Saturday, October 24, 2020

Weekly Indicators for October 19 - 23 at Seeking Alpha


 - by New Deal democrat

My Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.

Although there has been no new stimulus package, and none looks likely at least until possibly a new Administration takes over on January 20, the overall tenor of the economy is one of slow, in some cases glacial, improvement.

As usual, clicking over and reading brings you virtually up to the moment on the economic data, and rewards me with a penny or two in my pocket for compiling that information.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Jobless claims: a very positive reversal


 - by New Deal democrat

This week’s new jobless claims report not only reversed last week’s increase, but declined below 800,000 for the first time on an *un*revised basis. I say that because revisions from two weeks ago now have that week as the lowest since the pandemic struck.  [NOTE: California has restarted reporting its claims, and has also reported for the past two weeks, and is the likely cause of the big revisions - generally downward, or positive.]

On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, new jobless claims declined by 73,125 to 756,617. This would be a new low, except two weeks ago was revised down to 731,249. After seasonal adjustment (which is far less important than usual at this time), claims declined by 55,000 to 787,000. This would be a new low as well, except two weeks ago was revised down to 767,000. The 4 week moving average also decreased by 21,500 to 811,250, a new pandemic low: 

Here is a close-up of the last three months since the end of July highlighting the overall slow progress in initial claims since then:

Continuing claims (which lag initial claims typically by a few weeks to several months) on a non-adjusted basis declined by 2,238,268 to 7,992,238. With seasonal adjustment they declined by 2,221,000 to 8,373,000. Both of these are new pandemic lows:

Continuing claims are now about 2/3’s below their worst level from the beginning of May, but are still about 1.5 to 2 million higher than their worst levels during the Great Recession.

Last week I noted my concern for the big weekly increase in claims, while cautioning that it was “only one week’s data.” This week’s big reversal explains that caution.

Overall the situation with layoffs has continued to improve at a very slow pace. This is of a piece with the same slow continued improvement in most of the “weekly indicators” I update each Saturday. At the same time, we are still at the mercy of the pandemic, and there are new indications that it is about to worsen again with the onset of cold weather and people retreating indoors.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Coronavirus dashboard for October 20: some good news among the gloom


 - by New Deal democrat

Total US confirmed infections: 8,273,296*

Average US infections last 7 days: 59,527 (vs. recent low of 34,354 on Sept 12)
Total US deaths: 221,052
Average US deaths last 7 days: 738 (vs. recent low of 689 4 days ago)

*I suspect the real number is 14-15,000,000, or over 4% of the total US population
Source: COVID Tracking Project

As we head into the cold weather, experts are warning that, as bad as the pandemic has been up until now, it is likely to be far worse over the next few months.

We’ll look at the bad news. But first, let’s look at some good news: 60,000,000 Americans live in two large States that have largely contained the pandemic - California and New York.

My benchmark, as usual is adjoining Canada, which most recently has averaged 6.34 infections per 100,000 people daily:

Canada’s most recent death rate has averaged 0.0534 per 100,000 over the past week (or roughly 1 death daily for every 2,000,000 people):

By contrast, California has most recently averaged 8.11 infections per 100,000 people, and New York 7.18 infections:

These are not much higher than Canada.

California has most recently averaged 0.149 deaths per 100,000 people, and New York 0.0477:

California’s death rate is still elevated, but can be expected to follow its infection rate. New York’s death rate is now *lower* than Canada’s.

In short, over 1/6th of the entire US population - over 60,000,000 people - lives in States (also including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and in terms of cases, Hawaii) where the pandemic has largely been contained due to intelligent and relentless government action.

And now, the bad news. The pandemic is raging in the upper Plains and Mountain States.

Here are the top 10 States for infections:

And here are the top 10 States for deaths:

With the exception of Wisconsin, there are all deep Red States. Wisconsin has a reactionary deep Red Supreme Court which has prevented the governor from taking any effective action.

Four States - Wisconsin, Montana, North and South Dakota - all have rates of infection exceeding that of New York in March and April, and Arizona in July. The “relatively” good news is that treatments have improved so much that even North Dakota’s death rate is only about 1/7th of that of New York’s early in the pandemic, and is not yet worse than Arizona’s in July.

The bottom line for me is that, if California and New York have been able to contain the pandemic during Trump’s malAdministration, then only States that are willfully recalcitrant need to face the pandemic uncontrolled after a few months into a Biden Administration.

September housing construction: another very positive month


 - by New Deal democrat

Yesterday September housing permits and starts were reported. Permits made yet another 10+ year high. This bodes very well for the economy in 2021, if the pandemic can be contained.

Sorry about the delay. Seeking Alpha didn’t get around to publishing it until this morning. Here’s the link.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Two noteworthy tweets


 - by New Deal democrat

It’s a slow economic news week. Housing starts and permits are reported tomorrow, and jobless claims and existing home sales on Thursday. I’ll update the Coronavirus Dashboard Wednesday.  So for today, two nuggets.

1. Nate Silver discovers behavioral psychology:

This has been my paradigm for months. Panic breeds compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing. Complacency breeds risk-taking. Over time both trends wane, breeding the conditions necessary for the opposite outcome. Not only has this been true in almost all US States, but we have now seen the same dynamic play out in Europe.

Nice to see that Nate Silver is learning about learning.

2. What is the solution to the Supreme Court?

Hoarse is right, although I suspect the Supreme Court will immediately issue injunctions against laws passed by the Democrats, or uphold injunctions issued by lower courts, and won’t wait for 2023 to strike them down. 

In the short term, the Democrats can certainly expand the Court. Of course, the GOP will retaliate the next time they are in power. And on we go, destroying the institution (to be fair, the movement conservatives on the Court, after Bush v. Gore and Shelby County, not to mention fast-tracking Trump appeals while slow-walking those of Congressional Democrats, have brought this on themselves.)

The better long term solution, which I have previously endorsed, as have others like Matt Yglesias, is for a single 18 year term on the Court, with appointments made during the 1st and 3rd year of each Presidential term, after which the Justices can become “Senior Justices” who sit on the Appellate Courts for life or until they choose to retire.

Lower courts already have “senior judge” status - but it is *voluntary.* I doubt Clarence Thomas or Samuel Alito will voluntarily retire during a Democratic Presidency. Making it mandatory would require a Constitutional Amendment. Good luck with that.

So the bigger quandary with the solution, as I see it, is how to club the GOP with the short term retaliation for their own misbehavior (see Garland, Merritt) while offering a neutral longer term solution that they could endorse, and hopefully without necessity of a Constitutional Amendment.

I have a couple of ideas, but they require a longer post. Once I flesh them out, I’ll have more to say.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The 2020 election nowcast: Biden widens national lead; Senate races likely to follow Presidential result in each State


  - by New Deal democrat

Here is my weekly update on the 2020 elections, based on State rather than national polling in the past 30 days, since that directly reflects what is likely to happen in the Electoral College. 

At only 16 days from Election Day, the polls, while actually nowcasts rather than forecasts, are probably less than 2% off the final result. With the exception of the last Presidential debate, and any *significant* “October surprise,” all of the fundamentals of the election are already “baked into the cake.” Because some GOP voters will likely still “come home” in the next two weeks, I expect the race to tighten a little bit.

There are two big takeaways from the present situation:

1. In the Presidential election, Biden’s lead has not just been steady, but on a national level has been pulling decisively away from Trump, to the biggest lead of the entire year:

2. The Senate elections show very little variation from Presidential polling in the affected States. The only 4 States in which contrary results at the two levels look reasonably possible are Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, and South Carolina. 

With those statements out of the way, here is this week’s update.

Trump has continued to have a bad October. In the past week his approval rating declined by another -0.8%, while his disapproval rate rose a full 1.0% to 53.2% - which is still within the normal range of approval going back over 3.5 years: 

Here is this week’s updated map through October 17 for the Presidential election. To refresh, here is how  it works:

- States where the race is closer than 3% are shown as toss-ups.
- States where the range is between 3% to 5% are light colors.
- States where the range is between 5% and 10% are medium colors.
- States where the candidate is leading by 10% plus are dark colors.

A reminder: When we get to the last week before the election I will probably move any State with a 1%+ differential to “lean Democrat/GOP,” rather than stay with 3%.

There was something remarkable this week: not a single State changed ratings. That’s how static this race is. Biden’s “solid” plus “likely” Electoral College votes remained at 279 this week, below their peak of 302 over two months ago - but Biden still doesn’t need Florida or Arizona in order to win.

Biden’s support remained at 50%+ in Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. While Arizona declined to 49%, Florida and North Carolina were 49%+. This makes it extremely hard for Trump to mount a successful comeback in those States.

Turing to the Senate, there were 5 small changes this week, as Alaska moved from toss-up to lean GOP, Maine moved from likely to lean Democrat, Montana moved from lean GOP to toss-up, and New Mexico moved from likely to solid Democrat:

At current polling, if Democrats win all those seats in which they are favored, they will have 51 Senate seats. There are also 5 races now rated “toss-ups,” as to which the most important question is how many undecided voters “come home” to the GOP candidate. Still, it is quite likely that the Democrats wind up with a majority in the next Senate.