Economy

  Yes I miss in-person presentations, a lot actually, but cool that we can still keep the conversations going. Here I am on someone's laptop (you can see his coffee mug to the right) as I speak to the Ontario Municipal Human Resources Association fall conference...

It may have been a bit of a struggle to make it work, but the pandemic has forced many companies to keep their teams intact even when they are not under the same roof.  As workers have de-camped to far-flung places, perhaps permanently, we are...

When we think about the words that go with 'leadership', 'heart' is rarely among them but perhaps it should be. The pandemic has shown us that business as usual is no longer going to get the job done, and as well we are all acutely...

Freelance work something of a controversial workforce trend. To some, it is the dreaded gig economy, those who are forced to work on contracts or driving ride shares because they cannot find that holy grail, the full-time job. To others though, it represents freedom, the ability to...

Was so great to speak to Manitoba Tech's Disrupted Future conference last week..I spoke about the future of work, which is scary and challenging but something we need to come to terms with now. There is lots to be optimistic about, and I think people...

Let's face facts: tech is indeed replacing workers, especially at places like grocery stores where simple functions like scanning labels can be done without employees. A labor group in Oregon wants to legislate that away, but can you even do that? Read more here in...

Maybe we will have a recession, maybe we won't, and anyway by all means use a different word if you prefer.'Slowdown', 'Soft Patch', 'Downturn', any of them will do, and any might describe where the economy will be by next year. If we do hit...

One of the big worries regarding the future of work is that jobs are going to disappear altogether, replaced by breathtaking technology and clever robots. That is happening to an extent, but apparently some dregs are being left for humans, for better or work. 'Ghost...

When I speak to employer groups about the future of work, they are often keen to know what they should do to both attract and hold on to workers. In tight markets, that often means attract anyone, anyone at all, they are not fussy. Still,...

The future of work is a huge subject, not one that can really be tackled by in a forty minute period, but we gave it a shot at the Globe and Mail's recent Future Forward conference. I was part of a panel that touched on...

Industrial revolutions are always kind of scary, at least for those who have to make a living. The idea that some crazy new technology can do your job, and maybe do it better..well who can blame the Luddites of the 19th century who took hammers...

It always happens the same way: the economy slow and births go down, and then it gets better and there is a mini baby boom. Except - not this time. It is ten years after the end of the recession and births in the U.S..and...

No one is saying central bankers ever had an easy job, but at least in days gone by it used to be a bit more straightforward.  If labor was in short supply wages went up and people had more money to spend and prices went...

Whenever I speak before an audience I inevitably bring up the subject of demographics, because to me it is the aging-elephant in the room. Whether I am engaged to talk about the economic outlook or about interest rates or about the future of work, it...

The 'nine-nine-six culture' (working nine to nine, six days a week) is something close to the norm for Chinese tech workers who are supposed to embrace it with no complaints. Now, some are pushing back on it, and employers are not thrilled (and are not...

After this Globe and Mail column came out, I had a friend call and ask whether he should re-jig his portfolio to get rid of his auto stocks. The piece is about demographics, and specifically about the implications of the fact that people spend differently...

Jobs come and jobs go, but are the ones that are coming as good as the ones that we are losing? I was taken by some new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which looked at the job titles being added and found a...

It's a new year so how better to celebrate it than by throwing away all the junk you bought last year? And the one before that, and before that? Seems like so many of us have piles of unwanted 'stuff' and nothing feels better than...

I recently had the chance to do a great interview with Anne Gaviola of VICE on 'How Not to be Replaced by a Robot at Work'. For those of you who are not aware, VICE is a site that primarily attracts those under the age...

In my latest column for the Globe and Mail I write about the controversial subject of a robot tax. In one sense it is fair enough: if  you hire workers you have to pay a payroll tax, so if you go with robots (or cobots,...

Work Is Not a Place (the new book) is officially out on December 9th which is exciting..has been a long process (but a fun one too. Some days.). In the meantime, I have been out talking about the subject of it, which is basically the...

We have kind of been moving to a winner-take-all world for a while, but a decade after the recession the trend only seems to be intensifying.  The McKinsey Global Institute did a pretty thorough job of looking at the phenomenon in a recent paper, making...

Here is my latest Globe and Mail column an d it is kind of radical. Given that lives are getting longer, should we think about starting careers later,  maybe as late as 40? Crazy right? Maybe, but maybe we need to at least open our minds...

There are a lot of things robots can do, but they cannot make societies any younger. Canada and the U.S. are aging – there is little debate about that. What exactly that will mean for the labor force and the economy is a bit more up...

If I had to think of an industry prone to poisonous industrial relations battles I would probably think first or the auto sector, or maybe even something like education or health. The battles in those industries, however, are apparently being matched by orchestras (can I...

Collaboration, sharing ideas, boosting creativity, creating bonds – all of these are reasons that are typically given for having open plan workspaces. Sit next to your colleagues in an open plan office or cubicle, goes the reasoning, and productivity will rise. Not so, says new...

Maybe I’m late to the party, but it was only recently that I heard the phrase ‘side hustle’. Apparently it has been around a while: way back in 2013, Entrepreneur.com tacked up an online definition, calling ‘a way to make some extra cash that allows...

Amongst the problems with the Sharing Economy – and its offshoot, the Gig Economy – is the fact that shares in it tend to be pretty unequal. In fact, even more than is the case of a usual employee-employer relationship, oftentimes the ‘employee’ in this...

Here’s a new one to me: the ‘divorce mortgage’. No its not some crazy, invented term to describe a financing vehicle (my mind went back to ‘plain vanilla swaps’ from the days when derivatives were the buzz), but rather exactly what it sounds like: a...

You might not have noticed it, what with one economic crisis and stock market meltdown after another grabbing your attention, but the last few decades have actually been great ones for investors. Thanks to a perfect storm of factors, investment returns for the period from...

Goodness knows, there is nothing better for the economy that productive workers. After all, an economy grows through having people working, and by having their hours at work be efficient. That can come through having them use the right equipment, or just by having them...

We all know the how the narrative goes: manufacturing is dead, and those old cities known as industrial centers are as well. It is not a hard case to make it if you take a quick tour of places like Pittsburgh or Detroit in the...

Twenty and thirtysomethings would apparently rather buy experiences than things, and that has some very definite implications for retailers – or as least that is one theory. As this article from Bloomberg Business suggests, the stock market tells the tale of what is happening very...

Way back when I studied economics, I don’t actually remember learning what a ‘negative interest rate’ was. In fact, even a few years ago when I taught graduate-level economics (a whole other post), I don’t remember it being in the curriculum, or even being asked...

Is Mickey Mouse a snob? According to this article from the blog Theme Park Insider (reprinted by Quartz), while once Disney (NYSE: DIS)  was all about welcoming the middle class into its parks, these days you have to be rich to party with the well-heeled...

I admit, I have watched television shows set in law firms for a long time now. When I was young and impressionable, I watched the excitement on L.A. Law and was intrigued enough to eventually take the Law School Admissions Test (I did get accepted...

Everybody hates the suburbs right? Or at least all the cool people. They talk about a return to the downtowns, about walkable spaces, about riding bikes to work. It is all interesting stuff, but are people really rallying against the suburbs? Any look at population...

How can a city with a unemployment rate of 19 percent scoff at any industry, especially one that accounts for 15 percent of its GDP? That was my first thought when I heard that the city of Barcelona is actively pursuing a strategy to keep...

There are so many facets of the shuttle-bus-to-Silicon-Valley story that fascinate me. The fact that people are willing to commute a fair distance to be able to live in San Francisco while working for tech companies 60 miles away has big implications, and not just...

Was it all big one fun, Technicolor roller-coaster ride never to repeated? The economic growth of the past fifty years was awesome, at least in a historical context. Question is, was it a one-time-only, and are we destined to go back to the sluggish economic...

How would you like free college tuition for you and for your kids? It would really take the pressure off, right? Of course you’d take it if offered – but what if there was a catch, the catch being really high taxes forever? That’s the...

Here is the good news for U.S. restaurants: it costs less to fill those SUVs and minivans these days, so some of the saved money is going to be spent eating out. (Blooming Onions for everyone!). The bad news? That windfall to restaurants is not...

Former Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries (yes, I said ‘former’, he stepped down today) said some pretty dumb and offensive things about who he wanted his clientele to be. If the company’s numbers were good nobody might have cared, but in this retail environment he rightly...

Do you go to the mall? I used to, quite a bit actually. In the 70s, 80s, 90s, even the 00s – the mall was the place to buy stuff, and I liked stuff as much as any child and young woman in North America....

Trust me, I am not saying that ‘Oprah’s Favorite Things’ are a good approximation of anyone’s holiday shopping list. Still, I think it is an economic indicator, of a type, just the same. The Queen of Daytime Talk (and the Forbes-magazine certified 580th richest person in...

Everybody has their favorite so called-called ‘bellwether’ company, the one that tells you where the economy is going if you scan its fortunes. A lot of people like Federal Express, since tracking shipments tells you a lot about the level of activity. Another favorite is...

Advertising, television, media – they sound like cool places to work right? What with Mad Men like a giant commercial for the glamorous industry of advertising, I imagine more people than ever are lusting after careers writing copy and crafting campaigns. Maybe though, their better...

I never thought I would admire Mallory Keaton, but I really do. Okay, the person I admire is actress Justine Bateman, not Mallory Keaton, the ditzy teenager she played on television show Family Ties (it ran from 1982 through 1989). For those of us who grew...

Freelancing, the best thing ever to happen to the workplace or an evil idea designed to make workers poor and companies inefficient? We are not even close to a consensus on that, but apparently we are getting closer. According to one new study, 41 percent...

Is being a ‘solopreneur’ – someone who basically runs their own shop –a good thing or a bad thing for the economy? We had better figure it out, because apparently the number of them (us actually, I am one as well) are increasing a phenomenal...

If you grew up watching The Jetsons, how can you be afraid of Robots? And really, given that it the show about the space age family has run in repeats forever (it was first broadcast in the early 1960s, and then some new episodes were...

Call them shallow if you will, but when scouting for men women generally prefer those with jobs. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, fully 78 percent of never-married women say that finding someone with a steady job would be ‘very important’ to...

Can’t you just hear executives around the world gnashing their teeth? Now that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has an approved a ‘take as much vacation as you want’ policy, there is going to be pressure for other companies to offer them as well. Question...

Here’s a a dry news headline that buried in the back pages of business sections yesterday but deserves a closer look: according to debt-ratings service Moody’s, the 25 largest U.S. public pensions face about $2 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Translation: unless something changes, retiring U.S....

Oscar the Grouch as a great innovator? Well, not exactly, but apparently Sesame Street, the venerable children’s television show now in its 45th year, has taken a pro-active view of innovation for a long time. Give the show’s longevity, perhaps there are lessons for other...

Fifty dollars a bottle and priced just right. Now, I’m not talking about a delightful little bottle of burgundy that goes nicely with braised lamb shanks for autumn dinners. The burgundy, after all, would be 25 ounces worth. I’m talking about a bottle of nail...

It is not the first time, and it probably will not be the last, but International Monetary Fund (IMF) President Christine Lagarde is urging women to enter the Japanese labor force and at least buffer the effect of a rapidly aging society on the economy....

I really don’t think Serena Williams needs any sympathy from me, particularly when it comes to talking about earnings, but it still bothers me a bit that she is frequently referred to as one of the ‘highest earning female athletes ever’, rather than just ‘highest...

Of course I like Whole Foods. How can you not? It is like going to a carnival, almost. The cheeses are beautifully displayed with generous samples offered, the prepared food aisles are filled with yummy products you never knew you wanted, the flowers are always...

Want to deal with the problem of income inequality? The answer is not, as many argue, to simply do a Robin Hood steal-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor thing. According to a new study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) , the best way to deal with inequities is to...

When you hear about the hard times for today’s graduates do you nod sympathetically while secretly rolling your eyes? If you are older than 20something yourself, you may well believe that things have always been tough for new grads, and that no, things are not...

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is out with their new Employment Outlook and – as these things go – it is a fairly upbeat piece in that they do see the big picture improving, particularly in countries like Canada. Beyond the big...

I admit, I have some qualms about the idea of bikes and cars co-existing peacefully together. I live in Toronto, the location of many a pitched battle about what should be built for whom and how much it is worth spending on roads or bike...

Well, it is not a popular position in the media these days, but yes I am in favour of the Temporary Foreign Workers program. Read my reasons - and they have everything to do with labour supply and keeping the economy functioning - in this...

The news on U.S. personal incomes over the past decade or so has been pretty dismal, and following the recession it has been especially dismal. The one bright spot, however, has been for women who as a gender have somehow managed to move ahead even...

It is kind of an urban myth, if you’ll pardon the pun: there is a story afoot that people are leaving the suburbs and moving back to the cities. I’ve written about the trend myself, but honestly perhaps the best evidence that it is true...

The first chapter of my book Economorphics deals with the  closing of the 'demographic window'. Taking things a bit further, in this Commentary piece for the Macdonald Laurier Institute I look at the implication for Canada of a closing window- and how the country can maybe...

See my Globe and Mail Economy Lab blog here ...

Not quite the end of the year, but still a good time to take stock of where the jobs were in 2012. See my post on the Globe and Mail's Economy Lab here...

September really is like a New Year.  Not only does school get into full swing, but everyone is back and work – and the real trading begins.  Maybe that’s the reason that financial crises are more likely to start in the Autumn than in any other season. Let’s be clear: I am not looking for a wholesale world economic crisis to unfold anytime soon. I do, however, think that the world economy is a little shaky right now, and there are a lot of things that are going to come together to cause some volatility over the next few months, and that investors need to understand them. Here are my top five ‘Things That Could be a Problem for the Global Economy’ : 1. Europe Well, what else could I start with? Yes, the policy-makers have pledged to make things work, and yes the most recent plan by the ECB to buy bonds will help.  Still, Europe is in recession and the Eurozone is unlikely to look the way it does now a few years from now.  That means the risks coming from Europe are not over, not by a long shot. 2.China With Europe as weak as it is, the rest of the world desperately needs China to a source of strength.  Sadly, the last batch of numbers shows this economic powerhouse struggling and growth at the lowest in three years.  Policymakers have made some effort to boost growth – in July they cut the key lending rate for the second time in a month - but they are moving slowly lest they re-ignite an already crazy property market. It is so far so good for commodity prices (and stocks) but a little more slowing from China could hit hard. 3. The U.S. Fiscal Cliff Tick-tock: unless some major compromises are reached in Washington, the U.S. falls off the ‘fiscal cliff’ in a matter of months.  The term refers to the menu of tax hikes and spending cuts that will go into effect at the beginning of 2013 as a deficit measure, and the corresponding havoc they would cause. Unless something changes, the U.S. is headed into at least a short recession- or maybe a longer one – in 2013. Chances are there will be some kind of band-aid measures to stop the worst of the damage – but look for some slowing just the same. 4. Oil Prices Since the end of the Second World War, there have been 11 U.S. recessions  - and eleven of them have been preceded by sharply higher oil prices.  Which makes sense: the U.S. consumer sector accounts for about 70 perent of total U.S. GDP, and the generally speaking, there is not a whole lot of room in U.S. budgets to pay more to fill up the car (let alone the SUV). If the U.S. sees a surge in growth and incomes, rising oil prices may not matter too much.  Barring that scenario, even if Europe and China keep chugging along and there is a compromise reached on the fiscal cliff, high oil prices could pull the U.S. economy into a downturn anyway. 5. Lender Caution Not that you can really blame them, but since the end of the last recession   lender have been notoriously careful about issuing credit.  That’s why interest rates at generational lows – and even at zero in some cases – are not sparking global growth the way they should be. Canada, by the way is a bit of an exception ot the rule – the Bank of Canada’s second quarter Senior Loan Officer Survey showed lending standards loosening up a bit – but that’s probably because our lenders were cautious to start with. If things get shakier over the next few months, credit could get squeezed even more –in North America, and around the world too.  That is not good news for the economy or the markets. Now, none of this is to scare anyone out of the market or to have them pulling their money out of financial institutions.  Still, better to understand and monitor the risks than to blindsided if Autumn gives us more than falling leaves.
  We have heard a lot about the squeezed middle over the past few years.  For the most part, the statistics have focused on the fact that average income have been stagnating (or declining) in both the U.S. and Canada. A close look at the numbers reveals that the number of middle income earners in Canada is shrinking. Thing is, I'm not exactly sure that's as dire as it sounds.
Just took a look at today's release on employment data from Statistics Canada and was underwhelmed by the data.  Looks like Canadian employment is rising, but not really rising all that fast.
Here's a quick quiz - which would you rather do: 1) Live in poverty or 2) Live with your spouse?  A lot of baby boomers seem to be choosing (1), although they may not actually know it.  Trouble is, boomers are ending their marriages in droves, and splitting up what are really very inadequate retirement assets.  So just when it seemed that the baby boomers could not make the dream of retirement even more elusive, they have apparently found a way to do so.
Here's an interesting item from on a possible softening of China's one-child policy.  Faster population in China will not necessarily be the salvation of that economy, and faster economic growth from China will not necessarily be the salvation of the world economy - but it would at least be a start.
Last time, I talked about who the middle-young ratio (ratio of 40somethings to 20somethings in the population) correlated with financial market activity in the U.S. and Canada. A population with a lot of 40somethings poured money into the stock markets through the 1990s, then a slightly older one held back a little on equities. The demographics certainly are not the whole story behind why the markets dipped over the past few years, but they were most certainly a contributing factor.

Aging population – market time bomb?

  Okay, that’s a sensationalistic way to put it, but that’s certainly one of the fears people have about an the shifting demographics in North America. Last time around I looked at how portfolio size tends to trend lower as people go past 65. All things being equal, the older the population gets, the more money that is going to be pulled out of the market. Question is, at what point does the ‘market time bomb’ thing go from sensationalism to reality – or does it?
This is the first in a series of blogs about the way that demographics are going to affect your investments. Yes, I know there has been a lot written on the topic, and most of us know the basic theory. The boomers poured a lot of money into the markets over the past couple of decades, and they made the markets go up. Now they are getting old (sorry if that term offends anyone, but the first wave of boomers is cashing in their pension checks as we speak) and they are going to be pulling the money out of their retirement accounts. This will make the markets go down. Really? Is it as simple as that?

I like offbeat economic indicators - the number of boats or RVs sold, what colors are in the crayon box, etc. etc. A lot of time they tell you what is going on just as well as some of the stuffier stuff  (y'know, GDP and all that)  that we all track every day.  So I was glad to see the U.S. Census Bureau release their survey of 'movers' - people shifting households.

Now that the U.S. economy looks a just a teensy bit better (I know, I know the National Bureau of Economic Research won't say that the recession is over, but still) it's probably okay to start adding up the cost of the crisis. The Pew Research Institute has a new study out that does just that.