Audit Notes: BizWeek Soars, Barofsky in Fortune, A Picture of Deflation

It’s been more than a year now since Bloomberg took over BusinessWeek, rebranded it, expanded it, and put Josh Tyrangiel at the helm. How’s the new Bloomberg BusinessWeek doing?

By the ad numbers, it’s stomping Fortune and Forbes.

The Association of Magazine Media has the first quarter numbers on revenue and ad pages for major magazines. Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s ad pages soared 49 percent from the first quarter a year ago. That moved it from a distant third to No. 1 last quarter in ad sales (It also moved form No. 3 to No. 1 in ad pages).

Meantime, Fortune’s ad pages declined 5 percent, while Forbes’s ad pages dropped 10 percent.

Of course, this doesn’t tell us whether BizWeek is profitable yet—Bloomberg has spent a lot of money expanding it. But it’s a very good sign for its prospects.

Fortune’s Duff McDonald has a nice exit profile of former TARP special inspector general Neil Barofsky. This is good stuff:

“When I first started this job in 2008, I felt like there was a collaborative effort with the Treasury Department,” he says. “We were in the trenches together. Then my job turned into blunting the effects of their bad decisions. And then it just devolved into battling with Treasury itself. I used to have a weekly meeting with them, but I didn’t have one after late September.”

The cooled ardor from the Treasury doesn’t really surprise Barofsky. In quarterly reports and more than a dozen TARP audits, his office often showed the Treasury in a dim light. His resignation not only ends that unusually open bureaucratic drama, but, more significantly, also shrinks the tiny activist, take-on-the-banks wing of government insiders.

McDonald reports that Barofsky’s office paid for itself many times over by preventing or recovering $700 million in fraud.

This is a great quote:

“My view of financial institutions is colored by my years as a prosecutor,” Barofsky says. “None of this surprises me. They are profit-driven corporations that seek to maximize profitability without much regard to social gain.”

Best of all? Barofsky, unlike seemingly everyone else in a position of power, didn’t cash out and go to work for some bank. He’s taking a fellowship at NYU Law.

I bet Barofsky didn’t face much temptation. It’s doubtful he had many financial-industry offers. Funny how that works.

— Floyd Norris had an interesting piece this weekend in The New York Times on one big way official inflation measures don’t capture actual inflation.

Until 1983, the Consumer Price Index included housing costs. But then the index was changed. No longer would home prices directly affect the index. Instead, the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes a calculation of “owners’ equivalent rent,” which is based on the trend of costs to rent a home, not to buy one. The current approach, the B.L.S. says, “measures the value of shelter to owner-occupants as the amount they forgo by not renting out their homes.” The C.P.I. is not supposed to include investments, and owning a house has aspects of both investment and consumption.

Whatever the reasonableness of that approach, the practical effect of the change was to keep the housing bubble from affecting reported inflation rates in the years leading up to the peak in home prices. It is at least possible that the Federal Reserve would have acted differently had the change never been made.

The CPI is running at 2.8 percent above a year ago. Core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, is up a mere 0.2 percent from a year ago.

(UPDATE: Actually, these numbers, which I got from the Times’s graphic, aren’t right. The latest CPI was up 2.1 percent from a year ago, while core CPI was up 1.1 percent. I’m not sure if that means the numbers below are off, too)

What would those numbers be if the stats were still calculated including housing prices (after all some 60 percent of Americans own houses)? CPI would be -0.7 percent, and core CPI would be -3.9 percent, and it would be much clearer that we’re in full-on deflation, which is a bad thing.

Changes in government stats like these are a fertile field for stories and analysis. I wish the business press would spend more time digging into them. Good for Norris for doing so here.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,