Economic Trends

This is an excellent article.

The most important trends, IMHO?

“1) Old Trend: Expensive solar, surviving only on subsidies.
New Trend: Cheap solar, disrupting old industries.

Since the 1970s, it has become a cliché that solar power is an expensive boondoggle, kept alive only by government subsidies. But every cliché is right until the day it’s suddenly wrong. And for solar, that day is today. Since Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, the price of solar cells has fallen over 99 percent. No, that’s not a typo. And the exponential cost-drop shows no sign of slowing down, with dozens of new technologies in the pipeline. Installation and land costs are falling too. What this means is that in sunny states like Arizona, solar can already compete with fossil fuel electricity even with zero government subsidies. In fact, rooftop solar panels are becoming so popular that utility companies are trying to tax solar power in order to pay for grid maintenance!

4. Old Trend: Soaring U.S. CO2 emissions.
New Trend: Plummeting U.S. CO2 emissions.

Thanks a little bit to economic stagnation, but mostly to the boom in natural gas, the U.S. – the only large rich country not to sign the Kyoto Protocol – has seen its CO2 emissions tumble to levels not seen since the early 1990s. More drops are expected to follow. Global emissions (that’s what really matters) continue to soar, but China is the main driver now.”

**Note:  Why would we export coal to China?  Why would we tear the tops off of the beauty of West Virginia, and have people die in the mines, and give it away out of our resources at no or negative revenue for the governments involved?  I hope the war on coal wins, because coal mining needs to stop.  And the burning of coal also needs to stop. ***

Two that I don’t really think are true, or at least are not true enough to be labeled a Trend.

7. Old Trend: Skyrocketing health care costs, skyrocketing deficits.
New Trend: Creeping health care costs, creeping deficits.

Health-care costs and the national debt are drowning the nation, right? Well, maybe. But the water isn’t rising nearly as fast as we thought it would. Health-care costs are still outpacing economic growth, but they are doing so at a slower pace, thanks perhaps to the imminent start of Obamacare, medical innovation, or the recession. Meanwhile, the percentage of health sector jobs is finally falling as a percent of the total. As for that big, bad deficit, it’s fallen by more than half since 2009, and this quarter the federal government actually intends to pay back a tiny bit of the debt. Of course, for those who think that austerity is bad for the economy, this is bad news, but Americans who are worried about the national debt can breathe a little easier.”

I think this is not really true, in the aggregate.  That is, the whole meme about “deficit fallen by half” is like saying that your child’s fever had been reduced from 105 to 103.  Maybe no longer a panic, but still a huge issue.  And if you look at the data regarding growth of government debt, From the FED, “Federal Government debt rose at an annual rate of 2.5% in the second quarter, well below the 10.1% increase in the first quarter.”  Look at the chart on page 3:

8. Old Trend: The BRICs are conquering the world.
New Trend: China is the only BRIC in the wall.

Remember the BRICs? Those new rising super-economies that were going to eclipse the old guard of America, Europe, and Japan? Well, they hit a BRIC wall. Russia, Brazil, and India, tigers of the 2000s, have slowed to 2 or 3% growth – about the same rate as the rich countries. China is the last BRIC standing. Although it has experienced a mild slowdown, too, it is still powering ahead at a robust 7.5% rate. Instead of the rise of a new economic order, we should be talking only about the rise of China.”

I don’t think this is really true either.  The other countries listed may have some short term or temporary slowing right now, but there is no way that India will stagnate.

And I was just wondering about this last one this morning:

10) Old Trend: China is buying up all our debt.
New Trend: China is selling off our debt.

America has mortgaged ourselves to the Chinese! …Or have we? Our biggest foreign creditor, the Chinese government, is now selling U.S. bonds instead of buying them. Actually, so is our second-biggest foreign creditor, Japan. So who is buying Uncle Sam’s debt? Regular Americans like you and me. Most of the national debt is money we Americans owe to each other, not to foreigners, and this is becoming more true, not less.”

I wonder if there is a bond index out there that is float adjusted, and maybe fundamentally indexed like the RAFI equity indexes.  It would be interesting to see the makeup of an index that screened on size by discounting issues based on historical category yields rather than current prices, and counted some kind of free float, where securitiess held by the Fed were removed as if never issued.

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