Buybacks Get All The Macro Hate, But What About Dividends?

When it comes to the stock market and the corporate cash flow condition, our attention is usually drawn to stock repurchases. With good reason. These controversial uses of scarce internal funds are traditionally argued along the lines of management teams identifying and correcting undervalued shares. History shows, conclusively, that hasn’t really been true. Last year’s…


Much More Than Payrolls

There are two very big problems with these constant, increasingly shrill labor market anecdotes. The first is that they don’t end up meaning what the tellers think they do. The purpose of these stories is clear enough, it’s just that the logic doesn’t work in the end. Here’s another example from the Wall Street Journal…


There’s No Income So There Can’t Really Be Shortages

The plural of anecdote is not data. At any given time in any given economy you can find counterexamples. During the Great Depression, for example, millions of Americans were doing very well for themselves. It wasn’t difficult to locate and talk to those who were prospering during what was a legitimate catastrophe. It’s never all…

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The Simple Economics of What Really Matters

The very idea of a labor shortage is supposed to be strictly an economic concept. No longer. It is now wielded almost exclusively in political terms. Anecdotes about how companies are unable to find workers pepper most commentary on the labor market if only because there is no (none) direct statistical evidence that a nationwide…


The Unemployment Rate Is Useless, But That Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Useful

At a campaign rally in New Mexico in May 2016, Presidential Candidate Donald Trump returned to one of his favorite themes. It was a package deal. He first talked about NAFTA and what he considered the negative effects the trade agreement had had on American workers. That easily segued into what had by then become…


All The World’s A (Imagined) Labor Shortage

Last year’s infatuation with globally synchronized growth was at least understandable. From a certain, narrow point of view, Europe’s economy had accelerated. So, too, it seemed later in the year for the US economy. The Bank of Japan was actually talking about ending QQE with inflation in sight, and the PBOC was purportedly tightening as…


Three Point Nine, Still No Boundary For Sanity

For all its tortured economic history since 1989, Japan has never really had an unemployment problem. Going by its unemployment rate alone, conditions don’t ever appear to be all that out of line. At its worst, in both the dot-com recession as well as Japan’s experience during the Great “Recession”, the highest it ever got…



At their December 2017 policy meeting, the FOMC majority voted to increase the monetary policy targets (RRP & IOER) by an additional 25 bps. It was the fifth such move dating back to December 2015. It was not, however, a unanimous decision. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans and Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari both opposed…


The Retail Sales Shortage

Retail sales rose (seasonally adjusted) in March 2018 for the first time in four months. Related to last year’s big hurricanes and the distortions they produced, retail sales had surged in the three months following their immediate aftermath and now appear to be mean reverting toward what looks like the same weak pre-storm baseline. Exactly…


There Aren’t Two Labor Markets

Allusions to a labor shortage continue to be ubiquitous. Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published yet another such story under the headline Iowa’s Employment Problem: Too Many Jobs, Not Enough People. Ostensibly about the experiences of companies trying to hire in the one state, the implication was clear enough. If Iowa, IOWA, has…