Changing my brand

Day 2 of Blogging 201

My current “branding” is “Recession…Depression…Roarin’ 2000’s…What a Ride! What a story!”

My blog is about Economics, a boring subject but one that influences our everyday lives. I was angry at what the financial wizards did to our economy in the United States and also in other countries of the World. I wanted a wider audience to be able to understand what has happened and now what is currently “unfolding” and happening to the “Everyday” economy.

After reading the information and “prompts” in the lesson, I’ve come up with a couple of other “Tag” lines for my blog:

Economics… with humor and insight

The Eco-system of Economics

I do write with humor, a little sarcasm, hopefulness, and a “little” insight into the functioning of the stock market. As I mention in my “About” page, I’m an amateur investor not a degreed economist.

I hope for the reader to enjoy my postings and perhaps visit the linked websites that I offer within my narratives.

Happy reading fellow 201 participants.

P.S. here’s what I decided to write:

The widget shows up at the bottom of my page. Don’t know how the position of this widget “helps” my branding…but it’s done.

Blogging 201

Just a little something to help me write better, perhaps more often. That why I’m taking the Blogging 201 course.

My 3 goals are:

  1. gain 10% more readers in month (a modest goal)
  2. increase posts to one a week (or more). This is a difficult one because although my blog theme is the U.S. economy in general, I watch/wait for current events to influence my blog writing. Maybe I’ll write more.
  3. I’m not a fan of criticism although one can not live  in the world without getting or giving it. So goal #3 is accepting criticism with understanding, intelligence, and a positive attitude. Yikes, how eloquent of me!

Why is nail polish sooooo expensive?

Well, gosh, I have written postings that refer to my “relative” age. By now, dear reader, I’m sure that you have figured it out, gee….. I’m over 29!

Anyway, here’s my latest “I just don’t get it!” Why is woman’s nail polish soooooo expensive? I mean there was 99-cent nail polish in my younger days. The colors were pretty nice as I remember. (Now, don’t make any cracks about my “age” and my “memory.”)  It’s a real puzzle isn’t it? I mean, there’s a huge movement to raise the minimum wage to $15.00/hour. In a way, can you blame people, after all, a bottle of nail polish is, like, $8.00 a bottle!

Is this a joke or what? After all, a person on the current minimum wage obviously works one hour (or more) to pay for a bottle of nail polish. At least at $15.00/hour one could purchase two bottles of nail polish, one bottle a fashion color, and the other color…maybe clear for those non-committal kind of days. To be clear this posting is NOT about bashing any movement to raise the minimum wage or not. It just so happens that the price of a bottle of nail polish equals about the hourly wage paid to those who earn the “minimum wage.”  Of course, I’m not talking about the “designer label” bottle of nail polish, I think those go for about $25.00!!! a bottle.

I think the price of nail polish (or nail enamel, if you prefer) is a metaphor for the inflation of retail prices in general. The “free market system” of which the United States purports to engender, encourage and represent to the rest of the world, works or doesn’t work depending upon where you shop, how much money you have to spend, how much money you can reasonably afford to spend, how much competition is “allowed” among the manufacturers and suppliers of any product or commodity, etc.

Federal Reserve Postings Archive

Our Federal Reserve (the Fed) has raised its federal funds rate once already this year, there were “rumors” that the Fed would raise rates two or three times this year!  Here’s my earlier postings on the federal funds rate and the Federal Reserve Bank:

The debate seems to be ebbing and flowing between is it…or isn’t it raising (going up), the inflation rate that is. Is inflation rearing its ugly head or is inflation “under control?”  Keeping tabs on inflation is one of the Federal Reserve’s “mandate” jobs. The other is keeping unemployment at a manageable rate like 5% (or lower) or something like that.

Getting back to the price of nail polish… I still think $8.00 is a ridiculous price to pay for something that changes your hand and foot nails maybe for the better, maybe for the “worse.” And the “look maybe lasts a couple of days before the polish enamel starts chipping.  Depends upon the nail color used, in my opinion; actually, polishing one’s nails is a “fun thing” to do once in a while, however, the Gothic look is not my style.
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Stylish

Numbers #9: U.S. Economic Indicators

All you ever wanted to know about economic indicators! Well, maybe. 

Here’s the list of official economic statistics supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau:  http://www.census.gov/economic-indicators/calendar-listview.html.

Before we get any further into the nitty-gritty of the numbers, here are some definitions from the folks at Investopedia.com:  http://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economic_indicator.asp?layout=infini&v=5C&adtest=5C&ato=3000

As if putting the raw numbers into some context isn’t difficult enough, these numbers are not “static”, in other words they can change. “The powers to be” can revise them up or down! It’s not a whimsy thing; at least I don’t think so. Factors, when seen in the “rear view mirror” look differently, so that’s why you may hear about “adjusted” economic numbers. It happens frequently! A frequent example of an adjusted economic indicator is the number of unemployed. This number is calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor: http://www.bls.gov/

There are three categories of economic indicators:

  • Leading economic indicators
  • Coincident economic indicators
  • Lagging economic indicators

Investopedia.com, as usual, does a good job of defining them: http://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/177.asp

Bankrate.com simplifies it a little bit by highlighting five economic indicators:

  1. Personal income and outlays
  2. Retail sales
  3. Consumer price index
  4. New-home sales
  5. Employment

Read more: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/investing/5-economic-indicators-to-watch-1.aspx#ixzz49Q6YiYHN

The Conference Board also publishes many economic indicators:

“The composite indexes of leading, coincident, and lagging indicators produced by The Conference Board are summary statistics for the U.S. economy. They are constructed by averaging their individual components in order to smooth out a good part of the volatility of the individual series.  Historically, the cyclical turning points in the leading index have occurred before those in aggregate economic activity, cyclical turning points in the coincident index have occurred at about the same time as those in aggregate economic activity, and cyclical turning points in the lagging index generally have occurred after those in aggregate economic activity.”  Web site:  https://www.conference-board.org/data/bci/index.cfm?id=2160

Here’s a white paper written by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. It highlights: “Why  do  central  banks  collect  and  analyze  so  many  indicators?  To understand the answer, it is first important to recognize that monetary policy affects economic activity and inflation with long and variable lags.”

https://www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/econrev/pdf/3q01kozi.pdf

This “stuff” may be boring but it is what “drives” the political and economic policies of the United States and other countries of the world. When the politicians talk about “free trade” or interject trade policies in the country’s economic system, it affects “the numbers.” Whenever the Federal Reserve Bank interjects a change in monetary policy it affects “the numbers.” Literally nothing in our age is invoked as economic, wage, banking, foreign, national, or other “labeled” policy that does not affect other economic indicator numbers, which are the life-line indicators of our nation’s health. In an earlier posting, By the Numbers #3: Those Naughty Market Indices, They Move Up and Down!, I referenced a life-support monitor used in a hospital as a way of identifying and monitoring the health of the stock market. I guess the same analogy can be used for monitoring the nation’s economic ‘state of health”.

What’s scary is that the “life monitor” came so close to “straight-lining” in the year 2009. Below are posts that I wrote in 2015 that reference the events and “stop-gaps” that were instituted and invoked to avoid the collapse of the U.S. economy in 2009. The documentary producers  at “Frontline” did a great job of summarizing many of these actions and events.

There are several postings involved, enjoy viewing them separately as each one is an hour-long documentary. Each posting link is indicated in the posting:  Great Recession Retrospective Redux

Popcorn optional, actually a scotch and water might be more appropriate while viewing!

Cheers!

P.S. If you’re up to it, here’s  “A Guide to Tracking the U.S. Economy” written by Kevin L. Kliesen of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (dated 2014):

https://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/review/2014/q1/kliesen.pdf

 

 

Signs of the Times #11: Vintage Retail

Does anyone who is reading this post remember the “dime store?” If you do, you are, like I, of a certain age, and that age is of another era, the era of “brick and mortar” store experiences. I grew up in the Midwest, in Chicago, Illinois, and in the mid-20th century, neighborhoods still had “corner grocery stores” literally small retail food and convenience-type stores at the end of your block where you lived.

What has prompted this posting is a reflection on the evolution of F.W. Woolworth®’s from a “five and  dime” store (literally five cents to 10 cents U.S.) to the Footlocker® athletic wear retailer that exists today.

The “five and dime” era was before Wal-Mart®, pre-Internet, pre-Amazon®. Actually, Wal-Mart (Sam Walton) opened its first store in 1950 ( see http://corporate.walmart.com/our-story/our-history).

woolworth-1 woolworth-2

This is what a typical Woolworth’s looked like in the 1950’s.  There was a “soda fountain” with a counter and stools to sit down. Boy, I unfortunately spent many a “dime” plus gained many a calorie eating chocolate cream pie at one of these counters. And, for amusement, my sister and I would read the greeting cards, would you believe! But we did… all the funny ones. Hallmark® did have some funny greeting cards. This was before iPhones and video games you see. Kids amused themselves with simpler things.

Another grand memory is the sensory experience of smelling the aroma of the Hillman®’s food department  while descending down the Sears escalator to in the basement of the “6-corners store” in Chicago, IL, where the Hillman’s was located. Oh, wow, the smell of baked goods, delicatessen, and other food items was an assault on your five senses but a treat as well. It was difficult not to purchase some of the culinary treats available and from the crowds of people who made purchases there, Hillman’s was more than doing the weekly grocery shopping, it was a shopping experience!  Here’s a quote about Hillman’s from a site that is devoted to all things about vintage Chicago:

 

“Forgotten Chicago helped the landmark Sears store at 6 Corners celebrate its 75th anniversary with two exclusive tours on Sunday, October 13, 2013. These sold-out tours offered guests behind-the-scenes access to one of the largest extant department stores in the Midwest, in FC’s first tour to focus on a single building. Led by Dale Harris, a Sears contract employee since the late 1960s and the head of the store’s 75th anniversary celebrations, a tour highlight was a visit inside the store’s massive two-story former display window at the corner of Milwaukee, Cicero and Irving Park, seen inside and out above center. This tour also included a trip down the store’s grand Art Deco “marble staircase” that has been sealed off for decades, back-of-the-house stockroom and employee functions, and remnants of the former Hillman’s grocery store that operated in the store’s lower level from 1938 to 1967.”  See site: http://forgottenchicago.com/features/uncovering-fc/

What is notable in the year 2016 is that amazon.com, the Internet retail juggernaut, the “Wal-Mart” of the digital age has decided to open “brick and mortar” stores!  See New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/12/business/media/a-virtual-trip-through-amazons-physical-store.html?_r=0

Amazon is also offering proprietary delivery services using their own trucks (I’ve seen their delivery vans a few times in my neighborhood). Amazon over the last several years has built distribution centers to warehouse the inventories of their “pro-sellers’ ” merchandise. Sure smells like “traditional” retail to me. Oh, and of course, their original Internet-based business model was the traditional Sears®, Montgomery Ward®, and J.C. Penney®  stores’ mail order catalogs taken from print catalog space to digital  catalog “space”. Of course, Wards is “history” and out-of-business; Sears is still around but dying a very slow and painful death, and J.C. Penney has re-invented its stores again and again, currently it seems to be surviving.

I use the Internet to shop and comparison-shop as others now do.  I’m an “old school” shopper too, I like to feel the merchandise, check the “out of code” date, see the condition of the item BEFORE I buy it.  I miss having a salesperson to talk to in the department; I do like to make the purchase and take it home with me.

I don’t know who said it first… “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” But I’ll repeat it. Some will say nostalgia is for old people. Well, I may be “older” but my memories are not just nostalgia. Unfortunately, societal negative activities such as “front porch pirates” about which I have written previously, are bringing some cultural traditions full-circle such as the return of brick and mortar retail stores.

We may have cyber-space but it can’t take the place of physical space entirely or “forever”; unintended consequences such as the above “pirates” are constantly “re-writing” our lives. Funny thing about “re-writes”, I’ve discovered that I don’t like being “edited.”  I want “retail” to survive.  I like having choices. I don’t want my purchases stolen from my front porch.

A motto from the Chicago department store Marshall Field’s ®  was “give the lady what she wants.”  Another was “the customer is always right”, see site:  https://chicagology.com/business/marshall-field/) Unfortunately, Marshall Field’s department store no longer exists. Field’s was sold to Macy’s®.

I guess what I want is a return to the retail environment of the 1950’s, and, of course, that won’t happen; at least not in my lifetime probably, but I wish happy and safe shopping to everyone.

 
Original

Signs of the Times #10: Crude Oil Boom & Bust

I recall taking a trip to Canada in 1971. The price of a gallon of gasoline was about 28 cents a gallon! Yep, that’s right, 28 CENTS a gallon in the United States. Actually to be accurate about the price it was 28.9 cents a gallon. That point “nine” always fascinated me. Anyway, my friend and I planned to drive to Minnesota to visit his friends and then up to Canada. Well, let me tell you, were we shocked when we crossed the border and filled up our gas tank for the first time. A gallon of gasoline in Canada was 75 cents! a gallon. Needless to say, my vacation budget was blown to bits. Fortunately I had a gasoline credit card and we decided to charge the gas at least while we were in Canada.

Of course those gas prices are now vaporous memories from the distant past. The era was BEFORE OPEC’S collective power was flexed later on in the 80’s and we in the U.S. drove gas-guzzling cars. In fact, my car had a V6 engine. I don’t know from nothin’ about cars but it was a nice car with a powerful engine.

So what does my story have to do with the oil boom and bust? I guess one could draw several lessons or observations from it:

  • Oil prices are not the same everywhere
  • Forming a cartel (in this case) is effective in controlling something
  • Oil supply and demand dictate price
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Scarcity spurs exploration or innovation or???
  • He who has the most chips wins the game

I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you, I think that you get the idea.

In fact, I was going to struggle through some history using various web sources as usual, but came across a white paper, written by Aiman El-Ramly,  on the history of oil exploration:  The seven ages of oil: Boom and bust, war and peace, growth and decline. This white paper is divided into two (2) parts:

Part 1:

http://www.pennenergy.com/articles/pennenergy/2015/02/the-seven-ages-of-oil-boom-and-bust-war-and-peace-growth-and-decline.html

Part 2:

http://www.pennenergy.com/articles/pennenergy/2015/03/the-seven-ages-of-oil-part-2-boom-and-bust-war-and-peace-growth-and-decline.html

***Please note that the opinions of Mr. El-Ramly or others are not necessarily shared by me.

Another article written by Clifford Krauss for the New York Times, has some great graphs and breaks down the “oil price dilemma” into manageable, logical chunks.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/business/energy-environment/oil-prices.html?_r=0

Will we see 28-cent oil in the U.S. ever again? I doubt that. Will we see oil booms and busts again? That I would “bank on” while we are an oil-dependent society. Will alternative fuels replace oil? Since I’m not a scientist or engineer I’ll take a pass on that one, but solar, hydroelectric, and wind seem to be “renewable” sources of energy to plan for the future.

I’ll close this posting with a comment and a video. First, the comment:  made by an audience participant at a  multimedia presentation I made back in 1993,  “I live by battery life,”  referring to the use of his computer in his job. Since storing energy for future use is a challenge, e.g. sunshine can’t be saved nor can wind velocity; the necessity of energy storage will be the “mother of invention” for alternative energy sources successes.

On a lighter note, here’s a short video clip from a 1970’s television show, as a salute to the wildcatters of the 1930’s.

Beverly Hillbillies opening theme song

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwzaxUF0k18
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Signs of the Times #9: And then there were???

And then there were???

We are entering the pre-convention period of the U.S. presidential election cycle. The Republication convention will convene in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18, and the Democratic Presidential Convention will convene in Philadelphia, PA on July 25.  As of this writing, there are three candidates still in the Republication race for placement as the Republication candidate on the official election ballot: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich; there are also two candidates still running for the Democratic position on the official election ballot: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. For those reading this posting whom may not know, Bernie Sanders, an Independent, is running in the Democratic race against Hillary Clinton who is a “registered” Democrat. Our political system allows for “independents” to run for public office as well as the two political parties recognized in the United States, i.e. Republication and Democratic political parties. However, the Independent candidate(s) must choose to run on either the Republication or the Democratic party’s ticket. He or she could try to run as an “independent” as a third-party candidate but the money that funds Presidential elections flows much, much faster and freer if one is on one of the two dominant political party ballots.

Republication Convention site:   http://convention.gop/

Democratic Convention site:  https://demconvention.com/

As I mentioned in another posting, there may be a contested contest at the Republication convention. John Kasich and Ted Cruz are planning to “allow” each other more opportunity for acquiring delegates in a couple of state races. Ted Cruz should have a better chance of acquiring Indiana delegates while John Kasich will be supposedly allowed to acquire delegates in New Mexico and Oregon. Here’s a New York Times article which discusses the “deal”:   http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/26/upshot/cruz-kasich-deal-means-a-much-better-chance-to-stop-trump.html?_r=0

There have been contested Presidential conventions in the past in the United States. Here’s a link to the Pew Research site where these past events are discussed.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/04/contested-presidential-conventions-and-why-parties-try-to-avoid-them/

There are some who say the U.S. Republication party is dying. It is certainly going through a dramatic upheaval. Ideas are powerful motivators. There is a deep chasm in the Republication party. It seems to be very evident in the diverse rhetoric being using by Republican candidates Trump and Cruz. Trump is very popular because he vocalizes several issues that the “silent majority” has been seething with for a very, very long time.

Bernie Sanders has also stirred up the electorate. He has motivated the younger generations to be involved in the electoral process. That is a good thing. These political debates are certainly an example of free speech.

Free speech is a constitutional right in the United States. Here’s a link to Cornell University’s website regarding the U.S. Constitution:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment

My hopes are that free and reasonable and ethical speech ensues during our political conventions this summer.