Saturday morning, I turned on “Bulls and Bears” on the Fox News Channel and I heard one of the strangest stock investments to make for the next four years. Believe it or not, this guy said that the economy was going to be so bad that the best investment he could come up with was Molson Coors Brewing Company. In other words, his message was to keep plenty of booze handy because this is going to be an economy that will drive even the most ardent teetotalers to drinking.
Now, I will admit that like a lot of others, I do see a light at the end of the economic tunnel with Barack Obama being elected. However, I also hear the sounds of a locomotive coming from that general direction. For Obama’s sake and for our country’s sake, I would prefer that the economy be in a boom. Sadly, I don’t see it happening.
Last night, I was reading on the causes of the Great Depression and there is a real possibility that we could get a miniature version of a depression. In looking at the signs and the symptoms of the Great Depression, I couldn’t help but notice how each of the signs and symptoms are going to create an even worse economic crisis. All four of them adversely affected the business community and ultimately affected the American public. Consider them the four horsemen of the economic apocalypse: Tight credit (pestilence), stock market dives (war), price destabilization (famine), and tax increases (death).
The first thing that happened was a tightening in the credit market. Back in the 1920’s, lending was such a fast and loose practice that there was speculation on the part of investors to make money off of debt. The end result was a deflation in debt caused by liquidation that ultimately tightened the credit market.
Compared to today, we are now in a state where the economy is seeing a tightening credit market. It’s harder to get loans because the banks are trying to get their balance sheets in order after the collapse of the subprime loan market.
The second thing that happened was the fall of the stock market. In 1929, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 68.90 points, or a drop of 23 percent. It wouldn’t be until 1954 until the full drop was recovered. This was the kind of equity crunch that firms had difficulties with for years.
Back on May 19 of this year, the market closed for the last time over 13,000. Since then, the market has dropped from 13,028.16 to 8,943.81 for a total percentage drop of 31.4 percent. Granted it was over a period of almost six months, but it’s been enough to drive down stock prices and create tightening of equity.
The reason that these first two items, debt and the stock market, is because of the importance the two of them have in the life of a business. In order for firms to expand, they need to have cash. To generate cash, aside from sales and profits, they need to be able to acquire loans or to generate a higher stock price. As this environment is now and may be for the next four years, it will be harder for firms to generate more money.
The first is the possible increased tightening of the credit market. President-elect Obama has proposed loan forgiveness and a freeze on foreclosures. This will create an environment where a loan officer may as well take his paid vacation time because the banks won’t lend unless under threat of the government to commit financial suicide.
The second is that the Democrats want to take over 401(k) funds from individuals who have them. By the government taking over the 401(k)’s, it will create less incentive to buy stock. Instead of allowing for your retirement to be the result of successful investing yielding in high rates of return, the rate of return is a fixed four percent per year before inflation. If inflation above four percent, you actually lose the inflation-adjusted value necessary to retire more comfortably.
By comparison, if someone had opened a 401(k) fund and invested in the Dow Jones Industrials Index Fund on October 20, 1987, your value would have increased by 314.3 percent. In other words, that would be an average gain of almost 15 percent per year or 3.75 times the rate of return of the government’s 401(k) rate of return. Sadly, the government is the only entity that can make bad business decisions and still stay in business all these years later.
The third of these problems was price destabilization. Because of the deflation of debt and the stock market crash, prices wildly deflated as a result of the United States loaning gold to Germany to industrialize in order to pay France who needed the money to pay debt to the United Kingdom and the United States. This was in response to the early 1920’s hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic.
However, the current situation could be increased inflation due to higher energy prices from the proposals of Obama, a contraction of oil supply by OPEC, and the desire to implement cap-and-trade programs that have the goal of reducing global warming, but will have the effect of reducing industry.
Inflation will be further fueled by record-high deficit spending by the next Congress when it convenes in January. With the bailouts being proposed, a second stimulus package in the works, increases in government spending for programs, fighting two wars, and an economy that is providing less tax revenue, a deficit of $1 trillion will probably become a reality before the mid-term elections if not by this year.
The increases in regulations and the increases in wages that will result from the increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 (the inflation-adjusted figure of the original minimum wage is less than $4) that Obama and the Democrats want will result in increased job losses and reduced production. When you have fewer goods in the marketplace, the price has nowhere to go but up.
Finally, there is the last of these: increased taxes. Following the prior three things happening to the economy, Herbert Hoover and the Republican Congress in 1930 enacted the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that raised taxes on imported goods (tariffs) to record levels despite the pleas and protests of over 1,000 economists and a number of business executives including Henry Ford who called it “economic stupidity”.
Despite these pleas and protests, Hoover signed Smoot-Hawley in to law and the goods imported from Europe alone decreased by half of what they were before the act. Also, there was a backlash where a number of other nations increased their tariffs on American goods.
The other tax increase was in 1932 with a Democrat-led Congress and Hoover. This time, it raised the top marginal tax rate was raised from 25 percent on those making $100,000 or more to a top rate of 63 percent on those making $1,000,000 or more (by comparison, the rate on $100,000 to $149,999 was raised to 56 percent). On top of that, the corporate tax rate was increased from 12 to 13.75 percent (an increase of almost 15 percent).
The end result was a jump in the unemployment rate from 7.8 percent in 1930 to 25.1 percent in 1933. It would not be until 1943 when the unemployment rate dropped below 10 percent.
By comparison, President-elect Barack Obama is proposing an increase in the capital gains tax from 15 percent now to anywhere from 20-28 percent (which would make buying in to the stock market a less desirable proposition), closing corporate tax loopholes that will ultimately increase the tax burden on corporate America (a tax rate that is already the second highest in the world), and raising the top effective income tax rates from 33 and 35 percent now back to the Clinton-era levels of 36 and 39.6.
What makes matters worse is that high taxes at the state level have devastated the state of Michigan perhaps more so than any other economy. Along with Oregon, the state has one of the two highest unemployment rates of any state in the country because of high tax burdens.
I bring up Michigan because of the incompetence of Governor Jennifer “Jenny No Jobs” Granholm who was right behind Obama during his Friday press conference. Granholm has done more to drive jobs away from her home state as governor. It was because of a bad Republican year in 2006 that she was able to get reelected, but her political career will officially end when she leaves office because of how damaged she has left Michigan with tax increase after tax increase.
As it stands now, the unemployment rate under “Jenny No Jobs” rose to 8.7 percent in September, more than two full percentage points higher than the unemployment rate above the national unemployment rate for October. Overall, the Granholm administration in Michigan has cost the state 143,000 jobs since she took the helm in 2003 (an average of more than 21,000 jobs a year).
What’s scary is that Obama is embracing Granholm’s high tax, no jobs approach to economics. This is why Obama’s economic policies will fail Americans. It will not provide jobs, sustainable growth, or stable prices. Instead, it will provide unemployment, higher taxes, more regulations, and more big government.
I may be Chicken Little or Nostradamus depending on the outcome. For the time being, I will be monitoring not whether or not those who voted for Obama will have buyer’s remorse, but when.