Who is Right: Professionals or the Populace ?

Portfolio has an interesting discussion on what they term the “He-Said-She-Said” economy:

“Inflation, energy, home prices, and tax rebates. Ordinary Americans and Wall Street professionals are at odds on issues like these and others at the center of the current economic malaise, according to the CNBC/Portfolio Wealth in America survey. And these differences have implications for both the Federal Reserve and this year’s congressional and presidential candidates.

For example, while Wall Street forecasters predict inflation will be fairly tame in the next year, at about 2.5 percent, 71 percent of the report’s respondents think prices will rise by at least 4 percent, and 50 percent expect inflation to run at or above 6 percent.

In the past month, the Federal Reserve has been trying to put a lid on inflation expectations, culminating last week with what was seen as a benign outlook for price pressures in the statement following its monetary policy meeting. Still, Americans don’t seem to be hearing that message.”


I heard Steve Liesman discuss this poll on CNBC. Steve, like so many other economists, is having a hard time with this conflict. Many of the dismal scientists believe in the wisdom of crowds, but they also are somewhat compelled by training to buy into the methodologies of their profession.

When the two schools of thought are directly opposite, you end up with a form of cognitive dissonance. This has accelerated as prices continued to go higher, even with relatively modest core inflation.

I have been surprised by how many reality-based economists — including those on the left like Professor Brad DeLong and NYT columnist Paul Krugman — were so reluctant to embrace elevated inflation as a genuine threat. There was a bit of a circle-the-wagons mentality about economics as a discipline. That seems to have faded in the face of elevated food prices and $143 Crude Oil.

Here’s a suggestion: If the professional economists’ data states that inflation is contained and unemployment modest, and at the same time the population sentiment is screaming as if neither were the case, perhaps its time we consider that it might be the data, and not the population, that is the source of our dispute.

Sentiment is now at levels last seen during deep ugly recessions. Perhaps the fault lies not with us American whiners — but with the way the data is gathered, massaged and reported.

Something else to mullover: We have “enjoyed” practically full
employment (i.e., very low unemployment levels) for several years now
– but wage pressure has been non-existent. That seems to be unusual to
say the least.

As someone who has been skeptical about the artificially low
inflation and unemployment rates for quite sometime now, the public’s
reaction makes a whole lot of sense. If we believe the negative
sentiment of the American people, then its likely that Inflation has
been much more pervasive than reported by either the top line or the
core.  And the same thinking likely applies to the low unemployment rate. If we judge by sentiment, perhaps its not as low as advertised. Ignoring widespread distress in the population is a recipe for major electoral changes.

Regardless of who wins in November, its time for a major rethink of the methodology behind BEA/BLS data . . .



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Are We Too Gloomy? (June 19, 2008)


The He Said, She Said Economy
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Portfolio, Jun 29 2008


Category: Credit, Economy, Employment, Energy, Investing, Psychology

Crude Oil = $143+

Category: Energy, Trading

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China’s subsidized fuel prices worked miracles in the past, but because they hurt energy stocks, they are now a major policy concern.   

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This is based on the article in this week’s cover story in Barron’s, Future of the Street.

Future of the Street
BARRON’S June 30, 2008


Category: Corporate Management, Credit, Derivatives, Finance, Video

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