For Your Thursday Morning Mulling: February 12, 2015

Here is what’s happening around the net that I came across on Wednesday and Thursday morning.

  1. A financial crisis-era economic warning sign has appeared – This was one of the things that happened in 2008, prior to the Lehman Moment. The inventories/sale ratio in January 2008 was 1.16 – just where it was in December a year ago. But then it rose. In September 2008, it reached 1.21, below where it is now. The next month, it hit 1.25. Check out the chart above. By then, the economy had entered a terrible downward spiral, with sales plunging and inventories ballooning, triggering a near shut-down of the ordering process throughout the pipeline. And even if something much milder happened these days, which is likely in the near future, it would still muck up our rosy scenario.
  2. Greece Fails to Rattle Currency Traders – Options prices show traders are the least concerned in six years about the euro’s swings in the longer run relative to the short term. That’s a reversal of the norm — because there’s usually more uncertainty about what will happen further into the future — and signals traders see markets calming whatever the outcome for Greece.
  3. Europe’s finance ministers very nearly agreed to this provisional deal on Greece – Nothing official has emerged, but according to one report, a statement was within minutes of being agreed upon before it was torpedoed by Athens.
  4. AmEx Is Losing Its Millionaires – American Express Co., long the envy of the industry for its wealthy clientele, is fighting to retain its grip on affluent cardholders like Tilson. Rivals including Barclays Plc and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are courting them with enhanced perks, lower fees and more incentives. And as AmEx seeks to diversify by pursuing tech-savvy millennials and underbanked Americans, the risk of eroding its brand—and its biggest source of revenue—is rising.
  5. There’s Something About Money (Implicitly Wonkish) – This in turn leads to the basic Hicks model of an economy in which there are three markets — for money, bonds, and goods — which are treated symmetrically; add price stickiness and that model becomes IS-LM. New Keynesian economics pretty much takes that base and adds explicit modeling of intertemporal choices and rational expectations.
  6. BLS: Jobs Openings at 5.0 million in December, Up 28% Year-over-year –
    Jobs openings increased in December to 5.028 million from 4.847 million in November. The number of job openings (yellow) are up 28% year-over-year compared to December 2013. Quits are up 12% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for “quits”).
  7. What We Know About Recessions Might Be Wrong – If Farmer is right, then no matter how rational it looks, our economy is driven by the vagaries of shifting human expectations. It is not a self-correcting system like Milton Friedman envisaged, but a fragile thing. And that opens up the possibility that maybe we need government to knock us out of the bad equilibrium — somehow.
  8. Are Oil Price Declines Good for the Economy? – Falling oil prices have numerous effects—some positive and some negative. On the positive side, lower oil prices tend to lower overall inflation and, to some extent, measures of inflation expectations. All else equal, lower inflation and inflation expectations tend to lower nominal interest rates and may spur increased demand for interest-sensitive durable goods such as automobiles and housing. Lower oil prices also help to reduce operating expenses of the transportation sector and other industries that are relatively large users of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. There is also evidence that lower oil price volatility is associated with increased capital expenditures by businesses.
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