Wednesday, August 26, 2020
New home sales are on fire
June was a really, really good month for new home builders. In fact, you’d have to reach back to 2007 to find a month with a similar sales rate, according to the Commerce Department.
That sales were up nearly 14% and this figure is nearly 7 percent more than last year (pre-chaos) is good news for the housing market.
Low mortgage rates acted as the bait, but the overwhelming urge of so many Americans to move out of the cities was a big attraction as well.
New home sales in the Northeast were booming, up 89.7% from May and 111.1% over May 2019.
Existing homes aren’t doing too bad either
The overall real estate market is on fire as well. In fact, the folks at Ellie Mae say that the “summer market is a scorcher!”
While refinance loan applications gobbled up 62% of the nation’s loan volume, purchase apps represented 32%.
However, that is a 26% increase in June over May.
The 2020 summer purchase market is “… not only atypical, but also quite remarkable,” they said.
The short-term rental business is in deep doo-doo
You won’t find me and most people I know, boarding an airliner anytime soon, let alone staying in a hotel or airbnb. Apparently, we’re not alone.
“This has taken a toll on the short-term rental business, as short-term renters and hosts are working through solutions in response to coronavirus-related cancellations,” according to Desiree Patno at RisMedia.com.
Can you imagine the busy airbnb owner going into the summer season having to offer a full refund to all those vacationers?
“It is resulting in a substantial revenue loss for businesses that depend on the funds from renting out their properties to pay their mortgage and make other necessary payments, or as a source of passive income,” Patno suggests.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
The world entered the COVID-19 pandemic with persistent, pre-existing external imbalances. The crisis has caused a sharp reduction in trade and significant movements in exchange rates but limited reduction in global current account deficits and surpluses. The outlook remains highly uncertain as the risks of new waves of contagion, capital flow reversals, and a further decline in global trade still loom large on the horizon.
Our new External Sector Report shows that overall current account deficits and surpluses in 2019 were just below 3 percent of world GDP, slightly less than a year earlier. Our latest forecasts for 2020 imply only a further narrowing by some 0.3 percent of world GDP, a more modest decline than after the global financial crisis 10 years ago.The immediate policy priorities are to provide critical relief and promote economic recovery. Once the pandemic abates, reducing the world’s external imbalances will require collective reform efforts by both excess surplus and deficit countries. New trade barriers will not be effective in reducing imbalances.
Why imbalances matter
External deficits and surpluses are not necessarily a cause for concern. There are good reasons for countries to run them at certain points in time. But economies that borrow too much and too quickly from abroad, by running external deficits, may become vulnerable to sudden stops in capital flows. Countries also face risks from investing too much of their savings abroad given investment needs at home. The challenge lies in determining when imbalances are excessive or pose a risk. Our approach focuses on each country’s overall current account balance and not its bilateral trade balances with various trading partners, as the latter mainly reflect the international division of labor rather than macroeconomic factors.
We estimate that about 40 percent of global current account deficits and surpluses were excessive in 2019 and, as in recent years, concentrated in advanced economies. Larger-than-warranted current account balances were mostly in the euro area (driven by Germany and the Netherlands) with lower-than-warranted current account balances mainly existing among Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. China’s assessed external position remained, as in 2018, broadly in line with fundamentals and desirable policies, due to offsetting policy gaps and structural distortions.
Our report offers individual economy assessments of external imbalances and exchange rates for the 30 largest economies. Over time, these imbalances have accumulated, with the stocks of external assets and liabilities now at historic highs, potentially raising risks for both debtor and creditor countries. The persistence of global imbalances and mounting perceptions of an uneven playing field for trade has fueled protectionist sentiments, leading to a rise in trade tensions between the US and China. Overall, many countries had pre-existing vulnerabilities and remaining policy distortions heading into the crisis.
COVID-19: An intense external shock
With the world economy still grappling with the COVID-19 crisis, the external outlook is highly uncertain. Even though we forecast a slight narrowing of global imbalances in 2020, the situation varies around the world. Economies dependent on severely affected sectors, such as oil and tourism, or reliant on remittances, could see a fall in their current account balances exceeding 2 percent of GDP. Such intense external shocks may have lasting effects and require significant economic adjustments. At the global level, our forecasts imply a more limited narrowing in current account balances than after the global financial crisis a decade ago, which partly reflects the smaller, precrisis global imbalances this time than during the housing and asset price booms of the mid-2000s.
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, tighter external financing conditions triggered sudden capital outflows with sharp currency depreciations across numerous emerging market and developing economies. The exceptionally strong fiscal and monetary policy responses, especially in advanced economies, have promoted a recovery in global investor sentiment since then, with some unwind of the initial sharp currency movements. But many risks remain, including new waves of contagion, economic scarring, and renewed trade tensions.
Another bout of global financial stress could trigger more capital flow reversals, currency pressures, and further raise the risk of an external crisis for economies with preexisting vulnerabilities, such as large current account deficits, a high share of foreign currency debt, and limited international reserves, as highlighted in this year’s analytical chapter. A worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic could also dislocate global trade and supply chains, reduce investment, and hinder the global economic recovery.
Providing relief and rebalancing the world economy
Policy efforts in the near term should continue to focus on providing lifelines and promoting economic recovery. Countries with flexible exchange rates would benefit from continuing to allow them to adjust in response to external conditions, where feasible. Foreign exchange intervention, where needed and where reserves are adequate, could help alleviate disorderly market conditions. For economies facing disruptive balance of payments pressures and without access to private external financing, official financing and swap lines can help provide economic relief and preserve critical health care spending.
Tariff and nontariff barriers to trade should be avoided, especially on medical equipment and supplies, and recent new restrictions on trade rolled back. Using tariffs to target bilateral trade balances is costly for trade and growth, and tends to trigger offsetting currency movements. Tariffs are also generally ineffective for reducing excess external imbalances and currency misalignments, which requires addressing underlying macroeconomic and structural distortions. Modernizing the multilateral rules-based trading system and strengthening rules on subsidies and technology transfer is warranted, including by expanding the rule book on services and e-commerce and ensuring a well-functioning WTO dispute settlement system.
Over the medium term, reducing excess imbalances in the global economy will require joint efforts on the part of both excess surplus and excess deficit countries. Economic and policy distortions that predated the COVID-19 crisis might persist or worsen, suggesting the need for reforms tailored to country-specific circumstances.
In economies where excess current account deficits before the crisis reflected larger-than-desirable fiscal deficits (as in the United States) and where such imbalances persist, fiscal consolidation over the medium term would promote debt sustainability, reduce the excess current account gap, and facilitate raising international reserves where needed (as in Argentina). Countries with export competitiveness challenges would benefit from productivity-raising reforms.
In economies where excess current account surpluses that existed before the crisis persist, prioritizing reforms that encourage investment and discourage excessive private saving are warranted. In economies with remaining fiscal space, a growth-oriented fiscal policy would strengthen economic resilience and narrow the excess current account surplus. In some cases, reforms to discourage excessive precautionary saving may also be warranted (as in Thailand and Malaysia) including by expanding the social safety net.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
The Basics of Banking
Recently, I received a lengthy email from a reader who had a ton of basic personal finance questions contained within. I thought it might be interesting to start an irregular “personal finance 101” series to answer and explain some of her questions.
Many people see banks as being a place where you save your money or where you get a checking account or where you can get loans, but they often don’t understand the big picture of how a bank functions. Let’s walk through it in baby steps so that you can understand why a bank exists.
Remember a bank is a business like any other business: it strives to make as much money as possible. They make money by simply moving money around; keep that in mind as we move through the services that a bank provides.
The first service that most people become familiar with in terms of a bank is a savings account. At first glance, a savings account is a situation in which you give a bank your money for a period of time, withdraw it whenever you like, and it earns a small amount of money for the time you leave it there. What actually happens, though, is that a savings account is actually a loan, except this time you’re the lender. It’s no different than any other loan, except it’s really flexible: you can lend as much as you want to the bank and get that loan paid back whenever you’d like. Because of this flexibility, though, the interest you make on this loan is pretty low.
A checking account, at most banks, is no different than a savings account: you’re lending the bank your money, but with a checking account, they pay your interest with services (dealing with the checks you write, etc.) instead of interest.
The other major aspect that people think of when they consider a bank is loans: they lend money to people for automobiles, cars, and other things.
How do banks make money?
For starters, they take the money you loan them and earn a pretty strong return with it, then give you a part of that return in the form of interest. So, each dollar you put into your account with the bank makes them a little bit of money.
Let’s say, for example, that the bank has a savings account with a 1.5% rate of return, which is likely better than the bank in your neighborhood. They take the money from your account (and a lot of other savings accounts) and use all of that money to buy (for example) a treasury note, which is guaranteed by the federal government and returns about 5%.
Even better, let’s say that someone else comes into the bank and wants to borrow some money for a car. The bank offers to lend them the money for the car at 7% return, so they take that money from the accounts at the bank and give it to the borrower. Then, the borrower pays back that money plus the interest, of which they pass on 1.5% to you, keeping 5.5% for themselves.
So, hypothetically, let’s say a bank opens for business and two people open savings accounts at 1.5% with $10,000 each. Then, Judy comes in and wants to borrow $20,000 for a car loan for one year, so the bank uses the $20,000 the people have deposited. At the end of the year, Judy will pay back the $20,000 plus 7% ($1,400). Then, each of the savings account holders come in and clean out their accounts. Each one takes out $10,000 plus 1.5% ($150) for a total of $20,300. The bank thus keeps the remaining $1,100. If that happens, say, 100 times in a year (200 savings accounts, 100 car borrowers), the bank makes $110,000 a year. When you start figuring in long term things like home loans, and also when people buy things like certificates of deposit, it becomes clear that a bank can bring in a lot of money each year.
On top of that, banks today make a lot of money from fees. You get pinged when you use the wrong ATM, when you overdraft a check, and so on. Each of these activities only costs the bank a few cents to handle, but it costs you a few dollars (at least).
To summarize, a bank works by paying people small amounts to lend them money, then lending that money onto others for larger amounts. They manage that whole process, and then keep the difference between the large amount (interest on loans) and small amount (interest from a savings account).