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Macro-Economic Mid-Year Update

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By Michael Green [TGA Capital Management]

www.tgacapitalmanagement.com

Businesses are paying more for goods and services as the Producer Price Index increased 0.5% in June, the largest increase in a year, according to the Labor Department. Higher energy costs pushed the increase. Since businesses usually pass on increases in the cost of goods and services, it’s likely consumer prices will increase as well, driving inflation upward.

Here is a mid year economic summary:

  • In fact, consumer prices did increase in June–just not at quite the same rate as producer prices. The Consumer Price Index rose 0.2%, following the same increase in May and a 0.4% gain in April. Over the last 12 months, the CPI has increased 1.0%. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, consumer prices still increased 0.2% in June and 2.3% from a year earlier.
  • Consumers continue to spend as retail sales increased in June, jumping 0.6% from the previous month and 2.7% ahead of last June. This follows a 0.2% (downwardly revised) increase in May. Excluding autos and gas, household spending climbed 0.7% from May. Output excluding autos remained the same as the prior month. This report, coupled with increases in consumer and producer prices, provides optimism for the economy over the summer months.
  • The manufacturing sector experienced a noticeable uptick in June, as industrial production increased 0.6% after falling 0.3% in May. Manufacturing output rose 0.4%, largely due to an increase in motor vehicle assemblies. June’s gain is the largest monthly increase since November 2014.
  • The number of job openings decreased by 345,000 to 5.5 million on the last business day of May, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. April’s rate was 5.8 million. May’s job openings rate is the lowest of the year. The quits rate was unchanged at 2.0% as workers continue to remain at their present jobs. It’s important to remember that June’s employment situation report showed significant improvement on the labor front.
  • U.S. import prices rose 0.2% in June from May, largely due to a spike in petroleum prices. Exports also increased in June, rising 0.8% following increases of 1.2% in May and 0.4% in April. The 2.4% rise in export prices for the second quarter of 2016 was the largest three-month advance in export prices since the index rose 2.7% between February and May 2011.
  • The Treasury Department reported a $6.3 billion budgetary surplus in June, following May’s $52.5 billion deficit. However, over the first nine months of the fiscal year, the deficit is up almost 27%, at $400.9 billion, over the same period last year ($316.4 billion).
  • Largely influenced by the immediate negative impact of the Brexit vote, the Index of Consumer Sentiment fell from 93.5 in June to 89.5 in July.
  • In the week ended July 9, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial unemployment insurance claims remained level at 254,000, unchanged from the prior week’s level. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate remained at 1.6%. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ended July 2 was 2,149,000, an increase of 32,000 from the previous week’s revised level.

Conclusion

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A Hospital Industry Outlook for 2013

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One Expert’s Opinion

By Ann Miller RN MHA

[Managing Editor]

The ME-P and nation recently celebrated National Hospital Week for 2013. And so, what better time than now to ask health economist and financial expert Robert James Cimasi MHA, ASA, AVA, CMP for his take on the industry outlook. www.HealthCapital.com

cimasiHistory Background and Overview

The U.S. Healthcare Delivery System is facing what is perhaps its greatest challenge in the expected demand for increased health services from the aging of the “baby-boom” generation, the fastest-growing segment of the population.

The enactment of healthcare reform in March 2010, requiring increased insurance coverage requirements for individuals and employers, will also increase patient demand for hospital inpatient and outpatient services in the coming years.

Hospital Industry 

The hospital industry continues to face many challenges in the changing healthcare environment, including workforce shortages, rising healthcare costs to provide care, and difficulty acquiring needed capital. With consistent financial stresses, hospitals in some areas appear to be struggling.

However, general acute-care hospitals recorded record high profits of $35.2 billion in 2006, an increase of over 20% from 2005.  Total net revenues for general acute-care hospitals were $587.1 billion, resulting in an average profit margin of 6% (the highest since 1997, when the average profit margin was 6.7%).

While the demand for healthcare continues to rise, the site of service also continues to evolve as more procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and by freestanding facilities rather than by inpatient acute care hospitals.  As evidence of this trend, the number of freestanding ambulatory care surgery centers increased from 2,864 in 2000 to 5,197 in 2006.

U.S. healthcare costs are again increasing after their rate of growth slowed in the mid-1990s.

In 2009, total national health expenditures (NHE) in the U.S. grew to $2.5 trillion, a 5.7% increase from 2008.  Meanwhile, the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 1.1%, and as a result, NHE increased from 16.2% to 17.3% of the GDP: the largest one-year increase-in history. Additionally, healthcare spending has been projected to grow to 19.6% by 2016. The potential impact of the 2010 healthcare reform legislation to reduce rising healthcare expenditures is yet uncertain.

According to a 2002 study conducted by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), inpatient costs are responsive to hospital market organization.  Each 1% increase in for-profit hospital market share is associated with a 2% increase in inpatient expenditure per person.  Conversely, each 1% increase in network hospital market share corresponds to a 1% decrease in inpatient expenditures.

Risk Sharing

As healthcare costs again continue to rise faster than inflation in the overall economy in 2013, driven by advances in technology and treatment (as well as the growing baby-boomer population), pressures to reduce costs, such as those included in the ACA will result in a changed paradigm for healthcare delivery.

Reimbursement mechanisms are increasingly designed to control costs and access, and hospitals must continually adjust to deal with increasing pressure to contain reimbursement and utilization levels; ie., share financial risks.

The Marketplace

The healthcare marketplace continues to experience dramatic change as the business of healthcare becomes increasingly competitive, particularly in the outpatient ancillary services arena.  Providers and payors continue to seek to control costs and markets. Legal and regulatory issues also affect change as providers adapt to new opportunities and restrictions.

In particular, there are a wide variety of cost, operational, and regulatory pressures impacting the specialty and surgical hospital industry.

Of course, these pressures are offset by the stable and increasing demand for hospital services, particularly for those hospitals already in operation.

national-hospital-week

Assessment

Bob feels that hospitals that are operationally efficient will continue to be successful within this environment; others will not. How about you?

More: Financial Management Strategies for Hospitals and Healthcare Organizations : Tools, Techniques, Checklists and Case Studies

More: Arkansas Medical News Interviews Dr. Marcinko

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Understanding the Domestic “Shadow Economy”

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Is the US Economy Strong OR Not?

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA

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Dr David E Marcinko MBARecently, new highs for the DJIA and some better than expected jobs numbers pointed an outward sign of the US  economy’s continued — though sluggish — recovery from the Great Recession.

Workers in the Shadows

But, there may be another explanation for why consumers keep spending more despite higher payroll taxes and more pain at the gas pump.

Edgar Feige PhD Speaks

That reason is a thriving shadow economy, estimated to have reached as much as $2 trillion last year, according to a study (.pdf file) co-written by Edgar Feige, an economist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Assessment

A shadow economy is one where workers turn to employment that pays under-the-table. While that sometimes includes illegal activity, such as drug dealing, much of the shadow economy today appears to be in areas like service work such as babysitting; medicine, eye, foot and dental care; and working construction jobs for cash.

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Conclusion

And so, are new medical practice business models like retainer and concierge medicine, direct/private pay, or cash care more or less prone to participation in the underground healthcare economy?

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Building Up to the Fiscal Cliff

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A Historic Review

Fiscal Cliff

Assessment

Doctors, FAs and all ME-P readers. What is your strategy for the fiscal cliff situation?

Conclusion

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How Bad Is Our National Debt Problem, Anyway?

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And … Will a Deal Fix It?

By Theodoric Meyer
ProPublica, Dec. 28, 2012, 12:34 p.m.

President Obama will meet with congressional leaders today [1] in another attempt to avert the fiscal cliff — the automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1st unless Congress can strike a deal. The cuts and tax hikes, which total more than $500 billion, are so large and so sudden that many economists fear they would plunge the country back into recession.

As Washington tries to hash out a deal, we’ve taken a step back to break down the numbers behind our deficit — how it grew so big, why it is actually shrinking and whether a deal can bring it under control.

How much are we in debt?

The federal debt is just shy of $16.4 trillion [2] at the moment, which also happens to be the debt limit that Congress set in 2011. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner announced on Wednesday [3] that the nation would hit the limit on Dec. 31. The Treasury can take some “extraordinary measures” to keep paying its bills for a few weeks, but it’ll run out of cash by February or March unless Congress raises the limit again.

And that’s different from the deficit, right?

Yes. The debt is the total amount of the government’s outstanding obligations. The deficit is how much the government is in the red in a given year. In the 2012 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the deficit amounted to $1.1 trillion [4].

That seems like a huge number. How did the deficit get so big?

The 2012 deficit was actually the smallest one since 2008. But it’s still a giant shortfall.

As Binyamin Appelbaum noted in The New York Times [5], the federal government has run a deficit in 45 of the last 50 years. (The exceptions were 1969 and 1998 through 2001.) The financial crisis in 2008, however, caused the deficit to skyrocket, as tax revenues fell because of the slump in incomes and production, and government spending on the stimulus and safety net measures such as unemployment insurance shot up. The deficit for the 2008 fiscal year was $455 billion. In 2009, it surged to more than $1.4 trillion.

Since then, the deficit has been falling, albeit very slowly. The government took in 6.4 percent more in taxes in 2012 than in 2011, as the economy improved a bit and several tax breaks expired. And it spent less on Medicaid, unemployment insurance and the continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What about the total debt? How much of that is President Obama’s fault?

The debt has grown by nearly $6 trillion since Obama took office, from $10.5 trillion to $16.4 trillion.

Figuring out how much of that is due to Obama is tougher. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, working with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, calculated in January [6] that the legislation Obama had actually signed — as opposed to factors like the economy — had added about $983 billion to the debt.

Klein has also rounded up several charts [7] that break down exactly what’s caused our debt to grow so large. The biggest single factor has been the weak economy; President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also fueled the debt buildup, as did President Obama’s stimulus.

Have debt levels ever been this high before?

Yes, proportionally. Economists like talk about a country’s debt in relation to its gross domestic product (a measure of the economy’s total annual output). And instead of using a country’s total outstanding debt to calculate this debt-to-GDP ratio, economists typically use the amount of debt held by the public. (Somewhat confusingly, the federal government holds about $5 trillion in obligations to itself, most of which is money owed to the funds that support Social Security and other programs.)

Using this measurement, our debt was about 67.7 percent of GDP last year. As this chart compiled by Quartz’s Ritchie King shows [8], that’s the highest our debt-to-GDP ratio has been since the 1940s, when the need to finance World War II caused the debt to surge to 112.7 percent of GDP. But the economy grew fast enough after the war that the debt soon became a much smaller percentage of the country’s GDP.

It’s worth noting that a number of other developed countries have higher debt-to-GDP ratios [9] than the U.S. Germany’s public debt is 80.6 percent of GDP, and Canada’s is 87.4 percent. The euro zone’s most troubled countries fare even worse: Italy’s debt is 120.1 percent of GDP; Greece’s is 165.3 percent.

US Capitol

At least we’re not Greece. How much longer can we keep borrowing?

That’s a tough one. Some commentators — including Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist and columnist for The New York Times — have argued that our current deficits are mostly a product of the sluggish economy. The deficit, Krugman wrote last week [10], “is a side-effect of an economic depression, and the first order of business should be to end that depression — which means, among other things, leaving the deficit alone for now.”

Other economists — including Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, who studied eight centuries’ worth of financial crises for their book “This Time Is Different” — argue that countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above a certain level tend to experience slower economic growth. Reinhart and Rogoff suggest the level is around 90 percent of GDP [11] — which the U.S. is rapidly approaching. A recent Congressional Research Service report [12] concluded that while the debt-to-GDP ratio can’t keep rising forever, “it can rise for a time.” The report continued:

It is hard to predict at what point bond holders would deem it to be unsustainable. A few other advanced economies have debt-to-GDP ratios higher than that of the United States. Some of those countries in Europe have recently seen their financing costs rise to the point that they are unable to finance their deficits solely through private markets. But Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any advanced economy, and it has continued to be able to finance its debt at extremely low costs.

How does all this fit into the fiscal cliff?  Would a deal to avert it fix our debt problem?

Actually, going over the fiscal cliff would almost singlehandedly erase the deficit. Tax rates would shoot up, and the fiscal cliff’s indiscriminate budget cuts would slash military and safety-net spending alike.

The problem is that all those tax increases and spending cuts would likely throw the economy back into a recession, causing the deficit to balloon again. “The economy will, I think, go off a cliff,” said Ben Bernanke [13], the Federal Reserve chairman.

(For more detail, see The Washington Post’s exhaustive fiscal cliff explainer [14].)

What the two sides are trying to do is identify cuts that are ultimately deep enough to bring down the deficit — and thus, eventually, the debt — without stalling the economy. But negotiations collapsed last week [15] after John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, tried and failed to pass a “Plan B” alternative to the president’s proposal in the House. Obama is set to meet with congressional leaders today to try to strike a deal to block at least some of the cliff’s impact by Monday night. But its prospects seem dim.

“I have to be very honest,” Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, said on Thursday. “I don’t know timewise how it can happen now.”

Assessment

Of course, some analysts have pointed out that people on both the Republican and the Democratic sides may actually want to move the cliff just slightly down the road into the next Congress, which convenes Thursday, Jan. 3. The advantages: Boehner can be safely re-elected as Speaker before he has to do serious twisting of arms of fellow GOP House members to get their votes for any compromise plan. And there will be a few more Democrats in the House and the Senate for the White House to rely on in enlisting the votes it needs to ratify any such deal. The disadvantage: Delay makes the risk of miscalculation greater for either or both sides — and for the public.

Link: http://www.propublica.org/article/how-bad-is-our-debt-problem-anyway-and-will-a-deal-fix-it

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Understanding the Domestic Unemployment Numbers

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How Can Unemployment Be Going Down?

By Rick Kahler MS CFP® ChFC CCIM www.KahlerFinancial.com

In an economy that isn’t exactly robust, how can unemployment be going down? The recent drop in the unemployment rate from 8.1% to 7.8% caught almost everyone, including me, by surprise. The GDP grew by only 1.5% in the first quarter, and its growth was under 2% for the last 12 years. To get the economy moving again we will need growth of 3% a year.

It isn’t surprising that many pundits were questioning the timing within minutes after the latest unemployment numbers were announced. After all, unemployment is one of the major issues in the Presidential election. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and several Fox News commentators even suggested the administration was cooking the books.

The BLS

I don’t believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics is manipulating unemployment data. The process of computing the data is straightforward and transparent. Two surveys go into projecting the unemployment rate, one covering 400,000 businesses and the other questioning 60,000 households. The surveys ask about the number of full-time and part-time employees, whether the part-time employees really want full-time employment, and whether those without a job have looked for a job within the last month.

Cooked Books?

But that doesn’t mean the books aren’t cooked. They are.

“The way the government derives the unemployment numbers has changed significantly over the last 30 years,” writes John Mauldin, editor of the economic newsletter Thoughts from the Frontline, in the October 8, 2012, issue. “Whatever administration is involved, the new equations for determining unemployment result in a lower unemployment rate than they would have if the 1980’s methodology were still in place.”

The Changes

One of the more bizarre changes in the unemployment rate calculation is that people are not considered unemployed unless they have looked for a job in the last 30 days, even if they currently receive unemployment benefits. Mauldin says there are probably many people who haven’t looked for a job in the last 30 days and that most, if not all, of them would consider themselves unemployed. “If you’re not disabled and you’re receiving unemployment or welfare benefits I think you should be counted as unemployed,” he says. He estimates our actual unemployment rate is well over 12%, which doesn’t take into account the 50% of college graduates who are underemployed.

Don’t Blame Obama

Before you blame the Obama administration for the dumbing down of the unemployment rate, this is the same way the Bush administration calculated unemployment.

It’s the same story with the Consumer Price Index, which the government has continually tweaked to give the illusion of a lower CPI than if the 1980’s formula was used.

ShadowStats.com, run by John Williams, calculates the current unemployment and inflation rates using the formulas from the 1980’s. According to that methodology, Williams calculates the unemployment rate (U-6) is 15% and the CPI is 9%.

Regaining Jobs?

The economy has currently regained about half of the jobs lost in the Great Recession of 2008-2009. According to the Liscio Report, it will take another 40 months to reach the level of employment we had prior to the recession. That is if we don’t have another recession, which is doubtful. If all the tax increases slated for January 1 go into effect, the Congressional Budget Office says GDP will shrink 2.9%, which guarantees a recession.

Assessment

So, what was behind the fall in the unemployment rate this month? According to Mauldin, the entire drop came from an increase in part-time workers. He says, “That such significant numbers of people can only find part-time work is not a sign of a strong and growing economy.”

When we look a little deeper, maybe the latest unemployment numbers aren’t such a surprise after all.

Conclusion

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Why the Government is Not-Like Medical Professionals

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An Endless Supply of US Dollars

By Rick Kahler MS CFP® ChFC CCIM www.KahlerFinancial.com

Is the United States in danger of bankruptcy? Contrary to what you may read in the media or hear from many politicians, no, it isn’t. The US Treasury will never run out of dollars. Unlike doctors and medical professionals, it’s impossible.

Reasons Why?

The reason is relatively simple. The US government owns a printing press. As long as goods, services, or obligations are priced in US dollars, the supply of dollars to our government to buy those goods and services is unlimited. This is not true of individual physicians, corporations, cities, states, and countries that don’t issue their own currency.

For most people, this is a hard concept to grasp, with good reason. The capacity of our government to create an unconstrained supply of dollars is a relatively new phenomenon.

The Gold Standard

Until 1971, all US currency was theoretically redeemable in gold. This was known as the gold standard. In the early decades of the 20th century, you could actually go to a bank and change your dollars for gold. That ability was terminated in 1933, but the dollar’s value was still tied to gold. This basically meant the only way the US government could create new dollars was by obtaining more gold, the supply of which only increases by the new amount of gold mined.

Nixon

In 1971 we had a paradigm change in monetary policy that many still don’t understand. President Nixon decoupled the dollar from the gold standard [Nixon also wanted to flood the country with MDs, and drive down physician income, by opening up medical school admissions]. It became a fiat currency, which is used as a medium of exchange but has no intrinsic value. Suddenly, the US government was no longer constrained by solvency issues and could never run out of money. It could create as many dollars as it wished ie; inflation].

Constraints

This didn’t mean it had no constraints. The major constraint to an issuer of fiat currency is inflation. However, creating money does not guarantee inflation if the newly created money is not spent. Japan, for example, is still fighting deflation even though they’ve been pumping money into reserves like crazy for 20 years.

What should have caused a massive rethinking and reeducating of the financial sector went relatively unnoticed. Text books, professors, economists, and politicians largely continued to follow many pre-1971 monetary principles that became irrelevant overnight.

Unlike the federal government, US states, cities, and other government entities cannot print money. They have to get it the old-fashioned way—from taxes, fees, or borrowing. It’s entirely possible for these entities to go bankrupt, just like individuals and corporations, if their outflow exceeds their inflow.

Europe

Interestingly, the same is true for member countries of the European Union. When in 1999 they adopted the Euro and gave up their sovereign right to print their own money, they took on the same status as states. Therefore, a country like Greece, which is a user of currency as a member of the European Union, can involuntarily default on its obligations.

This is a significant difference between the United States and Greece. While Greece can (and most likely will) go bankrupt because it doesn’t have an unlimited supply of Euros, the US can’t go bankrupt because it does have an unlimited supply of dollars.

The major threat that sovereign countries face is not running out of money, but devaluing their currency through inflation. A devalued currency is one that loses its purchasing power and often results in a lower standard of living.

Assessment

Just because the US can’t involuntarily default on its obligations doesn’t mean we can keep on over spending and pretend we don’t have any money worries. As a nation, we still need to acknowledge and deal with our serious financial problems. So should our doctors, financial planners and financial advisors.

Conclusion

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