GLOBAL ECONOMICS AND POLITICS
Leo Haviland provides clients with original, provocative, cutting-edge fundamental supply/demand and technical research on major financial marketplaces and trends. He also offers independent consulting and risk management advice.
Haviland’s expertise is macro. He focuses on the intertwining of equity, debt, currency, and commodity arenas, including the political players, regulatory approaches, social factors, and rhetoric that affect them. In a changing and dynamic global economy, Haviland’s mission remains constant – to give timely, value-added marketplace insights and foresights.
Leo Haviland has three decades of experience in the Wall Street trading environment. He has worked for Goldman Sachs, Sempra Energy Trading, and other institutions. In his research and sales career in stock, interest rate, foreign exchange, and commodity battlefields, he has dealt with numerous and diverse financial institutions and individuals. Haviland is a graduate of the University of Chicago (Phi Beta Kappa) and the Cornell Law School.
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Economic experts, political pundits, and marketplace wizards have made much of America’s looming federal “fiscal cliff”. It has become commonplace to declare that not only for the near term, but also for the misty long run horizon, difficult decisions await the Washington leadership. Of course the nation has assets. However, there has been much less emphasis on America’s “debt hole”, the enormous indebtedness of America as a whole (not just the federal government situation) as a percentage of nominal GDP.
The debt growth trend in recent decades and its mountainous overall level argue that a culture of debt (and entitlement) exists in the United States. Rising debt as a percentage of GDP preceded its acceleration during the glorious Goldilocks Era that ended around mid to late 2007. Since the so-called recovery began to motor forward in 2009, overall United States indebtedness has not declined much. Though consumer indebtedness has declined modestly in the past few years, federal indebtedness has skyrocketed. Thus in a representative government, people (“we, the people”) correspondingly remain very indebted.
And is the President or any of the Congressional Democrats or Republicans in their undoubtedly brilliant “plans” talking of the merit of engineering budget surpluses at any time in the next several years (if ever)? In addition, smoothly singing its mandate hymn, the financial fire-fighting Federal Reserve devotedly has assisted debtors by repressing interest rate yields, printing money (quantitative easing), and other measures. This highly accommodative and sustained central banking liberality not only assists debtors. The Fed thereby provides short term benefits such as boosting GDP, rallying the US stock marketplace, reducing unemployment, and buying time for a fiscal solution. Might there be some long run costs to such supposedly prudent Fed actions? For example, these generally popular Fed policies nevertheless also reflect and encourage the debt culture and delay difficult (responsible) political decision-making and consequently some amount of painful reckoning.
What is the more probable outlook? Perhaps patching over the US’s debt problem, particularly on the federal landscape, will occur, thus easing fears regarding the outbreak of a financial disaster. On the federal fiscal front, the passing of and results of the 2012 election may spark bipartisan efforts that result in a temporary fix of existing difficulties. However, as before the election, there is a Democratic President, Democratic Senate, and a Republican House of Representatives. Remember the lyrics of a famous anthem by The Who: “Meet the new boss Same as the old boss” (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”). And in the Senate, the Democratic majority is several seats short of the 60 votes necessary to stop legislative debates. Even to induce an attractive temporary fix, it is more likely that fearsome existing debt troubles probably will have to worsen further. And don’t overlook the need to raise the debt ceiling again.
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America’s substantial federal deficit problem, both for the near term and over the looming long run, captures headlines. A long march through a thicket of forecasts and fixes reveals the immensity of the deficit and the complexity of the intertwined factors and policies creating the deep fiscal hole. However, advancing through the repair proposals of leading legislators unveils the substantial disagreements in outlook regarding a solution. Even in Washington, differences in political perspectives on “economic” matters sometimes represent really serious sharp splits.
Called to action by the need to seriously attack the issue, confronted by the imminent August 2 deadline for boosting the deficit ceiling, the President, Democrats, and Republicans squawk, squeak, and squirm. Few budget combatants want a default, or even a reduction in America’s credit rating. Matters of principle and 2012 election politics will interrelate both to avoid debt default and to defer any noteworthy substantive resolution of the fiscal challenge. Since such a temporary compromise is not a genuine solution, the United States fiscal disaster will continue to beleaguer financial marketplaces.
In the Civil War, so-called neutral nations such as Great Britain and France were quite interested in the war’s outcome. America is not divided or cut off from the rest of the world, especially these days. In regard to the US’s current budget battles, not only its citizens but also countries around the world closely monitor events and trends. Like sovereign debt problems on the European periphery, America’s fiscal issues have global implications. Plus what occurs in debt and interest rate theaters has implications for stocks, currencies, and commodities. For example, if the American deficit crisis worsens significantly, what will the collateral damage be? Will stocks in the US as well as overseas nosedive? Will there be a renewed assault on the dollar?
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A House Divided- American Budget Battles
Stimulating American policies such as the trinity of money printing, sustained low nominal interest rates, and government “spend-and-borrow now/pay later somehow” only buy time. They delay reckoning rather than really solve underlying problems. The broad real trade weighted dollar (“TWD”) rests near the major support of its all-time lows (1973-present). As marketplace players turn the floodlights more and more closely on America, the broad real trade weighted dollar will fall under its 84.00 floor by at least five percent to around 80.00.
All else equal, and in an environment of unappealing interest rates, the greater (and faster) the TWD’s dive under all-time lows around 84.00, the less desirable American assets in general and debt in particular will appear to actual and potential owners (especially overseas players).
A dive of around five percent beneath that major TWD support would help to raise interest rates in general, including yields within the control of the Federal Reserve Board (rates probably would rise at least until equity prices began to plummet substantially). Would diminishing dollar values deliver long run deficit discipline in the US Congress? Not quickly, but one always can hope.
So the United States confronts enormous deficits now and in the future. There is troublesome and often misleading rhetoric from and loud quarrels within Congress. Admittedly many American politicians have been braying, grunting, and squawking about fiscal discipline, yet when will there be major tangible actions? If the US federal government were a household, would you say it was well-managed right now? Nowadays, would you want to lend it a big bucket filled with your cash?
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Keeping It Real- The Dolorous Dollar (Desperate Housewives, Episode 6)