Archive

January 10th, 2017

Holiday sales expose losers in changing market

    Another holiday shopping season has passed, and though the rapid growth of online spending has been a well-told story for a number of years now, it's worth highlighting the latest developments and what they mean for investors.

    Internet sales rose an estimated 15 percent, to 19 percent, from a year earlier, while those at traditional stores fell 10 percent as the number of shopper visits plunged 15 percent. The appeal of online shopping is only getting stronger as people who came of age using computers and smart phones become a bigger factor in consumer spending.

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January 9th

Ford's bow to Trump benefits robots, not workers

    Ford's decision this week to scrap a $1.6 billion investment in Mexico, following criticism from Donald Trump, shows government intervention can be "good for industry and it's good for employment," according to French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. As far as the workers in this particular case are concerned, the numbers suggest otherwise.

    The U.S. automaker says abandoning its Mexico plan and instead spending $700 million to expand its domestic operations in Michigan will create just 700 jobs. Even I can work out that's $1 million per new employee hired.

    Amid the ongoing debate about whether robots are poised to steal everyone's jobs, that feels like a chillingly low number of new hires for an investment of that scale. And while automation may be particularly suited to replacing human hands for bashing, bending, welding and painting metal to make cars, the acceleration in the production of industrial robots in recent years suggests it's not just workers in car factories who should fear the rise of the robots.

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What the strong Obama jobs recovery shows

    On Jan. 6, the Labor Department will release the final monthly employment report of what has been an historic eight-year run of jobs growth during the Barack Obama administration, This period confirmed some of our beliefs about the economy but also exposed the limitations of our understanding of a structurally changing employment situation.

    Here are three main takeaways from this period, along with the implications for the short and longer term.

 

    -- The U.S. economy can lose lots of jobs very quickly.

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The West's biggest problem is dwindling trust

    Many Americans gasp when they see Donald Trump mockingly put the word "intelligence" in quotes when referring to the U.S. intelligence community; it seems heretical to challenge the wisdom and expertise of institutions charged with safeguarding their security and freedoms. As a Russian, I just shrug: I have never believed a word coming from my country's intelligence services. This cultural gap is shrinking, though. Western societies are turning into low-trust ones, after the post-Communist, Eastern European model.

    Two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama, the man who also blithely declared that history was ending and a liberal democratic paradise was at hand, connected trust with prosperity. He argued that societies with more trust among their members, such as the U.S., Japan and Germany, did better than those with a smaller radius of trust that rarely goes far beyond the family, such as China, Italy, France or Korea. Economic evidence hasn't quite borne that out, but at least it can be said that a more trustful society is more comfortable to live in, primarily because you don't have to jump through hoops to prove the purity of your intentions.

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Trump and the ratings presidency

    On Friday morning, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted.

    The first one went like this: "Wow, the ratings are in and Arnold Schwarzenegger got 'swamped' (or destroyed) by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT. So much for ..."

    It was quickly followed by this: "Being a movie star-and that was season 1 compared to season 14. Now compare him to my season 1. But who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary."

    The reaction was utterly predictable. Democrats - and even some Republicans - wondered why Trump was fixated on the ratings for "The Celebrity Apprentice" on the day that he was set to receive a briefing from intelligence officials about the depth and breadth of Russian hacking during the 2016 election. It was the height of irresponsibility, they tweeted!

    Here's the thing: We know - or should know - by now that this is a feature, not a glitch, of Trump's personality. In fact, the tweets above provide a nice window into understanding how he thinks about himself, his looming presidency and the world.

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The GOP Health Care Hoax

    This week, President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans began to dismantle Obamacare, and here are the details of their replacement plan:

    —— —- —- —- - —— —- —— —- - —- —- — —— —- —— —- —- —- — — - - - - —— —- —- —— —- —- —- - —— —- —— —- - —- —- — —— —- - —- —- — - —- —- — —— —- - —-

    That captures the nonexistent Republican plan to replace Obamacare. They’re telling Americans who feel trapped by health care problems: “Jump! Maybe we’ll catch you.”

    This GOP fraud is called “repeal and delay.” That means repealing the Affordable Care Act, effective in a few years without specifying what will replace it.

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Reality Politics, Starring Donald Trump

    Two big political events this week. A new Congress started work and “The New Celebrity Apprentice” arrived on TV.

    “Celebrity Apprentice” is now hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former action movie star who became a governor and is now recycling back into entertainment. He is replacing Donald Trump, a former reality TV star now preparing to move into the White House. Trump’s Cabinet choices include one former governor who transitioned into “Dancing With the Stars” and is now seeking to become secretary of energy.

    On Wednesday we learned that Omarosa Manigault, a former “Apprentice” contestant who’s said she’s done “20-plus reality shows,” is joining the new White House staff.

    I think we are seeing a pattern here. Two major questions:

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Rand Paul prefers his own health-care gimmick

    Sen. Rand Paul, R, is skeptical. He thinks something's fishy about this whole "repeal and replace" thing that Republican congressional leaders have planned for Obamacare, which is basically the name for the multi-trillion-dollar U.S. health-care system and the complex web of insurance rules, subsidies and taxes that enables millions of Americans to obtain health insurance and, as a result, care.

    After Republicans were handed control of Washington in November, their longtime insistence on "repeal and replace" began morphing into "repeal and delay." Politically, Republicans find this easy to justify. First, they are eager to avoid blame for throwing 20 million Americans off of their health insurance, causing some to forgo vital care and, as a consequence, expire prematurely and, worst case, publicly. Second, they have never actually had a replacement policy, do not now have a replacement policy and, given ideological and cost constraints, are highly unlikely ever to have a replacement policy.

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Coping with the Russian hacking hangover

    Donald Trump was quick to agree with President Vladimir Putin that alleged Russian hacking into the American presidential election was overblown and irrelevant. It immediately put the president-elect on a collision course with his own U.S. intelligence community, on which he now must rely for key national security decisions when he takes office later this month.

    Trump's promised briefing from the American spymasters of the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies should clear the air. But Trump signaled that he intends to take his time assessing it. "I just want them to be sure, because it's a pretty serious charge and I want them to be sure," he told reporters on New Year's Eve.

    Trump went on to say he knows "a lot about hacking" and that it "is a very hard thing to prove, and I also know things that other people don't know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation," cryptically suggesting he had other information that would justify his doubts. The remark would be in keeping with his reputation of seldom acknowledging being wrong.

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As Obama leaves, battles over his legacy begin

    As President Barack Obama's two terms near an end and we talk of his legacy, we cannot ignore the grand come-together vision of unity he expressed in his 2004 debut on the national stage -- and wonder what happened to it.

    We are not "red states" and "blue states" but "the United States of America," he said to vigorous applause.

    After the divisive election that brought us President-elect Donald Trump, a lot of people have been moved to assert that Obama has made race relations worse. As an African-American who remembers far worse race relations in the country, I disagree. To me, it looks as though a lot of people are merely irritated, whether they realize it or not, that they have to think about race relations at all, and they're taking out their frustrations at Obama.

    In fact, Obama has received considerable criticism from critics to his own left who are frustrated over his lack of programs targeted specifically to underprivileged black Americans.

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