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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Books on Economics That Are Worth a Read

I have always enjoyed reading, but about four years ago, I decided to set a goal of reading a book every two weeks. While I have kept to the pursuit of the goal, I have yet to meet it if one measures it on an annual basis. I have come close, but I have not yet completed 26 books in a given year. I do not read very quickly (unlike one of my daughters who devours books voraciously – her Dad shares with just a slight tinge of envy), so when I decide to read a rather thick tome, it takes me longer than two weeks.

Furthermore, most of what I read are books about economics or somehow related to economics, so they are not always the quickest reads. That may sound odd, since I am an economist, but honestly, it is really what I enjoy reading. I can’t help it; I am a nerd. To achieve some balance, I do read fiction, and even cookbooks, and thoroughly enjoy reading them.

Through this process, I have come across books that I have thought were excellent and others that maybe did not quite reach that level (does not mean they were not worth the read, though), so I thought it would be fun to put together a list of the books on economics that I have read over the years that I have found to be excellent.

So what is “excellent’? For this list, it does not mean they were the best-written books in the sense that they achieved high art with the English language. It also does not mean that I necessarily agreed with everything that was discussed in the book.

What it does mean is that these books extended my knowledge in new and interesting ways, presented complex ideas in novel ways, and/or just made me aware of an issue or made me think more deeply about an issue. I should also add that they reflect my own interests. After all, who reads books about topics in which they have no interest?

They tend to be heavily weighted toward urban economics, macroeconomics, complexity economics, cultural economics, economic history, and heterodox economics, although other issues are covered. While I think you will learn a good bit about economics from the books on these lists, it is not a list of the great books in the history of economic thought (maybe that will be a post for the future). It is also not comprehensive in any way of the best books on economics, as I still have a lot left to read, fortunately.

I also tried to stay away from textbooks, although a couple made it on the list. Also, keep in mind that this is my opinion, obviously, and you may not agree. I would like to hear what you think.

So, here is the list, not in rank order, with a comment or two inserted.

  1. This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff (A dense read chocked full of data, but gives you a very good sense of the factors leading to financial crises and the hugely detrimental effects they can have on the economy from a long historical perspective.)
  2. Complexity and the Economy by W. Brian Arthur (If you have any interest in complexity economics, this is a great introduction to the subject. In fact, you should read anything by W. Brian Arthur.)
  3. The Death of Economics by Paul Ormerod (These two books by Ormerod are great reads on complexity economics.)
  4. Butterfly Economics by Paul Ormerod
  5. The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs (Jane Jacobs was not trained as an economist, but in my opinion, her writings on economics were some of the most important in helping us understand the functioning of the macroeconomy and urban economies.)
  6. Cities and the Wealth of Nations by Jane Jacobs
  7. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
  8. Mis-Measuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Armatya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi (Probably not the most exciting read on this list, but you will have a great understanding of the shortcomings of one of our main economic indicators – GDP – so I think it is a very important book.)
  9. Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser (Some interesting arguments about the value of cities that may be a bit counter-intuitive.)
  10. The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon (Arguably the most eye-opening book on the list. It is a long book, but a great read with many fascinating historical anecdotes.)
  11. After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead by Alan S. Blinder (There are many good books on the most recent financial crisis and the Great Recession, but this is the best that I have read. Blinder is also quite entertaining.)
  12. Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science by Clair Brown (This is one of those books that really stretched my thinking on economics. Fascinating stuff.)
  13. Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality by James Kwak (If you want to understand the perils of misunderstanding and/or inappropriately applying economic theory, you should read this book.)
  14. Globalizing Capital: A History of the International Monetary System by Barry Eichengreen (Great read on the historical development of the international financial system, but you had better bring at least some knowledge of finance and the the financial markets.)
  15. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Power by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (This book, along with the next three in the list, provide a great overview from different perspectives of global economic development throughout large spans of history.)
  16. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
  17. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are so Rich and Some so Poor by David S. Landes
  18. A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World by Gregory Clark
  19. Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World by Jeff Madrick (See the comment on Economism.)
  20. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein (An interesting book on the relationship of economics to one of the most important issues of our time.)
  21. Creative Communities: Art Works in Economic Development by Michael Rushton (One of my main interests is in understanding the intersection between arts and economic development, so I found this book very interesting.)
  22. A Textbook of Cultural Economics by Ruth Towse (If you want to get a more in-depth understanding of the economics of arts and culture, this is a good book. As the title tells, it is a textbook, but Towse does a good job of explaining the economics, although some helpful details on the economic theories are missing, in my opinion.)
  23. Economics and Culture by David Throsby (Throsby is one of the leading scholars in the field of cultural economics, so if you have an interest in this, I highly recommend this book and the following one, as well.)
  24. The Economics of Cultural Policy by David Throsby
  25. Theories of International Economics by Peter M. Lichtenstein (To be honest, this is the book I am currently reading, so I have not finished reading it, but Lichtenstein does such a wonderful job of explaining international economic theory that I had to put it on the list. He also discusses international economics from the perspective of many heterodox theories, which I think it very important.)

 

Again, I hope you find this list interesting and maybe even useful, and if you decide to read any of the books, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Lastly, if you really want to understand how the economy functions, I strongly encourage you to read about some of the heterodox or alternative economic theories (which is why I included some books on this list that do just that), and I also highly recommend that you read books on topics of interest from the perspective of anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology and all of the other social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences.

Happy reading!

Steve

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Cost-Benefit Analysis of Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio Partner Agencies

I had the honor to speak yesterday at the Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio Annual Summit on the results of a study I did with Eddie Molina on the net benefits or return on investment that this network of out-of-school time agencies contribute to the local community. In short, for every dollar invested in these programs, the valuable services they provide to the youth of San Antonio returns $3.66 in benefits to the community.

These agencies serve 55,000 youth, which is a staggering number in and of itself, and they make a profound impact on many of these kids’ lives. Additionally, while this study did not look directly at their potential impact on economic development, these programs are vital to the future development of San Antonio’s economy, since they are playing such a big role in developing the future workforce and enhancing the quality of life of the community.

The slides I used for my speech can be found here, and the full report can be found here.

Steve

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Economic Scholars Program

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Economic Scholars Program at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas a couple of weeks ago. It was such a wonderful conference that I felt compelled to post something on the blog about it.

The really cool thing about the conference is that it is run entirely by undergraduate students. This means that the students review the papers for acceptance into the conference, present their research in the sessions, serve as discussants of the papers, and chair each of the sessions. Of course, there are faculty in attendance, but we were there as much for moral support as anything (and also because of the small detail that our universities and colleges required a faculty member to attend with their respective students). The faculty would ask some questions, but probably 95% or more of the questions came from students. And the questions they asked were outstanding, as were the responses to their questions.

Since coming back to St. Mary’s University where I teach, I have told my students that this was the best academic conference I have attended. I have certainly been to professional conferences where the quality of some of the papers was not nearly as high, the discussants were not nearly as prepared, and it was not run as well as this one was.

I should also mention that there was also a poster session that was very highly attended. They served food during the session, so when I walked into the room, I expected to see most of the students hovering around the food because what college students doesn’t want to indulge in good food (and the food at the Fed is always exceptional). However, I saw just the opposite. The students surely ate well, but they were all engaged around the various posters talking about the research that was being presented. They were very, very engaged.  As a professor, it was awesome to observe.

It was such a great experience for the students, and if you are a college professor in economics or other social sciences, I would highly encourage you to consider taking your students to this conference.

The conference is co-hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and Austin College – my alma mater (he states with great pride). The hospitality provided by the Fed staff was amazing. I greatly appreciate all of the effort that the Fed staff and faculty at Austin College put forth to organize and host this conference.

On a personal note, the faculty member from Austin College who was responsible for their part of the organization effort, Danny Nuckols, was my mentor and main economics professor when I was at AC. It was his passion, keen insights, and encouragement, along with being one of the best professors I have ever had, that lead me to follow in his footsteps and become an economics professor.

As always, it was great to see him, but to add to that, I also got to meet two more of his former students who also went onto to become economics professors. One is at the University of Texas at Arlington and the other one is at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It is common for great coaches to develop a coaching “tree” as their assistant coaches branch off to assume head coaching positions at other teams. I guess the same is true with great professors like Danny Nuckols.

Pic of Faculty 2
Danny Nuckols, (second from left) and three branches of his professor tree.