January 30, 2012 Warning: Goat Rodeo
John P. Hussman, Ph.D.
Finally, while we typically discourage drawing inferences from any single indicator, it’s at least worth noting that with the release of Q4 GDP figures, the year-over-year growth rate of real U.S. GDP remains below 1.6% (denoted by the red line below). A decline in GDP growth to this level has always been associated with recession, usually coincident with that decline, though with a two-quarter lag in two instances (1956 and 2007), and with one post-recession dip in growth during the first quarter of 2003. As it happens, the GDP growth rate dropped below 1.6% in the third quarter of 2011.
However, rail, road, river and air freight volume for the whole of China fell to 31780m tons in November (latest data), from 32340m tons in October. Not a big fall, but still negative. (National Bureau of Statistics of China.)
Chinese electricity use was flat in over the Autumn, with a sharp fall in the (year-on-year) growth rates from 8.9pc in September, to 8pc in October, and 7.7pc in December.
Residential investment has been contracting on a monthly basis, and of course property prices are now falling in all but two of China’s 70 largest cities.
So how did China pull off an economic growth rate of 8.9pc in the fourth quarter?
In the past decade, the flow of goods emerging from U.S. factories has risen by about a third. Factory employment has fallen by roughly the same fraction. The story of Standard Motor Products, a 92-year-old, family-run manufacturer based in Queens, sheds light on both phenomena. It’s a story of hustle, ingenuity, competitive success, and promise for America’s economy. It also illuminates why the jobs crisis will be so difficult to solve.
We do still make things here, even though many people don’t believe me when I tell them that. Depending on which stats you believe, the United States is either the No. 1 or No. 2 manufacturer in the world (China may have surpassed us in the past year or two). Whatever the country’s current rank, its manufacturing output continues to grow strongly; in the past decade alone, output from American factories, adjusted for inflation, has risen by a third.
Yet the success of American manufacturers has come at a cost. Factories have replaced millions of workers with machines. Even if you know the rough outline of this story, looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data is still shocking. A historical chart of U.S. manufacturing employment shows steady growth from the end of the Depression until the early 1980s, when the number of jobs drops a little. Then things stay largely flat until about 1999. After that, the numbers simply collapse. In the 10 years ending in 2009, factories shed workers so fast that they erased almost all the gains of the previous 70 years; roughly one out of every three manufacturing jobs—about 6 million in total—disappeared. About as many people work in manufacturing now as did at the end of the Depression, even though the American population is more than twice as large today.
Standard will not drop a line in the U.S. and begin outsourcing it to China for a few pennies in savings. “I need to save a lot to go to China,” says Ed Harris, who is in charge of identifying new manufacturing sources in Asia. “There’s a lot of hassle: shipping costs, time, Chinese companies aren’t as reliable. We need to save at least 40 percent off the U.S. price. I’m not going to China to save 10 percent.” Yet often, the savings are more than enough to offset the hassles and expense of working with Chinese factories. Some parts—especially relatively simple ones that Standard needs in bulk—can cost 80 percent less to make in China.
Posted by Tad DeHaven
State officials have become addicted to federal subsidies because they allow them to spend money taken from taxpayers across the country instead of having to ask their voters to pony up the funds. As the following charts shows, total state spending continued to increase during the economic downturn because the federal government picked up the slack. Note that the federal share of total state spending went from 25.7 percent in 2001 to 34.1 percent in 2011.
Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.
Gordon G. Chang, Contributor
1/22/2012 @ 6:03PM |4,922 views
China’s overall trade surplus in 2011 was $155.1 billion, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
And how much of that surplus is related to America? Commerce Department figures show that, through the first 11 months of last year, China’s trade surplus against the United States was $272.3 billion. That’s up from $252.4 billion for the same period in 2010, a 7.9% increase.
The Commerce Department has not released the December trade number yet, and some are predicting that China’s surplus against us will top $300 billion when all the figures are in. Yet let’s assume, merely to be conservative, that China’s December surplus is zero. If December’s surplus is zero, then 175.6% of China’s overall trade surplus last year related to sales to the United States. That’s up from full-year figures for the three preceding years: 149.2% for 2010, 115.7% for 2009, and 90.1% for 2008.
Professor Mark J. Perry’s Blog for Economics and Finance
Welcome to the U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance
The labor comparative gap that China has had has disappeared because the total costs of production for certain products have moved towards US costs. This is particular where labor costs are a smaller proportion of the total costs. Although readers may be feel that it is an exaggeration to claim that ‘off-shoring’ will immediately be reversed back to ‘on-shoring’, perhaps it is better to suggest that the ‘hollowing out’ of US manufacturing has reached its nadir. The worst of the transition is behind the US all other factors of production being equal. The important driver will be speed of productivity gains between the two countries that encourages CEOs to open and close plants in one or the other, not just the labour cost.
Joel Kotkin, Contributor
1/04/2012 @ 11:36AM |4,027 views
Goldman Sachs recently predicted that the U.S. will become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017. The bounty is so great that the key energy-producing states have consistently out-performed the national average in terms of job and income growth. Houston, the nation’s energy capital, has enjoyed the fastest growth in per-capita income in the past decade. No reason to expect this to slow down much this year.
Energy growth, notes Bill Gilmer, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, also sparks “upstream” expansion in a host of other industries, such as chemicals and plastics. Massive new expansions to serve the industry are being planned not only in Texas and Louisiana but in former rust belt states, including now gas-rich Ohio. The big exception is oil-rich California, which seems determined to keep its fossil fuels — and the growth they could drive — out of mind and underground.
The Old/New Normal
But before ringing in the New Year with a rather grim foreboding, let me at least describe what financial markets came to know as the “old normal.” It actually began with early 20th century fractional reserve banking, but came into its adulthood in 1971 when the U.S. and the world departed from gold to a debt-based credit foundation. Some called it a dollar standard but it was really a credit standard based on dollars and unlike gold with its scarcity and hard money character, the new credit-based standard had no anchor – dollar or otherwise. All developed economies from 1971 and beyond learned to use credit and the expansion of debt to drive growth and prosperity. Almost all developed and some emerging economies became hooked on credit as a substitution for investment in tangible real things – plant, equipment and an educated labor force. They made paper, not things, so much of it it seems, that they debased it.