The Weiner Component #147 Part 3 – Money: The FED & the Treasury

English: Chart of M1 money velocity for the Un...

English: Chart of M1 money velocity for the United States. Nominal GDP, and M1 NSA stock data from Federal Reserve. M1 velocity calculated using nominal GDP divided by M1 stock. Data in log transformation. NBER Recessions in gray. Created in Excel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A map of the 12 districts of the Unit...

English: A map of the 12 districts of the United States Federal Reserve system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Wednesday, February 10, 2016, the Chair of the Federal Reserve, Janel Yellen, met with the House Financial Services Committee to give her semiannual report on the state of the nation and answer questions from each of the members.  Again on Thursday, February 11, she met with the Senate Finance Committee to do the same thing.  As she has shown prior she emphasized caution and the need for the FED to carefully monitor the tenuously existing economic conditions in the world.


The major problem that exists today is the widening fallout or nervousness from concern over China’s weak currency and economic outlook, which is rattling financial markets around the world.  China’s GDP (Gross National Product) had traditionally been around 8%.  Over the last year or so it dropped considerably while the value of her currency has increased against other national currencies.  A higher Yuan would make China’s goods more expensive overseas.  The Central Government stated that they would lower the value of the Yuan on international markets.


This is done, following the Laws of Supply & Demand, by increasing the amount of actual currency available on the international exchanges, supplying more Yuans than are needed.  In this way the Yuan becomes more available than all the other currencies and its value against them drops.


This process, in turn, would bring down the cost of Chinese goods in trade with other countries.  Of course, all the non-Chinese markets did not appreciate their currencies increasing in value over that of the China.  This made numerous other countries nervous and some decided to react in a similar fashion.  Consequently a number of governments began attempting to manipulate their currencies.  These actions tended to deregulate international trade.  The United States dollar rose in value against all the other currencies, being considered internationally the most stable.


China made two attempts to do this.  Each did lower the value of the Yuan, but in both instances it fell fractionally.  China’s GDP did not rise to its coveted 8%.  Their Central Bank, by attempting to raise the GDP actually, lost control of their economy.  What they had achieved was a currency oscillating in value.  The value of some other currencies have tended to be equally erratic; but the other counties that attempted to manipulate their currency values did not advertise the fact.  Will a new equilibrium be reached in the future?  Probably, at some point.


Meanwhile most of the stock markets in these assorted countries went on roller-coaster rides, mainly ending downhill.  Nervous people sold some or all of their stocks; the different stock markets dropped hundreds of points; automatic computer-controlled programs owned by large holders like retirement funds automatically sold; and the drops became even more dramatic.  Exchange rates of the different currencies went on a tetter-totter basis and international stability tethered on a day by day basis


Using this information Ms. Yellen and her Board of Directors at the Federal Reserve have to make projections of what the international and national futures will be.  The American Stock Market has lost at least 10%, to date, of its value.  Most stocks are down considerably.  This is also true of most international stocks.


The Chinese Government has made two attempts to lower the Yuan.  They lowered it fractionally both times and then lost control of what they were doing.  Everything, inside and outside of China, has been erratic since.  The Central National Banks are now waiting for a sense of equalization to come again.  So far it hasn’t and everyone is still waiting for some return of normality; and this includes Chairwoman Yellen and the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve.


In her remarks Yellen said that the Federal Reserve expects to eventually raise its rates slowly; but they are not on any preset course.  She commented that it was possible that the recent economic weakness could prove temporary, and if so it could set the stage for further economic growth and a stronger increase in inflation than the FED is currently forecasting.  If this occurs then the FED would be likely to hike rates more quickly than anticipated.


Ms. Yellen said that various economic indicators demonstrate that China, the world’s second largest economy, was undergoing a sharp slowdown.  But recent declines in the value of that country’s currency have intensified concerns about her future economic prospects.


This uncertainty led to increased volatility in global financial markets and against the background of monetary weakness abroad, exacerbated concerns about the outlook for global growth, which generally caused the nervous or erratic actions within the various nations.


Yellen also stated that the shark decline in U.S. stock prices, rising interest rates for riskier borrowers and further strength in the dollar has translated into financial conditions that are less supportive of growth.


“These developments, if they prove persistent, could weigh on the outlook for economic activity and the labor market, although declines in longer term interest rates and oil prices could provide some offset.”


She stated that the labor market remains solid, creating 150,000 jobs in January.  That was enough to push the unemployment rate down to 4.9%.  Inflation, however, has continued to fall below the FED’s target of 2% annual price increases.  (At the beginning of February it was .7 of 1 %.)  The shortfall has been steeper recently because of the renewed drop in oil prices and stronger dollar, which holds down U.S. inflation by making foreign goods cheaper for American consumers.


But Yellen said the Central Bank continued to believe that the energy declines and dollar strength would fade in coming months.  Inflation would also begin to move closer to 2% as a healthy labor marker pushes up wages.  She also stated that worker pay has started to show its first significant gains since the Great Recession ended 6 ½ years ago.


In late 2015 the interest rate the FED charges banks went from 0 to ¼ of 1%.  When the next increase in interest rates will occur is not known.  The FED will examine the indicators again in March.  Many economists believe there will be few if any increases in interest charged by the FED this year.


After her report Chairwoman Yellen took questions from each of the members of the Committees, for the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday.


What Dr. Yellen implied in her statement was that the economies of China, the United States, and many European nations are far healthier than current economic conditions demonstrate.  She indicated that the international economic chaos begun by China will probably soon end in a new financial equilibrium and trade will probably be again balanced between nations.


What has caused the stock markets around the world to go through their current gyrations has been nervousness by investors within the individual nations.  It has been fear or an overreaction to the erratic international financing, a sort of terror that the different national economies could follow domestically the international situation.


Of course the irony here is that the currency of the United States is considered the safest in the world and the dollar is the most valuable currency available.  Particularly since the U.S. National Debt has supposedly reached about 19 trillion dollars.


Dr. Yellen indicated that the FED is doing nothing but wailing for international trade to stabilize again.  At that point the FED will again raise the subprime rate it charges banks another ¼ of 1% bringing it to ½%.  There will probably be very few, in any, raises this year; but it will pick up in the future.  She mentioned that the average depositor is being financially hurt by the low interest rates they’re receiving from their almost required deposits to the banks.


While she didn’t state this fact the implication is that countries like Venezuela, that function mainly on one major export like oil, and whose economies have suffered from the drop in oil prices, are now looking for other products or raw materials they can export to raise their economic levels within their borders.  This may take a few years; but that can’t be helped.  The current drop in the price of oil has been matched by the current drops in their standards of living.


After her remarks Dr. Yellen took questions and comments from all the members of the committee.  Each had a short period to deal with her.  The questions and comments tended to be quite enlightening.  The Democratic Congress people were a bit friendlier in their remarks than the Republicans.


One area of interest was that the Federal Reserve has, between 2009 and 2015 transferred over 600 billion dollars to the U.S. Treasury.  This is money that is separate from all the taxes and fines collected.  It was further denoted as no less than 100 billion dollars a year went to the Treasury.


The sources of these funds were not mentioned.  Some of these funds are interest on the part of the National Debt which the U.S. Government owns.  The Federal Government admits to owning 40% of its own debt.  That is a conservative estimate.  I would put it up to, at least, 50% or even over 60%.  The Federal Reserve uses parts of the Debt to adjust conditions within the economy at times.  Federal bonds are both short and long term.  Some are always being sold and other expire and are cashed out.  The FED can add money to the economy or National Cash Flow by selling less than it cashes out or the reverse can be done.  If inflation is too low or there is a recession they will sell less than they cash out.  If, on the other hand, inflation is too high then the FED will sell much more than they cash out. Reducing the amount of money available in the economy.  These changes do not necessarily totally solve the economic problem but they were and are a tool that lessens their impact.


Forgetting adjusting economic conditions, the rest of the cash transferred to the Treasury was just a simple money transfer.  All of this money was just brought into existence by the FED.  After all they control the printing presses and can issue money within legal limits as they decide it is necessary.  Remember, what stands behind the dollar is the word of the United States Government.  There is nothing else, no entity of value other than the Central Government.  All money today is a token, merely an instrument for exchanging goods and/or services for goods and/or services.


There was no mention of the 45 billion dollars a month that was spent for well over two years during this period resolving the housing dilemma created by the banks during the end of 2008 when the Real Estate Market crashed.  The FED bought 45 billion dollars’ worth of fractional mortgage pieces in all 50 states and territories upon which it would never be able to collect its investment.  In essence the FED bought the economy out of the bank caused Housing Bubble.


One area of concern that was brought up by several Black members of the Committee was the fact that unemployment is far higher in minority areas of the country, that the general 4.9 percent unemployment was as high as 50% in some of the Black and Hispanic neighborhoods and among young minority members entering the labor market.  Dr. Yellen stated that Monetary Policy was a general force that worked throughout the economy.  It did not differentiate between ethnic or racial groups, that this type of job creation was the province of Congress, using Fiscal Policy to create work projects in area where these people lived.


While she didn’t state it this Fiscal Policy was done from 1987 through 1980 during the Administration of President Jimmy Carter.  Assorted Public Projects were built throughout the nation that benefited both communities and created employment in areas that had larger than normal levels of unemployment.


There is another factor which Dr. Yellen did not mention but that is highly important and that is the velocity of money.  New currency added to the overall economy or National Cash Flow is spent numerous times before it becomes part of the increased amount of money available in an increased National Cash Flow.  It can be spent three to eight times and in some instances as many as twelve times as goods and services are paid for and then reused by the person or institution who receives them.  This is a continuum.


If we take five as the average number of times the 800+ billion dollars, the FED added to the economy between 2009 and 2015, as the average velocity in which the money passed through the overall economy the amount of money Dr. Yellen stated was in excess of 4 trillion dollars.  And if we add to that the 45 billion a month that was used to resolve the mortgage crisis for a period of over two years, that makes another 540+ billion dollars, from which the government never collected back a dime.


With all this money added to the economy inflation by February of 2016 was 7/10ths of 1%.  The indication is that the total United States economy totally needed these funds, not only to avoid a Major Depression but to just function and grow.  Keep in mind that the overall population of the country is dynamic, constantly growing.


If we just consider the taxes paid on this money on a municipality, city, and federal level we are talking about survival for local and state governments.  For example a state like California charges a sales tax of 7½% Imagine how much additional sales tax would be paid by 40 some million people.  States like California and New York have state income taxes which are a small percentage of what the Federal Government collects, but can still be a substantial sum.  Try to visualize the additional amounts collected by these or other states that have their own income taxes.  And, of course, the increased Federal Income taxes on the additional 4.5 billion plus dollars.


In all probability the United States recovery from the 2008 Real Estate Crash was brought about by this Creative Monetary Policy brought about by the Federal Reserve with the support of the President.


If the Republicans in the House of Representatives were not so Penny wise and dollar stupid as they have been since 2011 when they took control of the House of Representatives they could, as Dr. Yellen suggested in her answers to questions and President Obama earlier proposed, have passed Fiscal Policy laws and the infrastructure of the United States could well be on its way to modernization.  This, in turn, on a more focused basis than just Monetary Policy would have brought unemployment well down from the 4.9% it is now and significantly increased the country’s GDP.  The difference it would have created in the National Debt by the increased government expenditures would have been made up by the increase in taxes on every level of government.  This also could have focused on minority areas which currently have inordinately larger levels of unemployment.


One of the comments made by a Republican legislator was interesting in demonstrating his ignorance of the basic principles of Macroeconomics.  His comment referred back to the Golden Era of the Federal Reserve when Alan Greenspan was Chairman of the FED and, in the opinion of the legislator, we were living in a Golden Age.  How misinformed or ignorant can anyone be?  There should be an economics literacy test for people running for Congress


It is because of people like Barack H. Obama, Dr. Ben S. Bernanke, and Dr. Janet L. Yellen that the country is as economically healthy as it is now.  Without them the United States would today be in a dire depression.

The Weiner Component #86 – Retirement & Budgeting Through Life

Many people put themselves in an uncomfortable position when they retire, if they retire. They can no longer afford their former cost of living. Their retirement, be it social security or a private fund or a combination of the two that they have contributed to throughout their working lives makes up their retirement; they have no other source of money. By maintaining what they consider their proper standard of living these individuals have not been able to save; they have essentially spent all they have ever earned. They have never applied any basic lessons of economics to themselves; seeing money throughout their lives only as a basic means of satisfying their needs and wants.

Money, income, can be divided into two categories: something to be used for living, pleasure and fulfillment of needs and desires or it can be used as a commodity, a means of earning more money.

To the upper 20% of the population, who have a surplus income, more money than they can reasonably spend, it is used in both ways. To most of the remaining 80% it tends to be utilized for the process of living. In fact, most of them will spend 110% of their incomes to maintain what they consider their proper standard of living. As a result they will always be carrying a certain amount of debt throughout their lives and never be able to find themselves getting financially ahead. Of course to the bottom rungs of society, the unskilled and homeless, they earn so little that what there is, is needed to just survive.

The United States is basically divided into classes; many of which can be divided into subclasses. There is the very rich, the upper 1%, who earn far more that they can possibly spend with incomes in the multimillions of dollars. Then there is the remaining 19% of the upper class with incomes in the low millions to the high hundreds of thousands. These people have no problem using money as both a commodity and for daily living.

Economically below is the middle class which consists of three categories. The upper middle class, the comfortable middle class; these are usually the college graduates; generally they consist of company management with salaries in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are also the professionals: doctors, engineers, college professors and the like with specific occupations. The middle, middle class would be made up of college and non-college graduates, “the white collar” employees who have lower management positions and earn from over one hundred thousand dollars down. This group also includes successful “blue-collar” workers. Then comes the lower middle class which would be made up of a group similar to the above class but with lower salaries.

Next comes the lower class. This group is split into two parts: those earning an adequate income to more or less comfortably survive and the group living in the area of the minimum wage. The latter group generally needs government aid in the form of food stamps and rent controlled housing in order to properly survive. Finally there is the underclass, the people living in the streets, the homeless. A small percentage of these live in their cars; they do not earn enough, if they are employed, to pay for housing.

From the bottom up, through most of the middle class, these people spend everything they earn. In fact, most of them spend more than they earn; the society allows life to be lived on credit which can be paid off monthly or extended infinitely with interest. Consequently a lot of these people are in a position that will never allow them to retire. They will work until they are no longer able to do so. Also a goodly percentage of the bottom groups are either unmarried or divorced women with young children.

The major problem that most of these people face is budgeting. They have no idea how to do this and, as has been indicated, the overall society is oriented toward getting people to spend, to consume the goods and services produced and readily available.

Money is the means through which everything functions. It has no real value other than what is assigned to it by the society and this value is flexible, ever gradually changing. Its distribution to the population is determined by the various occupations its people have or through inheritance and ownership of the means of living and of production. People use it both to live and earn more money.

The society is geared to have people spend their money, even to a point of spending more than they have or are earning. Many big ticket items like automobiles or houses require installment purchasing. This includes not only necessary items but also adult toys like boats, and traveling mobile homes. Buy now and pay later is even carried to food and clothing purchases with credit cards. By and large a whole segment of the society’s lives are based upon credit purchasing. This has been carried in many cases to the point where the level of credit has been maxed out and the people are paying 18 to 21% interest virtually forever on five or ten or twenty thousand dollars’ worth of credit that they never seem able to reduce.

However a goodly part of the middle class by a conscious effort can put away a small percentage of their income which, over their working lifetime, can give them a fair to excellent increase in their retirement. It is just as easy to spend $900 a week as it is to spend $1,000, $600 as $550. A hundred dollars saved a week equals $5,200 a year. Fifty dollars saved a week is $2,600 a year. While these amounts may not seem like significant amounts that changes when thirty working years is added to each of them. Add either interest or growth from a safe investment and the individual has put away in excess of $156,000 or $78,000. At 3% interest add another $54,200 to the first sum and $26,100 to the second amount. This is probably the most conservative investment anyone can make on a long term savings account.

If the individual feels that he or she cannot afford this much in savings then skipping two fast food luncheons a week would provide ten dollars; that’s $40 a month or $2,080 for a 52 week year. This equals $62,400 for 30 working years with no interest. At 3% interest it would approximate $63,092. All of this is straight savings bank or credit union savings.

Probably most people, who want a decent retirement, have no self-control and use insurance. This is a popular means used by those who have no self-control; they do not have the ability to save or invest. Money to these people is only used to supply needs and pleasures. Whatever they have they spend.

The insurance industry is based upon gambling and for the people who own and control it, it is safer and more profitable than Los Vegas casinos are for their owners.

There are several types of insurance policies. One kind is term insurance. The individual is betting a small amount each month that he or she will die and the insurance company is betting that he or she will not die. The insurance company will pay out to the individual’s family $100,000 if he or she passes on. It keeps the small payment if they continue to live. The amount is usually set by a person’s age and the insurance company has actuaries that figure out how many people in that age group will die. For every $100,000 the insurance company pays out it keeps millions of dollars. This is term insurance.

Then there is life insurance. Here the individual pays in so much a month for the rest of their lives or until they are 65; and upon their death their family gets 15, 30, 50, 100, or whatever, thousand dollars. The premium of these policies also include term insurance which would cover the policy if the individual dies early.

There is also the life insurance annuity policy where there is life insurance and upon reaching the age of 65 the individual receives a monthly payment of several hundred dollars a month for the rest of his life. It doesn’t really matter how long he lives because the insurance company has made far more than they’ve paid out or will pay out from his payments. There are innumerable insurance plans or variations of plans but these are the major ones,

However a goodly number of the middle class, those with self-control, by a conscious effort can put away a small percentage of their incomes which, over their working lifetimes, can give them a fair to excellent increase in their retirement. It is just as easy to spend $900 a week as it is to spend $1,000 or $550 as it is to spend $600.

All of the methods of building a resource base shown so far are relatively safe. One can see their basic wealth slowly increase over one’s lifetime and have it eventually supplement their retirement income, whether it be social security, a government retirement plan, or a private retirement plan. This allows for comfortable unemployed years with a possible estate upon the demise of the individual.

There is another way to go. The more risk one takes the higher the possible rewards; but also the higher the risk of losing all or part of the money.

One method is the gradual purchase of properties. Usually property accrues in value over the years. If it is the purchase of a house for rental and there are continued tenants then they actually pay for increases in the owners’ equity. The problem is that in order for the property to be profitable the owner has to be a landlord with all the responsibilities of a landlord. Also if the house is not continually rented out the owner is still responsible for the monthly payment. Another advantage would be yearly tax benefits. And, of course, the house can always be sold.

How does this come about? One has to save his money until he have enough for a down payment on a property plus an emergency amount for unexpected occurrences.

One can build ownership in a large number of houses over a period of time in this fashion.

Another method to save for retirement would be the stock market. Here the risk increases considerably but with conservative long term purchases can be fairly safe.

A stock is one share of ownership in a company that has probably issued millions of shares of its stock in order to raise money. If the company makes a profit they may pay a dividend, usually quarterly. Many companies allow the recipients of their dividends to automatically reinvest their dividends into additional shares and will also allow them to invest small amounts in additional shares.

Perhaps one of the safest areas in which to invest is in utilities, gas and electric. These items are necessary for comfortable living; the companies have been around for a long time and will continue to be needed infinitely into the future. If anything they will be gradually expanding as populations expand. Also these stocks pay a reasonable dividend. The stock for these companies generally runs from $25 a share up to around $60. Just about all of them allow the owner to reinvest their dividends and buy additional shares with no fees. There is very little chance of one of them going out of business. One can buy 25 to 100 shares and build their portfolio from there.

The Bank of America pays a dividend per quarter of one cent per share; yearly, that is four cents. The stock cost about $14 to $15 a share. Apple, which currently is over $90 a share, paid no dividend through most of its history, then in the last few years ago it has paid a fairly large dividend. Microsoft also paid no dividend originally, then at some point it was embarrassed by having a war chest of 55 billion dollars, and began paying a dividend. They were still embarrassed and issued a one-time special dividend of $3.00 per share. Microsoft currently goes for about $40 a share. The stock for Marvel Enterprises at one point sold for $1.50 a share. They at first licensed some of their characters for films like the Spiderman series then began producing their own films. The value of the stock rose significantly, then split into two for one share and finally the company was taken over by Disney, who paid $30 a share plus ¾ of a share of Disney stock, making the value of one share of that stock today about $90.

An example of a growing stock would be Tesla Motors which produces all electric luxury cars that sell from $70,000 to $100,000. According to Consumer’s Union they are the safest automobile on the road. When the company went public in 2010 the stock could be bought for around $30 a share. Today in mid-2014 it costs over $200 a share.

With a single battery charge the Tesla today can go a little over 300 miles. They are currently in the process of building the largest battery factory in the world. In 2015 they will begin producing and selling an all-electric SUV. About two years further in the future they will be making a smaller less expensive electric sedan that will sell at a much lower price. They are also planning to eventually open factories in China and Europe. The probability is that the stock will go up to $300 to $500 a share in the next three to five years. Unfortunately 100 shares of the stock today is over $20,000.

Another growth stock, which is much more affordable, is the Empire State Realty Trust that came onto the market in October of 2014 at $13 per share. There are four separate designations for this stock. They are all equal and pay the same dividend. The stock is presently between $15 and $16 per share and has paid 8 1/2 cents a share in the last quarter and will gradually rise. Within two or three years the stock value should double or triple as the real estate upon which it is based increases in value. Currently the cost is about $1,500 to buy 100 shares of this stock, $750 for 50 shares.

These are random examples. One can make or lose money quite easily in the stock market. The latter is easier if one does not know what they are doing.

Stock has to be purchased through a broker. Most banks and credit unions have a division that deals with this. They charge a fee for the service that is determined by the extent to which they advise you. There are also stock brokers many of whom go by formulas by which they advise their customers. These may or may not work. The broker will generally charge you more than the bank or credit union. These people make a living by buying and selling stock. Their primary interest is earning money, you come second.

Hopefully this blog has some value and will give some people ideas on how to have estates of at least five or six figures when they retire.