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Five Things You Need to Know: Construction Spending Doesn't Fail to Disappoint; Credit Crunch in Action; Stunning Upset!; Greenspan Roiled by Reputation Volatility; Alan Greenspan: Age of Turgidness


What you need to know (and what it means)!


Minyanville's daily Five Things You Need to Know to stay ahead of the pack on Wall Street:

1. Construction Spending Doesn't Fail to Disappoint

U.S. construction spending declined unexpectedly in July, the worst fall since January.

  • Total spending fell by 0.4%, the Commerce Department said. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had originally expected flat spending.
  • Spending for June was revised higher to 0.1%, however, from the decline of 0.3% originally reported.
  • Residential construction spending was among the hardest hit, falling 1.4% in July, the 17th consecutive monthly decline.
  • Year-over-year residential spending is down 15.6% as of July.
  • Meanwhile, the Institute of Supply Management said its index fell to 52.9 from 53.8 in July, slightly below expectations of a 53 reading.
  • The key area of interest for economists in the report is the prices paid measure.
  • Prices paid fell to 63 from 65, the lowest reading since February.
  • Also, note that although there were 12 commodities reported "Up in Price," there was only one commodity (Sulfuric Acid) reported in "Short Supply."

2. Credit Crunch in Action

Last week we considered "What is a Credit Crunch," but what does it look like in action?

  • Thanks to tighter credit conditions, companies that issue bonds to finance their operations are already paying higher interest rates.
  • For example, General Electric (GE) had to pay 0.38 of a percentage point more in interest on a bond issued last Thursday than it did on a similar issue last month, according to USA Today.
  • The higher rate will cost GE an extra $9.8 million a year, the newspaper said.
  • Also, American Airlines (AMR) might not have the cash to repay all their debt coming due and will have to seek new, higher-cost loans, the newspaper said.
  • Meanwhile, Moody's Investors Service says that 121 companies with weak credit ratings have bonds or loans that will mature between now and the end of 2008.
  • The test of credit markets will happen as soon as this week, according to the New York Times.
  • Seven banks will be selling $24 billion in loans and bonds to finance the sale of First Data Corp. (FDC) to KKR.
  • The hill only gets steeper from there.
  • Over the next few months more than $330 billion in leveraged buyouts are due for financing, the Times said.

3. Stunning Upset!

In what may be characterized as one of the most stunning upsets in history, U.S. workers finished dead last in a recent global lack of productivity study, highlighting the woeful inadequacy of the nation's labor force at Sticking It to The Man.

  • According to the International Labor Organization, American workers are the world's most productive, followed by the Irish.
  • The average U.S. worker produced $63,885 of wealth last year, more than their counterparts in all other countries. Ireland placed second at $55,986.
  • The productivity figure is found by dividing the country's gross domestic product by the number of people employed, according to the Associated Press.
  • Employees nationwide now have plenty of time to ponder what, exactly, went wrong with their Sticking It to the Man game plan.
  • Or, rather, employees now have very little time to ponder what went wrong because they are apparently too busy working for The Man and being productive.
  • At the risk of being an "armchair Stick It to the Man" commentator, perhaps we can hazard a few guesses.
  • Was it the 45-minute lunch hour?
  • The constant email and blackberry-checking while on vacation?
  • Or could it be a simple case of a lack of a lack of discipline?
  • Perhaps it was all of the above... plus a little extra effort.
  • Kevin Depew, Executive Editor of Minyanville, was circumspect following the loss.
  • "I thnk we should worry more about the past and avoid falling into the trap of concentrating on the present" Depew said. "All we can do is try and lose some of this focus, totally give up, and go out there and try and work less hard next time."
  • Still, questions remain.
  • Will being so productive carry over to next year, causing this team of laborers to dig in? Or will they bounce back and sleep in? Only time will tell.
  • Meanwhile, the net result is that tonight American workers will drag their weary bodies home knowing that they gave it their all and be forced to wrestle with the difficult questions -why, and for what?

4. Greenspan Roiled by Reputation Volatility

What a difference a couple of years make. An interesting article in USA Today notes that in 2005, top economists at the Federal Reserve's annual Jackson Hole, Wyo. conference praised Alan Greenspan as possibly the greatest central banker ever. This year, the newspaper says, several suggested the Greenspan Fed actually helped create the current meltdown in credit markets.

  • UCLA economist Edward Leamer argued the Fed may have laid the groundwork for the housing bust and credit market turmoil by cutting interest rates too low earlier in the decade, the newspaper reported.
  • It's "best to remember that the teaser rates for (adjustable-rate) mortgages came from Washington, D.C., not from Wall Street," Leamer said.
  • Meanwhile, Stanford economist John Taylor suggested that the Fed worsened the housing boom and bust by keeping interest rates too low from 2003 to 2006.
  • Taylor noted, however, that the Fed was acting in "a complex financial environment" and that long-term rates did not rise as much as expected when it did tighten; the so-called "Greenspan Conundrum."

5. Alan Greenspan: Age of Turgidness

Of course, the debate over the "Greenspan Legacy" is only just beginning! On September 17, the former Federal Reserve Chairman himself (sort of ) is set to weigh in with his memoirs, titled "The Age of Turbulence."

  • Now, taking a look at the Amazon (AMZN) book release page it lists Alan Greenspan as the author, but a year ago it was reported that Penguin Publishing was requiring a ghost writer to help give the book more "pace."
  • Below is a sample paragraph from one of Alan Greenspan's many speeches.
    "We may not be able to usefully determine at what point my contributions as Federal Reserve chairman and, later, ad hoc economic advisor, will slow or even reverse, but it is evident that the greater the degree of international flexibility, the less the risk of a crisis. Should globalization continue unfettered and thereby create an ever more flexible international financial system, history suggests that current account imbalances will be defused with modest risk of disruption."
  • What?! This guy obviously ain't beach reading material.
  • So what should we expect from this eagerly anticipated Greenspan tome?
  • Leave the reckless speculation to us.
  • Below is that same Alan Greenspan memoir paragraph as above, massaged by the Greenspan ghost writers we'd like to see.
  • Alan Greenspan's Memoirs, as ghost written by Herman Melville:
    "Call me Ishmael. Although my real name is Alan Joseph Greenspan. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world, and periodically adjust short term rates to manage inflationary pressures and the occasional bout of undesirable declines in the general rate of inflation."
  • Alan Greenspan's Memoirs, as ghost written by Richard Wright:
    An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room. A bed spring creaked. A woman's voice sang out impatiently:
    "Alan, shut that irrationally exuberant alarm clock off!"
    A surly grunt sounded above the tinny ring of metal. Naked feet swished dryly across the planks in the wooden floor and the clang ceased abruptly. So far there is little evidence to undermine the notion that most of the productivity increase of recent years has been structural and that structural productivity may still be accelerating."
  • Alan Greenpan's Memoirs, as ghost written by Thomas Pynchon:
    "A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now. It is too late. The evacuation still proceeds, but it's all theatre. The federal funds rate must rise at some point to prevent pressures on price inflation from eventually emerging. There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere."
  • Alan Greenspan's Memoirs, as ghost written by Franz Kafka:
    "Someone must have been telling lies about Alan G., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning. His landlady's cook, who always brought him his breakfast at eight o'clock, failed to appear on this occasion. That had never happened before. G. waited for a little while longer, as the conceptual share of the value added in our economic processes expands further, the ability to think abstractly will be increasingly important across a broad range of professions. Critical awareness and the abilities to hypothesize, to interpret, and to communicate are essential elements of successful innovation in a conceptual-based economy."
  • Alan Greenspan's Memoirs, as ghost written by Hunter S. Thompson:
    "We were somewhere around Barstow in 1998 on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; financial intermediation, although it cannot alter the underlying risk in holding direct claims on real assets, can redistribute risks in a manner that alters behavior." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas."
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