Using Data to Foster International Trade, Foreign Direct Investment, and Collaborations Among Metropolitan Areas

The City of San Antonio has been engaged in a six-year process to identify opportunities in foreign markets for international trade, foreign direct investment, and institutional collaborations. The effort was lead by The Brookings Institution, and with the support of JPMorgan Chase, the final portion of the process, called the Global Cities Initiative, was recently completed. In this stage of the process, each of the nine cities involved in the process selected an industry or two on which to focus their efforts in determining these global opportunities. In the case of San Antonio, our specific focus was on the cybersecurity industry. The culmination of the work was the release of the report by The Brookings Institution, Six Steps for Metro Areas to Prioritize Global Markets.

The six steps include:

  1. Organize for action
  2. Select a priority specialization
  3. Set the goal
  4. Measure global market opportunity within the specialization
  5. Factor in market accessibility
  6. Combine and synthesize data

As they are listed, these steps are rather generic and do not say much. I was fortunate and honored to be a part of the San Antonio team working on the project, so I can say with first-hand knowledge, it is quite a thorough process that has educated and enriched the knowledge of the communities involved about the opportunities in cities around the world for particular industries. I am sure it can do the same for other cities that want to engage in the process. If you want to get into the detail, I highly recommend you read through the report authored by Max Bouchet, Marek Gootman, and Joseph Parilla of The Brookings Institution. It can be found here.

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Unemployment Rate in San Antonio at Its Floor

The unemployment rate in San Antonio in July was at a seasonally adjusted rate of 3.2%. Since May 2017, it has been in the range of 3.1-3.5% each month. This is about as low as the unemployment rate has ever been in San Antonio since January 1990, as far back as the data goes. The lowest it ever got was in March and May 1999 when it reached 2.9% in each of those months.

As shown in the graph, for about the past year, the unemployment rate has been near the level it was during the dot come bubble leading into the recession in 2000 and about one-half to almost a full percentage point lower than the unemployment rate during the housing bubble preceding the Great Recession.

It seems to me that the San Antonio economy has been at its full-employment level of unemployment, so it is most likely the unemployment rate will only be going up over the next year or so. It may continue to hover in the aforementioned range for several months, but it appears to have hit its floor.

 

Unemployment SA July 2018

 

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Accounting for Non-Market Activities and Equal Pay in the San Antonio GDP

Dr. Belinda Roman and I recently completed a working paper titled, Women in the Economy. It is the first paper completed in our new research program on women in the economy. One of the many shortcomings of the gross domestic product measure is that it excludes any activity that is not conducted within a market (i.e., non-market activities). A large component of non-market activities is household production. This includes any activity it takes to run a household for which the activity is not paid, like child-care, meal preparation, yard work, and house cleaning that is done by the residents of the household. One focus of the paper was to measure the value of non-market household production in San Antonio. We also measured the addition to GDP if women received equal pay in the labor market. The following chart summarizes the results.

Slide1

As shown in the table, placing a market value on household production would add an additional $20.8 billion to GDP in San Antonio. it should be noted that household production includes the production by both men and women, but time use data indicate that women conduct the vast majority of household production. Additionally, if women received equal pay, another $18.2 billion would be added to GDP. Accounting for these two components of economic activity would raise GDP in San Antonio from $109.3 billion  to $148.3 billion in 2016.

We also recently published an op-ed article in the San Antonio Express-News that summarizes the study. The article can be found here.

Yield Curve Continues to Trend Toward Inverting – Strong Indicator of Recession

Yesterday The New York Times published an article titled, “What’s the Yield Curve? ‘A Powerful Signal of Recessions’ Has Wall Street’s Attention” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/business/what-is-yield-curve-recession-prediction.html). If you have the time, it is worth a read because the author, Matt Phillips, discusses the importance of the yield as a predictor of recessions. As I have discussed in at least one previous blog post, the yield curve is one of the best indicators of recessions. As Phillips notes, “every recession of the past 60 years has been preceded by an inverted yield curve, according to research from the San Francisco Fed.”

The graph below shows the yield curve through June 25, 2018. The gray bars indicate recessions, so the relationship between the inversion of the yield curve and recessions is pretty clear. It is also pretty clear that the yield curve is trending toward flattening (i.e., approaching zero in the graph). As noted in the article, the inversion of the yield curve does not give much of an indication of when the recession will occur, except that it will be in the fairly near future. As I have mentioned before, I think we will see the U.S. economy dip into recession by late 2019 at the earliest or sometime in 2020.

Yield curve thru 6-25-18

 

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U.S. Economic Expansion Now Second Longest in History

The U.S. economic expansion is now the second longest in history at 107 months.

Of course, this is great, but I think we also have to consider the possibility that the economy is going to run out of steam in the near future and start to go in another direction.

My thought is that by the end of 2019 or at least in 2020, this will start to occur. As shown in the following table, the expansion will be the longest in history if it keeps going through the middle of next year. Despite the nonsense spewed by some renowned economists before the Great Recession, we were reminded that expansions do not go on forever.

The business cycle is clearly not dead, and this expansion is likely to end in the near future.

US Economic Expansion thru May 2018

GDP and the Role of Women in the San Antonio Economy

My colleague, Belinda Román and I, have been working on a study of a more accurate measure of the role of women in the San Antonio economy. The results were released this past Wednesday at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber’s Women’s Award Luncheon. The presentation can be found here.

This is the first study done under our new Women in the Economy Research Program at the SABÉR Institute. There is still much to be researched in this area, but we began by calculating what the gross domestic product of the San Antonio metropolitan economy would be if the non-market household production activities were counted in GDP and if women received equal pay to men.

Household production includes, in part, activities like child care, yard work, preparing meals, house cleaning, maintenance and repairs of the house, and travel time related to such activities.

As of 2016, GDP in San Antonio was $109.3 billion, and with these adjustments, GDP would be about $149.1 billion. We are still working to complete the full report, but it will be released in July.

Steve

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Forecast of the San Antonio Economy as Presented to the GFOAT

I gave a speech today to the San Antonio chapter of the Government Finance Officers Association of Texas on the San Antonio economy. I will pull out specific charts and talk about them in detail over the next couple of weeks, but here is the entire speech for now. In short, the economy looks strong and should continue to be strong for the next year or so, but I think the probability of another recession starting within the next couple of years is pretty high.

Steve

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The Joy and Benefits of Writing

Most of my writing is in the form of academic papers or reports for consulting projects. I am always amazed at how hard writing actually is. It seems so easy on the face of it…just sit down and start tapping on the keyboard. It takes a remarkable amount of energy and effort, but it can bring much joy and benefits.

One huge benefit is that it makes you think. I have found that there is nothing that makes you think harder about a subject than writing about it. When I am writing about my research, the process quickly highlights any potential shortcomings in the research process or outcomes.

It can also bring great joy to the writer. Of course, if one enjoys writing, the process it self can be fun, but writing something that you think is quite good, maybe even to your surprise, can be such a high. It is a severe rush of pleasure – a “writer’s rush,” if you will.

I had this experience yesterday afternoon as I was completing a report. It was the end of the day, and I had no sleep the night before, which does not make for good writing circumstances for me. Moreover, I had come to the point of writing the conclusion section of the report. This has always been the least favorite section of any paper for me to write. This is probably due to the fact that it typically leads to long outs of writer’s block and ultimately, very uninspiring writing. As I finally dove into writing the conclusion yesterday, inspiration came out of nowhere, and when I got done writing it, I read over it and thought, “Wow, that is pretty good.”

What a rush and a great way to end the work day!

Steve

 

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Credit Cycle Starting to Worsen

I have been saying for the past few months that I think we are likely to have a recession within the next couple of years. One reason for this is that it seems the credit cycle is starting to reverse itself, especially as it relates to consumer credit.

The following four graphs pulled from the Federal Reserve Economic Database give some indication of this. As shown in Charts 1-3, delinquency rates for other consumer loans, credit card loans, and consumer loans declined pretty steadily since the economic recovery began, but since 2015, the delinquency rates have started to rise.

Furthermore, the increase in delinquencies seems to pick up pace in 2016 for all of the categories of loans with consumer loans and credit card loans maintaining the increase through 2017. Delinquencies in automobile loans have also been rising (see here).

On the positive side, delinquency rates on single-family mortgages appear to continue to decline (see Chart 4). This might just indicate that consumers are clearly financially stressed, but they are continuing to pay their mortgages on time in an attempt to at least keep their homes. If the economy does go into recession, we will see delinquency rates rise on mortgages, as well.

Consumers under financial stress are not likely to maintain their strong spending patterns, and since consumer spending is two-thirds of gross domestic product, a slowdown in consumer spending is not going to bode well for continued economic growth.

On the commercial side, the credit market seems to be fairly strong as delinquency rates are continuing to fall. It is just a matter of time, though, before this trend reverses course, too. If consumer spending starts to decline, this means goods and services will go unsold, eventually causing businesses to decrease production as inventories increase and demand for services falls. With less revenues flowing into the business, we will likely see delinquency rates start to rise. A recession cannot be far away at this point.

Chart 1. Delinquency Rate on Other Consumer Loans, All Commercial Banks (Seasonally Adjusted – gray bars indicate recessions)

Delinqunecy Rate on Other Consumer Loans All Commercial Banks

Chart 2. Delinquency Rate on Credit Card Loans, All Commercial Banks (Seasonally Adjusted – gray bars indicate recessions)

Delinquency Rate on Credit Card Loans All Commercial Banks

Chart 3. Delinquency Rate on Consumer Loans, All Commercial Banks (Seasonally Adjusted – gray bars indicate recessions)

Delinquency Rate on Consumer Loans All Commercial Banks

Chart 4. Delinquency Rate on Single-Family Residential Mortgages, All Commercial Banks (Seasonally Adjusted – gray bars indicate recessions)

Delinquency Rate on SF Mortgages All Commercial Banks

Maybe this is all just a regression to the historical mean, but I think these trends are a bit concerning and worth watching.

Steve

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“Inextricable Connections” Are Important for Economic Development

As an economist whose research focuses on regional economies, I have often wondered about the economic and social impacts of the movement to online retail and social engagement in general through online means and away from interactions among physical persons. As one whose graduate degrees are in political economy, I am aware of the close connections between politics, a well-functioning government, and the functioning of the economy. Like many U.S. citizens, I am also increasingly concerned about the acrimony of our political environment in the U.S., especially, but also around the world.

I am reading Brene Brown’s, Braving the Wilderness, and among the many great insights in the book, she makes the point that we have a human need for “inextricable connection.”

All of these examples of collective joy and pain are sacred experiences. They are so deeply human that they cut through our differences and tap into our hardwired nature. These experiences tell us what is true and possible about the human spirit. We need these moments with strangers as reminders that despite how much we might dislike someone on Facebook or even in person, we are still inextricably connected. And it doesn’t have to be a big moment with thousands of strangers. We can be reminded of our inextricable connection after talking with a seatmate on a two-hour flight.

The problem is that we don’t show up for enough of these experiences. We clearly need them. But it’s vulnerable to lean in to that kind of shared joy and pain. We armor up. We shove our hands into our pockets during the concert or we roll our eyes at the dance or put our headphones on rather than get to know someone on the train (Brown, 2017, pp. 128-129).

The disrupting or tearing apart of these connections not only has social ramifications, but it also has economic effects that are not good. One of the key lessons I took away from the book is that it is easy to hate and spread nonsense when you can hide behind email and social media. One of her chapter titles summarizes it perfectly: “People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In” (p. 63).

Reading the book highlighted one of the concerns I have been thinking about with respect to the effects of moving our everyday economic transactions and engagement with others both socially and economically to the online world. I took from Dr. Brown’s discussion that as this social disruption continues, the lack of personal engagement will decline as brick and mortar stores go out of business. Even though the interactions we have as we shop at one of these stores might be brief, it seems to me that they are very important per the points Dr. Brown makes as previously highlighted. As we lose these physical in-person interactions, it seems to me that it only exacerbates our vitriolic political climate, which is not good for our economic future.

Additionally, we may also lose the benefits and efficiencies that come from clusters of people (be they large or small numbers) engaging with one another in person. These are called agglomerations economies in economics. One of the biggest benefits that comes from these interactions are the transmission of ideas that lead to innovations that facilitate business growth, new business creation, and ultimately, economic development. Some argue that these can occur just as well in an online environment, and to some extent they do. What gets missed is the richness of the discussions that occur when in the physical presence of others that do not occur in an online environment. Sometimes (often times?), this just happens serendipitously as we wander the streets or engage in our daily activities – including our consumer activities at physical stores.

As usual, Dr. Brown states the importance of the physical interactions much more eloquently than I do.

As I started digging into this question [i.e., Is social media a toll to achieve collective joy and pain or more for the spreading of hate, unfounded statements, and picture of cute animals?] with research participants, there was very little ambiguity It became clear that face-to-face connection is imperative in our true belonging practice. Not only did face-to-face contact emerge as essential from the participant data in my research, but studies across the world confirm those findings. Social media are helpful in cultivating connection only to the extent that they’re used to create real community where there is structure, purpose, and meaning, and some face-to-face contact.

One of the most well-respected researchers in this area is Susan Pinker. In her book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier, Pinker writes, “In a short evolutionary time, we have changed from group-living primates skilled at reading each other’s every gesture and intention to a solitary species, each one of us preoccupied with our own screen.” Based on studies across diverse fields, Pinker concludes that there is no substitute for in-person interactions. They are proven to bolster our immune system, send positive hormones surging through our bloodstream and brain, and help us live longer. Pinker adds, “I call this building your village, and building it as a matter of life or death.”

…Social media are great for developing community, but for true belonging, real connection and real empathy require meeting real people in a real space in real time (Brown, 2017, pp. 140-141).

To be clear, I am not against shopping online or the internet or social media. I do my share of shopping online and certainly use the internet and social media, but I do think there are negative consequences for the economy that we need to keep in mind. One of these negative consequences is that it reduces our physical interactions with others, which reduces our understanding and tolerance of others. This leads to an inability to have reasonable and productive public debates and a dysfunctional democracy. Whether you love or dislike the government, a poorly functioning government has serious negative consequences for economic development. This lack of face-to-face interaction may also stifle the benefits of agglomerations economies, which could also slow economic development. In other words, the demise of online retail seems to be more than just structural changes happening in the economy. The reduction in face-to-face interactions leads to destructive social problems and slower development of the economy.

Just something to keep in mind as many of us consider where to shop at the end of the holiday season and spend all of those gift cards afterwards. Now, out the door I go to finish my last minute holiday shopping.

May you enjoy the season with those you love.

Steve

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References

Brown, B. (2017). Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. New York: Random House.