Carpe Diem

September Sales: Ford Falls 21%, Drops to #3 Place

DETROIT, MI Ford Motor Co.’s U.S. vehicle sales plunged 20% in September, despite an average of $3,074 in incentives per vehicle, vs. $802 per vehicle for Toyota, which has overtaken Ford for the #2 spot for sales so far this year (see chart above).

Actually, Ford’s car sales slipped a whopping 39% in September 2007 vs. September 2006, according to AutoData, while trucks sales dropped by “only” 8.6%, Jaguars sales fell by 8.4% and Volvo dropped 13.1%. Land Rover sales increased by 21%, the only bright spot for Ford’s September sales numbers.

WSJ: “The overall seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales equaled 16.23 million vehicles during the month, according to Autodata Corp. The result was reasonably better than many analysts and auto-company officials had been expecting, after August’s relatively weak showing. But the latest sales pace was still well below the trend set over the course of the decade and into the early months of this year. Most analysts now expect total light-vehicle sales in 2007 to crawl to 16 million vehicles, well below the 16.7 million rate that is generally considered healthy.”
Carpe Diem

Crack vs. Powder Cocaine, In Pictures

1. As a result of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Congress established different mandatory penalties for cocaine and crack cocaine, with significantly higher punishments for crack cocaine offenses. There is a 5-year minimum prison penalty for a first-time trafficking offense involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine or 500 grams or more of powder cocaine (see top chart above) and a 10-year mandatory minimum penalty for a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine or 5,000 grams or more of powder cocaine.

2. One gram of pure powder cocaine will convert to approximately 0.89 grams of crack cocaine (see middle chart above).

3. Historically, the majority of crack cocaine offenders are black; powder cocaine offenders are now predominantly Hispanic. In 2006, African-Americans accounted for 82 percent of crack cocaine-related arrests, while white and Hispanic offenders accounted for 72 percent of powder cocaine-related arrests (see bottom chart above).

Bottom Line:

1. Members of Congress might need some remedial math, especially on decimals? If 1 gram of powder cocaine = .89 grams of crack cocaine, why is the amount of crack cocaine for five years of jail time (5 grams) 100X less than for powder cocaine (500 grams)?

2. Nobel economist Milton Friedman once called the minimum wage “the most anti-black law on the books.” For once I have to disagree with Milton, I think the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is now the most anti-black law on the books. By far.

Fortunately, the
Supreme Court is considering this egregious sentencing double standard.
Carpe Diem

Value of the Dollar in 1 Year? Check Forward Rates

What’s going to happen to the U.S. dollar over the next year? Stronger, weaker? The best place to find out is in the forward markets for foreign exchange, where the dollar is already trading against the currencies of about 30 countries for delivery one year from now.

According to yesterday’s one-year currency forward rates, the dollar is expected to continue depreciate over the next year, and is trading at a one-year forward discount, against 11 major currencies like the euro, Swiss franc, yen, Canadian dollar, etc. (see chart above, click to enlarge). The USD is expected to appreciate over the next year, and is already trading at a one-year forward premium against 18 currencies including the UK pound, Mexican peso, Indian rupee, etc.

Bottom Line: The fall of the USD has probably stabilized and will actually appreciate over the next year against some currencies like the UK pound, and will depreciate only mildly against many other currencies.

Carpe Diem

Stocks Surge on Possible Rate Cut, 75-80% Chance

NEW YORK (AP)Wall Street shot higher Monday, sending the Dow Jones industrial average above 14,000 for the first time in 2 1/2 months (closing at 14,087.55) as investors moved back into stocks at the start of the fourth quarter. The blue chip index rose more than 200 points as it surged to a new trading high.

The market grew more optimistic that the Fed might lower rates to boost the economy after a report showed that manufacturing grew in September at the slowest pace in six months.

“People are getting more confident there is going to be an October rate cut.”

The Fed (FOMC) meets again on October 30-31. What are the chances of another rate cut?

1. According to Fed Funds futures contracts for November, the chances of a rate to 4.5% are about 74%.

2. According to trading on (“The Prediction Market”) for the contract “Fed Funds Rate to be ON or OVER 4.75% on Year End 2007,” there is only a 19.5% of that happening, indicating about an 80% of a rate cut by year end.

Carpe Diem

Weak Dollar Has Its Advantages

From today’s WSJ front page article “Dollar Lifts Exporters“:

As long as the dollar’s decline is gradual, most economists see it as a modest plus overall.

Real exports have grown faster than real imports for nearly two years, and this trend is expected to continue. U.S. exports rose 2.7% to a record $137.68 billion in July, and stronger exports have contributed a half percentage point of added growth to GDP since 2005.

At the moment, strong foreign economies are soaking up U.S.-made goods and services.

Visits by foreign tourists to U.S. theme parks and other attractions are up, which means more bookings for hotels, restaurants and rental cars. The convention bureau in Orlando, Fla., forecasts a 3.9% increase in foreign visitors this year compared with 2006. Canada’s dollar recently hit parity with its U.S. counterpart for the first time since 1976, which is why Disney recently ran ads north of the border urging Canadians to “enjoy the magic” of a strong currency by traveling to Florida.

People like James Mallon are seeing yet another dimension to the falling dollar. The 34-year-old native of Ottawa, who now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., says he’s gotten a flurry of phone calls in the past few weeks from friends in Canada who want to stay with him for weekend shopping excursions. Several asked him to accept mail-order shipments — including a surfboard, cookware and bicycle parts — that they’ll pick up in the future.

“I feel richer for my friends,” he says, “but poorer.” Mr. Mallon, an engineering consultant who specializes in ergonomics, has his student loans in Canadian dollars that now cost more to pay back. And a loan of C$25,000 that he took from his parents to buy his house in 2003 has suddenly grown far more onerous. “When I took out that loan, it was the equivalent of $14,000 U.S., but now I owe them $25,000.”

Carpe Diem

Economic Boom Down Under in Australia

We don’t hear much about it in the U.S., but Australia is in the middle of a huge economic boom, with a record low unemployment rate of 4.3% and a record high stock market that has more than doubled in the last three years (see chart above).

Here’s a report on job vacancies reaching a record high in Australia, and how “the unemployment rate is tipped to fall to a fresh historic low as bosses struggle to keep young and restless workers seeking to cash in on the commodities bonanza (coal and iron ore are Australia’s two largest exports).”

Alan Greenspan praises Australia
in his new book (The Age of Turbulence) as a model of what can happen when governments deregulate their economies, crediting former prime minister Bob Hawke with “a series of significant but painful reforms, especially in labor market reform.” Greenspan also pointed to the tariff reductions and the floating of the Australian dollar, which he said “sparked an amazing economic turnaround.”

Another article reports that
“In the past two weeks, the International Monetary Fund and international credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s have both heaped praise on the performance of the Australian economy and its economic management.”
Carpe Diem

Housing Market Continues to Soften

WASHINGTONExisting-home sales slipped 0.2% in July to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 5.75 million homes, the lowest in five years, according to the National Association of Realtors (see top chart above). The median sales price dropped to $228,900, down 0.6% from the July 2006 level, which was the highest on record.

Inventories of homes for sale jumped 5.1% to 4.59 million, or about 9.6 months of supply at the current sales pace (see bottom chart above). A supply of about six months generally indicates a balanced market.
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Africa Leads the World in the Creation of Red Tape

The World Bank just released its “Doing Business 2008″ report, an annual study that tracks a set of regulatory indicators related to business startup, operation, getting credit, trade, payment of taxes and closing a business, by measuring the time and cost associated with various government requirements in 178 countries.

The top 10 and bottom 10 countries are displayed above (click to enlarge) for the “Ease of Doing Business Index,” along with the GDP per capita of those countries. As expected, the more favorable the overall business climate, the higher the income per capital. Poor countries are poor and remain poor because they stifle private businesses, especially in Africa, which has 9 of the bottom 10 countries, and 19 of the bottom 20. Here are the complete rankings.

From the FT Times: “The U.S. may be the economic superpower, and China the new manufacturing powerhouse, but there is one industry in which Africa still leads the world: the manufacture of red tape. This year’s edition of “Doing Business” is a depressing but important reminder of what we already knew: poor countries tend to stifle their economies with impossibly burdensome regulations, while most rich countries let entrepreneurs start businesses, buy and sell property, and ship goods through customs.

Read a Business Week report here, and an article from Financial Express in India here.

Bottom Line: Wealth, income, jobs and prosperity are created by businesses that start and operate in the private sector of the economy. Business-friendly countries create wealth, income, jobs and prosperity, and business-unfriendly countries don’t.

Carpe Diem

Why “Free” Municipal Wireless Has Flopped It’s hard to dislike the idea of free municipal wireless Internet access. Imagine your town as an oversized Internet cafe, with invisible packets floating everywhere as free as the air we breathe. That fanciful vision inspired many cities to announce the creation of free wireless networks in recent years. This summer, reality hit—one city after another has either canceled deployments or offered a product that’s hardly up to the hype. In Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, and even San Francisco, once-promising projects are in trouble. What happened—was the idea all wrong?


Setting up a large wireless network isn’t as expensive as installing wires into people’s homes, but it still costs a lot of money. Not billions, but still millions. To recover costs, the private “partner” has to charge for service. But if the customer already has a cable or telephone connection to his home, why switch to wireless unless it is dramatically cheaper or better? In typical configurations, municipal wireless connections are slower, not dramatically cheaper, and by their nature less reliable than existing Internet services. Those facts have put muni Wi-Fi in the same deathtrap that drowned every other company that peddled a new Net access scheme.