17 agosto, 2015

Sobre el indice BigMac.

El mundo asume al amo del imperio como referente y con esas referencias se mide el desempeño de los gobiernos y de las economías locales. Hae unos pocos días se escribió y se excuchó decir mucho de la devaluación del yuan chino, el gran peligro asiático que hay que desprestigiar rápidamente porque perturba el orden imperante. ¿Pero desde dónde lo pensamos? ¿donde estamos parados para pensarlo? ¿Es en verdad estable nuestra referencia?

Por caso así se presenta el indice Big Mac o IBMc que es tomado siempre como valor cero, ¿Pero donde ubicarlo realmente?

El diario La Nación muestra el IBMc como un punto referencial serio.

Cuanto vale hoy un BM?

¿Cuanto costaba en EEUU en 1986 (en dólares of course!)?

¿Y cómo evolucionó? Atención: en azul el IBMc y en rojo el indice de precios al consumidor (CPI):

¿Y cuanto oro se compra con esos dólares?


Pero hay gente que se ocupó del tema y compra el indice BM con la inflación real en los EEUU. Se pone en evidencia que la referencia dolar es una falsedad, una mentira de la que no se habla.

Changing The Conversation

"Si al gobierno no le gusta lo que dice la gente, no se molestan sólo en cambiar de conversación, cambian el significado de las palabras."

Peter Schiff
Euro Pacific Capital, Inc.
Posted Apr 28, 2013


Don Draper, Mad Men's master advertiser likes to say "when you don't like what they are saying, change the conversation." When it comes to the current economic weakness, which was confirmed again today by the release of lower than expected GDP data, Washington would love to do just that. Fortunately for them, they consistently outdo the master minds of Madison Avenue when it comes to misdirection. If the government doesn't like what people are saying, they don't bother just to change the conversation, they change the meaning of the words.

The latest example of this was revealed earlier this week when the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) announced new methods of calculating Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that will immediately make the economy "bigger' than it used to be. The changes focus heavily on how money spent on research and development (R&D) and the production of "intangible" assets like movies, music, and television programs will be accounted for. Declaring such expenditures to be "investments" will immediately increase U.S. GDP by about three percent. Such an upgrade would immediately increase the theoretic size of the U.S economy and may well lead to the perception of faster growth. In reality these smoke and mirror alterations are no different from changes made to the inflation and unemployment yardsticks that for years have convinced Americans that the economy is better than it actually is.

Today's data release confirms that the economic "recovery" is weaker than expected and remains heavily dependent on Federal support. Personal spending was indeed up 3.2%, the biggest jump in two years, but real earnings were down by 5.3%, the biggest fall since 2009. Not surprisingly the buying was made possible by a drop in the savings rate, which came in at just 2.6%, the lowest since the 4th quarter of 2007. No doubt, rising home prices and falling mortgage rates (made possible by Fed stimulus) allowed Americans to refinance their homes and to borrow and spend the money that they did not earn. With GDP continuing to disappoint, a statistical makeover couldn't come at a more convenient time.

In the simplest terms, GDP is calculated by combining a nation's private spending, government spending, and investments (while adding trade surplus or subtracting trade deficits). Business spending on R&D, a portion of which comes in the form of salaries, has traditionally been considered an expense that does not explicitly add to GDP. But now, the United States will lead the rest of the world in redefining GDP. Washington has now declared that the $400 billion spent annually by U.S. businesses on R&D will count towards GDP. This equates to about 2.7% of our nearly $16 Trillion GDP. The argument goes that, for example, the GDP generated by iPhones has far exceeded the cost spent by Apple to develop the product. Therefore, Apple's R&D is not an expense but an investment.

The BEA also argues that the cost of producing television shows, movies, and music should count as investments that add to GDP. Supporters of the change often hold up the blockbuster television comedy Seinfeld as an example. Given that the show's billions in earnings far exceeded its initial costs, they argue that the production expenses should be considered "investments" (like R&D) and be added into GDP.

Economists who have staked their reputations on the efficacy of Keynesian growth strategies have argued that such changes will more accurately reflect the realities of our 21st century information economy. But their analysis ignores the failures so often associated with R&D and artistic productions. For every breakthrough iPhone there are dozens of ill-conceived gizmos that never get off the drawing board. For every Seinfeld, there are countless failures and bombs that leave nothing but losses.

In essence, the new methodology is an exercise in double accounting. For instance, suppose a company employs an accountant who works in the sales department, who is then transferred to the R&D department at the same salary. He still counts beans but now his salary will be billed to the R&D budget rather than sales. In the old methodology, the accountant's impact on GDP would come only from the personal consumption that his salary allows. Going forward, he will add to GDP in two ways: from his personal consumption and his salary's addition to his company's R&D budget. The same formula would apply to a trucker who switches from a freight company to a movie production company (for the same salary). If he moves refrigerators, he only adds to GDP through his personal spending, but if he hauls movie lights, his contribution to GDP is doubled. It makes no difference if the movie bombs.

These double shots are different from traditional investments, which inject savings (or idle cash) back into the marketplace. Until money from personal or corporate savings is invested, it is not adding to GDP.

Another change that will artificially boost GDP concerns how government salaries will be counted. Unlike most private sector compensation, wages, salaries, and pension contributions paid to government workers are added directly to GDP. This distinction makes sense and eliminates potentially double accounting. Profits generated by private companies add to GDP when they are ultimately spent or invested by the company. Wages reduce profits, and therefore reduce GDP. But that reduction is cancelled out by the consumption of the employee receiving the wages. Governments do not generate profits, so salaries are the only way that public spending adds back to GDP.

The new system magnifies the GDP impact of government pensions, which are a principal component of public sector compensation. Going forward, the pensions will be calculated not from actual contributions, but from what governments have promised. Under the old system, if a state had a $10,000 pension obligation but only contributed $1,000, only the $1,000 would be added to GDP. Under the new system the entire $10,000 would be counted. So now governments can magically grow the economy simply by making promises they can't keep.

The bottom line is that now certain private sector salaries (in R&D and entertainment) will be counted twice and public pension contributions will be counted even if they aren't made. The economy will not actually be any larger or grow any faster, but the statistics will claim otherwise. With the stroke of a pen, our debt to GDP ratio will come down. Will this soothe the fears of our creditors? Will critics of big government take comfort that spending as a share of GDP may be lower? My guess is that the government is confident that its trick will work, and that distracting attention with a statistical illusion is the sole motivation for the change.

A similar type of hocus pocus has been successfully used to make inflation appear much smaller. A few months ago I produced a video showing how changes in methods used to calculate the Consumer Price Index (CPI) have resulted in a widening gap between increases in real prices and the CPI. The changes, that incorporate such concepts as hedonic adjustments and substation bias, were made to make the CPI more "accurate," but have instead produced consistently lower results. Although I used a basket of 20 goods for that experiment, I gave particular attention to such things as newspaper and magazine prices and health insurance costs. But just recently I came across another data set that leads to the same conclusion.

Since the late 1980's, The Economist Magazine has compiled something called the "Big Mac Index,"(BMI) a global survey of the cost of McDonald's signature hamburger. Although the index is primarily used as a means to compare purchasing power parity around the globe, it also can be used to track the prices of Big Macs in the U.S. over many years.

From 1986 to 2003 the U.S. BMI rose roughly in line with the CPI. Although the burger occasionally rose faster or slower, over that 17 year period both indexes increased by about 68% (or about 4% per year). But from April 2003 to January 2013 the CPI Index is up just 25% percent (from 183.8 to 230.28 or about 2.5% per year) while the BMI is up 61% (from $2.71 to $4.37 or about 6.1% per year), or more than twice the rate of inflation.

"De 1986 a 2003 los EE.UU. IBMc aumentó aproximadamente en línea con el IPC. Aunque la hamburguesa de vez en cuando se levantó rápido o más lento, durante ese período de 17 años ambos índices aumentaron en alrededor del 68% (o aproximadamente el 4% por año). Pero a partir de abril 2003 a enero 2013 el Índice IPC es de hasta un 25 por ciento% (183,8 a 230,28 o aproximadamente 2.5% por año), mientras que el IBMc es de hasta 61% (de $ 2,71 a $ 4,37 o aproximadamente 6.1% por año), o más del doble de la tasa de inflación."

What could possibly account for the difference? Has the Big Mac gotten bigger, better, tastier, or healthier? As an iconic product, McDonald's has been reluctant to change a proven formula. If the Big Mac hasn't changed, is it possible that our inflation yardstick has?

It has been estimated that if the government used the same methodology to measure inflation that it used during the 1980's, we would be currently dealing with official inflation that would be many times higher than today's official 1.5% rate. The Big Mac appears to confirm this.

But now the government appears ready to distort the figures even further. With little resistance from the media or the public, the Obama Administration and Congressional Republicans seem ready to switch the inflation measurements used for Social Security away from the CPI in favor of the even more attenuated "Chain Weighted CPI." This index, which is consistently lower than the CPI, looks to incorporate changes in spending patterns when consumers switch to more affordable products (in other words, it measures the cost of survival, not the cost of living). And while many admit that this is a manipulation, no one really seems to care.

Similarly clumsy tricks have been used to make our unemployment problem appear less severe. Over the years new methods have been introduced to factor out those who have "dropped out" of the labor force or to count part-time or temporary workers as employed.

All this takes us right back to Don Draper. If you can't change the conversation, change the words. If that doesn't work, just change the dictionaries.




Posted on 31st August 2014


The two charts below are about one year old. The current average cost of a Big Mac is $4.80 in the United States according to the Economist. The price has risen by 5.3% since last July and 11% since the beginning of 2013. Meanwhile, the government drones at the Bureau of Lies and Shams tell us that inflation is only up by 2% since last July and up only 3.5% since the beginning of 2013. Which figures do you think are more reflective of what you are paying in the real world? I grocery shop every Sunday morning and I know for a fact my bill is up by 30% since the beginning of 2013.

The propaganda spewed by the government, bankers, and media is wearing thin on the average American. Only the dumbest of asses can’t figure out that inflation is running at 5% to 10% on everything we need to live our day to day lives. The article below is from one year ago and captures the reality of understating inflation.

Why the ‘Big Mac’s’ Rising Prices Are More Alarming Than Its Fat Content

July 17th, 2013
by James Cornehlsen

Note: I’ve updated my periodic look at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) versus the Big Mac Index to coincide with The Economist’s bi-annual update of the Big Mac Index used for currency values.In a time when price hikes are commonplace, I took a step back and realized that some prices are rising more than others. The price of a Big Mac, for instance, has risen faster than the official rise in consumer prices and has been doing so since the late ’90s. In 1998, the average price of a Big Mac was about $2.50. Today, the average Big Mac is $4.56. If we were using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the price of a Big Mac today should be about $3.40.
Believe it or not, the price hikes represented by the Big Mac will impact you more than the saturated fats in popular burger. By understanding the price disparities, you can make better decisions for you and your clients. The rise in the price of the Big Mac foreshadows how the printing of money is eroding the financial system’s arterial walls. The impact is broad based:

Each dollar we own is buying less.
For individuals relying on Social Security, the compensation for inflation is not keeping up with the prices people actually pay.
The price of bonds should be much lower if interest rates fully accounted for the rise of inflation based on the Big Mac.
The official economic growth rate would be lower now if prices were based on the Big Mac index.

Using the Big Mac Index to Measure Inflation

The Economistcreated the Big Mac Index in 1986. The Big Mac Index was created to compare the price of currencies between different countries. The index is based on a theory called purchasing power parity. This theory looks at the same basket of goods in each country and then adjusts for the interest rate one would pay for a loan or get for a savings account. This adjustment for interest rates makes the price of a Big Mac comparable in each country. The Big Mac Index just has one item. However, since the one item contains beef, dairy (cheese), wheat (bun), cost of labor, and the cost of real estate, I believe it is a good representation of prices in the United States and abroad.

Rather than use the Big Mac Index for comparing the value of currencies between countries, let’s take the price of the Big Mac each year within the US to see how it changes over time. You could also use this approach to look at the trend of prices for other countries as well.

By graphing the trend of the Big Mac Index each year since 1986, we see that prices have accelerated much faster than the official prices reported Consumer Price Index (CPI) – Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website, CPI is defined as “a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. The basket includes food & beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education & communication, and other goods & services.” However, there are two broad concerns with the CPI. First, CPI accounts for the substitution effect whereby if the price of beef increases, it is assumed that fewer people will buy beef and will instead buy chicken. Second, there is a “chained” effect, meaning the basket of goods isn’t consistent from one time period to the next. The reason for this is that it is believed people change their spending habits as prices change, which is why the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised CPI to account for substitution and the “chained” effect.

Since 1986, the price of a Big Mac has increased 185% from $1.60 to $4.56 today. During this same time period, the CPI has increased at a much lower rate of 110%. More disconcerting is the effect of the aggressive adjustment of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve, which began in 1999. This policy shift started with the Asian Crisis and Long Term Capital Management, followed by the Internet bubble, housing bubble, and Great Recession, and now the “New Normal” of zero federal funds rates and quantitative easing. In the context of these Fed policies, the rate of price increases for the Big Mac is almost three times greater than the official CPI.

In 1986, $1 would have purchased more than half of a Big Mac. Today you would have to cut the Big Mac into five pieces and only eat one of the five pieces for $1. Consequently, each dollar we have is buying a lot less.

Hidden Cuts to Benefits

So how does this price disparity play out in retirement benefits? Individuals receiving Social Security benefits are provided a cost of living adjustment based on the cost of living index. This index is based on the CPI. If an individual received $1,000 per month in 1999, they are receiving $1,360 today. In contrast, if the Big Mac Index were used, beneficiaries would receive $1,770. By using the CPI, the government is paying out $410 less than they would otherwise pay based on the rise in the price of a Big Mac. Throughout history, it has always been much easier for governments to quietly inflate away their excess liabilities rather than attempt outright cuts and painful austerity. The streets of Europe are a present day example of the social difficulty of outright cuts. By understating inflation, the federal government is effectively reducing the amount owed to retirees and thereby cutting the long-term deficit.

Bond Prices and Inflation

And what about bond prices and inflation? In a normal market, the price of bonds should reflect the rate of inflation. Ed Easterling, founder of Crestmont Research, links inflation to the rate of interest rates. By printing money to buy bonds, the government has pushed the interest rate of a 10-year government bond down to about 2.61%. However, Ed Easterling shows that the 10-year government bond rate should be about 1% above inflation. The current rate of inflation reported by CPI is 1.1%. Adding 1% for the increased risk of holding a bond for 10 years gives you a rate of at least 3.7%, and that’s using official inflation estimates. However, if we base our calculation on the Big Mac Index, inflation is 5.3% and adding 1% to that for the risk of holding a bond for 10 years gets a rate of 6.3%. The current interest rate of a government bond is 2.61%, but if we were to account for inflation as seen by the rise in the price of a Big Mac, the interest rate would be 5.3%. Consequently, if 10-year government bonds were to increase from 2.6% to 6.3%, bond indices would decline by about 32%. In other words, long duration, 10-year government bonds are overvalued by about 32% mainly due to persistent intervention (manipulation) by the Federal Reserve.

Propping Up GDP Numbers by Underestimating Inflation

Lastly, let’s look at Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is the measure used for the growth rate of the overall economy. GDP is adjusted for inflation. An understatement of assumed inflation makes the reported GDP headline number look better, and conversely an overstatement makes the calculated growth rate look worse. Using the Big Mac Index instead of the official CPI would reduce the latest GDP growth rate of 1.8% and cause the report to show that GDP declined. Consequently, economic growth looks stronger using CPI rather than the Big Mac Index.

As a result, investors are being penalized (mostly without their knowledge) with higher inflation, lower income from bonds and certificates of deposit and being led to believe that the economy is growing better than it really is.

The risk of too much debt around the world, but specifically in Europe, is reducing the growth outlook for companies. In China, the government has cut spending to keep inflation in check and their economy is now slowing down. In the last 13 years, three bubbles have emerged, each funded by the government and each artificially lowering interest rates by printing money. Each subsequent contraction has been worse than the last. Why should this latest bout of artificial growth, which is even steeper than the previous three, end differently?


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