Fine Art Auction Sales Reflect Confidence in the Economy

Fine art is a status symbol, both in societal terms and economic terms. The uber-wealthy pull out their wallets at art auctions hosted by Christie’s and Sotheby’s every year and contest for collectable pieces by the world’s greatest artists. The prices naturally fluctuate with the ebbs and flows of the global economy so when buyers up the ante, those price tags can be used as a gauge for confidence in the market. The more money people have, the more likely they will spend it. According to the Washington Post, Christie’s auction house set a record this year by auctioning off the most expensive painting in history. Leonardo da Vinci’s, “Saviour of the World” (Salvador Mundi) was auctioned off for an astounding $450,312,500, shattering the previous record by over $270 million dollars. Spending that kind of money on a collector’s item is a direct result of the economy as a whole and the conviction the wealthy have in it.

Economic indicators come in many forms, but art is one that could be considered unorthodox given only the wealthiest of society participate. Art auctions like Christie’s is an interesting way to look at the health of the economy. Price tags like the one on Leonardo da Vinci’s painting are not small and the growing economy allows for pieces like that to go for hundreds of millions of dollars. Fortune magazine examines the art auction market a little deeper saying “robust sales are a sign the world’s wealthiest people feel bullish—making a recovering art market something that point-one-percenters and the other 99.9% can be equally excited about.” The art industry as a whole has been in a slump since 2015 so the numbers being reflected in this year’s auctions are a good sign for the industry and the shareholders of the auction houses. Confidence in the buyers also creates confidence in the sellers. That confidence stems from a myriad of elements including a sky-high Dow Jones, planned tax cuts from the Trump administration and other indicators that signifying a robust marketplace.
According to the New York Times, the tax cuts also include a provision that restricts “high-end art investors to sell works and quickly replace them with pieces of similar value and [thus] defer paying federal taxes.” If passed, this loophole in the system could potentially halt liquidity in the U.S. market to some extent because people will sell less and not have as much money to spend. With that being said, the current art market is sitting pretty at $60 billion, but is mostly made up of pieces that go for $1 or $2 million, unlike da Vinci’s piece, with buyers who hope to use those “smaller” purchases as an investment that they can gain profit on by resale down the road. The fact that material objects can generate this much revenue is surprising in a time where people are starting to value experiences more and more in society. Although it is not the strongest indicator, the confidence in the art market is very telling in a macro-economic sense. It will be interesting to see how long the confidence remains and if the economy really starts to reflect the experience-leaning consumerist shift or if fine art will continue to be as expensive. In the art world, some of the wealthiest people in the world invest in timeless pieces of art that also help excite a market that only the 1% can participate in. Fine art as an economic indicator is one that you will only see thriving when the economy is hot, and thriving to the extent where a few hundred million dollars is spent on a single work of art. That is not chump change, so when that kind of money is used to purchase a collector’s item, it is easy to assume that the economy is doing well and expected to do so for the near future.

China Decides To Take Out The Trash, but At What Cost?

The world has a lot of recyclables, especially Americans. When I say a lot, I mean billions worth. According to Bloomberg, “by the mid-2000s, scrap paper was among the leading U.S. exports to China by volume.” China has been the largest importer of the world’s recycled goods for some time now as a result of the hunger it’s manufacturing boom caused. In order to feed the consumerist beast of The United States and others, China needs the scrap to keep up without breaking its bank. It is cheaper for China to import recycled scrap as opposed to making steel, paper, cardboard, etc. on their own so it seems like a win-win for the country. In July of 2017, China’s government announced it will stop eating up a majority of the world’s recyclables and will no longer be the world’s recycling bin. The government made this decision due to environmental concerns. Reuters reported that China told the World Trade Organization that in order “to protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid wastes list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted.”

The environmental concerns are outweighing the trade benefits for China and they have for some time time now. In 2013, according to The Economist, the Chinese government launched Operation Green Fence to try and lessen the amount of foreign, low-quality waste from entering the country. This new announcement by the Chinese government is proposing to cut off a majority of recyclable imports for the sake of the environment. China is facing a $5 billion loss in trade with this proposal according to a report by The Economist. As of 2016, Reuters stated that China imported $3.7 billion worth of waste. This decision to choke scrap imports will rattle the global economy significantly.

Not only will China be heavily affected, but the United States will be too. Exporting waste takes work and work means more American jobs. Bloomberg reported that 40,000 Americans have jobs due to the exportation of recyclables. When China blocks the trading of trash, about 40,000 Americans will be left without a job and the American landfills will fill back up. The cost is significant as well. There could be a trickle-down effect here into individual American homes as well. If it begins to cost too much for smaller recycling companies, or even some larger ones to pay for more workers or equipment, this could mean the separation of waste could fall directly on the individual. The loss of this huge benefit to the trade deficit between China and the United States will leave many cargo ships empty of exports to take back to China.

With that being said, the recycling market will remain afloat, but domestically and at a smaller scale. According to Dylan de Thomas, vice president of industry collaboration for the Recycling Partnership, “the really large waste and recycling companies have a vested interest in the recycled fiber and plastic markets.” Not only large companies, but the general public in the United States has a vested interest in recycling as well. Due to America’s own concern for the environment, we may only see a small effect on the American economy as whole, but only time will tell if the United States can pick up where China left off or have to figure out a new strategy.

 

The Economic Side Effects of the Affordable Care Act on the Health of the Nation’s Economy

Disrupting America’s existing healthcare system was not going to be easy, but President Obama centered his legacy legislation around the effort. According to the Commonwealth Fund, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents the most fundamental change to the structure of U.S. insurance markets in decades.” The disruption was a long time coming and the need for charge originally stemmed from many problems, but most notably, rising healthcare premiums. Please see the data below from The Commonwealth Fund which exhibits the rise in premiums over just 3 years:

Something needed to change and President Obama saw this market failure as an opportunity for intervention. When introducing the bill, President Obama articulated the reasons why the change was necessary at a speech in Maryland. He stated, “I knew that if we didn’t do something about our unfair and inefficient health care system, it would keep driving up our deficits, it would keep burdening our businesses, it would keep hurting our families, and it would keep holding back economic growth.” Fast forward to 2017. Looking at the healthcare system before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and now 7 years later in 2017, there have been notable market effects that are worth looking into.

First, the Affordable Care Act introduced more patients into the healthcare market by expanding insurance to more people. Health Affairs summarized the way The Affordable Care Act expanded health insurance in three ways: “the expansion of Medicaid to cover the poorest segment of the population (those with annual incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level), health insurance subsidies on the new exchanges for low- and medium-income people (those with annual incomes of 100–400 percent of poverty) who lack access to employer coverage or Medicaid, and a mandate for the uninsured to buy coverage.” When there are more people in the market, subsequently there is more business for the market. According to an article The New York Times published just one year after the Affordable Care Act became law, it reported that the stock market actually performed quite well for hospitals, drug companies and for-profit health insurers and that “the S&P 500 Health Care Index rose by 24 percent over the last year, outperforming the overall stock market.”

However, with a growing pool of healthcare recipients, greater risk is inevitable. Before the Affordable Care Act, people with pre-existing conditions who did not have access to insurance from the government or their employers, did not have many options for gaining healthcare coverage. Now, those high-risk patients are qualified for insurance coverage under the law and put on an equal playing field with healthy patients. Although more people are getting coverage, the new people being introduced into the pool are mostly poorer, sicker people. The Kaiser Family Foundation looked deeper into how the addition of higher-risk people would fluctuate the existing premiums. “Prohibiting discrimination against people with pre-existing health conditions will tend to raise premiums as higher cost individuals who have previously been excluded from the market buy coverage,” Kaiser concluded but eased worry with the fact that “this may be offset by an influx of younger and healthier people, due to the ACA’s individual mandate and premium subsidies for low- and middle-income people buying insurance in new health insurance marketplaces (also known as exchanges).”

Secondly, not only has more risk entered the market, but new economic restrictions have been placed on the insurance industry. With more people and more insurance companies, competition within the market is heightened. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states had the opportunity to opt of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. As a result, some state governments now have differing policies and rules for the insurance market. According to Kaiser, insurers are being more closely monitored by not only the federal government, but some individual state governments, including a cap on how much those insurers can make from coverage of individuals. Not only are insurers being restricted, but hospitals are as well. The New York Times reports that “hospitals are being hurt by a provision of the law that cuts their Medicare payments by $260 billion over 10 years, but they have benefited from having more insured customers who can pay their bills.”

So it seems the healthcare market has a way of naturally balancing what seem to be significant effects on its existing market, but of course with change, there are always winners and losers. So who is suffering the most for the greater good of all Americans? The answer:  Middle class, healthy Americans who already had health insurance before the Affordable Care Act became law. Yahoo Finance reported people who have already purchased insurance plans, because they could afford it or qualified for the existing coverage, had their coverage cancelled because it did not meet the new requirements by law of the Affordable Care Act. The market once again balanced out according to a study done by Health Affairs, concluding that most of the Americans who had to exchange their plans were probably going to switch anyway and were mostly likely getting a better a deal on their new plan than if they were to purchase it before the Affordable Care Act came into play.

Naturally, there are outliers in this situation. Brenda Laster, a 49-year-old self-employed, single mom of two living in Rogersville, Tennessee is one of the losers in this situation. She claims, “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee provided me with good coverage and access to good doctors and I didn’t want to switch. Now I am paying more for coverage and I don’t see a difference.” People like Brenda get the short end of the stick with the Affordable Care Act, but it seems as if it is a necessary evil to improve healthcare for all Americans in the future.

Kentucky has some similar cases as well. A spokesperson from the Majority Leader’s Office states that “middle class Kentuckians are hurt the most by the ACA because of the increasing costs. Because the costs keep rising, many of the healthy middle class individuals are leaving the market and paying the penalty instead.” This is bad for the middle class, but so many poor and sick Kentuckians, especially in the Appalachian region, are now getting access to insurance, which as mentioned before, is offset by the inclusion of younger, healthier people into the market. The healthy people are subsidizing the sick and those with pre-existing conditions, which is helping ease more people into the market, providing a way for the government to get involved and address some of the inherent problems President Obama mentioned earlier, without breaking their own bank.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the sacrifice of some will pay off for our economy as a whole. The New York Times reported “the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that hospitals will save $5.7 billion in so-called uncompensated care costs this year because more people have insurance. And nearly three-quarters of those savings, $4.2 billion, has gone to the 25 states and the District of Columbia that expanded Medicaid at the beginning of 2014.” The temporary pain will be worth the long term gain for the healthcare market as a whole, because improvements have already been made. The New York Times also reported progress back in 2014 stating “the last few years have seen a significant slowdown in the growth of health spending. Across nearly every measure — medical price growthemployer insurance premiumsper capita Medicare spending — the amounts the country spends on health care have increased by much smaller margins than the nation is used to.” However, we have to take the decrease in health spending with a grain of salt. Kaiser conducted a study that found that “because GDP and inflation influence health spending with a significant lag, the effects of economic cycles on the health system are not always apparent from looking at such simple relationships.This study is essentially saying it is possible the Affordable Care Act could not be the only reason for the decrease in health spending and that GDP, inflation and even global economic trends can also play a role in that decrease.

For most middle class Kentuckians and Brenda Lasters of the population, it seems unfair but the pros will outweigh the temporary cons in terms of the Affordable Care Act having a positive economic effect on the healthcare market. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act was always going to attract political controversy because change usually does, but from an economic perspective, the data supports a mostly positive impact on the economy as a whole. After 7 years of the Affordable Care Act being embedded in the economy, alterations to the law would have a significant impact on all Americans. CNN gathered research from the Congressional Budget Office estimating that “repealing Obamacare would increase Medicare spending by $802 billion over 10 years.” President Obama’s legacy legislation had the intent of disrupting the current economic market and disrupt it has. Current debate of removing the law and replacing it will have just as much of an economic impact as introducing the Affordable Care Act in the first place.

 

 

 

 

How is the Economy Weathering the Storm?     

It is not surprising that the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey is significant. Not only did the consecutive hurricanes demolish everything in their paths, they could also have a significant impact on the GDP as a whole. Goldman Sachs “sees GDP expanding by 2% during the period, down 0.8 percentage points from its previous forecast” after the destruction took place in Texas, Florida and Louisiana. Hurricane Irma has racked up more expenses and impacted more people than Hurricane Harvey, which hit just a month prior, and Hurricane Katrina back in 2014. Even if the hurricanes weakened before it hit land and resulted in minimal to no damage, the preparation, evacuation and complete halt to a segment of the economy is significant and that does not include the damage in the aftermath. As for direct impacts to the GDP, accrued loss to oil and energy will have an impact on the GDP growth. Not only do the hurricanes ruin working infrastructure, but it displaces the people responsible for consumption and production. Depending on how quickly everything can be reconstructed, that displacement could last a while. Another aspect of the measurement of damage is that the real accumulation of destruction cannot be determined until the water is cleared, a majority of the city is cleaned up and the economy moves forward. It just takes time to measure the breadth of the storms in the aftermath. With that being said, these are all predictions for how the economy will be ultimately impacted at this time. Like we have mentioned in class, confidence is a key factor as a leading indicator for the economy. So, if people think that the damage is a lot worse than it is, the market will reflect that with people pulling out of investments from the areas and businesses affected by the storms.

Not only are the economic environments in the states where the hurricanes hit affected, but the entire country could feel the ripple effect of those record-breaking storms. According to JLT Re, a global reinsurance brokerage and consulting firm, “the estimated U.S. insured losses, excluding any National Flood Insurance Program claims, are $20 billion to $25 billion from Harvey and $40 billion to $60 billion from Irma.” Keep in mind, it is still too early to tell the exact effects of the hurricanes and if it causes a significant impact on Americans who live outside of the areas hit. The government will be responsible for a big chunk of the cost due flood insurance, which is not included in home owner’s insurance and is the government’s responsibility. Both hurricanes have the potential to be two of the most expensive, not only from an economic perspective, but a human one, which does not look promising for the commercial property insurance market.

But, from a Keynesian perspective, there will be financial and personal suffering initially, however, in terms of the greater economy, it will not be too disastrous and probably be better for jobs and the construction business. With reconstruction and relief efforts, a lot of money will be pumped back into the economy of those respective cities which will allow the economy to somewhat bounce back. I know there does not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel at the moment, but the economy will weather this storm and re-stabilize. It will just take time. It definitely did not ease the blow that two devastating hurricanes hit within a month of one another, there is a potential Hurricane Jose on the horizon and more, but our flexible economy will be alright, even if it is at the cost of short term anguish.

Trump’s Tweets and the Dow

President Trump’s recent election has been accompanied by many ups and downs for the United States, but in terms of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Trump administration has proved to be a healthy change. After the election, excitement around the new president’s policy promises caused the Dow to soar to record-breaking heights. It reached 22,000 even in the midst of unrest in the administration’s leadership according to CNN. It is interesting to note the disconnect between political turmoil and the Dow as of late. President Trump’s administration has set many precedents so far and one is the number of high-level advisors that have left the president’s side in such a short window of time. With that being said, the Dow has not been severely affected. The president continues to be its biggest cheerleader and tweets predictions about it as well. CNN notes that not only is this unheard of for a president to weigh in so frequently about the stock market, but to target the Dow specifically in his comments is new. This recent rhetoric surrounding the stock market is not only unprecedented, but it will not last. The market is constantly fluctuating and what goes up, must come down. It will be interesting to see how the new president reacts to the Dow going in the opposite direction. Will he remain outspoken or zip his lips? While we are all inclined to look at all of president Trump’s statements with a grain of salt, the Dow does actually indicate the economy is doing well. CNN Money questions if that the rise of the Dow is due to the new president’s pro-business agenda or lasting effects of President Obama’s rule? We will never know. Nonetheless, confidence is high in the stock market since the election in 2016 and as an economic indicator, the Dow is providing no need to worry about the market’s health. What is on the horizon though, is the reality that the stock market is a malleable entity and it will fluctuate. Confidence and campaign promises are keeping the Dow in an upward rise these days and despite threats of Russian probes and potential for a missile attack from North Korea, the stock market has remained stable for the most part. Stay tuned for more updates on the continuing saga of an interesting correlation between a rocky administration and a unique rise of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in next week’s edition of “Trump’s Tweets.”

 

Sources: http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/20/investing/trump-wall-street-stock-market-record/index.html

http://money.cnn.com/2017/08/02/investing/dow-22000-trump-apple-wall-street/index.html

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-tweet-shows-hes-a-dow-jones-industrial-average-man-2017-08-01