Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Union for Investors

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

We live in extraordinary times. The U.S. economy is at risk of veering toward a multi-year depressionary state or experiencing a massive bout of inflation. Based on president Obama's State of the Union address last night, investors should still be worrying about both possibilities.

The impact of the global Credit Crisis that began in 2007 has been deep and prolonged so far. It was met with extraordinary government action in terms of spending and in pumping liquidity into the financial system - both of which are inflationary in the long-term. Despite these efforts, economic recovery in the U.S. has been tepid and elusive so far. This has not stopped our leadership from taking credit for 'saving us from another depression' despite the lack of evidence to support this view. On a number of economic fronts, the situation has continued to deteriorate, but Washington continues to congratulate itself on its great performance. The State of the Union address with its almost uninterrupted applause for a long litany of meaningless political platitudes provides the perfect picture of just how out of touch Washington is and how oblivious they are to their record of failure.

In his speech last night, president Obama emphasized that jobs creation would be the focus of his administration this year. For those with short memories, this was also stated as the prime focus of the White House in January 2009. The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.2% at that time and the claim was that if congress didn't pass the proposed $845 billion stimulus package, unemployment would reach double digits by the end of the year. Democrats said they emphasized government spending over tax relief in the bill because that was the best and fastest way to create jobs. Well, congress passed Obama's package, really a massive giveaway to a number of special interests, and the unemployment rate was 10.0% at the end of the year.  Based on their own criteria, the White House's 2009 attempt at job creation was a complete failure and a big waste of taxpayer dollars. For some reason this wasn't mentioned in the president's upbeat speech.

By this point, I don't think anyone should expect an honest appraisal from the White House on any aspect of the administration's performance. Obama made a number of negative references in his speech to the much derided Wall Street bailout program, TARP. He stated that it was "about as popular as a root canal" and it was something which "I hated". What was left unstated was that while he was a presidential candidate Obama made phone calls to round up Democratic support for the bill and this was instrumental in passing it and one of the first acts of his administration in 2009 was to get congress to release the second $350 billion allocated in the bill so it could be spent. Imagine what he would have done if he had liked TARP.

Deficit reduction was another item highlighted in the State of the Union speech. Perhaps this was meant as the comic relief - I don't know. Apparently this will start in the 2011 budget. Obama stated that he had already found $20 billion in inefficient programs in next year's budget and would pore over it "line by line" to find even more. The 2011 budget hasn't been released yet, but the budget deficit for the 2010 budget (starting on October 1, 2009) is now estimated to be $1.35 trillion. A savings of $20 billion would reduce the current deficit by less than 1.5% and lower it to only $1.33 trillion. Doesn't exactly look like a big dent in profligate government spending does it?  While this is completely meaningless, Obama also claimed that if his health care program was passed it would result in a trillion dollar reduction in the budget deficit (over a many year period, but that wasn't emphasized). A big spending government program leading to deficit reduction?  Yeah, that can happen. Any investor who believes this should stop investing immediately because you are probably buying stock in the Brooklyn Bridge.

Despite the claims coming from Washington, the recession is not over. The White House, congress, and even the Federal Reserve seem incapable of recognizing this because it would be an admission of failure on their part. At some point it will be recognized however because the American public will insist on it (the message from the surprise upset in the Massachusetts senate race seems to have eluded the White House so far). Modern democracies will always eventually err on the side of more government spending. As we have seen in the last year, this doesn't necessarily solve the problem of a bad economy and thus it is still possible for an intractable depression to take hold. Too much government spending does eventually lead to the problem of excessive government debt though and at some point the debt becomes so high that it is impossible to pay off. That's when intractable inflation shows up. Historically, the worst economic disasters take place when government is most oblivious to these unfolding problems. In that case, Americans have a lot to worry about. President Obama stated more than once in his speech last night "I don't quit". Based on his first year in office, he should have said, "I don't listen".

Disclosure: Not applicable.

NEXT: The Twilight of Ben Bernanke

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

1 comment:

Marc Bloses said...

Hi Daryl,

Y'day Obama said that he'll tighten the spending and the budget for 2011. By then probably he'll also increase the interest rates above their lowest minimum as are now.

Does this mean, we the investors have got this year 2010 to enjoy rally in a market, which would subside as Obama tightens belts in 2011?

I know it's not that simple, but how do you see the markets will do in 2010, after his SotU speech?