Political Calculations
Unexpectedly Intriguing!
April 21, 2017

We're playing with a new online data visualization tool (for us): Datawrapper, where we've taken data from a press release issued by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons indicating the average cost and number of cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. during 2016 and visualized it. The results are below....

If you're accessing this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click here to see the chart (we won't know until after this post has gone live which, if any, republishing sites will have any issues displaying it - it's all part of the test drive process!)

Now, for good measure, here's a map we generated that indicates each U.S. state's most searched cosmetic procedure according to the Plastic Surgery Portal.


Same rules apply as before!

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April 20, 2017

The U.S. stock market has, for the most part, behaved in a very orderly fashion since the first quarter of 2016 ended just over a year ago.

But since 1 March 2017, when the S&P 500 reached its all-time record peak closing value of 2,395.96, the S&P 500 has dropped diagonally by three standard deviations from that peak value with respect to its fundamental trendline, as determined from the relationship between its value and the S&P 500's trailing year dividends per share.

S&P 500 Index Value vs Trailing Year Dividends per Share, 30 September 2015 through 19 April 2017, with period of order since 31 March 2016

To be fair, some would call that reverting to the mean, but since the S&P 500 peaked on 1 March 2017, the news that influences investors expectations for the future has been characterized by two main themes:

With all these things going on, a good question to ask might be how much more would it take for the S&P 500's nearly 13-month old period of order to finally break down?

As you can see in the chart, the answer is something of a moving target, but if it were to happen today (20 April 2017), it would take a decline of 56 points, or 2.4%, from its 19 April 2017 closing value of 2,338.17.

That also assumes that order in stock prices can be described by something that looks like a normal distribution with respect to the mean trend line of the relationship between stock prices and their underlying trailing year dividends per share, which is not strictly true, but does make for occasionally useful observations.

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April 19, 2017

One of the crazier things about the U.S. national debt is that it often takes a lot of months after the end of a given fiscal year for the U.S. Treasury to sort out who the U.S. federal government owes money, particularly when when that money is owed to foreign entities.

So here we are, just over halfway through the federal government's 2017 fiscal year, before we have a good idea of how much U.S. government-issued debt was held by its major foreign creditors at the end of the U.S. government's 2016 fiscal year, which ended on 30 September 2016! The following chart reveals who the biggest holders of the U.S. national debt were as of that time:

FY 2016: To Whom Does the U.S. Government Owe Money?

Officially, the U.S. government's total public debt outstanding is divided up into two parts: the "Public" portion of the national debt....

FY 2016: Who Owns the Public Portion of the U.S. National Debt?

And the so-called "Intragovernmental" portion of the national debt, where the latter category represents money owed to various trust funds established and operated by the U.S. government.

FY 2016: Who Owns the Intragovernmental Portion of the U.S. National Debt?

Right now, we can see that Social Security's Old Age and Survivors' Insurance Trust Fund accounts for a little over half of the Intragovernmental portion of the U.S. national debt, which works out to be nearly $2.8 trillion, or about one-seventh of the U.S. government's total public debt outstanding.

If Social Security's Trustee's are right, that number will steadily shrink to zero over the next 17 years, as that debt is cashed in to pay retirement benefits to Social Security recipients. When that number does reach zero, Social Security's Trustees have indicated that the program will be forced to revert to the program's original Pay-As-You-Go basis, where benefits can only be paid out of the payroll taxes that fund Social Security. When that happens, they predict that all Social Security benefits will need to be cut by 21%, unless Social Security's payroll taxes are increased from 12.4% of earned income (which is currently equally split between employers and employees) up to 15.78% of earned income.

Data Sources

U.S. Treasury. The Debt To the Penny and Who Holds It. [Online Application]. 30 September 2016.

Federal Reserve Statistical Release. H.4.1. Factors Affecting Reserve Balances. Release Date: 6 October 2016. [Online Document].

U.S. Treasury. Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities. Accessed 13 April 2017.

U.S. Treasury. Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2016 Through September 30, 2016. [PDF Document].

Social Security Board of Trustees. The 2016 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds. [PDF Document]. 22 June 2016.

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April 18, 2017

April 18th is U.S. Income Tax Day in 2017, and what better way to mark the day that all Americans' income taxes are due than by providing another form for you to fill out!

Why would you want to do this? Because if you don't, you'll never know just how much you would have been taxed when the original Form 1040 was first issued by the IRS back in 1913....

Our tool below is based upon the first page of the original Form 1040, which originally consisted of just four pages: the summary sheet modeled below (Page 1), the Gross Income calculation sheet (Page 2), the General Deductions sheet (Page 3) and finally, one page of Instructions (Page 4). Yes, you read that right. Just one page of instructions!

We'll make it just a bit easier still. All you need to do is to enter the indicated data (shown in boldface type) below with your figures from this year, and we'll take care of the math:

IRS Form 1040, Circa 1913
Return of Net Income Received or Accrued During the Year Ended December 31, 191_
1. Gross Income (see page 2, line 12)
2. General Deductions (see page 3, line 7)
3. Net Income  
Deductions and exemptions allowed in computing income subject to the normal tax of 1 per cent.
4. Dividends and net earnings received or accrued, of corporations, etc., subject to like tax. (See page 2, line 11)
5. Amount of income on which the normal tax has been deducted and withheld at the source. (See page 2, line 9, column A)
6. Specific exemption of $3000 or $4000, as the case may be. (See Instructions 3 and 19)
Total deductions and exemptions (Items 4, 5, and 6)
7. Taxable Income on which the normal tax of 1 per cent is to be calculated. (See Instruction 3)
8. When the net income shown above on line 3 exceeds $20,000, the additional tax thereon must be calculated as per schedule below:
  INCOME TAX
1 per cent on amount over $20,000 and not exceeding $50,000
2 per cent on amount over $50,000 and not exceeding $75,000
3 per cent on amount over $75,000 and not exceeding $100,000
4 per cent on amount over $100,000 and not exceeding $250,000
5 per cent on amount over $250,000 and not exceeding $500,000
6 per cent on amount over $500,000
Total additional or super tax
Total normal tax (1 per cent of amount entered on line 7)
Total tax liability

Excerpts from the Instructions

3. The normal tax of 1 per cent shall be assessed on the total net income less the specific exemption of $3,000 or $4,000 as the case may be. (For the year 1913, the specific exemption allowable is $2,500, or $3,333.33, as the case may be.) If, however, the normal tax has been deducted and withheld on any part of the income at the source, or if any part of the income is received as dividends upon the stock or from the net earnings of any corporation, etc., which is taxable upon its net income, such income shall be deducted from the individual's total net income for the purpose of calculating the amount of income on which the individual is liable for the normal tax of 1 per cent by virtue of this return.

19. An unmarried individual or a married individual not living with wife or husband shall be allowed an exemption of $3,000. When husband and wife live together they shall be allowed jointly a total exemption of only $4,000 on their aggregate income. They may make a joint return, both subscribing thereto, or if they have separate incomes, they may make separate returns; but in no case shall they jointly claim more than $4,000 exemption on their aggregate income.


Well, wasn't that a fun exercise! Are you ready for the "improved" modern version of the same thing now?

Or if you're up for a real challenge, you could try your hand at designing an even simpler tax code for Americans this year and beat President Trump while you're at it!



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April 17, 2017

The second week of April 2017 had bigger negatives than positives for the U.S. economy and markets, with stock prices behaving accordingly during the week. In this case, we think that those negatives led investors to bet that the Fed would delay the timing of its next expected rate hikes into the third quarter of 2017, which pulled the S&P 500 closer toward where our dividend futures-based model projects that stock prices would be if investors were fully focused on that period of time in the future.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2017Q2 - Standard Model - Snapshot on 13 April 2017

In the chart above, we observe that investors are still splitting their forward-looking focus between the current quarter of 2017-Q2 and 2017-Q3, where the weighting between these two quarters is now tilted slightly more heavily toward 2017-Q3.

The big reasons for that change are evident from the news for the week. First, from the perspective of economic fundamentals, banking stocks declined because of an apparent deceleration in the rate of growth for their lending operations.

The second reason has more to do with the effect of noise, in this case, arising from geopolitical concerns. Here, our thinking is the increase of tensions between the U.S. and Syria, increasing tensions with North Korea, and also the deployment of the U.S.' largest aerial-delivered ordnance in Afghanistan during the week is contributing to the future outlook of investors in that they are betting that the U.S. Federal Reserve will be more likely to pursue a policy of greater stability with respect to U.S. interest rates, which would be realized by the Fed keeping interest rates steady for a longer period of time.

Combined, these two events, one fundamentally-driven and one noise-driven, led investors to collectively refocus their attention away from 2017-Q2 and toward 2017-Q3 instead.

The interesting thing about this dynamic is that our model indicates that stock prices have considerably more room to move toward either quarter than was the case for the investing outlook during 2016-Q4 and 2017-Q1, when investors could shift their forward-looking attention between the future quarters of 2017-Q1 or 2017-Q2 without any noticeable impact on stock prices. We estimate that there's currently a potential 300 point spread between the alternative trajectories for the two quarters, where as of 13 April 2017, stock prices could fall by more than 130 points if investors were to fully focus on 2017-Q3.

But whether it might will depend upon what new information investors learn during the weeks ahead. As for what news influenced investors in Week 2 of April 2017, just scroll down for our summary of what we identified as the week's more significant headlines.

Monday, 10 April 2017
Tuesday, 11 April 2017
Wednesday, 12 April 2017
Thursday, 13 April 2017

Barry Ritholtz summarized the holiday-shortened week's positives and negatives for the U.S. economy and markets.

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About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

ironman at politicalcalculations.com

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