Venture Capital Declining

An article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal documents a decline in venture capitalists.  Both the number of VC firms and their capital under management have declined sharply:

A large number of individual VCs are also departing their firms.  And, the Journal notes:

The actual number of exits might be even higher than the trade group’s figures indicate. Venture-capital funds are typically 10-year investment vehicles. That means even if a venture capitalist no longer actively invests, he or she can remain on a firm’s masthead because they have to wind up their investments in older funds.

The article is worth reading in full for its discussion of the factors — weak economy, reduced investment capital, natural turnover, etc. — that are contributing to the decline in venture activity and the departure of individual VCs.

I don’t know how much this generalizes (readers please chime in) but one VC friend of mine reports two other factors that may be driving him and some other successful VCs from the business:

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Cloudy Jobs Data

Markets greeted this morning’s jobs reports with enthusiasm, as the headline measure of job losses in May — 345,000 — came in significantly lower than expected.  Under normal circumstances, losing more than 300,000 jobs would be bad news.  Of course, these aren’t normal circumstances.

The unemployment rate in May was much less welcome, rising to 9.4% from 8.9% in April.  Part of the increase was due to the labor force expanding — a positive sign — but most was due to an increased number of people being unemployed.

These figures all refer to the headline measure of unemployment (U-3, in the lingo), which focuses on workers who have lost a job and are looking for a new one.  The government also publishes several broader measures of unemployment that account for other ways in which workers may be less employed than they desire.  The broadest of these, known as U-6, adds two groups to the regular measure: those who are marginally attached to the labor force (people who are willing to work and have worked in the past, but aren’t actively looking; this includes discouraged workers) and those who are working part-time even though they want to work full-time.

As shown in the following chart, the U-6 paints a grimmer picture of the U.S. labor market:

Unemployment

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Growing Government Transfers

I’ve received several emails today about a story posted last night by USA Today.  The story points out that government transfers now make up more than one-sixth of American incomes, the highest ever.  Naturally, some observers welcome this development, while others denounce it.

I thought it would be useful to side-step that debate and instead provide some historical context.  To begin, the following chart shows the ratio of government transfers to personal income from January 1959 through April 2009 (the most recent data):

Government Transfers 0 Continue reading “Growing Government Transfers”

Auction the Warrants: Follow-Up

Summary: Readers had some excellent comments on last week’s post about auctioning the TARP warrants.  Here are some updated thoughts. 

Last week I argued that the Treasury should auction off the warrants it received when it made TARP investments in banks.  Specifically, when banks are ready to repay the TARP investment, Treasury should auction the associated warrants to the highest bidder, which might turn out to be a private investor or the bank itself. Among other things, I argued that this approach would enhance the transparency of the process, ensure that taxpayers get a fair return on their investment, and allow banks to preserve needed capital.  A potential win all-around.

In response, readers sent me several very helpful comments that deserve highlighting.

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The Politics of Auctions

Over at Economic Principals, David Warsh has a nice post about how political considerations often limit the use of auctions in solving public policy challenges.

In principle, auctions are a powerful tool for allocating public assets in an efficient and transparent manner.  The FCC has had great success auctioning off portions of the radio spectrum, for example, and the Treasury uses auctions every week to sell the debt necessary to finance our government.  But other uses of auctions — e.g., to allocate landing slots at congested airports or to distribute allowances under a climate cap-and-trade program — face strong opposition from some businesses and some politicians. (ht: Marginal Revolution)

The Long U

Like many economists, I do not expect the U.S. economy to rebound briskly from its current troubles. The economy may well return to positive growth in the third or fourth quarter, as many forecasters anticipate, but that doesn’t mean that the suffering is over. In short, I don’t expect the recovery to be a V, with recent declines offset by a rapid recovery. Nor, for that matter, do I expect a Japan-like L, in which the economy flattens at its new low level. Instead, I expect a Long U, in which the economy heals slowly before eventually returning to solid growth.

My recent post comparing the magnitude of economic downturns certainly generated lots of feedback.  Some comments were constructive and inspired edits to the original post, some comments were constructive but didn’t lead me to change anything, and some were, er, less than constructive.

Taken together, the comments did inspire me to think through the issues again, and I realized that there is one significant limitation to my analysis that is worth emphasizing: the Long U problem.

Like many economists, I do not expect the U.S. economy to rebound briskly from its current troubles.  The economy may well return to positive growth in the third or fourth quarter, as many forecasters anticipate, but that doesn’t mean that the suffering is over.

In short, I don’t expect the recovery to be a V, with recent declines offset by a rapid recovery.  Nor, for that matter, do I expect a Japan-like L, in which the economy flattens at its new low level.  Instead, I expect a Long U, in which the economy heals slowly before eventually returning to solid growth.

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