The Ticker Quick Views on Politics, Economics and Finance
Matthew C. Klein
(Corrects amount of South Korean exports in description of second chart.)
The U.S. Treasury on Friday issued a warning to Japanese policymakers "to refrain from competitive devaluation and targeting its exchange rate for competitive purposes." The warning was prompted by the Bank of Japan's commitment to a new inflation target and a much larger balance sheet. My colleague Caroline Baum has already noted the strangeness of the U.S. statement, given that the Japanese government is merely doing what U.S. academics have been recommending for more than 15 years.READ MORE
After receiving criticism for declining to use the word "terrorism" in his first response to the Boston marathon bombing, President Barack Obama invoked the term today, saying "any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror."
Actually, that's not right. The U.S. federal code and the Federal Bureau of Investigation both include in their definitions of terrorism an element of political motivation.
There's a fad at the moment for jokey versions of the famous World War II "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster, which the 1939 British government printed to reassure the public after the start of German air raids.
A little stiff upper lip is in order after the bombings in Boston because London stages its own annual marathon on April 21, with 37,000 runners expected to take part. And before that, tomorrow, the city will host a massive funeral procession for Margaret Thatcher.READ MORE
The Boston Marathon bombing, juxtaposed with the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, reveals an ideological component to the way Americans assess risk. In particular, Americans' tolerance of mayhem and death varies depending on the source of the violence.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, for example, was quick to revisit old fears about foreign terrorism in the wake of the Boston attack:READ MORE
Iran suffered a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake this morning -- one more demonstration of why the country's nuclear program is an albatross it should shed.
Just last week, that a smaller 6.1 magnitude quake hit 100 miles from Iran's only nuclear plant, Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, killing 37 people and injuring 950. Fortunately, that quake was too small to damage the Bushehr reactor and today's was too far away, on the border with Pakistan.READ MORE
Banks and financial companies tend to die in one of two ways: from cancer or from a heart attack.
When a firm has cancer, its assets -- loans, securities and other investments -- either aren't repaid or turn out to be worth less than expected. Losses erode capital, leading to insolvency. To help avoid this, banks should hold more capital than regulations now require.READ MORE
(Corrects government reference to recount in second paragraph.)
Never mind the toxic felicitations from democratic paragons like Belarus's Aleksandr Lukashenko and Russia's Vladimir Putin. One of the most telling responses to Nicolas Maduro's victory in Venezuela's presidential election yesterday came from Diosdado Cabello, his fellow Chavista and president of the National Assembly. Speaking of Maduro's less than two percent margin of victory -- the narrowest win in a Venezuelan presidential contest since 1968 -- Cabello tweeted that "the results oblige us to make a profound self-criticism."
The comment by Cabello, an internal rival with strong ties to the military and business, points to the political challenges facing President-elect Maduro and augurs for a rough, unpredictable period ahead. Even with huge support from the military and government, Maduro barely eked out a win. (Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski has demanded a recount that Maduro, after earlier accepting in principle, is now rejecting.) To secure his legitimacy moving forward, Maduro may feel that he has to out-Chavez Chavez, cracking down on an emboldened opposition, swatting at the U.S. and cozying up closer to China and Iran, expropriating more companies and shutting down the media. Reflecting the prospect of instability, Venezuelan bonds were Latin America's worst performing securities last month, and fell on news of Maduro's election.READ MORE
The European Union's antitrust authority just accomplished what the U.S. Federal Trade Commission concluded in January it could not: It partially pried Google Inc.'s hands off the Internet steering wheel.
To settle an antitrust investigation, Google is agreeing to distinguish between its own services and those of competitors in search results, Bloomberg News reports. This will slow -- though not stop -- the digital economy's gatekeeper from leveraging its dominance in search into market power in other areas.READ MORE
Why did regulators need to wreck John Thomas Financial Inc.? Because it's wreckable, as Gordon Gekko said in the movie "Wall Street."
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority filed a complaint today accusing John Thomas and its chief executive, Anastasios "Tommy" Belesis, of fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission previously had sued Belesis and his New York-based firm; they have denied all wrongdoing.READ MORE
For over two decades, economic policymakers in developed countries have been telling Japan to get its act together. The once-great nation that was going to eat the U.S.'s lunch pretty much fell off the global map after its real estate and stock market bubbles burst in 1989.
The problem, according to the diagnosticians, is chronic deflation, or falling prices. The cure? More money.READ MORE
The most effective way to block any measure in the European Union is to say it requires a treaty change. This is the sucker punch German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble delivered at an April 13 meeting with his EU counterparts in Dublin.
According to Schaeuble, the EU can't make more progress towards setting up a banking union within the existing EU treaties. Germany says that a treaty change is needed to properly separate the banking supervision and monetary policy sides of the European Central Bank, once the ECB takes over supervisory duties for all 17 euro area countries.READ MORE
Jose Barroso, president of the European Commission, gave a presentation at Bloomberg headquarters in New York Friday afternoon, dividing his time about equally between the outlook for the proposed U.S.-EU trade agreement and the state of the European economy. He was pretty optimistic about both.
The trade pact was a big deal, he said. Conventional trade barriers such as tariffs and tariff-rate quotas between Europe and the U.S. are already low (5.2 percent on average for the EU and 3.5 percent for the U.S.), but the volume of trade between the two economies is so huge that eliminating them altogether would still have a big effect, he said. The gains from removing behind-the-border barriers (such as regulatory differences that discourage imports, accidentally or otherwise) would be great as well.READ MORE
The BBC has found itself at the center of a controversy over former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died last week after a long illness, and the late Wicked Witch of the West, who was killed in an unfortunate house accident more than seven decades ago.
Since Thatcher's death, an anti-Thatcher Facebook campaign has pushed "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead," a song from the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," near the top of the U.K. charts. BBC Radio 1 airs a top-of-the-charts show every Sunday night, and at first there was some question whether it would play the song. Brits still remember the Beeb's decision not to play the Sex Pistols' anti-monarchist song "God Save the Queen" during Queen Elizabeth II's 25th silver jubilee celebration in 1977. (Yes, it seems silly now.)READ MORE
Matthew C. Klein
The most recent data suggest that the U.S. economy may be slowing again. It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary phenomenon, a predictable consequence of the tax increases and spending cuts imposed earlier in the year, or something else.
The March employment report was the first indicator. As I wrote at the time, the news on jobs wasn’t quite as bad as the headlines suggested, but it wasn’t good, either. Surveys of business activity from the National Association of Purchasing Managers also contained some unwelcome news. The index of U.S. manufacturing activity fell to 51.3 in March from 54.2 in February. The index is still above 50, which means that manufacturing activity is still growing, but it implies a slowdown. Similarly, the index for services fell to 54.4 in March from 56.0 in February. Both indices are back to where they were last summer.READ MORE
If you wanted to make the case for Bitcoin as a feasible and useful digital currency, yesterday wasn’t the best day to do so. According to Mt. Gox, the largest Bitcoin exchange, the currency started out at $230, spiked to $266, touched a low of $105 and then settled at just above $170 (it’s now $123). That’s, in the course of the day, a 15 percent jump followed by a 60 percent plunge off the day’s high and ending with a substantial loss.
And during the day, it wasn’t even clear where bids and offers were, or what the price was at any given moment. Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider reported seeing Bitcoin prices of $90, $170 and $225 on different sites. One exchange appeared to have suffered from a denial of service attack when there were severe lags in trading and quotes. Today, however, Mt. Gox's management team issued a press release saying they were a “victim of our own success” and that a flood of new accounts had overwhelmed the system and led to panic sales by clients that drove down the price. Mt. Gox shut down its exchange today to "allow the market to cooldown" and upgrade its systems.READ MORE
If conspiracy theorists were hoping to score points with the early e-mail distribution of the Federal Reserve minutes yesterday, they had better look elsewhere.
Brian Gross, a member of the Fed's "congressional liaison staff" (i.e. a lobbyist), e-mailed a copy of the minutes from the March 19-20 meeting to his contact list at 2 p.m. on April 9, Bloomberg News reported. The minutes were scheduled to be released at 2 p.m. yesterday.READ MORE
The Washington Post reports today that the death of Pastor Rick Warren's son, Matthew Warren, has "spurred discussion within church communities about how a fervent belief among evangelicals in the power of prayer and dependence on God and Jesus for healing might stifle congregants from talking about mental illness or seeking help for themselves or family members."
One of the nation's most popular and influential pastors, Warren last weekend sent an e-mail to followers announcing that his 27-year-old son had killed himself. Warren was explicit about his son's mental illness, citing Matthew's "dark holes of depression and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America's best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided."READ MORE
President Barack Obama has put a respectably high price tag on his preschool proposal -- $75 billion over the next 10 years. The spending would start modestly, amounting to $1.3 billion in the first year, but rise to about $10 billion annually by 2020. That would go a long way toward helping states create and expand programs for the poorest American 4-year-olds.
Added to that, in the president's budget released yesterday, is a bonus for teenagers and others well beyond preschool age: Obama suggests paying for the preschool plan by almost doubling the federal tax on cigarettes, to $1.95 a pack from $1.01. History shows that when cigarette taxes rise, consumption drops, especially among the youngest smokers.READ MORE
It's easy to see why. The theoretical argument is convincing. Negative externalities -- social costs created, but not considered, in private transactions -- ought to be "internalized" through taxes on the activities in question. Any other outcome is inefficient, meaning that you could make at least one person better off without making anybody (including the polluters) worse off.READ MORE