Jim Ulvog

You cannot turn an economy off, then turn it back on. Here are the results when hubris makes you think you found the magic switch. Part 1.

Random stock outages are still common. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The supply chain in most industries is tangled up somehow somewhere.

The people in federal and state governments with the staggering level of hubris to think they can wave their hands and make the entire economy do their bidding are willfully causing disruption in your life and in my life.

What is going on around us?

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

I am struggling to figure out what’s going on around us in the economy. These are confusing times.

That is why I blog. Digging into news reports and statistics deep enough to write something coherent (hopefully) pushes me towards understanding. At least that’s the concept.

The next several posts I have lined up will explore some economics aspects of this confusing world.

Another inflation followup.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Distressing inflation news keeps rolling in…

Multiple comments from senior federal officials indicate we are going to have inflation for a while.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen indicated inflation will continue into 2022.

She indicates the source of inflation is bottlenecks that have themselves generated inflation. Unstated in the article, and apparently unacknowledged by Secretary Yellen, this these bottlenecks are caused by the government shutting down the economy and in their staggering hubris thinking they can flip a switch and seamlessly open up the economy.

CNBC – 10/5/21 – Yellen sees inflation staying higher for the next several months.

Article also points out Fed chairman Powell called inflation news last week “frustrating.” I suppose so. When you think you can control the economy of the world with a few keystrokes from your laptop, such news would be quite frustrating.

Most unsettling tidbits in the article are the estimates from the Federal Open Market Committee that inflation measured by the PCE will be 3.7% in 2021. THey think it will be lower next year. I hope so.

St. Louis Fed President predicts 2.8% for the full year of 2022.

A bit more on that high inflation rate seen in August PCE.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Few days ago we discussed the Personal Consumption Expenditure for August 2021 shows ongoing inflation.

The August number of 0.4% increase results in a year-over-year increase of 4.3%. Bad news is this is the highest increase in PCE since 1991, all the way back when Pres. Bush was in office.  That is a 30-year high in the inflation rate as measured by PCE.

Another major investigation of bank secrecy: Pandora Papers.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Looks like there is another flood of reporting ready to appear in print on bank secrecy and hiding wealth.

This project will be called the Pandora Papers.

If you recall, a major series of reports back in the 2016 timeframe described money laundering efforts flowing through one particular law firm in Panama. You can read my comments on the coverage.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) brought together around 600 journalists from about 150 media outlets to analyze a data leak with 2.94 TB of info. That’s terabytes, as in thousands of gigabytes.

The ICIJ kickoff summary was published on 11/3/21: Pandora Papers: An offshore data tsunami.

If you are at all interested in offshore banking, or money laundering, or the world-far-away of hiding or relocating wealth even without nefarious intent, you will want to pay attention.

Looks like there will be a lot of coverage, what with 330 politicians and 130 people on the Forbes billionaire list showing up in the data.

From a first glance, it looks like this project have as one focus the structure of banks and professionals that service this market.

USPS to further slow down mail delivery. Intentionally.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The Post Office is going to slow down delivery of mail.

This is good information to know for charities, CPA firms, and those few of us who still use first-class mail to pay bills.

Before 10/1/21 the goal for USPS was three-day delivery anywhere in the country. This pushed USPS into sending a large volume of mail by air, which is far more expensive than ground transportation.

The new goal is five-day delivery anywhere in the country. This will allow sending most mail by USPS-owned trucks. Reading between the lines of official statements there will also be increased use of rail.

Personal Consumption Expenditure for August 2021 shows ongoing inflation.

The Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) inflation index again shows an increase of 0.4% in August 2021 after increasing the same in July. Since December 2020 this index has shown inflation of between 0.3% and 0.6% each month.

This indicates that inflation is continuing. Good news is that inflation is slowing, declining from 0.6% in March and April, to 0.5% in May and June, to 0.4% in July and August.

Bad news is annualizing the running three month inflation rate shows between 4% and 7% since February.

Financial conflict of interest on the federal bench and stock trading by presidents of regional Federal Reserve Banks. Alternate headline – Is there any group of powerful people who bother to follow the rules?

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Major investigative effort by the Wall Street Journal revealed 131 federal judges who own stock in one of the firms appearing before them in 685 lawsuits.

The Journal found that about two thirds of all federal judges disclosed ownership in individual stock. Of those who made such disclosure about one fifth had a conflict of interest but did not recuse themselves.

For CPAs, this illustrates the importance of our independence rules, both independence in fact an independence in appearance.

What shall we call judges who were trading stock of litigants who were appearing in front of them? Perhaps a reasonable label would be integrity impaired fools. Even those judges who had a trivial investment and had a mere procedural motion in front of them have a serious appearance of conflict of interest and thus impaired integrity.

It would be wise for CPAs to read this story as a caution to keep a scrupulous eye on their own independence. The same lessons can be drawn by leaders of nonprofit organization.

The story doesn’t end with the federal judges, but we start there. More discussion in a moment about stock trading by presidents of two regional Federal Reserve Banks, who are the ultimate insiders.

Failures to recuse when federal judges have financial conflicts of interest

The investigative report may be found at the Wall Street Journal, published online 9/28/21:131 Federal Judges Broke the Law by Hearing Cases Where They Had a Financial Interest.

A 1974 federal law requires federal judges to monitor their investments, maintain personal awareness of those investments, and then recuse himself of any case in which they have a financial interest, no matter how small their interest may be.

In spite of a 40-year-old law and in spite of software that checks disclosed ownership against parties to the lawsuit, 12% of federal judges completely blew off the ethical obligation. That means one out of eight judges failed to recuse themselves when they had a financial interest in a case before them.

I’m wondering if there’s any group or category of people in this country who have significant power or influence who actually bother to follow the rules

More specific tallies from the article:

Disciplinary actions from California Board of Accountancy – Spring 2021.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The California Board of Accountancy Update newsletter, issue #93 dated Summer 2021, has details of disciplinary actions with effective dates in the spring and early summer of 2021.

Interesting thing I noticed this time around is the timing of some of the underlying issues. The attestation failures for which a date is mentioned involve financial statements issued in the 2016 or 2017 timeframe. For one of the more splendiferous failures the firm had audit failures on 2015 and 2016 financial statements which generated a failed peer review with the report dated in early 2018, which led to an investigation by the board with disciplinary action effective in June 2021. That was the firm’s second consecutive peer review fail. Firm earned a $2,500 penalty along with reimbursement of $5,000 investigatory costs.

Every CPA that had an attest failure drew a ban on attestation services until such time as the practitioner requests and receives permission from the board to again perform attest work.

Four of the practitioners who had their license revocation stayed also had a suspension of their license in the range of 60 to 90 days. Imagine the lifetime stain of an official revocation on your public record and then on top of that being prohibited from providing any CPA services for two or three months.

Here is my recap of disciplinary actions reported in this issue:

Personal Consumption Expenditure for July 2021 shows increased inflation is still in play.

The Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) inflation index shows an increase of 0.4% in July 2021. Since December 2020 this index is shown inflation of between 0.3% and 0.6% each month.

This indicates that inflation is continuing. Good news is that inflation is not accelerating. Bad news is an annualized inflation rate of about 6% is continuing.

The PCE is the inflation index preferred by the US Federal Reserve. An intriguing aspect of the PCE is the numbers are routinely revised. This means prior month’s numbers will shift, sometimes by substantial amounts.

Update: The year over year change in PCE is 3.6%. CNBC reports on 8/28/31 Key inflation gauge rises 3.6% from a year ago to tie biggest jump since the early 1990s. To be specific that matches the increase in May 1991 and is second only to the 4.2% increase in January 1991. Current policies of the White House and Congress have given us the highest inflation in 30 years. Not yet Carter era bad, but there is time to achieve Carter level performance.

The CNBC article also says some of the Fed members are starting to see the immediate inflation just might be more than just a temporary adjustment to the economic shutdown. President of the Atlanta Fed acknowledge such possibility when he said on-air that he is hearing from a many of his business contacts that they expect inflation go to beyond the immediate-term.

Very slow but steady improvement in unemployment as of early August 2021.

New claims for unemployment are down about 60,000 per week since my last post 10 weeks ago. For the week ending 8/21/21 new claims were 353K compared to 412K the week of 6/12/21.

The number of insured unemployed has dropped more substantially, from 3.53M the week ending 6/12/21 to 2.9M the week ending 8/14/21. That is a drop of 672K over nine weeks. For contrast the number of insured unemployed was averaging 1.7M in January and February 2020.

Those numbers reveal a slow improvement although the number of people losing their jobs each week is still running double the average in January and February 2020.

Purpose of these posts on economic statistics is to help all of us keep current on what is going on in the overall economy.

What I’m drawing from the data is the economy is improving one little bit at a time. Seems to me the recovery is slowing.

Revised number of weekly new claims in state programs over recent months shows following trend:

  • 406K – 5/22/21
  • 412K – 6/12/21
  • 368K – 7/10/21
  • 349K – 8/14/21

Following graphs show the devastation from the economic shutdown.

New claims

New claims for unemployment by week since the start of 2020:

Consumer Price Index again showing strong inflation in July 2021.

The Consumer Price Index, or CPI, shows 0.5% price increases in July with a core increase of 0.3%. While that is the lowest increase since February 2021, half a percent in one month works out to about 6% in a year.

Graph at top of this post shows the monthly change in the primary index along with the core change which excludes food and energy. Graph also shows an average of the preceding 12 months.

The average was running around 0.1% a month for most of 2020 after the shock of the pandemic. You can see the rising monthly increase quite visibly, starting in January 2021. Watch the green line increase from around 0.1% up to currently 0.4%.

The trailing 12 month average is also grim. It shows:

Expectations growing that we will see rising interest rates and sustained inflation.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

It isn’t just the current numbers that are hinting that inflation is back. Changes in CPI and PCE are unsettling.

There is also a clear statement from the Fed they will nudge interest rates up earlier than they previous announced. Also indications from two big banks that we will see rising interest rates.

6/17/21 – Dailywire – Federal Reserve Delivers Bad News About Expectations For Inflation, Raising Interest Rates: Report – Previously the Federal Reserve indicated interest rates would not have to be increased until sometime in 2024.

New claims for unemployment are flat and ongoing claims are slowly decreasing as of middle of June 2021.

New claims for unemployment are flat compared to three weeks ago. Ongoing claims for unemployment at the state and federal level are declining, slow though the decline may be.

Number of weekly new claims for unemployment was 406,000 three weeks ago and 412,000 the most recent week. The increase in the most recent week offset the decline in the previous two weeks.

Most recent data shows ongoing claims at the state level dropped from 3,602,000 three weeks ago to 3,518,000 in the most recent week, for a net decrease of 84,000. There was an increase two weeks ago, large drop last week, and essentially no change this week.

The number of new claims is still double the average from before the pandemic.

Purpose of these posts on economic statistics is to help all of us keep current on what is going on in the overall economy.

Revised number of weekly new claims in state programs over the last four months to show the trend:

  • 728K – 3/27/221
  • 590K – 4/24/21
  • 406K – 5/22/21
  • 412K – 6/12/21

Following graphs show the devastation from the economic shutdown.

New claims

New claims for unemployment by week since the start of 2020: