Tax Cuts Have Boosted Economy

July 3, 2018

The headline comes directly from Steven Mnuchin, our U.S. Treasury Secretary, who recently penned an op-ed piece which appeared in print in the Tampa Bay Times (July 3, 2018).  https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/trump-tax-cuts-strengthened-u-s-economy/

Mnuchin’s opinion piece seems to consist primarily of fluffed-up puffery related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017.

Mr. Mnuchin omitted several critical issues which most economists agree must be included in any analysis of the U.S. economy.

First is the ‘business (economic) cycle’.  The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has been tracking the U.S. economy for 160+ years.  NBER defines one business cycle as: A period of economic expansion; followed by a contraction (recession); ending at the next point of recovery.

NBER’s 160+ years of records reflect that (over that time) the U.S. economy experienced 66 business cycles. Since 1945, we have experienced 11 business cycles with an average length of expansions of 5 years, followed by an average length of recessions of 1 year.

We can’t forget that the U.S. economy almost collapsed in early 2008 following a period of ebullience and expansion apparently accompanied by loose regulatory oversight of the financial sector.

Quick intervention in 2008 by our federal government saved the U.S. economy from the deepest and longest downturn since the Great Depression.  NBER data reflects the point of recovery (beginning of expansion) of the U.S. economy occurred in June 2009, and has now entered its 10th year (109th month) of growth.

Our current economic expansion is now the second-longest expansion on record, exceeded only by the expansion from March 1991 to March 2001, which lasted a full 10 years.

History tells us we are very close to the point of contraction (recession) of the U.S. economy.

Second is the ‘Skills Gap’.  When Mr. Mnuchin tells us that “…there are enough job openings in America for every unemployed person in the country” he fails to explain that the majority of open jobs require skills which the majority of unemployed people lack. In other cases, the unfilled jobs are located hundreds – maybe thousands – of miles away from the location of potential job seekers.

One solution to filling the open jobs is to encourage migration – or immigration — of skilled workers.

Another solution is to recruit, educate and train currently underemployed or unemployed U.S. residents who live in near proximity to the open jobs.

Third involves a dangerous combination of tax cuts and deficit spending to finance those tax cuts.

Mr. Mnuchin touts benefits to U.S. workers as a result of repatriation of hundreds of billions of dollars from off-shore corporate subsidiaries to the U.S.  In fact, companies thus far have paid out dividends and other withdrawals of $305.6 billion from foreign receipts which far outstripped the amount of this cash which was reinvested domestically.  By some estimates, corporations have spent 72 times as much on share buybacks as they have spent on one-time worker bonuses and raises.

The U.S. ‘current account deficit’, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country, widened by $8.0 billion to $124.1 billion, or 2.5 percent of national economic output in the first 3 months of 2018, virtually all of which seems to be attributable to the repatriation tax holiday.

To make up for the loss of tax revenue, the Trump administration is relying on a combination of debt financing and mystical economic growth which they expect to occur at the end of an extended business cycle.

Mnuchin tells us that U.S. economic growth is on steroids.

Some observers have noted that the appearance of economic growth is highly influenced by the infusion of repatriated cash – somewhat similar to feeding 2nd graders sugar before sending them out onto the playground.

The energy is intense, but it won’t last very long, and it is just not sustainable.

A recent report (6/21/2108) from the U.S. Office of Government Accountability (GAO) warns that responsible action is needed on the nation’s growing federal deficit, which grew to $666 Billion in FY 2017 (10/01/16 to 9/30/17) and is projected to surpass $1 Trillion by 2020.

According to the GAO’s 2017 financial report, the federal deficit in FY 2017 increased by 13.5% from $587 Billion in FY 2016 and $439 Billion in FY 2015. Federal receipts in FY 2017 increased by $48 billion, but that was outweighed by a $127 billion increase in spending.  (Note that Deficit is an annual measure; National Debt is aggregate, an accumulation of annual shortfalls.)

The aggregate (gross) amount that the U.S. Treasury can borrow is limited by the U.S. debt ceiling. As of April 30, 2018, our National Debt was $21 Trillion, about 78% of GDP.

Since its passage in December 2017, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has warned that TCJA will add $1.84 Trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, which they estimate will push the National Debt to an unprecedented 152 percent of GDP by 2028, significantly increasing the odds of a new financial crisis.

Interest rates are rising, and National Debt is increasing, thus interest on National Debt will consume an ever-increasing amount of future federal budgets.

And, of great concern is the flattening of the ‘yield curve’.  Traditionally, interest rates on short-term debt are lower than rates paid on long-term obligations.

The spread between the yields of the 2-year Treasury note (2.55 percent) and 10-year Treasury note (2.89 percent) was 34 basis points on June 23. That’s less than half of what it was in early February and the narrowest it’s been since August 2007.

An inversion of the yield curve — when long-term rates fall below short-term rates — traditionally predicts a looming recession.

—————————————————————————-

It’s not clear why Mr. Mnuchin – a seasoned financial services sector professional with a clear expertise in fixed income securities – would omit such important information in his assessment of the U.S. economy.

I am drawn to conclude Mr. Mnuchin is using his position as a high-ranking federal official to ‘butter his own toast’, likely through complex – and undisclosed — derivative positions.

We’ll have to see if the Walrus is correct…..

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: