Economy | timiacono.com - Part 4

The Commerce Department reported(.pdf) that May retail sales came in lower than expected, however, upward revisions to the April data offset much of last month’s disappointment.

Overall retail sales rose 0.3 percent in May, well short of the consensus estimate for a gain of 0.6 percent, as strong auto sales were partially offset by lower receipts at department stores and clothing stores. April sales were revised up from a gain of just 0.1 percent to a relatively strong 0.5 percent, this following a surge in both February and March after a sharp winter slowdown due largely to severe winter weather.

Excluding the 1.4 percent jump in auto sales, receipts rose just 0.1 percent last month and, excluding both autos and gasoline, sales were flat. Leading the advancing categories, miscellaneous store retailers saw a sales increase of 1.8 percent, home improvement store sales rose 1.1 percent, and nonstore (internet) retailers improved 0.6 percent.

Surprisingly, 8 of the 13 major categories saw lower sales, paced by drops of 0.6 percent at both general merchandise stores and clothing stores, 0.3 percent at electronics and appliance stores, and 0.2 percent at restaurants and bars.

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On Wealth, Means, and Medians

Anyone familiar with the math behind mean (average) vs. median as it relates to the graphic below from this CNN/Money story about individual net worth around the world would immediately conclude that we’ve got quite the wealth inequality problem here in the U.S., at least relative to other developed nations.

The much higher average net worth relative to median net worth in the U.S. is rivaled only by Sweden and Denmark, whereas, countries such as France, Finland, Italy, Japan, and the U.K. actually have a higher median than mean.

The math is best demonstrated by the case of Bill Gates walking into a room full of ordinary Americans. While the median net worth would be virtually unchanged, the average net worth of those people would go up by an extraordinary amount (e.g., if  the room has ten ordinary people, the average net worth would rise to somewhere around $4 billion).

Though a stubborn housing bubble (that may not always be so stubborn) has much to do with it, Australia certainly seems to have the whole wealth thing figured out.

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New Hope for the Economics Profession

I’ve not yet perused House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again, but it’s just been added to my summer reading list as there are apparently two more U.S. economists thinking a bit more outside of the box, said box still keeping most dismal scientists baffled about how we arrived at our current slow growth, widening inequality predicament.

Here are authors Atif Mian and Amir Sufi in an interview with the Financial Times.

Of course, Mian and Sufi have a blog by the same name and, while Larry Summers thinks their analysis is pretty good, he has few kind words for their policy prescriptions.

This is real progress, I think…

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The Labor Department reported that U.S. employers added to their payrolls at a solid pace in May, paced by a big increase in the health care industry, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at a five-and-a-half year low of 6.3 percent.

Employment returned to pre-recession levels with the rise of 217,000 in payrolls last month that was in line with analysts’ estimates and this comes after a gain of 203,000 in March and a downwardly revised increase of 282,000 in April.

The winter slowdown is now clearly over as the three-month average payrolls gain has increased from just 150,000 in February to 234,000 in May.

(more…)

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