Saturday, February 09, 2008

Global Migration: Destination USA and Europe

From WorldMapper, International Immigrant Destinations (country size on map represents relative immigration inflow)

Net Flow of Global Migration from the NY Times (click to enlarge).
Nearly 190 million people, about 3% of the world's population, lived outside their country of birth in 2005. The NY Times presents a look at the flow of people around the world in this Global Migration presentation.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Emerging Markets to the Rescue? Recurring Theme

Emerging Markets Rev Up Toyota Sales--Toyota's profit for the fourth quarter jumped 7.5% from the previous year as booming sales in China, Africa and South America offset declining US sales and a stronger yen, the Japanese car maker reported yesterday.

Overseas Snack Sales Help PepsiCo Meet Expectations--The snacks business registered double-digit growth in Russia, the Middle East, Turkey and India. The beverage business had double-digit increases in the Middle East, China, Brazil, Argentina, India and Russia. PepsiCo reported a quarterly profit on Thursday that met analysts’ expectations.

Why Mint the Penny When It Costs 1.675 Cents?

CBS 60 MINUTES--Should the U.S. Mint continue to produce pennies and nickels whose metal content is worth more than their face value? Why mint the penny, when it costs $134 million to make $80 million worth of what most people consider nuisance coins (see chart above of rising copper prices)?

The situation irks Edmund Mony, the director of the U.S. Mint, who would like Congress to find a solution. “You can’t sustain losses on pennies and nickels and expect to be a viable organization that benefits the American people,” says Moy.

Is that really a bureaucrat talking!

Watch "60 Minutes" this Sunday night at 7 p.m. on CBS for the story.

Record Low Jobless Rates in N.Z. and Switzerland

New Zealand's unemployment rate falls to record low 3.4%.

Switzerland's unemployment rate fall to more than 5-year low of 2.6%.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

1845 vs. 2008: Protectionism Hasn't Changed

In a classic, satirical anti-protectionism essay by French economist Bastiat, French candlemakers' in 1845 petitioned against "the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival is none other than the sun."

According to yesterday's
FT Times, The European Candle Institute is currently petitioning the European Union against "a surge in Chinese candle imports that is unfairly damaging our businesses."

The complaint says that hundreds of jobs have been lost in the past few months, and that Chinese producers are selling below the costs of their EU rivals.

The French candlemakers in 1845, according to Bastiat, wanted to pass a law "requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, and blinds -- in short, all openings and holes through which the light of the sun can enter houses, to the detriment of the candle industry."

The European candlemakers today want to impose anti-dumping duties against China in retaliation against "unfair prices."

Same difference.

HT: Tim Worstall

"Euros Accepted" Signs Sighted in NYC

NEW YORK -- Some New York City businesses have begun accepting euros as payment for merchandise, as the dollar remains weak against the European currency.

Signs reading “euros accepted” are now being posted in store windows around the city, including liquor stores in the East Village and clothing stores in Midtown.

Foreign tourism to New York City reached record levels last year, as European tourists flock to New York to shop and dine.

Q: Why Did CEO Pay Increase 6X From 1980-2003?

A: Simple. Because there was a 6X increase in the market capitalization of large companies during that period (see red line in graph above for market cap, vs. blue/green lines for CEO pay), according to this forthcoming QJE article by NYU business professors Xavier Gabaix and Augustin Landier.

Kevin "Angus" Grier at KPC

Rx:1,500 Market-based Retail Health Clinics in 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS--Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will open its first in-store medical clinics under its own brand name after leasing space in dozens of stores to outside companies that operate the quick-service health stops.

The world's largest retailer said Thursday it will open "The Clinic at Wal-Mart" (pictured above) as a joint venture with local hospital systems in Atlanta, Dallas and Little Rock, Ark., starting in April.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart is among several U.S. supermarket and drug store chains that in the past couple of years have begun opening store-based health clinics, which are staffed mostly by nurse practitioners or physician assistants and offer quick service for routine conditions from colds and bladder infections to sunburn.

About 7% of Americans have tried a clinic at least once, and t
hat number is expected to increase dramatically, as chains like Wal-Mart, CVS Corp., Target Corp. and Walgreen Co. partner with mini-clinic providers like RediClinic and MinuteClinic to expand operations. The trade group estimates there will be more than 1,500 by year-end, up from about 800 in November.

Wal-Mart's press release: Today’s announcement is the first step towards opening 400 co-branded convenient clinics by 2010 and further proof of Wal-Mart’s commitment to providing affordable, accessible solutions to America’s healthcare challenges. Wal-Mart expects “The Clinic at Wal-Mart” to become synonymous with quality healthcare at affordable prices, provided by trusted, local providers.

Rx: Market Competition. Exhibit A: Inflation Rate for Prescription Drugs at 34-Year Low of 1.4%

Partly due to increasing generic-drug competition (generics were 63% of all prescriptions in 2006 vs. 50% in 2005) and the ongoing, fierce price war among drug retailers (see previous CD posts about $4 prescription drugs at Wal-Mart, Kmart, Publix, and Kroger), the inflation rate for prescription drugs fell to a 34-year low of 1.4% in 2007 (see graph above, click to enlarge), way below the average annual inflation rate of 4.12% for 2007, and way below the 34-year average drug inflation rate of 6.28%.

"The decline in drug prices shows that when things go right in health care -- when competitive markets are allowed to function -- prices respond favorably for consumers, just as they do in other sectors of the economy. So while politicians and pundits in Washington dream up the next grandiose health care reform, smart consumers know that the most effective health care solutions may be right around the corner at their local retailer."

Robert Goldberg, Vice-president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest

Concerned About Health Care Costs?

So is Kroger, which now offers more than 300 generic prescriptions for $4 at its 26 stores in the Memphis metro area. See the list of available generics here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Being Alive Today in US, You've Won Lottery of Life

A previous CD post documented the significant gains in real income (not counting fringe benefits) over just a single generation (for ALL income groups), based on a sample of individuals who were between the ages of 0 and 18 in 1968 and have been tracked into adulthood.

Another important financial gain over that same generation from the late 1960s to the late 1990s was the significant increase in real net household wealth from about $159,000 per household in 1969 to $452,000 by 1999 (according to data from the Federal Reserve, adjusted for inflation using the CPI). In other words, at the same time that real median household income rose by 29% between the two generations, average real household net worth almost tripled!

Waiting Times: 40% of Swedes In One County Can't Even Contact Their Local Clinic By Phone When Ill

SWEDEN--Health Minister Göran Hägglund publicly criticized the lack of progress made toward shortening wait times in Sweden’s health system.

He made the comments in an opinion article in which he stated that the $39 million spent by the government on lowering wait times has apparently had little effect. The criticism comes in response to a report by the National Board of Health and Welfare showing that nearly 45% of patients have longer wait times than are supposedly guaranteed by the healthcare system.

Wait times for service were also found to vary greatly from one county to another. In Jämtland county, for example, four out of ten patients couldn’t even get through to their local clinic by telephone on the day they become ill.

Just wondering: How long would Domino's Pizza, Northwest Airlines or Dell Computer stay in business if four out of ten customers couldn't get through by phone when they wanted to order a pizza, an airline ticket or a computer?

If Detroit's Mayor Were a CEO, He'd Be Fired

Q: What would happen if Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is accused of having an affair with his chief of staff and lying about it under oath, were the chief executive of a major corporation or nonprofit group instead of the mayor of Detroit?

A: His fate would be a foregone conclusion. He'd be fired. (I think we could say the same for Monica Lewinsky's ex-boyfriend.)

Read more here of University of Michigan's David Hess' (Ross School professor of business ethics) editorial in the Detroit News

Bottom Line: Isn't it interesting that the private sector now has higher ethical standards for its CEOs than the public sector has for its highest elected officials?

The Real Scandal: How Feds Invited Mortgage Mess

Countrywide Financial heads towards bankruptcy
Thomas Sowell, on the subprime credit crisis:

The government has brought on the housing problem, partly by these very low interest rates, which encouraged many people to go way out on a limb. They’ve brought it on by highly restrictive building policies, which have caused housing prices to skyrocket artificially. And they’ve brought it on by the Community Reinvestment Act, which presumes that politicians are better able to tell investors where to put their money than the investors themselves are. When you put all that together, you get something like what you have.

Stan Liebowitz, Professor of Economics, University of Texas at Dallas, writing in yesterday's NY Post:

Perhaps the greatest scandal of the mort gage crisis is that it is a direct result of an intentional loosening of underwriting standards - done in the name of ending discrimination, despite warnings that it could lead to wide-scale defaults.

From the current hand-wringing, you'd think that the banks came up with the idea of looser underwriting standards on their own, with regulators just asleep on the job. In fact, it was the regulators who relaxed these standards - at the behest of community groups and "progressive" political forces.

A 1995 strengthening of the Community Reinvestment Act required banks to find ways to provide mortgages to their poorer communities. It also let community activists intervene at yearly bank reviews, shaking the banks down for large pots of money.

Ironically, an enthusiastic Fannie Mae Foundation report singled out one paragon of nondiscriminatory lending, which worked with community activists and followed "the most flexible underwriting criteria permitted." That lender's $1 billion commitment to low-income loans in 1992 had grown to $80 billion by 1999 and $600 billion by early 2003.

Who was that virtuous lender? Why - Countrywide, the nation's largest mortgage lender, recently in the headlines as it hurtled toward bankruptcy (see chart above of Countrywide's 90% stock decline).

Living Large: America's Prosperous Middle Class To hear the Lou Dobbses and Bill O'Reillys of the world--not to mention politicians ranging from Ron Paul to Hillary Clinton--the middle class of America (however you define that term) has never had it so tough. Between credit squeezes, out-of-control immigration, rising costs of education and health care and everything else, it's all darkness out there for those of us who are neither millionaires nor welfare cases, right?

In "Living Large," Drew Carey and examine the plight of the American middle class. What do they find?
Click here to watch the video.

Featured in the video is Michael Cox, chief economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. On the topic of the middle class making ends meet Cox says, "If you’re willing to settle for the living standards of the 1970s, it’s easy to make ends meet. It’s not the high cost of living, it’s the cost of living high, and it’s the fact that we insist on having so much more today." Further, "Americans are richer today than at any time in history. We should really be thankful that we live in a society where we don’t have to work day and night in order just to eke out a living."

Despite what Lou Dobbs and the media tell us, just by being alive in 21st century America, even if you're middle class, you've "won first prize in the lottery of life."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Rich Are Getting Richer, Poor Are Getting Richer

Let's Permanently Dismiss the "Stagnant Wage Myth": ALL income groups have gotten richer in a generation:
2 of Every 3 Americans Are Better Off Today Than Their Parents, and More Than 80% of the Bottom Fifth Are Richer Than Their Parents
The charts above are from the study "Economic Mobility of Families Across Generations" from the Economic Mobility Project, based on a sample of 2,367 individuals who were between the ages of 0 and 18 in 1968 and have been tracked into adulthood. Here is what the study shows:

1. Adults who were children in 1968—those who were in their 30s and 40s at the end of the century—have more income than did their parents’ generation.

Median family income rose by 29% between the two generations, from $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars to $71,900. Average family incomes, grew even more rapidly, from $61,600 to $88,000 (a 43% increase). Income growth occurred throughout the income distribution for all five quintiles, as shown in the top chart above (click to enlarge), although family income in the top quintile grew by 52%, compared to 18% for the bottom fifth.

2. The average number of individuals per family shrank from 3.1 to 2.3 individuals between 1969 and 1998. Taking into account the smaller family size as well as the growth in family income, families are generally better off economically today.

3. More than 2 out of every 3 Americans who were children in 1968 had higher levels of real family income in 1995–2002 than their parents had in 1967–1971 (see bottom chart above, click to enlarge). Children born to parents in the bottom fifth were MORE likely to surpass their parents’ income than children from any other background. More than four out of five children (82%) born to parents in the bottom quintile have greater family income than their parents. In contrast, less than half (43%) of those whose parents are in the top fifth of income surpass their parents.

4. Economic mobility is measured in this study by tracking only changes in cash income. Income mobility would be higher at the top income quintiles with the inclusion of the value of fringe benefits, since employer contributions to retirement and health insurance totaled 7% of wages in 1967–1971 (parents' generation) and 13% in 1995–2002 (children's generation).

In other words, contrary to the picture portrayed by the media:

1. Real incomes are NOT stagnant - real median family income has increased by 29% over the last quarter century, and real incomes have increased for ALL income groups over the last generation.

2. The middle class has not disappeared, it's gotten richer! Real income of the middle quintile (middle class) has increased by 29%.

3. Although it's true that income inequality has increased, it doesn't really matter because the poor have gotten richer AND the rich have gotten richer. The rich have NOT gotten richer at the expense of the poor, all groups have gotten richer together.

4. There is significant upward income mobility, especially for the lowest income group. Children born to parents in the bottom quintile are more likely to surpass their parents’ income (82%) than are children from any other background.

Bottom Line: It's truly remarkable and extraordinary that more than 2 of every 3 Americans born a generation ago have already surpassed their parents' income, and more than 4 of every 5 Americans born to parents in the bottom fifth during the late 1960s and early 1970s are better off than their parents. Do you think that was ever the case at any other time in history like the 5th Century, 10th Century or 15th Century? Not likely. It's probably true that just being alive in the 21st Century, especially being alive in the U.S., you've "won first prize in the lottery of life."

Vote Chooser

Answer 10 questions here and find out which presidential candidate you should vote for in 2008.

HT: Mark Skousen

Universal Access = Restricted Access + Long Waits

From today's IBD:

Long waits are a hallmark of government health care anywhere it's employed. When the perception exists that treatment is free, system overuse is inevitable. People can think of no reason to self-ration care. They show up in emergency rooms and doctor's offices with conditions for which they wouldn't seek treatment if they paid directly at the time of service.

Thanks to the profit motive, private health care providers have an incentive to cut waiting times, lest they lose customers to the competition. Government providers have no such motivation.

They do have incentive, however, to ration care when demand gets too high and costs soar. But to do so exposes "universal access" and "equal access" to be inaccurate descriptions. "Restricted access" would be more fitting.

Case Study: Canadian Health Care

Waiting times are the weak spot in Canadian healthcare. Canadian health consumers with a complicated condition can be subject to up to four lengthy waits: the first, to see their family doctor, or to find a general practitioner if they do not have a regular doctor; the second, to see the appropriate specialist for their ailment; the third, for diagnostic procedures to determine appropriate treatment; and the fourth, for treatment. It is not unusual for these cumulative delays to exceed a year.

Wipro's CEO: U.S. Must Fix IT Worker Shortage

ATLANTA--Azim Premji, an Indian entrepreneur who became one of the richest men in the world by transforming a small cooking oil business into a global information technology powerhouse, says the United States' business leadership needs to "take the problem by the horns" and better address the country's growing shortage of high-tech professionals.

Premji, CEO and chairman of Bangalore-based Wipro Ltd., calls the lack of technology talent in the U.S. a "serious problem."

"America does not have the talent," said Premji, 62, in a Jan. 29 interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle. "There's a huge shortage of IT professionals here."

While India has experienced an economic boom due to the increasing number of students getting high-tech degrees there, the number of awarded engineering degrees in the United States has dropped 20 percent over the past two decades, according to pro worker-visa-advocacy group Compete America. That fact can be seen with the growing demand for H-1B visas, which allow foreigners to temporarily live here to fulfill specialty jobs, usually in technology.

NOTE: Bangalore-based Wipro (NYSE: WIT) is in the process of opening its first American software development center in Atlanta and plans to hire 200 employees within a year and up to 500 within three years.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Rx: Online MD House Calls

LA Times--Consulting your family physician is finally moving into the 21st century and out of the doctor's office. Since the dawn of e-mail, patients have been pleading for more doctors to offer medical advice online. No traffic jams, no long waits, no germ-infested offices with outdated magazines and bad elevator music.

There was always one major roadblock: Most health insurers wouldn't pay for it. Until now.

In recent weeks, Aetna Inc., the nation's largest insurer, and Cigna Corp. have agreed to reimburse doctors for online visits. Other large insurers are expected to follow, experts say.

These new online services, which typically cost the same as a regular office visit, are aimed primarily at those who already have a doctor. The virtual visits are considered best for follow-up consultations and treatment for minor ailments such as colds and sore throats.

Commercial Loan Growth Shows Ongoing Strength

A few weeks ago, I posted about commercial bank loans being at a record high of $760 billion in early January, based on weekly Federal Reserve banking data for large commercial banks. The updated chart above (click to enlarge) reflects a few more weeks of banking data, and this time shows the percent change from a year ago. Not only is commercial lending at an all-time high based on volume, but also the year-to-year growth rate has been phenomenal: double-digit growth in commercial bank loans for almost 6 months now, and close to 20% growth for the last 4 months, stronger growth in commercial lending than at any time in at least 20 years.

Listening to media reports on the U.S. banking system and credit markets, one gets the idea that commercial lending and credit have dried up, and thousands of banks and companies are teetering on the edge of insolvency (e.g., see Paul Krugman's blog post "Credit Crunch"). Yet the reality is that commercial lending is at an all-time historical high, and growing at the fastest rate in recent history.

This suggests that thousands of companies are applying for, and being granted, commercial loans to finance business investment and expansion. And the growth in commercial lending is stronger than ever before. Not exactly an ingredient for a recession. Notice on the graph above the significant declines in commercial lending that accompanied the recessions in 1990-1991 and 2001 - it would be difficult to suggest that we have entered a recession in January 2008 with such strong growth in commercial lending.

Congressional Pork Fest:The Earmark Favor Factory

Parade Magazine--Last month, Congress passed a 3,500-page omnibus spending bill after less than 24 hours for review. The bill, which mostly renewed funding for existing programs, contained more than 9,000 “earmarks”—worth at least $7.4 billion—for legislators’ pet projects, including:

  • Olive fruit fly research in France: $213,000

  • Center for Grape Genetics in Geneva, N.Y.: $1.9 million

  • Fish-waste research in Alaska: $2.5 million

  • Awning renovations in Roanoke, Va.: $250,000

  • Cormorant control in Vermont, Michigan, Mississippi and New York: $1.2 million
The real problem with earmarks, says Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), is that “they circumvent the normal process,” since they typically are placed in bills without discussion. Thus, lawmakers never get to debate them and find out if they’re genuinely necessary—or just more pork.


See a related WSJ article "MURTHA INC.: How A Lawmaker Rebuilt Hometown on Earmarks," about the top Congressional earmarkers (see list above), and the #1 Leader of the Pork, Rep. John Murtha.

What About Excessive Athlete Compensation?

Sports Illustrated--For the fourth straight year, Sports Illustrated set out to rank the 50 top-earning American athletes (taking into account on and off the field income), and it's no surprise to see the familiar names at the top of the list (see chart above, click to enlarge). The most obvious? Tiger Woods has reached an otherworldly plateau of nearly $112 million. Boxing is back from the dead for now, thanks to No. 2 Oscar De La Hoya, and the Shaq and Kobe rivalry lives on.

Half the list is made up of NBA players, while only 12 baseball players and five football players made the cut. There were three NASCAR drivers and just one woman (welcome, Michelle Wie!)

NEW YORK (AP) - An Associated Press calculation shows that compensation for America's top CEOs has skyrocketed into the stratospheric heights of pro athletes and movie stars: Half make more than $8.3 million a year, and some make much, much more.

Comment: Average compensation in 2007 of the top 50 athletes was $23.4 million, and median salary was $19.4 million. Median salary for CEOs in 2007 was only $8.3m for the 386 companies in the AP study referenced above (obviously a larger sample than for the SI athlete list).

Question: Why is it that when CEO salaries "skyrocket into the stratospheric heights of pro athletes," CEO salaries are condemned as "excessive?" Where is the outrage about athletes' salaries? After all, athletes made the stratospheric salaries before the CEOs did, so shouldn't those salaries also be considered excessive?

Based on Google searches, apparently not: Search for "excessive CEO compensation" and you'll find more than 3,000 references. Search for "excessive athlete compensation," and you'll find 0.

Update 1: See previous CD post on "excessive celebrity pay."

Update 2: Google search for "overpaid athletes" = 12,600 hits. Google search for "overpaid CEOs" = 8,530 hits. Thanks to an anonymous commenter.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Scalped: $10,000 Per Ticket??

Superbowl tickets sold for as high as $40,000 on Ebay, for four tickets on the 45-yard line.

Updated: Sorry, it was $40,000 for 4 tickets, not 2 tickets! "Only" $10,000 per ticket, not $20,000.

Rethinking Biofuel Enthusiasm

The political importance of corn-growing, ethanol-making Iowa is one reason that biofuel mandates flow from Washington the way oil would flow from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) if it had nominating caucuses.

ANWR's 10.4 billion barrels of oil have become hostage to the planet's saviors (e.g., John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama), who block drilling in even a tiny patch of ANWR. You could fit Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware into ANWR's frozen desolation; the "footprint" of the drilling operation would be one sixth the size of Washington's Dulles airport.

To avoid drilling for oil in ANWR's moonscape, the planet savers evidently prefer destroying forests, even though they absorb greenhouse gases. Will ethanol prevent more carbon-dioxide emissions than would have been absorbed by the trees cut down to clear land for the production of crops for ethanol? Be that as it may, governments mandating the use of biofuels are one reason for the global rise in food prices, which is driving demand for more arable land. That demand is driving the destruction of forests—and animal habitats. In Indonesia alone, 44 million acres have been razed to make way for production of palm oil.

If the argument for ethanol is that domestically produced energy should be increased, there are better ways of doing that. On the outer continental shelf there is a 50-year supply of clean-burning natural gas, 420 trillion cubic feet of it, that the government, at the behest of the planet's saviors, will not allow to be extracted.

~George Will in his Newsweek article "
The Biofuel Follies"

Endless Economic Expansion is Not An Entitlement

Today's Americans, their pain threshold lowered by the successful modulation of business cycles, now regard recessions as not mere misfortunes but as violations of an entitlement to perpetual economic serenity. In the 50 years prior to 1945, contractions were frequent and ferocious enough to fray the social fabric. There were three contractions of 5% of GDP, two of 10% and two of 15%. Since postwar demobilization, the most severe contraction -- that of 1982, when President Ronald Reagan and Fed Chairman Paul Volcker stifled inflation -- was 1.9%.

That recession ended in November 1982. If another recession did start last month, then in the 302 months from November 1982 through December 2007, the economy was in recession only 14 months -- 4.6% of the time. The economy was in recession 22.4% of the time between 1945 and 1982.

A recession-free economy is neither an entitlement nor, truth be told, desirable: The "wisdom of crowds" is real but even markets make mistakes and recessions, aka corrections, are, by definition, constructive. Even so, the modern economy's rhythms are much less alarming than any previous generation could have imagined.

From George Will's
most recent column

Note: Recessions between 1854 and 1945 lasted an average of about 20 months, compared to the average of only 10 months since 1945, and 8 months for the last two (1990-1991 and 2001).