Bits & Pieces (Tuesday Evening Open Mic)

How We Ruined the Occupy Wall Street Generation. Wait, why is it always our fault? Can’t these people be responsible for anything in their own lives?

Apparently not. Mostly Peaceful Stabbing at Occupy Baltimore.

Mmm. Anybody else hankering for a six-pack of Pepsi Ice Cucumber?

The US will start considering a country’s treatment of homosexuals when passing out the foreign aid. I imagine that this is going to impact a lot of the countries we send money to. No more cash for you, Pakistan!

Also from HuffPo: Mugger tries to mug Ultimate Fighting Champion, later regrets choice of victim.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Anthony Miranda approached a parked vehicle near 55th Street and Kenneth Avenue Friday night and asked the driver for a lighter before pointing a handgun at the man and demanding money. After the driver handed over some cash, Miranda reportedly ordered him out of the car — which was apparently a mistake.

… Miranda was taken to Holy Cross Hospital with a “face full of lacerations,” two black eyes and a gunshot wound.

Apparently, in a struggle for the weapon, he ended up shooting himself in the ankle. Kids, stealing is wrong. For more reasons than one.


Is strip searching senior citizens really adding anything to our security?

According to Fox News, the Muppets are a communist plot. I just saw The Muppets the other day, and it was totally awesome. One of the best Muppet movies since the original.

More from Media Matters. Rush Limbaugh (using common sense) says that Fox isn’t part of “a conservative movement”. All I know is, they don’t like Obama, and they don’t like Ron Paul, so I’m not sure who’s left.

How Ghost Busters should have ended.

Obama Blames the Internet for High Unemployment

At Real Clear Politics.

“Layoffs too often became permanent, not part of the business cycle. And these changes didn’t just affect blue collar workers. If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs and the internet,” President Obama said at a campaign event in Kansas.

Which is true, as far as it goes, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take from it. At one point, 90% of American jobs involved agriculture. Now almost none of them do. But we aren’t suffering from 80% unemployment. More time allows for more people to do different kinds of jobs, but there’s almost always somebody willing to pay for something.

Ace of Spades rebuts. My personal experience has been that almost all my jobs involved the Internet in some way, post 1995. The jobs I had post-2001 were web-retailing jobs, up until 2009, and simply would not have existed, if not for the Internet. Then I got my current position doing database stuff. Still, I think technological innovation is a net positive, even if it costs some jobs. I imagine many of those jobs will come back in other forms, especially for a younger generation more likely to be schooled in the sorts of things that are in demand. But even those suffering benefit from automation of production, automation in agriculture, etc.

I don’t think holding back the tide of innovation to save brick-and-mortar—or mom-and-pop—shops is something that can succeed. I feel sorry for the folks employed by the maker of buggy whips, but markets change.

Morning Report

Vital Statistics:

Last Change Percent
S&P Futures 1258.3 3.3 0.26%
Eurostoxx Index 2362.8 -6.560 -0.28%
Oil (WTI) 101.1 0.110 0.11%
US Dollar Index (DXY) 78.546 -0.059 -0.08%
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.08% 0.03%

Euro markets are down slightly in reaction to the downgrade warning from S&P late yesterday. They note the tightening credit conditions across Europe as well as the growing risk premiums on sovereign debt. The political situation is mentioned as well. S&P is assigning a 40% chance of a fall in output for the Eurozone as a whole in 2012. FWIW, the Euro markets are treating this as a non-event, with little movement in sovereigns and equities.

Banking regulators are finally addressing the fact that “risk-free” assets like sovereign debt are not risk-free after all. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision is considering letting banks use equities and corporate debt, in addition to cash and sovereigns to satisfy capital standards.
Money quote from the article citing a lawyer at Allen & Overy: “In a world where Nestle is seen as less risky than Portugal, it makes complete sense, but it is politically and economically very difficult. The state requires someone to Hoover up its own debt. Discouraging banks from investing in some countries’ bonds could have a damaging effect on sovereign borrowing.” I would be shocked if Basel let banks use equities and corporates as Tier I capital, but stranger things have happened.

The real estate metrics have been improving lately, and we have another data point with the latest earnings announcement from Toll Brothers. Toll is at the high end of the housing market, and is concentrated in NYC, Boston, and Washington DC. Think McMansions and lofts. Toll is reporting lower cancellations than last year (7.9% vs 8.8%), a 15% increase in $ backlog, and a 12% increase in unit backlog. They mention the urban New York City market as a bright spot, with new buildings in Hoboken, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. I would caution reading too much into NYC real estate as it is a US dollar play as well, and foreign investors view US real estate as dirt cheap. In 2011, Toll used excess cash to buy back stock stock and debt (3 million shares and $55 million of debt). In 2012, they intend to use cash on expanding the business. Toll is giving limited guidance, but anticipates an uptick in business – they are guiding to deliver between 2,400 and 3,200 homes in 2012, vs. deliveries of 2611 in 2011 and 2,642 in 2012. I wouldn’t read too much into this announcement re pricing, (I still think real estate is going down), but it does bode well for construction, which typically leads the economy out of recession and has been MIA in this recovery.

European Contagion

There is quite a lot in the news about the Euro crisis. I’m skeptical of claims that a Euro implosion would be disastrous for the U.S. economy. First off, Greece being ejected from the Euro doesn’t mean the end of the Euro. Just that Greece was brought in with an overvalued currency and with the full knowledge that the books were cooked. The U.K. was ejected from the Euro’s predecessor 20 years ago. That event propelled a dramatic economic recovery from disastrous interventions to stabilize its currency. It’s also the primary reason Labor was in government from 1997 to 2011. Even with larger knock on effects, the Euro zone is not a significant growth market for U.S. exports and an economic slow down might have a knock-on effect for materials prices. The U.S. performance this year tracked fairly well with oil. I’m likely wrong about this, but I don’t see this as our greatest challenge.

The most interesting piece that I read was a graphic in today’s Post illustrating U.S. exports to Europe. As I expected, exports to the southern tier countries aren’t that great. I expected the bigger EU countries (U.K., France, Germany) to make up the lion’s share. The shocker to me is that the largest market for us is Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), accounting for roughly $55B of U.S. exports per year, well ahead of the U.K. at $42B. One might quibble with me combining the three countries, but our Benelux exports rival those to Germany and France combined ($58B). For the record, here’s the top 10.

Country Imports Exports
Canada $237B $210B
Mexico $196B $146B
China $292B $74B
Japan $92B $49B
United Kingdom $38B $42B
Germany $72B $36B
Korea, South $43B $33B
Netherlands $18B $32B
Brazil $22B $32B
Hong Kong $3B $27B

Incidentally, there is only one country that shows zero imports or exports to the U.S.–Yemen. Unless you included postal bombs.


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