Fiscal Armageddon Greatly Exaggerated

November 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm 1 comment

Source: Photobucket

Source: Photobucket

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

-Mark Twain (after a relative’s illness was attributed to Twain)

The same can be said for the exaggerated death of the U.S. economy and stock market. Naysayers have been pounding a consistent stream of fatal economic theories for years as a positive set of broader metrics disassembled those arguments. Debt downgrades, debt defaults, and a domino of European country collapses were supposed to set our financial markets spiraling downwards out of control. That didn’t happen.

A large contributing component to our oversized debt burden was the massive federal, state, and local deficits. Consider the federal fiscal deficit that reached -$1.5 trillion during the 2008-09 Financial Crisis.

Many of the doom-and-gloomer pundits expected a deficit in the uber-trillion dollar range to last for as far as the eye could see, but perception didn’t turn out to be reality. Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit always does a superb job of summarizing this government related data (see chart below):

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

All too often people confuse a secular trend vs. a cyclical move. The collapse in tax revenues during the 2008-2009 timeframe was not the result of some permanent shift in tax policy, but rather a function of a cyclical downturn, much like we have seen in prior recessions.

Extrapolating a short-term trend into a long-term trend is a common investor mistake (see Extrapolation Dangers). While the mean reversion in tax revenues came as a surprise to some, it was no bombshell for me. When the country axes 9 million private jobs and then both companies and consumers rein in spending due to depression fears, a subsequent reduction in tax receipts should not be a shock to market observers. On the flip side, it should then be no revelation that tax revenues will rise when 9 million+ jobs return and confidence rebounds.

We have talked about the shape of tax revenues/receipts, but what about the shape of spending? With all the gridlock occurring in Washington, Americans are fed up with the government’s inability to get anything done, which is evident by the near-record low approval rating of Congress. But as I have written before, not all the effects of gridlock are bad (see Who Said Gridlock is Bad?). What Grannis’s chart above shows is that gridlock has beneficially resulted in about five years of flat spending. Despite the spending stinginess, the slow and steady economic recovery has continued virtually unabated since 2009.

Looked at from a slightly different lens, you can see the deficit reached its worst point in 2009 at about -$1.5 trillion (-10% of GDP) – see chart below. Today, the deficit has almost been cut by 2/3rds to a level of -$0.5 billion (-2.8% of GDP). As you can see, the current deficit/GDP percentage is consistent with the average deficit levels experienced over the last 50 years.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Regardless of your political persuasion, investors are best served by not placing too much focus on what’s going on in Washington D.C. Equal blame and credit can be dispersed across Congress (Democrats & Republicans), the President, and the Federal Reserve. Exaggerating the death of the U.S. economy and stock market may sell more newspapers and advertising, but the resilience of capitalism and innovative spirit of American entrepreneurship has not and will not die.

Investment Questions Border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

Entry filed under: Financial Markets, Themes - Trends. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Steve  |  November 17, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Hahahahahah! Two words, my friend: unfunded liabilities. Somehow we all seem to ignore these. Factor them in and the national deficit runs trillions per year. But then, they’ll never be paid, as the wise guys know so well. Condolences, public sector union thugs! Condolences, grandpa and grandma. Eat your dog food and shut up.


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