So President Obama gives a major economics speech toward the end of last week, and the next week stocks get clobbered. It was the worst correction in many months. There’s probably no direct cause and effect here. But it’s worth noting that the president has been speaking out of all sides of his mouth during the market volatility.
In that speech a week ago he swore that he’s not anti-business. He said, “I actually believe that capitalism is the greatest force for prosperity and opportunity the world has ever known.” You know, that sounds a lot like my opening line on “The Kudlow Report,” where for nine years I said “Free-market capitalism is the best path to prosperity.” (Hah!)
But the president relapsed in that very same speech, arguing that a minimum-wage hike, fair pay for women, paid leave and clean energy continue to be his major growth policies. Not much free-market capitalism there.
He did mention corporate tax reform. But really he wants to raise big money to finance more government spending, by as much as $1 trillion.
Stock markets didn’t necessarily sag on this big-government-driven Obamanomics. It’s the same old, same old. But Obama did say on Tuesday, at yet another fundraiser, that Republicans are the party of “billionaires.” Oops. He said this at the $26 million Greenwich, Connecticut, home of housing developer Rich Richman (I kid you not), who has a $10 billion company. Then, at a fundraiser in New York, he said, “If Republicans win … once again the interests of billionaires will come before the needs of the middle class.” And who sponsored that event? Hedge-fund billionaires George Soros and Paul Tudor Jones.
But the larger point I want to make is that we can put Obama aside for now.
Stocks are way overdue for a correction. In a volatile week, the Dow lost 466 points, and the S&P 500 dropped 3.1 percent. But even with that, the broad index is up 3.1 percent year to date. So it’s not a disaster. Corrections come and go.
And I agree with Warren Buffett — not with his tax-hike wishes, but with his market call that investors should buy the dip. And not just because a Republican Senate is coming. And not just because a new Republican Congress will quickly put a Keystone Pipeline bill and a real corporate tax cut on Obama’s desk. But also because the economic fundamentals look OK.
First, there’s no recession in sight. Actually, economic growth is picking up from 2 percent to at least 2.5 percent. The positive Treasury yield curve — the difference between long- and short-term interest rates — is a key signal here.
Second, in the TIPS (Treasury inflation-protected securities) market, the so-called break-even rates are 2 percent or less. So there’s no inflation. Therefore, we’re looking at better growth, low inflation and a Fed that’s ending QE this month.
Third, the dollar is stronger. King Dollar is going to attract capital from around the world. Linked to this, gold and commodity prices are weaker, especially $85-a-barrel oil, which also reflects a positive supply shock from America’s energy-fracking revolution. National average gasoline prices are down to $3.24, with a lot of states below $3. That’s about a $70 billion tax cut for motorists. And falling oil is good for virtually all producers (except energy) and consumers.
And finally, profits, the mother’s milk of stocks and the economy, continue to rise at about 5 percent a year. The first 30 companies in the most recent third-quarter S&P reports have generated a 15 percent earnings gain. And chain-store sales are looking up too, as is core capex business investment.
Now, no good deeds go unpunished, according to the chorus of stock market bears — which includes a couple of Fed presidents who are telling us King Dollar is bad because it will hurt profits. And oh, by the way, Europe looks terrible. It’s on the cusp of another recession. So the market chatter is, “No growth; sell stocks.”
Well, I don’t buy it. The rising dollar is a function of better growth. It will hold down inflation and raise price/earnings multiples.
Europe is weak. But you could have said that at almost any time over the past several decades. And at only 13 percent of our export market, a soft Europe won’t bring down the U.S. — or the world economy. And the NAFTA countries of Canada and Mexico — which are growing — absorb one-third of our exports.
So how about a little optimism? Obama has taught us what’s wrong, while various red-state Republican governors have shown us what’s right.
Change is coming. I’m taking the optimistic bull case.