Baby Names, Retail Sales, & Housing Stats
Week in Review: May 15-19
Last week, we said that something looked off with the initial unemployment claims data from Massachusetts and that it was skewing the nationwide claims data. Sure enough, the huge increase in claims in MA was due to fraudulent attempts to get unemployment insurance. Some things never change. This week brought us fewer mysteries but some useful data releases on retail sales (Tuesday), new residential construction (Wednesday), existing home sales (Thursday), and more.
Robert Lucas Passes Away
Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas passed away on Monday. Truly one of the great economists, you can read about him in Bloomberg, NPR, WSJ, and in several other outlets. This quote (posted by Pat Horan of GMU) is a good example of the quality of his writing:
Rates of growth of real per capita GNP are also diverse, even over sustained periods. For 1960-80 we observe, for example: India, 1.4% per year; Egypt, 3.4%; South Korea, 7.0%; Japan, 7.1%; the United States, 2.3%; the industrial economies averaged 3.6%. To obtain from growth rates the number of years it takes for incomes to double, divide these numbers into 69 (the log of 2 times 100). Then Indian incomes will double every 50 years; Korean every 10. An Indian will, on average, be twice as well off as his grandfather; a Korean 32 times. These differences are at least as striking as differences in income levels, and in some respects more trustworthy, since within-country income comparisons are easier to draw than across-country comparisons.
Gas prices inched just barely higher but, at $3.647/gallon, are about $0.94 lower than they were one year ago. That helps explain why consumer sentiment, which is rather low, remains a bit higher than it was when Russia’s especially ridiculous war in Ukraine was in its earliest stages.
TSA Checkpoint Travel Numbers
Travel numbers for the week ending 5/16/2023 were 3.2% below numbers for the same week in 2019. That’s the largest gap since the second week of April. My feeling is that the consumer is beginning to pull back on discretionary purchases, and travel is starting to be impacted. Perhaps you saw the numbers from Home Depot this week, which also suggest that the consumer is pulling back in the face of still higher than average inflation, borrowing costs, and debt.
SSA Popular Baby Names
The Social Security Administration announced the most popular baby names of 2022. Liam and Olivia defended their crowns as the most popular names for boys and girls, respectively. If you don’t know a Liam, you will soon — there have been more than 100,000 of them born in the past 5 years.
The biggest takeaway here is the rise of the name Maverick, which was used 6,991 times last year, good enough to enter the top 40 male baby names. This is, obviously, a result of the popularity of my Tom Cruise-themed economic presentation, Show Me the Money (Supply).
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