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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.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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Recent Commentary & Analysis from Dr. Joe Webb

Displaying 1-24 of 781 articles

Real Interest Rates are Rising, Thanks to Low Inflation

Published March 26, 2015

The chart shows one of the rates for Treasury securities called the “constant maturity rate,” used to set rates for instruments like mortgages. The line in the chart is that monthly rate less the year-to-year change in the Consumer Price Index for that month. The Fed has worked hard to keep their interest rates below inflation to stimulate the economy, as well as make housing prices rise so that fewer mortgages were “under water.” It hasn't worked that well, but that's a different topic for a different day. But with all of the worries about the Fed raising rates, the combination of their inertia and changes in the inflation rate may be producing what they've wanted: a Seinfeldian case of “nothing” becoming something. At the end of 2011 the real rate in the chart was -3%, and the last observation in the chart is about +1.5%, a 450 basis point move. For about three years, the CPI has been below the Fed's target of 2%, and in December and January it was negative. February CPI was just reported as an annualized 2.4%, so this rate rise may disappear soon

 

Dr. Joe on the Sales Funnel

Published March 26, 2015

There's a lot to be said for the funnel idea because it describes the sales process, creating order out of many sales prospects and suspects matching their needs, interests, and motivations with your sales offerings. But it tends impose the structure of an orderly assembly-line manufacturing process into sales management, and inadvertently creates the impression that sales and marketing are simple and unchaotic.

 

While The World Listens for a Rate Hike News, the Fed Lowers Their GDP Forecasts

Published March 19, 2015

On Wednesday, March 18, the Feb removed the word “patient” from the announcement of a potential rate hike, but as the Washington Post explained “Well, the Fed really said that it's going to be more patient than it was before, even if it's not officially so. In other words, it could hike rates at any time starting in June, but it's less likely to do so. And even when lift off does happen, it'll probably happen slower than people thought it would.” There you have it: Janet Yellen does a great Alan Greenspan impression. No one knows what he meant but everyone knows what he said. Dr. Yellen also explained that while the Fed is no longer in the act of quantitative easing, they are replacing all of their holdings as they mature. What got less coverage is that the Fed lowered their forecasts of GDP. For 2015 and 2016 they lowered their prior forecasts by three-tenths of a percentage point. Each tenth is about $150 billion. So their forecast was reduced by $450 billion, or the equivalent of six commercial printing industries. Such data analogies can make one's head spin.

 

The Labor Market is Very Dynamic

Published March 12, 2015

Don't let four jagged lines on a chart confuse you, because there's good news hidden inside. The labor market is very dynamic, more dynamic than commonly understood. About 2% of the workforce quits jobs every month, and between 1.5%-2% separate from their positions in other ways because their projects are completed, fired for cause, or downsizings. About 3% of the workforce is hired in different positions every month. What's made the improvement in total employment this past year is the increase in job openings (the blue line in the chart). Note that it has a higher upward slope than the other lines. The number of job openings is now around 5 million per month, more than double that when the recovery started in mid-2009. The bottom line, in red, is “quits.” Most workers do not quit their jobs unless they have something better lined up. That line has a general upward slope, and it is common for this to increase as economies improve and workers feel more comfortable changing positions. Though not population-adjusted, the lines are definitely moving in positive directions, with job openings as the most encouraging of them. What's this mean to printers? Never consider your business contacts in companies as “safe.” As economies improve, job changing increases. Be sure to have multiple engaged contacts in your most important clients. Also, be sure your key employees are kept “gruntled” because disgruntled key employees can be valuable elsewhere.

 

Current Dollar GDP and NAICS 323 US Commercial Printing Shipments

Published March 5, 2015

There is a general (and natural) assumption that commercial printing and the economy as measured by GDP move together. The chart below shows the year-to-year percentage change of the two data series, GDP in red and printing in blue. The chart tracks current dollars and are not adjusted for inflation. Except for a brief period from the second quarter of 1995 through the first quarter of 1996, shipments have lagged GDP growth. What was special about that period? The Internet bubble was beginning, and in September 1995, Netscape had its initial public offering. For those four quarters, commercial printing was an average of 4.5 percentage points better than GDP growth. Prior to that, commercial printing had lagged GDP during a period of slow economic growth. Since Q2-1996, the difference between nominal, unadjusted GDP and commercial printing has been 5 percentage points. The last two quarters of 2014 commercial printing had positive growth compared to the prior year, but still lagged GDP by -1.6 percentage points.

 

St. Louis Adjusted Monetary Base (The Fed's Balance Sheet)

Published February 26, 2015

The Fed stopped Quantitative Easing a while ago, and the value of its balance sheet fluctuates around the $4 trillion level. As their holdings mature, their aggressive position in the bond market will slowly unwind. Or will it? The Fed is likely to decide to re-invest proceeds in more bonds and obligations, replacing the matured debt with new ones, but not adding to their overall position unless there is a crisis again. Until their first moves where they doubled their balance sheet quickly, from $800 billion to $1.6 trillion, this measure of the money supply moved steadily at about a 6% annual rate, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, about half equal to economic growth and the other half to inflation. Whether or not the Fed will reduce its balance sheet or not is still a question in my mind. They could just hold steady, and let inflation and growth catch up to them, which will take quite some time, but not scare the markets. But something always happens that's not according to plan, and the Fed will be interesting to watch as they move from this unchartered territory to another.

 

Printing Industry Capital Investment, 2003 to 2013

Published February 20, 2015

The US Department of Commerce issued their latest report about capital investment spending in 2013, and we've written about it in a recent blogpost. As part of our analysis, we applied the rate of investment to industry shipments and arrived at the chart below. It shows two rather distinct periods, 2003 to 2007, where capital investment was not as good as the late 1990s, but recovered and stabilized after the first negative wave of digital media. Some of this was replacement of late 1990s equipment that had come off lease. Then there's the 2008 credit crisis and recovery. Capital investment declined in volume as industry shipments fell from the introduction of social media, new devices, and cheaper and faster communications. But the rate of capital investment is slowly rising, even though shipments are shrinking, and the number of plants is contracting. The survivors tend to be healthier establishments, who survived the downturns, and are likely making better investment decisions.

 

Printing Employment Data Revised Up in 2014

Published February 12, 2015

Every February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) updates employment data for the prior year and beyond. This year, the revisions to printing industry employment went back to April 2013. When the BLS calculates employment, especially for industries, it uses estimation methods because actual data are not readily available. That actual data are derived from the Social Security tax filings of employers. In this case, the BLS was underreporting employment, especially in mid-2014. Employment data are used as an input into Commerce Department data for the estimation of industry shipments. Those new employment data, though not released publicly, were probably used in recent months shipment calculations when 2014 shipments began to have favorable comparisons to 2013. It is possible, based on these data, that 2014 industry shipments will be revised up in the annual mid-May shipment revision report. An educated guess would put the change at approximately $1 billion, bringing shipments from +0.2% in current dollars to about +1.5%, or flat with 2013 after adjusting for inflation. Nonetheless, employment in December 2014 was less than December 2013. As can be seen in the chart, January 2015 employment is reported as dropping considerably. January and February tend to be slow months, and March can be one of the best. February employment may rise in anticipation.

 

Recovery Indicators

Published February 5, 2015

Recovery indicators in manufacturing continued to retreat in the ISM manufacturing report, in concert with news earlier this week from the Commerce Department that showed five months consecutive decline for factory orders. Non-manufacturing orders rose slightly, but imports continued to pull back. The ISM new orders for manufacturing and non-manufacturing are still above 50, which indicates future growth, but at a slower rate. The NASDAQ index was up in the last month, but is still lower than it was two months ago. Trading has been choppy, which sometimes is indicative of a developing turning point. The one bright spot in the report is a measure of small business, proprietors income, upbeat news in an otherwise tough month.

 

Job Openings Steadily Improving but Have More to Go

Published January 30, 2015

The following charts show how job openings have been on a steady rise since the beginning of the recovery in mid-2009, and have now passed the recent peak when the recession began at the end of 2007. But that was a long time ago, and population has grown since that time. The 2000s have a long way to go to catch up with population-adjusted job openings since the turn of the century.

 

Latest Inflation Multipliers

Published January 22, 2015

For those who have been following along, the chart below is the latest update for budget planning. It's always a benefit to understand your sales and costs in historical perspective. Without adjusting for inflation, you could be working on assumption of trends and relationships that are untrue. Make it “real.”

 

Full Time Employment Still Not Recovered

Published January 15, 2015

The number of workers with full time jobs has still not exceeded levels at the start of the recession about seven years ago. This is despite continuous population growth and higher GDP levels for 21 of the last 22 quarters. Of last year's +2.2 million increase in employment, about 970,000 were part time positions. Many part time positions are by choice of the employee, an unknown number may be from distortions resulting from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and others are from uneven economic conditions and low expectations about future business conditions. There is some employment optimism in recent surveys of the National Federation of Independent Business and both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing surveys of the Institute for Supply Management.

 

Federal Debt as Percentage of GDP Over 100%

Published January 8, 2015

Economic press coverage of the Federal budget is usually limited to the annual deficit, the shortfall of tax and fee collections versus spending. While the deficit as a percentage of GDP is down to about -4% from 2009 when it was more than -9%, the deficits do accumulate. Now, the total debt of the US exceeds GDP. This is likely to keep political pressure on the Fed to keep rates down. It also means that a 1 percentage point rise in interest rates would cost $180 billion and can double the annual deficit. But the Fed may not be able to increase interest rates when they want to no how hard they might try. International rates, such as those in Germany, have recently been below 0.5% for the 10 year bond. US rates are comparatively high in the 2% range, and any push upward by the Fed would probably be met by arbitrage actions in the other direction.

 

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.

 

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