The Ticker Quick Views on Politics, Economics and Finance
Almost no one in the U.S has enough retirement savings, the New York Times warned us on Sunday, "not even people who have put away $1 million." There are a couple of reasons for this. First, people aren't putting aside enough during their working years, a problem since at least the early 1980s. And the recent decline in real interest rates means that those meager savings aren't going as far as they used to.
Consider this bleak picture: A typical 65-year-old couple with $1 million in tax-free municipal bonds wants to retire. They plan to withdraw 4 percent of their savings a year — a common, rule-of-thumb drawdown. But under current conditions, if they spend that $40,000 a year, adjusted for inflation, there is a 72 percent probability that they will run through their bond portfolio before they die.
Social Security and Medicare can help offset these shortfalls, especially for the vast majority of Americans who have far fewer savings than the Times's hypothetical couple. Those programs can keep people out of penury but won't ensure a comfortable standard of living for most of us. The conclusion I got from reading the article is that most U.S. households need to start saving as much as possible as soon as possible.READ MORE
Reading the newspaper headlines in Berlin this morning, there are two conclusions to draw.
The first is that Germany's constitutional court in Karlsruhe will this week determine the fate of the euro. The second, only slightly less spectacular conclusion, is that this court case amounts to a duel to the death between the two main German central bankers: Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann and Joerg Asmussen, a member of the European Central Bank's executive board. I doubt both narratives.READ MORE
Albert R. Hunt
Doug Bailey, the most exuberant public citizen I've known, died unexpectedly this morning, at 79.
In our last conversation several weeks ago, he had the same vibrant enthusiasm for his latest project as he did in 1976, when he was the top consultant to President Gerald Ford's election campaign and almost achieved a miraculous come-from-behind victory for his candidate.READ MORE
The saga of Edward Snowden, the source of leaks about the U.S. government’s Prism program, is precisely the sort of tale Hong Kong’s tabloid newspaper culture has always embraced: full of suspense, driven by personality and sure to bring people back to buy the next day’s edition. But while Hong Kong’s newspapers are busy combing the city for Snowden, mainland Chinese papers -- and the country’s usually scandal-loving social media -- are covering other stories.
What might account for the indifference?READ MORE
Psst, here's a stock tip for you. There's a company near Washington with strong ties to the U.S. intelligence community that has been around for almost a century and has secret ways of making money -- so secret that the company can't tell you what they are. Investors who buy just need to have faith.
To skeptics, this might seem like a pitch for an investment scam. But as anyone who has been paying attention to the news might have guessed, the company is Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp.READ MORE
A word to Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan, who recently described Twitter as a "menace to society": You can learn a lot about the protests and the motives of those driving them from how they use the microblogging service.
Turkey's Gezi Park protests have been a Twitter revolt, as distinct from the Facebook revolutions of the Arab Spring. It turns out that Twitter is now a better tool for social unrest -- and provides better data about it.READ MORE
Edward Snowden, the national security consultant who leaked details of secret government surveillance programs to the Guardian and the Washington Post, displays the classic characteristics of a whistle-blower.
First, he places himself in the middle of an event of world historical importance. ("I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in," he said, adding that the National Security Agency surveillance poses "an existential threat to democracy.")READ MORE
I always enjoy reading the postmortems after a big move in financial markets to see just how the news media explains it.
For example, Friday's 208-point surge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average was attributed to a report showing that the U.S. economy created 175,000 non-farm jobs last month even as the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.6 percent. The spin? The May jobs data weren't strong enough to deter the Federal Reserve from its $85 billion in monthly asset purchases, but not weak enough to create new concerns that the economy was losing steam. In other words, the news was just right, as Goldilocks might have said.READ MORE
In this week's column, I described the potentially devastating effect of automatic spending cuts on Alzheimer's research.
The National Institutes of Health, whose outlays are being cut 5 percent by the so-called sequestration, has been the gold standard for federal programs and has been championed by Republicans and Democrats alike for most of the past three decades.READ MORE
Many Americans are outraged at the government for mining user data from Apple, Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants. What about the actions of the companies themselves -- have they met their ethical obligations to their customers and society as a whole? Do they even have any?
The Washington Post reported that the National Security Agency collects data "directly from the servers" of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. While some companies issued carefully worded denials of involvement, it's hard to imagine they were unaware of the arrangement, however they choose to describe it.READ MORE
In ordering Kathleen Sebelius to ignore federal policy and allow 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan and 11-year-old Javier Acosta to join the adult waiting list for lung transplants this week, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Baylson declared that the policy "discriminates against children and serves no purpose, is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."
What in the world made him say that?READ MORE
At least 14 states, including Texas, Mississippi and South Carolina, oppose taking federal money to expand their Medicaid programs under Obamacare. That's bad fiscal policy: As two RAND Corporation scholars wrote this week, those states will see an annual net loss of $8.4 billion in federal money as a result.
Turning down the new Medicaid money is bad policy in another sense: It could worsen racial inequality. Advocates of expansion have avoided talking about this, perhaps for fear of polarizing the debate, but Census figures make clear that Medicaid and race are inextricably linked.READ MORE
Detroiters are up in arms at the suggestion in my column today that the treasures in the Detroit Institute of Arts might be better off in museums in younger, growing cities. They have completely understandable parochial interests -- and local pride -- at stake. But they also have bankruptcy staring them in the face.
There is, however, a way Detroit could raise money and share its art with other cities without relinquishing its treasures altogether: a time share.READ MORE
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the U.S. economy added 175,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in May, beating a consensus forecast of 163,000. The BLS also revised the March and April employment data, subtracting a total of 12,000 from those months' gains. Thanks in part to an increase in the labor force, the unemployment rate rose to 7.6 percent, from 7.5 in April. Meanwhile, average hourly earnings were flat for the month, missing expectations of a 0.2 percent gain.
As has been the case ever since the trough in early 2010, private-sector job creation offset shrinking government employment. There are 45,000 fewer people working for the federal government since February, probably the result of sequestration.READ MORE
Today's jobs report suggests the U.S. labor market is gradually healing the wounds left by the financial crisis of 2008. That said, we're still very far from normal.
A jobs report's headline numbers are designed to answer two questions: How many jobs did non-farm employers add in the previous month, and what percentage of the labor force was out of work? The answer to the first -- an estimated 175,000 in May, bringing the three-month average to 155,000 -- tells us that employers are adding jobs at a decent pace. The answer to the second -- 7.6 percent in May, up from 7.5 percent in April -- tells us that the labor force, which includes only those people who have jobs or are actively searching for one, increased by more than the number of people employed.READ MORE
In an internal report released this week on its involvement in Greece in the past few years, the International Monetary Fund takes on the European authorities much more bluntly than usual. Greece came to the IMF in 2010 later than it should have and needing more resources than could readily be provided -- primarily because of foot-dragging by its euro-partners. The Western Europeans also resisted Greek debt restructuring for far too long, creating a major handicap for the rescue program.
All of this is undeniable, but also relatively easy for the Europeans to dismiss. And dismissiveness was exactly the reaction from Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, and from the European Commission. Their line is: Mistakes were made, and now we are on the road to recovery -- so why worry?READ MORE
This may not seem like the best time to invest in Greece. The economy has shrunk by more than one-fifth since 2008 and, if private forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg are correct, will see a cumulative decline of 25 percent over seven years -- a catastrophe no rich country has experienced in peacetime since the Great Depression.
On the other hand, as Baron Rothschild put it, the best buying opportunities present themselves "when there is blood in the streets." Those who purchased 30-year Greek government bonds last July (such as Dan Loeb's Third Point) have quadrupled their money. Greek share prices have doubled over the past 12 months.READ MORE
Let's dispense with multiple levels of artifice in one blow: The Chinese may have nudged North Korea's Kim Jong Un to make nice, but they won't push him to the wall. Kim won't knuckle under if they try, and he isn't about to do South Korea's President Park Geun Hye any favors. As Kim's basketball buddy Dennis Rodman might say, this is all about the Benjamins -- the tens of millions of dollars a year that Kim hopes to regain by restarting the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and re-opening North Korea's Mount Geumgang luxury resort for tourists from the South.READ MORE
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who announced today that he is splitting with his wife Lyudmila after nearly 30 years of marriage, will be his country's first divorced leader since Peter the Great.
Peter, in 1698, forced his first wife Yevdokia to take vows as a nun. The Putins, who broke the news after attending a performance of the ballet "Esmeralda" in the Kremlin, say their parting is more amicable.READ MORE
When Chinese President Xi Jinping sits down with U.S. President Barack Obama tomorrow, he will be mulling a question that has puzzled China’s leaders and public for decades: Just how aggressive will a U.S. administration be in defending its Pacific allies from Chinese aggression?
It is hardly a theoretical question. Consider that last December, when China and Japan appeared closest to military conflict over territorial claims in the East China Sea, the influential Communist Party-owned Global Times newspaper offered a curious explanation for why China could not back down from the escalation: “The Chinese public will not allow such a retreat. A new reality has been formed surrounding the Diaoyu conflict. It is impossible to turn back.”READ MORE