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Recent Commentary & Analysis from Dr. Joe Webb

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

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Displaying 1-24 of 768 articles

Profits Still Below $4 Billion on Annual Basis

Published December 18, 2014

Four billion dollars was the approximate bottom of 2005's inflation adjusted annual profits. The four-quarter total annual profits have had a difficult time breaking through that level for more than eight years.

 

Inflation-adjusted Sales of S&P 500 Firms Still Below Pre-Recession Levels

Published December 11, 2014

GDP may say that the recession ended in June 2009, but there are still data series that have not yet confirmed that five years later. Total employment is one of them, as is median household income, but so is the inflation-adjusted sales of companies in the S&P 500. Even though the companies in the S&P 500 index have revenues lower than the peak of June 2008, the S&P 500 stock index is getting closer to all-time high levels of Spring 2000 (The Dow Jones average already is, the Russell 2000 has been for a while, but the NASDAQ is still off by about 15%). These sales of 500 of the world's best companies have not kept up with real GDP growth since the recession ended (about 2% per year). Some economists believe that this is an indication that GDP data should be viewed with great suspicion, and that there has yet to be a true recovery.

 

Revised GDP Pushed Higher, But Did Not Change Longer Range Growth Rate

Published December 4, 2014

Third quarter GDP was revised from +3.5% to +3.9%, but the change was mainly in net inventories, and did little to affect the assessment of underlying and longer range growth compared to the prior year of about +2.43%. Inventories have been bouncing around a bit over recent quarters and are running a little higher than they should be, indicating that some minor correction is forthcoming, especially if non-US economies are slowing down.

 

Canada Per Capita Commercial Printing 1992-2014

Published November 14, 2014

Using printing shipments and population data from Statistics Canada, we have prepared this chart that shows per capita shipments of commercial printing in Canada current dollars and Canada inflation-adjusted dollars.

 

NFIB Small Business Index Retreats Slightly, But is Still on Path of Slow Uptrend

Published October 16, 2014

 

Labor Force Participation Rate and Employment-Population Ratio Below 1980 Levels

Published October 9, 2014

What's made the economic recovery since June 2009 so intriguing has not been its below-history GDP growth rate, but also the deterioration in key measures of employment. The labor force participation rate has been declining as idled workers decide not to return to the workforce.

 

The Stronger Dollar... or Is It?

Published October 2, 2014

There's been a lot of interest in the stronger dollar for many reasons. Some consider it a safe haven during times of global tensions. Others say it's a bounce off a bottom. Still others consider the dollar the least ugly of all the major currencies. But is it really stronger? (Two charts)

 

Advertising Agency Revenues Up at Annual Rate of 7% Since Start of Economic Recovery

Published September 25, 2014

The latest data from the Commerce Department's Quarterly Service Survey shows that advertising agency revenues have climbed at the rate of 7% per year since the recovery began after June 2009. The rate of growth exceeds real GDP growth which has been +2.2% on an annual basis since that time. How did they do it? A strong emphasis on digital media strategy and production that's replaced their loss of commissions and fees for broadcast and print advertising. Publishers revenues have not come close to even that lackluster GDP rate. The steep decline for magazines and books is over, for now: they are not growing and the decline in revenues is mild. Newspapers, however, are still in long term decline. Newspaper revenues are about half of what the were in 2004.

 

NFIB Small Business Index Breaks Through Recession Upper Range

Published September 18, 2014

Small business seems to be improving, at least according to the NFIB monthly survey of small business owners. For years, it was usually trapped between two recession bottoms, but it has broken through of three consecutive surveys. It's an encouraging report, but it's not bullish. The NFIB commentary states “More owners still think business conditions will be worse in six months than think they will be better. Few see the current period as a good time to expand. The outlook for improvements in real sales volumes faded. Interest in borrowing continues to remain at record low levels; owners are satisfied with inventories and aren’t planning a lot of investment.” The NFIB is still in the range of a 2+% GDP growth level, but sees not robust small business activity in the near term. Basically, the NFIB report is good news in that conditions are better, but a big positive breakout in activity will remain elusive.

 

Annualized Inflation-adjusted Profit

Published September 12, 2014

Second quarter US commercial printing profits were $1.13 billion, based on the recent Quarterly Financial Report issued by the Department of Commerce and combined with other Commerce Department and Bureau of Labor Statistics data. This was down -7.5% compared to Q2-2013. For the last four quarters, total profits were $3.67 billion, and that is +20% higher than the equivalent measure a year ago. The Q1 four-quarter moving total was revised down from $4.03 billion to $3.77 billion.

 

Sept 4th Key Recovery Indicators

Published September 4, 2014

Dr. Joe's Key Recovery Indicators were started in 2009, and track the monthly ups and downs of the economy in terms that are relevant to small and mid-size businesses.

 

Global Bond Rates May Make it Hard for the Fed to Affect US Long-Term Rates

Published August 29, 2014

The Fed has been in unchartered territory with its post-2008 actions, and unwinding them may take a bit of creativity. One of their obstacles might be the rates of long term government bonds around the world. The chart below shows the yield of 10-year bonds earlier this week. The rate on US 10-year bonds is more than 4x Japan's and more than 2x Germany's. In an odd situation, US bonds are actually paying less than those of Spain. Global investors looking for yield (pension funds, governments, mutual funds, and others) may thwart Fed actions by finding US funds to be compelling deals on a relative basis. The Fed can usually affect only short term rates, which was one of the reasons they became aggressive in buying long term debt in their Quantitative Easing (QE) actions. Getting yields down for all durations is what made their actions were essentially unprecedented for the US. If they attempt to sell their holdings quickly to raise rates, there might be more buyers than they anticipate, making the action fruitless. It still looks like once the QE buying is done in the next few weeks the Fed will simply let their most of their holdings mature rather than force-feed them to the market. Listen for the word “macroprudential” in the next months. That's how Fed officials are describing the gentle prodding they may have to take to reverse their course. It turns out that some of the Fed members are worried their actions may encounter resistance, so they will resort to some arm-twisting to push banks to act in the manner they want. That hasn't worked well in the past, and it probably won't work well now, but it does add a word to our vocabulary.

 

Inflation-adjusted Commercial & Industrial Loans Growing

Published August 22, 2014

Commercial and industrial loans took a while to start growing again, almost two years after the recovery started. Loans now total $1.7 trillion, the highest amount in the history of the data series, a little more than 10% of GDP. Overall, they are up about 40% on a current dollar basis since mid-2010.

 

Initial Jobless Claims as a Percentage of the Workforce

Published August 15, 2014

As the number of employed workers has been slowly increasing, and the total workforce has been growing, initial claims for unemployment have been decreasing. The historical perspective is very interesting. This past recession, as bad as it was, did not come close to the levels of the 1970s and 1980s recessions (about 0.6% of the workforce). This most recent recovery is already at the best levels of prior expansions. It doesn't feel “that good”; what's different? The workforce has not kept up with population growth, and about 2 million workers have permanently left the workforce. Also, companies have been cautious in their hiring, meaning, that there are fewer workers to dismiss when businesses of the past needed to. One could look at the chart and say that when this ratio reaches this current level (0.2%) a recession has always followed. Probably not in this case: this ratio may go to unprecedented lower levels because of the workforce exodus and the slow pace of hiring that has made this recovery so different than previous ones. Economist Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute discussed the steady rise in job openings at his blog. They are at a 13-year high (not adjusted for population growth), and still less than January 2000 by 800,000.

 

Latest Recovery Indicators

Published August 8, 2014

Dr. Joe's Key Recovery Indicators were started in 2009, and track the monthly ups and downs of the economy in terms that are relevant to small and mid-size businesses.

 

GDP Data Revised Down for 2011 and 2012, Revised Up for 2013

Published July 30, 2014

 

Inflation multipliers have been updated

Published July 17, 2014

 

NFIB Small Business Index Breaks Through 2003 Recession Bottom for Last Two Months

Published July 10, 2014

The NFIB index has been trapped between the bottom of two recessions, that of the early 1990s and the early 2000s recession bottom. Though the latest report retreated a bit, it's still above the 2003 low. Small business is improving at a very slow pace, but this may finally be a good sign after the very disappointing Q1 GDP report.

 

Recovery Indicators Improve

Published July 3, 2014

The recovery indicators were mainly better this month, with the NASDAQ bouncing around then finishing well, and three of the four ISM indicators increasing. The one that didn’t is still firmly in expansion territory. The original estimate of proprietors’ income was $1,371 then it was reduced to $1,366 billion and now it’s $1,359.

 

Advertising Agency Revenues Still Climbing

Published June 24, 2014

The chart below shows the latest revenue data, on an inflation-adjusted basis, for ad agencies and publishers. Note how ad agency revenues are rising. While there have always been agencies that specialize in certain media, like television, direct mail, or others, the industry is media agnostic in the aggregate. Its job is to increase the positive visibility of its clients and help spur their customers into action.

 

RetailMeNot's report tells retailers to "stop doing something old," referring to us

Published June 19, 2014

RetailMeNot's report and the infographic are essential reading for print business owners because they offer a media executive's perspective on the nature of print. The executives perceptions of digital media are quite clear: "Seventy-five percent believe that digital consistently delivers better ROI – or "promotional performance" – at a lower cost than non-digital."

 

Selected Generally “Non-Offset” Products and Services Offered by US Commercial Printers

Published June 18, 2014

 

Latest Print and Content Creation Employment Data

Published June 11, 2014

 

Since June 2009, rate of overall USPS price increases almost 4x the rate of increase in commercial printing prices

Published June 5, 2014

 

Though Q1-2014 GDP was -1%, the Year-to-Year Trend Remains in the +2% Range

Published May 29, 2014

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released the second revision of Q1-2014 US Gross Domestic Product (GDP), indicating a contraction of the US economy in the quarter. As reported in prior (“laughable and embarassing”) analysis, an inventory buildup in the last two quarters of 2013 distorted the underlying condition of the economy.

 

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