In keeping with our “nominal” economics (and prepping!) bent, we begin today with a look at some well-aged import price data from BLS.

Prices for U.S. imports advanced 0.6 percent in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, after ticking up 0.1 percent in January and falling 1.4 percent in December. The February increase was led by higher fuel prices. U.S. export prices rose 0.6 percent in February following decreases of 0.5 percent and 0.7 percent the previous 2 months.


U.S. import prices increased 0.6 percent in February, the largest monthly rise since a 0.9-percent advance in May. Despite the February increase, import prices declined 1.3 percent from February 2018 to February 2019. Both fuel and nonfuel prices contributed to the 12-month decrease.


U.S. export prices rose 0.6 percent in February following a 0.5-percent decline in January and a 0.7-percent drop in December. Higher prices for both agricultural and nonagricultural commodities contributed to the February increase. The price index for U.S. exports advanced 0.3 percent over the past 12 months driven by higher nonagricultural prices.

Meantime, it’s looking to us like the China trade deal may be in trouble as Donald Trump says he’s in no hurry to get ‘er done…

The problem with all economic data nowadays is that government hasn’t yet fully-recovered from GovDown and yet (magically!) markets haven’t done much.  With a few exceptions, like Boeing where the lawyers are circling the grounding of the 727 Max series pending definitive results.

After the data, futures pulled back to even to just a bit positive.  Empire State Manufacturing from the NY Fed tomorrow along with the Federal Reserve’s capacity and utilization report 45-minutes into tomorrow’s session.

Max Grounding – In Depth

Forget the stories about travel disruptions.  The reason question about the Max jets being grounded is why?

Talking to several of flying buddies this week, in addition to being a pilot myself, there’s a pretty obvious answer as to what may have happened. An event that’s not uncommon and it IS part of every US pilot’s recurrent training:  A condition called “runaway autopilot.”

Since I’m a pilot and former airline VP, I think I can walk you through the obvious line of inquiry.  Begin by imagining yourself having taken-off and your aircraft is in a 10-degrees nose-up pitch (or greater, depending on fuel and passenger load, temp outside and so forth).

As you’re taking off, the aircraft is at full-power.  Then, at a certain altitude, typically a few thousand feet, the autopilot/flight director pitches the nose-forward (down) into what’s called “cruise climb” mode.  The airspeed picks up.

In modern autopilots, linked in to an aircraft’s data bus (not something we had to worry about on our old Beechcraft), there is usually a “stall-prevent” sensor.  It looks at the airspeed and – if it is dropping too fast (or in this case maybe airspeed was not coming up as it should at transition) – it will continue to push the nose-over (down attitude) so the weight of the plane and its momentum (now pointing down) begins to build.

As you probably figured, if the plane did NOT have such a “safety circuit” in the configuration of the flight computer/autopilot, it would be possible for the aircraft to “fly itself into a stall.”

When a stall occurs, the aircraft doesn’t have enough air flowing over the wing (smoothly) and the upper surface of the wing – where airflow is normally nice and laminar – begins to tumble.  This tumbling begins at the trailing edge of the wing and then quickly moves forward, dumping lift along the way.  The first sign of a stall is some light buffeting of the wings that increases as the stall develops and tumbling air (no longer flow) moves forward.

Another way to think of laminar flow is air flows smoothly over the wing just above a “boundary layer.”  Once the airflow becomes “unstuck” from the boundary layer, there goes your lift.  There are lots of tricks to keep the flow attached at lower speeds and it’s one of the reasons I LOVED our vortex generators on the old Beechcraft.  By controlling laminar flow at specific points, the flow breakdown at the trailing edge can be delayed, and on some wings it’s on the order of a 5-7% improvement in low-speed (anti-stall) performance.  But no free lunch: there’s a small cost to cruising efficiency where flows are much faster and those vortex generators can be a nuisance when de-icing….

Don’t mean to get “all technical” on you, but the point is the computer will try to get the airspeed up in order to prevent a stall, loss of lift, and if the pilot isn’t sharp, loss of control.

Now, to make this whole Max-Grounding story more complicated is that there are times when the pilot will get into that condition where an “way safe” software program will call for “nose down” and the well-trained pilot will know to disengage the autopilot and “hand fly the aircraft.”

But now suppose you stick a pilot in the left seat who has not been through the “runaway autopilot” portion of recurrent training very recently.  What can happen?

My guess – and this is wild speculation – is that the flight crew did not tap one of several controls (on sticks and screens) to drop off the flight computer and go back to hand flying.  What MAY have happened is that the crew MIGHT have begun to attempt to trouble-shoot the autopilot while it was still connected.  Or, worse, got so much arm and leg power into controls trying to fight the autopilot that something broke.  In either case, if that is what occurred, then the problem would not be Boeing’s, but but instead might be a training and experience issue.

There has been a fair amount of speculation that Boeing’s instruction manuals were not precisely clear on autopilot use, but there’s a reason why pilots work their way up “through the chairs.”  (Understudy in the right chair, please…) They ALL know – and it’s part of recurrent training on complex aircraft – that “In event of trouble, fly manually.”  It’s a ton of work, especially in instrument conditions.

That’s why there are backup instruments, too:  If a pilot cannot properly disengage an autopilot/flight director/computer and then fly under instrument conditions on the back-up instruments, they have business in the left (or right) seat.  Runaway autopilots can and do happen but it’s part of the training how to deal with the fault and fly (by hand) out of it.

While some stories (like this one) give the idea that the Boeing woes may give a leg up to China’s internal airplane company which is coming along quickly to challenger Boeing and Airbus, to a seasoned pilot it’s a clear example of how the uneducated public and reporters who’ve never been through annual flight reviews in complex aircraft may be missing the “real depth of the story.”

Our best guess is the crew may have panicked and been trying to fix (worse restart/reboot) a runaway condition that could have been over-ridden with a single switch…But maybe not.  If the crew executed the disengage switches and they failed, and in this case it might all come back on Boeing and or component/sub-assembly vendors. Our nightmare?  The software was hacked.  Then the state and non-state actor question would be rolling…

But we shall see.

Another Hat In

Young and liberal: “Beto O’Rourke starts presidential run with video tweeted an hour late and won’t officially launch campaign for two weeks – but says in 2020 announcement that immigration is ‘the best possible problem’ for the U.S.”

Not to be excessively snide  (who us???), but if Beto can’t get his own video out on time and if his announcement is bungled, how do you suppose he’d do with a whole freaking country?  Sounds like time for ViseGrips and a shotta something, to me.

Here’s another richly ironic/moronic story “Ocasio-Cortez, Trump, Pelosi — Politics is our entertainment now. It shouldn’t be this way.”

Meantime, the GOP hopes for a return to the WH keep growing with the story out on Bloomberg that “The U.S. Now Has More Millionaires Than Sweden Has People.

Statistically, a lot of liberals have to be hating Trump…all the way to the bank.

Speaking of liberal, how is it Time can be viewed as anything but a democrat publication when they run stories with headlines like “Don’t Impeach Trump. Vote Against Him…”   As they become the global center of cognitive dissonance in headlines toss in their “Impeachment Shouldn’t Be Political.”  Sorry, non-political impeachment?  AYSM?  (The media may be under estimating the public’s IQ by a huge amount…”)

It’s a Hit!

As “A top leader of Gambino crime family is slain in New York.”

Facing IT

Facebook struggles into day two of global outage.”

On that note, time to chase down from beans...moron the ‘morrow..