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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Recent historically high nominal United States corporate profit levels are a key factor inspiring many to buy and hold US stocks. Bullish forecasts regarding future net earnings, especially when such predictions extend out to misty medium term or murky long run time horizons, sustain and bolster this enthusiastic ownership. In turn, stock rallies sometimes boost optimism regarding potential corporate profitability and overall economic growth, for many have faith that equity marketplaces are forward-looking indicators for “The Economy”.
Has the US entered a blessed New Era of very high corporate profitability that will stretch happily out into the indefinite future? Probably not. Has America revived the wonderful time of the Goldilocks economy? Probably not. Higher nominal corporate profits and ascending nominal stock prices, when accompanied by rising nominal GDP, can assist national confidence and encourage spending in the short term. However, since the nominal levels are not the real (genuine) ones, they do not translate into an equivalent amount of real and permanent prosperity.
Yet even if very elevated corporate profitability does not continue, what may have caused a sustained notable upward shift relative to long run history in the ratio of nominal US corporate profits to nominal GDP? To some extent, it reflects corporate cost-cutting measures and other battles to improve efficiency. The easy money policies of the Federal Reserve Board (sustained low interest rates; money printing) and its allies and massive deficit spending (stimulus) perhaps play roles. But picture the context of sluggish to declining real US household income, still-damaged consumer balance sheets, high unemployment, weak housing prices, and very low consumer confidence. With that domestic (home) background, high US nominal corporate profits- and especially a more elevated nominal profit versus GDP ratio- also arguably reflects economic globalization trends and profits captured from overseas. If so, then relatively high American corporate profits do not entirely reflect (do not fully represent) actual overall US prosperity (“Our Economy”), merely that of many of its corporations.
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US Corporate Profits- Patterns and Perspectives (11-1-11)