A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about our current President and his economic credentials.

Donald John Trump was one of 366 student members of the class of 1968 who was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania.

Other than his bachelor’s degree and some experience working in the family real estate business, there is no evidence that Mr. Trump has pursued additional education, credentials or capabilities in the field of economics.

Trump’s paucity of bona fides in the world of economic theory and practice has not deterred him from taking an active role in testing new economic theories and concepts.

Below, I introduce a new chapter in my observations on Donald Trump’s economic strategy:
…………………….…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

July 31, 2019 (Wednesday):  Federal Reserve Chairman Powell reluctantly announced a 25bp cut in the federal funds rate, the first rate cut in over a decade (December 2008).  In his announcement, Chairman Powell cited, “implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures”.  The Fed also referenced an apparent global economic slowdown; uncertainty around U.S.-China trade negotiations; and ‘stubbornly low inflation’.

August 1, 2019 (Thursday):  Donald Trump announced (in a series of tweets) that the U.S. would impose a new 10 percent tariff on certain goods from China beginning on September 1, 2019, following the news that trade talks with the China have failed to make sufficient progress.

These new tariffs will apply to the $300 Billion of Chinese goods which had not before faced a tariff. Another $250 Billion of Chinese goods will continue to be tariffed at a 25 percent rate.

This abrupt and unusual move roiled the equity markets, creating a major sell-off.

Since late 2018, the U.S. economy has been showing signs of slowing — bond markets are flaccid; GDP has slowed; new home sales are generally flat; and business investment is anemic, at best.

Virtually every main-stream economist agrees that Trump’s trade war is contributing to the domestic economic malaise, although it’s too early to determine by how much, and if the damage is permanent.

The Fed rate cut on Wednesday was accompanied by a caveat that one purpose was to help create a barrier to prevent Trump’s trade wars from toppling our domestic economy.

Thursday’s surprise announcement by Trump reveals a new, arbitrary, capricious and  unilateral decision by the White House which will result in higher taxes to Americans on imports; and further expand uncertainty for businesses which need significant time to manage their supply chains.

The agricultural sector in the U.S. – farms and ancillary industries, suppliers, manufacturers, etc – are already fighting the unexpected impacts of climate and weather on production.  Then, they were handed a potential death sentence by a White House which is guided not by strategy and planning, but by impetuous and arbitrary policy changes driven by Trump’s narcissistic compulsions.

If Trump’s Trade War battle plans were conceived within a coordinated environment (i.e. in concert with the Fed and the Congress) perhaps we would be able to see a pathway toward successful outcomes.

Trump is consistent in his bravado that he – and he alone – has the vision, wisdom and solutions to create equilibrium in the trade accounts between the U.S. and China.

According to a BBC analysis from May 2019, “Trump’s decision to take on China could lead to adverse effects for consumers in the US and in China, but also worldwide. An economic showdown between the world’s biggest economies doesn’t look good for anyone.”

Article I of the US Constitution vests the power to set tariffs in Congress, thus Congress has the power to stop this President from continuing his arbitrary and impetuous trade war.  The question remains:  Will elected officials in Congress wake up, do their job and use that power, or will they continue to abdicate legislative responsibilities to this President?

Advertisements

Donald John Trump was one of 366 student members of the class of 1968 who was  awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State).

Other than his bachelor’s degree and some experience working in the family real estate business, there is no evidence that Mr. Trump has pursued additional education, credentials or capabilities in the field of economics.

Trump’s paucity of bona fides in the world of economic theory and practice has not deterred him from taking an active role in testing new economic concepts.

From an economic perspective, the presidency of Donald Trump will likely be remembered primarily for his America First posture, which has influenced immigration, tariff and tax policies.

Immigration:  Trump administration policy decisions focused on immigration have dramatically hurt domestic agriculture, food processing, hospitality, tourism and other low-wage, entry-level service occupations.

Tariffs:  Tariffs imposed on imported goods and materials are nothing more than a tax paid by the end user, in many cases, the American consumer.

Tariffs can be effectively used as a component of a strategic long-term plan to reposition the competitive position of American manufacturers on the world stage.

There is no known evidence that tariffs have ever brought any long-term value-added when arbitrarily and capriciously applied.

Trump administration subjective tariffs on imported steel and aluminum (justified as a means to “protect our country and our workers”) have proven to be a financial burden on several high-wage value-added U.S. industries, including: Automotive; Aerospace; Construction; and Manufacturing.

Tax Cuts:  The signing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017 was lauded as landmark legislation which would: (a) lower taxes on businesses and individuals; (b) stimulate higher wages and more jobs; and (c) result in a larger and more dynamic economy as a result of dramatically increased domestic business investment in plant and equipment.

Almost two years after the passage of TCJA, it seems clear that some near-term economic stimulation was achieved, but the long-term impact on gross domestic product (GDP) will be modest, if at all. The impact will be smaller on gross national product (GNP) than on GDP because the law generated net capital inflows from abroad that must be repaid in the future.

The expectation touted by elected officials in their frenzy to pass the TCJA envisioned some $4 Trillion being repatriated, generating new and potent investment and jobs in the U.S.

Most recent estimates reflect $3 Trillion (or more) in profits that U.S. companies have left parked overseas, with about $465 Billion in “repatriated” cash returning to the U.S. to enjoy a tax rate of 15.5% (vs. the 35% prior tax rate) on profits returned to the U.S. from overseas.

A good outcome?  Sure, in the short term.  Capital investments? Plant and equipment? Not so much.  There is virtually no evidence that any of the repatriated cash was invested in job creation.  It was invested in executive bonuses; stock buy-backs; debt repayments; and some dividend enhancements.

Please stay tuned, there is more to come…..

Mueller Report

May 29, 2019

Several of my friends have wondered:  What part of “… this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” supports the “No Collusion, No Obstruction” response from the Trump White House.

My theory is based on a variety of academic studies over the past 2 decades which have determined that an ‘average American adult’ reads at (or about) the eighth grade level.

The reading skills of American adults are significantly lower than those of adults in most other developed countries, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based on a sample of 160,000 people from two dozen developed nations.

The Mueller Report is an academic treatise written at a level which clearly exceeds the abilities of most American adults to engage; read; analyze; and conclude.

The ability to read fluently, critically and for understanding— to be able to learn from text— may be the most important foundational skill for U.S. adult citizens’ health, well-being, and social and economic advancement.

Critical reading skills are the gateway to lifelong learning, education, and training.

The internet and social networking currently operate through the written word, thus reading literacy provides access to an infinite and readily accessible library of the world’s knowledge, as well as the ability to communicate with friends, family, and employers.

The digital revolution provided access to information which is the foundation for an informed society — except for those adults who continue to struggle to read and/or comprehend.

We have a crisis in America.  The Mueller Report is written at a level which exceeds the skills of the majority of Americans — including many of those currently serving in Congress — to understand, analyze and arrive at critically informed conclusions.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that adults with a high school degree (or less) represent the majority (37%) of U.S. adults who report not reading books in any format in the past year.

I have to wonder – and I hope you will join me —  How many of these 37% of adults who don’t read books (and perhaps don’t read critically?) are members of the Trump Base?

 

 

 

 

 

President Trump threw a temper tantrum today in the White House Rose Garden, forever preserved in the digital media universe.

Through his actions and words today, President Trump has provided clear and irrefutable evidence that he is unable to separate questions about his personal character from the primary duty of his current and sworn role to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” which I translate as an obligation to provide competent and impartial leadership for the entire population of the United States.

His public pronouncement that, “I don’t do cover ups” is clearly false.

Following that statement, the first image that flashed into my head was recorded for public record on Air Force One (early April, 2018) when President Trump responded to a reporter’s question about the cover-up payment(s) to Stormy Daniels that, ‘I know nothing about that’ further referring any questions to his then-Attorney, Michael Cohen.

Another indelible image again involves Air Force One and the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr., various Trump campaign people, and a Russian lawyer.  In early July 2017, while flying home from Germany aboard Air Force One, President Trump personally dictated a statement on behalf of Trump Jr. which said that Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” in June 2016, further stating that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

That meeting has continued to be a constant thorn.  In late July 2018, following public testimony by Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to respond to some negative press reports, “I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don Jr….”

He didn’t know?  Cover up?  I think yes.

The most egregious example of Trump cover ups is his obstinate refusal to allow the public release of bank records, tax returns or any relevant financial records pertaining to his personal and business activities.  We know from public information that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization and/or entities controlled by him:  (a) Declared bankruptcy 6 times; (b) Have been shunned by most traditional banking organizations; (c) Consistently sell condominiums and other developed properties in ‘all-cash’ transactions, often to anonymous entities connected to Russia or former Soviet republics.

I applaud Speaker Pelosi for her insistence on a thorough and methodical process to follow and identify all of the facts. Indeed, no one is above the law, including the President of the United States.

I strongly encourage our elected officials to stay the course and to demand full disclosure and independent comprehensive review of Trump family and Trump Organization financial records.  The American People deserve nothing less.

Trump-en-omics

May 13, 2019

Trump has formally signaled his mastery of global economics and some of the ways he believes U.S. trade policies will help guide the world economy toward optimum performance.

Some have said our president seems to be really out of control, that he must have skipped all of the courses on economics and finance when he was in school (he did go to school, right?).

I believe some further research is in order.

Although Trump continues his infatuation with Twitter where he openly shares classified information with the world, he also has his thumbs on the Tariff Buttons.

Most alarming?  He apparently has the nuclear codes.

Meanwhile, since mid-April, the actions of our president have cost me a significant amount of my accumulated and hard earned savings.  And, it could be worse!  If I was fully invested in traditional equities, it would have been even more painful!

But, enough about me.

The most recent abrupt and unjustified increase of U.S. tariffs on $200 Billion of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent triggered a response from China which predictably exacerbates continued economic damage to the U.S. agricultural sector, and compounds spillover impacts to related industries.

The Trump Trade War has been extremely harsh on farmers.  Over time, our farmers learned to deal with unpredictable weather; wind storms; disease outbreaks; hordes of locusts; crop loss during storage; and wildly fluctuating prices of both inputs and crops.

It seems clear they never anticipated having a White House which would use them as sacrificial pawns to engage in quixotic battles against imaginary foes.

Longer term and behind the curtain, tariff increases on Chinese imports will drive up domestic prices on a broad array of consumer products, finished goods, and intermediate goods – even some raw materials used in basic manufacturing in the U.S.

The good news:  the effects of these most recent tariff increases probably won’t show up for 90 days, or so.

The bad news:  the costs of the these tariff increases will be fully borne by U.S. consumers, and the effects of tariff increases will result in price increases which will temper domestic economic growth while concurrently sending signals of an increase in core inflation, likely resulting in interest rate increases by the Fed.

And, it just gets worse from there…..

Let’s be clear: the terms ‘tax evasion’ and ‘tax avoidance’ are often used interchangeably. However, only those activities which occur in a tax avoidance scheme are considered lawful.

Plenty of reliable media sources have carefully examined and reported on the awful legacy of Donald Trump’s multiple bankruptcies on a myriad of small businesses: architects, carpet suppliers, lighting and electrical distributors, even custom cabinet-makers.

A recent expose published by The New York Times focused on Trump’s taxes and revealed a previously unexposed nuance:  many of his unpaid bills were essentially ‘double counted’ through the magic of accrual accounting.  Thus, Trump and his Organization underpaid many vendors, while concurrently creating a paper loss for Trump which translated into a ‘tax loss carryforward’ good to shield future profits from future taxation.

If people had been able to look at this bad behavior as a base line, and project it forward, they might have been able to see how much damage The Donald has already done to families and communities in the U.S.

Following his inauguration in January 2017, Trump’s operating principles haven’t changed at all.

A direct result of the introduction of Trump operating principles into the Executive Office has become an oblique assault on moderate and small family-owned businesses across the U.S. — in the manufacturing sector; in retail; agriculture; mining; ranching; hospitality; media; transportation; entertainment; food; construction; business services; technology; and more.

The foundation of success epitomized in the American Dream is entrepreneurial — hard work, focus and sacrifice oriented to a long term view.

The minority of small business operators who operate like Trump — those who operate at the margins and take advantage of honest business people who operate on the platform of honesty and honor — get put out of business quickly.

Tax avoidance – using any and every loophole to avoid paying taxes – is legal, even when some of the activities involved may be considered by some to be morally repugnant.

Somehow, Trump has been able to use his unique combination of charisma and showmanship to fool a rather sizeable segment of American adults into believing his shtick.

How very sad…

Paul Ryan retired from Congress in January 2019 after 20 years of service culminating in his 3+ years of service as Speaker of the House.

Ryan was the chief cheerleader for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and he left D.C. touting it as the greatest accomplishment of his political career.

Ryan repeatedly exclaimed how this new legislation (TCJA) would unleash unprecedented U.S. economic prosperity, by providing:

  1. Tax relief for middle-income families;
  2. Simplification of the tax code for individuals;
  3. Economic growth; and
  4. Repatriation of $3+ Trillion of profits U.S. companies have parked overseas would generate more investment and jobs in the U.S.

16 months after passage of the TCJA, it should be crystal clear that:

  1. Almost none of the tax cut benefits have reached the low- and middle income Americans who were promised tax relief;
  2. The TCJA legislation is some 1,097 pages itself, and it states very clearly that it is an Amendment to (the existing) Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (not a simplification);
  3. Economic Growth? The jury is still out on this one, but there seems to be no evidence of growth above or beyond the existing growth trend line which began in mid-2009;
  4. American companies have returned some (+/- $500 Billion) of their profits held overseas as a result of the tax holiday which was part of TCJA. Much of that money was used for stock buy-backs and debt reduction.

In fact, 16 months following the passage of the TCJA, U.S. companies are still waiting for final guidance from the Treasury Department on many of the final rules relative to repatriation.

And, despite continued U.S. economic growth and record corporate profits, a record 60 Fortune 500 companies avoided paying any federal income tax in 2018.

Federal tax revenues have declined during a period of economic expansion and our government spending has increased, thus the verifiable result from Paul Ryan’s signature accomplishment – the TCJA — is an increase in our federal deficit, an extra-special gift to our children and grandchildren.

The Treasury Department announced in March 2019 that the deficit for the first four months of the 2019 budget year (which began Oct. 1, 2018) totaled $310.3 Billion, up from a deficit of $175.7 Billion in the same period the year prior.

The Congressional Budget Office is projecting that the annual federal deficit between revenues and expenses will hit $897 Billion in fiscal year 2019, up 15.1 percent from the $779 Billion deficit recorded in FY 2018.

The end result: Our total federal debt will reach $22 Trillion this year – about 105% of GDP.

Why is that important? A comprehensive study by the World Bank examined economic data from 100 developing and developed economies spanning a time period from 1980 to 2008, concluding that a public debt/GDP above 77% begins to create a drag on economic growth.

The World Bank analysis concluded that for each additional percentage point of debt above the 77% threshold costs 0.017 percentage points of annual real growth.

If the World Bank study is correct, we are currently missing about 0.5% of our economic growth potential due to misguided public policy decisions, in addition to the future burden of repaying federal debt which was incurred unnecessarily.

Paul Ryan achieved his personal goal of shepherding record tax reform through Congress resulting in the passage of TCJA.

Although his personal goal was achieved at the expense of American society, Paul Ryan clearly is a winner.  So, please join me in sending a note of thanks and congratulations to Paul Ryan.  He left us a legacy.

Paul Ryan & Tax Cuts

April 16, 2019

Dear Paul Ryan,

In 1998 – at the age of 28 – you were first elected to the House of Representatives to represent the 1st District of Wisconsin.  You were re-elected a number of times, and you served for 20 years in Congress.

After John Boehner announced his intention to resign from the House and the Speakership in 2015, you were selected by your colleagues to become Speaker of the House.

You were involved in some very positive legislative accomplishments during your 20 year tenure as a Congressman representing the 1st District of Wisconsin, and during your tenure as Speaker of the House.

Unfortunately, your legacy will forever be connected to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) which was passed into law at the end of 2017.

Although the TCJA provided the Trump Administration with an accomplishment relative to their campaign platform, it is a highly flawed piece of legislation which was created on a foundation of fictitious and inaccurate assumptions.

Just 16 months following the passage of TCJA, we can clearly see the adverse impacts.

Business and corporate tax cuts have resulted in: stock buy-backs; excessive executive compensation and bonuses; acquisitions and consolidations resulting in plant closings and layoffs.  All of these have been enabled by tax cuts which have resulted in 60 major corporations paying zero federal income taxes in 2018.

Whereas in times of economic expansion, the great majority of economists advise public sector entities to reduce deficits and aim for balanced budgets, the TCJA does just the opposite.

Some of the loss of tax revenue from business and corporate entities has been replaced by increased federal tax liability on individuals (like me), the majority of the lost tax revenue has been made up through deficit spending.

The annual federal budget deficit is expected to reach $900 Billion in fiscal 2019 and to equalize in the range of $1 Trillion annually for the next decade, up from $779 Billion in 2018.

Mr. Ryan:  over the course of your service in Congress, you achieved national recognition as a conservative policy wonk and as a relentless critical observer of our federal budget. You seemed to be a relentless critic of federal deficits, winning acclaim from centrists for your detailed charts showing the dangers that fiscal shortfalls posed to America’s future.

You slipped out of Washington in January 2018 knowing that you led the American people down a dangerous and dead-end road.

In your defense, we can acknowledge that you reluctantly took on the role of Speaker knowing that it was an impossible responsibility to fulfill.  Despite this, we must hold you fully accountable for failing to disclose to your constituents – and the entire U.S. population – that the TCJA was a sham – a complete flim-flam designed to create a false reality.

Paul Ryan:  Let us hope that your family, your wife, your children – and your neighbors – are willing and able to forgive you for selling out the interests of the people of Wisconsin — as well as the people of the United States – for whatever benefits you personally gained from your treachery toward the end of your tenure in Congress when you became the champion of the fictitious Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Mr. Ryan:  Good luck to you, and God bless.

National Emergency

February 13, 2019

Yes, we are facing a national emergency, and it’s not along our southern border.

Our real national emergency is our National Debt.

Let’s first agree that when the U.S. federal government runs a deficit, or spends more than it receives in tax revenue, the U.S. Treasury Department borrows money to make up the difference.

Next, let’s agree that our national debt is the amount of money the federal government has borrowed through various means, including: (1) by issuing bills, notes and bonds which are bought by investors (domestic and foreign), including the public, the Federal Reserve and foreign governments; (2) through intra-governmental debt, essentially money borrowed from trust funds used to pay for programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The great majority of economists and economic and fiscal analysts tend to agree that the significance of national debt is best measured by comparing the debt with the federal government’s ability to pay it off using the debt-to-GDP ratio, simply by dividing a nation’s debt by its gross domestic product.

Various sources have estimated that a healthy debt-to-GDP ratio is in the 40% to 60% range.  A longitudinal study conducted by World Bank economists published in 2010 estimated that in highly developed countries, 77% was a ‘tipping point’ where productivity and potential economic growth was constrained by adding additional debt without addition of incremental revenue.  (In emerging economies, they estimate that 64% is the tipping point.)  In either case, potential for default begins to increase once the tipping point has been breached, thus putting upward pressure on borrowing costs.

The first instance when U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio exceeded 77% was toward the end of World War II.  In the post-war years, our national debt shrank in comparison to the booming post-war economy, and the debt-to-GDP ratio fell as low as 24 percent in 1974.

Recession and rising interest rates during the Carter administration put upward pressure on the debt-to-GDP ratio, and once the tax cuts enacted during Reagan’s first term combined with increased spending on both defense and social programs, the debt-to-GDP ratio reached 50 % in July 1989.

Economic growth in the ‘90s, combined with tax increases under both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton helped keep the debt load in line, and by the end of December 2000, our national debt was about 55% of GDP.

Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, U.S. military spending spiked, yet tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 during the George W. Bush administration combined with a mild recession in 2001 and the Great Recession beginning in 2007 caused significant decreases in tax revenues. By the time Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the debt-to- GDP-ratio reached 75%.

Deficit spending is one of the key tools available to stimulate economic recovery, and by the time of Obama’s 2nd inauguration in January 2013, the U.S. debt had grown to $16 Trillion – a debt-to-GDP ratio of 101%. By that time, it was clear that the economic stimulus of deficit spending had worked, evidenced by an expanding U.S. economy; signs of ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; resurgence of the U.S. stock market; continued job growth; and other positive economic indicators.

All of these positive signs at the beginning of 2013 pointed to the need to rein in government spending and to strategically increase revenues (i.e. raise taxes).

Yet, the Congress has stubbornly refused to deal with the reality that our U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio has remained above 100 percent since 2013.

In early 2018, an analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget concluded that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law in late 2017 will push the U.S. national debt to $33 Trillion — 113 % of GDP — by 2028, a ratio not seen since immediately after World War II.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a sham (and a scam) which created a situation exactly opposite of what responsible elected officials should have supported.  The sooner it is  amended, repaired or repealed, the sooner the American people will be transitioned into a less dangerous and more stable and sustainable economic environment.

Economic and Fiscal Policy

February 12, 2019

Our current POTUS rarely stands still long enough for anyone to really examine how his positions and policies impact us in the present, or potentially in the future.

Here are a couple of observations which I managed to glean from rapidly moving targets:

Fiscal Policy:  Failure

By late 2017, the U.S. economy had enjoyed over 8 years of economic expansion (since June 2009), leading virtually all economists to conclude we were moving toward the end of an economic expansion cycle. Most experts agree that the government should constrain both borrowing and spending during an expansion phase, concurrently decreasing government debt.

When the expansion phase of a business cycle comes to an end, and the economy begins to sputter – and ultimately to contract – a government with reduced debt will have the capacity to spend more and tax less, helping to support the softening economy return to equilibrium faster and smoother.

The much-touted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted at the end of 2017 introduced a $1.5 Trillion tax cut, sold as a source of economic stimulus when it was least needed.

In times of economic expansion, the government is on notice to reduce its deficit.

On February 12, 2019, the national debt passed a new milestone, topping $22 Trillion for the first time.  According to the U.S. Treasury Department, total outstanding public debt hit $22.01 Trillion, up from the $19.95 Trillion when President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017.  This is mighty dangerous stuff, folks.

Trade Policy:  Failure

Tariffs are a tax on consumption, paid by end users.

Over several decades, the U.S. developed a dependence on manufactured goods from China.  In turn, U.S. exports to China – predominantly agricultural and unfinished goods – enjoyed strong growth over time.

President Trump abruptly started a trade war with China, imposing tariffs on goods imported into the U.S. beginning in July 2018.

China quickly retaliated, raising tariffs on American goods imported into China, resulting in significant shifts by China to alternative sources.

Winners?  Brazil; Russia; Germany; Japan.

Losers?  American agricultural producers in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Kansas; some American manufacturers; and American consumers overall.

It was once said, “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win.

The evidence seems to emphatically refute that position.