Unemployment and Labour Force Participation in the US – Reliable Statistics?

The unemployment rate in the United States is currently 4.4 percent and is at a ten-year low. Naturally, the Trump administration has been trying to interpret low unemployment numbers as a sign of their successful job-creating policy. This stands in strong contrast to comments that Trump made during his election campaign, alleging that the “real unemployment rate” was as high as 42 percent. But pre-inauguration Trump is not the only one who is concerned that the official unemployment rate does not fully capture the gap between the US economy’s current state and its full potential, often refered to as “slack”. Despite low unemployment numbers and a still very low interest rate, inflation has been timid, giving rise to theories that the slack in the US economy is higher than the unemployment rate might suggest. I take a brief look at falling labour force participation rates and underemployment to investigate the amount of truth in these theories and discuss implications and some potential remedies. Continue reading “Unemployment and Labour Force Participation in the US – Reliable Statistics?”

The Financial Cycle Around the World in 2016

As the year is coming to a close, the financial economy in large parts of the world is characterised by high levels of uncertainty and central banks navigating through widely unknown territory. In this article, I want to take a brief look at the state of affairs in a few different economic areas and analyse potential implications for monetary policy decisions. For this purpose, a proxy for the financial cycle as developed by Drehmann et al. (2012) from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is presented as a visualisation tool. This concept captures cyclical fluctuations in both private credit and house prices. A high point represents above-trend volume of credit to the private non-financial sector and elevated asset prices. A low point on the other hand indicates a contracted credit and housing market (You can find a very brief description how the financial cycle is derived at the end of this article). Additionally, I consider some other important developments throughout the global financial economy. Continue reading “The Financial Cycle Around the World in 2016”

Aurora – A Short History of Gold and a Brief Look at Its Investment Opportunities

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Thank you for more than 1000 views in the first five months of this blog. I appreciate everyone who takes some of their precious time to read one of my articles and am especially grateful for all the comments and suggestions that I have received so far.

When uncertainty about the economic future and the perceived probability of market downturns rise, investors often turn to so-called “safe havens” to protect their savings. Especially when these factors are combined with concerns about increasing inflation, gold often gains centre stage in safe haven consideration. In the aftermath of the Financial Crisis and during the Euro Crisis, the gold price surged to levels not seen since the beginning of the 80s (in real terms). However, although uncertainty arguably has not decreased after the Brexit referendum in June and the election of Trump in November and with the referendum on constitutional reform in Italy this Sunday (December 4) looming, gold prices have been falling since July of this year. What is driving these developments? What are the reasons for and against investing in gold? Does it make sense to invest in gold at the moment? Before I investigate these questions, let us take a brief look at the history of gold as a financial tool. Continue reading “Aurora – A Short History of Gold and a Brief Look at Its Investment Opportunities”

Inflation, Growth and Monetary Policy – A Case Study of the United States

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Central bank target rates (%); data sources: FRED, ECB, Bank of England

Ever since the Great Recession, central bank rates in all major developed economies have been on historic lows. The European Central Bank (ECB), whose official sole mandate is to maintain price stability, has lowered its rate even further to 0.00 percent in March in response to consistently low inflation rates across the Euro area, and the Bank of England (BoE), whose mandate combines maintaining price stability and supporting economic growth, has lowered its rate down to 0.25 percent in August, in response to the Brexit decision. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve of the United States (Fed), whose objectives are maximum employment and stable prices, has increased its target rate to 0.375 percent in December for the first time in several years. However, at its most recent meeting in mid-September , the Fed has been reluctant to further increase its target rate due to an ongoing slow economic recovery and inflation rates below its 2-percent target (Inflation measures the yearly increase in consumption good prices). Consistently low inflation rates despite lengthy phases of expansionary monetary policy, even in countries that appear to be back on economic growth paths, are a concern for central bankers around the globe and puzzle many observers. In this article, I take a look at the case of the United States (simply because it provides by far the best data), derive the main two possible causes and argue in favour of a rate hike in combination with additional monetary and fiscal measures. Continue reading “Inflation, Growth and Monetary Policy – A Case Study of the United States”

Double Bubble Trouble? A Brief Look at House Price Inflation

US HPI
Real Residential House Price Index (HPI) for the United States, 1Q1991 = 100 (Data sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics and Federal Housing Finance Agency)

(This week’s post is kept very short as I am busy proofreading some of my friends’ enthralling master theses at the moment.)

The last financial crisis was ignited by the bust of the US housing market bubble. And it is argued by many that this bubble was to a large extent caused by too low Fed rates during the beginning of the last decade (see Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, 2011). Looking at the Real Residential House Price Index for the United States (which I obtained by correcting the official nominal house price index with the consumer price index), one can observe that during the crisis, US real house prices plunged to the levels of 2000 after they had been rapidly climbing for a decade. However, it is also evident that since 2012, real house prices are on a new rally. This means that nominal house prices are growing faster than still stagnant nominal prices for regularly consumed goods and services (which are used to derive the inflation rate). As the Fed once again hesitates to raise its rate in order to fuel inflation and not to stunt fragile economic growth, there is arguably reason to be concerned about the creation of a new housing bubble in the United States. Continue reading “Double Bubble Trouble? A Brief Look at House Price Inflation”