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“All Hands On Deck!”: A Trump Presidency Would Sink All Boats

Hello, investors. Come join the foreign policy experts in daily panic attacks over what a President Donald Trump would mean for your world. What does one do about a candidate whose tax plan would send America into the fiscal abyss — who flaps lips about not making good on the national debt?

Should we be investing in the makers of Xanax and Klonopin? And on the personal side, are there enough benzodiazepines to go around?

We’re not talking just about the very rich. Anyone with a retirement account or a small portfolio has something to lose. The economic consensus is that a Trump presidency would sink all boats. And that certainly applies to Trump’s own economically struggling followers in the least seaworthy craft.

“Most Rust Belt working-class Americans don’t get it,” Bob Deitrick, CEO of Polaris Financial Partners in Westerville, Ohio, told me. “The working class thinks he’s going to stick it to the elites.”

The facts: The Trump tax plan would deliver an average tax cut of $1.3 million to those with annual incomes exceeding $3.7 million. The lowest-income households would get $128. (No missing zeros here.)

Folks in the middle would see federal taxes reduced by about $2,700, which sounds nice but would come out of their own hide. Medicare and other programs that benefit the middle class would have to be slashed. So would spending on science research, infrastructure and services essential to the U.S. economy.

Or we could skip the very deep spending cuts and see the national debt balloon by nearly 80 percent of gross domestic product, calculation courtesy of the Tax Policy Center.

Some might think that Trump’s tax plan — including the repeal of the federal tax on estates bigger than $5.43 million — would impress the income elite, but they would be wrong. In a recent poll of Fortune 500 executives, 58 percent of the respondents said they would support Hillary Clinton over Trump.

Most in this Republican-leaning group are undoubtedly asking themselves: What good is a fur-lined deck chair if the ship’s going down?

Then there are the others.

“Do middle-class Americans have any idea what could happen to the economy or the stock market if our president ever vaguely suggested defaulting on the national debt?” Deitrick asked. (His clients tend to be upper-middle-class investors.)

He recalls the summer of 2011, when a congressional game of chicken over raising the federal debt ceiling led to the possibility of a default. The Dow lost 2,400 points in a single week. And taxpayers were hit with $1.3 billion in higher borrowing costs that year alone.

Trump said on CNN that he is the “king of debt,” which in practice means he frequently doesn’t honor it. That’s why many major lenders shun him, talking of “Donald risk.”

Speaking of, Trump famously said in a Trump University interview, “I sort of hope (the real estate market crashes), because then people like me would go in and buy.”

But he also predicted that the real estate market would not tank — shortly before it did. Perhaps he never figured out there was a housing bubble. Or it was part of a clever scheme to peddle real estate courses with brochures asking, “How would you like to market-proof your financial future?”

Imagine a whole country taking on “Donald risk.”

The business community runs on stability. It can’t prosper under a showman who says crazy things and denies having said them moments later. A Trump presidency promises more chaos than a Marx Brothers movie — and you can believe it would be a lot less fun.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, June 7, 2016

June 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Policy, Economy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“After Six Full Years Of Being Wrong About Everything”: Crash-Test Dummies As Republican Candidates For President

Will China’s stock crash trigger another global financial crisis? Probably not. Still, the big market swings of the past week have been a reminder that the next president may well have to deal with some of the same problems that faced George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Financial instability abides.

So this is a test: How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?

And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.

Take, for example, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. Mr. Walker was supposed to be a formidable contender, part of his party’s “deep bench” of current or former governors who know how to get things done. So what was his suggestion to President Obama? Why, cancel the planned visit to America by Xi Jinping, China’s leader. That would fix things!

Then there’s Donald Trump, who likes to take an occasional break from his anti-immigrant diatribes to complain that China is taking advantage of America’s weak leadership. You might think that a swooning Chinese economy would fit awkwardly into that worldview. But no, he simply declared that U.S. markets seem troubled because Mr. Obama has let China “dictate the agenda.” What does that mean? I haven’t a clue — but neither does he.

By the way, five years ago there were real reasons to complain about China’s undervalued currency. But Chinese inflation and the rise of new competitors have largely eliminated that problem.

Back to the deep bench: Chris Christie, another governor who not long ago was touted as the next big thing, was more comprehensible. According to Mr. Christie, the reason U.S. markets were roiled by events in China was U.S. budget deficits, which he claims have put us in debt to the Chinese and hence made us vulnerable to their troubles. That almost rises to the level of a coherent economic story.

Did the U.S. market plunge because Chinese investors were cutting off credit? Well, no. If our debt to China were the problem, we would have seen U.S. interest rates spiking as China crashed. Instead, interest rates fell.

But there’s a slight excuse for Mr. Christie’s embrace of this particular fantasy: scare stories involving Chinese ownership of U.S. debt have been a Republican staple for years. They were, in particular, a favorite of Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012.

And you can see why. “Obama is endangering America by borrowing from China” is a perfect political line, playing into deficit fetishism, xenophobia and the perennial claim that Democrats don’t stand up for America! America! America! It’s also complete nonsense, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

In fact, talking nonsense about economic crises is essentially a job requirement for anyone hoping to get the Republican presidential nomination.

To understand why, you need to go back to the politics of 2009, when the new Obama administration was trying to cope with the most terrifying crisis since the 1930s. The outgoing Bush administration had already engineered a bank bailout, but the Obama team reinforced this effort with a temporary program of deficit spending, while the Federal Reserve sought to bolster the economy by buying lots of assets.

And Republicans, across the board, predicted disaster. Deficit spending, they insisted, would cause soaring interest rates and bankruptcy; the Fed’s efforts would “debase the dollar” and produce runaway inflation.

None of it happened. Interest rates stayed very low, as did inflation. But the G.O.P. never acknowledged, after six full years of being wrong about everything, that the bad things it predicted failed to take place, or showed any willingness to rethink the doctrines that led to those bad predictions. Instead, the party’s leading figures kept talking, year after year, as if the disasters they had predicted were actually happening.

Now we’ve had a reminder that something like that last crisis could happen again — which means that we might need a repeat of the policies that helped limit the damage last time. But no Republican dares suggest such a thing.

Instead, even the supposedly sensible candidates call for destructive policies. Thus John Kasich is being portrayed as a different kind of Republican because as governor he approved Medicaid expansion in Ohio, but his signature initiative is a call for a balanced-budget amendment, which would cripple policy in a crisis.

The point is that one side of the political aisle has been utterly determined to learn nothing from the economic experiences of recent years. If one of these candidates ends up in the hot seat the next time crisis strikes, we should be very, very afraid.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 28, 2015

August 29, 2015 Posted by | China, Financial Crisis, Global Economy | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Outrageous Ascent Of CEO Pay”: Corporate Law In The United States Gives Shareholders At Most An Advisory Role

The Securities and Exchange Commission approved a rule last week requiring that large publicly held corporations disclose the ratios of the pay of their top CEOs to the pay of their median workers.

About time.

For the last 30 years almost all incentives operating on American corporations have resulted in lower pay for average workers and higher pay for CEOs and other top executives.

Consider that in 1965, CEOs of America’s largest corporations were paid, on average, 20 times the pay of average workers.

Now, the ratio is over 300 to 1.

Not only has CEO pay exploded, so has the pay of top executives just below them.

The share of corporate income devoted to compensating the five highest-paid executives of large corporations ballooned from an average of five percent in 1993 to more than 15 percent by 2005 (the latest data available).

Corporations might otherwise have devoted this sizable sum to research and development, additional jobs, higher wages for average workers, or dividends to shareholders – who, not incidentally, are supposed to be the owners of the firm.

Corporate apologists say CEOs and other top executives are worth these amounts because their corporations have performed so well over the last three decades that CEOs are like star baseball players or movie stars.

Baloney. Most CEOs haven’t done anything special. The entire stock market surged over this time.

Even if a company’s CEO simply played online solitaire for 30 years, the company’s stock would have ridden the wave.

Besides, that stock market surge has had less to do with widespread economic gains than with changes in market rules favoring big companies and major banks over average employees, consumers, and taxpayers.

Consider, for example, the stronger and more extensive intellectual-property rights now enjoyed by major corporations, and the far weaker antitrust enforcement against them.

Add in the rash of taxpayer-funded bailouts, taxpayer-funded subsidies and bankruptcies favoring big banks and corporations over employees and small borrowers.

Not to mention trade agreements making it easier to outsource American jobs, and state legislation (cynically termed “right-to-work” laws) dramatically reducing the power of unions to bargain for higher wages.

The result has been higher stock prices but not higher living standards for most Americans.

Which doesn’t justify sky-high CEO pay unless you think some CEOs deserve it for their political prowess in wangling these legal changes through Congress and state legislatures.

It even turns out the higher the CEO pay, the worse the firm does.

Professors Michael J. Cooper of the University of Utah, Huseyin Gulen of Purdue University and P. Raghavendra Rau of the University of Cambridge, recently found that companies with the highest-paid CEOs returned about 10 percent less to their shareholders than do their industry peers.

So why aren’t shareholders hollering about CEO pay? Because corporate law in the United States gives shareholders at most an advisory role.

They can holler all they want, but CEOs don’t have to listen.

Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, received a pay package in 2013 valued at $78.4 million, a sum so stunning that Oracle shareholders rejected it. That made no difference because Ellison controlled the board.

In Australia, by contrast, shareholders have the right to force an entire corporate board to stand for re-election if 25 percent or more of a company’s shareholders vote against a CEO pay plan two years in a row.

Which is why Australian CEOs are paid an average of only 70 times the pay of the typical Australian worker.

The new SEC rule requiring disclosure of pay ratios could help strengthen the hand of American shareholders.

The rule might generate other reforms as well – such as pegging corporate tax rates to those ratios.

Under a bill introduced in the California legislature last year, a company whose CEO earns only 25 times the pay of its typical worker would pay a corporate tax rate of only seven percent, rather than the 8.8 percent rate now applied to all California firms.

On the other hand, a company whose CEO earns 200 times the pay of its typical employee, would face a 9.5 percent rate. If the CEO earned 400 times, the rate would be 13 percent.

The bill hasn’t made it through the legislature because business groups call it a “job killer.”

The reality is the opposite. CEOs don’t create jobs. Their customers create jobs by buying more of what their companies have to sell.

So pushing companies to put less money into the hands of their CEOs and more into the hands of their average employees will create more jobs.

The SEC’s disclosure rule isn’t perfect. Some corporations could try to game it by contracting out their low-wage jobs. Some industries pay their typical workers higher wages than other industries.

But the rule marks an important start.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, August 9, 2015

August 17, 2015 Posted by | CEO Compensation, Corporate Law, Public Corporations | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Things Go Well”: Republicans Now Take Credit For The Recovery They Sabotaged

This is unlikely to prompt anyone to break out the bubbly in the Oval Office, but last week’s poll numbers are nevertheless good news for President Obama. Since Democrats were thrashed in November’s midterm elections, the president’s approval ratings have been on the upswing.

As he prepares to deliver his sixth State of the Union address on Jan. 20, Obama’s approval has crept up to 47 percent, according to a new survey from Pew Research. That’s up 5 points since December.

Most analysts believe Obama’s recovering fortunes are the result of a much-improved economy — the one gauge that’s reliably important to voters. It’s taken a few years, but average workers are finally beginning to put the Great Recession behind them.

Take note of this now. Keep it in a spare file in your memory bank. Remember that the economy has been advancing for the six years of Obama’s tenure — a frustratingly slow process that is finally bearing fruit. The unemployment rate is now at 5.6 percent, the lowest since 2008. Foreclosures are down to pre-recession levels. The stock market is in historically high territory.

Why do I want you to remember this? In a stunning show of chutzpah, the president’s harshest critics, the hyper-conservatives who’ve done everything they could to wreck his presidency, want to take credit for the recovery they tried to sabotage.

Just take a look at the speech Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell gave on the day he took the helm of the Senate as the new majority leader.

“After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope. The uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress,” he said.

According to his logic, consumers spent more money and businesses hired more workers starting back in the summer because they expected Republicans to win a majority in Congress. That’s nonsense.

Obama inherited a mess from George W. Bush — a financial crisis brought on by the excesses of Wall Street. President Bush started the bailout, but most of the work was left for the Obama administration. Obama continued the Wall Street bailout, passed a massive stimulus package and rescued the auto industry. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, fought him every step of the way. That the economy has bounced back anyway is testament to its underlying resiliency.

Perhaps the greatest driver of consumers’ new optimism is the free-fall in gas prices, which haven’t been this low since the Great Recession drove down demand worldwide. Obama didn’t spur the investment in domestic oil drilling, but he has encouraged it, noting that it would help to free us from a dependence on foreign oil.

None of these hard-won gains have come a moment too soon. And, yes, there’s still much work to be done to revive the American middle class. The growing gap between the comfortable and everybody else remains one of the biggest threats to domestic tranquility. Wages are still stagnant.

Obama is well aware of that. In his State of the Union speech, he is expected to announce an ambitious new proposal to provide free access to the nation’s two-year community colleges. It’s an excellent plan.

Education experts say there are about 8 million community college students, and their average annual tuition is around $3,800. To the comfortable classes, that might not seem like much. But it presents a barrier to many working-class students trying to change their circumstances. It’s an investment that the nation can afford to make — and should make.

But like the other proposals the president has made to boost the economy, this one is likely to meet resistance from the Republicans in Congress. They want to take credit when things go well, but they’re only too willing to block a good idea if it comes from Obama.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, January 17, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Great Recession | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pension Jackpot For Wall Street”: A Vicious Cycle Whereby The Financial Industry Wins And Taxpayers, Once Again, Lose

Most consumers understand that when you pay an above-market premium, you shouldn’t expect to get a below-average product. Why, then, is this principle often ignored when it comes to managing billions of dollars in public pension systems?

This is one of the most significant questions facing states and cities as they struggle to meet their contractual obligations to public employees. In recent years, public officials have shifted more of those workers’ pension money into private equity, hedge funds, venture capital and other so-called “alternative investments.” In all, the National Association of State Retirement Administrators reports that roughly a quarter of all pension funds are now in these “alternative investments” — a tripling in just 12 years.

Those investments are managed by private financial firms, which charge special fees that pension systems do not pay when they invest in stock index funds and bonds. The idea is that paying those fees — which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year — will be worth it, because the alternative investments will supposedly deliver higher returns than low-fee stock index funds like the S&P 500.

Unfortunately, while these alternative investments have delivered a fee jackpot to Wall Street firms, they have often delivered poor returns, meaning the public is paying a premium for a subpar product.

In New Jersey, for example, the state’s alternative investment portfolio has trailed the stock market in seven out of the last eight years, while costing taxpayers almost $400 million a year in fees. Had the state followed the advice of investors like Warren Buffett and instead invested its alternative portfolio in a low-fee S&P 500 index fund, New Jersey would have had more than $5 billion more in its pension fund. In all, as New Jersey plowed more pension money into alternatives, its pension returns have routinely trailed median returns for all public pension systems.

It is the same story in other states that have been increasing their alternative investments.

In Rhode Island, Democratic state treasurer Gina Raimondo’s shift of pension money into alternatives has coincided with the pension system trailing median returns. Had the state generated median returns, it would have had $372 million more in its pension system.

Likewise, a Maryland Public Policy Institute study shows that returns from that state’s $40 billion pension system have trailed the median for the last decade. Had the state met the median, it would have $3.2 billion more in its pension system — an amount the study’s authors note is enough to “award 80,000 poor children with $40,000 four-year college scholarships.”

It is a similar tale in North Carolina, Kentucky and many other locales. In short, public officials are spending more and more pension money on high-fee alternative investments, and those investments are generating worse returns than other low-fee investment vehicles.

That brings back the original question: Why are pension funds pursuing such an investment strategy? Some of the answer may have to do with the same psychology that encourages the gambler to try to big-bet his way out of deficits. But it also may have to do with campaign contributions. After all, many of the politicians who have been pushing the alternative investments just so happen to benefit from Wall Street’s campaign contributions.

That spotlights a pernicious dynamic that may be at work: The more public money that goes into alternative investments, the more fees alternative investment firms generate, the more campaign contributions are made by those firms, and thus the more money politicians devote to alternative investments, even as those investments deliver poor results for pensioners. It is a vicious cycle whereby the financial industry wins and taxpayers, once again, lose.

 

By: David Sirota,  Senior Writer at the International Business Times; The National Memo, September 26, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Financial Industry, Public Pension System, Wall Street | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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