- The free-fall in employment rolls has stopped. While the U.S. unemployment rate has risen to an unacceptable 9.7%, the unemployment rate would have been much higher without the roughly $800 billion in economic activity generated by the stimulus.
- Tens of thousands of local police officers, fire fighters, teachers, and other public service personnel have retained their jobs -- helping to stabilize the local economies where these civil servants work and live.
Fueled by a $586 billion stimulus package, Chinese exports rose in December for the first time in 14 months, while imports surged to a record 55.9%.
Here are the numbers:
- Exports rose $130.7 billion, while imports rose $112.3 billion.
- The trade surplus was $18.4 billion.
- For the full year, Chinese exports fell 16% and imports were down 11.2%.
- China reported the first decline in oversees shipments in 25 years.
When you spend $787 billion, there's a lot of pressure to show results. So, there's no surprise that success is being proclaimed across the country. States are saying that they've used the federal stimulus package money to create or save more than 388,000 jobs this year. Teachers, construction workers and other professions have realized the upside of stimulus cash according to reports from 33 states and Puerto Rico, with the remainder of the results being released on Friday.
Of course, the numbers "should be taken with a grain of salt," says Ethan Pollack of the Economic Policy Institute. The states were tasked to count the jobs created or protected, but the results have been of dubious accuracy. This doesn't mean the stats can't provide fodder to people on both sides of the aisle.
Columbia Business School's Frank Lichtenberg says the data shows a solid economic impact, and the Obama administration's Council of Economic Advisors believes the stimulus spending has taken care of between 600,000 and 1.1 million jobs.
And, there are those who disagree.
While "my pal" Warren got plenty of ink (and pixels) for his comments it left me wanting more. Buffett has the most to gain, and the most to lose -- and at the same time he cannot really lose.
Since Buffett has so many billions of dollars and controls billions more, and influences still more in the hundreds of billions, he clearly has been and continues to be negatively affected by our economic firestorm more than almost any other individual could be.
Congress is sending a bill to President Obama's desk that limits banker pay. Specifically 11 pages in the 1,073-page $787 billion stimulus bill describe a provision that limits bonuses for executives at all financial institutions getting government money to a maximum of a third of their salary. And these are not cash bonuses -- instead they'll be paid in company stock that executives can't sell until the government investment has been repaid.
Citigroup (NYSE: C) CEO Vikram Pandit, volunteered to take a $1 salary until his company returns to profitability. Assuming Citi posts a loss in 2009, Pandit's maximum bonus for the year will be 33 cents -- which at today's price would amount to a tenth of a share of Citi stock.
How will the technology work? Well, GOOG has developed a free service called PowerMeter, which consumers can use to track energy usage while it is being consumed in their homes or businesses. Don't worry, this isn't some Big Brother situation, GOOG is not becoming the all-powerful Oz here. According to the head of GOOG's philanthropy arm (yes, they have one), the technology will "depend on a whole ecosystem of utilities, device makers and policies that would allow consumers to have detailed access to their home energy use."
Mortgage applications fell almost 25% last week with new loan applications for home purchases hitting an eight-year low, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. People continue to sit on the sidelines, waiting for prices to drop. Who wants to buy a home today if the price for that home might be lower soon after the deal closes?
Adding to that wait-and-see attitude are some major incentives that could be part of the stimulus package making its way through Congress. The biggest incentive of them all is a Senate provision that would give all home buyers a $15,000 tax credit. Who wouldn't wait to see if that provision survives the House/Senate negotiations?
While Washington wrangles over $820 billion to stimulate the economy, the Fed and the Treasury have already invested or guaranteed $9 trillion to keep the financial system from imploding. For some strange reason, this much bigger figure seems to fly out the door with no public debate; little clear idea of how it's being spent; or what benefit it's creating. Now the Treasury is poised to announce its own plan to rescue the financial system. I think that plan needs work.
However, the Treasury plan will not be announced as originally scheduled on Monday because there seems to be a concern that it would complicate the passage of the stimulus plan. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs Group (NYSE: GS) has estimated that it would cost $4 trillion to absorb all the banks' troubled mortgage and consumer debt.
Will Treasury propose a plan to use government funds to do this absorbing? If so, it would mark the biggest example in American history of letting private interests reap profits from their bad decisions -- in the form of keeping their bonuses which total about $100 billion over the last several years -- while sticking the public with the resulting losses which so far exceed $1 trillion.
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Do you agree with the "Buy American" provision in the U.S. stimulus package The House of Representatives recently approved? It would cover all the steel and iron used in the "shovel ready" projects.
As you might guess, all the free traders came out of the wood work. They are afraid of getting countries like China upset, saying the "Buy American" measure would be a move toward protectionism.
Ben Bernake has initiated the biggest cash infusion in Federal Reserve history -- a stunning $600 billion dollars that has been put into the US economy.
How did he do it? The Federal Reserve has been buying Treasury securities, which creates a credit on bank balance sheets and thus adds new money to the banking system. This in turn allows the banks to use the money for loans and mortgages. Plus, the Fed has been active with offering US Treasuries at auction, which have been scooped up by eager investors. Just today the "bid to cover" in the Treasury auctions was 4.4 percent. That means that there were 4 times more bids than the securities offered on auction. Investors are seeking safety in US Treasuries and are willing to accept a near zero rate of return.
So is this strategy going to work? The problem is that individual buying of US Treasuries does little to stimulate the economy. What is happening is a shift from lower quality securities into the safety of US government backed securities. A devastating side effect of these actions is that it drives down the prices of other lower quality securities.
One may guess that eventually this excess cash will work its way back into the equity markets but for now we are in a holding pattern.
It is being reported that
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday urged passage of at least $61 billion in new economic stimulus funding this month, but said the future of the legislation requires the cooperation of Republicans in the Senate and President Bush.I am having deja vu all over again! At least $61 billion but discussions are ranging up to several hundred billion dollars. I hate this idea and stated so numerous times last March, including one of my most important stories of the year (I think) Fund roads & bridges NOT mad money stimulus.
Where are Americans spending their rebate checks? Apparently Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ: COST). Both reported fantastic sales for May. Wal-Mart explicitly tied their success to the checks. "We're seeing some benefits from the stimulus checks," Wal-Mart Chief Executive Eduardo Castro-Wright said in a company press release. Wal-Mart same store sales were up 3.9% (4.4% if you include gas).
Costco sales were even better, up 5% from last year (7% if you count gas). Costco saw sales of $5.77 billion, up about $600 million. The theory is that people are turning to Wal-Mart and Costco because we're broke and because we're so freaked out by gas prices, we'd rather just drive to one big store. Nice theory, but Target Corporation (NYSE: TGT) is in the same business and saw sales drop 0.7%.
How many of us have spent our rebate checks at Wal-Mart and Costco? About 73% of Costco's stores are in the U.S. (The foreign stores got a big boost from the weak U.S. dollar). So, let's say very roughly 73% of Costco's $600 million sales increase was in the U.S. Or, Costco took in an extra $438 million thanks to the rebate checks. (Yeah, I know, the sales probably would've been up anyway, if only for inflation). At Wal-Mart domestic stores saw a $1.4 billion increase. Assuming we all spent our $600 in one place (just to make the math simpler), that would mean a little over 3 million of us (3,063,333) spent our rebated checks at Wal-Mart and Costco in May.