Archive for June, 2016

Puerto Rico y la Gran Recesión

June 25, 2016

Un reciente estudio, que no incluye a Puerto Rico, encuentra que muchos lugares de los Estados Unidos todavía no han logrado superar los efectos de la Gran Recesión. Se especula que sucesos como ese puede lanzar a la economía a un equilibrio inferior al anterior. Me sospecho que esto es lo que ha pasado en Puerto Rico. Para colmo, la Gran Recesión nos azotó cuando ya estábamos en recesión y todavía no nos hemos podido levantar.

Los autores del artículo estiman que la recuperación para esos lugares se tardará 10 años mas, lo cual no augura bien para Puerto Rico.

They’re some of the unluckiest places in America — and may confirm what’s wrong with the economy

You might think the Great Recession is long over. But nearly a decade on, its effects still linger, especially in certain areas of America. And if the current pace of recovery continues, these places may see employment depressed for years — adding up to a “lost decade” for some parts of the country.

In a newly revised paper posted online this week, Danny Yagan, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, follows the trajectory of more than 2 million American workers to see how their employment fluctuated before, during and after the Great Recession. To make sure that these workers are comparable, he looks at employees of national chains, such as Starbucks and Walmart, who would have earned the same wages doing identical tasks in different parts of the country.

The paper finds evidence of a “great divergence” between some parts of the United States that were fairly resilient to the recession — like much of Montana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana — and places that were not as resilient. Yagan calculates that workers who started the recession in hard-hit parts of the country, such as areas of Florida and Arizona, were 1.3 percent less likely to be employed in 2014, compared with workers who started the recession elsewhere.

In other words, workers who appeared mostly identical in 2007 — and, by virtue of having the same jobs, probably had similar levels of education — ended up in very different situations seven years later, depending on where they started the recession. The data suggest that it was the fortune, or misfortune, of where people lived in 2007 that had a large effect on whether they were employed in 2014. Hard-hit areas may have ended up depressing the employment prospects of people who lived there.

The map below, which is based on Yagan’s data, shows the parts of the United States that were most affected by job losses. Sun Belt states, such as Arizona, California and Florida, and Rust Belt states, such as Michigan and Ohio, were among the places where employment was hit the hardest.

The map is based on “commuting zones,” which are groups of counties that coincide with local labor markets. (Where communities are artificially subdivided into counties, commuting zones basically add those areas back together.)

According to Yagan’s data, eight of the 15 most severely impacted commuting zones are in Florida, including Sarasota, Cape Coral and Pensacola. Fredericksburg, Va.; Nantucket, Mass.; Lisbon, N.D.; Limon and Trinidad, Colo.; and Las Vegas also make that list. Other cities in the top 30 most severely impacted commuting zones include Reno, Nev.; Tampa; Fort Collins, Colo.; Macon, Ga.; and Sacramento.

The areas that Yagan’s data show were hit least by recession-era employment shocks include commuting zones in Arkansas, South Carolina, West Virginia, New York, Maine, Illinois, Oklahoma, Oregon and more, including California’s Bay Area; Helena, Mont.; El Paso; Wichita; and Shreveport, La.

Years after the Great Recession, the “great divergence” in employment prospects between different parts of the country is still going strong, the paper suggests. The hardest-hit places in America are recovering, but slowly. If you extend current trends into the future, then employment rates in the most and least affected parts of the United States will not converge until sometime in the 2020s, as the graph below shows.

If these projections turn out to be correct, the recession will have resulted in more than a decade of depressed employment in some areas.

Yagan’s paper provides a fascinating and useful snapshot of the crippling effect that the recession has had on parts of the United States. But what economists find most interesting about the work is what it may reveal about why this might have happened, and why certain areas are still struggling so much.

Before we can address that question head-on, it’s important to know that America’s recovery from the recession is an unusual one. While the unemployment rate has recovered — it’s now down to a low 4.7 percent — the employment rate has not.

America’s unemployment rate measures workers who don’t have jobs but are still actively seeking employment. The unemployment rate in parts of the country that Yagan finds were hit hard by the recession is now about the same as the unemployment rate in areas that weren’t hit so hard. But the employment rates — the percentage of adults who have jobs — are still much worse in the hard-hit places that Yagan measures than the better-off areas.

How can we explain the discrepancy? The reason is that many Americans are no longer counted among the unemployed because they have given up looking for work. Since the Great Recession, about 3 percent of American adults have just stopped looking for work altogether.

According to classical economic theory, this shouldn’t be the case. Classical economics says that the movement of workers from place to place and the movement of wages in local markets should help employment rates recover after an economic shock. In general, the nation should heal altogether.

That it hasn’t may be evidence of an idea in vogue among many prominent economists — that the economy could be somehow scarred by an event like the recession in a way that could make it weaker for a long time, or perhaps permanently. This theory, that the financial crisis may have irreparably damaged the economy, like a human body might be damaged by a disease, is called “hysteresis.

No one can prove hysteresis exists, but there are signs that it could be occurring, Yagan said. “People have stopped looking for work. The question is why,” he wrote in an e-mail.

By comparing the very different prospects of similar workers who faced different great recessions, his paper shows that lower employment didn’t just result from general long-running trends that are affecting the American economy, like offshoring or the replacement of some workers with computers or robots. Instead, it adds evidence to the claim that it was the Great Recession itself that altered America’s employment picture.

“We used to think business cycles were just that — cycles. Cycles around a fixed long run trend,” Lawrence H. Summers, an economist and the former Treasury secretary who wrote about hysteresis in 1986, said in emailed comments. “Now we know better — that hysteresis effects whereby downturns affect potential future output are profoundly important. Yagan’s work on labor markets provides further support for this important idea.”

There are two main theories about how the Great Recession might have left this legacy, beyond it being a random occurrence. The first is that it somehow changed workers themselves. People who had unsuccessfully looked for jobs for a long time might have become discouraged, and decided to retire completely. Others who have been out of the job market for a while might have seen their job skills erode, making them unable to get a job in the future.

Another possibility is that the Great Recession damaged local economies, in ways that pushed them to a new, lower “normal.” It could be that local housing busts are especially hard for local economies to recover from, since declining home values make local people feel poorer and in turn decrease their demand for other things.

For example, someone who saw their house lose tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in value because of the Great Recession might end up spending less at the local Starbucks and Walmart. Those businesses might in turn hire fewer people, giving other locals less to spend, and eroding the local economy. In other words, the one-time shock of the recession could have moved local economies to permanently weaker states, from which they won’t come back to normal on their own.

“Under hysteresis, either the recession scarred the people, or it scarred the area and people just haven’t moved out,” Yagan wrote. “It might’ve scarred the people by decaying their skills or taste for work, or scarred the area by moving it to a new normal, a new equilibrium. They’re both possibilities, or it could be a combination.”

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Por fin permiten la supervisión del SEC sobre las inversiones en la isla

June 17, 2016

Se esfuma exención regulatoria

congreso (horizontal-x3)

WASHINGTON – En lo que podría considerarse como otro golpe a la autonomía fiscal de Puerto Rico, el Comité de Servicios Financieros de la Cámara de Representantes de EE.UU. aprobó ayer un proyecto que quitaría la exención que poseen ciertos valores del territorio estadounidense y que le libran de cumplir con reglamentaciones federales.

Se trata del proyecto HR5322, legislación presentada por la demócrata boricua Nydia Velázquez (Nueva York) y que busca llenar un hueco en la Ley de Valores federal que data de casi 70 años. La legislación fue coauspiciada por el congresista José Serrano y el comisionado residente Pedro Pierluisi.

La medida fue aprobada en comisión de manera unánime (59-0) y ahora pasa al pleno de la Cámara baja.

De convertirse en ley, el proyecto daría a la Comisión de Bolsas y Valores (SEC, en inglés) jurisdicción amplia sobre las firmas de inversiones en los territorios. En el caso de Puerto Rico, ello también incluiría las compañías de inversión, conocidas como los fondos mutuos locales.

El HR5322 se echa hacia adelante en momentos en que sectores del Congreso han pedido una investigación sobre las prácticas que pudieron haber contribuido a la crisis fiscal y de deuda pública de Puerto Rico.

También surge en momentos en que el Congreso federal podría aprobar una junta de control fiscal para la Isla, a través del proyecto llamado Promesa, y luego  que la Corte Suprema decidiera en dos casos separados que Puerto Rico no tiene autoridad para procesar individuos que ya encaran acusaciones a nivel federal ni para legislar asuntos de bancarrota.

Velázquez explicó que la legislación de 1940 excluyó de la vigilancia directa de la SEC a firmas de inversiones que operan en territorios de Estados Unidos por el costo de viajes que implicaba, lo que ya no se justifica.

De acuerdo con la congresista, la falta de cumplimiento de las firmas de inversiones con las normas de la SEC, “ha permitido que muchos puertorriqueños pierdan dinero de sus cuentas de retiro que fueron ganados con el sudor de su trabajo”.

La portavoz de la minoría demócrata en el Comité de Servicios Financieros, Maxine Walters (California), coincidió en que el HR5322 “cierra un hueco que debió cerrarse hace décadas”.

“La ley sobre compañías de inversiones de 1940 es una fundamental de protección de inversiones y debe aplicar a todos los Estados Unidos y sus territorios. El proyecto 5322 logra ese propósito”, señaló Pierluisi.

Bajo la mira de la SEC.

En noviembre del año pasado, El Nuevo Día reportó que la presidenta de la SEC, Mary Jo White, en una audiencia en el Congreso federal, coincidió con Velázquez en el tema. “Creo que esa laguna debe cerrarse”, dijo entonces White.

Esta semana, en una audiencia del Comité de Banca, Vivienda y Asuntos Urbanos, el senador Robert Menéndez, de Nueva Jersey, y otros seis senadores pidieron a la SEC una investigación sobre los actos, actividades y acciones relacionadas con la garantía, venta, distribución y las negociaciones sobre la deuda durante los años que han llevado a la crisis de la Isla.

“Estamos muy centrados en los asuntos que usted ha levantado”, contestó White a Menéndez.

En otras cosas, si los fondos mutuos locales hubieran estado bajo la lupa de la SEC, estos no habrían podido crear una estructura de apalancamiento a 50%, que tiene el efecto de aumentar marcadamente el riesgo de tales productos de inversión.

De igual forma, una misma casa de corretaje no habría podido servir de consultor financiero y posteriormente estructurar la emisión de bonos de la entidad asesorada, lo que ocurrió con la emisión de $3,000 millones de la Administración de los Sistemas de Retiro (ASR). La emisión, a su vez, fue adquirida por los propios fondos mutuos locales de la firma y luego se vendieron a los clientes individuales de esta.

El fin de una era

A juicio del economista y profesor de Finanzas Antonio Fernós Sagebién, si el HR5233 se convierte en ley,  junto con la entrada de una junta de control fiscal supone el fin del estado de derecho en materia de la deuda de Puerto Rico.

Fernós Sagebién indicó que la medida podría afectar el nicho de manejo de activos en Puerto Rico, pues la gestión de fondos regulados por la SEC supone invertir más recursos para cumplir con mayor reglamentación.

El economista agregó que la decisión también afecta al gobierno, pues este, junto con la industria de valores local ayudó a crear un mercado –con beneficios contributivos que no tenían comparable con otras inversiones– para asegurar que la deuda que emitían las distintas agencias de gobierno pudiera venderse.

“Había una maquinaria aceitada donde todo el mundo cobraba. En esto, hay un tema de riesgo moral que incluye al propio Banco Gubernamental de Fomento (BGF) porque este daba el visto bueno a la transacción y cobraba por ese servicio”, sostuvo Fernós Sagebién, al describir la dinámica que se creó en Puerto Rico en materia de deuda y venta de esos bonos a clientes como “incestuosa”.

El economista catalogó la legislación como loable, pero también sostuvo que el proyecto surge después de que el daño “está hecho”.

“Esta legislación entraría en vigor después de los hechos”, dijo Fernós Sagebién al recordar que miles de puertorriqueños han perdido todos sus ahorros, tras invertir la mayoría o la totalidad de sus ahorros en los fondos mutuos cerrados y los bonos diseñados solo para residentes de Puerto Rico y que no pasaron por el crisol de la SEC.