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What is Deflation?

Deflation is an economic term used to describe a trend of broad-based price declines for goods and services. Deflation is generally considered a big negative in the realm of economics. If a country is experiencing deflation, it is usually because demand for goods has fallen substantially, pushing prices down. It can also be tied to falling investment and government spending, both factors that signal weak demand in an economy. Continue reading...

What is Demand?

Demand is a measure of consumer’s desire to purchase goods and services. High demand for a product typically puts upward pressure on price, and vice versa. Demand is a key metric in reading price trends and a company’s ability to set price point. Weaker demand on a global macro level implies that countries are investing less, developing less, and therefore focused less on growth. Sustained downtrends in demand will generally lead to recessionary conditions. Often times, central banks will try to step-in and stoke demand by lowering the cost of money (interest rates). Continue reading...

What is the Discount Rate?

The Discount Rate can actually have multiple meanings, but the most prevalent one is in regards to the minimum interest rate the Federal Reserve will charge for lending to commercial banks. The Federal Reserve sets the discount rate in an effort to discourage or encourage commercial banks to borrow, depending on the economic conditions. The discount rate also refers to the rate used to calculate the present value of future cash flows, as part of Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) analysis. Continue reading...

What is Economies of Scale?

Economies of Scale is an economic concept that says the efficiency of production rises as the quantity of goods produced increases. With scale, the costs associated with production should decrease thereby allowing a company to increase profitability with more goods produced. However, in many cases the upside potential is not necessarily unlimited. A company may experience diminishing marginal returns to producing more goods. Continue reading...

What is the Federal Funds Rate?

The federal funds rate is the overnight rate at which commercial lenders lend excess reserves to other institutions, on an un-collateralized basis. This term is unique to the United States, though other central banks around the world also have an overnight rate. The federal funds rate is a closely watched and crucial rate for determining how easy capital is to access. The lower the fed funds rate, the more accessible the Federal Reserve is trying to make cash - to inspire banks to borrow and lend. The opposite is also true, where the Fed may raise the fed funds rate if an economy is overheating or lending needs to be curbed. Continue reading...

What is the Federal Open Market Committee?

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is the monetary policy-making body of the Federal Reserve System. The FOMC makes the decision on “raising” or “lowering” interest rates, which refers to moves in the federal funds rate. The FOMC consists of 12 members, which is comprised of the seven members of the Board of Governors and 5 of the 12 Reserve Bank presidents. The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York always has a seat on the FOMC, while the other presidents rotate for one year terms. This policy-making body meets eight times a year to decide monetary policy, which consists of setting the benchmark interest rate and make decisions regarding the supply of money. All dependent on economic conditions. Continue reading...

What is Fiscal Policy?

Fiscal Policy refers to the tactics used by a central government to influence the nation’s economy, whether by setting tax and/or spending policies. Fiscal policy is related to monetary policy, in that they are both aimed to either boost an economy or temper growth to avoid overheating. A fiscal policy conducive to growth would aim to have low taxes and higher level of spending. When a government invokes “austerity” measures, it means they are trying to cut spending most likely to reel-in budget deficits or overall debt levels. Continue reading...

What is Hyperinflation?

Hyperinflation is when a rate of inflation grows exponentially, and a currency is rapidly devalued. Hyperinflation occurs in the midst of dire economic circumstances. This is usually partially due to the piling on of downward price pressure in which newly printed currency rapidly floods the market as the government attempts to cover debt obligations. Sometimes this stems from situations where the government is having trouble receiving adequate taxes from the population. Continue reading...

What is the Interbank Rate?

The interbank rate is the average lending rate used between banks of comparable size and creditworthiness when they borrow money from each other. The Federal Funds Rate is the benchmark in America, while LIBOR (the London Interbank Offered Rate) is more prevalent elsewhere. These are indexes which are used to determine rates and terms for other financial instruments and swaps. The Prime Rate, or the rate banks will used for their most credit-worthy customers, is tied to the interbank rate but is slightly higher of course. In America the Federal Funds Rate is so called because the Central bank participates in the lending. This is sometimes called the overnight rate when it refers to money that is lent between banks overnight. Continue reading...

What is a Rate Swap?

A rate swap is the exchange of cash flows on underlying principals which are not exchanged. It is an over-the-counter contract between two institutions to trade the cash flows on two comparable principal amounts, but not to exchange the actual principal amounts. Institutions might prefer this arrangement because they only have access to floating interest rates or are overweight in them and would prefer to have some fixed rate interest cash flow, or vice versa. These swaps might occur between banks on opposite sides of the world to take advantage of rates elsewhere or to simply diversify their risks. Continue reading...

What is an Inverted Yield Curve?

An inverted yield curve occurs when long-term treasuries have a lower yield than short-term treasuries. Normally, investors would not be interested in a such an arrangement and the yields would have to come up to generate some demand. However, if investor sentiment is bearish enough on bonds, they will seek to avoid the interest rate risk of short-term bonds, which will expire sooner and leave them unable to find a good rate at that point potentially. Investors with that mindset will pile on demand for long-term bonds, which drives the price up and the yields down. Continue reading...

What is the Consumer Price Index (CPI)?

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measure of the average change, over time, in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. The CPI is an important economic indicator, as it’s changes influence the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions and it gives an indication if an economy is experiencing adequate inflation. The most common reading on the CPI is % change from a previous period, with most developed economies generally striving for 2% annualized inflation. Continue reading...

How is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) Calculated?

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is calculated using prices of sample goods from predetermined urban areas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the CPI is a product of a series of interrelated samples. First, using data from the 1990 Census of Population, BLS selected the urban areas from which data on prices were collected and chose the housing units within each area that were eligible for use in the shelter component of the CPI. The Census of Population also provided data on the number of consumers represented by each area selected as a CPI price collection area. Continue reading...

What is Freddie Mac?

Freddie Mac is a government-sponsored company which purchases mortgages from banks and securitizes them for sales to investment banks or individuals. Freddie Mac is not a government organization, but was established by a congressional mandate in the 1970’s. It’s proper name is the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC). The company’s purpose is to make mortgage debts into marketable securities by purchasing the mortgage risk and cash flow from banks and dividing into tranches which are sold to or through investment banking institutions. The securitized mortgages are known as Collateralized Mortgage Obligations, or CMO’s. Continue reading...

What is GAAP?

Freddie Mac is a government-sponsored company which purchases mortgages from banks and securitizes them for sales to investment banks or individuals. Freddie Mac is not a government organization, but was established by a congressional mandate in the 1970’s. It’s proper name is the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC). The company’s purpose is to make mortgage debts into marketable securities by purchasing the mortgage risk and cash flow from banks and dividing into tranches which are sold to or through investment banking institutions. The securitized mortgages are known as Collateralized Mortgage Obligations, or CMO’s. Continue reading...

What is Ginnie Mae?

Ginnie Mae is the colloquial name for the Government National Mortgage Association, or GNMA. It brokers mortgage-backed securities which are backed by the full faith and credit of the US Government. Among Ginnie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae, only Ginnie Mae is actually owned by the government and issues securities which are backed by the full faith and credit of the US Government. Ginnie Mae’s mission is to increase liquidity and decrease risk to mortgage lenders so that Americans are able to purchase homes. Continue reading...

What is the Glass-Steagall Act?

The Glass-Steagall Act was passed in 1933 to place a dividing wall between commercial banking and investment banking. It was in an effort to protect consumers and the economy from the risks of speculative investment banking. JP Morgan and other large institutions were targeted. The act was partially repealed and replaced in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. After 2008, some opined that the repeal of the original act contributed to the financial crises, and they instituted the Volcker Rule, which reinstated part of the original Glass-Steagall act. Continue reading...

What is a Global Depository Receipt (GDR)?

A Global Depository Receipt is a security which represents ownership in shares of a foreign corporation. Investment banks in the United States and elsewhere purchase shares in foreign corporations and sell the equity in the form of a Global Depository Receipt, also called an International Depository Receipt, and formerly known as an American Depository Receipt. They allow foreign companies to find investors in other countries, and vice versa, and the Americans and other foreigners can pay for the GDRs in American currency. They are typically sold in lots such that 1 GDR equals 10 shares of the underlying foreign company, but other ratios can be used. Continue reading...

What is GDP?

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the production of all industries within a country, to get a picture of how the national economy is doing. GDP is one of the most important number to economists, and it is calculated every quarter. Growth for the current quarter compared to the previous quarter is a good sign. Two consecutive quarters of decline in GDP are an indication of a recession, but it is not the only metric used to make that call. Continue reading...

What is the Income of the Average American?

This is a simple question, but one that varies almost exclusively based on geographical location (cost of living). According to the US Census Bureau, in 2008, the Median Household Income for the state of Mississippi was $37,818, while the figure for Maryland was $70,482. In California, the average was at $61,017, and in Arkansas it was $38,820. Since the cost of living is drastically different in various states, counties, and even cities, the figure changes drastically. In San Francisco, California, for example, the median income for 2008 was $71,957, while in Billings, Montana, the figure was $35,147 (less than half as much). Continue reading...

What is Future Value?

Future Value is the hypothetical value of an investment at a specific date in the future. The future value (FV) of an investment or business is a calculation used in several types of planning and accounting. In a Time Value of Money (TVM) calculation, the Future Value is often the starting point, and the interest rate that will be earned in the meantime is called Discount Rate, and is discounted by the number of years of periods back to the present time. This allows investors to see the Present Value (PV), which is a lesser, discounted amount from the future value, and gives us the premise for the Time Value of Money, which is that “a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.” Continue reading...

What is the Gearing Ratio?

In mechanics, gears are used to increase torque and to translate the force to other areas. In finance, a gearing ratio is a term referring the amount leverage being used, compared to the amount of equity. A high gearing ratio is almost the same as a high debt-to-equity ratio. The gearing ratio is computed in a slightly different manner. Gearing is another word for leverage. High amounts of debt can spell trouble for a company down the road, and investors are wise to consider that. Continue reading...

What is Intrinsic Value?

Intrinsic Value is the value of a security which is “built into it.” Both options and stocks have it, but it is different for each. Options and stocks have intrinsic value. For options, the intrinsic value is easy to compute, if the option is in-the-money. It is the difference between the strike price of the option and the market price of the underlying security. If an option is out-of-the-money it has no intrinsic value. Continue reading...

What is the Law of Demand?

The Law of Demand states that as prices increase, demand will decrease, and vice versa. That is to say, price and quantity are inversely related. There are some things which have an inelastic demand, meaning the quantity demanded will remain constant no matter the price. Medicine is a good example. Vices to which people are addicted are as well, so some degree, and tobacco stocks are considered fairly safe and defensive in bad economic times. Continue reading...

What is Diminishing Marginal Utility?

The decrease in the usefulness or demand for something as more and more of it is introduced or produced. The easiest way to conceptualize diminishing marginal utility is by thinking of a factory into which you must put workers who will produce goods. The first group of workers you hire increases the productivity immensely compared to what was being produced before they were hired. The second group of workers helps a lot also, but not quite as much as the first. Some of the workers have downtime now for a few minutes a day when no work is being done. You hire a third bunch of workers to increase production to get closer to your competitors, and it works, but now some of the workers are supervisors and the new hires don’t have the same drive and sense of ownership in the company. Continue reading...

What is the Law of Supply?

All other things being equal, if the price of a good increases, the supply of that good will increase, and this is known as the Law of Supply. The Supply Curve is plotted on a graph with a y-axis being price and an x-axis being quantity. The relationship is positive and the line will climb up to the right. The is the opposite direction of the Demand Curve, and the place where the two intersect is considered to be the point of market equilibrium. The curves can be shifted by variables not present on the graph, such as changes in levels of income and other factors, but the slopes will remain the same, theoretically. Continue reading...

What is Cost of Capital?

The Cost of Capital is the hurdle over which a business must get to generate positive cash flow. It is what it will cost companies to get capital from investors. Companies sometimes use debts or equities to finance their business operations. The service paid on debt and the operating expenses are lines over which the revenue must get to be saved as retained earnings or distributed as dividends. The yield expected by investors on debt is the cost of capital for the company taking on those loans. Continue reading...

What is CAGR?

The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) is the compound discount rate which an investor would have to get to go from a present value to a future value. The compound annual growth rate can be computed using the ending value of an investment and taking the Nth root of it for the number of compounding periods (usually years). The idea is to have a smoothed average number that an initial would have to have received in a compounding investment to end up at the future value. Continue reading...

What is Monetary Policy?

Monetary policy is the stance of the central bank at any given time regarding the tightening or loosening of rates, or the issuance of new currency denominations, that will affect the money supply in the country. Monetary policy is the prerogative of the central bank but may be influenced by congress as well as private banking institutions and the central banks of other countries. The goal of monetary policy is to keep the Federal Funds Rate or the LIBOR, or whatever it might be depending on the country, at just the right level to keep the economy going in the direction that will be most helpful. Continue reading...

What is a Monopoly?

A monopoly is an unhealthy situation in the market in which a single company is the only option in a specific sector or area, which undermines the principals of a free market. In a free market, there is competition which keeps the prices and the quality of products as good as they can be for the consumer. The consumer will therefore receive the most value, and society will be in its best possible position, when the needs and demands of consumers are being addressed by several companies attempting to outdo each other to earn the consumer’s business. Continue reading...

What is Nominal GDP?

Nominal GDP is the value of all goods and services produced in a country, without adjustments for inflation. GDP is the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time, and is usually expressed quarterly. Nominal GDP is primarily used to compare quarters in the same year, and does not contain an inflation adjustment as with Real GDP, which is more useful for comparisons across years. Continue reading...

What is Stagflation?

Stagflation is the occurrence of both stagnation, which is slowing growth and production levels, and inflation, which is the increase of the average cost of goods. If production costs rise for some reason, such as higher oil prices, it can cause economic growth to slow down and the supply of goods in the market to drop. This is known as stagnation. The weakened supply of goods in the market and the higher production costs of the goods will cause the retail prices of the good in the market to go up. Continue reading...

What is the Unemployment Rate?

There are a few ways to measure unemployment, but it is normally interpreted as a percentage of the working-age population that does not have a job. The statistics that are used to determine unemployment rate typically use the number of unemployed people who are actively searching for a job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts a monthly poll called the Current Population Survey which goes out to about 50,000 households, and this is a significant source of unemployment data. Continue reading...

What is Accommodative Monetary Policy?

Accommodative monetary policy is when a central bank makes it easier for banks and consumers to borrow money by lowering the interbank exchange rate. A central bank, such as the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States, can influence the economy by loosening or tightening the money supply. Loosening the money supply is known as accommodative policy, because it give the businesses and individuals in the country access to a higher degree of liquidity. Continue reading...

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