‘You Can Live Anywhere But Colorado’: Why Many Remote Job Postings Are Now Actively Excluding One State

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

Bureaucrats huddled in some office somewhere failed to foresee the costs of their actions.

The pandemic has undoubtedly hastened the shift to remote work. Many workers and companies have now embraced remote work in previously office-based positions, and this is continuing even as the economy reopens and new jobs are posted. Many new remote positions are being posted advertising that applicants can live anywhere in the US—except Colorado.   

Here’s why.

“A new Colorado law… requires companies with even a few employees in the state to disclose the expected salary or pay range for each open role they advertise, including remote positions,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The rule’s aim is to narrow gender wage gaps and provide greater pay transparency for employees.”

The result?

“To avoid having to disclose that information… some employers seeking remote workers nationwide are saying that those living in Colorado need not apply,” the Journal notes.

For example, a posting for a Johnson & Johnson job recently read: “Work location is flexible if approved by the Company except that position may not be performed remotely from Colorado.” Multiple job listings at Cardinal Health, Inc. advertise that “This is a remote, work from home position. This role is to be filled outside of the state of Colorado.”

You get the idea. A website, ColoradoExcluded.com, catalogs these postings and reports that at least 39 companies are actively discouraging Colorado residents from applying. Why?

Well, companies say that the Colorado regulations are burdensome and costly to comply with. And publicly posting all salary information not only undercuts employees’ privacy but also could fuel discontent and conflict within the company. Given the fact that they have 49 other options (and more if you count Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, etc.) it’s easier for some companies to just not hire people from the state.

This is certainly not what Colorado state lawmakers intended. They likely had good intentions of promoting transparency and equality, albeit ones based on a statistically dubious premise of the largely fictional sexist “gender pay gap.” But as Nobel-Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” And the result of this regulatory overreach was to take jobs away from Coloradans, not make them more equitable.

Of course, few could have seen this coming when drafting salary transparency regulations. While easy enough to understand in hindsight, it would have taken tremendous foresight to predict that this would specifically lead to remote work positions discriminating against the state. But that’s exactly the problem with the government interfering in the minutiae of economic life. Bureaucrats huddled in some office somewhere can never fully foresee the vast and disparate consequences of their actions—meaning unintended consequences inevitably follow.

“Every human action has both intended and unintended consequences,” economist Antony Davies and political scientist James Harrigan explain. “Human beings react to every rule, regulation, and order governments impose, and their reactions result in outcomes that can be quite different than the outcomes lawmakers intended.”   

Colorado lawmakers may not have intended to get applicants in their state discriminated against in remote work opportunities. But we should judge them not on their intentions, but on their results.

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This article was published on June 20, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from FEE, Foundation for Economic Education.

Maricopa County Approves Budget, Cutting Taxes

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

On Monday, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved a $3.4 billion budget for the 2022 fiscal year beginning July 1, cutting property tax rates and increasing public health and homelessness prevention funding.

The $3,419,735,244 budget marks a $898,479 decrease from the board’s Tentative Budget.

The board also moved to adopt its five-year capital improvement plan for Fiscal Years 2022-2026.

“I do think it is significant that we lowered the [property tax] rate, showing that we are very conscious of trying to ensure that we were staying as efficient as possible in Maricopa County,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, District 1, said following the board’s unanimous vote.

In a statement, Maricopa County said the budget addresses needs which resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board of Supervisors will appropriate $439 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Act passed by Congress for continued pandemic recovery in the county.

The budget funds 30 new positions for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, provides $5 million in additional funding to prevent homelessness, and continues funding rental and utility assistance programs to prevent evictions. It adds staff and resources to the Office of the Medical Examiner due to the increase of deaths in the past year and funds a new command center for the Emergency Management Department, which the county said was instrumental in pandemic response efforts.

The Board of Supervisors will also invest $76 million to improve the county’s technology infrastructure to meet Maricopa County’s goal of becoming an all-digital county.

“For the past year, we have dealt with one crisis after another. Responding quickly and efficiently to the public health emergency has been a priority, but now’s the time to look to the future,” Sellers said. “What we do today will determine whether we retain a high quality of life for future generations.”

Sellers said that the budget returns Arizonans to their jobs, strengthens the safety net for the vulnerable, and invests in the necessary infrastructure for the continued prosperity of Arizona’s fastest-growing county.

“The pandemic taught us how tenuous health and financial security are for too many in our community, and so we invested in those areas,” Vice Chairman Bill Gates, District 3, said.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will meet on August 16 to vote on the final tax levy proposal.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo, District 5, praised the county’s work in the last year.

“They’ve made sure COVID-19 resources, information, and vaccines are available to everyone in our community and supported people who have lost jobs or businesses or homes due to the pandemic,” Gallardo said. “With additional funding for Public Health and a brand-new Homeless Initiative, I have no doubt we will make a huge, positive difference in the lives of our residents in the coming year.”

This article was published on June 21, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from The Center Square.

 

The Fed Plans to Raise Interest Rates—Years from Now

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee voted to continue with a target federal funds rate of 0.25 percent, and to continue with large-scale asset purchases. According to the committee’s press release:

The Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and expects it will be appropriate to maintain this target range until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time. In addition, the Federal Reserve will continue to increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $80 billion per month and of agency mortgage‑backed securities by at least $40 billion per month until substantial further progress has been made toward the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals. These asset purchases help foster smooth market functioning and accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses.

This statement might be summarized best as “more of the same,” and in spite of whatever other statements might be made about Fed officials or about how the economy is relatively strong or improving, the fact is Fed policymakers voted unanimously on Wednesday against tapering of any kind, and in favor of continued extremely accommodative policy.

In other words, at the Fed there is no appetite at all for ever testing the waters to see just how fragile this current economy is in spite of all we hear about a “V-shaped recovery” and GDP numbers showing an economy roaring back.

And why should the Fed act as if the recovery were well underway? As of last month, total employment is still more than 7 million jobs below the February 2020 peak. Meanwhile, new jobless claims increased by more than thirty thousand last week, rising to a sickly 412,000.

Nevertheless, the “big news” coming out of the Fed—at least as far as many news outlets were concerned—is the fact that many FOMC members expect the Fed to raise the benchmark rate “as soon as 2023” based on the so-called dot plot showing FOMC member expectations. As CNBC reports:

Wednesday’s forecast showed 13 members of the Federal Open Market Committee believe the Fed will increase rates in 2023 and the majority of them believe the central bank will hike at least twice that year. Only five members still see the Fed staying pat through 2023. In fact, seven of the 18 members see the Fed possibly increasing rates as early as 2022.

In Washington terms, this means nothing at all. This wasn’t a commitment from FOMC members to actually raise the rate two years from now. This was simply an opinion—polled FOMC members expect the rate to go up. An expectation that something might happen two years from now hardly constitutes a meaningful prediction. One would need to be extremely credulous to read the FOMC’s assessment as a “hawkish” move.

After all, the policy situation was very similar during the decade that followed the 2008 financial crisis. For many years, the Fed under Janet Yellen repeatedly described the economy as “strengthening” and experiencing moderate growth. The Fed repeatedly hinted at a tapering and tightening of policy that would happen “soon.” And yet the Fed kept the target rate at 0.25 percent for nearly seven years, from early 2009 through most of 2015. The rate never climbed above 1 percent until 2017. But all the while, the FOMC repeatedly suggested that any day now it would “normalize” things.

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So, now when we hear that the Fed will be tapering in 2023, we should read this as something that is possible, of course, but “2023” could just as easily mean 2025 or 2028. At least, that’s certainly what experience suggests, especially as our jobless recovery continues.

And speaking of “normalizing” things, the Fed during the Yellen years had long also hinted at scaling back its portfolio. This, of course, never happened. Total assets owned by the Fed only grew from 2012 to 2015, and then held steady at around $4.4 trillion until 2018, when the Fed slightly scaled things back. But signs of trouble were already apparent by late 2019 with the repo panic, as the Fed was back in the asset-purchasing game. Now Fed assets have climbed to an eye-watering $8 trillion. Combine this with this week’s promise to keep buying “at least $80 billion per month and of agency mortgage‑backed securities by at least $40 billion per month” and it’s clear the talk of getting hawkish at the Fed is little more than talk at this point.

assets

On the other hand—this shift toward predicting rate hikes in 2023 did represent a change in messaging from the FOMC, likely forced by the fact the Fed can no longer deny that price inflation is occurring.

In March, for example, FOMC members said they didn’t expect any action on tapering until 2024. But then the Fed, in order to look like it has some connection to reality, changed its inflation forecast:

The Fed also sharply increased its inflation forecasts for the year. It now sees inflation running to 3.4% this year, above its previous estimate of 2.4%. The central bank also slightly hiked its PCE inflation estimates for 2022 and 2023.

So, the Fed has been forced to admit the reality that has been long clear to normal people who buy houses, education, food, and other services. Inflation is real. Nevertheless, the Fed insists it’s all temporary:

Though the Fed raised its headline inflation expectation to 3.4%, a full percentage point higher than the March projection, the post-meeting statement stood by its position that inflation pressures are “transitory.” The raised expectations come amid the biggest rise in consumer prices in about 13 years.

It’s unlikely any of this is anything more than optics and public relations, however. The Fed has to look like it’s taking price inflation seriously, so it admits there’s some but dismisses it as temporary. Moreover, FOMC members send the message they’re concerned by saying, “We might have to raise rates in 2023 instead of 2024.”

In the real world, however, none of this tells us anything at all about what the Fed actually plans to do in 2023.

Yet markets are so shaky and so dependent on easy money from the Fed that once the Fed sent the message it might have to act on inflation at some point a few years from now, the Dow Jones crashed by more than 300 points.

This further illustrates what some Fed observers are now saying about the state of the US economy: the Fed isn’t here to take away the punch bowl anymore. The Fed is the punch bowl. Even the mildest suggestion that it might raise rates years from now sends panic through the ranks.

Indeed, Fed chairman Jerome Powell stepped in to assure the markets that even this miniscule step toward “hawkishness” at some point in the future shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Forget about that dot plot, Powell insisted. We’ll keep rates low forever:

“The dots are not a great forecaster of future rate moves and it’s just because it’s so highly uncertain,” Powell told reporters after the central bank’s announcement that it was holding interest rates at near zero.

Powell added that dot plots should be taken with a “big grain of salt,” reminding Fed watchers that the central bank will guide policy based on outcomes, not outlooks.

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This article was published on June 16, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Quacks in the Ivory Tower: How Conspiracy Theorizing Took Over Lockdown Science

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Is the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) simply a front for a secret global eugenics plot, hatched at AIER by the British Ministry of Defence and financed by the Koch Brothers as part of an ongoing effort to force climate change, tobacco, and Covid-19 infections on our senior citizens? Such claims may sound like the farcical ravings of an internet paranoiac, yet precisely this narrative has gained a shocking amount of currency among ostensibly serious public health scientists and journalists since the Declaration launched last October 4th.

This outcome is the result of a disturbing turn in the academic discourse around Covid-19 policy over the past several months, with scientific disagreement taking a back seat to the political vilification of anyone who questions the wisdom of lockdown ideology – even as the lockdowns themselves utterly failed at their stated aims. Rather than debating the evidence around these policies and evaluating their performance over the last year, it has now become the norm to accuse anyone who questions “the science” of lockdowns of being beholden to secretive “dark money” interests and operating in the service of nefarious profiteering and political malice.

This bizarre string of conspiratorial attacks on AIER began in the days after the GBD’s release last fall. Self-described “journalists” with dubious backgrounds led the charge from peripheral media outlets that nonetheless provided a political message for the GBD’s opponents.

Consider the case of Nafeez Ahmed, a writer from a London-based blog called the Byline Times who has spent the better part of the last year posting conspiratorial bromides against scientists who question lockdown ideology. Fresh off of an unsuccessful Twitter campaign to flood the GBD’s website with fraudulent signatures during the week after it went live, Ahmed shifted his tack in mid-October with a new charge. In a succession of blog posts, he purported to show that the GBD was part of an elaborate scheme by libertarian billionaire Charles Koch to force the reopening of the American economy in spite of Covid’s risks, using AIER as its front. After outlining the financial portion of his conspiracy theory, Ahmed quickly appended a new “partner” in the alleged plot: the British Ministry of Defence, which he implied to be the source behind the GBD’s website. To top it off, this growing plot was allegedly orchestrated through the owner of a resort hotel in Wales, operating amid a web of military contracts that somehow or another pointed back to the GBD authors and AIER.

If that sounds like loony talk, it is.

Contrary to Ahmed’s wild imagination, Charles Koch had absolutely no involvement with the Great Barrington Declaration or AIER’s hosting of the conference that produced it. While I cannot say with certainty where Mr. Koch himself stands on these issues, his philanthropic organizations appear to have mostly stayed away from Covid-19 policy debates (the few exceptions where a Koch-network organization has weighed in on the subject at all tend to take a pro-lockdown stance, such as the Mercatus Center’s Tyler Cowen, who awarded a research prize to Neil Ferguson of Imperial College for his Covid-19 lockdown model. AIER was one of the first high-profile critics of Ferguson’s model and continues to track its abysmal performance over the last year.)

It is the right of philanthropic foundations, including both Cowen and Koch, to direct their grants and donations to projects of their own choosing. Indeed, AIER partnered with Koch in 2018 on a small grant to co-sponsor an economics conference in North Carolina – the apparent origin of Ahmed’s confused claims. But it also appears that we find ourselves taking different approaches to pandemic policy issues, and not by conspiratorial design but rather honest disagreement of the type that has unfortunately been lost amid the heated debates over the last year.

Oh, and that bit about the British Ministry of Defence supposedly orchestrating the GBD’s website through some hotel in Wales that nobody at AIER has even heard of? Utter nonsense – our web developer put it together on-site during the GBD conference, pulling an all-night marathon to ensure that it would be ready to go live the day of the release.

Although Ahmed’s batty narrative about the GBD’s origins does not withstand even minimal scrutiny, his conspiracy theories spread like wildfire on the pro-lockdown side of the epidemiology profession, and among the journalistic outlets that support them. For a brief period back in October, Google News inexplicably boosted the fringe Byline Times blog on search results for the Great Barrington Declaration, ranking Ahmed’s postings above coverage in mainstream outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Fox. Paul Krugman even promoted the product of Ahmed’s ravings in his New York Times column.

Several of the most widely-quoted critics of the Great Barrington Declaration in the press seized on the same narrative and began repeating tall tales about nonexistent funding sources and the wholly imaginary British Ministry of Defense website scheme. Some even added new fringe theories of their own to augment the salacious charges.

David Gorski, a professor of medicine at Wayne State University and one of the media’s favorite go-to sources for quotes denouncing the GBD, published a blog post on October 12th where he liberally quoted and endorsed Ahmed’s conspiracy theories. Not to be outdone by the Byline Times blogger, Gorski appended his own paranoid attack by branding the GBD a “eugenics-adjacent” plot to cull and “sacrific[e] the elderly” in the name of economics. Even though the GBD drew tens of thousands of co-signers in the medical and public health professions, Gorski went on to label it a “magnified minority” campaign – his term for a propaganda initiative to dupe the public into accepting the secret eugenics scheme he repeatedly claimed to have uncovered. Gorski’s attacks are not only symptomatic of a deeply disturbed state of mind – they’re unbecoming of a scientific professional, let alone one that the media enlists for expert quotations as a primary interlocutor of the GBD.

Gorski was far from the only lockdowner in the public health world to embrace Ahmed’s conspiracist blogging. So did Eric Feigl-Ding, one of social media’s most aggressive promoters of school closures and the fringe “Zero Covid” theory. Deepti Gurdasani of Queen Mary University in London, a principal organizer of the pro-lockdown John Snow Memorandum, has promoted the Byline Times conspiracy theories about the GBD’s funding on multiple occasions, pairing it with another conspiracy theory of her own that tries to fault the GBD authors for the failure of three successive lockdowns in Britain. As has Gabriel Scally, a UK-based epidemiologist who serves the pro-lockdown “Independent SAGE” group. David Fisman, a Canadian epidemiologist who aggressively pushed for lockdowns and school closures in Ontario, is another fan of Ahmed’s conspiracy theories, praising him for providing “important context” to the policy debate.

Justin Feldman, a self-described “epidemiologist of social inequality” at Harvard, added his own twist to Ahmed’s favorite conspiracy by alleging an elaborate plot to place favorable media coverage of the GBD on the UK’s Unherd website, only to walk it back a day later when he realized he had confused Unherd with another outlet. The public misstep did little to shed Feldman of his conspiracist tendencies though. His Twitter feed since that time has published a nonstop stream of frenzied allegations against lockdown critics in the public health profession, usually consisting of unsubstantiated innuendo about shady pecuniary motives behind their scholarship.

Duke University epidemiologist Gavin Yamey offered a “huge shoutout to Dr. Nafeez Ahmed” for supposedly uncovering the bizarre conspiracy linking the GBD website to the British Ministry of Defense and the Welsh hotel proprietor. Elsewhere he praised the Byline Times’s “great investigative journalism” about the GBD. Half a year later he still asserts that “Charles Koch shaped [pandemic] policy in the US” through a group of scientists who have no tangible connection to Koch’s philanthropy. Indeed, Yamey’s twitter feed contains dozens of examples of him promoting the Byline Times articles. Naturally, this whole-hearted believer of Ahmed’s conspiracy theories is also one of the journalism world’s favorite sources for an expert quotation denouncing the GBD, and a principal co-signer of a letter to the Lancet arguing against the petition’s scientific merits.

Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen, another frequent critic of the GBD in the press, embraced the funding conspiracy theory without the slightest skepticism or investigation of its assertions. “The GBD authors don’t actually mean well,” she continued, accusing the three scientists of being part of a “propaganda campaign” in the service of AIER’s supposed goal of “ignore the pandemic, let’s get back to making money via unfettered capitalism.”

Martin McKee, a public health professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who denounced the GBD as a “fringe view” shortly after its publication, has a habit of giving his endorsement to Ahmed’s conspiracy theories about the very same document. Ahmed’s crazy tales of intrigue have another fan in Robert Dickinson, a professor of medicine at Imperial College London and signer of the pro-lockdown John Snow Memorandum. Snow Memorandum signer Hisham Ziauddeen promotes the same conspiratorial claims, in addition to his own blogging against the GBD for Ahmed’s outlet. Epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves of Yale, another of the media’s favorite sources for ad hominem-laced anti-GBD hot takes, apparently concurs with Ahmed’s paranoid ravings. So does the University of Washington’s Carl Bergstrom, another press favorite for expert statements defending lockdowns.

Keep in mind that these endorsements of Ahmed involve claims that are not simply dubious or uncharitable interpretations – they are factual falsehoods that have entered the talking points of scientific experts who simply agree with their associated political connotations and believe that repeating them enough will discredit an opposing viewpoint. As matters of scientific analysis though, it would not be inaccurate at this point to state that leading academics on the pro-lockdown side of the Covid political debate are now regularly relying upon the paranoid ravings of a conspiracist blogger as one of their primary sources for attacks upon the Great Barrington Declaration.

Had these academics, public health professionals, and journalists spent even a moment investigating the source of their parroted stories about “dark money,” the British Ministry of Defense, and obscure hotel properties in Wales, they might have exercised more reservations before credulously repeating such unreliable claims.

Ahmed himself is no stranger to fringe political causes. The late Christopher Hitchens once described this particular writer as “a risible individual wedded to half-baked conspiracy-mongering.” Indeed, for almost two decades prior to Covid-19, Ahmed was a recurring presence in the circles around the so-called 9/11 Truth movement – the motley band of internet oddballs and kooks who claim that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were actually a controlled demolition carried out on behalf of some sort of “false flag” operation. In 2006, he added his own version of “jet fuel doesn’t melt steel beams” to their cause. As Ahmed wrote in an article to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks:

“[I]t is agreed by all that the fires never burned hot enough to melt the steel columns. Whether or not the steel was hot enough to buckle, the official account fails to explain the deposits of molten metal found after the collapses. If not the fires, what could have caused the steel to melt?”

Reiterating his own contributing interests in 9/11 Trutherism, Ahmed continued with a stunning assessment of the “jet fuel” claim. “Shocking and absurd conspiraloonery? Not really. That’s the easy way out. The scientific validity of [9/11 conspiracy writer Steve] Jones’ line of inquiry has been supported by several other experts,” upon which he proceeded to name a long list of Truther cranks and crackpots who maintain that the terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda were really an inside job. (Ahmed quietly scrubbed this article from his personal blog in late 2020 after it became an embarrassment in light of his more recent attacks on the GBD, but an archived copy remains.)

With no small irony, many of the same scientists who frequently attack skepticism of lockdowns by labeling it a “fringe” and “unscientific” position have not the slightest compunction about taking their own cues on the GBD from an unmistakably fringe source of their own. That source’s ramblings remain equally mired in the same brand of “absurd conspiraloonery” he’s peddled on other topics for decades.

Sadly, several distinguished scientific figures in the epidemiology and public health professions have decided to seize onto and adopt Ahmed and the Byline Times’s paranoid style as their own, now that their star writer has shifted the focus of his attention away from World Trade Center Building 7 and onto anyone who dares to question the efficacy of Covid-19 lockdowns. The immediate result is both comical and horrifying, yet the real damage to epidemiology will play out for years to come. Scientific inquiry has succumbed to a proliferation of quacks in the ivory tower.

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This article was published on June 19, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from AIER, American Institute for Economic Research.

 

A Glimpse at Hidden Stock Market Leverage of “Securities-Based Lending,” as Known Stock Market Leverage Spikes to WTF High

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

We don’t know how much total leverage there is, but from the trends in margin debt, we know it’s huge and ballooning.

 

A big part of the leverage in the stock market is not tracked and no one knows what it is. Occasionally, a tidbit bubbles to the surface when something blows up, such as the Archegos fiasco.

Another part of stock-market leverage, “Securities-Based Lending” (SBL), can be found on bank balance sheets if banks choose to disclose it. But not many banks disclose it, and no one tracks this in a summary figure, and we don’t know what the totals are. But they’re big.

For example, Bank of America disclosed $45 billion in SBL in its 10-Q filing with the SEC for Q1. This was up 25% from a year earlier. The bank says that securities-based lending has “minimal credit risk” for the bank because the collateral – namely stocks and other liquid securities – has a market value that is “greater than or equal to the outstanding loan balance.”

On this basis, a customer with a portfolio of securities valued at $1 million could borrow up to $1 million against these securities and then take the money and buy something else with it, including real estate or cryptos or pay for a divorce settlement. When the market value drops enough, the customer has to either bring in new money or start selling securities in the portfolio – which is when forced selling sets in.

JPMorgan, in its 10-Q filing, does not separate out its SBL, but only says that it grew in Q1. Goldman Sachs, in its 10-Q filing, does not separate its SBL out either.

So no one knows how much leverage there is in the stock market in terms of these securities-based loans. There are many other forms of leverage, including those that took down Archegos Capital Management and caused banks over $10 billion in losses – $5.5 billion in losses at Credit Suisse alone.

But there is one form of stock-market leverage that is tracked: Regular margin loans at brokers that are reported by brokers to FINRA, which then reports them on a monthly basis, which it just did, and they’re a doozie.

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Continue reading this article at Wolf Street..

Are Stocks Fully Owned?

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

The stock market has been climbing, although of late it has tended to levitate near old highs.

The economy is recovering to be sure, but it is not clear what will happen when all the stimulus checks get fully worked into the system, and further transfers to consumers cease.

Meanwhile, economists debate whether inflation, which is currently increasing rapidly, is transitory or entrenched.

Those who argue it is transitory, suggest it is temporary because of supply chain issues caused by the lockdown response to Covid-19, while others believe it is going to be entrenched because money and fiscal stimulus is excessive.

Oddly, both could be right at the same time.

The Biden Administration seems to have adopted a “no deficit is too big” attitude, engendered by their embrace of Modern Monetary Theory (see our review on this subject in the archives). That theory posits that inflation cannot get worse unless the economy outruns its productive capacity. Critics believe the theory is faulty and that too much money chasing too few goods, is a more accurate description. And clearly, the FED and Congress can create money faster than real goods can be created.

That debate aside, private watchdog indices such as the Everyday Price Index kept by the American Institute of Economic Research, show inflation at about 6.5%, up quite sharply from the 2% or so level typical of the last decade. With hardly any yield on money, real interest rates are deeply negative.

Government figures often do not catch inflation that well, especially the Consumer Price Index. There are multiple reasons for that. Among them is so-called “hedonic” accounting, which adjusts real prices for quality improvements. The CPI also does not handle shrinkflation well, which is the reduction of the size of a product while holding the price supposedly constant. And, the CPI is a basket of consumer items and does not catch the rise in the prices of assets, such as stocks, bonds, and housing.

The Federal Reserve announced that they are aware of the inflationary pressures, and suggested interest rate hikes could be forthcoming in 2023. While that seems a long way out, it appears that any hint that the FED would move away from its ultra-loose policies seems to induce anxiety in the markets or what some call a taper tantrum. As the FED tapers off its purchases of bonds and mortgages and allows interest rates to rise,  markets retreat violently because it appears the easy money era is closing.

Last week, the stock market suffered its worst losses so far for the year.  While the market reaction is mostly sensitive to talk, one can only think about what would happen if there was actual FED action.

Many asset classes are historically elevated in price due to years of zero or extremely low-interest rates.

Jason Goepfert, who publishes Sentiment Trader, also points out that households own stocks at a higher percentage than normal. With few alternatives given low-interest rates, there has been a kind of “everything bubble”, where stocks, bonds, art, real estate, commodities, and cryptocurrencies, have all risen substantially.

In the case of stocks, household holdings of equities relative to total financial assets, show the public holding the highest percentage in stocks since 1952.

Pension funds as well, have loaded up on stocks with equities near the all-time record as a percentage of pension assets.

Margin debt is at all-time highs, indicating both the public and institutions, are so confident, or so greedy, they will borrow money to get into stocks.

Other measures, such as the value of equities versus GDP  are elevated as well. Stocks are currently over 181% of the total value of all output, a record high reading. This measure of equities versus GDP is reportedly Warren Buffet’s favorite indicator. If so, it might be making for some sleepless nights for the oracle of Omaha.

With stocks at lofty levels, and with the public and institutions fully committed to the market, the FED is walking a tightrope.

To continue to ease and stimulate in the face of resurgent inflation, would convey they either don’t care or don’t know what is going on in the economy.

On the other hand, if they cut back, they will catch multiple markets at record highs, with considerable evidence that stocks are fully owned, and perhaps dangerously leveraged with record debt. It seems difficult for them to do anything, that potentially could not upset the economy.

This is an odd situation. The FED is supposed to moderate excessive swings in the economy, but they seem positioned now to create turmoil no matter what they do. Critics say this is because the FED has maintained emergency policies for far too long.

And Congress, which is supposed to deficit spend during economic downturns, finds itself running huge deficits in times of prosperity.  The FED seems to accommodate the spenthrift politicians at every turn.  As one observer put it, the FED is supposed to have the nerve to take away the punchbowl.  Now, they are the punchbowl.

While not predicting immediate difficulty, Goepfert notes that when stocks get heavily owned as they are today, “there has been a clear negative correlation, meaning that as households allocate more of their assets to stocks, future returns on those stocks decrease.”

Historically, excessive stock market gains in the short term tend to reduce performance in the longer term. This is because over time markets tend to regress to the mean. And as a corollary, when households and institutions are already loaded to the gills with equities, they don’t have the ability to take much more on. Once stocks are fully owned, that demand is already reflected in their prices.

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Neland D. Nobel is a retired portfolio manager and Certified Financial Planner.

 

 

 

 

Inflation Fears Rise As Producer Prices Increase Most Ever Recorded

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

The federal government released more data Tuesday that showed rising inflation, alarming economists, and casting more doubt on hopes of a post-COVID economic boom.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a major spike in the cost of producer goods, which includes raw materials such as lumber or tools like machinery. The cost of producer goods rose the most since BLS began tracking the data more than a decade ago and is an indicator of inflation.

“Final demand prices rose 0.6 percent in April and 1.0 percent in March … on an unadjusted basis, the final demand index advanced 6.6 percent for the 12 months ended in May, the largest increase since 12-month data were first calculated in November 2010,” BLS said

Jobs numbers also have been disappointing in recent months, falling short of expectations. And the Census Bureau reported that retail sales fell a troubling 1.3% in May, more than double the drop experts predicted.

“U.S. retail and food services sales for May 2021 were $620.2 billion, a decrease of 1.3 percent (+/- 0.5 percent) from the previous month,” the Census Bureau said.

These reports come just days after BLS released data showing consumer prices had spiked the most since the 2008 financial crisis.

“Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 5.0 percent before seasonal adjustment,” BLS said. “This was the largest 12-month increase since a 5.4-percent increase for the period ending August 2008.”

Those consumer goods saw a major increase in prices, with some spiking significantly in the month of May alone. Household furnishings saw “its largest monthly increase since January 1976” while new vehicle prices spiked 1.6% in May, the “largest 1-month increase since October 2009.”

Some producer goods like commercial electricity and pork fell, but that was greatly outweighed by the increase in other goods. Notably, lumber prices increased more than 15% in the last 12 months.

“A major factor in the May advance in prices for processed goods for intermediate demand was the index for lumber, which increased 15.5 percent,” BLS said. “Prices for diesel fuel; utility natural gas; structural, architectural, and pre-engineered metal products; ethanol; and beef and veal also moved higher.”

Whether prices rose or fell, and to what extent, varied across goods.

“Within the index for final demand goods in May, prices for nonferrous metals rose 6.9 percent,” BLS said. “The indexes for beef and veal; diesel fuel; gasoline; hay, hayseeds, and oilseeds; and motor vehicles also advanced. In contrast, prices for fresh fruits and melons declined 1.9 percent. The indexes for primary basic organic chemicals and for asphalt also moved lower.”

Republicans jumped on the latest economic data, laying the blame at President Joe Biden’s feet and raising the alarm over rising inflation.

“Democrats rammed through a socialist stimulus bill on a party-line vote and now we’re seeing massive inflation,” said Mike Berg of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Voters will hold House Democrats accountable for making everything more expensive.”

Biden, though, has remained optimistic about the economy.

“Covid cases are down,” Biden said in a speech earlier this month in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “Covid deaths are down. Unemployment filings are down. Hunger is down, and vaccinations are up. Jobs are up. Wages are up. Manufacturing is up. Growth is up. People gaining health-care coverage is up. Small business confidence is up. America is finally on the move again.”

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This article was published on June 15, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from The Center Square.

How Many Species Have Gone Extinct?

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

Editors’ Note:  Not many people keep a scorecard on the veracity of public statements.  If they did, they would find that most predictions from government and private organizations concerning “the environment” have a poor track record.  Many are based on faulty computer modeling and many tend to the hyperbolic to encourage fundraising or political action. Yet, even today, we are expected to upend our entire way of life, based on their predictions.  We offer what is below as an example.

 

In 1979, the EPA along with other federal agencies and the world’s leading environmental groups projected that “at least 500,000-600,000” species would become extinct by the year 2000. By how much did this projection overshoot reality?

What do you think?
Less than 10 times?
Less than 100 times?
More than 1000 times?

The correct answer is…more than 1000 times.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter tasked the EPA and other federal agencies to estimate “probable changes” to the world’s environment up through the year 2000. This effort involved hundreds of people, including advisors from the world’s leading environmental groups. In 1979, this team released “The Global 2000 Report to the President of the U.S.,” which stated that under current policies and continued technological progress, “at least 500,000-600,000” species “will be extinguished during the next two decades.”

In 2004, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s leading authority on extinctions, reported: “At least 27 species are recorded as having become Extinct or Extinct in the Wild during the last 20 years (1984-2004).” The report notes that other extinctions may have occurred, such as “eight species of birds,” but more research is needed to be certain. Even if 100 species went extinct, the 1979 projection overshot the actual loss by more than 5,000 times.

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This article is adapted from Just Facts Daily, published on June 13, 2021.

Sayings About the Pandemic That Should Never Be Heard Again

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Since our overlords are telling us in California we will be unshackled as of June 15th (at least for now), it is time to examine some of the nonsense and distortions of the English language we have endured over the past 15 months.

Being part of a pandemic in 2021 is not the worst thing if you compare it to what it must have been like in 1918. You have deliveries to your door, take-out food from multiple restaurants, Netflix and Amazon Prime to stream endless movies and 57 channels with nothing on. You can take a hot shower every day and don’t have to walk outside to go to the potty. One should always look at the brighter side of life. Yet despite that, there are some sayings that we should never, ever be required to hear again.

Non-Essential Business – Let us lead with the biggest and most diabolical statement made during the time of the pandemic. We all know it and you have probably said it. There is no such thing as a “non-essential business.” At least not in the terms these fully-paid governmental employees are saying.

Yes, making buggy whips is a non-essential business … today. So is Woolworth and some other retailers in the current environment. Creative destruction is a part of capitalism. With advancements in technology and customer desires, jobs and businesses become obsolete. People don’t think of how many folks had to shovel the manure off the streets of New York City before automobiles made horse and carriage transportation non-essential.

We made those decisions, not government bureaucrats. To tell people who own a gym that their business is non-essential, the business they built through sweat and sacrifice, is disgusting. To tell barbers, hairstylists, and nail salons they are non-essential is just idiotic because you can see how people flocked to those businesses once allowed to by their overlords.

Only a heartless elected official or one of their inept consultants could have come up with this term. It should go the way of the N-word and the C-word.

Stay Safe – This was obviously developed and used by people who never actually faced true danger in their life. The overwhelming majority of people were never threatened by this disease; or, if they were, would have a mild illness. You might say this to people in a nursing home, but they don’t have smartphones to be annoyed by this.

“Stay safe” has its place. If a hurricane is bearing down on where you live, then that would be a good time to use the phrase. If you were a Jew, Gay, or Gypsy in Europe in the ’30s or ’40s, that would be a good time. If you were fighting in the jungles of Viet Nam, that was appropriate then. Or if you lived in Mao Tse-Tung’s China, you really needed that saying. People probably never used it in these examples because they were in real danger of losing their lives.

This statement is being used by people who never actually faced a challenge in their lives, never entered the military, or had to police a drug-invested neighborhood. It makes them feel better and gives them a false sense that they are caring people.

Saying “be well” or “take care of yourself” is fine, but this statement crosses the line into the vapid.

The truth is we have no choice – The truth is we always have a choice. This is America. We never have to live without a choice. We can move states. We can do what we want. There is no more offensive statement to be conveyed to a free American by an elected leader or one of their bureaucratic wonks than “We have no choice.”

We’re all in this together – No, we are not. We were never in this together and the people who said that were particularly not in this with us. They never lost their jobs. They were never locked down in their homes. They were never told don’t worry about your business, it will be there when you come back.

On top of it, they never sacrificed as we have. The mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, told people she needed a haircut because she is the public face of Chicago and is on national TV. The Governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, shipped his family to Florida by private plane while residents of his state could not leave their homes. Then he told the press he remembered a time when comments about family were off-limits and they dropped the subject. It is a wonder that anyone still lives in Illinois with leadership like this. The smart ones have left. And the state remained on lockdown long after neighboring states were moving toward freedom.

Long after more than 30 million were filing for unemployment — truly the only non-essential workers in America – many government employees were still drawing full pay and benefits. Nancy Pelosi right on cue proposed a $3 trillion-dollar bill that funds billions of dollars to governments and says it is to protect our firefighters and police. Governor Newsom, trying to fill his bloated government budget with monies from better operating states, said if he does not get federal funds that first responders would be laid off. No mention of cutting government employees who are of no use but to harass hard-working people trying to run a business. Then his coffers got filled with tax bounty from IPO offerings. He never turned down the federal dough.

No, we are most definitely not all in this together and we never were.

We must listen to the Scientists – That is technically correct, but it leaves out the second part of the equation. We don’t have to do what they say we should do.

Scientists provide information. They are not equipped to make public policy. Usually, when someone makes this inane statement it is because they are a political hack trying to scare people into doing something they tell us we should be doing, but common sense says we should not.

The CDC and Dr. Fauci have changed the gospel so many times one could get whiplash. The scientific models have been so frequently off that most times they should not be offered.

This may be the most dangerous statement repeated over and over again during the pandemic. The scientists were so frequently wrong it is scary. Sometimes it brought visions of those old Hollywood movies where the tribal meeting was called and the witch doctor in a silly outfit was brought in to tell people what they should do.

Words I hope I never hear againSocial Distancing. Face Mask. Super Spreader.

Ideas I never want to hear againMaybe we should continue wearing face masks. Maybe we will never shake hands again. Both senseless ideas courtesy of Dr. Fauci. Why don’t you suggest we stop hugging also?

Stay Positive – This is actually a good saying, unfortunately being used by pathetic public figures in such a milquetoast way and repeated over and over to minimize its effect.

Here is something positive. Taking back our country from some people who want to control our activities and lives. We live in the greatest country ever created on this planet. People come to the United States to experience our freedom and the manifest existence that leads to life superior to anywhere else. This is because of the unique freedoms that were delivered to us through God and documented by our country’s founders, particularly in the Bill of Rights. We shall continue that actualization through the strength of our people and their willingness to demand those freedoms be maintained.

The most indelible image of the pandemic will always be the magnificent Brian Stokes Mitchell standing on his balcony singing may be my favorite song ever (of 1,000s I love) The Impossible Dream to New Yorkers and all Americans. That is what this country is about.

Have faith in the everyday Americans; they will deliver us from this moment back to the life we have all worked to achieve and the country that we so richly deserve.

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This article was published on June 13, 2021 at Flash Report and is reproduced with permission from the author.

 

Climate Alarmists Flip-Flop Again: Cancel their Monsoon Drought Crisis, Now Claim Too Much Rain

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

Among its top results today under the search term “climate change,” Google News is highlighting articles claiming new research shows global warming will cause stronger Indian and South Asian monsoons and rainfall, which will wreak climate havoc in future decades. Yet, just a few years ago climate alarmists and their media allies claimed global warming will cause weakening monsoons and weakening rainfall, which will wreak climate havoc. The alarmists’ embarrassing self-contradiction begs the question – precisely what among the contradictory alarmist climate narratives is the “settled science”?

On Monday, India Today published an article titled, “Climate change to worsen Indian monsoon, global warming sets the stage for dangerous rains: Study.” The article claims, “The Indian monsoon is likely to get much more dangerous and wetter as global warming alters the system, new research says.”

Reporting on the same study, The Indian Express published an article today titled, “A million years of data confirms: Monsoons are likely to get worse.” The article claims, “Global warming is likely to make India’s monsoon season wetter and more dangerous, new research suggests.”

Both articles are prominently highlighted today by Google News.

Just last year, however, the Hindustan Times reported that a newly published peer-reviewed study showed that global warming will weaken monsoons and reduce monsoon rainfall.

Ominously, the Times asserted, “Monsoon rains are the main water source for agriculture in half of India with irrigation facilities being limited.”

“There is clear evidence that warming of sea surface temperatures have reduced intensity of monsoon rains in several places in India, especially the north-east, where the dip in average annual rainfall is 6-8% since 1980s,” the Times quoted K.J. Ramesh, a former director of the India Meteorological Department.

The Hindustan Times article is merely one of many articles and studies that have claimed global warming will weaken monsoons and regional rainfall. For example, in a 2015 article, the climate activist group India Climate Dialogue asserted researchers found in a peer-reviewed study that “the monsoon is weakening, at least since 1990, as researchers have now proved.”

According to India Climate Dialogue, the researchers “found that there was a 10-20% decrease in the mean rainfall in the Indian subcontinent. The monsoon was decreasing over central South Asia – from south of Pakistan through India to Bangladesh.”

“The decline is crucial because in these regions agriculture is still largely rain-fed. The South Asian monsoon brings sustenance to around two billion people,” India Climate Dialogue warned.

So, which is it? Does global warming strengthen monsoons and cause more rainfall, which we are told is bad? Or does global warming weaken monsoons and cause less rainfall, which we are told is bad? Or, just maybe – and as concluded by scientists in a recent peer-reviewed study, modest warming has little impact on monsoons, though that would be quite inconvenient for climate alarmists.

Alarmists, get you propaganda – er, stories – straight and then get back to us with your “settled science.”

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This article was published on June 9, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from Climate Realism.