The Battles to Come
by Sinclair Noe
DOW + 47 = 14,018
SPX + 2 = 1519
NAS- 5 = 3186
10 YR YLD + .01 = 1.97%
OIL + .48 = 97.51
GOLD + 3.00 = 1652.30
SILV + .17 = 31.22
The all-time high in the S&P 500 index is 1565. The all-time intraday high in the Dow Industrials is 14, 198.10, reached in October 2007. We are close.
After years of acting like deer in the headlights, investors are now throwing cash at the stock markets. Meanwhile, insiders are selling. Google’s CEO is selling more than 40% of his stock. He didn’t sell hardly anything from 2008 through now. There is a thought that insiders are selling now and mom and pop investors are buying, and once we work through this exchange, the markets will tank. This theory is being called the grand rotation.
Ahead of tonight’s State of the Union Address, the White House has followed custom by leaking tidbits from the speech. It is expected the president will talk about North Korea testing a nuclear bomb; this, for the third time, and bigger than ever. Apparently Mr. Obama will also announce that 34,000 out of 66,000 troops will come home from Afghanistan by this time next year, which sounds better than it is. That means the Pentagon is roughly on pace to hand over security to the Afghans by the end of 2014, as Mr. Obama has long promised. It also means there will still be more than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, and I’m not sure what will be accomplished.
The most recent Medal of Honor recipient, Clint Romesha was invited to attend the State of the Union speech as a guest of the first lady. Apparently he will spend the evening with his wife and buddies from his former unit, Black Knight Troop, 3-61 CAV. Romesha and his wife are celebrating their wedding anniversary. I don’t know whether they will watch the address or not. Viewership is down to 38 million or so, less than back in the 70’s. Romesha’s story is inspiring. He was wounded on the battlefield during what has been described as one of the fiercest fights in the Afghan war, but he fought on, rescued his comrades and managed to hold onto an outpost that was technically indefensible. The young Sergeant is amazing; he can spend his evening however he wants.
President Obama will have a fight on his hands as he proposes a second-term agenda that includes new government investments, limits on guns, a revamped immigration system and new initiatives to kick-start the economy for middle-class Americans. The president will propose government action in education, manufacturing, infrastructure and clean energy. The president is also expected to announce his intention to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement with the 27-member European Union.
Mr. Obama already faces stiff opposition from Republicans who control the House and have repeatedly blocked some of his top priorities. On Tuesday, Republicans began using the Twitter hashtag #notserious to describe Mr. Obama’s expected speech; and that’s the gentler of the hashtags; the not-so-gentle tag is #youlie.
House Speaker John Boehner this morning gave his own preview of the State of the Union as he repeatedly challenged the president’s willingness to go against his own party on issues that include reforms to social programs and spending.
Speaking with a small group of reporters this morning, Boehner said: “I think he’d like to deal with it [fiscal problems], but to do the kind of heavy lifting that needs to be done, I don’t think he’s got the guts to do it. He understands there is a spending problem. He understands that we need changes and reforms, and we need to solve these problems.” When pressed about the severity of that statement, he modified, saying the president does not have the “courage.”
Washington is in the midst of yet another self-inflicted, artificial fiscal crisis, facing a political showdown over “sequestration,” the self-imposed round of across-the-board spending cuts to domestic programs and the Pentagon. The sequester was supported by both the White House and Congress as a way to encourage lawmakers to find common ground. Instead, they have been mired in a stalemate, unable to find an equitable solution for both sides. The deadline is March 1st. It doesn’t look good.
The State of the Union wasn’t the only big speech of the week but it certainly has been overshadowing a speech by Janet Yellen, vice-chair of the San Francisco Federal Reserve; she talked about how slow this recovery has been and why. One of the culprits for the slower recovery? Fiscal policy. Specifically? We’re not spending enough. Government spending, which usually provides a boost to the economy in the quarters following the recession, has been a net drag this time because the government is spending less than it normally does.
After passage of the 2009 economic stimulus package, which helped save or create millions of jobs, Congress all but gave up providing support to the labor market. Instead, in the last two years, the nation’s deficits have been reduced by $2.5 trillion, with the overwhelming majority coming from spending cuts. Yellen described fiscal policy as a headwind for the recovery: “Discretionary fiscal policy hasn’t been much of a tailwind during this recovery. In the year following the end of the recession, discretionary fiscal policy at the federal, state, and local levels boosted growth at roughly the same pace as in past recoveries. But instead of contributing to growth thereafter, discretionary fiscal policy this time has actually acted to restrain the recovery.”
Everybody that’s tried austerity in a time of no growth has wound up cutting revenues even more than they cut spending because it results in a downward spiral and it drags the country back into recession. The experience of Europe should be showing US policymakers that cutting spending in a weak economy backfires, squashing economic growth, which causes debt to expand. But it doesn’t seem like that lesson is taking hold.
Today, the Treasury Department reported the federal government had a rare surplus for January and is on track to run its smallest annual budget deficit since 2008. The government took in a surplus of $2.9 billion in January. That’s the first monthly surplus since April, a month that benefited from income tax payments. January’s budget benefited from an estimated $9 billion in extra revenue from higher Social Security taxes. That helped lowered the deficit through the first four months of the budget year to $290.4 billion — nearly $60 billion lower than the same period a year ago. The budget year began on Oct. 1.
For the entire year the Congressional Budget Office is forecasting the deficit will total $845 billion. If correct, that would be first time government hasn’t run an annual deficit in excess of $1 trillion since 2008.
The deficit is the amount the government must borrow when its expenses exceed its revenue. Each month’s deficit is volatile and can be affected by calendar quirks that shift government spending or revenue from one month to another. The annual deficit is projected to be smaller this year because the government is collecting more revenue this year, mainly because of faster job growth and higher taxes. At the same time, the government is spending less on some programs. That’s in part because of spending cuts that were enacted under a 2011 agreement to raise the federal borrowing limit. Also, the improved economy has reduced demand for unemployment benefits and some other government programs, or some people have just used up their benefits and fallen from the rolls.
The Congressional Budget Office is projecting even smaller annual deficits of $616 billion in 2014 and $459 billion in 2015.
This weekend the G-20 will meet in Moscow. Today, the G-7 broke into the European trading morning with its first statement on exchange rates since September 2011, in which it pledged to keep economic policies directed at domestic needs and disavowed targeting currencies. The G-7 acknowledged Japan isn’t driving a devaluation and that its monetary policy is aimed at ending 15 years of deflation.
But after the G7 statement, an unnamed official of the G7 told reporters in the United States that markets had misinterpreted the statement and that it was in fact aimed at Japan, that it’s okay for Tokyo if a weaker yen is the result of policies aimed at driving the economy, but it’s not kosher if policies are aimed specifically at devaluing the currency.
What the G7 appeared to be saying – before the unnamed official signalled it was a warning to Tokyo – is that currency devaluation can be a byproduct, rather than a goal, on the long, hard road back to a sustained recovery. The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, for example, an asset-buying program, is negative for the US dollar, but is aimed at juicing the economy, not driving down the greenback; theoretically anyway.
So, the G-7 issued another statement that said: “We, the G7 ministers and governors, reaffirm our longstanding commitment to market determined exchange rates and… that we will not target exchange rates.”
And now the thinking is that this means Japan won’t be buying US Treasury bonds as part of its stimulus plan because that would further weaken the yen. This also means there is a global race to devalue currencies.
China has become the world’s biggest trading nation in goods. China’s customs administration said the combined total for imports and exports in Chinese goods reached $3.87 trillion last year, edging past the $3.82 trillion trade in goods registered by the US commerce department. The US economy is still twice the size of the Chinese economy, but apparently we are more self contained.
A new report from the Project on Government Oversight says that regulators at the SEC derailed last year’s efforts to reform the $2.6 trillion money market fund industry, and that many of those regulators are now working in the private sector, and the “revolving door” policy may have impacted policy and enforcement decisions. Yea, we’re all shocked.