Previously published on Friday, May 27th 2016 on pacbiztimes.com By Matthew Fienup As forecasts of torrential El Nino rains have given way to the hard reality of another year of drought on the Central Coast, calls to punish farmers or to seize farmers’ water are once again being voiced. Not only do these calls embody… Read more

In his book The End of Alchemy, former Bank of England Chairman Mervyn King has presented a riveting treatise on banking, monetary policy, financial crises and financial regulation.   The title of the book refers to what King calls the “alchemy” of banking, whereby liquid and safe deposits are transformed into illiquid, risky loans and securities. … Read more

We need to find a way to separate our fiscal and monetary policies. Previously published on June 17, 2016 on city-journal.org Never heard of fiscal dominance? Don’t worry, you have lots of company. Even many economists are unfamiliar with the term. That’s going to change, though, as more and more Western governments careen toward insolvency.… Read more

Like the Orcas at Sea World, the mortgage market has been coddled by government support for more than half a century.  Having decided Orcas would be better off in the wild, Sea World has announced that it will no longer seek to capture Orcas or to breed them in the park.  However, due to concern… Read more

When talking about the national debt, people tend to use absolute metrics like the size of the outstanding federal debt ($19 trillion total, $14 trillion held by the public) or ratios like the ratio the outstanding debt to GDP.  Instead of trying to fathom the raw numbers, it is a good idea to scale by… Read more

In previous blogs we have discussed appropriate debt levels for nonfinancial companies and for large banks.  What about for the individual household?  Sometimes, households are ‘credit-constrained’ in that they cannot find borrowers to lend them their desired amounts.  In economic booms, like the housing boom that preceded the 2007-2008 crisis, lending standards tend to soften… Read more

Previously published on April 14, 2016 on Newgeography.com  Most commentary on California’s decision to increase the state minimum wage to $15 over time is either along the lines of it being a boon to minimum-wage workers and their families or a disaster for California’s economy.  Neither is accurate.  Different regions sill see different outcomes.  Central… Read more

Large banks (think of Wells Fargo, Citicorp, JP Morgan and Bank of America) today hold equity capital roughly equal to about ten percent of total assets.  Inverting that ratio we get assets to equity of ten times or leverage as commonly defined (debt divided by equity, instead of assets divided by equity) of nine times. … Read more

By Bill Watkins – Previously Published in the Pacific Coast Business Times In popular culture, there are “good” industries and “evil” industries. Oil has held the most hated position of the evil list for generations and is likely to hold it until there is no more oil. Farming, once solidly on the good list, is… Read more

In a recent made-for-TV movie actor Richard Dreyfuss plays hedge fund manager Bernie Madoff, creator of one of the all-time great Ponzi Schemes. A Ponzi Scheme, named after an Italian crook of the early 20th century, is a fraud in which a proprietor (like Bernie) accepts money from investors based on a claim to be… Read more

Previously published on February 13, 2016 on Newgeography.com   It is an article of faith among California’s political class that insufficient higher educational opportunities are a constraint on California’s economic and job growth.  Just about every California economic development document includes a discussion of California’s desperate need for more college graduates. Unfortunately, the facts disagree with… Read more

Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, the Big Short is a movie about several hedge fund managers who identified cracks in the mortgage market in 2005-2007 and attempted to bet on a collapse in the market for mortgage-backed securities (MBS). In particular these managers noted that underwriting standards on mortgage… Read more

Written by Bill Watkins Previously published January 19, 2016 at newgeography.com. Every now and then, something happens to cause California’s comfortable establishment to celebrate the state’s economy.  Recent budget surpluses and jobs data have provided several opportunities, never mind that these are hardly summary statistics.  They don’t tell the complete story. The celebrants conveniently ignore… Read more

What is the right amount of debt for a particular borrower? This depends on the borrower.  Are we talking about a corporation, a bank, a household, a government entity, or an investment fund?  At a very high level, it seems that some debt can be beneficial, while too much debt can be detrimental.  Sort of… Read more

At the ASSA economics conference on Sunday, I attended a session on the equilibrium real (inflation adjusted) interest rate.  This topic was being discussed in particular as a metric relating to sluggish U.S. economic growth since the Great Recession. First, some presenters documented empirically that real interest rates since 1860 has had episodes, some of… Read more