Now That He’s President, Trump Is Sounding More Positive About The Economy Wednesday, Aug 9 2017 

When Donald Trump was running for president last year, he never failed to portray the U.S. economy in the direst terms, with sky-high jobless rates, an anemic manufacturing sector and huge trade deficits as far as the eye could see.

“Look, our country is stagnant. We’ve lost our jobs. We’ve lost our businesses. We’re not making things anymore, relatively speaking,” he said during one of the presidential debates.

What a difference an election makes.

These days, President Trump sees a lot to like in the U.S. economy and frequently cites positive statistics to make the case that things are getting better.

“Prosperity is coming back to our shores, because we’re putting American workers and families first,” Trump said in his weekly address to the nation on Saturday. “We continue to see incredible results.”

Not only is the Dow Jones industrial average hitting records on a regular basis, breaking 22,000 for the first time ever last week, but the U.S. economy grew by 2.6 percent in the second quarter of this year, he notes.

“Economic growth has surged to 2.6 percent nationwide. You have to understand what that means. Nobody thought that number was going to happen,” Trump told an audience in West Virginia on Thursday.

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He has even changed his tune on the job market.

During the campaign Trump frequently derided the monthly jobless rate put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, saying it didn’t reflect the number of people who had given up looking for work and thus were technically out of the labor market. The true unemployment rate was much higher, perhaps as much as 42 percent, he said.

When Fox News host Bill O’Reilly noted that the jobless rate fell to 4.9 percent in February 2016, Trump replied, “These are phony numbers put out by politicians to make them look good. When you hear 5 percent and 4.9 percent, it’s not the right number.”

These days, however, Trump seems to like the BLS numbers just fine. In his weekly address, Trump cited the fact that the unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent in July.

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“Since our election, we’ve added more than one million new jobs, and the good news keeps pouring in,” Trump said in West Virginia.

But how true is the notion that the U.S. economy has suddenly turned a corner?

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, says some good things are happening these days, such as the surge in stock prices. Holtz-Eakin, who served under both Bush administrations and was an adviser to Arizona Sen. John McCain, likes Trump’s focus on deregulation, which he thinks could help businesses.

But Holtz-Eakin says on the whole the economy isn’t really performing all that much differently than it has in the recent past.

“By and large, we still have the same strengths. We continue to see the unemployment rate fall. We continue to see jobs created. We continue to have the same weaknesses. We don’t see wages rising rapidly enough to greatly raise the standard of living,” he says.

It’s true that consumers and businesses are expressing more confidence in the economy. But so far there’s no evidence they are spending any more than they were last year, he notes.

As for Trump’s claims about the unanticipated second-quarter growth rate of 2.6 percent? That’s about average these days. The economy grew by 2.2 percent during the same quarter last year, and it actually reached 2.9 percent for all of 2015, when Trump said the economy was in such dismal shape.

It is true that stock prices have been rising steadily since Trump’s election, with the Dow up more than 20 percent. But economists disagree about what’s behind the increase.

And even if the economy were doing a lot better, it’s not clear how much credit Trump could take. So far most of the items on his agenda, such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and overhauling the tax code, have been stalled in Congress and don’t seem likely to go anywhere anytime soon.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

FDA Proposes Cutting Nicotine Amounts In Cigarettes Friday, Jul 28 2017 

Nicotine will now be at the center of the Food and Drug Administration’s effort to regulate tobacco, the agency said, announcing that it will aim to lower the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to a level that will help curb addiction.

It would be the first time in the agency’s history that it has sought to regulate the amount of nicotine in cigarettes.

“The overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes – the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Friday. “Unless we change course, 5.6 million young people alive today will die prematurely later in life from tobacco use.”

The plan had an immediate effect on the stock market.

“It’s a real blow to big tobacco,” NPR’s Rob Stein says. “There’s no question about that. And tobacco stocks have already started to fall” after Friday’s announcement.

Under the new timeline, the FDA said, makes of cigars, pipe tobacco and hookah tobacco would have until Aug. 8, 2021 to submit applications.

“Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, causing more than 480,000 deaths every single year,” the FDA said in announcing the plan. The agency added that the toll also has a monetary cost, with “direct health care and lost productivity costs totaling nearly $300 billion a year.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Unemployment Rates Up In 96 Kentucky Counties Friday, Jul 28 2017 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky officials say unemployment rates have increased in 96 of the state’s 120 counties between June 2016 and June 2017.

The state Office of Employment and Training says the unemployment rate fell in 20 counties during that period and stayed the same in four counties.

The agency says Woodford County had the state’s lowest jobless rate at 3.8 percent. It was followed by Shelby County at 4.2 percent and Oldham County and Spencer counties at 4.3 percent each.

Magoffin County had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 18 percent. Leslie County was next at 12.2 percent, followed by Elliott County at 11.8 percent, Letcher County at 11.4 percent and Harlan County at 11.2 percent.

Bottom Line: A Push For More Nonstop Flights; Billion-Dollar Bank Merger Friday, Jul 28 2017 

A new nonprofit group wants to bring more nonstop flights to Louisville. The Louisville Regional Airlift Development, Inc., says increasing direct flights is key to making the city a better place to attract businesses.

Boston and Los Angeles are seen as top priorities for direct flights in terms of business, according the group.

The coalition is seeking to fund the endeavor with about $4 million from a mix of government and private sources. Thursday morning, the Kentucky Economic Development Authority approved a $1.3 million grant to match another $1.3 million from the city of Louisville and other civic partners.

WFPL’s Susan Sweeney Crum talked with Shea Van Hoy, managing editor of Business First, about this and the other top business stories of the week. Listen in the player above.

And here’s more on the stories we’re talking about this week, from Business First:

New air coalition seeks $4M to support more nonstop flights in Louisville

Billion-dollar bank merger will bring a new brand to Louisville

Plans for 512-lot subdivision in Greater Louisville area disclosed

University of Kentucky Ag Program To Sell Its Own Wine Monday, Jul 24 2017 

The University of Kentucky is getting into the wine business.

The school announced it will start selling wine it produces from its horticulture research farm — but only on a limited basis and to a limited group.

The wine will only be available through a subscription-based community supported agriculture program for faculty, staff and students.

It will also be available at UK owned-and-operated facilities such as the Boone Center and Spindletop Hall.

Patsy Wilson, an extension specialist for viticulture at UK, said the goal is not to compete with the state’s $165 million wine and grape industry, but to make its research program sustainable.

“Selling wine is twofold in helping our program financially as well as just not wasting a lot of product,” she said.

Along with harvesting research grapes and composting, making experimental wine on the farm means that a lot of wine gets poured out.

Tyler Madison, program manager at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Grape and Wine Council said the university is integral to the state’s wine and grape industry.

“What UK does is probably the most important thing for the wine industry,” he said.

That includes planting different varieties of grapes and sharing with growers what works well and what doesn’t.

“We like to do all the trial and error for the growers,” Wilson said.

And the university hopes by selling its wine it can present new varieties to wine consumers.

“My hope is that we can do some introduction to some of these hybrid grapes that do well, not just in Kentucky, but in the Eastern region,” Wilson said.

Some of the white and red hybrids that grow well in the state are Vidal Blanc, Norton, Chambourcin and Vignoles.

According to 2014 data, there were 125 grape growers in the state, and 216,000 yearly visitors to Kentucky wineries.

UK will begin limited sales of wine it produces once it gets licensing, which officials hope happens later this year. Wilson said prices for the wine CSAs are still being worked out.

Bottom Line: You Can Now Get Booze Delivered Right To Your Door Friday, Jul 21 2017 

Some lucky Louisvillians can now get beer, wine and liquor delivered to their homes. Party Mart, owned by Louisville businessman Jonathan Blue, has launched an alcohol delivery service.

The Kentucky General Assembly earlier this year repealed a ban on alcohol-delivery service. Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control hasn’t yet written regulations on alcohol delivery in the state, so for now, companies can operate on an open-order basis.

Shea Van Hoy, managing editor of Business First, joined us to talk about this and the other top business stories of the week. He spoke with WFPL’s Susan Sweeney Crum. Listen in the player above.

And here’s more on the stories we’re talking about this week, from Business First:

EXCLUSIVE: Liquor store brand launching alcohol delivery service in Louisville

EXCLUSIVE: The sons of a Louisville restaurant legend are bringing something fresh to Germantown

FIRST LOOK: Check out Louisville’s latest high-tech library before it opens (PHOTOS)

Bottom Line: Downtown Hyatt Sells For $50M; Former PNC Tower’s Money Woes Friday, Jul 14 2017 

One of Louisville’s largest hotels has changed hands in a $50 million deal. The 393-room Hyatt Regency on Fourth Street was sold to a local LLC registered to Pennsylvania real estate investment firm Roch Capital Inc.

Shea Van Hoy, managing editor of Business First, joins us to talk about this and the other top business stories of the week. Listen in the player above.

And here’s more on the stories we’re talking about this week, from Business First:

Downtown Louisville hotel sells for $50M

EXCLUSIVE: Downtown Louisville office tower facing financial troubles after PNC vacates

Four Roses is making a $55 million gamble on its heritage

Should Kentucky Spend Millions To Widen The Gene Snyder? Friday, Jul 14 2017 

Nearly 4,000 miles of road in the Commonwealth need significant repairs. That’s according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. In late June, the agency released a list of transportation priorities for its next six-year Highway Plan.

Number one on that list: widening a corridor of Louisville’s Gene Snyder Freeway.

If you take I-265 in the morning and evening, you’ve been in traffic. The state transportation cabinet wants to widen the Gene Snyder to six lanes between Taylorsville Road and I-71.  

“The thousands of motorists who drive there every day are going to see the benefit,” said Andrea Clifford, Louisville district public information officer with the cabinet. “There are significant backups during the morning and afternoon commutes on that route.”

As of now, none of the projects on the list are guaranteed to happen; they’re only recommendations. But if they’re all included in the state’s six-year highway plan, the price tag of widening the Gene Snyder would be $123 million.

In an emailed statement, Naitore Djigbenou with the transportation cabinet said: “Widening highways increases access to an area, and alleviating traffic can be a benefit of that. Regarding the Gene Synder [Freeway], adding more lanes increases safety in sections where there is weaving.”

Although it tops the state’s list of road priorities, some transportation experts have long said spending money to widen highways to alleviate congestion just doesn’t work.

“It actually backfires pretty badly,” said Sarah Kaufman, assistant director at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management.

She said what happens is that lanes are added, and it’s great for a while, but eventually the demand catches up.

“And the congestion and the slower traffic will resume once again, but this time in more lanes of traffic,” said Kaufman.

And Kaufman said there are other negative effects of highway expansion.

“One issue with it is that there’s urban sprawl being created and perpetuated by having more highway space,” she said.

Kaufman said commuters move farther away from the city center when more highway space is created. “But it catches up when the highway gets to a choke point,” she said.

Despite some negative effects, highway expansion is a nationally favored solution to alleviating congestion.

“A good part of the reason that highway expansion is so popular in the United States is because our federal funding for it is pretty high,” said Kaufman.

The federal government spends more money on highways than public transportation, Kaufman said. Still, she said it’s not enough to keep every highway and road up to date, so they have to prioritize which roads and highways to invest in.

Other Benefits?

Besides potentially alleviating traffic congestion, adding more lanes could also benefit the environment. Andrea Clifford with the transportation cabinet said with fewer vehicles idling in traffic, there would presumably be less exhaust in the air, adding to the air quality. That’s if traffic diminished.

Another benefit of highway expansion is the potential for economic development. Companies are more likely to locate in an area where there’s increased connectivity.

“To say that you’re going to add a lane to the Snyder certainly will help today’s situation,” said Larry Chaney, director of transportation at Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency. “Will it help tomorrow? We really don’t know.”

He said there are things you can do if you really want to alleviate traffic, which include congestion pricing, increasing parking costs in downtown Louisville and building out public transit.

“As could adding [highway] lanes,” he said. “It all sort of needs to work together.”

A comprehensive transportation plan focuses on mobility and connectivity for everyone, not just alleviating congestion for those with access to vehicles. But even with good roads, wider highways, public transportation and millions of dollars to invest, traffic at certain times of the day may be unavoidable.

The bottom line, said Chaney, is if you have a growing economy and good population growth, traffic is inevitable — and more and wider highways are only part of the solution.

Steely Ban: Ohio Valley Steel Makers Await Trump Import Decision Wednesday, Jul 12 2017 

Steel makers and manufacturers around the Ohio Valley are waiting for a report from the Trump administration that could trigger higher tariffs on imported steel and bring mixed results for a region that still has strong ties to the industry.

During the presidential campaign, Trump told voters he would place sanctions on steel imports from China and other countries, and the report being prepared by the Commerce Department could provide a rationale for new tariffs.

In a statement, Cincinnati-based AK Steel said the company supports the administration’s investigation into “threats to our country’s national security due to unfair and illegal trade practices by foreign producers.” AK Steel has facilities in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Although the region’s steel industry has declined dramatically since its peak more than a half century ago, the American Iron and Steel Institute says the industry still supports more than 20,500 jobs at 38 iron and steel facilities in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

In April, President Trump asked the Commerce Dept. to report on whether the country’s reliance on foreign steel imports affects national security. The Trade Expansion Act gives the president power to use tariffs if excessive foreign imports are found to threaten national security, but that is rarely invoked.

Senate Commerce Committee staff

Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross meets Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.

While relatively little imported steel is used directly in defense-related manufacturing, AK Steel maintains that critical infrastructure should also be considered, “especially in areas like electrical steels, which are used to power our nation’s electrical grid.”

The company statement said electrical steel imports have doubled over the past year.

Western Kentucky University Economics Professor Brian Strow predicted that Trump will follow through on his campaign pledge, but warned that tariffs will likely have negative effects for the region.

“I believe that they’re coming but I’m not happy about it,” Strow said.

He said higher prices on imported steel would have an adverse effect on some regional businesses sensitive to costs for raw materials, such as auto manufacturing.

“Kentucky is big in the auto industry,” he said, “and it turns out that cars need steel and most of the steel we put into U.S. cars comes from abroad.”

Strow said there are far more people in the region employed in the automobile industry than in steel.

“So it’s a case of politicians trying to reward one specific special interest group at the cost of others,” he said.

And then, Strow said, there is the likelihood of retaliation by trading partners that could affect any number of exports important to the regional economy. A European Union official even called out Kentucky bourbon as a potential target for retaliatory tariffs.

Strow recalled that when President George W. Bush imposed tariffs on steel imports in 2002, Europeans responded with their own import tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles, a good produced in a swing state Bush needed for re-election.

“They went for the political jugular,” Strow said. “And I suspect that’s what they’re doing with the bourbon industry.”

The Commerce Dept. and White House officials have indicated the steel imports report is coming soon. In his business career, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross purchased several bankrupt steel companies, including Bethlehem Steel Corporation and Weirton Steel in the Ohio Valley. He sold the companies in 2005.

How To See If Home Prices Are Rising Or Falling Where You Live Saturday, Jul 8 2017 

Home prices have finally clawed their way back to the peak of the housing bubble. That’s on average nationally. The story is very different when you zoom in on different counties or cities in particular.

It’s also a different picture if you adjust for inflation. A new tabulation of home price data by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies lets you do just that. You can zoom in on an interactive map to see what prices are doing in various parts of the country.

San Francisco, Nashville and Pittsburgh are among the 15 percent of housing markets around the country where prices have actually risen above their prior peaks in the mid-2000s after adjusting for inflation. Less fortunate are Cleveland, Phoenix and much of Florida, where prices are still at least 26 percent below where they were before the bubble burst.

In terms of how the overall housing market has been doing lately, it’s recovering but not yet recovered, says William Wheaton, a housing economist at MIT.

“There’s a lot of discussion right now about how sales should be more robust and they’re not, given where we are in this stage of the economic recovery,” he says. Americans are buying the same number of homes they were 18 years ago. And Wheaton says the population has grown since, so sales should be stronger.

There are many factors at play, he says. Young people are taking longer to settle down, get married and buy their first house. But also, “a large part of the activity in the housing market is what we think of as ‘churn,’ … people who are buying one house and selling another,” he says. “Churn is down quite a lot.”

Housing economists say part of that is likely due to the fact that prices are just now on average returning to their pre-crash peaks (in nominal, or non-inflation-adjusted, terms). That means that in many parts of the country people don’t have any or much equity in their house if they bought during the bubble or used up their equity with a home equity loan back then.

Wheaton says this is a big part of why he doesn’t consider the market as recovered yet. He says not enough homeowners are “sitting on top of little nest eggs of equity and can say, ‘Oh, you know, now we can go buy the house down the street we always wanted.’ “

On a brighter note, at least some of the decline in people buying and selling houses might be due to something else. Americans are moving around the country a lot less than they used to. In fact, 25 years ago, Americans were more than twice as likely to pick up and move from one state to another.

“It’s a huge difference in how people are moving around the country today than they did a generation ago,” says Greg Kaplan, an economist at the University of Chicago.

Kaplan has done research that suggests a central reason for this change is that people don’t have to move as often to find a good job that matches their skills.

“It used to be the case that if computer science was your thing and you wanted to be a software engineer, the best place for you to reap a return on those skills was to go to Silicon Valley,” he says. “Now, that’s probably still true today; it’s just less true than it used to be.”

So, Kaplan says, if you want to live in Kansas City or Phoenix, maybe to stay close to friends and family, there’s a more diverse range of job opportunities in more parts of the country. Kaplan calls this “the decline in geographic specificity of occupations.” That’s a mouthful but, he says, it “basically means you can do everything everywhere.” Or maybe not everything, but at least today people have more options.

There’s another factor at work in the market right now: Realtors say a tight supply of homes is a problem in a lot of places. That’s also related to the low churn rate that Wheaton talks about — fewer people selling their houses to buy other houses.

Put all this together, and probably the biggest reason the housing market isn’t back to normal is that we still haven’t quite gotten over the hangover from the worst housing crash since the Great Depression.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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