Archive for the ‘Blog posts’ Category
Feb 28th 2013, 21:44 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.
IN THE battle between David Einhorn and Apple over the latter’s $137 billion cash hoard lies a deeper lesson about the outlook for the economy. Mr Einhorn, an activist investor, says Apple clings to its money out of a “Depression mentality”. Perhaps. But the more mundane explanation is that Apple, like many of the world’s big companies today, is generating more cash from its existing product line than it can usefully plough back into new projects.
And that’s a problem. Apple is the most creative, innovative and envied technology company of our time, yet investors clearly doubt its ability to keep churning out hits at current margins, valuing it at just 10 times this year’s earnings, a ratio more appropriate for a mature value company.
To some, this might be comforting. After all, while the Dow may be flirting with an all-time high, Apple’s valuation suggests there isn’t much irrational exuberance going around.
But in another way it’s rather distressing. Let’s go back to the spring of 2000, at the peak of the Nasdaq bubble, when Cisco Systems embodied the hype and hope of technology. Cisco was, briefly, the world’s most valued company, with a market cap of $555 billion. Unlike many dotcoms, Cisco was nicely profitable, but not nearly as profitable as investors thought it would be one day: it traded at 135 times that year’s earnings. (Click on the nearby table for a comparison.) Compared with Apple, Cisco was a veritable spendthrift. Despite sales that were barely one-sixth of Apple’s today, its R&D budget was almost as large. Its cash pile, at $20 billion, was big enough (evidence that the phenomenon of cash-rich tech giants is not new), but then, there was no widespread clamour that Cisco hand it back it to shareholders; no one doubted Cisco would find a higher returning use for it. Read the rest of this entry »
Feb 14th 2013, 23:24 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.
Brazil’s finance minister coined the term “currency wars” in 2010 to describe how the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing was pushing up other countries’ currencies. Headline writers and policy makers have resurrected the phrase to describe the Japanese government and central bank’s pursuit of a much more aggressive monetary policy, motivated in part by the strength of the yen.
The clear implication of the term “war” is that these policies are zero-sum games: America and Japan are trying to push down their currencies to boost exports and limit imports, and thereby divert demand from their trading partners to themselves. Currency warriors regularly invoke the 1930s as a cautionary tale. In their retelling, countries that abandoned the gold standard enjoyed a de facto devaluation, luring others into beggar-thy-neighbor devaluations that sucked the world into vortex of protectionism and economic self-destruction.
But as our leader this week argues, this story fundamentally misrepresents what is going on now, and as I will argue below, what went on in the 1930s. To understand why, consider how monetary policy influences the trade balance and the exchange rate.
Read the rest of this entry »
Jan 9th 2013, 4:04 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.
In the many years I’ve spent scrutinizing monetary policy, I had never devoted more than a thought to coins. In the scheme of all things monetary, they seemed, well, pocket change.
Needless to say, the prospect of the Treasury issuing a $1 trillion platinum coin to circumvent the debt ceiling changes that. I won’t repeat the details; you can get up to speed by reading Matthew O’Brien of The Atlantic here and my colleague here. If nothing else, unpicking the consequences is a fun exercise. I’ve concluded the economics are more complicated and more benign than appreciated, but the political consequences are graver. Read the rest of this entry »
Dec 17th 2012, 22:13 by G.I. | WASHINGTON
Dec 14th 2012, 19:54 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.
Dec 13th 2012, 2:00 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.
[Greg Ip] Low inflation and full employment have been statutory goals of the Federal Reserve since 1977, but its officials always felt more comfortable with the first than the second. After all, in theory monetary policy can’t alter unemployment in the long run.
But the stubbornly weak economy of recent years prompted some at the Fed to question their historical neglect of the second half of their mandate. “The Fed’s dual mandate … has the force of law behind it,” Charlie Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said in September, 2011. “So, if 5% inflation would have our hair on fire, so should 9% unemployment.”
Dec 7th 2012, 16:57 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, DC
Nov 29th 2012, 21:37 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.
Nov 8th 2012, 23:33 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.
This post has been updated.
PRESIDENTS choose their words carefully. So when Barack Obama talked of “tax reform” but not “tax rates” in his acceptance speech early Wednesday, he was presumably sending a signal. And it was similarly significant that later that day John Boehner repeatedly stated his opposition to higher tax “rates” rather than tax revenue.
Within those two statements lies the nucleus of a deal: raising tax revenue through some means other than higher tax rates. Read the rest of this entry »
Oct 18th 2012, 19:49 by G.I. | WASHINGTON
[Greg Ip] WHAT is economics concerned with? A layman taking in the raging debates over financial stability, inflation, economic growth, and budget deficits, would say it’s about money. That, of course, is not right. Money matters only insofar as it is a proxy for welfare. Money is a handy way of denominating prices and economists love prices because they are so efficient at allocating supply and demand so as to maximise welfare. Yet markets do not have to have money or prices to serve that welfare-maximising function. That distinction lies at the heart of the work that won this year’s Nobel Prize in economics, the subject of this week’s Free Exchange column.
Lloyd Shapley of UCLA and Alvin Roth of Stanford University got the prize for studying the barriers to welfare maximisation in markets without prices: examples including matching college applicants to colleges, kidney donors to recipients, and even husbands to wives. Mr Shapley and David Gale (now deceased) devised an algorithm 50 years ago that would maximise the satisfaction of such multi-sided matching games. Read the column to learn more about how the theory works and its applications. I want to focus here on a more philosophical implication of their work. Read the rest of this entry »