2017 Financial “Predictions”

I am not into making financial predictions.  The whole basis of Austrian school economics is that humans act.  Unless you can predict the actions of 7 billion people on the planet, then you cannot make predictions with any certainty about economic activity.

Still, there are certain assumptions we can make, and we can also take reasonable guesses on how people will act and react based on certain policies.  So with that said, here are some possible scenarios for 2017.

First, there is the Trump factor.  If we can survive three more weeks of Obama and his propaganda against Russia, then hopefully we will get someone who is at least somewhat honest and may actually have the American people’s interests in mind.

Not only can we not predict what 7 billion people will do, we can’t even predict what this one man will do.  He is a total wildcard.  From a liberty perspective, we should expect the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But at least there is hope that there will be more good than we have seen in a long time.

On economics, Trump is mostly bad.  Still, he is better than what we have had.  If he tries to ram through “stimulus” spending on infrastructure projects, it will just be more Keynesianism.  It will be more wasting of resources, although not as wasteful (or deadly) as war.  These bursts in spending can give a temporary illusion that the economy is getting better, but it is actually causing damage by misallocating resources.

Our biggest hope from Trump on the economic front is that he repeals some regulations.  Obviously repealing Obamacare would be great, but we can’t be sure that is going to happen.  If he could get a repeal of Dodd-Frank, that would be helpful for business.

The second major factor (but perhaps the most important) is the Federal Reserve.  We shouldn’t expect a lot from the Fed, but the damage has already been done.  From 2008 to 2014, the Fed increased the monetary base by a factor of almost five.  Although a good portion of this new money has been held as excess reserves by the banks, it has still done its damage.  It has misallocated resources.  It has impacted interest rates and savings.

The Fed has had a tight monetary policy for over 2 years now.  The federal funds rate has stayed near zero, with only two hikes (December 2015 and December 2016) since being brought to near zero in late 2008.  But this rate is over played and over exaggerated as to its effects.  The federal funds rate is not impacting the monetary base.  It is only impacting the incentives for banks to lend money because the Fed has to pay a higher interest rate on bank reserves in order to raise the federal funds rate.

If anything is having an impact right now, it is the excess reserves held by banks.  After the huge build up since 2008, the excess reserves have been reduced over the last couple of years from $2.8 trillion to about $2 trillion today.  I think this is playing a large role in holding off a recession.

This chart of the excess reserves is perhaps the most important thing to watch in 2017.  This, coupled with the adjusted monetary base, will tell us how much money is floating around out there.

While we have seen 8 years of slow growth under the Obama administration, it is surprising that Obama was able to escape a recession on his watch (not counting the 2008/ 2009 financial crisis that was already happening when he entered office).  With the very mild growth we have had, it is hard to say how much of it is real and how much is illusory.

While we have seen the oil bubble pop, there hasn’t been a lot else that has popped.  Precious metals have been a tough investment for Americans, but some of that is due to the incredibly strong U.S. dollar.

I think we have not seen everything play out from the previous monetary inflation from the Fed.  There are still asset bubbles (particularly stocks) that have not corrected yet.  Therefore, given the Fed’s relatively tight monetary policy now, it is likely we will see a recession during Trump’s four-year term.  For his sake, it is better if it happens sooner rather than later.

Until there is a major economic downturn and a Fed reaction of more monetary inflation, we should expect continued strength in the U.S. dollar.  This will make it tough for gold investors to see big gains.  However, I still recommend holding gold as part of a permanent portfolio.

Regarding stocks, we should expect to see Dow 20,000, and maybe more.  But again, this is a bubble waiting to pop.  Maybe it will last for another year, but I think the downside risk is far greater than the upside at this point.

Regarding bonds, I am contrarian to many libertarians on this.  I know rates have gone up lately.  But if we hit another recession, I expect long-term rates to decline again and to possibly test their all-time lows.  To a libertarian, investing in government bonds seems like a stupid idea.  But if most everyone else thinks it’s a good idea, then it doesn’t matter.  If there is relatively low price inflation and people are seeking safety, then they will see long-term government bonds as a safe investment vehicle.

Overall, you should prepare for a recession more heavily than you should prepare for high price inflation or a booming economy.  The high price inflation may come later when the Fed fires up its digital printing press again.  You shouldn’t expect high consumer price inflation (as measured by the CPI) in 2017.

For now, it is important to diversify and to keep your investments relatively safe, unless you have a business venture that offers greater opportunities.  Now is a good time to rebalance your portfolio and to make any achievable resolutions for a productive 2017.

Thomas Sowell Says Farewell

Thomas Sowell has decided to call it quits at the age of 86.  He wrote a farewell column, stating that he will no longer be writing his regular articles.

I have been quite harsh on Sowell in the past.  You could say that it is similar in how I have been critical towards Rand Paul.  I could easily write an article being critical of Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden, but it is too obvious.

I point out the many flaws in Sowell (and Rand Paul) because many libertarians mistake them for being libertarians.  Sometimes I am not even sure how friendly they are towards liberty in general.  Overall, I think Sowell is a statist.

For the record, given a choice, I much prefer Rand Paul over Thomas Sowell, and that is with the full acknowledgement that Paul has been very inconsistent and unprincipled on many issues.  But at least Rand Paul shows signs of recognizing the morality (or immorality) involved in politics, and he also takes some stances that oppose the state.

Sowell is a lot like Milton Friedman was.  He is a good economist on a limited number of issues.  He is good at explaining the harm that certain taxes bring.  He is good at explaining why price controls don’t work.

Sowell grew up in a relatively poor household.  In his farewell column, he describes it: “My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.”

While Sowell is a good writer (ignoring his statist views), there is nothing special about him beyond that.  He is a typical conservative.  Maybe he is considered an anomaly because of his race.  You could say he beat the odds by staying out of trouble and having a successful career.  Of course, there are many black males who escape poverty and find success in the United States.

Sowell is only different because he is black and he tends to side with conservatives/ Republicans.

Incredibly, Sowell shows his statist views with just a few lines in his farewell column.  This is why I don’t understand why so many advocates for liberty are fooled by him.  He does not hide his statist views, even if he doesn’t call them as such.

Sowell states, “It is hard to convey to today’s generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.”

Interestingly, this is one of the topics in which I have most harshly criticized Sowell.  I don’t take it easy on someone who wants to use the force of the state to stick needles into my children without my consent.

It is questionable on whether the conventional wisdom is even correct that vaccines ended polio.  It might have gone away without the polio vaccine.  There are other factors including vitamins and overall sanitation which impact the spread of viruses.  Indoor plumbing and hand washing has done far more for disease prevention than any vaccines.

Then we get to the heart of the matter, which is Sowell’s world view.  After talking about the improvements in our society, Sowell writes, “In some other ways, however, there have been some serious retrogressions over the years.  Politics, and especially citizens’ trust in their government, has gone way downhill.”

Sowell continues: “Back in 1962, President John F. Kennedy, a man narrowly elected just two years earlier, came on television to tell the nation that he was taking us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, because the Soviets had secretly built bases for nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from America.”

He goes on: “Most of us did not question what he did.  He was President of the United States, and he knew things that the rest of us couldn’t know – and that was good enough for us.  Fortunately, the Soviets backed down.  But could any President today do anything like that and have the American people behind him?”

So this is what bothers Sowell.  The American people have lost trust in their politicians.  I suppose we should just trust what the government tells us and go along.  At least that explains why Sowell is an apologist for war and the spying state.

If the government tells us there are weapons of mass destruction, trust those public officials.  If the CIA tells us the Russians hacked the election, just trust them without proof.  If the NSA needs the power to spy on us to prevent terrorism, just trust that they are doing the right thing and keeping us safe.

There you have it.  At the age of 86, with his farewell column, Sowell has proved that he is a statist and an apologist for the regime.  That is why he never liked Ron Paul.  And we can be sure that Sowell’s opposition to Trump has more to do with Trump’s anti-establishment views than Trump’s economics.  Sowell had no trouble being an apologist for the Bush administration for 8 years, with only light criticism of a few of his economic policies.

Just because someone says they are in favor of free markets doesn’t necessarily make it so.  The truth is in the details.  And it certainly doesn’t mean they are a friend of liberty.  Sowell has shown over and over again that he is a statist who just happens to understand that price controls don’t work.

Have a Productive 2017

As the 2016 calendar year comes to a close, it is time for the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions.  Unfortunately, for many people, I think these resolutions just end up in failure, and they can often just further demoralize people in their negative views about whatever it was they were trying to fix.

I think the close of the calendar year is a better time to reassess goals and take a mark of where you are.  If you have a goal of saving a million dollars, then you can use the end of the year to assess where you are in your goal.  It is also a time to figure out if your goal is realistic or if it needs to be adjusted in any way.

In terms of making a resolution, I am not against the idea.  But it should be an actionable step that is realistic.  If you haven’t been to the gym in the last six months, what makes you think that you will all of a sudden start going for 5 days a week on a regular basis?

Instead, start going to the gym one or two days per week.  Or better yet, start taking a short walk each day.  Or you could join a recreational sports team, where you will more likely show up and also more likely to have some fun.

If you are trying to eat healthier, maybe it should start with drinking one more glass of water each day.  It could start with giving up your least favorite unhealthy food that you tend to snack on.  Don’t pull away your favorite unhealthy food.

In terms of diets, I think it only works if you are agreeing to a lifestyle change and you are really willing to commit to it.  These weight loss programs are mostly a joke because they are temporary.  It is rather easy to do anything for a month.  The challenge is to make the lifestyle change.  You are better off making a small step that will last a lifetime rather than making a big step that will be temporary.

This goes for overall productivity too.  I am a big fan of productivity.  This does not necessarily mean working long hours, although it could mean that during certain times.  I would rather have one hour of highly focused and productive work than 8 hours of unfocused work.

Productive work does not necessarily have to be making money directly.  Sometimes you need to be productive to set yourself up for success in the future.  When you see an entrepreneur on television who grew a business into a highly profitable venture, you don’t hear a lot about all of the work that went into it at the beginning.  The entrepreneur didn’t know that the ideas or products would necessarily lead to wealth.  But the upfront work had to be done.

There is a saying: How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

This is an important saying.  If you have some big or final goal, you have to break it down into small, actionable steps.  I am currently writing a book on economics.  The chapters will be short (just over 1,100 words, on average).  Each chapter is like writing an article.  Instead of working on a 40,000 page book tonight, it is easier to work on an article (chapter) that is 1,200 words.

I think habits and discipline are important.  If you do nothing, then you will be guaranteed to produce nothing.  If you do something, at least there is a chance of something happening.

As a writer, I force myself to sit down and write on most nights.  I don’t always know what I am going to write about when I sit down.  I am forced to write though, and usually the words start coming out once I start focusing.  Writing is a lot like exercising.  You have to keep doing it or else you will get weaker.

For 2017, my suggestion is to set a doable goal that will set a new habit.  It could be this: I will spend one hour per day, five days per week, working on a new project.

If you don’t know what you want to do, then you need to figure this out.  You might spend your hour figuring out ideas.  And each day does not have to be the same thing.  I don’t recommend doing too many projects at one time, because you will end up with a bunch of unfinished things.  But it might be reasonable to do the following: write on a blog two days per week, do a short podcast or video two days per week, and spend the other day figuring out ways to market these things.

You have to set your own goals and decide on your own projects.  But it is important to get into good habits that will allow you to set aside the time to work on them.

You may be busy, but there is almost always time in the day.  If you are a single mother with a job and a baby that doesn’t sleep well, then maybe you have an excuse temporarily.  But most excuses are just excuses for not doing anything.  Most people can find time.

If you ever want something done, then give it to someone who is already busy.  The busy person will find a way to get it done.  The person with a lot of free time will find excuses to put things off.

Take small and actionable steps that are realistic.  Don’t fail in your resolutions.  Here is to a productive 2017.

Are We in a Mini-Boom Period?

When the vote totals were coming in and indicating a Trump victory, the stock market futures were way down.  There was an assumption that a Trump victory was bad for stocks.

What stock investors don’t like is uncertainty.  Within 24 hours of the Trump victory, stock investors seemed to lose all worry about any ramifications of a Trump presidency.  In fact, it may be helping stocks right now.

We are close to Dow 20,000.  This would have been impossible to predict in March 2009, when the Dow bottomed out at around 6,500.  At that time, Dow 20,000 in fewer than 8 years looked highly improbable.  Then again, in September 2008, a quintupling (five times) of the monetary base seemed improbable.

The latest consumer price inflation (CPI) numbers are also in.  In November, the CPI was up 0.2%.  While the rate of increase declined from the previous month, the year-over-year is now at 1.7%.  The median CPI is stable at 2.5% from the previous year.

There is no major price inflation according to the government’s statistics.  But there is a slight uptick from the last few months.

Still, just because consumer prices are not rising at a significant pace, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t asset price inflation.  It doesn’t mean that there aren’t bubbles.  It doesn’t mean that we can’t be in an artificial boom.

To the average American middle class family, we are not in a boom.  They mostly see stagnant wages with rising healthcare costs, particularly insurance premiums.

But in terms of assets, there does seem to be something of a mini-boom going on.  And I don’t say this in a positive light.  This is a mini-boom that is built on artificial stimulus from the past.  Most of the boom is not a result of an increase in savings and capital investment that has led to greater productivity.

The biggest bubble seems to be in stocks.  Many will say there is a bond bubble, but that is taking a much longer-term vision.  Interest rates have gone up over the last couple of months, but they are still very low by historical standards.  And if there is an economic downturn, people seeking safety will buy bonds.

The only time low-interest bonds are not in demand in a fearful environment is when price inflation expectations are high.  Since there is little fear of price inflation outside of some gold bugs and advocates of the free market, we shouldn’t expect a massive spike in interest rates any time soon.

If there is a recession, people will buy bonds and the long-term rates will fall.  It will be stocks that take the biggest and most immediate hit.

The other major asset is real estate.  We already went through a recent bubble and bust.  Now we are back into a bubble phase in some areas, but it is not as widespread as before.  I think California will likely get hit the hardest.

Overall, I do think we are in a bit of mini-boom that is artificial.  It is the result of an extremely loose monetary policy from 2008 to 2014.  And while we can’t time anything with any certainty, it is hard to imagine the boom will last for long because the Fed’s monetary policy is currently tight, at least in terms of the monetary base.

The excess reserves held by banks have come down a little, which means a little more lending and more fractional reserves.  This could be contributing to the mini-boom.  But the Fed is now paying a higher interest rate on bank reserves, which should incentivize banks to keep those excess reserve levels high.  We’ll have to keep an eye on these numbers though, because they are very relevant to our short-term economic future.

I am very bearish on stocks right now, with the full realization that we will likely get Dow 20,000 and beyond.  I don’t know when and where it will end, but it isn’t going to be pretty when it does end.

For Donald Trump’s sake, I hope it ends quickly.  If the market crashes in 2018 or beyond, he will take a lot of the blame for it.

Despite the relatively lackluster performance of the Permanent Portfolio, it is still my favored investment strategy, at least for a good portion of your financial assets.  It will lessen the blow of a crash in stocks.

When the bust comes, it may be bigger than the boom that preceded it.

Should We Abolish the Electoral College?

After much speculation, Donald Trump has officially been elected president.  While the important vote was held on November 8th, the official vote happened on December 19th when the electors voted (mostly in line) to represent their states.

Since Donald Trump won the presidency, yet Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, there are once again calls for the elimination of the Electoral College.  Many people – some for political reasons and others naively – ask why we simply don’t use the popular vote.

As a libertarian, I am not a big fan of the U.S. Constitution.  The Articles of Confederation was a better document in terms of liberty. The Constitution centralized power, and centralized power we have gotten.  I don’t think the advocates of the Constitution could have imagined what a behemoth our national government would become.

Still, the people who drafted and installed the Constitution were not dumb either.  While they sought to add more power to the national government, most still wanted relatively strict constraints on its power.

The United States came into being as a federation of states.  We still have a federation of states in a sense, but there is no longer much separation.  The states were supposed to be like little countries with a common goal of mutual defense and free trade.  Most of the laws were supposed to be at the state and local levels.

As a side note, the United States used to be referred to in the plural.

“The United States are a great place to live.”

“The United States is a great place to live.”

This slight difference in verb usage is huge.  The United States “is” one entity now because of the dominance of Washington DC.

The states are supposed to be different.  There are different cultures and different needs.  And they are meant to compete in a sense.  A state can experiment with a new law.  If it seems to be working well, then maybe other states will follow.  If it doesn’t seem to be working, then the damage can be limited to that one state.

It would have been a lot better if Obamacare had just been enacted in a place such as California.  Romneycare was already in effect in Massachusetts.  325 million people did not need to be subjected to this disastrous experiment.

So why all of this discussion about states?

This is why the Electoral College is so important.  Each state is supposed to have its say in who is elected president.  Back when the Constitution was drafted, there were debates about representation based on population or states.

The smaller states didn’t want it based on population or else they would have virtually no representation.  On the other hand, the bigger states didn’t want equal weighting because a state with a much larger population should have a bigger say than a small one.

The compromise was the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Each state would have at least one member in the House, but the number beyond that was based on the census.  In the Senate, every state would get two representatives, meaning that every state would have an equal say.

The number of electors in the Electoral College is determined by adding the number of representatives in the House and Senate for each state.  Therefore, every state gets at least three.  In addition, the District of Columbia gets three electoral votes.

While states’ rights have largely been violated, they aren’t completely obsolete.  Many crimes are still prosecuted at the state level.  There is also a lot of spending and other regulations that are decided by the state governments.

If you abolish the Electoral College, then you essentially eliminate federalism.  It would be one more step in eliminating the entire concept of states.  In fact, just imagine how unfair it would be if everything weren’t completely nationalized at that point.

If you think the unrealistic promises by politicians are bad now, imagine how bad it would be with a national popular vote.  The presidential candidates would be making most of the promises for a handful of states (California, Florida, New York, Texas).  They would be promising beach restoration projects because a large portion of the population lives on the coast.  They would be making specific promises to specific states.  And most of the campaigning would take place in the big cities.

It would quickly make a joke out of states’ rights, and it would likely just eliminate (officially or not) the whole concept of the states.

Of course, the whole idea of majority rule is bad enough.  It becomes a game of Bernie Sanders politics of who can make the most promises of “free stuff” to the most people.  A national popular vote would just exaggerate this whole process.

To understand the necessity of the Electoral College requires an understanding of states’ rights and decentralization.  While the Constitution itself was a centralizing document, this mechanism within it was meant to prevent too much centralization.

There is one other important argument against a national popular vote that is not grounded on libertarianism.  I don’t know if the people who drafted the Constitution thought of this, but it is still a big reason anyway.  The Electoral College is a major guard against fraud.

Can you imagine a recount of votes nationwide?  It was bad enough in Florida in 2000 with the hanging chads and everything else.  Imagine recounting 120 million or more votes.

If you have widespread fraud in one big city, at least it is confined to that one state.  Or think about California where non-American citizens were being encouraged to vote.  At least it was limited to California.  In fact, if there were a national popular vote, then the U.S. government would then have to set the same standards everywhere.  It just opens everything up for more corruption.

Having each state represented with the Electoral College does not eliminate the possibility of fraud deciding the election.  But at least it would have to be close.  At least the fraud is limited to certain areas.  If there is massive fraud with a national popular vote, then it would become much more likely that a candidate wins based on fraud who otherwise wouldn’t have won.

Most of the people currently calling for the Electoral College to be banned are just bitter.  They don’t like the results.  If the Electoral College really mattered that much to them, they should have been talking about it before.

Luckily, I don’t think the Electoral College is going anywhere any time soon.  The U.S. government has centralized power a lot over the last 2 centuries.  But there are still some remnants of liberty and decentralization left.

Is Trump Draining the Swamp?

Donald Trump is still over a month away from taking office, but we can already get a sense of how things will be.

I have no illusions that Trump is a libertarian or even sympathetic to many libertarian positions.  With that said, there are many things about Trump that libertarians can cheer.  We can start by cheering on the fact that he was elected and Hillary Clinton wasn’t.  This shows there is a shift in public opinion and a healthy distrust of the establishment.

I am very realistic about the chances that Trump will be able to make significant changes.  If he can expose some of the lies out there, along with having a less interventionist foreign policy, then I think we can celebrate.

Since the recounting of votes in certain states failed miserably for the establishment, now they are going with a big fat lie that the Russians hacked computers and threw the election in favor of Donald Trump.

On the extremely remote chance that this were true, who could blame Putin and Russia for doing this?  Hillary Clinton, during her campaign, was playing war games with Russia while the two countries have nuclear missiles pointed at each other.  Clinton was part of the establishment trying to overthrow Assad in Syria and further kick down the Russians.

While I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton or the establishment players want a nuclear war (because they themselves likely wouldn’t survive that war), it is still dangerous to play these games that could easily lead to an “accident” that leads to an all-out war.

With Trump set to take office, the CIA is making up stories about Russia without providing any evidence other than hearsay.  CIA officials are a bunch of liars.  If there is anyone honest at the CIA, they are likely put on lower level projects.  The CIA is probably the most corrupt and evil organization within the government.

If top officials from the CIA say anything, you can almost assume that the opposite is the truth.

The most likely reason that these emails were sent to Wikileaks is because there was a Democratic insider with a conscience.  Perhaps somebody got into a higher position of power, but considered himself to be a Democrat just because he believed in government welfare, global warming, or other causes.  But maybe the person, while misguided, was honest and wanted to expose the rotten corruption of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic establishment.

Regardless of what happened, I think Trump needs to address this whole issue more formally and try to nip it as soon as possible.

Trump seems to be opposing the CIA, which liberty lovers should see as a positive sign.  I see parallels between John F. Kennedy and Trump.  I know this will bother many Democrats.

While Kennedy also had his moral indiscretions with women, I believe he was a good man in the sense that he generally wanted to be truthful to the American people.  At the very least, he said he wanted to rip up the CIA into a thousand pieces.

Of course, we know how that turned out.  And I firmly believe that the CIA and other insiders (probably Lyndon Johnson) planned his assassination.  For this reason, I hope Trump is being very careful.  I hope he trusts his Secret Service people.

Just based on this whole showdown with the CIA, I think Trump really does want to take a swing at the establishment.

In terms of Trump’s cabinet, I think it is a mixed bag.  Again, I am under no illusions that Trump is a libertarian, so I didn’t expect libertarian appointments.  Trump has put in some Goldman Sachs people, which isn’t good, since Goldman Sachs is the face of the financial establishment.

Still, I think libertarians should be somewhat optimistic.  Trump is picking people for his cabinet that most people have never heard of.  This is positive.

If Trump had picked Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, or John Bolton as his Secretary of State, then I would have thrown my hands up and given up on him.  Since he picked somebody that we don’t know, this is as good as we should have expected.

It was also reported this past week that Trump spoke with Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News.  Napolitano is a libertarian.  If Trump nominates him to the federal bench, that would be reason to cheer.  If by some miracle Trump nominated Napolitano to the Supreme Court, then we can really celebrate, even if the Senate does not confirm the appointment.

Overall, it is nice to see somebody who is potentially honest taking the presidency.  I don’t know if the insiders will simply keep Trump out of the loop on some things.

Trump is going to have trouble draining the swamp.  There are hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats working for the alphabet agencies who make up the thousands of new pages of rules and regulations every year.  This is a major piece of where our liberty is lost.

Still, if Trump can make a dent, and also sway public opinion to further distrust the establishment and its media, then this is all for the better.  The swamp may not be drained, but the scum in the swamp can at least be exposed.  This situation was hard to imagine just a few years ago.  We live in interesting times.

Did the Fed Raise Rates Because of Trump?

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) released its latest statement on monetary policy.  The Federal Reserve, as expected, hiked its target rate by 0.25%.

From late 2008 to December 2015, the target rate was in a range between zero and 0.25%.  Last year, the range was hiked to 0.25% to 0.50%.  With this latest hike, the range is now 0.50% to 0.75%.

We say that the Fed raised rates, but it really only raised one rate.  This is the interest rate paid on reserves to commercial banks.  Banks will now get paid 0.75% to park their customers’ deposits at the Fed.  This is the bank bailout that nobody wants to talk about.

The banks are getting paid to not lend.  This is deflationary in a sense, as it keeps the Fed’s base money from multiplying through fractional reserve lending.

The hike in the federal funds rate is not deflationary in terms of the monetary base.  It is essentially neutral.  In previous and more normal times, the Fed would likely have to sell assets in order to raise its target rate.  This would be nearly impossible today, as the banks have piled up trillions in excess reserves.

That is why the Fed has to pay a higher interest rate to the banks.  It essentially sets a floor on the federal funds rate, which is the overnight borrowing rate for banks.  Most banks don’t need to borrow overnight because they already easily meet the reserve requirements.

If this is not clear, just know that the Fed’s hike in its target rate (the federal funds rate) is mildly deflationary.  In terms of the adjusted monetary base, the Fed has already kept that stable (or mildly deflationary) over the last two years.

With the FOMC statement came the projection that the Fed expect economic growth of 1.9% in 2016 and 2.1% in 2017.  These are really lackluster numbers when compared to historical data in the United States, but even these estimates may be way too optimistic.

It is also projected that the Fed will increase its rate three more times in 2017.  I would be very surprised if this actually happens.  Any indication of negative growth or a significant downturn in stocks will quickly wipe away this prediction.

While this quarter-point hike was widely expected going into the meeting, there have been expectations of hikes for the last two years.  The Fed was originally supposed to raise rates 4 times in 2016.  Instead, we got just one at the very end of the calendar year.

Did Janet Yellen and company at the Fed do this because Donald Trump is set to take the presidency?  After all, Trump was quite critical of Yellen during the few times he talked about the Fed during the campaign.  Is the Fed trying to send Trump a message?  Is the Fed trying to purposely implode the economy?

Overall, I don’t think this is likely.  Even if Yellen and several other Fed officials don’t like Trump, they aren’t going to purposely shoot themselves in the collective feet.  If the economy implodes, it brings into question their own legitimacy.  Trump will just hit at them harder too.

I think this rate hike likely would have happened even if Trump had not won the election.  And most people aren’t thinking this far ahead, but Yellen may be doing Trump a big favor by hiking its target rate now.

What are the chances that there isn’t going to be a recession within the next 4 years?  I would say the chances are quite remote.  And if that is the case, it is better to have a recession sooner rather than later, particularly from Trump’s perspective.

If the economy goes into recession now or sometime in 2017, Trump will get a pass.  There will always be critics no matter what happens, but the majority of people won’t blame him.  If a recession happens in 2018, it becomes more questionable.

If a recession happens in 2019 or 2020, then Trump is toast in the next election in all likelihood.  The Republican majority in Congress will also be finished.

If there is going to be a recession with a big drop in stocks, it is better for it to happen soon from Trump’s point of view.

During the press conference, Yellen stated, “So I would say at this point that fiscal policy is not obviously needed to provide stimulus to help us get back to full employment.”  This is actually proper Keynesian economics, as opposed to modern-day Keynesians who support more debt and spending no matter what the economy looks like.

The original position of Keynes was that the government should cut back on its debt during the good times.  At least Keynes and the original Keynesians got it somewhat right part of the time, as opposed to the Paul Krugmans of today who get it wrong almost all of the time.

Yellen’s position that we do not need stimulative fiscal policy now is in opposition to Trump.  While it may be for the wrong reasons, perhaps Yellen is more correct on this front, at least in terms of government spending.

In conclusion, we have to remember that Yellen probably possesses more power than Trump right now in terms of impacting the economy.  She will continue to have more power in this respect as long as she is the Fed chair.

Meanwhile, if there are any signs of economic turmoil with falling stocks or lower-than-expected GDP numbers, then expect the Fed to back off of further rate hikes.  And then don’t be surprised if the possibility of “QE4” starts to get thrown around in conversations.

Will the Republicans Repeal Obamacare?

2017 will quickly tell the American people whether the Republicans are at all serious about any significant fiscal changes in Washington DC.

I don’t expect any significant cuts in the federal budget.  Maybe Trump will find some of the really excessive waste and go after that.  But I’m afraid, even there, that it will be too little.

Trump has been pointing out some of the wasteful spending, but it is on relatively little things.  I hear critics of Trump say that it will cost the American taxpayer extra money because the Secret Service will have to guard Melania and family in New York City because she plans to spend most of her time there with their son.

Of course, these same critics never spoke about when Obama would take a vacation that would cost 10 million dollars or more.

But the point is that this is all a drop in the bucket.  Ten million dollars, or even a billion dollars, is basically nothing when compared to a four trillion dollar federal budget.  It is mostly symbolic.

The military budget, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the debt comprise about 80% of the federal budget.  As much as I would like to abolish the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, it would not make a big dent in the overall budget even with complete elimination.  The main benefits would come from the reduction in regulations and bribery.

So I don’t expect federal spending to be reduced.  That is the best thing the government could do to improve the economy.  It would mean that fewer resources would be misallocated.

With that said, regulations are a significant drain on the economy.  Health insurance and medical care has been a huge burden on the American people, particularly on the middle class.  That is part of the reason that Trump won the election.

Health insurance premiums have been rising at a far greater pace than overall price inflation for several decades now.  This you cannot blame on Obamacare.  The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was the opposite of its name though.  It made everything that much more unaffordable.  It made the already bad trend even worse.

In terms of Trump’s presidency, I think foreign policy is where he can have the greatest impact and make the most changes for the better.

On the domestic front, I don’t expect much from Trump.  In fact, I think he is mostly a disaster when it comes to economics.  He does not understand the benefits of free trade, or he at least does not let us know that he does.  I agree with him on opposing TPP and these other managed trade agreements, but he gets things wrong when it comes to free trade and outsourcing jobs.

In terms of the economy, the one thing Trump needs to get right, and I hope he gets right, is repealing Obamacare.  Of course, for several years now, we have heard Republicans talk about “repeal and replace”.  Why can’t they just repeal, and not replace?

This is as much of a test for the Republicans in Congress as it is for Trump.  Obamacare was somewhat unique in that is was a major piece of legislation that was opposed with near unanimity by one party.  Yet, the Republicans will still find it difficult to repeal.

Most Republicans, including Trump, say that they like certain aspects of Obamacare.  They agree with the provision that insurance companies should not discriminate based on pre-existing conditions.

But as I wrote quite a while ago, this is why the mandate is necessary.  If you can just wait to get sick and then buy insurance, premiums would go through the roof more than they already have.  Insurance companies would be covering mostly sick people.

Why would you buy really expensive insurance if you are not forced to, and if you can just buy it after you become seriously ill?

The mandate to buy insurance was put in place in order to have relatively healthy people buying insurance.  They need this to subsidize the sick people.

Obamacare really is a package deal.  While the Republicans were correct to oppose it in the first place, the Democrats are actually a little more consistent.  If you mandate that insurance companies admit people with pre-existing conditions at a somewhat comparable rate to everyone else, then you have to have a mandate to buy insurance so that it won’t just be sick people buying it.

If the Republicans repeal the individual mandate without repealing the provision of pre-existing conditions, then it will just drive up health insurance premiums that much higher.  It is a ticket straight to fully nationalized healthcare.

The Republicans should completely repeal Obamacare.  Trump should enact his plan that would allow people to buy health insurance across state lines, just as you can do with other insurance. There are a lot more free market policies that need to be put in place, but at least this would be a start.

If the Republicans can’t even repeal Obamacare, they really are mostly useless.  The only positive thing you could say about them at that point is that they are not Democrats.

Middle class America is hurting in a big way.  Health insurance premiums are a big chunk of this.  I think even many Democrats would say that Obamacare hasn’t worked out too well.  Trump and the Republican Congress could easily repeal this without much backlash.  Of course, the establishment media would be up in arms, but that doesn’t mean anything.  Trump already defeated them.

On the domestic front, Obamacare is the big test.  I am afraid the Republicans are going to fail miserably.

The ECB to Reduce Its Rate of Monetary Inflation

The European Central Bank (ECB) announced on Thursday that it would extend its own version of quantitative easing through the end of 2017.  The ECB was previously scheduled to buy assets (create money out of thin air) through March 2017.

After March, the ECB will reduce its rate of purchases from 80 billion euros per month to “just” 60 billion euros per month.  The euro has not reached parity with the U.S. dollar yet, so in terms of dollars, the net purchases will still exceed $60 billion per month using today’s conversion.

Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, stated: “There is no question about tapering.  Tapering has not been discussed today.”

This is just a matter of semantics.  The term tapering was used in 2013 and 2014 when the Fed gradually reduced its rate of monthly monetary inflation.  QE3 eventually ended in October 2014 under Janet Yellen, but there was a lot of concern, at least in the financial media, about the possible effects of the taper.

The ECB was quick to say that it could further extend its buying program or ramp things back up if economic conditions warrant it.  In other words, inflation is always on the table as an option.

The level of buying is still massive by modern Western standards.  The Fed seemed to get away with it from 2008 to 2014, as much of the newly created digital money went into excess reserves at the banks.  The lack of lending helped keep consumer price inflation in check.  Perhaps the ECB figures the Fed got away with its massive monetary inflation, so it can do the same.

But the Fed has had a tight policy for 2 years now, despite having a low target for the federal funds rate.  It has not significantly hurt the Fed yet.  The Fed’s monetary inflation for 6 years, coupled with its policy of low interest rates, did its damage.  But it has been somewhat concealed because of the relatively low consumer price inflation.

Still, resources have been misallocated, and it has helped Congress spend more money than it otherwise would have.  We have not felt the full effects yet from the previous monetary inflation.  There are a lot of distortions in the economy, including in stocks.

Western Europe is an even bigger disaster than the United States.  It is a deeper welfare state.  The ECB’s purchases of debt includes negative yielding bonds.  The Fed never went this far.  There is going to be a bigger economic disaster in Europe than in the U.S., but we shouldn’t minimize the potential of major problems in the U.S.

As of this writing, the euro trades at around $1.06.  We should expect parity in the somewhat near future.  I think it will come in 2017.

The U.S. dollar is the least bad currency right now.  The Fed is not inflating, and the dollar is still the world’s reserve currency.  The yen has recently weakened against the dollar as well.  The euro and the yen are the only other major players on the open currency exchange markets.

The global economy really is a ticking time bomb.  Europe, Japan, and China are all worse off than the United States, but that isn’t saying that much at this point.

Will Real Estate Go Higher Under Trump?

Donald Trump is a successful businessman, regardless of what anyone says.  His many failures have helped make him a success.  And while I don’t agree with his use of eminent domain, most of the rest of his success is market oriented as far as we know.  It doesn’t rest on government funding.

Just because Trump has been successful in business doesn’t mean he will be a good president.  We often hear that the government needs to be run more efficiently like a business, but that is something we really shouldn’t hope for.  I certainly don’t want the IRS or the other alphabet agencies running efficiently.

You also can’t run the government like a business.  In the marketplace, the signals of profits and losses will allocate capital.  They tell entrepreneurs on whether to continue with any particular venture.  This includes Trump.  Imagine how many Trump products would be out there if the government bailed him out every time something failed by market standards.  In the marketplace, the losses told Trump to stop selling certain products.

One area where Trump has been particularly successful is in real estate.  But will that translate into him favoring a strong real estate market overall in the economy?

The kind of real estate Trump has been in is different from the real estate that most individuals deal with.  Trump didn’t make his money off of 4-bedroom houses.  However, you shouldn’t discount these as investments.  There are many millionaires (probably not billionaires) who made money buying middle class single-family homes.

In terms of middle class housing, I don’t think Trump is going to make much of a difference one way or another.  As I have said with many other aspects of the economy, it will still be the Federal Reserve that has the greatest impact.

If Trump really wanted to help the economy, he would seek to repeal as many federal regulations as possible, and he would seek to reduce federal spending as much as possible.

Interest rates have risen since Trump’s election.  The 10-year yield, as of this writing, is around 2.4%.  This has not been enough to fully take the steam out of the housing market yet, but higher rates from here will likely have an impact.

I don’t think it will be higher rates that will ultimately lead to lower housing prices.  If anything, we will see an economic downturn that will be accompanied by lower long-term rates.  This could send housing prices lower.

There are a lot of mixed opinions out there about real estate.  Some see a major housing bubble ready to implode.  However, I don’t think we will see anything like 2008.  Housing prices had already started to drop in 2007, but the financial crisis triggered a huge drop from there. (Or was it the other way around?)

The housing market is more local this time.  There is not a nationwide housing bubble like there was in the mid 2000s.  In many areas, prices are still not nearly as high as what they were during the peak.

Now, when it comes to San Francisco, that is a major bubble ready to burst.  The prices are naturally high because it is a big city with big money and strict zoning laws.  Many Chinese investors have gone to California to park their money.  But it really is a disaster waiting to happen.  If you live in an area like this, then you really should sell your house.

For most areas, it really comes down to common sense right now.  Do you have a comfortable mortgage payment?  Are you planning to sell your house in the next few years?  If prices drop by 10 to 20 percent, would it have any impact on you in the short term?

These are questions we should ask regardless of whether we think there is a housing bubble.  They are questions that people should have been asking in 2005.

Overall, I don’t think Trump is going to matter much to the real estate market over the next four years.  He can’t stop a recession.  Perhaps he could delay one with more Keynesian economics in the form of artificial stimulus.

If there is an economic downturn, expect housing prices to fall in many areas, particularly in the big cities.  However, I don’t think it will be as bad as the previous housing bust in most areas of the country.