Monday, September 15, 2014

Literally and figuratively the butter spread is getting wider. See how that affects trade flows.

The price of butter has surged in recent days as well as recent months. Here is a graph I created showing the price of butter in the US and in world markets.  The prices are per pound based on a  metric ton (2204.62 lbs) so this is the price at production for wholesale sale, NOT RETAIL (the price you see at the store).

The world prices since 2/19/2013 are in RED and the US price is in BLUE.

Notice, of the most part, world prices are consisently above the US price but a crossover occurs between March 19th and April 19 of 2014.  Then there is a significant diverence where the US price quickly outpaces the world price.

As of today (9/15/2015) the US price is at $3.00 lbs and the world price is about $1.25 (Source) so on the graph the RED world price line end point is the same but the US red line extends up to the $3.00 mark.  The spread is even wider than what appears on the graph!

Source: Haywardeconblog. Using historical data from HERE and HERE
This gives me an opportunity to do a lesson on international trade to show what happens in markets when the world price of a good is differnt from the domestic price and how trade flows might be affected.








"Mainstream media" article that extensively uses elasticity to describe a market. What a pleasant surprise!

A terrific article that explains the current market for corn using many micro and a few macroeconomic concepts.

Bumper crop is bummer for some (Edward Lotterman)


The main ones are  Elasticity of Demand and of Supply. Rare it is to find an article in mainstream media that uses correct terminology to describe economic events.  Warms my heart!

Check it out.  Offers MANY opportunities to practice drawing and analyzing basic supple and demand graphs.

Here is a quick "sketch" of what it looks like after all is said and done:


Saturday, September 13, 2014

"5 Tips for Investing" and a piece of advice on one of them from someone who has been there.

USA Today has very short article "5 Tips for College Students Interested in Investing".  They may seem superficial but there are heavy truths between the lines of all the suggestions.

The one I had the most trouble with when I was much younger was the dreaded Credit Card. They are SOOO seductive!
(1) The principal (what you actually paid for an item) and interest you pay on a credit card purchase, for something you probably do not have anymore, is a thief that steals (or limits) your present and future consumption possibilities. 
(2) Unless the benefit (objectively defined!) you receive on an on-going basis from the principal and interest you pay on a prior purchase MEETS OR EXCEEEDS the cost of that principal and interest, you should not buy that item today.
Number 1 is pretty close to an absolute truth, in my opinion. Number 2 is a more subjective and I am a little more queasy about because it does offer you some wriggle room for justifying a credit card purchase.

But I am not your mother!

If you can at least give your self pause and consider the above two pieces of advice when you are pulling out that card from your wallet, it might be just enough time to reconsider what you are about to do.

Wish someone had done this for me a long time ago!  :)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to read a "Cross Currency Rate" chart for the lesson on Foreign Exchange Rates.

One way students might encounter an exchange rate chart is in the from of "Cross Currency Rates"

It is in table form and can be tricky to read if you are not careful.  I know I have made errors in trying to read one.

I put together a very short presentation that makes it clear.  Hope it helps.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The wage you are paid is not the total cost to employ you. See the numbers here.

One of the many reports the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts out is "Employer Costs for Employee Compensation". It offers a pretty detailed dollar and cents look at how much it costs to employ a worker.

Here is one part of the report for June 2014. I highlighted the "Service" sector because the pay range is where most young people will fall.  You can compare it to the other two broad sectors to see the differences.

The first number in  YELLOW is total compensation which is comprised of "Wage" and "Non-Wage" compensation--$16.70.  The Non-Wage money outlay for a business is the addtional costs (some elective and some mandatory) they incur to employ you--$4.82.  This is in GOLD along with the hourly wage you actually receive after the employer pays these to (1) you indirectly or (2) other entities (insurance companies, State and Local governments, etc).

After you recieve your $11.88 per hour worked you will be responsible for additional deductions from your wage, such as Social Security, Medicare and Federal Income Tax Witholding and any other benefits you may elect to take.  Take note that the employer ALSO matches the amount you pay into SS and Medicare!

This kinda gets lost in the debate over raising the minimum wage.  Many of these additional costs are percents of wages paid so an increase in the MW is not only going to affect the actual wage paid but the TOTAL cost of employing a worker.

Useful information, don't you think? :)



Need a primer on "Tax Inversions"? Link to a nice one here.

Confused by the issue of "Tax Inversions" as brought to prominence by the Burger King/Tim Horton's merger?

This document HERE from the Congressional Research Service (HT: The Conversable Economist) is the best explanation, without the politics/inflammatory language, as I have seen.  I thought I understood the issue but this relatively short read pointed out MANY things I did not know.  Worth a read if you are interested in the topic.

Here is an excerpt:
The United States uses a system that taxes both the worldwide income of U.S. corporations and the income of foreign firms earned within U.S. borders. All income earned within U.S. borders is taxed the same—in the year earned and at statutory tax rates up to 35%.  
U.S. corporate income earned outside the United States is also subject to U.S. taxation, though not necessarily in the year earned. This occurs because U.S. corporations can defer U.S. tax on active income earned abroad in foreign subsidiaries until it is paid, or repatriated, to the U.S. parent company as a dividend. To mitigate double taxation, tax due on repatriated income is reduced by the amount of foreign taxes already paid. 
The second paragraph is the important one to get a grasp of the issue.  The US (apparently) is the only country that taxes a company on its foreign profits in addition to the domestic profits.

Because BK is based in the US, profits from its restaurants in Boise AND Beijing (Paris, London, Mexico City, on and on...) are subject to the US Federal income tax.

Now that the corporate headquarters is officially in Canada, BK will only have to pay US Federal taxes on profits in Boise (meaning all its US operations).

Do you see the incentive?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Education Spending in the OECD countries. How does the US stack up against the rest?

This terrific interactive is from the OECD website, the statistic gathering arm of the European Union.

See how various countries stack up in terms of spending on the various levels of education--from Pre-K through College ("Tertiary").

The BLUE line is the OECD average among the countries you see listed below.

The other tabs along the top offer interesting information regarding educational attainment.  This resource can be used for all kinds of analysis students could do in small discusssion groups.



Monday, September 8, 2014

Reason Number Infinity as to why Walmart and Costco are NOT in the same business--New Tire Edition.

I need some new tires for my 2010 Toyota Camry.  Thought I would check Walmart and Costco websites to price compare. I kinda  knew what the result would be before I checked.

I clipped the first 3 tires offered by Costco and Walmart on their websites.

(1)  If I am upper income I have a choice as to where I go for my tires.

(2) If I am lower income I effectively do not have a choice--gotta go to Walmart (for the most part).

We can slice and dice the quality and warranty offerings among the selections but we cannot argue the affordability for this immediate consumer "need".

Four lowest priced tires at Costco sets me back $440.00.  At Walmart I dole out $332.00.

The difference is $108.00.  If I earn $9.00 per hour I have to work an ADDITIONAL 12 hours (more if I factored in taxes/deductions) to get the cash for 4 new tires at Costco.

See, not the same business---if you are relatively low income wage earner.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

San Francisco, Urban Farming and Housing Costs---a lesson in Opportunity Costs.

Another adventure in Opportunity Costs.

How Urban Farming Is Making San Francisco's Housing Crisis Worse (The Atlantic)


The City of San Francisco just passed a law giving property owners a subsidy for the operation of an "urban farm".  It is an incentive based on a recently passed State law giving more secure property rights to folks starting an urban farm.

I have no problem with that.

However, in a city where there is much debate and near rioting over "affordable housing" (whatever that means in high rent San Francisco) that is located in a State where 80% of the countrys fruits and vegetables come from (HERE) it seems like the LEAST likely place to promote urban farming.

Read the article and pick out the many other Opportunity Costs that arise from this policy. Fun times!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Discrimination is alive and well against fruits and veggies in the EU.

The European Union (EU) has strict standards (see HERE) when it comes to the sale of certain fruits and vegetables.

In order to be sold in markets they must meet not only quality specifications but "appearance" standards as well.  This results in LOTS of food waste because the "Ugly Fruit and Veggies" never make it to the selves.

This article is about a woman in Portugal who is taking on the problem of "Lookism" in produce section.

Portuguese Food Co-op Fights Back Against EU-Mandated Waste

Baylen Linnekin speaks with Maria Canelhas from Fruta Feia, which has saved literally tons of great food from the garbage.


Seems like this is a way to keep prices high as well.  There is plenty of ugly produce that is perfectly edible and meets all the standards for consumption.

Ugly Produce is a suitable substitute for "Beautiful Produce".  A face palm to the concept of Substitution Bias.

Guess this guy below would not be welcome at a super marche' in Paris.  Looks like he could whoop up on the other veggies in the bins.

I have had this for awhile. I lost track of the source
NOTE: I corrected several spelling errors. Note to self: Press.Spell.Check.  :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fuel for Food in the Upper Mid-West. Caught in the Opportunity Cost trap.

The allocation of scarce railroad track from the transport of food to fuel has created a costly consequence for agricultural interests. The simultaneous boom in energy and food production necessitates choices.  It appears the fossil fuel (oil and gas) interests are winning out.  There is no escaping Opportunity Costs!

Millions in Agriculture Lost as Rails Neglect Grain Surplus (HT Morning Ag Cllips)

Farmers in North Dakota are experiencing millions of dollars in losses as their grain shipments — held up by rails’ prioritization of the transport of oil — have no way of getting to the companies that need them, like cereal producer General Mills. Production at such companies has slowed, and the grain, with nowhere to go, “is simply going to ground and rot,” farmer Bill Hejl told The New York Times. 
What’s more, farmers expect that the upcoming harvest will yield a record crop of wheat and soybeans, meaning that this problem is only expected to get worse. 
Farmers have long relied on railroads, “the backbone of North Dakota’s transportation system,” to help them move their crops across the country, and abroad. 
But lately, the region’s railroads are occupied by shipments of oil, which, along with gas, have become biggest contributor to North Dakota’s gross domestic product. As of August 22, reports indicate that the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (the state’s largest railroad) had a backlog of 1,336 rail cars waiting to ship grain, while Canadian Pacific railroad had a backlog of 1,000 cars.

Burger King and King Sugar. One wants to pay less taxes and the other wants to receive more tax dollars. One is way worse than the other.

Ah, the arrogance of royalty.

The freak-out continues over Burger King moving to Canada because of the purchase of a MUCH larger company (Tim Horton's).  

Last year BK paid about $88 million in taxes to the US Federal government.  The US Treasury will "lose" this money (maybe more, maybe less depending on future profits) in tax revenues.

BK is labeled unpatriotic and subject to boycott.

Below is an excerpt from Bloomberg.  
"...Because of a plunge in U.S. sugar prices amid a hefty crop of sugar beets and cane, the Agriculture Department estimates that it may have to buy 400,000 tons of sugar from processors who might default on $862 million in government loans. Sugar producers have the option of repaying the loans either with cash or with their harvests if prices fall below a certain level. 
This is all part of a confection of federal price supports and subsidies for the industry. Last year, sugar processors took out loans when U.S. prices were about 25.5 cents a pound. Prices have since declined to 21 cents, just a hair above the trigger price that lets them repay their loans with raw sugar. 
The sugar, by law, would be sold to ethanol refiners, who would pay 10 cents a pound less than the government paid -- an inducement needed to get the ethanol industry to use the sugar. Aside from the ridiculousness of piling one ill-advised subsidy atop another, this would produce a loss of $80 million for the U.S. Treasury. Some industry analysts estimate the government may have to buy as much as 800,000 tons of sugar to restore balance to U.S. stockpiles, potentially doubling the loss..."---Bloomberg (Opinion piece)

Twisted, ain't it?

An equal (or greater) number of tax dollars are LOST to support raw sugar producers, who are a small in number but a politically potent group...And who cares?  I hear crickets.

Concentrated benefits, dispersed costs.  Crony-Capitalism.  Multiply this example 10's or 100's of times. Don't believe me? Read the Farm Bill.  Makes Burger Kings lost tax revenue look like the Dollar Menu.

And people call Burger King's move a "Whooper" of a mistake.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Comparing Apples to Burgers when it comes to taxes. One is a Whopper and one has a small worm hole--don't assume which is which...

It is possible to be a corporate "traitor" without leaving the country.

Last year Burger King paid a total of $88 million dollars in taxes (Yahoo Finance).

Apple AVOIDS paying roughly $17 million dollars PER DAY in taxes (Business Insider).

It took Apple less than a week to avoid paying what Burger King actually paid in taxes for a year.

We love Apple, but hate Burger King.

Not sure if I am comparing Apples to Apples here (forgive the pun), but American apples and Canadians apples pretty much look and taste the same, don't they?

Confession: I own an i-phone, i-pad AND I like Burger King.  Guess I am complicit in corporate traitorism.

Does it help my cause that I am a former Marine (me, the taller one)?



Is US agriculture hurt by the sanctions Vlad imposed on US food exports to Russia? It really is a game of chicken.

Here is an estimate of how much in lost food exports various countries will suffer as a result of the counter- Russian trades sanctions against the US and the EU.

According to this source, the US will lose about $688 million in sales.  Of this amount, about 44% is in the form of chicken(s):
For the United States, the loss of the Russian food export market is less important. Last year, the United States exported 267,000 metric tons of chicken to Russia, worth $303 million, according to the U.S. National Chicken Council and USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. According to Gwen Sparks, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, exports of agricultural products to Russia in 2013 were valued at $1.3 billion, less than 1 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports.--Washington Post
Less than 1% of total exports. Sanctions, Smank-tions.  Is that all you got, Vlad?
Infographic: The Countries Hardest Hit By Russia's Trade Ban | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

Friday, August 22, 2014

The rise of the robots! In the movies the heroes usually win that battle. How will the Labor Markets fair?

A nice graphic from MIT Technology Review on the rise in the use of robotics in manufacturing versus the change in manufacturing employment.  It certainly is a mixed bag in terms of the relationship (as they note in the graphic).

There is no question that the two will be co-joined in the short and long(er) term as the workplace changes and labor adapts to new technology, and vice versa.