Tag Archives: stock market

The Great Bamboozle: GOP Tax Plan Targeted Right At the Middle Of The Top 1%

There are some amazing feats of verbal legerdemain going on as Republicans try to explain why their Jam It Through Tax Plan isn’t a real bag of snakes.

Oh, don’t worry about our plan…people want to see an improving economy…people want to see more in their paychecks…now 90% of the people can file a simple return…there’s a lot of wishful thinking going on here, and most of it is wrong.  The political advertising is going to write itself in 2018.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is correct to say that “haste makes waste,” and in its haste the GOP is about to unload both barrels into their own feet.

The tax cuts will explode the debt.  Remember all the times the GOP told us that debt is a problem?  It certainly can be.  When there was a Democrat in the White House the Heritage Foundation positively screamed about the impact of increasing the national debt:

Current and projected increases in government debt, cutting into future economic growth rates, also mean slower future growth of government revenues. Even as future interest expense rises as taxpayers are called upon to service all this debt, growth in government revenues will slow, leaving less available for other priorities, such as national security and economic security, education, and innovation-driving research.

The only difference now is that the accumulated deficits will be driven by a Republican penchant for rewarding the investor class with amazing tax cuts.  Now the argument is reversed: there will supposedly be More revenue, More innovation, More funds for national security and research.  No there won’t. And we don’t need to kid ourselves, because the same basic economic elements are going to underpin the new tax/budget structure that are girding the current one. 

Nothing in the tax bill reverses the current emphasis on short term gains. The GOP is fond of pointing to gains in the stock market as “proof” of its stewardship of economic growth.  There’s an obvious problem with this, as noted by the Chicago Tribune:

Nearly half of country has $0 invested in the market, according to the Federal Reserve and numerous surveys by groups such as Gallup and Bankrate. That means people have no money in pension funds, 401(k) retirement plans, IRAs, mutual funds or ETFs. They certainly don’t own individual stocks such as Facebook or Apple.

So, nearly half the population has Zilch invested in The Market. What about the others?  While people don’t generally have elephantine memories, 2008 isn’t that far in the rear view mirror, and that’s part of the reason about 54% of Americans have some sort of investments, as opposed to the 62% prior to the Big Crash of 2007-08.

Further,  there’s some recent research indicating the decline isn’t over.

Rosenthal and Austin’s main focus was the precipitous decline of taxable investment accounts. In 50 years, the amount of stock owned by individual investors and funds outside retirement and nontaxable accounts such as 529 college-savings plans has dropped off a cliff — to about 25% in 2015 from over 80% in 1965.

But wait, there’s more:

The other startling finding was the growth in foreign investment in the US stock market. What was once a small sliver of the makeup now accounts for a quarter of all stock ownership at $5.5 trillion. Part of this may be due to increasing wealth in foreign countries, but, as the researchers noted, it could also be influenced by corporate inversions, in which foreign-domiciled firms have large direct holdings of US-based stock.

So, we have a structural situation in which the percentage of individual investors is declining precipitously, the percentage of institutional investors is increasing, as is the percentage of foreign investors.   It doesn’t take much effort to perceive that the produce of stock market gains aren’t going to benefit most Americans, but should assist institutional and foreign investors.

But surely those institutional investors will be looking for long term investment prospects and will act as a curb on short term pursuits as exemplified by hedge fund operations?  Nupe.  That part of the structure hasn’t changed either.  It’s not happening:

Across the world, a clamor is rising against corporate short-termism—the undue attention to quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term sustainable growth. In one survey of chief financial officers, the majority of respondents reported that they would forgo current spending on profitable long-term projects to avoid missing earnings estimates for the upcoming quarter.1

Critics of short-termism have singled out a set of culprits—activist hedge funds that acquire 1% or 2% of a company’s stock and then push hard for measures designed to boost the stock price quickly but unsustainably. 2 The typical activist program involves raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, or spinning off corporate divisions—usually accompanied by a request for board seats.

If corporations increase profitability I am hearing, “raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, and mergers, acquisitions, and spin offs.  I am NOT hearing investment in plant expansion, workers’ wages, and company benefits.  And, I’m certainly not hearing anything about encouraging the promotion of taxable investment accounts, the kind that  puts revenue into the Nation’s coffers.

Nothing in the tax bill addresses wage stagnation.   And, no, this is not a myth:

“After adjusting for inflation, wages are only 10 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, with annual real wage growth just below 0.2 percent.[1] The U.S. economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers.” […] ” The portion of national income received by workers fell from 64.5 percent in 1974 Q3 to 56.8 percent in 2017 Q2.”

Ouch.  Somehow, the Growth Fairy is supposed to be so enamored of tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals that more greenbacks will float down and squirm into the pay packets of average American workers.  Probably not, and putting more dollars into the pockets of institutional investors — foreign and domestic — isn’t going to be all that helpful either.  So, not only does the tax plan not address short term-ism, it doesn’t really address paycheck issues either.

But Wait! How about increasing the child tax credits and standard deductions?  It’s no secret that those people earning $75,000 or less aren’t going to be the big winners in this tax bill.  “The tax bill Senate Republicans are championing would give large tax cuts to the rich while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next decade, according to a report released Thursday by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s official nonpartisan analysts.” [WaPo]

But, but, but…Your tax filings will be simpler!  Simple doesn’t matter if you aren’t getting your taxes cut.  And, if the tax preparation deduction is eliminated then there are going to be some mom and pop franchises in serious straits — those just happen to be local small businesses as well.

But, but, but…jobs won’t go overseas!  You can only dream.  The arguments get a bit into the economic weeds, into territorial taxation, but the bottom line is clear:

This might seem like a small difference, but the design of their global minimum tax creates perverse incentives for companies to offshore jobs and shift profits to tax havens—outcomes that a per-country minimum tax would avoid.

Perverse indeed, especially if one expects the new tax plan to provides incentives for companies to expand operations domestically.  Nothing in this plan actually and directly promotes domestic expansion in the economy — it’s all indirect and absolutely hopeful, perhaps even illusory if not downright delusional.

In the meantime, Medicare will be facing cuts of about $25 billion.  There will be calls to “reform” Social Security” in order to reduce the debt — translation: Higher requirements for fewer benefits.  There will be calls to cut SNAP programs — not a drop in the bucket needed to fill the debt hole; and, educational funding — another squeeze on programs that actually help people eventually earn higher wages.

This won’t prevent Republicans like Nevada’s Senator Dean Heller from enjoying the passage of a “great tax cut,” while he hopes to high Heaven no one in the state notices cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Childrens’ Health Insurance, and no one talks about increased premiums in the individual health insurance market.  Perhaps no one will notice that graduate students at UNR and UNLV are supposed to pay taxes on tuition waivers while they’re actually earning minimum wages for part time jobs?  No one will notice the reduction in home mortgage interest deductions?  No one will observe the reduction or elimination of deductions for major medical expenses — much of which will be out of the pockets of the elderly.

My guess is that Nevadans will notice.  The political ads may, indeed, write themselves.

 

 

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Filed under health insurance, Heller, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics, Taxation

Simple Economics Made Complex: Capitalism vs. Financialism

The 2012 election at almost every level will be determined by turn out, and predicated on economics — micro and macro.  The problem for most voters is that we’re talking about two economies.  The economy of the financialists and the economy of the capitalists.  So far, the capitalists are winning.  Barely.

A capitalist believes that our economy works best when consumers have a choice of products from a variety of manufacturers or providers.  The economy expands as the demand for goods and services increases and providers seek to accommodate consumer needs.  A capitalist believes that capital should move from areas of surplus to areas of shortage, for small business lines of credit, for home loans, for student loans, for consumer credit, for business expansion, for commerce and marketing needs.

A financialist believes that the economy serves to accumulate wealth such that we create financial products and services which can be securitized and manipulated to create more wealth.   The financialists have been doing very well, thank you very much.  Not sure, then consider this chart:

That’s right, 93% of the increases in American income (wealth) in 2010 went to the top 1% of income owners in the U.S.  And the stock market has been doing quite well since 2009:

Of course, it’s not just stocks in which we find increased trading.  Other financial products, derivatives included, have been doing a thriving trade.

The traffic in derivatives hasn’t slowed much either.

So, while those whose income comes from the financial sector have been doing quite well, those in the “real” economy — the capitalist economy have been in something of a bind.

Note, Governor Romney’s complaint that the current economy means “stagnating” wages for middle class Americans he’s omitting a crucial bit of information:  When economic policies favor the accumulation of wealth in the coffers of the o.01%, it shouldn’t be the least bit surprising that middle class Americans aren’t seeing the increases in their bank accounts.

In short, the Financialists (and their presidential candidate Governor Mitt Romney) having secured a deregulated financial sector which rewards them disproportionately, are loathe to adopt any policy which might require them to pay more in taxes or to comply with any regulations on the financial product manipulation which constitutes their wealth accumulation strategy.

It’s up to the Capitalists in the 2012 election to secure a level playing field, or at least a more level field, one in which INVESTMENT is rewarded before SPECULATION.   One in which the economic reality of supply and demand means the supply and demand in REAL markets — not in esoteric “markets” for artificially concocted risk management products.

Let’s hope the Capitalists win.

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Filed under 2012 election, banking, Economy, Obama, privatization, Republicans, Romney

Graphs, Charts in The Fact Based Universe

There must be an alternate universe somewhere in which the following trends do not apply.  However, these are what they are.  The unemployment rate is down.  It’s interesting that while the unemployment rate was at least 8% the Republicans had no problem whatsoever vouching for the accuracy of the BLS reports, but once the number fell below their threshold for advertising purposes, then the numbers were questionable?  The main point isn’t the specific percentage of unemployed but the trend — which certainly looks better than when the deregulation fueled Recession was in full bloom.

It’s also interesting to note that there must be some other rationale for Gloom and Doom from the Wall Street crowd, because the stock market indices have been going up during the Obama Administration.

If an index of 500 stocks isn’t enough, why not take a look at an index of 5000?  Here’s the Wilshire 5000 total market index.  If new regulations on banks and their derivative trading is so deleterious to our financial health, then why these rather robust numbers?

Retail sales and food service numbers are looking better too, and the banks are doing well also.

Retail sales, food service, banks doing well. The stock market is back to trending upward, and the unemployment figures aren’t climbing up as they were during the Recession — So, are we better off than we were four years ago?  And, why did the Romney Campaign stop asking that question?

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Filed under 2012 election, Economy, employment, Obama, Politics, Romney

Before Stuffing The Money In The Mattress, Ask Some Questions

The cable-babble networks are lathered up about the drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average today.  Before transitioning to panic mode, stop and ask some questions that might very well be answered by tomorrow morning:

#1. How is this information being filtered?  Politically oriented analysts and commentators are highly likely to say the “market” has spoken about the debt ceiling deal being (a) too much, (b) too little, (c) too recession-prone, (d) not nearly enough of either revenue increases or spending decreases.  Trading oriented analysts are highly likely to interpret what they are seeing in terms of the mechanics of finance.  The sell off may be “emotional,” or “electronic.”   Whatever the perspective, the explanations we’re getting in real time may end up having precious little to do with reality.   In the real world — Markets Don’t Speak.  Markets merely produce numerical reports which are then subjected to some human being’s interpretation.

#2. What does the sell off represent?  One of the first things we’ll learn eventually is how much of the sell off was due to automatic trading programs often associated with high volume, electronic trading which triggered off selling orders at specified prices.  Remember the Flash Crash?  Some see glimmers of a flash-crash, others don’t.

#3.  What caused the selling?   Right now, who knows?  Did some major investment firm get the heebie-jeebies about tomorrow’s unemployment numbers?  Did some other firm get rattled about reports that banks might start charging major investors for holding cash deposits and Treasuries?   Might yet another group of traders have become spooked about the activities of the Bank of Japan and the situation in Italy?

#4. What’s the meaning of the lower prices?  Again, who knows right now?  The lower prices can’t be rationally explained by the Q2 earnings reports — those were nearly all favorable to U.S. corporations.  The lower prices don’t seem to have any rational correlation to the liquidity of U.S. corporations, which as we know are awash in at least $9 trillion in cash.  So, we might be back to “emotion” and “electronic” rationales.

There’s another possibility, a good old fashioned correction, or to use the term of art “repricing.”  Did some investment house or fund decide that Corporation X had done a bit too much stock repurchasing in recent quarters to the point that the investors decided the little mini-bubble was overpriced, and now would be a good time to cash in?  Did investors in Corporation Y think the price/earnings ratio was out of whack?  Did investors in Corporation Z decide they needed some more cash in case someone was likely to short them?   The answer, of course, could be X, or Y, or Z, or any combination thereof.

#5. What do we do?  What good investors always do — exercise a little adult judgment.  Are the stocks in the portfolio for the kids’ college fund in companies that had solid quarterly earnings? That have good management and responsible corporate planning?  If so, the intelligent thing to do would be to stop pondering where and how to slit the mattress, and start checking on the REAL situation of the corporations in which one’s invested.

The cable-babble networks will milk this story for all the ratings they can get.  You’ll know when to turn them off when you notice they are not answering your questions.

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Filed under Economy