Author Archives: Blanco

As Gasoline Nears $3 a Gallon, U.S. Economy Likely to Motor On

25 May 18
No Comments

By  and 


Consumer spending in the U.S. is probably well-equipped to ride out near-$3 gasoline that’s made for the costliest driving in four years, though an extended and more pronounced increase could prove more challenging for the economy.

The price of regular-grade fuel has climbed 47 cents a gallon, or 19 percent, since the start of 2018, according to motoring group AAA. Pricier seasonal fuel blends and increased summer demand as families go on vacation have pushed the cost of gasoline to its highest since 2014. Nonetheless, the movement in prices from January through May is about in line with the average over past five years.

Prices typically peak each year in the traditional summer driving season kicked off by the upcoming Memorial Day weekend — when about 37 millionpeople are expected to be on the road, up almost 5 percent from 2017 — and taper off through the rest of the year.

While bigger fuel bills leave Americans with less to spend on other goods and services, there’s no sign yet the costlier fill-ups are altering overall shopping habits. Government figures last week showed that retail sales posted a broad-based advance in April, spurred by higher receipts at clothing stores, furniture merchants, building-materials outlets, non-store retailers and department-store chains. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News see economic growth rebounding to a 3.1 percent annualized pace in the second quarter and 3 percent in the following three months, following 2.3 percent in the January-March period.

What’s more, the last time gasoline exceeded $3 a gallon, in 2014, inflation-adjusted consumer spending actually kicked into a higher gear. During the first five months of that year, the nationwide average price rose from $3.33 to $3.67 a gallon. Rather than cutting back, households boosted inflation-adjusted outlays at a 3.5 percent annualized rate. As gasoline’s seasonal effects faded and prices retreated, real purchases accelerated even more throughout the remainder of the year.

For consumers, it all boils down to how they perceive the increase, and most measures of sentiment have held up fairly well as gas-price gains mounted. Rather than dwell on the pinch to their wallets, Americans are instead responding favorably to tax cuts, the lowest unemployment rate since 2000 and a moderate wage pickup.

Still, higher fuel bills matter over time. Every one-cent change in retail gasoline prices translates into about $1 billion in annual energy spending, so a $1 increase in costs would be equivalent to a $100 billion tax increase, according to calculations by Joseph LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis SA.

Fuel prices haven’t gained nearly that much this year, and overall inflation is moving up only gradually. Disposable incomes — earnings adjusted for taxes and price changes — have been growing in 2018, though at a cooler pace the past two months. One thing to watch is whether the saving rate comes under pressure; it has picked up slightly since dropping in December to a 13-year low.

— With assistance by Catarina Saraiva

U.K. Economy Barely Grows as Households Rein in Spending

25 May 18
No Comments



U.K. consumer spending lost momentum in the first quarter and companies cut investment after severe weather swept the country.

Household spending rose just 0.2 percent, the weakest performance in more than three years, and business investment declined 0.2 percent as snowstorms kept shoppers at home and disrupted construction projects.

Economic growth was left unrevised at 0.1 percent, the figures Friday showed, and the Office for National Statistics continued to maintain that the weather had little impact on the quarter on balance. However, that assessment was challenged this week by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.


The BOE refrained from raising interest rates this month, leaving economists and investors puzzling over whether officials will now choose to hike in August.

Much depends on how quickly the economy rebounds and the evidence so far is mixed, with Brexit fears mounting and consumers only just emerging from a cost of living squeeze that has hit stores from Marks & Spencer to home- improvement chain B&Q.

Consumer spending rose 1.1 percent from a year earlier, the smallest increase since the start of 2012.

The quarterly fall in business investment was the first in more than a year and was driven by lower spending on non- residential buildings and vehicles, the ONS said. Construction output dropped by 2.7 percent.

GDP per head fell 0.1 percent, leaving growth from a year earlier at 0.6 percent, the weakest pace since 2012.

Services, the largest part of the economy, rose just 0.1 percent in March following a 0.3 percent decline in February. Growth in the first quarter was unrevised at 0.3 percent, with consumer-facing services experiencing a poor start to the year.

Trade had no impact on GDP growth, as exports fell 0.5 percent from the fourth quarter and imports declined 0.6 percent.

Britain is set to remain stuck in the economic slow lane again this year, with growth of around 1.4 percent trailing well behind Group of Seven peers Germany, France and the U.S.

— With assistance by Mark Evans

Japan’s longest growth streak in decades just came to an end

16 May 18
No Comments

BY Daniel Shane


The world’s third-largest economy is shrinking again.

Japan’s gross domestic product contracted at an annualized rate of 0.6% in the first quarter of 2018, according to government data published Wednesday.

That snaps a run of eight consecutive quarters of growth, the longest Japan has achieved since the boom days of the late 1980s.

The limp first-quarter performance was spread across different areas of the economy, according to Marcel Thieliant, senior Japan economist at research firm Capital Economics.

“Private consumption and public demand were flat while investment spending and net exports fell slightly,” he said in a note to clients.

Related: Why Japan’s economy still needs help after $3 trillion binge

The contraction was bigger than economists had forecast. But Japan may still dodge a recession, which is usually defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Thieliant said he expects Japan’s economy to return to growth in the second quarter.

The country faces serious challenges, including a rapidly aging population, a lack of women in the workforce and stubbornly low inflation. Moderate inflation is good for an economy as it encourages consumers to spend.

Japan just doesn’t have the resources to keep growing at a healthy clip, according to Thieliant. That can mean a shortage of drivers to deliver goods, not enough roads or ports to move cargo, or a lack of machinery for manufacturing products.

Japan’s recent growth streak was helped by years of massive stimulus from the Bank of Japan that aimed to get businesses and consumers spending again after a prolonged period of stagnation and falling prices.

Related: Japan is set to miss out on the global growth party this year

Jesper Koll, head of Japan at investment firm WisdomTree, said that Wednesday’s disappointing economic data means the central bank won’t be turning off the money spigot anytime soon.

Rising wages aren’t prompting consumers to spend more. Households are saving the extra income instead, which suggests “a fundamental lack of confidence in the future,” Koll said.

Another problem for Japan could be its currency, according to analysts at investment bank Nomura said. The yen has strengthened more than 2% against the dollar since the start of the year, making Japanese exports like cars and electronics more costly.

It could rise further if global trade tensions spook markets because the Japanese currency is regarded as safe haven for investors during periods of turmoil, the Nomura analysts said.

“The Bank of Japan will want to do everything it can to prevent a rise in the yen,” Koll added.

Spain’s Top Economists Vow to Boycott All-Male Panel Discussions

16 May 18
No Comments



A group of leading Spanish economists plan to boycott panel discussions and events that don’t include at least one woman.

Fifty economists and academics including Rafael Domenech, the head of macroeconomic research for Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, and Emilio Ontiveros, a former government adviser and founder of the Madrid-based think tank Afi, have signed the manifesto, which will be made public on Wednesday.

The signers pledge “not to take part in any academic events or round table of more than two speakers that do not feature a female expert,” according to a draft version of the document reviewed by Bloomberg. Called “Not Without Women,” it calls on event organizers to include more female experts in areas that have traditionally been dominated by men.

Like many countries around the world, Spain has been grappling with a rising call for equal opportunities for women. More than 5 million women participated in the country’s first 24-hour female strike on March 8, prompting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to reverse his earlier comments that pay equality wasn’t a top priority for his administration.

Global organizations including the International Monetary Fund have urged governments to promote equality and do more to tackle the disparity in how men and women are rewarded for their work. In the U.K., the government introduced legislation requiring companies to disclose the pay gap between female and male employers, with the results often showing significant disparities in pay in particular among top earners.

U.S. Factory Production Shows Broad-Based Gain Outside Autos

16 May 18
No Comments



U.S. factory production regained its footing in April to push capacity utilization to the highest since 2015, indicating the industry will support economic growth this quarter, Federal Reserve data showed Wednesday.

Key Takeaways

The gain in factory output was broad-based outside of a decline in motor vehicles and parts. Several categories posted increases of more than 1 percent, including machinery; computer and electronic products; electrical equipment and appliances; and aerospace and miscellaneous transportation.

The factory-use rate rose to 75.8 percent — the highest since August 2015 — from 75.5 percent a month earlier. Even so, that’s still 2.5 percentage points below its long-run average.

The results bolster the view that the industry, along with consumer spending, will contribute to a projected second-quarter rebound in economic growth. Tax cuts and steady overseas sales are expected to underpin gains in business investment. At the same time, rising prices for materials and tariffs on imported metals, along with U.S.-China trade tensions, pose risks for American manufacturers.

Automobile and parts production decreased 1.3 percent after two months of strong gains, the Fed’s report said. That’s consistent with government figures based on industry reports and released earlier, which showed motor-vehicle sales cooled in April.

Revisions to data had the effect of paring gains in factory production in the first three months of the year. Manufacturing output rose at an annual rate of 1.4 percent in the quarter, down from a previously reported 3.1 percent. That followed a 5.2 percent gain in the fourth quarter of 2017, which was the best since early 2012.

Homebuilders in U.S. Continue to Fall Further Behind: Chart

16 May 18
No Comments




America’s homebuilders are struggling to keep up with demand. While 510,000 single-family houses were under construction in April, the most since mid-2008, there were 91,000 dwellings authorized but waiting to be started, also a new expansion high, according to a Commerce Department report Wednesday. “Capacity constraints may be responsible for the leveling off in groundbreaking activity,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities, wrote in a note. “Builders have been complaining for a long time about labor shortages” and more recently, building materials costs have jumped.


No, the U.S. Economy Isn’t Overheating

11 May 18
one comments

BY Peter Coy


Want ads for truck drivers to haul crude oil in Texas are touting salaries as high as $150,000 a year. Some nurses are getting $25,000 signing bonuses. The U.S. unemployment rate just fell to 3.9 percent, one tick away from its lowest since the 1960s. And on May 8 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there are 6.5 million unfilled jobs in the U.S., the most on record. Some employers say they’re feeling the squeeze. “Rising labor costs remain the primary contributing factor to our margin erosion,” Chatham Lodging Trust, a company in West Palm Beach, Fla., that owns more than 130 hotels either by itself or in joint ventures, said on May 1.

Is the U.S. economy overheating? Yes and no. There are plenty of inflationary bottlenecks, and not only in the labor market. Backlogs of orders are the highest since 2004, according to the Institute for Supply Management. Transportation costs have jumped in part because of driver shortages. Strong U.S. oil and gas production has helped push up the prices of essential inputs such as steel pipe and specialty sands used in fracking.

On the other hand, the bottlenecks aren’t yet causing high inflation across the economy, which would require the Federal Reserve to speed up its interest rate hikes. The U.S. central bank passed up the opportunity to raise the federal funds rate at its May 1-2 meeting while noting that the rate of inflation has “moved close” to the bank’s 2 percent target. “In my judgment, the Fed is ready to accelerate [rate hikes] if they need to, but they’re not getting ahead, which I think is appropriate,” says Josh Wright, chief economist at ICIMS Inc., which makes software to find and hire talent.

Some of the factors driving up the U.S. inflation rate—in particular, the jump in crude oil prices to about $70 a barrel from less than $50 a year ago—have external causes and don’t reflect overheating in the domestic economy. Rising commodity prices caused in part by new steel tariffs cost General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV at least $200 million each in the first quarter. Tariffs have also helped drive lumber prices to a record. Other external factors are the high price of imported alumina for aluminum smelters and the weather-related runup in prices of vanilla from Madagascar and cocoa from Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The U.S. economy performed below capacity for so long that it can be hard for managers to remember how to operate without lots of spare resources. Half of the surveyed members of the National Federation of Independent Business say there are “few or no” qualified workers for job openings. Yet on May 8 the NFIB reported that in April the net percentage of small-business owners who reported improved earnings trends was the highest in the survey’s history. “There is no question that small business is booming,” William Dunkelberg, NFIB’s chief economist, said in a statement. (Big companies are, too: First-quarter earnings for companies in the S&P 500 are expected to be 24 percent higher than a year earlier, Bloomberg calculated on May 9.)

Sectors with strong pay growth generally confront special circumstances. Those truck drivers being offered as much as $150,000? They’re being hired by oil producers in the Permian Basin who are desperate to get their crude to market. Hospitals, whose median expenditures for contract labor rose 19 percent in the past year, face their own special problems, according to John Morrow, a managing director of Franklin Trust Ratings who analyzes hospitals. People whose skills are in high demand and work under temporary contract rather than salary can take full advantage of shortages for their talents, according to Morrow. “This is a level of skill that requires advanced-level training that involves medicine, technology, and science, and all of those things are costly,” he says.

An important sign that rising costs remain manageable is that most companies haven’t passed them along to customers. Walmart Inc., the nation’s largest private employer, raised starting wages to $11 an hour in January and announced annual bonuses of as much as $1,000. But it’s cutting prices to remain competitive with Inc. and low-cost supermarket chains Aldi Inc. and Lidl US LLC. The same goes for packaged-goods companies. General Mills Inc. has acknowledged that attempts to hike prices for its Progresso soup and Yoplait yogurt ultimately hurt sales by driving shoppers to other brands. In freight transportation, BNSF Railway Co.has picked up market share from Union Pacific underpricing it.

“We have to be a little bit cautious in inferring that wage growth is going to be a major constraint for business,” says Gregory Daco, head of U.S. macroeconomics for Oxford Economics Ltd. While some economists warn that rising inflation is a “late-cycle” phenomenon—i.e., a precursor of recession—“we don’t have clear evidence that we’re at the end rather than the middle of the cycle,” says Michael Englund, chief economist of Action Economics LLC in Boulder, Colo.

A key statistic to watch is unit labor costs, which are wages adjusted for productivity. They rose at an annual rate of 2.7 percent in the first quarter. But over the past year as a whole, the increase was only 1.1 percent. As long as companies’ unit labor costs don’t rise faster than the prices they charge, tight labor markets won’t be a problem.

The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the price index for personal consumption expenditures, is going to look high for a few months because a brief dip in prices for clothing, hotel rooms, airline fares, and other items has ended, says Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics. That might influence the Fed, he says. There’s a risk that Fed rate setters could react too quickly to signs of overheating. “As inflation climbs, so too will the risk of recession, because at some point policymakers will feel impelled to respond,” Ellen Zentner, chief U.S. economist of Morgan Stanley, wrote in a note to clients on May 2. —With Katia Dmitrieva, Tatiana Darie, Craig Giammona, and Jamie Butters

Bitcoin Slips Below $9,000 After Korean Exchange Raid

11 May 18
one comments



Bitcoin was on course to eke out two weeks in a row above the $9,000 mark, until now.

The top digital token broke its streak Friday after South Korean prosecutors raided the offices of Upbit, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, renewing concerns that heightened regulatory scrutiny around the world could hurt business and dampen enthusiasm for digital assets.

The top digital token declined as much as 6.4 percent to as low as $8,508 in New York trading, the lowest level in three weeks, according to Bloomberg data.

There was also speculation that the trustee of failed exchange Mt. Gox was selling its Bitcoin to pay back creditors.

Bitcoin’s drop is part of a broader selloff in the cryptocurrency market, which is currently worth around $380 billion, according to That’s almost $100 billion less than it was worth a week ago. The Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index, which measures the performance of the largest digital tokens, fell as much as 14 percent.

The market’s decline comes on the eve of Blockchain Week in New York, where thousands of boosters of crypto assets will gather for about two dozen events and conferences.

Banks are walking away from low-income homebuyers

11 May 18
one comments

BY Lydia DePillis


Banks have been walking away from low-income homebuyers seeking loans, and that has affordable housing advocates worried.

Newly-released federal data on mortgage lending from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows people with low- and moderate-incomes made up only 26.3% of borrowers in 2017, down from 36.6% in 2009.

In part, that’s due to federal rules that sought to crack down on the subprime lending tactics that helped bring on the financial crisis. Also, skyrocketing housing costs have locked many people of modest means out of the market.

But the data reveals another profound shift. Big banks are moving away from mortgage lending entirely, while independent mortgage companies — or “non-banks” — pick up the slack.

“Non-bank” is a catchall term for financial institutions that don’t take deposits. Non-bank mortgage lenders just do mortgage lending, for example. So in a time of low interest rates and higher regulatory costs, traditional banks have the option of moving into more profitable ventures, like credit cards.

“Profit margins on lending have come down quite a bit,” says Mike Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents both banks and non-banks. “So a number of banks have de-emphasized their mortgage lending, because there are other business lines they can focus on.”

Related: This Texas military town has nearly closed the black-white homeownership gap

Non-banks, meanwhile, have doubled down on volume — particularly through refinances — and now originate 56% of all home loans, according to the CFPB data.

mortgage lending chart

Now, the biggest mortgage lender in the country isn’t a bank at all — it’s Quicken Loans, which originated 27% more loans in 2017 than its nearest competitor, Wells Fargo.

And as banks have moved away from the mortgage business, they’ve fled even more quickly from lower-income black and Hispanic buyers, who often apply through the more forgiving Federal Housing Administration loan programs. Only 15% of the new mortgage borrowers at the nations’ three largest banks were low-income in 2017, compared to 29% for the three largest non-banks.

Large banks have blamed their departure from FHA lending on litigation brought against them by the Department of Justice under the False Claims Act, which led to big penalties for Wells Fargo (WFC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) for approving loans that had not been certified as eligible for FHA insurance.

But advocates for low-income homebuyers charge that banks are simply retreating to a more lucrative segment of the market.

“Frankly it’s kind of disturbing to me,” says Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, an umbrella group of affordable housing organizations. “I think you see a number of institutions post-crisis reorienting their bank to a more urban clientele, a more metropolitan clientele.”

That’s a problem, Van Tol says, because non-banks are not covered by the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires depository institutions to do a certain amount of their investing in lower-income communities in the cities where they’re based.

“We think every lending institution has an obligation to lend to people of modest means,” Van Tol says. “It’s not good enough if some people are doing it and others are not.”

In addition, economists have raised concerns about the large volume of lending by non-banks. Many of these firms are relatively new and non-public, making it more difficult to assess their level of risk and their capacity to absorb losses if the housing market were to turn sour.


Hong Kong’s Economy Continues to Defy Gravity

10 May 18
one comments

BY   and 


Hong Kong’s high-wire economy continued to defy gravity, putting aside fears of a tightening Fed to post its best quarter of growth in almost seven years.

Data Friday showed the Asian financial hub grew 4.7 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter, the highest reading since June 2011 and more than a percentage point above the highest economist estimate.

The world’s least-affordable property prices continue to hold up, tourism and shopping have rebounded as China’s economy hums along, and a bustling stock market that’s set to boast one of the world’s-biggest stock offerings this year is also buoying sentiment.

“Consumption was extremely strong and that may have been boosted by rising property prices,” said Iris Pang, an economist at ING Groep NV in Hong Kong. “Property prices will continue to rise 5 to 10 percent for the rest of 2018, and that will continue to create a wealth effect.”

There are some signs of strain in the city, however.

The gradual tightening of policy by the U.S. Federal Reserve is starting to bite, with the Hong Kong dollar peg meaning the Chinese region imports U.S. monetary policy. Meantime, a looming trade war between China and the U.S. threatens to dim the outlook further.

Robust demand means house prices should hold up, said Eddie Cheung, an Asia currency strategist at Standard Chartered Plc in Hong Kong.

“Persistent supply shortage and strong pent-up demand mean any price correction should be orderly and modest,” he wrote in a note.

A key wild-card for Hong Kong’s economic health is the city’s interest rates, which had long been stuck at rock-bottom levels thanks to a weak currency and ample liquidity. Now, there are signs of stress.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority was forced to buy up more than HK$50 billion since the currency hit the weak end of its trading band for the first time since 2005 in mid-April, triggering a spike in the cost of lending between banks. Hong Kong’s aggregate balance of liquidity has dropped to around HK$128 billion.

As the HKMA has to follow U.S. Fed rate hikes, interest rates are “certainly on an up cycle,” says Chi Lo, senior economist with BNP Paribas Asset Management.

The HKMA’s intervention will help raise the key Hong Kong Interbank Offer Rate, or Hibor, by reducing interbank liquidity — narrowing the gap on other rates such as Libor and reducing the appeal of interest rate arbitrage as investors sold Hong Kong dollars for other higher-yielding currencies, Lo said. The authority has plenty of room to maneuver with $434 billion in foreign reserves, so the peg remains safe, he said.

China Trade

There are other worries, too. Ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China would have a direct impact, given the role of Hong Kong’s vast container ports as a key trading post.

“We think this is probably the peak for growth this year,” said Chang Liu, China economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London. “Strong global demand should keep exports growing at a healthy pace over the months ahead, but rising interest rates in Hong Kong are likely to weigh on the domestic economy.”