Friday, November 18, 2016

How much will the Thanksgiving meal cost this year?

See Thanksgiving meal to gobble up less money this year by Jeff Daniels of CNBC. Excerpts:
""The average cost of this year's feast for 10 is $49.87, a 24-cent decrease from last year's average of $50.11," the Farm Bureau said Thursday. The traditional holiday dinner's cost was down less than 1 percent this year from 2015 and it marks only the third time in a decade that the annual survey shows an overall price decline.

A 16-pound turkey — the biggest single ticket item in the meal — averaged $22.74 this year, or 1.3 percent below 2015. The survey was conducted in 40 states with price checks on roughly a dozen items.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced its turkey price forecast for the current fourth quarter, saying "supplies of product are large." Overall, the retail food category has experienced flat or lower prices much of this year, according to government data.

"Consumers will pay less than $5 per person for a classic Thanksgiving dinner this year," John Newton, the Farm Bureau's director of market intelligence, said in a statement. "We have seen farm prices for many foods — including turkeys — fall from the higher levels of recent years."

The item with the biggest price decline in percentage terms this year is a 1-pound tray of carrots and celery, which the survey showed coming in at 73 cents, or 7.6 percent below last year. The meal item with the biggest percentage price increase this year was a dozen rolls, which averaged $2.46, or up 9.3 percent from 2015.

Elsewhere, the average price of pumpkin pie mix in the survey was down 2.2 percent from last year but the price of pie shells was up 4.8 percent in the same period. The Farm Bureau report said pumpkin prices fell slightly this year despite some production declines."

"Finally, the price of a 14-ounce bag of cubed stuffing was up 2.3 percent from a year ago. And a half pint of whipping cream was up by about 3 percent."
Also interesting: The percentage of income that Americans spend on food has been in a long-term decline.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The percentage of 25-54 year-olds employed increased in October

One weakness of the unemployment rate is that if people drop out of the labor force they cannot be counted as an unemployed person and the unemployment rate goes down. They are no longer actively seeking work and it might be because they are discouraged workers. The lower unemployment rate can be misleading in this case. People dropping out of the labor force might indicate a weak labor market.

We could look at the employment to population ratio instead, since that includes those not in the labor force. But that includes everyone over 16 and that means that senior citizens are in the group but many of them have retired. The more that retire, the lower this ratio would be and that might be misleading. It would not necessarily mean the labor market is weak.

But we have this ratio for people age 25-54 (which also eliminates college age people who might not be looking for work)

The percentage of 25-54 year-olds employed is 78.2% for October. It was 78.0% in September. It is still below the 79.7% in December 2007 when the recession started. . Click here to see the BLS data. The unemployment rate was 4.9% in September. Click here to go to that data.

Here is the timeline graph of the percentage of 25-54 year-olds employed since 2006. Notice how we had been rising before this year but it seems to be flattening out.

Here it is going all the way back to 1948

Friday, November 04, 2016

Wall Street Journal Reports Zombies Chasing Ghosts (and banks are friendly to these zombies)

See Bankruptcy Bust: How Zombie Companies Are Killing the Oil Rally by Timothy Puko and John W. Miller. The zombies are companies that have filed for bankruptcy but are still operating. So we see dead companies and they don't know  they're dead. Excerpt:
"Their owners may be bankrupt, but the sprawling mines of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin are still churning out coal. It is the same story in oil fields along the Gulf Coast and with shale-gas wells in the Rocky Mountains.

Energy investors have long hoped that falling prices would solve themselves by driving producers into bankruptcy and stanching the flood of excess supply. It turns out that while bankruptcy filings are up, they have barely impacted fossil-fuel markets.

About 70 U.S. oil and gas companies filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016. They now produce the equivalent of about 1 million barrels a day, about the same as before they declared bankruptcy, according to Wood Mackenzie. That represents about 5% of U.S. oil-and-gas output."

"That resilience has kept energy inventories flush and prices capped. Oil shot to $50 a barrel this summer, but has had trouble making much progress beyond that mark. On Friday, oil futures in New York rose 0.4% to $50.85 a barrel.

The theory that bankruptcies would help balance the market “was misguided to begin with,” says Roy Martin, a research analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. “And people are starting to come around to that now.”

This is exactly the way chapter 11 was meant to work. The process is designed to save companies that can be saved, and many energy companies are using it to lighten their heavy debt loads, adapt to lean times and keep producing."

"Bank lenders, reluctant to actually take ownership of assets that have been used as collateral by borrowers, have been friendly to troubled companies. During bankruptcy, Halcón, SandRidge, Goodrich and Penn Virginia raised a combined $1.3 billion in debt, largely reaffirmed credit lines from their banks."

"Coal magnate Robert Murray in 2014 correctly predicted that his rivals would file for bankruptcy. He pushed his Murray Energy Corp. to take advantage of the opening with a two-year buying spree fueled by $4 billion in debt. By this summer, Mr. Murray was negotiating with lenders, customers and workers on a multipoint plan he needed to avoid his own company’s bankruptcy.

His miscalculation: that his rivals’ bankruptcies would force them to cut back. If they maintain production, “that pulls everyone into what I call the bankruptcy sewer,” Mr. Murray said. “These are zombie coal companies chasing the ghosts of past markets.”"

And in further zombie news, see Do Zombies Pay the Estate Tax?:‘A zombie apocalypse will create an urgent need for significant government revenues to protect the living’ also from the WSJ:
"From the abstract of a 2012 paper by Adam Chodorow, a scholar at Arizona State University, published in the Iowa Law Review:
The U.S. stands on the precipice of a financial disaster, and Congress has done nothing but bicker. Of course, I refer to the coming day when the undead walk the earth, feasting on the living. A zombie apocalypse will create an urgent need for significant government revenues to protect the living, while at the same time rendering a large portion of the taxpaying public dead or undead. The government’s failure to anticipate or plan for this eventuality could cripple its ability to respond effectively, putting us all at risk.

This article fills a glaring gap in the academic literature by examining how the estate and income tax laws apply to the undead. Beginning with the critical question of whether the undead should be considered dead for estate tax purposes, the article continues on to address income tax issues the undead are likely to face. In addition to zombies, the article also considers how estate and income tax laws should apply to vampires and ghosts. Given the difficulties identified herein of applying existing tax law to the undead, new legislation may be warranted. However, any new legislation is certain to raise its own set of problems. The point here is not to identify the appropriate approach. Rather, it is to goad Congress and the IRS into action before it is too late."