Category Archives: Chinese economy

Global and US Economic Outlook – November 2014

There are a number of free, publically available macroeconomic forecast resources which have standing and a long track record.

Also, investment and other banks make partial releases of their macro projections.

IMF World Economic Outlook

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) revises its World Economic Outlook (WEO) toward the end of each year, this year in October with Legacies, Clouds, Uncertainties.

One advantage is comprehensive coverage. So there are WEO projections over 1, 2 and 3 year horizons for more than 100 countries, even obscure island principalities, and for dozens of variables, including GDP variously measured, inflation, imports and exports, unemployment rate, and population.

Here are highlights of the October revision (click to enlarge).


Largely due to weaker-than-expected global activity in the first half of 2014, the growth forecast for the world economy has been revised downward to 3.3 percent for this year, 0.4 percentage point lower than in the April 2014 World Economic Outlook (WEO). The global growth projection for 2015 was lowered to 3.8 percent.

The global recovery continues to be uneven, with some countries and areas struggling, while others move forward into growth.

Downside risks are increasing and include –

SHORT TERM: worsening geopolitical tensions (Ukraine, Syria) and reversal of recent risk spread and volatility compression in financial markets

MEDIUM TERM: stagnation and low potential growth in advanced economies (Eurozone flirting with deflation) and a decline in potential growth in emerging markets

Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Projections

The OECD Economic Outlook Advance Release for the G-20 from October 2014 projects the following growth rates for 2014 and 2015 (click to enlarge).


For total global GDP growth, the OECD projects 3.3 percent for 2014 and 3.7 percent for 2015 or 0.1 percent less for 2015 than the IMF.

Chinese economic growth is ratcheting down from double-digit levels several years ago, to around 7 percent, while Indian GDP growth is projected to stay in the 6 percent range.

There are significant differences in the IMF and OECD forecasts for the United States.

Survey of Professional Forecasters

The Survey of Professional Forecasters (SPF) is another publically available set of macroeconomic forecasts, but focusing on the US economy. The SPF is maintained by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, which polls participating analysts quarterly, compiling consensus results, spreads, and distributions.

The latest SPF Survey was released August 2014, and is somewhat more optimistic about US economic growth than the IMF and OECD projections.


Investment Bank Data and Projections

Wells Fargo Securities Economics Group produces a monthly report with detailed quarterly forecasts for the US economy. Here is a sample from August 2014 (click to enlarge).


I’m compiling a list of these products and their availability.

The bottom line is there are plenty of forecasts to average together to gin up high likelihood numbers to plug into sales and other business forecast models.

At the same time, there is a problem with calling turning points in almost all these products.

This is not a problem on YouTube now, though. If you search “economic forecasts 2015” on YouTube today, you will see a lengthly list of predictions of economic collapse and market catastrophe by the likes of Jim Rogers, Gerald Calente, and others who dabble in this genre.

We need something like the canary in the coal mine.

Links, end of September

Information Technology (IT)

This is how the “Shell Shock” bug imperils the whole internet

It’s a hacker’s wet dream: a software bug discovered in the practically ubiquitous computer program known as “Bash” makes hundreds of millions of computers susceptible to hijacking. The impact of this bug is likely to be higher than that of the Heartbleed bug, which was exposed in April. The National Vulnerability Database, a US government system which tracks information security flaws, gave the bug the maximum score for “Impact” and “Exploitability,” and rated it as simple to exploit.

The bug, which has been labeled “Shell Shock” by security experts, affects computers running Unix-based operating systems like Mac OS X and Linux. That means most of the internet: according to a September survey conducted by Netcraft, a British internet services company, just 13% of the busiest one million websites use Microsoft web servers. Almost everyone else likely serves their website via a Unix operating system that probably uses Bash.

Microsoft’s Bing Predicts correctly forecasted the Scottish Independence Referendum vote

Bing Predicts was beta tested in the UK for this referendum. The prediction engine uses machine-learning models to analyse and detect patterns from a range of big data sources such as the web and social activity in order to make accurate predictions about the outcome of events.

Bing got the yes/no vote right, but missed the size of the vote to stay united with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Is the profession of science broken (a possible cause of the great stagnation)? Fascinating discussion which mirrors many friends’ comments that too much time is taken up applying for and administering grants, and not enough time is left for the actual research, for unconventional ideas.

What has changed is the bureaucratic culture. The increasing interpenetration of government, university, and private firms has led everyone to adopt the language, sensibilities, and organizational forms that originated in the corporate world. Although this might have helped in creating marketable products, since that is what corporate bureaucracies are designed to do, in terms of fostering original research, the results have been catastrophic.


Climate Science Is Not Settled The Wall Street Journal piece by a former Obama adviser and BP scientist inflamed the commentariat, after publication September 16, on the eve of the big climate talks and march in New York City. See On eve of climate march, Wall Street Journal publishes call to wait and do nothing for a critical perspective.

This chart, from NOAA, is one key – showing the divergence in heat stored in various layers of the oceans –


Nicholas Stern: The state of the climate — and what we might do about it TED talk.


The public response to the Ebola epidemic is ramping up, but the situation is still dire and total cases and deaths are still increasing exponentially.

Ebola outbreak: Death toll passes 3,000 as WHO warns numbers are ‘vastly underestimated’

“The Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa is the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times.Never before in recorded history has a biosafety level four pathogen infected so many people so quickly, over such a broad geographical area, for so long.”


Global Economy

What Does a ‘Good’ Chinese Adjustment Look Like? Michael Pettis argues that what some see as a “soft landing” is in fact a preparation for later financial collapse. Instead, based on an intricate argument regarding interest rates and the nominal GDP growth rates in China, he proposes a reduction in Chinese GDP growth going forward through control of credit – in order to rebalance the Chinese consumer economy. Pettis is to my way of thinking always relevant, and often brilliant in the way he makes his analysis.

What Went Wrong? Russia Sanctions, EU, and the Way Out

Washington, Brussels and Moscow are in a vicious circle, which would spare none of them and which has potential to undermine global recovery.

Venture Capital

22 Crowdfunding Sites (and How To Choose Yours!)


2020 and 2030 – Forecasts and Projections

I’d like to establish a context for discussing longer term forecasts, in this case to 2020 and 2030.

So, just below, I give you my take on 1990-2005. A lot happened that was unanticipated at the beginning of this period. One should expect, I think, the same to be true for 2015-2030.

Along those lines, I also suggest Big Picture factors that may come into play over the next fifteen or so years.

In coming posts, I want to summarize forecasts and projections I have seen for this period.

And I’m a little unusual in the technical forecasting community, since I’m equipped to do matrix programming, discuss boosting and bagging and so forth, and, on the other side of the aisle, weave together these stories and scenarios about process, causes, and factors. The quantitative is usually where I get paid, but, at the same time, I think it is easy to underestimate the benefit of trying to keep track of the Big Picture, the global dynamics, the political economy, and so forth.


The 1990’s rolled out with a nasty little recession in 1991 and voters throwing the first George Bush out of office, in favor of a clarinet-playing former Governor of Arkansas with a penchant for the ladies. Then, the United States experienced the longest period of economic prosperity since the 1960’s, fueled by the tech revolution and rise of the Internet. The breakup of the Soviet Union became official with democratic forms struggling to take root in Russia and former Soviet Republics. The US defense budget was cut about 40 percent from 1980 levels. Deregulation became a theme, and deregulation of telecoms led to burgeoning investments in telecom systems. The end of the decade saw the absurd Y2K problem, where details of computer clocks were supposed to stop everything at midnight, the turn of the century.

The New Millennium saw another recession in 2001, which was particularly sharp for the tech industry. Another Bush took the Presidency, after the Supreme Court intervened in the disputed General Election. Then there was 9/11 – September 11, 2001, with the destruction of the World Trade Center by large airliners being flown into the upper stories. This was a pivotal event. There was immediate surge in the military budget and in US military action in Afghanistan and then the invasion of Iraq, putatively because Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction.”

The US economy pretty much languished after the 2001-2002 recession, being stimulated to an extent by the rise in the defense budget, then by housing activity triggered by continued lowering of interest rates by the US Federal Reserve Bank under the redoubtable Alan Greenspan.

Another development that became especially noticeable after 2000 was the rise of China as a manufacturing and export power. The construction of the Shanghai skyline from the late 1990’s to the middle of the last decade was nothing less than stupendous.

The Importance of Technical Change

So what is important over a span of time? Are there underlying determinants?

I’ve got to believe technical change is an important element in historical process. If we take the fifteen year period sketched above, for example, a lot of the story is driven, at some level, by technical developments, especially in information technology (IT).

My favorite explanation of the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, includes Silicon Valley as a key driver. The Soviet planned economy was a huge lumbering machine, compared to the nimble, change-oriented shops in the Valley, innovating new computer setups every few months. One immediate consequence was the US fighter aircraft came to totally dominate the old MIG planes, with their electronically guided missiles and tracking systems.

And to go on in this vein, focusing on the rise of US tech and then the movement of production to China is a strategic process for understanding the past couple of decades.

Big Picture Factors

Suffice it to say – new technology will be as much a driver of change in the next fifteen years, as it has been over the past fifteen.

Indeed, according to the futurist Ray Kurzweil, something called The Singularity stalks the human future. Perhaps around 2045, somewhat outside our forecast horizon in this discussion, technology will converge to completely outperform human intelligence. Commentators ranging from Stanislaus Ulam to Kurzweil believe that it is impossible to project human history beyond this point – hence the name.

Conventionally, this will involve biotechnology, computer technology, and robotics – but also could involve nanotechnology.

In any case, hefty doses of new technology may be necessary just to keep on a level course. I’m thinking, for example, of the diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics. So we have the evolution of “superbugs,” as well as the emergence of new epidemics through mutation or disease vectors jumping species lines. Ebola is a particularly gruesome example.

And while on technology, it is fair to observe that complex technologies just at or beyond the boundary of human control present deep challenges. Deep-sea oil drilling and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, under British Petroleum, and the Fukishima nuclear disaster, still leaking radioactivity into the Pacific, are two examples.

Population or more generally demography is another Big Picture factor. Populations are aging in the United States, Europe, and Japan, but also in China. And global population continues to grow, possibly by another billion by 2030.

Climate change is another Big Picture factor.

The global climate is a complex, dynamic system. There is lots of noise in the discussion and uncertainties, such as whether there may be a cooling interval, as carbon dioxide and methane concentrations continue to rise globally. A number of studies commissioned by US and other intelligence agencies, though, highlight the potential for massive impacts from, say, basic changes in monsoon patterns in South Asia.

In terms of geopolitics, I suspect the shift in the economic center of gravity to somewhere along the Asian rim is another Big Picture development.

There are many relevant metrics. The proportion of global output produced by the United States, according to the World Economic Outlook (WEO) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will continue to diminuish, as Chinese growth in the worst case is projected to exceed levels of economic growth in the US and, certainly, in Europe.

Then, there is the issue of the US being the policeman of the world. At some point, the cost of maintaining a global span of military bases and force readiness for multiple theatres of action will weigh heavily on the US – as one could argue is already happening to some degree.

Challenges to the global dominance of the US dollar can be predicted, also, in the next fifteen years.


Whether any of the above “Big Picture” factors actually come into play by 2020 or 2030 is, of course, a speculation. But I think the basic technique of long term forecasting is to inventory possible influences like these. Then, you construct scenarios.

One thing appears certain. And that is there will be surprises.

In looking at forecasts for the next five to fifteen years, I also want to give thought to sustainability. Are there institutions and arrangements which could offer a backup to the various types of instabilities which could emerge?

And there is apparently an increasing chance of an increase in the general level of warfare, perhaps with linking of action in various theatres. I have to say, too, that I am poorly equipped to comment on these conflicts, although, as they ramp up, I attempt to learn more about the players and underlying dynamics.

I’ll be using this venue as a scratch-pad to record the projections of others and some thoughts I might have in response vis a vis 2020 and 2030.

Video Friday – Ecommerce Trends

Trends for 2014

Matt made this at the end of 2013, but it hits the mark for what we are seeing this year. It’s only two minutes! Part of a series called ’Two Minute Tuesdays’, but of course we are showing it on a Friday.

But a lot of what you find on ecommerce is US-centric. This leads to the question –

Should We Be Afraid of Alibaba?

Alibaba is bigger than Amazon and eBay combined, leading to an alarmist Bloomberg article earlier this month Alibaba’s IPO May Herald the End of U.S. E-Commerce Dominance

Ecommerce Trends in China

This YouTube video is a test run of a talk given May 2014 in China, and contains some material at the beginning which I consider to be superfluous – biography of the presenter, etc. However, if you get beyond that, there are a lot of key stats presented in the slides and presentation. Valuable.

Links – July 10, 2014

Did China Just Crush The US Housing Market? Zero Hedge has established that Chinese money is a major player in the US luxury housing market with charts like these.



Then, looking within China, it’s apparent that the source of this money could be shut off – a possibility which evokes some really florid language from Zero Hedge –

Because without the Chinese bid in a market in which the Chinese are the biggest marginal buyer scooping up real estate across the land, sight unseen, and paid for in laundered cash (which the NAR blissfully does not need to know about due to its AML exemptions), watch as suddenly the 4th dead cat bounce in US housing since the Lehman failure rediscovers just how painful gravity really is.

IPO market achieves liftoff More IPO’s coming to market now.


The Mouse That Wouldn’t Die: How a Lack of Public Funding Holds Back a Promising Cancer Treatment Fascinating. Dr. Zheng Cui has gone from identifying, then breeding cancer resistant mice, to discovering the genetics and mechanism of this resistance, focusing on a certain type of white blood cell. Then, moving on to human research, Dr. Cui has identified similar genetics in humans, and successfully treated advanced metastatic cancer in trials. But somehow – maybe since transfusions are involved and Big pharma can’t make money on it – the research is losing support.

Scientists Create ‘Dictionary’ of Chimp Gestures to Decode Secret Meanings

Some of those discovered meanings include the following:

•When a chimpanzee taps another chimp, it means “Stop that”

•When a chimpanzee slaps an object or flings its hand, it means “Move away” or “Go away”

•When a chimpanzee raises its arm, it means “I want that”


Medicine w/o antibiotics

The Hillary Clinton Juggernaut Courts Wall Street and Neocons Describes Hillary as the “uber-establishment candidate.”


Links – early July 2014

While I dig deeper on the current business outlook and one or two other issues, here are some links for this pre-Fourth of July week.

Predictive Analytics

A bunch of papers about the widsom of smaller, smarter crowds I think the most interesting of these (which I can readily access) is Identifying Expertise to Extract the Wisdom of Crowds which develops a way by eliminating poorly performing individuals from the crowd to improve the group response.

Application of Predictive Analytics in Customer Relationship Management: A Literature Review and Classification From the Proceedings of the Southern Association for Information Systems Conference, Macon, GA, USA March 21st–22nd, 2014. Some minor problems with writing English in the article, but solid contribution.

US and Global Economy

Nouriel Roubini: There’s ‘schizophrenia’ between what stock and bond markets tell you Stocks tell you one thing, but bond yields suggest another. Currently, Roubini is guardedly optimistic – Eurozone breakup risks are receding, US fiscal policy is in better order, and Japan’s aggressively expansionist fiscal policy keeps deflation at bay. On the other hand, there’s the chance of a hard landing in China, trouble in emerging markets, geopolitical risks (Ukraine), and growing nationalist tendencies in Asia (India). Great list, and worthwhile following the links.

The four stages of Chinese growth Michael Pettis was ahead of the game on debt and China in recent years and is now calling for reduction in Chinese growth to around 3-4 percent annually.

Because of rapidly approaching debt constraints China cannot continue what I characterize as the set of “investment overshooting” economic polices for much longer (my instinct suggests perhaps three or four years at most). Under these policies, any growth above some level – and I would argue that GDP growth of anything above 3-4% implies almost automatically that “investment overshooting” policies are still driving growth, at least to some extent – requires an unsustainable increase in debt. Of course the longer this kind of growth continues, the greater the risk that China reaches debt capacity constraints, in which case the country faces a chaotic economic adjustment.


Is This the Worst Congress Ever? Barry Ritholtz decries the failure of Congress to lower interest rates on student loans, observing –

As of July 1, interest on new student loans rises to 4.66 percent from 3.86 percent last year, with future rates potentially increasing even more. This comes as interest rates on mortgages and other consumer credit hovered near record lows. For a comparison, the rate on the 10-year Treasury is 2.6 percent. Congress could have imposed lower limits on student-loan rates, but chose not to.

This is but one example out of thousands of an inability to perform the basic duties, which includes helping to educate the next generation of leaders and productive citizens. It goes far beyond partisanship; it is a matter of lack of will, intelligence and ability.

Hear, hear.

Climate Change

Climate news: Arctic seafloor methane release is double previous estimates, and why that matters This is a ticking time bomb. Article has a great graphic (shown below) which contrasts the projections of loss of Artic sea ice with what actually is happening – underlining that the facts on the ground are outrunning the computer models. Methane has more than an order of magnitude more global warming impact that carbon dioxide, per equivalent mass.


Dahr Jamail | Former NASA Chief Scientist: “We’re Effectively Taking a Sledgehammer to the Climate System”

I think the sea level rise is the most concerning. Not because it’s the biggest threat, although it is an enormous threat, but because it is the most irrefutable outcome of the ice loss. We can debate about what the loss of sea ice would mean for ocean circulation. We can debate what a warming Arctic means for global and regional climate. But there’s no question what an added meter or two of sea level rise coming from the Greenland ice sheet would mean for coastal regions. It’s very straightforward.

Machine Learning


Computer simulating 13-year-old boy becomes first to pass Turing test A milestone – “Eugene Goostman” fooled more than a third of the Royal Society testers into thinking they were texting with a human being, during a series of five minute keyboard conversations.

The Milky Way Project: Leveraging Citizen Science and Machine Learning to Detect Interstellar Bubbles Combines Big Data and crowdsourcing.

The Next Recession – Will It Be A Global Meltdown?

One my focuses is the global economy and any cracks in the firmament which might presage the next recession. I rely a lot on my Twitter account to keep me on the crest of the wave, in this regard.

I’m really concerned, as are many of my colleagues and contacts in business and government.

We’ve hardly escaped the effects of last recession 2008-2009. Those are US dates, of course, set by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) the official recession “dater” in this country.

There have been a series of rolling impacts and consequences of this so-called “Great Recession.”


Housing or real estate bubbles were present in Europe, too, particularly in Spain and Ireland. Then, there was the problem of the Greek economy and state, which did not support the level of public debt that had been garnered by, in some cases, corrupt public officials. And European problems were complicated by the currency union of the euro in a context where there is not, as yet, a centralized EU state. Anyway, not to reprise the whole matter blow-by-blow, but most of Europe, with the exception of Germany, plunged into recession and struggled with austerity policies that made things worse for Main Street or, as they like to say in Britain, “High Street.”

Many European countries are just now coming out of recession, and overall, the growth rate in the EU area is almost indistinguishable from zero.

So another recession in the next one to two years would really set them back.


Part of the problem China has been experiencing is related to the persisting downturn in most of Europe, since Europe is a big trading partner. And so, for that matter is the United States, which bought less from China during the recession years.

But another problem is that China now is experiencing a mojo big property bubble of its own.

Newly wealthy Chinese do not really have any place to put their money, except real estate. The Chinese, like the Japanese, are big savers, and for many middle class families, buying the second apartment or even a house is an investment for the future. Yet Chinese real estate prices have skyrocketed, leaving the average Chinese wage earner in the dust, with less and less hope of ever owning a residence.

Apparently, in connection with this real estate speculation, a large shadow banking system has emerged. Some estimates circulate on Twitter suggesting this rivals the size of the official Chinese banking system.

Can “market socialism” or “market Leninism” experience a financial crisis, based on too many debts that cannot be paid?

I’ve been to China a few times, and done some business there – all the while trying to understand how things are set up. My feeling is that one should not impute banking practices that seem pro forma in, say, Great Britain or the US, to the Chinese. I think they are much more ready to “break the rules” in order to keep the party going (which is sort of a pun).

Having said that, I do think a Chinese crisis could develop if property values collapse, as they are wont to do in bubble mode.

Again, it’s hard to say how this might play out, since the victims and suffering would be among the nouveau riche of China, of whom there are millions, and many more average families who have invested their nest egg in a hot property.

But I can’t think that collapse of real estate values in modern China would not have worldwide repurcussions.

The Rest of the World

Regrettably, I cannot go through other major regions, one-by-one, but I’d have to say that things are not so good. The BRIC’s as a group all have more problems than a few years back, when they were hailed as the bright new centers of economic growth by that Goldman Sachs analyst. That’s Brazil, Russia, India, and China, of course.

Possibilities of Increased Conflict

There is a kind of axiom of geopolitics and social interaction that when the pie is growing and everybody can get more, even though their slice may not have been very big to begin with, there is a tendency for people to make do, go about their business and so forth. Reverse this and you have the concept that shrinking the pie – as austerity policies and the Great Recession have done – tends to increase levels of conflict. At first, to the extent that people have the idea that “we are all in this together” there may be increased cooperation. But that is not the current situation in almost any society. Quite the contrary, as Piketty and the Occupy Movement highlight, there is growing awareness of inequality of wealth and income.

There are armed conflicts in Syria, the Ukraine, Afghanistan (resurgent Taliban), and areas and regions in Africa. The Indian elections recently installed a Hindu nationalist who hopefully will be a reformer, but may, if the going gets tough, revert or acquiesce to more conflict with Pakistan and with non-Hindu populations within India. Pakistan, one of the world’s nuclear powers, appears to be extremely unstable politically. There are deep civil divisions in Thailand between city and rural areas that parallel class divisions. China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea.

And we may be moving from an era of US-centric global capitalism to a time when the Eurasian supercontinent will become significantly more important and perhaps decoupled from Wall Street and the City of London. Already, there are threats to dollar supremacy, and, historically, as US economic power is eclipsed by the more rapidly growing economies of Asia, some adjustment seems predictable.

In all this, Hollywood can be counted on to roll out some really corking new international intrigue films, perhaps (although I doubt it) with more complex plots.

The Situation with the US Federal Reserve Bank

The point of this international survey and reprise of recent business history is to highlight areas where surprises may originate, shaking the markets, and perhaps triggering the next recession.

But the most likely suspect is the US Federal Reserve Bank.

Two graphs speak volumes.



Seeking to encourage economic recovery, the US Federal Reserve dropped the federal funds rate to a number effectively almost zero – a historically low number. This zero bound federal funds rate has persisted since the end of 2009, or for about five years.

The Fed also has engaged in new policies, whereby it goes into private bond markets and buys long term bonds – primarily mortgage-backed securities. The second chart tracks this inasmuch as a good portion of the more than 4 trillion in Fed assets (for which there are corresponding liabilities, of course) are these mortgage-backed securities. In effect, the Fed has purchased a sizeable portion of the US housing market – one might say “nationalize” except that would be forgetting the fact that the Fed is actually a private institution whose governance is appointed by the Executive Branch of the US government.

In any case, this bond-buying is the famous “quantitative easing” (QE) and is mirrored in the accumulation of excess reserves by the banking system. Generally, that is, banks and financial institutions issue mortgages, sell them among themselves to be packaged in mortgage-backed securities, and the Fed has been buying these.

Banks can easily loan these excess reserves, but they consistently have not. Why is an interesting question beyond the scope of this discussion, but the consequence is that the Fed’s actions are “firewalled” from increasing the rate of inflation, which is what ordinarily you might think would occur given that various metrics of money supply also have surged upward.

Now “Fed-watching” is its own little cottage industry among financial commentators, and I am not going to second-guess the media here. The Fed has announced a plan to “taper” these purchases of long term bonds. This is likely to increase the mortgage rates and, probably to some extent, based on expectations already has.

So, the long and the short of it are that this set of policies – zero federal funds rate and bond buying cannot go on forever.

If economic growth has been low-grade since 2010 with these low interest rates, what is the reasonable outlook for a higher interest rate regime?

Timing of the Next Recession

When is the most likely time for a recession, for example? Would it be later in 2014, in 2015, or thereafter, maybe in 2016.

Here is a table of all the recessions in the US since the middle 1850’s along with facts about their duration (source: NBER).


Without even considering averages, the maximum period of trough to trough – that is, from the bottom of one recession to the bottom of the next – has been 128 months or ten years and eight months. Here, incidentally, the month numbers begin January 1800, for what that’s worth.

Thus, at the outside, based on these empirics, the trough of the next recession is likely to occur no later than early 2020.

Note that we have already blown through the average length from trough to trough of about 58.4 months or about five years from June 2009.

On a simple probabilistic basis, therefore, we are moving into the tail of the distribution of business cycle durations, suggesting that the chances of a downturn are in some sense already above 50 percent.

And note that the experience of the current business recovery is nothing like this historically maximum span in the 1990’s between the trough of the recession of 1990-1991 and the trough of November 2001.

This business recovery persistently seems to move ahead just above or, in the last quarter of 2013, below “stall speed.”

Seemingly, a fairly minor perturbation could set off a chain reaction, given the advanced frothiness in the stock market and softness in housing prices.

More of the Same, Worse

Neil Baroifsky was special inspector with oversight authority for the TARP during the bailout phase of the Great Recession, and currently is a partner in the Litigation Department of national law firm Jenner & Block LLP.

He’s also an author and often is called on for his opinion about developments in malfeasance writ large among the finance giants – such as the Credit Suisse settlement. In connection with a recent NPR interview, Barofsky said,

Although it is good that we averted a catastrophe back in 2008, the way that we did so I believe has unfortunately set the stage for an even more devastating financial crisis in the future.

HOBSON: In the future? How far?

BAROFSKY: Well, if I knew that, Michael Lewis would be writing his next book about people who made billions on timing the markets perfectly about me, which would be great.


BAROFSKY: But if you look, a lot of the same broken incentives from 2008 are still there. It’s just a question of when, not if. You can’t look at the fundamental broken incentives in the financial system and really come to a conclusion other than that we’re headed down the same dangerous path that we were that culminated in the explosion of ’08.

Barofsky’s point is readily supported by facts, such as –

The US and global financial system is even more concentrated today than in 2007, making “too big to fail”and even bigger potential problem now, than before the Great Recession. Even Alan Greenspan has taken note.

And the “pass the buck” system, whereby bond rating agencies are paid by the originators to evaluate exotic securities (“financial innovations”) created by the banking and shadow banking industries, securities which are then passed on to pension funds and hapless investors – this system appears to still be completely in place. Talk about the concept of “moral hazard.”

Global Impact

I think you get the picture.

For one reason or another, some fairly minor event is likely to set off a cascade of consequences in US and global financial markets, leading to the next recession. Probably, within one, two, or three years, as a matter of fact. Because the US Fed, and, for that matter, other central banks will still be working their way out of the last recession, there may be fewer “policy tools” to halt the stampede to sell, cutback, and so forth. Governments could respond with aggressive fiscal policy, but that option appears limited unless there are major changes in the political climate in the US and Europe.

Personally, I think wholly new directions of policy should be contemplated at the personal, local, regional, and of course at national levels.

We need to create what I have started to call “islands of stability.” This is the old idea of local self-reliance, but in new packaging. I really think there should be discussions widely across the US at least about how to decouple from the global economy and, indeed, from the financial concentrations on Wall Street. As a matter of self-preservation, until such time as more courageous national policies can be undertaken to reign in such obvious risks.

LInks – late May

US and Global Economic Prospects

Goldman’s Hatzius: Rationale for Economic Acceleration Is Intact

We currently estimate that real GDP fell -0.7% (annualized) in the first quarter, versus a December consensus estimate of +2½%. On the face of it, this is a large disappointment. It raises the question whether 2014 will be yet another year when initially high hopes for growth are ultimately dashed.

 Today we therefore ask whether our forecast that 2014-2015 will show a meaningful pickup in growth relative to the first four years of the recovery is still on track. Our answer, broadly, is yes. Although the weak first quarter is likely to hold down real GDP for 2014 as a whole, the underlying trends in economic activity are still pointing to significant improvement….

 The basic rationale for our acceleration forecast of late 2013 was twofold—(1) an end to the fiscal drag that had weighed on growth so heavily in 2013 and (2) a positive impulse from the private sector following the completion of the balance sheet adjustments specifically among US households. Both of these points remain intact.

Economy and Housing Market Projected to Grow in 2015

Despite many beginning-of-the-year predictions about spring growth in the housing market falling flat, and despite a still chugging economy that changes its mind quarter-to-quarter, economists at the National Association of Realtors and other industry groups expect an uptick in the economy and housing market through next year.

The key to the NAR’s optimism, as expressed by the organization’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, earlier this week, is a hefty pent-up demand for houses coupled with expectations of job growth—which itself has been more feeble than anticipated. “When you look at the jobs-to-population ratio, the current period is weaker than it was from the late 1990s through 2007,” Yun said. “This explains why Main Street America does not fully feel the recovery.”

Yun’s comments echo those in a report released Thursday by Fitch Ratings and Oxford Analytica that looks at the unusual pattern of recovery the U.S. is facing in the wake of its latest major recession. However, although the U.S. GDP and overall economy have occasionally fluctuated quarter-to-quarter these past few years, Yun said that there are no fresh signs of recession for Q2, which could grow about 3 percent.

Report: San Francisco has worse income inequality than Rwanda

If San Francisco was a country, it would rank as the 20th most unequal nation on Earth, according to the World Bank’s measurements.


Climate Change

When Will Coastal Property Values Crash And Will Climate Science Deniers Be The Only Buyers?


How Much Will It Cost to Solve Climate Change?

Switching from fossil fuels to low-carbon sources of energy will cost $44 trillion between now and 2050, according to a report released this week by the International Energy Agency.

Natural Gas and Fracking

How The Russia-China Gas Deal Hurts U.S. Liquid Natural Gas Industry

This could dampen the demand – and ultimately the price for – LNG from the United States. East Asia represents the most prized market for producers of LNG. That’s because it is home to the top three importers of LNG in the world: Japan, South Korea and China. Together, the three countries account for more than half of LNG demand worldwide. As a result, prices for LNG are as much as four to five times higher in Asia compared to what natural gas is sold for in the United States.

The Russia-China deal may change that.

If LNG prices in Asia come down from their recent highs, the most expensive LNG projects may no longer be profitable. That could force out several of the U.S. LNG projects waiting for U.S. Department of Energy approval. As of April, DOE had approved seven LNG terminals, but many more are waiting for permits.

LNG terminals in the United States will also not be the least expensive producers. The construction of several liquefaction facilities in Australia is way ahead of competitors in the U.S., and the country plans on nearly quadrupling its LNG capacity by 2017. More supplies and lower-than-expected demand from China could bring down prices over the next several years.

Write-down of two-thirds of US shale oil explodes fracking mythThis is big!

Next month, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) will publish a new estimate of US shale deposits set to deal a death-blow to industry hype about a new golden era of US energy independence by fracking unconventional oil and gas.

EIA officials told the Los Angeles Times that previous estimates of recoverable oil in the Monterey shale reserves in California of about 15.4 billion barrels were vastly overstated. The revised estimate, they said, will slash this amount by 96% to a puny 600 million barrels of oil.

The Monterey formation, previously believed to contain more than double the amount of oil estimated at the Bakken shale in North Dakota, and five times larger than the Eagle Ford shale in South Texas, was slated to add up to 2.8 million jobs by 2020 and boost government tax revenues by $24.6 billion a year.


The Annotated History Of The World’s Next Reserve Currency


Goldman: Prepare for Chinese property bust

…With demand poised to slow given a tepid economic backdrop, weaker household affordability, rising mortgage rates and developer cash flow weakness, we believe current construction capacity of the domestic property industry may be excessive. We estimate an inventory adjustment cycle of two years for developers, driving 10%-15% price cuts in most cities with 15% volume contraction from 2013 levels in 2014E-15E. We also expect M&A activities to take place actively, favoring developers with strong balance sheet and cash flow discipline.

China’s Shadow Banking Sector Valued At 80% of GDP

The China Banking Regulatory Commission has shed light on the country’s opaque shadow banking sector. It was as large as 33 trillion yuan ($5.29 trillion) in mid-2013 and equivalent to 80% of last year’s GDP, according to Yan Qingmin, a vice chairman of the commission.

In a Tuesday WeChat blog sent by the Chong Yang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University, Yan wrote that his calculation is based on shadow lending activities from asset management businesses to trust companies, a definition he said was very broad.  Yan said the rapid expansion of the sector, which was equivalent to 53% of GDP in 2012, entailed risks of some parts of the shadow banking business, but not necessarily the Chinese economy.

Yan’s estimation is notably higher than that of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The government think tank said on May 9 that the sector has reached 27 trillion yuan ($4.4 trillion in 2013) and is equivalent to nearly one fifth of the domestic banking sector’s total assets.

Massive, Curvaceous Buildings Designed to Imitate a Mountain Forest


Information Technology (IT)

I am an IT generalist. Am I doomed to low pay forever? Interesting comments and suggestions to this question on a Forum maintained by The Register.

I’m an IT generalist. I know a bit of everything – I can behave appropriately up to Cxx level both internally and with clients, and I’m happy to crawl under a desk to plug in network cables. I know a little bit about how nearly everything works – enough to fill in the gaps quickly: I didn’t know any C# a year ago, but 2 days into a project using it I could see the offshore guys were writing absolute rubbish. I can talk to DB folks about their DBs; network guys about their switches and wireless networks; programmers about their code and architects about their designs. Don’t get me wrong, I can do as well as talk, programming, design, architecture – but I would never claim to be the equal of a specialist (although some of the work I have seen from the soi-disant specialists makes me wonder whether I’m missing a trick).

My principle skill, if there is one – is problem resolution, from nitty gritty tech details (performance and functionality) to handling tricky internal politics to detoxify projects and get them moving again.

How on earth do I sell this to an employer as a full-timer or contractor? Am I doomed to a low income role whilst the specialists command the big day rates? Or should I give up on IT altogether

Crowdfunding is brutal… even when it works

China bans Windows 8

China has banned government use of Windows 8, Microsoft Corp’s latest operating system, a blow to a US technology company that has long struggled with sales in the country.

The Central Government Procurement Center issued the ban on installing Windows 8 on Chinese government computers as part of a notice on the use of energy-saving products, posted on its website last week.

Data Analytics

Statistics of election irregularities – good forensic data analytics.

Links May 2014

If there is a theme for this current Links page, it’s that trends spotted a while ago are maturing, becoming clearer.

So with the perennial topic of Big Data and predictive analytics, there is an excellent discussion in Algorithms Beat Intuition – the Evidence is Everywhere. There is no question – the machines are going to take over; it’s only a matter of time.

And, as far as freaky, far-out science, how about Scientists Create First Living Organism With ‘Artificial’ DNA.

Then there are China trends. Workers in China are better paid, have higher skills, and they are starting to use the strike. Striking Chinese Workers Are Headache for Nike, IBM, Secret Weapon for Beijing . This is a long way from the poor peasant women from rural areas living in dormitories, doing anything for five or ten dollars a day.

The Chinese dominance in the economic sphere continues, too, as noted by the Economist. Crowning the dragon – China will become the world’s largest economy by the end of the year


But there is the issue of the Chinese property bubble. China’s Property Bubble Has Already Popped, Report Says


Then, there are issues and trends of high importance surrounding the US Federal Reserve Bank. And I can think of nothing more important and noteworthy, than Alan Blinder’s recent comments.

Former Fed Leader Alan Blinder Sees Market-rattling Infighting at Central Bank

“The Fed may get more raucous about what to do next as tapering draws to a close,” Alan Blinder, a banking industry consultant and economics professor at Princeton University said in a speech to the Investment Management Consultants Association in Boston.

The cacophony is likely to “rattle the markets” beginning in late summer as traders debate how precipitously the Fed will turn from reducing its purchases of U.S. government debt and mortgage securities to actively selling it.

The Open Market Committee will announce its strategy in October or December, he said, but traders will begin focusing earlier on what will happen with rates as some members of the rate-setting panel begin openly contradicting Fed Chair Janet Yellen, he said.

Then, there are some other assorted links with good infographics, charts, or salient discussion.

Alibaba IPO Filing Indicates Yahoo Undervalued Heck of an interesting issue.


Twitter Is Here To Stay

Three Charts on Secular Stagnation Krugman toying with secular stagnation hypothesis.

Rethinking Property in the Digital Era Personal data should be viewed as property

Larry Summers Goes to Sleep After Introducing Piketty at Harvard Great pic. But I have to have sympathy for Summers, having attended my share of sleep-inducing presentations on important economics issues.


Turkey’s Institutions Problem from the Stockholm School of Economics, nice infographics, visual aids. Should go along with your note cards on an important emerging economy.

Post-Crash economics clashes with ‘econ tribe’ – economics students in England are proposing reform of the university economics course of study, but, as this link points out, this is an uphill battle and has been suggested before.

The Life of a Bond – everybody needs to know what is in this infographic.

Very Cool Video of Ocean Currents From NASA


Links – April 26, 2014

These Links help orient forecasting for companies and markets. I pay particular attention to IT developments. Climate change is another focus, since it is, as yet, not fully incorporated in most longer run strategic plans. Then, primary global markets, like China or the Eurozone, are important. I usually also include something on data science, predictive analytics methods, or developments in economics. Today, I include an amazing YouTube of an ape lighting a fire with matches.


Xinhua Insight: Property bubble will not wreck China’s economy

Information Technology (IT)

Thoughts on Amazon earnings for Q1 2014


This chart perfectly captures Amazon’s current strategy: very high growth at 1% operating margins, with the low margins caused by massive investment in the infrastructure necessary to drive growth. It very much feels as though Amazon recognizes that there’s a limited window of opportunity for it to build the sort of scale and infrastructure necessary to dominate e-commerce before anyone else does, and it’s scraping by with minimal margins in order to capture as much as possible of that opportunity before it closes.

Apple just became the world’s biggest-dividend stock


The Disruptive Potential of Artificial Intelligence Applications Interesting discussion of vertical search, virtual assistants, and online product recommendations.

Hi-tech giants eschew corporate R&D, says report

..the days of these corporate “idea factories” are over according to a new study published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP). Entitled Physics Entrepreneurship and Innovation (PDF), the 308-page report argues that many large businesses are closing in-house research facilities and instead buying in new expertise and technologies by acquiring hi-tech start-ups.

Climate Change

Commodity Investors Brace for El Niño

Commodities investors are bracing themselves for the ever-growing possibility for the occurrence of a weather phenomenon known as El Niño by mid-year which threatens to play havoc with commodities markets ranging from cocoa to zinc.

The El Niño phenomenon, which tends to occur every 3-6 years, is associated with above-average water temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific and can, in its worst form, bring drought to West Africa (the world’s largest cocoa producing region), less rainfall to India during its vital Monsoon season and drier conditions for the cultivation of crops in Australia.


Researchers Tested The ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’ On Real-Life Gamblers And Stumbled Upon An Amazing Realization I love this stuff. I always think of my poker group.

..gamblers appear to be behaving as though they believe in the gambler’s fallacy, that winning or losing a bunch of bets in a row means that the next bet is more likely to go the other way. Their reactions to that belief — with winners taking safer bets under the assumption they’re going to lose and losers taking long-shot bets believing their luck is about to change — lead to the opposite effect of making the streaks longer

Foreign Affairs Focus on Books: Thomas Piketty on Economic Inequality

Is the U.S. Shale Boom Going Bust?

Among drilling critics and the press, contentious talk of a “shale bubble” and the threat of a sudden collapse of America’s oil and gas boom have been percolating for some time. While the most dire of these warnings are probably overstated, a host of geological and economic realities increasingly suggest that the party might not last as long as most Americans think.

Apes Can Definitely Use Tools

Bonobo Or Boy Scout? Great Ape Lights Fire, Roasts Marshmallows