmores, and Macalesters compete if they have cohorts of potential students showing up at the door with half their education already paid for?  Who’d pay for four years when you can get two for free at a community college, and then finish up a bachelors degree elsewhere?

Colleges and universities will need to become more productive and control costs, but currently have no incentive to do so.  The log-jam on student debt and college costs will finally break up. Buit if students are staying away in droves because there is a freebie at the local community college…..

Currently, 20-somethings can ill-afford houses, cars, and the other accouterments of middle class life because their credit sucks. Its not that they won’t pay it back, but if you start your working career owing the cost of a small condo, what hope is there they will become future consumers for big-ticket consumer items? Fun as they are, no one expects an economy to thrive on cellphones.  But if the first two years of higher education are free…..look at all that discretionary cash!

Finally, free education through the 14th grade not only will supply us with a solid professional class, it will revive the dying study of Humanities. At current prices, no one can afford a year or two exploring cosmic questions, but Literature, the Arts, and Philosophy may once again get a year of attention by those same students who now can no longer afford the luxury of thinking.

Unless we are intent on making war on youth, it is time to release that financial hammerlock on higher education, not only for relief  of youth, but for the good of our larger economy and way of life. Someone is sure to tell us we cannot afford this, but the real fact is we cannot afford NOT to do this

 

DEFLATION, OIL PANIC, AND THE SKIDS #2

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance on January 8, 2015 at 10:05 am
imagesHI5F8ZBL

Is the past our future?

 

 

Dollar$ gazes at the skid in oil prices and asks:  Does the precipitous drop in oil prices presage a worldwide deflationary spiral? Is the world economy contracting so as to calcify economic activity?

In a word: No.

No one will be selling apples on the street any time soon.

 

Oil.

Oil is a commodity, which is to say, like lumber, cattle, gold, and copper, it comes out of the ground to be used to create more sophisticated products like jet fuel, gasoline, nylon, and plastic. Like all commodities, oil’s price is strictly set by supply and demand, a fact less true for many goods and service where supply and demand can be artificially manipulated.

Hatless in the cold.

Hatless in the cold.

Slide11-1024x767

The entire Marketing industry, Prevaricating for Profit,  is devoted to creating false demand. When in 1933 Clark Gable wore no undershirt, the men’s underwear business went into a tailspin. John Kennedy in 1960 insisted on wearing no hat when he spoke at his presidential inauguration; the men’s hat industry has never recovered.

To be sure, hats and undershirts are not commodities. Their worth changes as a matter of fashion, not supply and demand.

OPEC

OPEC is the international oil cartel that has controlled oil’s supply for a generation, but the game changer is a recent innovation. Fracking, it turns out, is cheap enough and ideal in north central United States and southern Canada.

The cartel is losing its grip. The US is going from oil importer to oil exporter. To compete for those petro-dollars, OPEC and especially Saudi Arabia can no longer manipulate supply, but pumped as much as it could. Supply soared. Oil has become a glut on the market.

But at $40 per barrel, fracking becomes uneconomic.  Make no mistake, OPEC would like to see a price for oil that once again leaves OPEC as the only game in town. If that means bankrupting oil exporters not part of the cartel, such as Russia, so be it.

Bye-Bye Putin!

Winners in a Price War

It’s an old-fashioned price war, nothing more. As with all price wars, consumers benefit. Estimates put as much as $1,500 per year in the pockets of ordinary American citizens.

Never forget that the US economy is consumer driven—we like to spend on stuff because we are blessed to be in a places where there is stuff to buy. Expect discretionary products to fly out of stores. That new refrigerator is coming home soon.

The demand for stuff made in the USA will increase in the USA; expect hiring. Elsewhere, not so much because that strong dollar will make US goods seem expensive.

When you read dry-mouthed dire predictions of European disaster because hard-working Germans are tired of supporting spend-thrift Greeks, remember that the GDP of Greece is about 25 percent of New Jersey’s GDP. The drama is interesting, but the world economy is not going down any drain in Athens.

Since the US is an oil exporter, the US dollar grows stronger every day. Would you rather own dollars or euros?  You can’t pay for US oil with euros–it’s really not a choice. For the American consumer, tourist destinations overseas that were prohibitively expensive last year are going to seem to be on sale. Book the flight! Greece needs you money!

Big US oil consumers can lower their prices and still make big profits. Airlines and cruise lines will soon compete on price, instead of competing on service.

Losers.

What’s that Binky? You ask who are the losers? You ask why the stock market plummets with  the price of oil?

Well, oil companies aren’t happy. Along with Big Oil  the losers are the very rich, the institutions and people that had been positioned to enjoy high oil prices. Sheiks and hedge funds are madly selling to gather cash, the better to buy US stocks  when they believe oil prices have bottomed, which will be about $43 per barrel which is where OPEC can comfortably reinstate its hegemony. Much higher than that, and North Dakota gets rich–again.

So the stock market plunge does not presage a deflation spiral, but it seem that for a while we can expect a new set of winners.

DEFLATION, OIL PANIC, AND THE SKIDS #1

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance on January 7, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Ever aware that Dollar$ primary mission is to educate and only occasionally pontificate, let’s talk about prosperity, gloom, and deflation.

Economic activity is based on expectations. You buy your new car because you expect you will need it before the old jalopy breaks down completely; you buy health insurance because you expect you will someday, somehow, need it; you buy baseball tickets in January because you expect to go to  the game in April.

Balance means stable prices.

Balance means stable prices.

Prosperity

Shared expectations influence supply and demand, and therefore influence prices. If International Widget (IW) expects to sell many widgets in the forthcoming year, it will hasten to make more widgets, perhaps borrowing money to increase productivity. Under the expectation of prosperity, IW may hire more workers, and if long-term expectations are high, IW may even build a brand new, more efficient widget plant.  If widget demand increases even beyond IW’s ability to create supply, the widget shortage will drive the price of widgets higher. IW will respond by increasing volume and price, reap profits, pay dividends, employ yet more people, give key employees wage increases, and the Buccaneers who direct IW may pay themselves  bonuses that look like telephone numbers, including area codes. They will buy Caribbean islands or condos in Manhattan.  The spiral upward is called an inflationary spiral; rising prices are not terrifying if wages and employment keep pace.

Gloom

saupload_The-Deflationary-SpiralBut suppose IW’s best leadership expects the market for widgets is spiraling downward. Perhaps there are insurmountable problems in the supply chain. Perhaps bankers are unwilling to part with loan money for fear of never getting paid back. Rather than pay people for playing pinochle while their widget machines stand idle, 10 percent of the IW workforce is fired. The Manhattan condo market freezes, and the IW private jet makes fewer flights to the Caribbean. The price of widgets will plunge because the people who use widgets know that to meet the slowdown, IW will cut prices and hope to make up in volume what they are losing in price. The spiral down is called deflation; falling prices are not terrifying if they are gradual and do not continue for any great length of time.

The gloom and prosperity scenarios are the ordinary stuff of economic life, but Dollar$ readers only need to bear in mind that in both cases today’s economic decisions are made based on expectations of tomorrow’s conditions.

The Past

The general tone of American economic life for more than 20 years has been cautious optimism because the range of change in economic life has been modest, sure, and steady. Sure, there have been bubbles and crashes, but there is a reason that in 20 years the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen 400 percent, from roughly 4,000 to today’s levels well above 16,000. Call it the Goldilocks Economy—it’s neither too hot nor too cold, but is just right.

Home invader and thief, but she knows what she likes.

Home invader and thief, but she knows what she likes.

But America has suffered an extended deflationary spiral, a decade’s worth in the 1930s called The Great Depression. Despite interest rates at virtual zero for most of a decade, from 1992 to 2000, Japan has been in a deflationary spiral.

Playing the expectations game, in an inflationary spiral you spend or invest your money as fast as you can. After all, everything will probably be more expensive tomorrow. It’s best to buy your house, car, 100 shares of IW, or personal jet today.

But in a deflationary spiral, the expectations game makes cash King. What fool would spend a dollar today when the cost of the item tomorrow will be $.90?  But wait… suppose it will drop to $.75? Or $.60?

Where’s my Magic 8-Ball when I need it?eight_ball

What Now?

Does the slide in the price of oil herald of worldwide deflation?

Dollar$ will weigh in soon.

IT’S BOOM TIMES IN AMERICA

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Personal Finance, Political Economy, Wall Street on December 23, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Dollar$ is back after an absence: the rarest thing is cyberspace is a blog with nothing to say. But it is time.

Many a financial prognosticator makes a living by predicting gloom and doom. People like a good scare. The problem is, this is no time to be terrified.

Things have never been better. There, I said it.

The oil price war going on between OPEC and the US is about market share. Oh, and be sure to understand it is a price war. Sweaty Wizards will call it a collapse in the market, but OPEC and the US are going toe to toe to own exports to China and Europe.

The beneficiary of this price war are Citizens. We are usually screwed, but we also put gasoline in our SUVs and warm our homes in winter.

It’s boom times in America. That’s no equivocation. It is fact.

Citizen

Citizen

Once again innovative technology befuddled Malthusian nitwits. We are not running out of natural resources before next week. Movies based on this mythology, notably the Mad Max series with Mel Gibson, were based on the popular notion that civilization would collapse for lack of energy resources. It had to be true. Didn’t Tina Turner sing about it?

Thomas Malthus, an early Wizard, in 1798 predicted the world would eventually starve because while population increased geometrically, food supplies could only increase arithmetically.

Ponder that as you sink your teeth onto your next pizza. Get it gluten-free, if you must, and but note no people driving are dune buggies across the desert and warring for women except in the wanker fantasies of adolescent boys.

Frack!

Frack is not a profanity left over from Battlestar Galactica.

Now it happens that fracking to withdraw oil from shale is a process more expensive than simple drilling, so if you were a Saudi Arabian sheikh and terrified that the US was about to once again become an oil exporter, you’d be hoping to squeeze those Allah-be-damned cowboys in North Dakota out of business. You’d drive the price down. You’d drive the price down by producing more oil than the world needs. You’d create a glut of dead dinosaur juice and put it on the open market at prices not seen in a decade.

You’d not-so-incidentally screw over Iraq and Iran, two places where fundamentalist loons pack their asses with C4 and wish they had atomic bombs for atomic bums. It’s not polite to say ill of those loons, but no one expects Saudi Arabia any time soon to invite fundamentalists into the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Since Iran and Iraq have nothing to offer their populations, they feed them a steady diet of hatred for Israel, far less nourishing than building an economy, but also far easier. The chief exports of the region–other than petroleum–are pistachio nuts.

You accept a little civil unrest to stay in power, so instead of throwing the rascals out, the legions of unemployed fire automatic weapons into the air, lately killing each other in a contest to see who is crazier to keep 21st century mores away from people who have never experienced the Enlightenment, keep their women kept covered, and, because vagina’s are dangerous and mysterious, still ritually mutilate their daughters.

The OPEC strategy is to make fracking too expensive. Pump oil, pump more oil, keep pumping oil. The cost of a barrel of liquid dinosaur has dropped 40% in months!

Meanwhile, the US consumer will pocket about $500 per year not being spent on gasoline. They’ll spend that cash at restaurants, Disneyworld, at the movies, maybe buy that new refrigerator—all those products called consumer discretionaries. We will enjoy this for a while.  Cruise liners should be lowering prices; so should airlines. Buy stock—don’t be a dope. It’s boom times in  America.

Wizards, a timid lot for whom equivocation is a habit, at first believed the drop in oil was the harbinger of evil, the precursor of worldwide deflation. They advised the very rich, the kinds of people who throw billions at hedge funds, to sell. If everything was about to get cheaper, you’d want cash, too. World markets wobbled, but quickly recovered.

Wizards are still advising caution, but anyone attuned to Wizard-Speak will note how often the words, if, may, and perhaps show up in Wizard epistles. “Yes, we at Binkwater Investments are fairly sure that if the markets don’t go down, they may go up. Make your check payable to Binkwater! Subscribe to our newsletter!”

Deflation is indeed evil, but note, too, that Wizards hate the US Weasel in Chief. That sumbitch won’t deregulate! There’s money to be made, dammit, and just because we nearly bankrupted the world economy in 2007, that sumbitch won’t forgive and forget!  Wizards would choke before publically taking note that  the US economy is just grew 5% in a single quarter, faster than any time in the past eleven years, that employment is going up, and that consumers have all just gotten a bonus in the form of cheap oil. The stock market is at record highs.

It’s hard to find bad news for American investors.

True, the US economy is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the world. China’s growth rate is slowing; Japan’s is still flat-lining, Europe may be in trouble.

In other words, the market for oil is adjusting to world economies that need lower prices while the only place in the world offering significant growth and low risk is the United States.

Call it American Exceptionalism.