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Caroline Baum: The economic rebound is impressive, but we’re still deep in the hole
Posted: June 18, 2020 at 07:20 AM (Thursday)

It’s going to take many years of digging to get GDP back to its pre-pandemic level. The hits just keep on coming. First came the stunning 2.5 million increase in non-arm payrolls for May, a 10 million forecast miss by economists looking for a huge decline. May’s record increase followed April’s record decline of 20.7 million jobs. Then came ...

Caroline Baum: How much more hand-holding from the Fed does the market really need?
Posted: June 9, 2020 at 01:45 PM (Tuesday)

The Fed shouldn’t give forward guidance because it doesn’t know when a change in policy will be needed. Some commentators are pressing the Federal Reserve for more specific guidance — forward guidance, that is — at the conclusion of the two-day meeting on Wednesday. It’s not clear why more hand-holding is needed or warranted — or even advisable. ...

Caroline Baum: Getting back to normal just got a lot harder for the U.S. economy
Posted: June 4, 2020 at 06:45 AM (Thursday)

Protests could curtail spending, slowing the fragile recovery. Just as states across the country were embarking on a phased-in reopening of their economies, along came sometimes violent protests to upend the hoped-for gradual return to normalcy. The U.S. economy doesn’t need another superlative in its cap. It already has several: the ...

Caroline Baum: What a great time to start a new business
Posted: May 28, 2020 at 07:11 AM (Thursday)

It may sound counterintuitive, but some of our strongest companies were forged during hard times. It may seem counterintuitive, but downturns and bear markets present an opportunity for entrepreneurs to start a new business. Why? Because the “uncertainty” that traditional businesses, not to mention financial markets, reputedly hate, isn’t an ...

Caroline Baum: This time, it won’t take long for the recession to be called officially
Posted: May 20, 2020 at 07:03 AM (Wednesday)

Even for cautious business-cycle historians, there’s no doubt that March was the end of the longest-ever expansion. Assuming recently released economic data and projections for the U.S. economy going forward are reasonably accurate, it seems likely that March 2020 will mark the official onset of recession following the longest expansion on ...

Caroline Baum: With unemployment at depression levels, even all the Fed’s money printing can’t muster much inflation
Posted: May 12, 2020 at 02:44 PM (Tuesday)

Consumer prices have increased just 0.3% in the past year. The collapse in demand means lower prices for many items. Even as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and Great Shutdown manifests itself in the economic data, some economists are already warning that the Federal Reserve’s aggressive money-printing operation is laying the ...

Caroline Baum: Services led us into the recession. What’s going to lead us out?
Posted: May 7, 2020 at 07:05 AM (Thursday)

The economy can’t come back until consumers feel safe. The Great Shutdown, which aptly describes the motivating force behind the current recession, ushered in what is probably the first downturn in history to be led by the services sector of the economy. That in itself, if not the unique nature of the recession — workers ordered to stay ...

Caroline Baum: The wrong take-away from the coronavirus pandemic leads to a scary place
Posted: April 23, 2020 at 06:05 AM (Thursday)

An America that isolates itself from the world would be a poorer America. The coronavirus pandemic could not have happened at a worse time, coinciding as it did with the rise of populism and anti-globalization sentiment. A highly contagious virus plays right into the hands of a U.S. president who is exploiting the public’s fears to promote ...

Caroline Baum: Forget the V-shaped recovery: The economy won’t bounce back quickly
Posted: April 8, 2020 at 06:48 AM (Wednesday)

The scars from shutting down the economy are apt to linger. Recessions characterized by a sharp deceleration in economic growth are often followed by a sharp acceleration. Hence, the origin of the nomenclature a “V-shaped recovery.” Given the sudden, severe and exogenous nature of the current downturn, the onset of which will likely be dated ...

Caroline Baum: Trump’s right! There’s never been anything like this before
Posted: March 31, 2020 at 09:38 AM (Tuesday)

From 3 million layoffs to record moves in the stock market, the last few weeks truly have been unprecedented, as President Trump always claims. Whether it’s the U.S. economy or the stock market or any of his administration’s initiatives, President Donald Trump is quick to assert, ad nauseum, that “there’s never been anything like it before.” ...

Caroline Baum: Seeking refuge from coronavirus on an island? Think again
Posted: March 25, 2020 at 09:16 AM (Wednesday)

Please stay away! Martha’s Vineyard urges summer residents to stay home for now. That is the message contained in a joint statement released by Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Nantucket Cottage Hospital posted by the Steamship Authority, which runs ferry service to and from the two islands situated off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass. The ...

Caroline Baum: Stop using the word 'stimulus’ — Washington must provide life support
Posted: March 20, 2020 at 02:03 PM (Friday)

Businesses and workers need cash to pay their bills until the economy can revive. The Trump administration has asked Congress for an additional $1 trillion in aid for American households and businesses on the heels of two fiscal stimulus measures already enacted. But to think of these efforts, including free coronavirus testing, paid sick ...

Caroline Baum: Fed injects a big dose, but it’s got the wrong medicine for the coronavirus pandemic
Posted: March 16, 2020 at 01:09 PM (Monday)

Traditional stimulus won’t work when consumers don’t want to go out and spend. Twelve days that shook the world and drove the Federal Reserve to decisive action. Alas, traditional monetary-policy medicine may not be up to the task of addressing a pandemic that has disrupted financial markets and shut down large swaths of the economy. After ...

Caroline Baum: Bernie is wrong: It’s better to make the poor richer than to make the rich poorer
Posted: March 10, 2020 at 07:47 AM (Tuesday)

Redistributing wealth doesn’t help the economy get bigger. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont is forever railing against “millionaires and billionaires.” “I don’t think that billionaires should exist,” Sanders said when he unveiled his wealth-tax proposal in September. Just think of all those n’er-do-well rich folks ...

Caroline Baum: If the economy is in 'a good place,’ then why are interest rates so low?
Posted: March 3, 2020 at 02:35 PM (Tuesday)

Could 0% interest rates be just around the corner? Two hours after the Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank governors issued a joint statement declaring their readiness to take action to support the economy in the face of risks from the coronavirus, the Federal Reserve pulled the trigger, lowering its benchmark rate by 50 ...

Caroline Baum: Why the Fed can’t defend the economy against the coronavirus outbreak
Posted: February 26, 2020 at 12:15 PM (Wednesday)

Rate cuts are effective against weak demand — not shocks to global supply. Financial markets have stepped up their expectations for interest rate cuts in recent days as fears of a global pandemic finally rocked the heretofore ebullient U.S. stock market. Federal funds futures are putting the odds of at least one 25-basis-point rate cut by June ...

Caroline Baum: Could Apple be the canary in the coal mine for coronavirus?
Posted: February 19, 2020 at 06:00 AM (Wednesday)

Markets have been too optimistic about how much COVID-19 will hurt U.S. companies and the economy. On Monday, Apple became one of the first U.S. companies to warn that it would miss its current-quarter revenue target as a result of the coronavirus, which has constrained iPhone production and curtailed demand for its products in China. Until ...

Caroline Baum: We’ll need more entrepreneurs if we want to grow at 3%
Posted: February 14, 2020 at 07:01 AM (Friday)

Congress finally has a bipartisan group working on maximizing start-ups. There was a lot of eye-rolling when President Donald Trump released his 2021 budget on Monday with its predictions for 3% growth for the foreseeable future. If only that were possible. An economy’s growth potential is circumscribed by the growth in the labor force and ...

Caroline Baum: Stock market adopts a 'what, me worry?’ attitude toward coronavirus threat
Posted: February 6, 2020 at 06:11 AM (Thursday)

A market for risky assets now acts more like a safe haven, knowing the Fed has its back. It was only last week that China’s rapidly spreading coronavirus was sending tremors through world financial markets. On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 603 points, or 2.1%, its biggest one-day loss since August. China’s stock ...

Caroline Baum: The Fed is complacent; the bond market is not
Posted: January 30, 2020 at 08:13 AM (Thursday)

The yield curve is about to invert again, and the Fed is fine with that. U.S. Treasury note and bond yields have been falling for over a month to levels last seen in October. On the surface, it would appear that external events may have been the catalyst for the rush into super-safe Treasurys, sending the yield curve toward inversion ...

Caroline Baum: Davos elites warm to Trump, recoiling at the prospect of a Sanders or Warren presidency
Posted: January 23, 2020 at 06:38 AM (Thursday)

The Democratic presidential candidates pose more of a threat to the powerful and wealthy than Trump does. Armed with two newly signed trade deals, U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Davos and was greeted, if not exactly as a hero then at least not as the pariah he was in 2018. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that Trump may be the ...

Caroline Baum: Inflation may be muffled, but the business cycle isn’t dead yet
Posted: January 15, 2020 at 10:56 AM (Wednesday)

Biggest risk to the expansion would be a financial crisis fueled by animal spirits and excessive credit. The longest economic expansion on record. A 10th year of solid, if not spectacular, job growth. An unemployment rate at half-century lows. No sign of wage or price pressures. All of which tempts one to ask: Is the business cycle dead? ...

Caroline Baum: Five things that could go wrong in 2020 to upend the U.S. economic expansion
Posted: January 2, 2020 at 08:19 AM (Thursday)

The economy is in a good place, but risks abound, from a stock market reversal to geopolitical issues. The U.S. economy enters 2020 with a head of steam. OK, if not an all-powerful thrust, then enough to keep it humming at a 2% real rate of growth, which is estimated to be the economy’s potential. Recession fears, triggered by the ...

Caroline Baum: What’s propelling stocks higher? Not the Fed’s balance-sheet expansion
Posted: December 26, 2019 at 11:38 AM (Thursday)

Ultra-low interest rates in the developed world play a bigger role than the Fed’s Treasury bill purchases. In October, when the Federal Reserve announced that it would begin buying Treasury bills to increase the size of its balance sheet, the burning question was: Is the Fed restarting quantitative easing? The Fed insists that the current ...

Caroline Baum: The Fed should be careful when it wishes for more inflation
Posted: December 18, 2019 at 06:10 AM (Wednesday)

What makes Fed policy makers so sure that they could bring inflation rates back down again? The Federal Reserve has been trying, without much success, to raise the inflation rate to its 2% target ever since the central bank designated an explicit target in 2012. Both actual inflation, as measured by the personal consumption expenditures ...

Caroline Baum: For the stock market, impeachment is just a sideshow
Posted: December 12, 2019 at 09:28 AM (Thursday)

Bond and stock investors are focused on the economy, trade and the Fed. Do stock and bond markets care about impeachment? The short answer is “no.” The stock market is preoccupied with the status of trade negotiations, at least as portrayed by the media, between the U.S. and China over a phase-one deal that would provide some tax relief to ...

Caroline Baum: Don’t be too quick to give the economy the all-clear signal
Posted: December 4, 2019 at 06:10 AM (Wednesday)

Recession risk abates, but there are plenty of reasons to be cautious. The U.S. stock market is near all-time highs, the unemployment rate is near 50-year lows, the Federal Reserve reduced interest rates by 75 basis points in a three-month time period, and the yield curve has un-inverted. So all’s right with the world, or at least the U.S., ...

Caroline Baum: Stock market’s optimism about trade deal amounts to just a hill of (soy)beans
Posted: November 26, 2019 at 05:51 AM (Tuesday)

U.S. and China remain far apart on the biggest issues. Anyone who follows the stock market, or at least the commentary on the stock market, knows that “trade optimism” has been a key factor underpinning the recent sprint to new highs for all the major U.S. equity indexes. Any intimation that even a limited phase-one trade deal between the U.S. ...

Caroline Baum: Another rate cut, and then what? The Fed isn’t making any promises
Posted: October 28, 2019 at 05:48 AM (Monday)

Keeping its options open is better than closing the door on more easing. The Federal Reserve is widely expected to lower its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday by 25 basis points to a range of 1.5%-1.75%, the third such cut in three months. The fed funds futures market puts the probability at 94%. That same financial futures market is ...

Caroline Baum: Democratic rivals try to bring Elizabeth Warren back down to earth
Posted: October 17, 2019 at 09:29 AM (Thursday)

Former front-runner Joe Biden gets a pass on his son’s Ukraine connection. If you had missed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s ascent to front-runner status in the Democratic presidential polls, it was everywhere apparent at Tuesday night’s debate, where her rivals came after her with guns a-blazing. In previous debates, Warren had dodged ...

Caroline Baum: Trump says economy is the 'greatest,’ Powell says it’s in a 'good place,’ but both are wrong
Posted: October 10, 2019 at 08:49 AM (Thursday)

How can an economy be ‘good’ if it needs lots of help to keep it stable? President Donald Trump says he’s presiding over “the greatest economy in the history of the U.S.” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says the economy is “in a good place.” Who’s right? Neither, actually, although Trump’s assessment — sometimes supported by a ...

Caroline Baum: The U.S. economy isn’t out of the woods yet
Posted: September 24, 2019 at 10:35 AM (Tuesday)

The economic data have improved, but plenty of risks remain. A funny thing happened on the way to the recession, which had been lightly penciled-in for sometime next year: the U.S. economic data showed a marked improvement. From housing starts and home sales to manufacturing production and jobless claims, the economic news last week was ...

Caroline Baum: Powell’s checklist spells out three risks the Fed must manage
Posted: September 17, 2019 at 11:28 AM (Tuesday)

If you want to know what Fed policy will be, watch global growth, the trade wars, and inflation. Alan Greenspan gave us his “risk management” approach to monetary policy. Jerome Powell has outlined the risks that need to be managed. In so doing, the current Federal Reserve chairman is offering both insights into the central bank’s ...

Caroline Baum: The true cost of social media
Posted: September 11, 2019 at 06:01 AM (Wednesday)

Twitter affects markets, Facebook affects elections, and it all affects the way we interact. Anyone who keeps one eye on the stock market and the other on President Donald Trump’s feed can tell you that the two have become highly correlated. And in this case, correlation implies causation. All it takes is a Trump tweet hinting at imminent ...

Caroline Baum: Consumers are carrying the economy; what if they balk?
Posted: September 4, 2019 at 09:34 AM (Wednesday)

Tariffs and trade wars are beginning to erode consumer confidence. The consumer literally carried the U.S. economy in the second quarter of 2019. While business and residential investment, net exports and inventories all declined, real personal consumption expenditures rose at a 4.7% annual rate, the largest increase in 4 1/2 years, ...

Caroline Baum: Former Fed official Dudley urges the Fed to play politics, and call Trump’s bluff
Posted: August 28, 2019 at 10:01 AM (Wednesday)

Why tit-for-tat monetary policy is a bad idea. There are times when the Federal Reserve has been accused of acting politically. For example, in 2016 Donald Trump chastised Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen for holding interest rates low to help President Barack Obama. Never, as far as I can tell, has a policy maker, current or former, encouraged ...

Caroline Baum: The Fed should heed the bond market and slash interest rates
Posted: August 22, 2019 at 09:05 AM (Thursday)

The markets convey vital information to guide the Fed. This week’s main event takes place on Friday, when Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell kicks off the Kansas City Fed’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Financial markets will be listening closely for hints about the near-term direction of monetary policy. How will ...

Caroline Baum: The trade war won’t kill the economic expansion, but the Fed might
Posted: August 15, 2019 at 06:00 AM (Thursday)

The real threat of a recession comes from the Fed’s failure to respond. The escalation in the U.S.-China trade war earlier this month raised the decibel level on recession talk from a whisper to a quiet conversation, if not elevating it to an outright forecast just yet. Would a full-blown trade war with China be enough to tip the U.S. ...

Caroline Baum: Trump’s new trade strategy targets the Fed
Posted: August 7, 2019 at 09:39 AM (Wednesday)

Trump wants lower interest rates. Period. To the extent that Donald Trump has had any kind of “trade strategy,” it was all about using tariffs to make imports more expensive and promote “Made in America, “Buy America.” Last week, the president hinted that there may be a new method to his madness. On Thursday, one day after the Federal ...

Caroline Baum: How to read between the lines of the Fed’s rate-cut statement
Posted: July 31, 2019 at 09:47 AM (Wednesday)

Powell’s Fed likely to be cautious and vague in signaling future moves. Unless you have been summering on the International Space Station, you should have heard that the Federal Reserve is planning to lower interest rates by 25 basis points at the conclusion of its two-day meeting on Wednesday. Financial futures markets have been telegraphing ...

Caroline Baum: Manufacturing isn’t the whole economy, but it’s important enough to get the Fed’s attention
Posted: July 24, 2019 at 02:02 PM (Wednesday)

Slump in factory sector points to risks to larger economy. Concerns about slowing economic growth in recent months have been centered on the manufacturing sector, a message telegraphed by both survey and hard data. For example, manufacturing output contracted in both the first and second quarters of this year, according to the Federal ...

Caroline Baum: Using level of long-term rates to assess financial conditions is a mistake
Posted: July 17, 2019 at 08:45 AM (Wednesday)

Right now, the inverted yield curve points to an increased risk of recession, while various financial conditions indexes say conditions are easy. The Fed risks misinterpreting financial conditions from long rates. Financial conditions are all the rage among central bankers. And for good reason. Monetary policy involves setting a short-term ...

Caroline Baum: Employment is a good — not perfect — indicator of economic growth
Posted: July 8, 2019 at 12:52 PM (Monday)

Peak in nonfarm payrolls usually coincides with peak in business cycle. That sound you heard on Friday was either a collective sigh of relief or the air leaking out of the stock market on news that the U.S. economy created 224,000 new jobs in June, part of a solid reading on the employment situation in the United States. The urgency for ...

Caroline Baum: Democrats promise the moon and the stars; CBO takes us back to Planet Earth
Posted: July 3, 2019 at 09:41 AM (Wednesday)

Expensive progressive policies could drive away moderate voters. While the first Democratic presidential debates were clearly not scheduled to coincide with the release of the Congressional Budget Office’s 2019 long-term budget outlook, their contemporaneous timing was instructive on many levels. At a time when the Democratic Party is ...

Caroline Baum: The 'new normal’ of slow growth is growing old, with no end in sight
Posted: June 26, 2019 at 01:24 PM (Wednesday)

GDP will be weak for years, absent a productivity miracle or comprehensive immigration reform. Ten years ago at their annual forum, executives at Pacific Management Investment Co. coined the phrase the “new normal” to describe what they expected to be a period of below-average growth following the Great Recession and financial crisis. ...

Caroline Baum: This expansion may be the longest, but it’s not the best — so far
Posted: June 21, 2019 at 08:45 AM (Friday)

Job growth has been great, but most other metrics are falling short. The “best economy” in the history of the U.S. is about to reach a milestone next month when it becomes the longest expansion on record. The first superlative is, of course, a mere platitude uttered by President Donald Trump. The latter is a statistically significant data ...

Caroline Baum: A surprise interest-rate cut by the Federal Reserve could be its best decision
Posted: June 17, 2019 at 05:23 AM (Monday)

The Fed should focus on doing the right thing at the right time, even if it means forgoing advance preparation. Five months ago, the Federal Reserve invoked “patience” to talk the stock market off the ledge. In the intervening months, that patience has been tested by a downshift in economic growth, both here and abroad; chronic, ...

Caroline Baum: Encouraging the Fed to artificially flatten the yield curve is a bad idea
Posted: June 6, 2019 at 07:45 AM (Thursday)

Federal Reserve policy makers are searching for new tools in a crisis, but believing that a flat yield curve can stimulate the economy makes no sense. The yield curve, or the spread between the Federal Reserve’s policy rate, or a proxy such as the 3-month Treasury bill, and a market-determined long-term rate, is a reliable leading indicator of ...

Caroline Baum: Fed’s reliance on expectations is a risky business
Posted: May 31, 2019 at 02:40 PM (Friday)

Central bank still hasn’t figured out how to hit its inflation target. After a series of “Fed Listens” events, the central bank’s year-long, comprehensive review of monetary policy strategy, tools and communication will culminate next week with a research conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Presentations by academic experts ...

Caroline Baum: The Fed should put up or shut up on its inflation undershoot
Posted: May 22, 2019 at 09:23 AM (Wednesday)

The source of low inflation? The Fed should look in the mirror. “Of course, it is not entirely clear how to move underlying trend inflation smoothly to our target on a sustained basis in the presence of a very flat Phillips curve.” — Fed Gov. Lael Brainard, May 16, 2019 To think that central bankers have no idea how to create inflation ...

Caroline Baum: Central bankers balk when it comes to leaning against frothy asset markets
Posted: May 9, 2019 at 09:45 AM (Thursday)

The growth of credit in the United States has been fueled by low interest rates.Ignoring the credit cycle puts the business cycle at risk. The raw material is money. Sometimes it chases goods and services. At other times, it chases assets. The former eventually leads to higher inflation, requiring tighter monetary policy. The latter is a case ...

Caroline Baum: Investment boom? What investment boom?
Posted: May 1, 2019 at 11:47 AM (Wednesday)

Tax cut was supposed to supercharge the supply side of the economy — what happened? First-quarter economic growth exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, expanding at a 3.2% annualized rate. The Trump administration was quick to take credit for the continued strength in the U.S. economy. At a rally in Green Bay, Wis., Saturday ...

Caroline Baum: Deciphering the economic slowdown: Soft patch? Soft landing? Soft sell?
Posted: April 24, 2019 at 11:10 AM (Wednesday)

It looks like the Fed may have achieved the rare feat of backing off in time to avert a recession. As the Bureau of Economic Analysis prepares to release its first estimate of first-quarter gross domestic product on Friday, economists are expecting a 2.2% increase compared with 2.2% in the fourth quarter, according to Bloomberg’s ...

Caroline Baum: The Fed knows how to hit its inflation target — it just refuses to do so
Posted: April 17, 2019 at 09:55 AM (Wednesday)

It’s time to put money back into the equation of monetary policy. The Federal Reserve has consistently undershot its 2% inflation target ever since it adopted an explicit target in 2012. Policy makers, desperate to find a culprit outside of themselves, have settled on the public’s subdued inflation expectations as the likely suspect. In order ...

Caroline Baum: Modern Monetary Theory flunks the smell test
Posted: April 11, 2019 at 08:53 AM (Thursday)

The challenges to unrestrained federal spending: economic, legal, political and practical. Perhaps you’ve heard or read something recently about Modern Monetary Theory. You’d have to be living on the Space Station not to have come in contact with the “theory,” as it were, that is sweeping the nation, aided and abetted by progressive members ...

Caroline Baum: Stocks predict boom, bonds predict gloom, — which signal should you believe?
Posted: April 4, 2019 at 09:58 AM (Thursday)

The yield curve has a much better record of forecasting recessions. The stock market is positively giddy about the prospects for the U.S. economy and corporate earnings. The bond market is telegraphing gloom and doom. Who’s right? Stocks logged their best quarterly performance in nearly a decade in the first quarter of 2019. This comes in the ...

Caroline Baum: Patience may be a virtue for the Fed, but a rate cut would be a salvation for the market
Posted: March 27, 2019 at 06:16 AM (Wednesday)

If the yield curve stays inverted, the Fed must cut rates quickly. When the Federal Reserve backed off its December projection for additional rate increases in 2019 and opted instead for patience, there was a collective sigh of relief from financial markets. Now that patience is being tested. Not in the way the Fed originally intended, which ...

Caroline Baum: It takes more than a 'freak-out’ to cause a recession
Posted: March 20, 2019 at 08:57 AM (Wednesday)

When an economic expansion dies, it’s always the Fed that murders it. The yield curve is the best way to know if a recession is imminent. “Expansions don’t die of old age. I like to say they get murdered instead.” — Ben Bernanke, Jan. 4, 2019 Economist Austan Goolsbee sees things differently. In a March 16 Economic View column for the New ...

Caroline Baum: What’s the cost of smartphone addiction?
Posted: March 14, 2019 at 08:43 PM (Thursday)

The benefits of being connected 24/7 may not be as great as you imagine. What if our smartphones are making us stupid? We are so used to thinking of technology as an unmitigated good, not to mention a key driver of productivity growth, that any potential deleterious effects have been largely ignored. No one can deny the ways in which ...

Caroline Baum: Forget what Donald Trump said: Tariffs are a tax on American consumers
Posted: March 6, 2019 at 03:05 PM (Wednesday)

Trump’s plan to punish China boomerangs, putting America last. President Donald Trump’s trade war provided the kind of real-world experiment that practitioners of the dismal science so desperately crave, but the results weren’t all that different from what their econometric models predict. In a new paper, “The Impact of the 2018 Trade War on ...

Caroline Baum: Powell preaches patience, but these economists predict recession
Posted: February 27, 2019 at 09:12 AM (Wednesday)

Business economists predict the Fed will raise rates until it bites. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told senators on Tuesday that the Fed won’t strangle the economy with higher interest rates, but some economists clearly don’t believe him. They seem to think the Fed will quickly run out of “patience” and throw the economy into ...

Caroline Baum: Does debt matter? It doesn’t until ... it does
Posted: February 22, 2019 at 08:42 AM (Friday)

It has become fashionable in recent months for economists to argue that the nation’s growing public debt is not a problem but something to be, if not exactly embraced, then at least not avoided. Harvard University economists Lawrence Summers and Jason Furman penned a recent article in “Foreign Affairs,” titled “Who’s Afraid of Budget ...

Caroline Baum: Fed could achieve the elusive soft landing if market forces don’t intervene
Posted: February 13, 2019 at 06:17 AM (Wednesday)

Fed’s response to further yield curve flattening holds the key. Could this be it? After multiple tries and a long list of failures, could the elusive soft-landing finally become more than a single data point in economic history, a result of human intuition and flexibility rather than adherence to mathematical formulas and econometric models? ...

Caroline Baum: The flaw in the Fed’s forward guidance is it doesn’t know what it’s going to do
Posted: February 5, 2019 at 06:02 AM (Tuesday)

Jerome Powell’s legacy could very well be ‘live by the word, die by the word’. The Federal Reserve’s apparent about-face on the outlook for interest rates has put the central bank in an awkward position of having to defend against accusations of caving to political or financial market pressure. First, a relevant timeline: • Oct. 3: Fed ...

Caroline Baum: To prevent shutdowns, make Congress bear the cost
Posted: January 29, 2019 at 06:06 AM (Tuesday)

CBO says three-week shutdown cost at least $3 billion the economy will never get back. Shutdowns cost money. That’s the assessment of the Congressional Budget Office, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and private-sector economists who have analyzed the data from various government shutdowns over the years. Some of the costs ...

Caroline Baum: The Fed talks Mr. Market off the ledge
Posted: January 24, 2019 at 06:42 AM (Thursday)

There are lots of legitimate reasons to pause, so why did Powell give in to the market’s tantrum? It is hard to recall a time when the Federal Reserve has made as dramatic an about-face in how it conveys its outlook and yes, its forward guidance to financial markets absent a significant deterioration in economic fundamentals as it has in the ...

Caroline Baum: Stocks and bonds have gone their separate ways but could they be getting back together?
Posted: January 17, 2019 at 03:54 PM (Thursday)

Investors have gotten used to the risk on, risk off trade, Bianco says. Over the years, the bond market has shown itself to be a fickle suitor, pursuing relationships with an array of assets and asset classes. Some of those relationships have proven to be meaningful and long-lasting (with the U.S. dollar and industrial commodities, for ...

Caroline Baum: The Fed’s murder weapon is hiding in plain sight
Posted: January 10, 2019 at 01:37 PM (Thursday)

“Expansions don’t die of old age. They get murdered.” — Ben Bernanke The expansion should continue for a while, if the Federal Reserve doesn’t kill it. All it took was some wild swings and big losses in U.S. stock prices for the “R” word — recession — to start tripping off people’s tongues. And not just run-of-the-mill observers. Almost ...

Caroline Baum: The stock market’s hissy fit over the Federal Reserve shows it needs to toughen up
Posted: December 24, 2018 at 02:46 PM (Monday)

Fed policy is never on auto-pilot, and financial markets should know that. What a bunch of wusses! Back in the day, Wall Street traders ruled the world, memorialized as “Masters of the Universe” in Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and “Big Swinging Dicks” in Michael Lewis’ “Liar’s Poker.” Now these folks require coddling. Unless ...

Caroline Baum: How the idea of the Fed 'stockpiling ammunition’ could blow up the economy
Posted: December 18, 2018 at 12:39 PM (Tuesday)

Raising interest rates now to be able to lower them to ward off a recession is a silly idea. Every once in a while, an idea takes root that is so off-base, so nonsensical, that it almost defies analysis. Because to analyze something implies that it is worthy of our time, energy and thought processes. And the idea I’m about to hoist, and ...

Caroline Baum: Stock market makes much ado about very little from the Fed
Posted: December 4, 2018 at 10:23 AM (Tuesday)

When has monetary policy not been data dependent? I read with interest the articles last week about the Federal Reserve’s new “unpredictable” and “flexible” approach to monetary policy. No longer can financial markets rely on the gradual, premeditated and practically pre-announced adjustments to the benchmark overnight interest rate, according ...

Caroline Baum: It’s not Fed ‘dot plot’ that’s confusing; it’s the whole idea of forward guidance
Posted: March 30, 2016 at 10:44 AM (Wednesday)

The dot plot shows what individual Fed policy makers currently think will be the appropriate level of the federal funds rate at the end of 2016, 2017 and 2018 — and in the longer run. Yellen’s Fed has a hard time telling us what it’s going to do — and when. While European intelligence agencies are trying to connect the dots between ...

Caroline Baum: Raising Top Tax Rates Won't Cure Income Inequality
Posted: March 15, 2016 at 03:32 PM (Tuesday)

Income inequality is a major talking point for Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Both want to impose higher taxes on top earners, either directly or indirectly.Clinton's tax proposals are aimed at upper-income earners. She would impose a 4 percent surtax on households earning more than $5 million a year; ...

Caroline Baum: Janet Yellen Is Right, Expansions Don't Die of Old Age
Posted: March 1, 2016 at 04:03 PM (Tuesday)

"I think it's a myth that expansions die of old age… So the fact that this has been quite a long expansion doesn't lead me to believe that… its days are numbered." - Janet Yellen, Dec. 16, 2015"The trouble with thinking that expansions don't die of old age is that they do." - Robert Samuelson, Washington Post, Feb. 21, 2016Who's right? ...

Caroline Baum: Central Bankers Confront a Strange New World
Posted: February 17, 2016 at 12:00 PM (Wednesday)

It's time to go after big money. Every generation passes along its experiences, and the lessons learned from them, to the next. For example, Americans who lived through the Great Depression teach their children about the importance of saving. The same is true for central bankers. Today's Federal Reserve, aware of the role it played in causing ...

Caroline Baum: Five questions Janet Yellen must answer
Posted: February 9, 2016 at 06:34 AM (Tuesday)

Do you regret raising rates? Do you think you’ll drop rates below zero soon? This is Janet Yellen's week. The Federal Reserve chairwoman goes up to Capitol Hill to deliver the Fed's semiannual monetary policy report to the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday and Senate Banking Committee on Thursday. On the House side, ...

Caroline Baum: Financial markets still don't believe the Fed's rosy scenarios
Posted: January 27, 2016 at 10:17 AM (Wednesday)

A series of rate increases this year looks increasingly unlikely as the economy underwhelms. The Fed has been too optimistic about the economy, in part because it mistakenly thought lower gasoline prices would be a big boon to the economy.All last year, financial futures markets challenged the Federal Reserve's stated intention to raise ...

Caroline Baum: So many jobs, so little growth. What gives?
Posted: January 13, 2016 at 10:19 AM (Wednesday)

The U.S. economy just witnessed the two best years of job growth — 2014 and 2015, in that order — since 1999. Yet real economic growth has been bumping along at a 2.1% rate since the Great Recession ended. The 79-month expansion included two quarterly contractions in gross domestic product, which is already unusual. The economy never exhibited ...

Caroline Baum: Immigration Is A Four-Letter Word… Spelled S-T-E-M
Posted: January 5, 2016 at 06:21 PM (Tuesday)

As 2016 gets underway, presidential candidates are appealing to voters with their ideas for stimulating economic growth. The strategy makes perfect sense. The timing is curious.The U.S. economic expansion is approaching the seven-year mark, already the fourth longest on record. At 5 percent, the unemployment rate is nearing full employment. ...

Caroline Baum: How the bond market could upend the Fed' best-laid plans
Posted: December 23, 2015 at 06:03 AM (Wednesday)

The yield curve spread -- the difference between long-term interest rates and short-term rates -- is the best predictor of recessions. When the spread is negative, a recession typically follows. Unless long-term interest rates start to rise, the Federal Reserve's prescribed path for the federal funds rate over the next two years will ...

Caroline Baum: Larry Summers and two groups unite against the Fed's Yellen
Posted: December 9, 2015 at 09:13 AM (Wednesday)

The arguments against an interest-rate increase are piling up. What do Larry Summers, market monetarists, gold bugs and other hard-money types have in common? No, it's not a trick question, but it yields a surprising answer. Three different economic philosophies are aligned in challenging the wisdom of the Federal Reserve's stated intention ...

Caroline Baum: The Fed's Love-Hate Relationship with the Phillips Curve
Posted: November 3, 2015 at 08:25 PM (Tuesday)

In most circumstances, when a model breaks down and ceases to provide valuable information, it gets tossed out the window. Not so with the Phillips Curve, which still informs the way today's central bankers think about the relationship between unemployment and inflation.The unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 ...

Caroline Baum: Why the Fed should just stop talking
Posted: October 28, 2015 at 08:55 AM (Wednesday)

A consistent rule would be much more helpful. The Federal Reserve has come under attack in recent weeks, not for what it is doing (nothing) but for what it is saying (a lot). To hear journalists tell it, the Fed's "communication problem" is a reflection of too many policy makers saying too much about too little, confusing everyone in the process. ...

Caroline Baum: Greenspan's 1998 warning finally rings true for Yellen in 2015
Posted: September 23, 2015 at 06:30 AM (Wednesday)

This time, the U.S. economy really can’t be an ‘oasis of prosperity’. In the run-up to the Federal Reserve meeting last week, several news stories invoked that famous wordsmith, Alan Greenspan, to describe the dilemma facing the current Fed chairwoman, Janet Yellen. In September 1998, during the Asian financial crisis, Greenspan famously ...

Caroline Baum: So Many Job Openings, Why So Few Candidates?
Posted: September 16, 2015 at 12:05 AM (Wednesday)

"Job Openings in U.S. Surge to Record While Hiring Cools" read the Bloomberg News headline following the release of the July report on Job Openings and Labor Turnover, better known as JOLTS.If that seems like a disconnect, it is. By all rights, employers should be bidding up the price of labor to fill the 5.75 million open slots in July, a ...

Caroline Baum: 'Prevailing Westerlies' May Blow the Fed Off Course
Posted: August 19, 2015 at 12:30 PM (Wednesday)

In one month's time, the Federal Reserve will put its finger to the wind to determine if the time is right for lift-off from near-zero interest rates. Policy makers may find that the prevailing Westerlies - the winds blowing from east to west in the middle latitudes - are just too strong and decide, once again, to table any change in ...

Caroline Baum: Hillary Clinton's Three-Legged Growth Stool
Posted: July 13, 2015 at 04:47 PM (Monday)

Hillary Clinton selected a progressive venue on Monday to deliver a progressive economic message to appeal to a progressive audience. "The defining economic challenge of our time is clear," Clinton said. "We must raise incomes for hard-working Americans, so they can afford a middle-class life." Monday's address at The New School for ...

Caroline Baum: Does the Fed finally realize forward guidance is folly?
Posted: June 29, 2015 at 04:49 PM (Monday)

Markets ignoring the Fed’s talk of September rate hike, and for good reason. In the last two weeks, three Federal Reserve officials have said or implied that the first rate increase could take place in September. The reaction? The September federal funds futures set a new contract high of 99.83, an implied yield of 0.17%. Just imagine what ...

Caroline Baum: What's in A Price? Less Than You Think
Posted: May 20, 2015 at 12:01 AM (Wednesday)

Over the years, I have written a good deal about crude oil: crude oil prices, that is. I don't presume to have any unique insights into the inner workings of OPEC or a comprehensive knowledge of hydraulic fracturing techniques. I do not have contacts at major energy producers. Nor do I have wildcatters checking in with their latest ...

Caroline Baum: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs — and Nothing to Show for Them?
Posted: March 17, 2015 at 09:28 PM (Tuesday)

If Federal Reserve policymakers were to look solely at headline labor market indicators, they might be tempted to conclude that the U.S. economy had finally reached cruising altitude. The unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of 10 percent in 2009 to 5.5 percent, within the range considered to be full employment. Nonfarm payroll growth ...

Caroline Baum: Falling Oil Prices Yield a Barrel of Nonsense
Posted: February 17, 2015 at 03:06 PM (Tuesday)

Wait until next month, economists said. That's when consumers will spend their bonus savings from lower gas prices.Next month (January) came and went with the same disappointing results as December: a big decline in U.S. retail sales. A 9.3 percent plunge in gas station sales, driven by falling prices, was the main, but hardly the only, ...

Caroline Baum: Markets Trump the Fed's Forecast
Posted: February 4, 2015 at 12:00 AM (Wednesday)

For an institution that prides itself on clear communication - an institution that elevated "forward guidance" to a policy tool - the Federal Reserve seems to be having trouble getting its message across. Either that, or the central bank's words are falling on deaf ears. Even as economists parse the Fed statement and conclude that policy ...

Caroline Baum: Why Breaking Up (the Tax Code) Is So Hard to Do
Posted: January 6, 2015 at 04:12 PM (Tuesday)

Everyone wants tax reform. At least we pay lip service to the idea that the U.S. economy would be better off with lower rates, a simpler code, and fewer loopholes. Yet something everyone claims to support has proved elusive time and again. Why?For starters, it's not clear that everyone's idea of tax reform is the same. Corporations want ...

Caroline Baum: Fed's Forward Guidance Amounts to a "Considerable (Waste of) Time"
Posted: December 17, 2014 at 02:52 PM (Wednesday)

If you had told an economics practitioner 30 years ago that the Federal Reserve would hold the U.S. benchmark rate close to zero for six years, he would have said, nonsense. How could a highly developed $17.5 trillion economy function with such low interest rates for so long without generating huge imbalances or raging inflation?Welcome to ...

Caroline Baum: Poor Black Friday Sales Aren't What's Holding Back the Economy
Posted: December 2, 2014 at 06:00 PM (Tuesday)

And they're off!The start of the holiday shopping season, which has become as big a deal for the media as it is for retailers, brings all sorts of statistics, forecasts (guesses by another name), and hype. The National Retail Federation publishes expectations for Black Friday sales. Pollsters tell us how much the average consumer plans to ...

Caroline Baum: Giving Thanks for Property Rights
Posted: November 25, 2014 at 01:30 PM (Tuesday)

It had been the tradition of this column every year at this time to relate the story of Thanksgiving. I am grateful to Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute for its interest in continuing that tradition. For source material, I rely on the accounts of William Bradford, longtime governor of the Plymouth Colony, first published in 1856. ...

Caroline Baum: Mr. Market Withholds His Approval Century
Posted: October 24, 2014 at 08:56 AM (Friday)

Every year, economists put pen to paper and make projections for the next 12 months. In addition to forecasts for real GDP growth, inflation and consumer spending, they look into their crystal ball to determine what the Federal Reserve will do with its benchmark rate and what long-term interest rates will do in response.Fed funds rate ...

Caroline Baum: Obama Sets A Low Bar to Champion Success
Posted: October 8, 2014 at 07:30 AM (Wednesday)

U.S. presidents running for reelection are fond of asking voters if they are better off now than they were four years ago. President Barack Obama, who is not running for anything except the exit, has adapted this campaign device—but in a way that does little to commend the policies put in place by his administration. "By every economic measure, ...

Caroline Baum: Someone Please Help New York Times With Econ 101
Posted: January 3, 2014 at 02:03 PM (Friday)

"In March, every Republican in the House voted against a measure to raise the minimum wage. `When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it,' said Speaker John Boehner in February, espousing a party-line theory that most economists agree has been discredited." -- New York Times editorial, Jan. 2, 2014. This is ...

Caroline Baum: Five Lessons of 2013, Guaranteed to Be Forgotten
Posted: December 25, 2013 at 06:00 PM (Wednesday)

It’s that time of year when journalists let their creativity run rampant to produce 10-Best and 10-Worst lists, revisit the year’s biggest whoppers (look no further than the Oval Office), and offer prognostications for the coming year. With that in mind, I’ve gleaned the five most important lessons from 2013, which are all but guaranteed to ...

Caroline Baum: Lower Your Economic Expectations and Be Surprised
Posted: December 18, 2013 at 06:00 PM (Wednesday)

After green shoots, false dawns and any other overused metaphor you can think of to describe spring’s awakening (sorry) for the U.S. economy, is this the real deal? The green shoots from years past have turned brown. The dawns are late and the dusks early this time of year. And in the spring, will it grow? OK, enough indulgences. The ...

Caroline Baum: Last Gasp of the Keynesians
Posted: December 4, 2013 at 06:00 PM (Wednesday)

Larry Summers is talking about it. So is Paul Krugman. So are other economists. And everyone else is talking about the folks who are talking about it. The “it” is secular stagnation, which seems to be the New New Thing or the new new normal: a way to describe the persistent state of subpar economic growth plaguing developed nations. Think of ...

Caroline Baum: Consumers Tune Out Fed's Inflation Target
Posted: September 13, 2013 at 03:12 PM (Friday)

Every month for more than half a century, the University of Michigan Survey Research Center has been asking consumers 50 questions about their personal finances, business conditions and buying plans, both current and future. The results are compiled into two indexes, one reflecting current conditions, the other expectations about the economy. ...

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