Monday, January 14, 2019

Economy: Why A Nearby Recession Is Highly Unlikely

(Drivebycuriosity) -  There is a lot talk about a nearby recession. The usual high priests of doom & gloom are calling a recession for 2020 or even for this year. I think the recession callers will get wronged as they did in 2015 & 2016 (driveby). I will describe below why a recession is highly unlikely this or next year.

The global economy is getting a lot tailwinds from cheap commodities including copper, steel & aluminium. The  price of oil (Brent Crude) dropped about 30% since last autumn. Oil costs about 15% less than a year ago which translates into cheaper gasoline. Today Americans pay about 12% less at the gas pump than last year. Consumers have more money in their wallets to spend for other goods & services - which is boosting consumer spending - and companies have lower costs. 

Former recessions were often caused by spiking oil prices. In 200/08 the price of oil tripled and jumped to $146. According to Prof. James D. Hamilton, University of California, San Diego the oil price spike turned the economic slowdown into a severe recession (econbrowser). Today the price of oil hovers around $60 - far below the danger zone. In 2011 & 2012 the global oil price (represented by Brent Crude) floated around $120 without causing a recession in the USA (brent-crude). So, the price of oil has to rally more than 100% to become a serious thread to the economy. The recent sharp drop of oil prices and Opec`s problems to hike the oil price again, thanks to the climbing US production and fracking, reduce the risk of an oil price induced recession considerably. Rising oil prices also would encourage more oil pumping and would extend the current oil glut.

macrotrends )

Since World War II recessions were also often caused by the Federal Reserve who responded too late to rising inflation rates (wikipedia). Then the Fed needed sharp interest rate hikes to break the inflation mentality. This risk is also very low. The Fed already hiked her interest rates 9-times and there a no signs of an accelerating inflation. In December the US inflation rate (consumer prices) dropped to 1.9%. The so-called core inflation rate (with oil & food) was 2.2% (calculatedrisk). Inflation rates will stay constrained because oil prices are getting tamed by the rising US oil production. Other prices are curbed by the Internet, automation & other aspects of the technological progress which are reducing the costs of producing & distributing stuff and therefore curb inflation (Amazon effect).

We are also far away from an overheating economy which could lead to over-investment. The US economy is grinding along with a slow but sustainable speed and grew about 2.8% in the fourth quarter according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta (frbatlanta ). There is no bubble which has to pop. Banks are solid as their climbing profits demonstrate. Yes, there are signs of a labor shortage, but this is partly compensated by automation.
And there is another tailwind: US companies are still benefiting from the tax reform & ongoing deregulation. Both changes are encouraging them to invest more. I think that a combination of cheap commodities, strong consumer spending, relatively low interest rates, regulation & taxes will keep the economic expansion alive for a long time.

BTW Economic expansions don´t die of old age! Last summer Australia’s economy entered its 27th year without a recession (reuters ). The Australians broke a record, which was hold by The Netherlands, which didn`t have a recession between 1982 and 2008. I don´t see a reason why the US should be unable to follow these examples. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Books: The Year`s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories

(Drivebycuriosity) -   I love science fiction. But I get often disappointed. Most of the so-called sci-fi books and movies tell just fantasy stories about wizards, dragons & princesses or post-apocalyptic horror stories. It became increasingly challenging to find real "science fiction" which has science in it and not pure fairy tales. So I am searching for hard science fiction which blend entertainment with sciences like physics, chemistry, biology & advanced engineering.

Fortunately I found: "The Year`s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories" edited by Allan Kaster (amazon).  The editor collected 11 stories which were originally published in the year 2016 (224 pages). Many stories are optimistic and deliver a "we can do it" message.  They are pro science, pro technology and pro progress.

I have six favorites:

"Number Nine Moon" by Alex Irvine. Humans have abandoned their colonies on Mars but a group of scavengers tries to collect some valuable remains. There is an accident threatening to trap them on the abandoned planet. Can they escape?

"Chasing Ivory" by Ted Kosmatka  A woman visits a herd of Mammoths in the Northern Tundra, which have been bioengineered decades ago. What does she plan?

"Something happened here, but we are not quite sure what it was" by Paul McAuley. The story is set on an exotic planet littered with bizarre alien artifacts, Now humans are living there, thanks to the help of very advanced aliens. A conflict of interests arises with a strange outcome.

"Red King" by Craig DeLancey.  Humans have implants in their heads to be connected all the time and to experience virtual reality & computer games very intensely. A coder supports supports some cops to hunt down the creator of a malign software which takes control of the implant users with deadly consequence. The tale is full of paranoia and reminds me of Phillip K. Dick`s strongest stories.

"Vortex" by Gregory Benford. The plot is set again on Mars. Competing teams from different nations are climbing under the surface of the red planet to find alien life. Benford transforms chemistry, biology, evolution and other sciences into a thrilling plot.

"Fieldwork" by Shariann Lewitt. Some scientists are exploring the ice shield which covers the ocean on the Jupiter moon Europa. Not much is happening here but I am fascinated by the combination of knowledge and fiction.

I really enjoyed the book and I learned a lot. Looking forward to read vol. 2 of this series.In the moment of writing each volume costs just $4.99.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Photography: New York´s Billboards - The Lilliput Effect

(Drivebycuriosity) - I am fascinated by New York City, where I have been living since 2012. The metropolis is full of life. I am impressed by the sheer size of the city and her buildings. Part of the fascination are the huge billboards you can spot all over Manhattan. People and cars are dwarfed by them, which reminds me of Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels.

It seems that every company in the world which wants to be recognized,  has to invests huge sums to be visible here, even when the New Yorkers don´t seem to notice. Often the commercials are stylish and sexy. I display here a selection of pictures I collected on the streets of Manhattan.Being an ambitious amateur photographer I collect pics of this  Lilliput effect and display here some of my favorite shots.

The amazing Peroni lady looks onto Lafayette & Great Jones Street.

To be continued

Monday, January 7, 2019

Economics: A Beautiful Combination

(Drivebycuriosity) - It looks like that the US economy is getting a new boost which could cause a rebound of the global economy this year.  This assumption is based on two trends: Last Friday we learned that the US job market is getting stronger and wage growth is accelerating (chart below ). US salaries are now climbing 3.2% p.a., encouraging consumer spending.

(calculatedrisk )

This trend is supported by a second movement: Oil prices dropped about 40% since October, which translated into falling gasoline prices (green line in the chart below). Today gasoline at US pumps costs 11% less than lat this time last year  ( ). Fall oil & gasoline prices work like a tax cut: Consumers have more money in their wallets and can spend more for other goods & services and companies have lower costs. I suppose that oil & gasoline prices will stay subdued in 2019 & 2020 thanks to the rising US oil production & fracking. Cheaper oil will translate into lower inflation rates - towards 2% in the US - which will allow the Federal Reserve to slow her interest rate hikes (maybe even to pause them) and will give China´s monetary authorities the chance to reduce their interest rates.  

 ( fuelinsights )

Rising wages & falling expenses for gasoline create a beautiful combination. Americans have significantly more disposable income which will boost retail sales and other forms of consumer spending in the US and could - via stronger imports - reaccelerate the global economy.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Economics: Why China Is Doing Better Than The Media Tell You

(Drivebycuriosity) - There is much ado about China´s cooling economy. This week the headlines focused on China´s manufacturing indices. On Sunday the Chinese government published her manufacturing index (NBS Manufacturing PMI)  and on Wednesday followed the media company Caixin with her own version (China General Manufacturing PMI). Both indices dropped and indicated that Chinas´s manufacturing is shrinking and Bloomberg, Reuters &  Co. rang the China recession bell (Chart 1 & 2).


But the manufacturing indices show just on side of the picture. On Sunday the government also published the non-manufacturing index (Non-Manufacturing PMI ), which represents China´s service sector, and in the night to Friday Caixin followed with their service service index  (China Gteteneral Services PMI). Both indices rose and indicate a stronger growth of China`s service sector  - but they didn`t get much attention  (Chart 3 & 4).


The services sector accounts for more than half of the Chinese economy and is therefore more important than manufacturing (like in the US).  In the night to Friday Caixin also published their Caixin China General Composite PMI , which adds both indices together. This index also rose and indicates that China´s economy is even getting a bit stronger (Chart 5). Chart 6 - the Caixin China General Composite PMI since 2014 - doesn`t show any slowdown of the Chinese economy!

(tradingeconomics )

The recent economic numbers - weaker manufacturing compensated by stronger services - fit to China´s transformation process. Until recently China`s economy was based on manufacturing and exports to the rest of the world. But the huge country is growing up and entered another stage of the transformation process. Now they are changing from an industrial country - which relies on exports - into a modern economy like the US which is dominated by services and focuses mostly on the domestic market. The media - including Bloomberg & New York Times - paint a biased and too negative picture of China`s economy.

PS For illustration I used an image from the China Fashion Week in Bejing 2017 displaying creations by designer Tom Dong as a symbol for China`s modernization  (xinhuanet).

Friday, January 4, 2019

Contemporary Art: A Group Of Individuals @ Ivy Brown Gallery New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I am a connoisseur of contemporary art and like to visit art galleries. Yesterday I attended an opening reception @ Ivy Brown Gallery. The art dealer is located in Manhattan´s classy Meatpacking district (675 Hudson Street  ivybrowngallery ). They opened an exhibition named "A Group Of Individuals", containing the work of about a dozen artists.

I was glad to spot a new painting by David Mellen there. Above you can see his wall filling painting " Negation". I have seen his work before (see my posts 2017 &   2014). I really love his style, his paintings are unique and I can easily recognize his work (you can find more information on his website dsmstudio  and on this website   ). Below you can see two more paintings by him: "Inquiet" followed by "We belong to nowhere".

2 more works caught my eyes. Below you can see the sculpture "Roman Fertility Goddess" by Joshua Goode & "Fons et origo #3" by Angelica Bergamini.

To be continued

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Economics: Natural Gas - And Another Bubble Popped

(Drivebycuriosity) - There is lot talk about bubbles. Many see bubbles on the stock market, housing market, credit market, debts, real estate and almost everywhere. Astonishingly the bubble callers don´t notice the real bubbles on the market for commodities. In the recent days the bubble for natural gas popped, following the oil bubble which imploded this fall. Since November the price for natural gas dropped from $4.80 to S2.97, about 40%, and followed the oil price which fell this autumn from $86 to $55 (driveby).


Commodities like oil and natural gas are traded on financial markets where they are represented by financial futures. Their prices are heavily influenced by hedge funds and other speculators who are betting on price changes. Professional portfolio managers, including administrators of large funds, usually act as a herd. When their bros are buying or selling they are buying or selling too which amplifies the price movements. Last fall many traders speculated on rising natural gas prices. They bought financial futures on natural gas which pushed prices higher. Rising prices attracted more speculators, so-called momentum players. The herding behavior led to a snow ball effect and created a bubble on the market for natural gas.

The bubble popped in the recent days. It turned out that the demand for natural gas was not as high as the speculators expected and does not justify prices way above $3. In the recent days the natural gas speculation got disappointed by weather predictions. Weather pundits expect mild temperatures (around 40-50F, 5-10C) for the US east coast, the largest buyer of natural gas. As a result the heard skipped their bets and the bubble popped.