Brexit vs. the Trump election

Trump and Brexit

Right before election day, Donald Trump predicted his victory by saying that it would be just like Brexit, only more so.

That turned out to be correct, in the sense that in both cases the pre-election polls were incorrect and that the result turned on the votes of older, disaffected, less-educated citizens who came out in large numbers in response to a call to roll back the clock to days of former glory.

post-Brexit

The immediate UK stock market response to the Brexit vote was to drop through the floor, with the multinational-laden large-cap FTSE 100 index faring far better than generally domestic-focused small caps.  The FTSE has rallied since, with the index now sitting about 6% higher than its level when the election results were announced.

That does not mean, however, that the Brexit vote turned out to be a plus for UK stock market participants.  By far the largest amount of damage to their wealth was done in the 15% drop vs. the dollar that the UK currency has experienced since June.

post-Election Day

Despite the voting similarity between UK and US, the currency and stock market outcomes have been very different.  In the week+ since the US presidential election,

–the dollar has risen by about 3% against both the euro and the yen since the election result became known

–the S&P 500 is up by a bit less than 2%, with small caps significantly better than that.  Potential beneficiaries of Trump policies–oil and gas, construction, banks, pharma, prisons–have all done much better than that.

Why the difference?

Brexit

Brexit was a simple, binding in-or-out vote on an economic issue (recent legal action seems to show it’s not so clear-cut as that, however).  Leaving, which is the action voters selected, has immediate, easily predictable, severely negative economic consequences.  Hence, the continuing slide in the currency.

Trump

The Trump vote, on the other hand,  was for a charismatic reality show star with unacceptable social views, very limited economic or policy knowledge/interests and a questionable record of business (other than show business) success.   Not good.

The US vote was for a person, however flawed, not necessarily for policies.  In addition, the  legislative logjam in Washington has potentially been broken, since Republicans will control both houses and the Oval Office.

The general economic tone Trump seems to be setting is for fiscal stimulation through tax reform and deficit spending on infrastructure.  Both would relieve the extraordinary burden that has been placed on the Fed (the only adult in the Washington room).  This will likely mean larger, and faster, interest rate hikes.  Hence the rise in the currency.

knock-on effects

Democrats seem to realize the folly of having a cultural program without an economic one; a substantial restructuring of that party may now be under way.  Bipartisan cooperation in Congress seems to once again be in the air, if for no other reason than to act as a check on Mr. Trump’s more economically questionable impulses.   Trump’s “basket of deplorables” social views may make Americans more vividly aware of the issues at stake, and what progress needs to be made   …and serve as a call to arms for activism, as well.

Another thought:  yesterday’s news showed the Trump brand name being removed from several apartment buildings on the West Side of Manhattan.  Based on feedback from tenants, the owner, who licenses the Trump name, concluded that retaining the buildings’ branding would result in lower rents/higher vacancies.  Given that Trump does not intend to have his business interests run by an independent third party while he is in office, the public would seem to me to have an unusually large ability to influence his presidential actions by its attitude toward Trump-branded products.  I’m not sure whether this is good or bad   …but “good” would be my guess.

All in all, the UK seems to be lost in dreams of the days when it ruled the oceans.  The US is less clear.  We may be in the early days of a renaissance.

 

Warren Buffett on the US economy

On pages seven and eight of his thirty page-long annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett takes issue with politicians who are emphasizing the supposed weakness of the US economy.

After arguing, reasonably, that even 2% real GDP growth (more than double the growth of the population) is something Americans should be happy about, he says:

“Though the pie to be shared by the next generation will be far larger than today’s, how it will be divided will remain fiercely contentious. Just as is now the case, there will be struggles for the increased output of goods and services between those people in their productive years and retirees, between the healthy and the infirm, between the inheritors and the Horatio Algers, between investors and workers and, in particular, between those with talents that are valued highly by the marketplace and the equally decent hard-working Americans who lack the skills the market prizes…

The good news, however, is that even members of the “losing” sides will almost certainly enjoy – as they should – far more goods and services in the future than they have in the past. The quality of their increased bounty will also dramatically improve…My parents, when young, could not envision a television set, nor did I, in my 50s, think I needed a personal computer. Both products, once people saw what they could do, quickly revolutionized their lives. I now spend ten hours a week playing bridge online. And, as I write this letter, “search” is invaluable to me. (I’m not ready for Tinder, however.) For 240 years it’s been a terrible mistake to bet against America…”

I’m sure this is at least directionally true.  But it’s also a view from the sunny “winning” side of the struggles for a bigger slice of an expanding pie.  From the “losing” side, however, the picture is increasingly nineteenth century Dickens-ugly.  It’s also debatable whether a very poor family with a flat panel TV is that much better off than a generation-ago family with a radio.

The plight of people left behind by rapid structural change may present much more of a political and social problem than Mr. Buffett is able to see.  Whether such issues become stock and bond market problems as well remains to be seen.

More tomorrow.

assessing the holiday sales season

The commentators and analysts I read all seemed to argue that this holiday selling season would be sub-par.  They all trotted out the familiar stories of general economic malaise, lack of wage growth, the shrinking of the middle class, globalization, China, warm weather…

We’re now entering the home stretch of the holiday sales race as post-Christmas bargain hunting comes into full swing.  What I find striking is that the results so far have been much better than the consensus had expected.

What catches my eye is the jump in online (and especially online mobile) spending, and the strength of Millennial categories like furniture.

The mismatch between projection and reality seems to me to suggest that the consensus is trend following, and because of that tracking the spending of Baby Boomers–who have dominated the retail scene over the past few decades.  At the same time, it’s failing to capture the emergence of Millennials as an economic force.

The change may be as simple as that Baby Boomers no longer have gigantic home equity to tap to fund current spending.  Or it may be more powerful than a subtraction of the Boomer excesses of the past twenty years.  In either case, the overall economy is likely in better shape than the consensus believes.  And Millennials may be emerging as economic drivers faster than most have thought possible.

 

 

the IMF request to the US–don’t start raising rates until 2016

the report

In its annual review of the US economy, the IMF has included a request that the Fed postpone raising rates until the first half of 2016  (I’ve searched without success for the 10-page analysis on the IMF website, so I’m relying on the FT and Bloomberg for my information.)

To start with the obvious, this can’t be the first discussion of the idea of pushing back rate hikes between the IMF–dominated by EU interests–and the Fed.  The release isn’t the act of some nerdy economist (is there any other kind?) tacking the request on to a report that the top figures in the IMF didn’t review.

No, this is the IMF going on record as saying  it thinks the Fed beginning to normalize rates this year is a bad idea   …and that its request for delay has been rebuffed by the Fed.

the rationale

Its rationale seems to be that higher short-term interest rates might cause a sharp contraction in credit availability in the US and a consequent inadvertent loss in domestic economic growth momentum.  Given that the EU is counting on reasonable demand in the US for its exports, the follow-of effect of the US stalling might be disappearance of green shoots of recovery in the EU as well.

Higher rates might also cause the US dollar to rise.  While a stronger currency would slow the US economy further, it would also increase the attractiveness of foreign goods and services (including vacations) vs. domestic.  The latter factor would be an overall plus for the EU.  Companies would be the main beneficiaries, however.  Ordinary consumers would be hurt through a rise in the price of dollar-denominated goods like food and fuel.

the response

The consensus view in the US, I think, is that:

–official statistics understate the strength of the US economy,

–seven years of intensive-care-low interest rates in the US is long enough,

–a rise of .25% or .50% in rates would have no negative effect

–it might also be a positive, in the sense that the Fed would be signalling that the economy can at least partially fend for itself.

In short, the view is that prolonging anticipatory anxiety is far worse than raising rates a tiny bit and seeing what happens.

The EU economy, on the other hand, is maybe two years behind the US in absorbing the negative effects of the near collapse of the financial sector.  Instead of flooding the area with money–the US approach–it has relied on collective austerity to heal itself.   Sort of like leeching vs. antibiotics.

So the EU has less ability to deal with the negative effects of a US slowdown than the US itself has.  Dollar strength would be another blow to an already beaten-down EU consumer, fueling further politically disruptive far right sentiment, which to me already looks pretty ugly.

In the Greenspan era, the US would probably have accommodated the EU.  Post-Greenspan Fed chairs have made it clear, in contrast, that US interests come first.  The IMF comments reinforce that this is still the case.