Category Archives: Economic fundamentals

The Financialization of Life

Yves here. One of the efforts the Naked Capitalism community has been engaged in is trying to understand and map our emerging political and economic order. Over the last four decades, massive changes have taken place in social values, in job security, in the importance of communities relative to other networks, like professional associations, and in the role of the state. Economists, social scientists, and laypeople have used various frameworks for describing this period. Understanding the driving process is important not merely for the purposes of description, but also for analysis, since a major question remains open: is this a last gasp of large-scale industrial capitalism, or is this the starting phase of a new economic order? We’ve tended to see this period as a self-limiting finance-led counter-revolution against the New Deal, but that may prove to be too optimistic a reading.

This Real News Network interview with Costas Lapavitsas, a professor in economics at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, takes a different perspective. Lapavitsas contends that financialization itself constitutes a new form of capitalism, which is supported by neoliberal ideology.

Independent of whether you fully agree with Lapavitsas’ framing, this talk gives a good overview of the major economic and political changes since 1970. His summary would be useful for those who could use a historical perspective on these shifts, or want a high-level understanding of the restructuring of modern economies without having to get too deep into the weeds. But even though this interview is designed to go down easily, it offers a lot of grist for thought.

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Forward Guidance: Human Plans and Divine Laughter

ves here. VoxEU has come to serve as a wonky alternative to the Financial Times comments section, which is Brit-speak for op-eds. While most FT comments are at least interesting and timely, now and again the pink paper serves as a venue where real policy players put a stake in the ground, sometimes in exclusive interviews but also in opinion pieces.

This article by David Miles of the Bank of England is clearly intended to reach a wider audience than the normal VoxEU piece. In it, he calmly and methodically tries to tell finance people that what they want from central bank forward guidance is tantamount to having their cake and eating it. Admittedly, the unreasonable expectations for what forward guidance can accomplish is partly central bankers’ own creation. In keeping, this piece suggests that a retreat from efforts at precision in forward guidance would probably be a plus.

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Goldman Makes It Official That the Stock Market is Manipulated, Buybacks Drive Valuations

It’s remarkable that this Goldman report, and its writeup on Business Insider, is being treated with a straight face. The short version is current stock price levels are dependent on continued stock buybacks. Key sections of the story:

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The Mixed International Picture on Poverty and Inequality

Yves here. As much as readers may already have an intuitive grasp of the story told in this post, data can help define its contours better. Here we see that the rising tide of global growth has not lifted all boats. The gains of the once-poor in China and India have come at the expense of the what used to be the middle class in more developed countries. Reducing poverty has not been a zero sum game. This post also omits another key piece: the rise and rise of an uber-wealthy class.

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WalMart Makes Empty Gesture to End Minimum Wage Pay While Cutting Pay Levels

WalMart just announced that it will at some unspecified point down the road end minimum wage-level pay for its workers. As we’ll demonstrate, there is way less here than meets the eye. In fact, all in pay levels, including benefits, are falling for WalMart workers, not rising.

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Wolf Richter: Toxic Mix for Fracking – Oil Price Collapse & Junk Bond Insanity

Yves here. As oil prices have collapsed, the fundamentals of fracking, which was overhyped given the short productive life of individual wells, now looks even more dubious at current energy price levels. And given how risky the sector has become, cheap debt, even in this time of ZIRP, is no longer freely available either.

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Bill Black: EU Austerity Witch Doctors Attack Each Other

As things go from bad to worse in the eurozone the putative adults have begun to fight openly in front of the kids.  The putative adults, of course, have refused to act like adults for six years and instead have lived in a fantasy world in which austerity – bleeding the patient – is the optimal response to a recession.  As many of us have been warning for six years, this is a great way to create gratuitous recessions and even the Great Depression levels of unemployment in three nations of the periphery with 100 million citizens.

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Saudis Deploy the Oil Price Weapon Against Syria, Iran, Russia, and the US

Asian stock markets continued to fall today, propelled at least in part by the adverse reaction to the Saudi announcement yesterday that they would let oil prices fall to $80 a barrel. And further reports indicate that the Saudis intend to keep oil prices low enough to force a realignment of prices not just among various grades of crude, but also for intermediate and long-term substitutes.

It is critical to remember that the Saudis have no compunction about imposing costs on other nations to maximize the value of their oil resource long term and hence the power they derive from it. Their oil price cut looks to be a strategic masterstroke.

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Dropping Oil Prices Send Shockwaves Through Energy Sector

Yves here. Commodity prices have been screaming deflation for some time, but oil prices remained stubbornly resistant…until now. In a period of mere weeks, oil prices have fallen considerably and the slide continues. Today, for instance, Brent fell by $1 this morning despite stronger-than-expected trade data out of China due to reports that OPEC won’t cut production till oil prices hit $80 a barrel. Note that that news hit after this post was published, and represents a much lower price level than analysts assumed. So the outlook is even gloomier than this downbeat piece indicates.

In addition, as this post discusses, the plunge in oil prices has an impact on other energy prices. Or perhaps to put it another way, the way deteriorating economic fundamentals are whacking oil prices clearly has ramifications for other fuel products.

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Wolf Richter: What the Heck Just Happened in Global Stock Markets?

Yves here. One might argue that stock market jitters are a sign that investors are finally taking note of crappy fundamentals, since even ZIRP and QE, which central bankers keep insisting won’t go on forever, were starting to lose their effectiveness in already-frothy asset markets.

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A Picture Worth 1000 Words: A Sighting from the McJobs Market

One of the complaints too often taken seriously by the business press is employer claims that they can’t find workers with the right skills for open job slots. We’ve looked at some of these stories in the past, and when employers complained, it pretty much without exception reflected that because the economy is slack,they expect to be able to hire workers cheaply, which often includes not being willing to spend time to train someone. In fact, there has been a perverse trend starting more than a decade ago of employers putting out incredibly narrow job specifications. They were effectively saying they were willing only to hire someone who had been in precisely the same role at a similar company.

But even as McJobs look to be the fastest growing employment sector, just because they want to hire workers for as little as possible does not mean that prospective employees will hit their bid.

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Michael Hudson: Piketty vs. the Classical Economic Reformers

Yves here. This post by Michael Hudson is one entry from an issue of a journal critiquing Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Hudson argues that even though Piketty’s findings about wealth accumulation over the centuries are useful, he nevertheless has done a great disservice by treating “wealth” as an undifferentiated lump. By contrast, classical economists differential between rentier behavior (such earning income from economically unproductive activities such as land ownership), financialization, and leveraged speculation on asset prices. Hudson argues that Piketty’s failure to probe the types of wealth and the impact of income-generation strategies for various types of wealth, as well as his failure to incorporate legal and political arrangements means his book tacitly supports the status quo. Inequality for him is a state of nature, not a function of how our economy is organized.

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