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Payroll Change Over Previous Month

Friday was the first time in seven years that the US Economy showed a loss of jobs. 33,000 jobs loss is tiny compared to the losses during the Great Recession, but it's not good news either. Some economists blame the speed bump on the severe weather that hit the southern states during the month of September, but it's also a sign that the US economy is struggling to grow and that we may be heading towards a recession.

Data Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, All Employees: Total Nonfarm Payrolls [PAYEMS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, October 8, 2017.

Moderately well understood

"For decades, economists have puzzled over the reduction in macroeconomic volatility in the U.S. and world economies after the mid-1980s: In the last 25 years or so of the 20th century (highlighted by the blue bar in the graph), domestic output, employment, and inflation all fluctuated far less than they had in prior years. The data make the stabilization of the economy clear, yet economists haven’t reached consensus over the causes or duration of the Great Moderation."

"The Federal Reserve points to monetary policy as a primary cause of the moderation, through orderly responses to inflation and GDP changes after the Great Inflation of the 1980s. Instead of waiting for the signs of economic recession or rising inflation to appear before acting, as was common in the “go-stop” practices of the 1960s and 1970s, the Federal Reserve began following a more systematic, rules-based approach. Another proposed cause is the structural change of the economy and the labor market. In the 1980s, labor patterns shifted away from manufacturing and toward less-volatile sectors. Also, new technology sped up communication and allowed producers to track inventory and demand more easily, leading to more stable output over time."

"It’s easy to look to clear economic and policy changes as contributors to the Great Moderation, but there may be another factor at play: luck. Statistical models such as those proposed by Stock and Watson or Galí and Gambetti assert that, although some economic shocks did occur during the early part of the Great Moderation, they were less severe and better handled than those of the 1970s. While others dispute this claim, it still brings to mind the question: If luck is responsible, how long will it last?"

Vulture Capitalists Circle Above Puerto Rico Prey

"Puerto Rico is devastated. Two hurricanes plunged the island into darkness and despair. Crops perish in the fields. The landscape of ruined buildings and towns resemble Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on it. Over three million people are desperate for food, water, electricity and shelter. "

"After a slow start, the Trump Administration is now speeding up the flow of supplies to the island. A top US general has been given command of the relief efforts. And, like so many others, Yarimar Bonilla watches with a broken heart as her native Puerto Rico struggles. This noted social anthropologist – a scholar on Caribbean societies — says the hurricanes have made an already bad fiscal and economic crisis worse, and she sees darker times ahead unless major changes are made in the structure of power and in Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States.'

Federal Debt Service Payments as Percent of Gross Domestic Product

A combination of low interest rates and a strong economy means the US is spending a typical amount of the entire US economy on federal debt servicing. In 1970s and 1980s, with inflation, a weak economy, and heavy deficit spending, the federal government was spending a much greater portion of the gross domestic product on debt service.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Federal Outlays: Interest as Percent of Gross Domestic Product [FYOIGDA188S], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, February 28, 2017.

Real Gross Domestic Product Growth, 2012-2017

While the economy saw an uptick in the second quarter of 2017, the great economic boom under President Trump so far hasn't happened. That said, the US economy as a whole continues to grow.

Data Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Real Gross Domestic Product [A191RL1Q225SBEA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, August 29, 2017.

About a week ago, I misplaced my credit card. At the time, I didn’t think much about it, and went ahead and canceled my card and had them mail me a new card. They told me it would be only 7-10 business days, and I assumed that was just a worse case scenario, but it turns out it wasn’t. It took a week and half for my new card to arrive.

I am somebody who prefers to us his credit card for as many purchases as possible. This way I don’t have to worry about losing spare change and I can keep better track of my purchases. I have a rewards card, but honestly, I don’t really care that much about the rewards. If I get rewards, so be it. I sometimes use them, sometimes I don’t.

Generally, I avoid auto-pay services like the plague. I know they can be budget busters. I buy refills for my phone every 6 months or a year, which is a bigger payment upfront, but I save later on. That does get withdrawn from the credit card, but not until next year. Always good to pay up front, borrowing sucks. I will have to update that later on. I do auto-pay by rent, electric and gas bill, and car and renter insurance directly from my bank. I don’t have cable TV or Internet, and haul my own trash to the transfer station. Fine, but those are essential, especially living in a rented apartment in the city. When I eventually move off grid, I won’t have any of those expenses except maybe car insurance.

I didn’t think it would be a real issue, until I remember my bus pass was linked to the credit card. I had forgotten my password to my CDTA Navigator bus pass service, so I had to get it reset because I was locked out of my account. So I had to wait a day for that to be reset by CDTA. Fine, but of course the buses take up to “two days” to sync money added to your card to the buses, because they load the fare data via wireless internet once a day, when the buses are returned to the garage for the night, and the fare boxes are unloaded. Fine. It turns out I had enough money to cover my bus fares but I kept a few extra quarters and bucks in my wallet.

Other then that, I didn’t anticipate much issues, although my debit card didn’t seem to work everywhere. I had that issue at Stewarts’ the other day. I don’t like only having the debit card, as I’d rather have two options for payment in case one card doesn’t work. I don’t carry much cash, and if my debit card fails for some reason, I really prefer to use my credit card. Moreover, the credit card is easier to manage – I don’t have to worry about overdrafting it – and it’s easier to review expenditures and pay it all off at once.

So be it.

Effective Federal Funds Rate, 1954-2017

The federal funds rate remains historically low, despite recent increases, making it cheap to borrow and difficult to save in conventional savings accounts. Many smart people worry that such a low federal funds rate will eventually push too much money into the stock market, which will lead to a significant market correction.

Data Source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Effective Federal Funds Rate [FEDFUNDS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, August 9, 2017.

Checks are the economic dinosaurs Americans won’t give up

"Online payment systems like Venmo and Paypal are benchmarks of the digital era of banking that we're living in. There's also Zelle, a new peer-to-peer payment app launched by big banks like J.P. Morgan and Bank of America. So you might expect paper checks to be disappearing, but Americans just won't let their checkbooks go. In the U.S., people wrote about 38 checks on average in 2015, compared to 18 in Canada, 8 in the U.K., and almost none in Germany. Katie Robertson wrote a piece about Americans’ attachment to checks for Bloomberg. Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal spoke to her about why Americans are refusing to get with the economic times. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. "

America’s stores are closing. Why isn’t that raising a jobs alarm?

"Yet it’s the decline of industries like coal and manufacturing that get the big attention, especially from politicians. That’s surprising, since the closings mean that retail, which employs about 10 percent of all working Americans, is shedding jobs at a rate that dwarfs either of those. The retail sector shed 6,100 positions in June this year alone, according to the Labor Department. Since 2001, employment at department stores like Sears and JCPenney has declined 46 percent. An estimated 89,000 employees in “general merchandise” stores were laid off between October 2016 and April 2017 – more than the entire workforce of the US coal industry."

Why America’s Wages Are Barely Rising

"Americans have been waiting for a solid pay raise for years. Maybe there's good news awaiting them as the country employs more people."

"The U.S. economic recovery has gone on for eight long years, and the unemployment rate is at a low 4.4 percent. But wage gains have barely budged."

"That's got economists scratching their heads."

What does the S&P 500 index measure and how is it calculated?

"The S&P 500 measures the value of stocks of the 500 largest corporations by market capitalization listed on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq Composite. Standard & Poor's intention is to have a price that provides a quick look at the stock market and economy. Indeed, the S&P 500 index is the most popular measure used by financial media and professionals, while the mainstream media and general public are more familiar with the Dow Jones Industrial Average."

"The S&P 500 index is calculated by taking the sum of the adjusted market capitalization of all S&P 500 stocks and then dividing it with an index divisor, which is a proprietary figure developed by Standard & Poor's. However, most sources peg this number at 8.9 billion. The divisor is adjusted when there are stock splits, special dividends or spinoffs that could affect the value of the index. The divisor ensures that these non-economic factors do not affect the index."

The 30 Dow Jones Stocks

"The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is the second-oldest active market indicator, as well as the most widely covered. At any given time, only 30 stocks make up the index, and they comprise a diverse basket of companies from all sectors of the market. All 30 companies are considered blue chip industry stalwarts, household names with long track records of success and stability. Currently, nine of the 30 components are Dividend Aristocrats, meaning they've paid increasing dividends for at least 25 consecutive years."

"Thanks to the DJIA's unique share-price weighting system, certain components have a disproportionate influence on the index. Take pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, for example. These companies are within striking distance of each other with market caps between $200 billion and $300 billion. However, because Johnson & Johnson's share price is currently around $103, it has about three times the impact on the DJIA as Pfizer, whose shares currently trade for $34."