The election went according to prediction; gridlock is the most likely outcome for the next two years. President Obama is faced with a choice to either move more to the center on domestic issues, or focus on foreign policy.
Let us consider the how a period of political gridlock will either support or hurt various legislation, and how gridlock will affect various industries over the next two years.
With a large Republican majority in the House of Representatives, a three to four seat Democratic majority in the Senate, and a Democratic president, we expect the following:
- Healthcare: ‘Obama Care’ implementation will be delayed, but the veto power of President Obama will keep it from being repealed during the remainder of his term.
- Labor organizing: Card check, which makes labor organizing easier, is not going to proceed.
- Government Spending: The U.S. debt ceiling needs to be raised in the spring of 2011, and it will be hard to get the votes to raise the limit. U.S. spending will be flat to down, large spending cuts will be hard to enact with a gridlocked congress.
- Taxes: We expect a probable extension of Bush tax cuts for at least one year.
- Immigration: Major debate will continue with little progress. The left will argue for legalization of resident illegal immigrants. The right will ask for deportation.
Which U.S. Sectors benefit or are hurt by the election results?
- Sectors Benefitted: Transportation, Education Services, Computer Services, Financial Services, Restaurants, Food, Healthcare Technology, Biotechnology, Commodities, and Energy.
- Sectors Hurt: Alternative Energy, Engineering and Construction.
Clearly, the U.S. is in a period of great economic turmoil, and the message voters are sending is one of frustration, dissatisfaction, and the desire to change things in Washington. It will be interesting to see how voters react to the plans of the new Congress. It is our opinion that the future plans selected by Congress will be popular only to the extent that they can produce rapid job growth. Jobs are the key issue for voters and they will be happy if jobs grow and incomes stabilize or rise, if this outcome does not develop, we look for voters to change the political landscape once again in 2 years. To create employment, we advocate tax incentives for businesses to hire and to grow, and the removal of regulations that stifle growth. We suggest lower taxes on capital gains and increased tax deductions for the research and development of new and improved products and technologies. High tech jobs are the wave of the future for the world.
China’s economy continues to confound the pessimists with strong growth. Corporate profits rose at an impressive 38% in the third calendar quarter of 2010.
China’s 12th Five-Year Plan was recently released, and we note that it emphasizes the following:
- Boosting domestic consumption. We believe that this means taking the Chinese consumer from 35% of GDP to closer to 40% in five years.
- Increasing the country’s ability to develop and produce advanced machinery, aircraft, energy-saving and environmentally friendly equipment. In other words, China wants to move up the value chain and produce better high-tech, high-value-added products, and produce more of them. They will actively raise salaries and try to gradually move away from manufacturing low-cost, low-value-added products. We expect that this production will move to countries such as Vietnam, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
- Another key point in the Five-Year Plan includes a focus on the need to increase household incomes and reduce income inequality.
- China also wants to develop a bond market in order to reduce the dependence of the country on bank loans.
All of these will be salutary for stock market investors in China, and we plan to invest clients’ portfolios in accord with this plan. We will be investing in Chinese companies which produce raw materials, industrial machinery, and domestic consumer goods.
India is Booming
India is growing rapidly in almost all regions. The corrupt, combative, communist and socialist enclaves in Eastern India have kept the economic miracle from entering their domain, but the rest of India is booming. Unfortunately, much of the backward, obstructionist area is highly populated and desperately poor. Outside of Calcutta and Benares, India’s major cities are booming, and its secondary cities in the West, South, and North are doing very well. Much of India is growing at a rate similar to the rate in China at close to 10%.
India is also getting wiser with its resources. Recently, steel minister Vibhadra Singh made an important statement that the country is considering stopping or limiting iron ore exports to ensure that Indian steel mills have enough supply. This is a pattern we have seen in China and we expect to see more of in India as they choose to husband their resources for their own economic expansion.
Brazilian Elections Produce No Surprises
Dilma Rousseff won the Brazilian presidency and vows to carry on current President Lula’s policies. The public believes that she will keep her word and concentrate on continuing Lula’s infrastructure projects while gradually lifting citizens out of poverty. She said she would continue to spend on welfare programs and would not tolerate a government that spent beyond its means. She vowed to make public spending more efficient. If she is effective, the country will continue its trend of growth and economic success. We believe that infrastructure, housing, and education will be the three sectors that most benefit from her policies, unless inflation rises. High inflation would cause large interest rate increases and stifle housing and other industries.
A detailed analysis of the trend in future oil prices reached many institutional investors this week. It was prepared by Morgan Stanley and represents their proprietary analysis of the long-term supply of oil from over 500 major fields of both OPEC and non-OPEC producers. The report expected “Spare capacity to fall to untenable levels. If global demand increases by a modeled 1.5 million barrels/day in 2011, and an arbitrary 1% thereafter, spare capacity will fall to 2.5 million barrels/day by end-2012, comparable to levels seen in 2007 and 2008. Tighter [impossible] levels of spare capacity are seen from 2013-15.”
In our opinion, the energy consumption increases modeled by Morgan Stanley are conservative. We believe that actual consumption increases may exceed those amounts. Demand for oil is inelastic in the intermediate term. Increases in the availability of alternatives to oil tend to take some time to develop, so oil prices will rise.
Morgan Stanley predicts $100/barrel oil in 2011 and $105 in 2012. Our view is that this shortage mentality will be layered upon a situation where the pricing mechanism for oil (the U.S. dollar) is weakening; putting further upward pressure on oil prices. We concur with Morgan Stanley’s conclusions, but our view also includes the obvious probability that continued weakening of the U.S. dollar will put further upward pressure on oil prices.
Grains and Foods
Agricultural weather experts are predicting very cold winters for Russia, Canada, and the United States; which is negative for winter wheat production. This is another element which supports our thesis that food prices are going to be stronger for longer. Even without weather-related issues global stockpiles of grain are shrinking due to increased food demand from emerging countries. Beneficiaries of this trend are farm equipment manufacturers and fertilizer producers, prices of grains such as wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and the prices of meats themselves should continue to rise.
Quantitative Easing (QE)—Good for Gold and Other Asset Prices
As we have mentioned in these pages previously, the Federal Reserve will continue with quantitative easing for the foreseeable future. There will be many episodes of QE, often combined with other initiatives such as inflation targeting. QE frequency will depend upon the amount of economic growth or shrinkage that the U.S. economy experiences…and the recurring fear of many professional economists at the Federal Reserve that the U.S. is slipping into a Japanese-style deflation/stagnation.
Among the determinants of how many more QE programs we can expect is whether or not the Bush tax-cuts are renewed. Non-renewal or expiration of the tax cuts means the Fed is on its own in stimulating the economy, and that means more QE. The amount of budget-cutting done by Congress (especially if it is rapidly implemented) could have deflationary consequences, prompting more QE from the Fed.
The majority of the economists at the Federal Reserve believe that inflation targeting and QE is the only way to prevent millions more U.S. jobs from disappearing. The language in the Fed’s announcements repeatedly states that they believe inflation is too low. In our opinion, it is very clear that they want to increase the inflation target for the United States. They want inflation at 2% not the current rate of less than 1%.
It will be a longer-term focus of the Fed. They want to stimulate investment in real estate, commodities, and stocks by institutions and the public. Fed officials want the U.S. economy to grow and they want individuals to start new businesses to increase employment and salaries. A long-term policy of continuing QE will be part of that process. As our regular readers know, the side effects of QE are: a lower dollar, stronger commodity prices, and increased demand for stocks that can grow in the U.S. and abroad. Clearly the announcement yesterday of an expanded QE program over the next 8 months is another step in this direction.
We again point out to our readers that QE is going on in many places. Every country engaged in printing money to buy dollars and thus keep their currency from rising too much is engaging in QE. Japan, Brazil, and many other Asian and Latin American countries are in this category. QE is everywhere and the additional liquidity from it is flowing into the markets of Asian and Latin countries with good growth prospects. It is also flowing into some non-U.S. currencies, gold, silver, oil, copper, food, cotton, rubber, and many other commodities, in addition to U.S. and European stocks.
Money Flows into Equity Mutual Funds
Recently, mutual fund flows have reversed the trends that had been in place for several months. About two weeks ago, money began to flow back into U.S. and European stock funds, while continuing to flow into emerging market funds. From where has this money come?
Money markets, bonds, and bond funds had been attracting the large sums which had been moving out of stocks since May. Now they have begun to disgorge money, and it is flowing back into global stock markets. Why? Interest income returns are very low in bonds and wise investors see the upshot of all of the QE. They realize that increased inflation is the likely result of this behavior, so rather than let their money depreciate in value while earning a very low return they choose to own equities and accept some volatility for a return which may keep up with, or hopefully exceed inflation.
Summary and Recommendations
We still like the same themes and investments we have been discussing:
Investors should continue to hold gold for long-term investment. We have been bullish on gold since June 25, 2002 when it was selling at about $325 per ounce. In our opinion, it will move to $1,500 and then higher. Traders, sell spikes and buy dips.
Investors should continue to hold oil related investments. There has been some recent oil-related news that has driven oil to over $84.00 per barrel. The positive items are: U.S. onshore inventories are neutral and offshore inventories held in tankers have declined substantially. A negative news event is that there will be an increasing supply from Iraq. We have been bullish on oil since February 11, 2009, at which time oil was trading at $35.94 per barrel.
Currencies: For long-term investment, we do not like the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, British pound or the euro. We do like Canadian, Australian, and Singapore dollars, the Thai baht, Malaysian ringgit, and Indonesian rupiah. We would use any pull-backs in these currencies as an opportunity to establish long-term positions.
Investors should continue to hold shares of growing companies in India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Chile, and Peru. We have been recommending these markets in these commentaries since September 14, 2010, and we would use any pullbacks as an opportunity to add or initiate positions for long-term investors.
We believe long-term investors should continue to hold food-related shares such as grains, wheat, corn, soybeans, and farm suppliers. Since we said the grains had bottomed on December 31, 2008, these have all appreciated substantially, we see more price rises ahead.
Continue to hold U.S. stocks for a further rally. Our reason for becoming more bullish on U.S. stocks on September 9, 2010 is that over the longer term, liquidity formation through QE will create demand for many assets, including U.S. stocks. In the short-term, U.S. stock market indices could pull back as the indices are near resistance areas. Traders may want to take some profits, but stocks are assets that can grow, so liquidity finds its way into them.
Thanks for listening.