An interesting piece from two Economists: Prof. Bittlingmayer, University of Kansas & Prof. Hazlett, George Mason University. For those that don’t understand what “shorting” means check here.
…So the Obama theory – government spending is stimulus. If so, financial markets should feel the love. The U.S. budget is awash in red ink, and $800 billion more of it should easily move the needle on our economic prospects. Indeed it has – in the wrong direction. Financial markets don’t want more government debt or a scramble for “shovel-ready” spending projects. They want the skeletons in the banking sector’s closet exposed and expunged.
The Bush Economy went up in smoke in September-October 2008. The financial meltdown hit Wall Street, devastating bank equities and laying waste to America’s 401-Ks. The Republican ticket, McCain-Palin, was a 50-50 bet on Sept. 15; by Oct. 15 it was a 5-1 long-shot. Voters saw the carnage: the Dow Jones Index lost 17% of its value from Sept. 2 through Nov. 3. In a flash, Americans lost years of toil, and Republicans the election. Decisively.
The election marked a turning point. Investors looked forward to the economic policies crafted by Democrats in Congress and the White House. More pointedly, they wanted decisive, well-crafted action on the banking crisis. Hence the Dow soared 6.5% Nov. 21 on news that Timothy Geithner, the highly-respected head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, was Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary.
Yet, from Nov. 4, 2008 through Feb. 12, 2009, the DJI overall fell 18% — a larger drop than during the Sept-Oct plunge. In January, when the Obama plan, promising far greater deficits than the two much smaller “emergency stimulus” plans signed by Pres. George W. Bush in 2008, was unveiled, the market tanked – the worst January performance in 113 years.
More pointedly, key political victories for the Team Obama spending plan have not been viewed as buying opportunities on Wall Street. A string of negative market reactions began with the December 18 announcement of a stimulus bill of $700 billion (Dow down 2.5%), continued with the January 7 announcement that the actual plan would be “on the high side” (-2.7%) and continued with last week’s 61-36 Senate vote supporting the Administration’s fiscal plan. The White House victory and the new bank bail-out plan announced the following day by Treasury Secretary Geithner were met with a 5% wipe-out in the DJI, and a decline in Treasury bond yields, indicating a “flight to quality.”
There are many problems with Keynes’ “stagnationist thesis,” as Joseph Schumpeter called it, not the least of which is that it didn’t test so well when applied by New Dealers. U.S. unemployment was perniciously high throughout the 1930s, peaking at 25% in 1933 but still over 17% in 1939.
Many claim that World War II brought us out of the Great Depression, but the lesson to be learned is still being debated. Federal budget deficits soared (reaching 26.5 % of GDP in 1942 as calculated by Harvard economist Robert Barro), providing Keynesians an argument for spending as stimulus. But WWII also brought a profound shift in the New Deal’s regulatory policies. Attorney General Thurman Arnold’s vigorous campaign to break-up “the bottlenecks of business” in major industries like steel, chemicals and electrical equipment was shuttered, and America’s largest corporations enjoyed a respite from threats of dismemberment (Arnold was kicked upstairs to a judgeship). As Thomas K. McCraw writes in his superlative Schumpeter biography, “Under the life-and-death pressure of war mobilization… the Roosevelt Administration, which had been hostile toward alleged monopolies, now decided that big business must lead in the job that had to be done.”
The only thing guaranteed by the spending stimulus is more national debt. One stroke of the presidential pen has now increased it by $800 billion. Democrats recently screamed about W-era profligacy. On July 28, 2008, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee declared, “If they gave out Olympic medals for fiscal irresponsibility, President Bush would take the gold, silver and bronze. With his eight years in office, he will have had the five highest deficits ever recorded. And the highest of those deficits is now projected to come in 2009, as he leaves office.”
Kent Conrad was right. The projected 2009 deficit then stood at $482 billion. In January it was forecast by the Congressional Budget Office at $1.2 trillion. Pres. Obama’s new plan now ups that to $1.7 trillion. If W got the gold, the new Administration has landed the Platinum in just its qualifying heat…