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Unemployment Rate Drops; Stock Market Continues Increase; Warrant Buffett Speaks about Woman in the Workplace

Aired May 4, 2013 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: Children kicked out of Head Start, fewer meals for low income seniors, smaller benefit checks for jobless American, the most vulnerable in America are crying out over Washington's forced budget cuts. Is anyone listening? I'm Christine Romans and this is YOUR MONEY. The pain of forced budget cuts known as the sequester, it is taking hold for some Americans. Call it a case of selective sequester around the country. Head Start programs are cutting slots for low-income children in the fall. The national Head Start Association gave us a few examples. In Kentucky, one large provider reports 164 spots gone. In California, three programs are slashing 382 spots. In Colorado, another big provider, cutting 138 spaces. Ultimately, 70,000 children could lose out.

Low-income seniors are losing Meals on Wheels. The southern Maine agency on aging tells us they've gone from providing up to 850 meals a weekend to 250.

If you get federal unemployment benefits in California, this week your check got smaller, about $79 less on average. And 19 other states and the District of Columbia are also sending out smaller checks. These cuts trickle down to America's most vulnerable. At the same time, there's only one part of the sequester Congress has stepped in to fix -- massive flight delays. Last week your elected leaders voted to give the FAA more flexibility so it could bring back furloughed air traffic controllers. A cynic would certainly wonder if members of Congress only cared about fixing flight delays because they'd actually feel those. Jon Stewart joked about it on "The Daily Show."


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": They don't care about Meals on Wheels unless it's rolling down an aisle.



ROMANS: And even the president said it.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted on these cuts finally realized that they actually apply to them, too.


ROMANS: We are now two months into this U.S. experiment with austerity, and it comes as debate rages in Europe over whether budget cuts have actually deepened the continent's suffering. Eurozone unemployment just hit a record, above 12 percent. That's on the left side of your screen. Here in the U.S., it has fallen to 7.5 percent, the lowest since December 2008.

Are we putting the U.S. recovery at risk if the sequester stays in place? Or can the U.S. economy absorb all this? Diane Swonk is the chief economist for Mesirow financial. John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior columnist with "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." Diane, let me start with you. The jobs report Friday, 165,000 jobs created, unemployment rate 7.5 percent. Did you see evidence of the sequester jobs report?

DIANE SWONK, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MESIROW FINANCIAL: Very little evidence. The part we started to see was federal jobs did outpace the loss in state and local jobs and that's completely the reverse of what we saw last year. And so now you're seeing the federal government become the headwind as the state and local government cuts abate. That's good news for the state and local side, bad news we're losing federal jobs in terms of overall jobs number.

And the sequester, it cascades over time. It's not something -- the sky is falling is not how the sequester worked. And so we'll see these effects multiply as we move into these next couple months.

ROMANS: We're starting to see these one after another. We talked about Head Start, Meals on Wheels, FAA, the flight delays. But here's what liberals say, John, liberals say that budget cuts and this newfound budget religion is just a way for conservatives to gut the programs they've always hated anyway.

JOHN AVLON, "THE DAILY BEAST": Yes. Republicans and conservatives have always had this sort of starve the beast theory of politics. But I do think that the debate we're having now is about what's the best way to achieve deficit and debt reduction, and realize that the x- factor is always economic growth.

And the folks on a pure austerity path -- two things. First of all, as with the flight delays, they realize that cuts have consequences. When it affects them personally, they don't like it so much. There's this attitude about cuts in politics, that it's cuts for thee but not for me. And that makes it painless, especially if they don't have advanced lobbying firms.

The second thing is, we know just by comparison what's going on in Europe, England in particular, that the austerity path hasn't worked. The data has come in. So actually looking for a balanced plan is more advantageous. And if we can find a grand bargain that actually preserves economic growth, maybe gooses it, while dealing with the long-term cost, that's the ultimate win.

ROMANS: Let's talk about Europe, because we've seen record high Eurozone unemployment. Is that a sign or symptom of austerity?

SWONK: Absolutely. There's no question about it. It would be ideal, and frankly the Federal Reserve would love to have complimentary instead of competitive monetary and fiscal policy. We want the two feeding each other, or at least not subtracting away. In Europe you've seen it to an extreme. They can't stimulate their economies easily with their central bank. They're a bunch of countries. It's not centralized. They're not dealing with it on a fiscal basis. You actually have actual depressions in parts of Europe instead of just, you know, the slow uneven recovery that we've had to experience. We're much better off.

That said, we could be much, much better off. We could be to escape velocity now where the unemployment rate is plummeting instead of edging down each month by a tenth or so. Or we can see participation rope coming back because people have hope. And we would be seeing that if we didn't lose a percent and three quarters to a fiscal policy this year.

ROMANS: And that's how much you think we're going to lose?

SWONK: That's how much we'll lose if they keep the sequester going through September. It looks like right now they're not willing to compromise enough on it. That's unfortunate. You saw some movements in this direction, and now there's backtracking again. I have hope that they'll figure it out and both sides will be able to talk to each other. It's got to come from both sides of the ledger. But let's figure this out. Let's backload the pain when the economy can absorb it better rather than frontloading it and prolonging the pain, especially for those people who are being hurt the most.

ROMANS: Is the austerity argument over in Europe, I wonder. I mean, is Washington looking at Europe and saying OK, wait a minute, we can't slam on the brakes here?

AVLON: They should be. The problem is that you've got these -- the way politics is divided right now, everyone's in this sort of hermetically-sealed ideological echo chamber. And folks will filter out any data that doesn't conform to their political prejudices and vices. So it's sitting right there. We've got a clear comparison, folks, but they're really reluctant to do the obvious math because it doesn't correspondent to their ideology.

ROMANS: And there's plenty of frustration. We're bullish on frustration. John Avlon, Diane Swonk, thanks so much.

Coming up, how can you build your personal wealth in this economy? The house and stock market on a tear, 15,000 this week for the Dow. But job growth is lagging behind. What you need to know about the three legs of your personal prosperity, next.


ROMANS: There are three things that can grow you money -- your job, your house, and your investments. New numbers show home prices in February rose at the fastest annual rate since 2006. If you're invested in the market, you're doing well, too. The S&P 500 hit a record high this week. And the Dow topped 15,000.

And in addition to those better than expected jobs gains, first-time claims for unemployment benefits hit a five-year low. But there are some worrying signs as well. The unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent in April, but that's still high compared to historical levels. Before the recession hit, the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent.

And the economy isn't growing as fast as economists expected it to. You're also taking home less money. Recent data from the Commerce Department shows personal income fell by 3.6 percent in January. That's the biggest drop in 20 years.

I want to bring in Matt McCall, Rana Foroohar, and Jonathan Miller. Matt is the president of Penn Financial Group. Rana is assistant managing editor at "TIME," and Jonathan is president and CEO of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraiser. Nice to see all of you.

We'll start with you, Jonathan, with housing. S&P index shows prices have jumped 9.3 percent over the last 12 months. That's the biggest annual gains since May of 2006. It looks like a recovery. But you say we're looking at the wrong thing and we're not really in a recovery there. Why not?

JONATHAN MILLER, REAL ESTATE APPRAISER: Well, really what's driving what I call happy housing news, really the last six to nine months, you've seen better news across the board in housing because inventory is tight.

ROMANS: They're very tight.

MILLER: It's actually at 50-year lows. Inventory nationally is down about 25 percent. When you constrain or choke off supply by the throat, prices rise. And that's where we're at, when at the same time, incomes are stagnant, unemployment is high, and credit remains as tight as it was since Lehman collapsed.

ROMANS: Homeowners just aren't -- maybe the spread between what they paid for their house and what it's still worth is still too big. They're not ready to sell yet.

MILLER: People with negative equity is certainly a big part. One in four mortgage holders have negative equity. But the other part is people with low equity. People forget that when you have a home and you want to sell, you become a buyer, or a renter. Rents are at very high levels. You want to buy, you have to qualify. Maybe 10 percent down five years ago or 10 years ago was fine, you sell it for break even, you get your 10 percent back. But you need 20 percent. So if you're going to trade up, you're short. They're not under duress. They just can't sell, so they're going to wait.

ROMANS: I want to talk about stocks. This is 15,000 on the Dow this week. I mean, five years of a bull market, S&P 500 up 140 percent since March of 2009. Do you think we still have room to grow here?

MATT MCCALL, PRESIDENT, PENN FINANCIAL GROUP: I really do. Everybody out there thinks they're too late to the game. Typically the fifth year of a bull market, which we do not have many of them, the average gain is 20 percent. We're only up about 3 percent since that fifth year began, so there's a lot of upside, even though we are sitting at all-time highs. Plus you look at valuations now versus where they were in 2007, much more at this point. And a lot of individual investors are still on the sidelines. They've been waiting to get in. What are you waiting for? We're hitting all-time highs in the market.

ROMANS: They're afraid they've already seen a bull market that's more than four years old.

MCCALL: They're afraid at the bottom, they're afraid at the top. You have to get in now if you want to own stocks.

ROMANS: Well, what kind of stocks do you own? You don't have to give me specifics if you're uncomfortable. Or just buy the S&P 500 in a spider?

MCCALL: The average investor, you don't throw money. But yes, the spider, a great way to go. I love right now oil and gas. I think energy stocks are undervalued. There's ETFs out there. IEZ is one that I own that I think you go into. If you don't know, just get in the market. All the markets are going up. Be in stocks.

ROMANS: So we teased this whole segment by setting up three things, your house, your stock portfolio, and your job. So you get to be the bearer of good news and say everything's better. Will we have all three of these legs of this stool not wobbly at some point here?

RANA FOROOHAR, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": At some point, but the question is when. The jobs report that came in today is really bifurcated.

ROMANS: No three-handed economists, please.


FOROOHAR: There's no spring slump. That's good news. The report was stronger than we expected, 165,000 jobs. Also February and March were revised upwards, so that's really great news. If you strip out the public sector, which is still slagging behind and creating a slower economy, you're really growing over three percent now, and that's great.

But if you look at where the growth is coming from, it's not in very high quality jobs. We're talking about retail jobs, fast-food, tourism, home health aides. These are not high-paying jobs. That goes to the most important thing, which is wage growth. It ticked up just slightly, but not enough that you're going to see this huge rebound in a consumer economy that is still 70 percent driven by spending.

ROMANS: Which feeds all the way back into the discussion about housing, too, if you don't have good wage growth, you're not going to have a true recovery in home prices down the road because people can't afford it. We're going to talk about the Fed pumping $85 billion into the economy every month, $85 billion driving growth in the stock market. So what happens when it stops? Could there be a big bubble about to burst? That's next.


ROMANS: The fed is pumping $85 billion into this economy every month. It says it won't stop until the jobs picture improves. This week, it released a statement predicting continued, moderate economic growth and a gradual drop in the unemployment rate. That means status quo, right? You say the size of the Fed stimulus is unprecedented. You look at the federal budget stimulating the economy, the big deficit we run, when you look at the Fed even more so stimulating the economy, how long can this go on?

FOROOHAR: It's a great question. What I look at is corporate profit margins, right, because the fed has really goosed the stock market growth, and people are still very excited about that. And the stimulus is going to continue.

But when you look at underlying corporate profits, they are tighter in the last couple quarters than you've seen them. It's not like companies are out there selling a lot more and inventing great new things. We're not seeing a real boom of any kind right now. We're seeing the fed really trying to prop up this market, feeling like ben Bernanke is the last man in Washington, and he's got to do something. Nobody else is.

ROMANS: It's keeping the interest rates artificially low. That's bad news for savers. It's great for investors, keeping the stock market hot. What happens when they have to pull away the punch bowl a little bit?

MILLER: When they pull it away, first of all, it means things are getting better, because the only way the Fed is going to do that is if the economy picks up, the jobs picture gets better. I think the jobs picture is absolutely horrible. I think the economy is modest at best growth. I think this continues for quite some time. When they initially pull it away, it's going to mean things are good. So the market should keep going.

However, once people realize the punch bowl is gone and that we actually have to get out there and stimulate the economy through actually creating jobs, then we're going to face the cliff.

ROMANS: I feel so bad for savers. I hear every day from savers who say you're telling me I'm 59 years old, I'm supposed to be putting my money in the stock market, and I thought I was going to put it in some CD and get some return. That's really hard for people.

FOROOHAR: It is really hard for people. Before you were asking what kind of stocks people should be invested in. I think in a way big blue chip multi-nationals have become the new security play. They are the new bonds, because if you look at big companies like P&G or IBM, they've got good dividend payments. Are they safer than certainly European sovereign debt? Yes, absolutely.

MCCALL: And you go into those big blue chips, getting 3.5 percent yield versus 1.7 and a ten-year note. Would you want to lend the government at 1.7 percent or a Wal-Mart at 3.5 percent?

ROMANS: You've still got people who are underwater, but you are seeing happy housing news. Part of the happy housing news is mortgage rates, so low, 15-year fixed, lowest level ever, 2.56 percent. The most popular mortgage rate, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage, 3.35 percent. Sometimes I can't believe these numbers come out of my mouth. You see them, you think am I living in some parallel universe?

MILLER: Basically free access -- I mean, it's just so cheap. And that has a by-product, which is pressing prices higher. And it also keeps credit conditions fairly tight. One of the things that is interesting, though, is that people that qualify at, say, a 30-year fixed at 3.5 percent, if rates go up as high as 5 percent, which no one expects that in the immediate future, as Matt was saying, things are still very weak, you don't lose that many people that qualify. In other words, I feel like that the drive for low rates in the housing market is almost falling on deaf ears to a certain extent. It's overkill. And I worry about that.

ROMANS: And I know people who have mortgages in the five percent range and I keep screaming, refinance, refinance! A re we going to get money in the economy by people refinancing the mortgages they already have? Is that going to be significant for the economy?

MILLER: I think it takes some of the stress out, because you're creating more disposable spending. You're reducing the probability of foreclosures and that sort of thing. The refinance world is sort of this unseen -- everybody's looking at sales. But credit is still very tight. So you've got to bring more people to be able to reduce the stress of their payments.

FOROOHAR: Speaking about credit too, banks want about a 750 score. Most Americans have below 700. Think about that.

ROMANS: This is true.

Coming up, billionaire Warren Buffett joins Twitter. We'll show you what tweets from an oracle look like, next.


ROMANS: So we've been hearing a lot about women in tech, like Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo!'s Marisa Meyer, and how they're shaking up the workplace. Now billionaire investor Warren Buffett is joining this conversation. I want to bring in Pattie Sellers. She's a senior editor at large with "Fortune." Pattie joins me now from Omaha, the site of Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting. Nice to see you this weekend. You sat down with Buffett and you asked him why women make him more optimistic about America's economy. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WARREN BUFFETT, CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: It just stands to reason that if the United States got to where it was from 1776 and made all the progress it did with more than half of that period women really being shut out of most activities, so you had all this brain power and energy, ability not totally going to waste, but certainly not reaching its potential. Just think what you can do when you get the whole team out there.


ROMANS: Have you heard this from other male business leaders?

PATTIE SELLERS, SENIOR EDITOR AT LARGE, "FORTUNE": Well, I think we're hearing it, Christine, from more and more male business leaders, more CEOs, more directors who are looking for women to join their board. It's really -- you know, we started the fortune most powerful women list in 1998, and I actually remember hearing this argument strongly for the first time, when we picked our first number one most powerful woman, who was Carly Fiorina the HP board was hiring to head that company. And there began the talk about using the full population instead of half the population to run corporate America.

ROMANS: Now, Buffett told you he doesn't discriminate when it comes to hiring. I want to listen to what he said about that.


BUFFETT: It doesn't make any difference. Their age doesn't really make any difference to us. Their sex doesn't make any difference to us. Their educational background doesn't. I mean, in the end, we need to come up with the best person to run, because talent is scarce.


ROMANS: I hear that all the time. Talent is scarce. I don't care. I want the star performer. So then why are women still underrepresented in the top leadership roles?

SELLERS: Well, there are 21 female fortune 500 CEOs. That's pretty pathetic. It's a little over four percent. Why is that? I actually share the Sheryl Sandberg point of view, which is that women think of power differently. It's not so much about climbing the ladder. It's about having broad influence. And we make other choices.

And we don't necessarily -- you know, when women start companies, the reason I believe that there's no female Mark Zuckerberg is that women start companies to create the businesses that they want to work for. Often they leave big companies and corporate America and they just get tired of the huge institution and they want to create their own companies and they don't want to create fortune 500 companies.

Guys start companies mainly to make money. And build really big businesses. So I actually think that we're never going to get to parity at the top of large corporate America. But I think it's important to make progress. And it's really wonderful right now to have role models like Sheryl Sandberg and Marisa Meyer. Marisa Meyer is the youngest CEO, male or female, in the fortune 500. And it's really cool that 82-year-old Warren Buffett is responding to these young women by speaking out for the first time in a big way about women in work.

ROMANS: This interview was about social issues, but you also convinced Buffett to get on social media. During your interview, he tweeted for the very first time, "Warren is in the house." You can see more of that interview on Pattie, thanks for joining us. Nice to see you today.

SELLERS: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining the conversation this week on YOUR MONEY. We're here every Saturday, 9:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m. eastern. Every Sunday at 3:00 you can find me on Facebook @ChristineRomansCNN, and on Twitter my handle is @ChristineRomans. Have a good weekend.