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  • US Expansion Finally Moving at a Decent Pace

    Posted on October 11th, 2014 Jim No comments

    The optimistic economist is quoted in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal:

    Conditions Ripe for Stronger Growth

  • Another WSJ Quote

    Posted on August 19th, 2014 Jim No comments

    It’s from the August 7 Wall Street Journal. Enjoy.

  • A Quote on CNN Money

    Posted on June 2nd, 2014 Jim No comments

    Here’s a link to an article out today on their web site that quotes me. It explains why so many people don’t think the US economy has come back from the recession that ended 5 years ago this month.

  • Jim Smith Stars in Asheville

    Posted on April 17th, 2014 Jim No comments

    From Linda:

    Turns out Jim is a big fish in the small pond of Asheville, NC. He got a BIG article in this past Sunday’s Citizen-Times previewing his appearance at UNC-Asheville’s 30th Annual Crystal Ball Forum tomorrow. He’s been speaking at that Forum along with Dave Berson (currently SVP & Chief Economist of Nationwide Insurance) for about 28 years now. It’s the reason we live in Asheville. (You can ask for the full story.)

    Here’s the article: “Veteran economist remains bullish on American business” on

  • If You Can Read Español..

    Posted on April 17th, 2014 Jim No comments

    Here’s an article from the Chilean publication La Tercera.

    It’s two pdf pages:


  • Forecasting Winner: Pulsenomics Crystal Ball Award

    Posted on March 30th, 2014 Jim No comments

    By Linda

    Jim is a panelist for the Home Price Expectations SurveyTM.  Every quarter, Pulsenomics(R) surveys a distinguished panel of over 100 economists, investment strategists, and housing market analysts regarding their 5-year expectations for future home prices in the United States.  Survey results are now published within the first ten business days of February, May, August, and November.

    Last week, Jim was notified that he was among the winners of the Pulsenomics(R) Crystal Ball Awards for the best forecast for 2012 home price expectations on a 2-year horizon and 2010 home price expectations on a 3-year horizon.

    As Pulsenomics(R) notes, “these survey results are relevant to millions of individuals and thousands of institutions around the world. As recent years’ events have illustrated, changes in single-family home values can have profound impacts on consumer balance sheets, spending patterns, investor psychology, and global financial markets. Despite this importance, concrete information and authoritative opinion regarding expected future home prices tends to be sporadic and diffuse.  The survey data will help to stimulate constructive debate among consumers, institutions and policy makers regarding expected future changes in home prices – and their behavioral, policy, and risk management implications.”

    To see the other winners and the data they forecast, visit


  • Fed Policy Guidance “Clear as Mud”

    Posted on July 4th, 2013 dunkelberg No comments

    This one’s by Dr. William Dunkelberg, Chief Economist for NFIB

    If you ever doubted that the Fed is driving the stock and bond markets, the events of the past few weeks should put your doubts to rest.  For investors (to be distinguished from “traders”), times are confusing.  The Fed’s artificial reduction in interest rates has artificially bloated equity prices.  It has also sent bond prices to all-time highs, setting us up for potentially large “mark-to-market” changes in asset values when (not if) interest rates rise.  Some refer to this as a “bond market bubble.”  In the process, consumers’ net interest income has been cut by half a trillion dollars a year, not very supportive of spending.

    The way monetary policy was supposed to work was that when stimulus was desired for the economy, the Fed bought Treasury securities from the private sector, creating liquidity, lowering interest rates and stimulating borrowing and spending.  When the economy needed to be cooled, the Fed reversed its policies and raised interest rates to dampen spending by selling Treasury bonds to the private sector.

    But now, the Fed forecast for the economy seems to anticipate slowing (the most optimistic of the FOMC forecasts were lower), yet it is talking about “tapering” its purchases of assets, the reverse of a policy one would think is needed for an economy that might be fading?  And it is missing both its targets, unemployment is too high and inflation is too low, so is “tapering” the right policy posture?  Both “misses” would seem to invite more QE, not less (although it seems odd to have the Fed trying to create inflation rather than fight it).  There’s a lot of dancing around this issue now, with dissents from both ends of the policy spectrum.

    Moving away from traditional views about how policy works, it has been argued that low rates may not be stimulating real investment spending, but have inflated wealth (stocks and house prices) and this causes people to spend more and this creates jobs. That suggests Fed policy is targeting asset prices per se.  Reports of consumer net worth are disturbingly well above historical trends in spite of the devastation of the Great Recession.  Asset values = P x Q, the asset price multiplied by the number of assets we hold.  Are we valuing our assets at unrealistic prices?  Debt loads are still heavy, and this is “net” worth, did we repay (or write off) a lot of it?

    Interest rates are not the only determinant of spending decisions.  Borrowed money must be invested profitably (so the loan can be repaid) and uncertainty about the course of the economy (especially in the small business sector) has been high and remains so. Washington is paralyzed and unable to deal with the problems we know we face.  The case for the impact of continuous injections of liquidity when interest rates are “zero” is weak and muddled, not confidence-inspiring.  And the sheer size of the Fed’s portfolio and its future disposition (and impact on asset prices) adds to the level of uncertainty.

    Ah, for the good old days of “Fed Watching” when no disclosures were made. It’s not clear that we knew any less then than we know now with “communication.”  There are a lot more words to puzzle over and the FOMC undoubtedly spends much more time “word-smithing” than it used to, hopefully to some benefit.  But it is less than clear that we are better off with all this communication.

  • Tour of the Federal Budget

    Posted on May 4th, 2013 Jim No comments

    This is a slide show used by Douglas W. Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, in a presentation to an economics class at Harvard University on April 26. It is excellent.

  • In the News: USA Today

    Posted on September 16th, 2012 Jim No comments

    Jim got quoted in USA Today several days ago. Sorry for the delay–things have been crazy around here! Oh, and by the way, the Fed did take action. –Linda

    Economists see Fed action as likely, but with little benefit
    By Tim Mullaney, Paul Davidson and Barbara Hansen, USA TODAY

    For the third time in less than four years, the Federal Reserve this week will likely move to inject a sick economy with a B-12 shot. This time, however, the Fed’s medicine may be less potent and the criticism it’s certain to receive will be magnified in the glare of a tight presidential campaign in its final weeks.

    Many economists say last week’s disappointing report on job growth in August means the Fed will likely announce Thursday that it will buy more Treasury or government-backed mortgage bonds to lower long-term interest rates and stimulate economic activity. Yet they warn that uncertainty among businesses and consumers over looming federal government tax increases and spending cuts on Jan. 1 is likely to limit the benefits of any stimulus.

    Stock prices have risen recently in anticipation this week of a third round of Fed bond buying, known as quantitative easing, dubbed QE3. Economists disagree more on the timing of Fed action than on the degree of its impact.

    In a USA TODAY survey of 36 economists on Friday, 22 predicted the Fed will announce further bond buying this week. But all but four said more Fed stimulus would give only “a little” or no help to the economy by early next year. The more optimistic quartet predicted it would help “some.”

    “When the economy is running at less than 2% growth and there are so many domestic uncertainties and geopolitical risks we’re facing, … you’re not going to significantly increase hiring at this point,” says Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group.

    Friday’s jobs report for August seemed to underscore Baumohl’s view. Counting last month’s gains of 96,000 jobs, the economy has averaged 139,000 new jobs a month this year. That’s well below the average pace of 153,000 jobs a month for all of last year.

    The unemployment rate dropped, from 8.3% to 8.1%, but that owed more to a sharp reduction in the labor force rather than more jobs. The percentage of adults working or looking for work fell to 63.5%, the lowest since 1981. The government counts 12.5 million unemployed people, 40% of them jobless for six months or more.

    Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has called the labor market’s stagnation “a grave concern” that could damage the U.S. economy for many years.

    The minutes of the last Fed meeting, July 31-Aug. 1, show many Fed policymakers believed then the Fed would have to take further steps “fairly soon” unless new data pointed to “substantial and sustainable strengthening in the pace of the economic recovery.” That’s why many economists say Friday’s jobs report points to Fed action this week. “The Fed will act,” says Mesirow Financial chief economist Diane Swonk. “The preconditions have been met.”

    Targeting housing

    Nigel Gault, IHS Global Insight’s chief U.S. economist, predicts the Fed this week will launch a bond-buying program worth $500 billion to $600 billion that will be concentrated in mortgage-backed securities. It’s also likely to extend its public guidance on how long it is likely to keep interest rates low from late 2014 out to mid-2015, he says. “We don’t think these measures will be very effective in boosting growth, but for the Fed, it’s a question of trying to do what it can,” Gault says.

    Critics of the Fed’s efforts to put more money into the economy — including Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney— say the Fed risks creating serious inflation in years to come, although inflation is low now. They also question whether further drops in interest rates from already historically low levels will do much good. The U.S. average for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage is 2.86%, Freddie Mac says. That’s down from 5.64% in September 2008.

    “Can you imagine a single consumer deciding to buy a house or a vehicle because financing costs might be even lower than they are now?” says economist James Smith of Parsec Financial.

    Other economists say the Fed buying mortgage bonds could do some good for the still-weak housing market.
    “The lower rates will fuel more home buying and refinancing,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.

    Just the prospect of another round of Fed stimulus is lifting stocks and therefore household wealth, Zandi says. But business uncertainty will undercut the impact of Fed action, he and others say.
    Large companies are flush with cash and profits and they should be expanding and investing in new products or services to increase earnings, Zandi says. “It’s just not happening as fast,” he says. “They lack the animal spirits.”

    While new Fed stimulus could inject $600 billion into the economy, the fiscal-cliff issues related to next year’s federal budget threaten to suction that much or more out of it, says Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Bank in Birmingham, Ala.

    The fiscal cliff refers to the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the 2010 payroll-tax cut and $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years starting in 2013.
    The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the combination could cause a recession if they all go into effect in January.

    Business investment cooling

    Regions Bank is already hearing from businesses that they are hiring and investing less because they don’t know what Congress will do, Moody says.

    There are more signs of the investment slowdown, too. Orders for core capital goods have declined for four months in a row, Moody says. Chipmaker Intel said Friday that it would miss analysts’ projections for third-quarter sales by about $1 billion because of slower growth in demand for personal computers.
    Overall demand for technology is still growing but more slowly than had been expected, says Crawford Del Prete, chief research officer at industry research firm IDC. IDC will cut its forecast for technology-spending growth in 2012 to 6% on Monday, from slightly more than 7%, he says.

    Even a compromise to the fiscal cliff, in which Congress lets some but not all tax increases go forward, could take as much as 2 percentage points off next year’s economic growth, Moody says.

    Still, there are reasons to expect economic improvement next year, and they have little to do with politics. Individuals are nearly done with a six-year process of reducing their debt loads, positioning them to spend more next year, Moody says.

    Improving markets for housing should lead to more home building next year, Swonk says.
    Those forces will help the economy more than further Fed stimulus, Moody says. But Swonk argues that with so many Americans still unemployed, Washington can’t sit on the sidelines. “These are real lives here,” Swonk says. “This is not some fiscal game we are playing.”

  • What Worries Small Business Owners? Not Knowing!

    Posted on September 3rd, 2012 Jim No comments

    The following guest post was written by William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business and professor of economics and former dean of the Fox School of Business, Temple University. It is copied from the Forbes website where it was posted on August 24.

    In a May 8 editorial, Bloomberg editors proclaimed “The truth about uncertainty is that it’s (mostly) untrue.” Their concluding sentence: “You can blame Obama for many things, but uncertainty isn’t one of them.” Whatever the cause, “uncertainty” is certainly a major concern for America’s small business owners (who produce about half of the nation’s GDP and employ about half of the private sector workforce). The National Federation of Independent Business periodically polls a sample of its members to identify their concerns (Problems and Priorities available at The survey offers 75 issues for owners to rank on a scale of 1 to 7 and then aggregates the responses to identify the top issues (3,856 owners responded).

    No surprise, in the number one position (for the past 25 years) is rising health care costs. The health care legislation passed by the Democrats is in place and will be more fully implemented in the next two years. It contains over 20 new taxes and leaves the writing of much of the regulator detail to the Secretary of HHS. It will take a lot of effort just to become aware of all the applicable regulations much less complying with them. In the meantime, the cost of providing insurance to employees has continued to rise, with no end in sight. Plenty of “uncertainty” here regarding new regulations, reporting requirements, record keeping and figuring out the cost of a new employee.

    In SECOND place, “uncertainty about the economy” (will there be another recession) and in FOURTH place, “uncertainty about government policy” (will we become Greece? That’s the fiscal path we are on). Uncertainty is great when two possible outcomes are very different and the chances that one or the other will occur are 50/50. In the upcoming election, the outcomes for policy are very different depending on whether Obama is re-elected or Romney prevails. A weather forecast of severe thunderstorms or sunny skies with a 50/50 chance will probably keep most picnickers home (vs. partly sunny or partly cloudy, not much difference). This 50/50 election has produced recession level optimism and hiring and capital spending plans. Owners are not going to bet their own money on such an uncertain proposition. Better to wait for a resolution, certainty is better than uncertainty. However, waiting means slow economic growth.

    Energy costs took THIRD place, sensitive to the cost of gas and power at the time of the survey. But, prospects for lower energy costs aren’t good. Gas was under $2 a gallon 4 years ago, now almost at $4. Natural gas is cheaper but not widely used yet. A lot of the uncertainty about energy costs is related to regulatory decisions about drilling, pipelines, and EPA regulations as well as developments in the Middle East. It is hard to predict what will happen there. High energy costs are simply taxes collected by the owners of energy who are mostly foreign (although some feel that we can soon be fairly self-sufficient, producing most of the oil and gas we need domestically).

    In FIFTH place, “unreasonable government regulations.” Many studies have documented the hours spent filling out forms, trying to learn about regulations, getting permits, making sure handrails are at the right height (perhaps an “urban legend”, one owner is said to have been forced to move the handrail to the other side of the stairway to “comply”, causing a number of falls to occur). Estimates of compliance costs put them at nearly 50 percent higher than the per worker cost at large firms. This dissipates valuable financial capital and perhaps most importantly, the time of the entrepreneur, the most valuable asset of a small company.

    SIXTH, SEVENTH and EIGHTH were “federal taxes on business income” (the source of capital to finance growth in small firms), “tax complexity” and “frequent changes in the tax code.” The time required to deal with tax filing bleeds the owners time, diverting attention from the firm’s main task of providing good products and services and good jobs. And, taxes bleed the source of capital that most firms use to finance growth. Profits this year planned to be used to expand the next year can be significantly reduced by current period taxes.

    Fourteen of the top 20 problems (excluding “cash flow” and “profits” which are not specific problems) are directly related to government taxes, regulations or actions. Dealing with government is a “regressive” tax on small firms who do not have the size to support specializations in their staffs to handle the regulatory burden. Each agency is an independent unit, not considering the impact of other agencies’ actions on the firms it targets. Administrative justice imposed by federal, state and local regulators (guilty until proven innocent when a citation is received) drains substantial amounts of capital and time.

    In contrast, getting long and short term financing placed 56th and 58th respectively in spite of all the media attention this received. Only 3 percent report credit as a top problem.

    Restoring the vitality of the private sector that has been the engine of growth and wealth creation will require the politicians to address the adverse impact of a growing government sector on its citizens. Government doesn’t create wealth or jobs, only the private sector can do this.