Economic Headwinds Came Long Before Trump’s Presidency

After the unexpected election of President Donald Trump, something else unexpected happened. The stock market soared.

In the final week before the 2016 election, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 17,888, an unimpressive level, since it had reached that same point nearly two years earlier in December 2014. But following Trump’s victory, the Dow went wild. By the time he took office in January 2017, it had already jumped over 12 percent, to 20,094. By January 2018, it peaked at 26,616, then edged upwards to 26,828 on October 3, 2018. In less than two years, the Dow Jones Index grew by an astounding 50 percent.

Since then, however, the Dow, along with the other major U.S. indexes, have been tumbling. By Christmas Eve, the Dow was 19 percent off its high, down to 21,792. What had been called the “Trump Bump” is now being called the “Trump Slump.”

While President Trump has been criticized for taking credit for the stock market rise, Barack Obama also got into that action, claiming in October 2018 that “the booming started on his watch.” But today’s economy, and especially the stock market, are reacting to longer-term trends for which neither president deserves full credit or blame.

Depicted on the chart below is the performance of the Dow from 1995, when the markets began first showing signs of “irrational exuberance,” to the extremely exuberant present day. On clear display are the past two bubbles, the internet bubble of 2000, […] Read More

The Razor’s Edge – Inflation vs. Deflation

Deficit spending has been touted as a potential driver of inflation, because only with devalued (inflated) currency can we hope to erode the real value of our mounting levels of government debt. Continuing to print U.S. dollars, it is claimed, can only lead to too many dollars in the system, and hence a devalued dollar. We should be so lucky.

A few years ago, in Sept. 2007, in a post entitled “Inflation vs. Deflation,” I cited a recent (at the time) quote from Paul Kasriel, an economist with The Northern Trust Co. in Chicago. He explained the danger of deflation quite well, describing what happened in Japan:

“Japan experienced a deflation in recent years because the bursting of its asset-price bubble in the early 1990s created huge losses in its banking system. The Japanese banks had financed the asset-price bubble. When it burst, the debtors could not keep current on their loans to the banks and therefore were forced to turn back the collateral to the banks. The market value of the collateral, of course, was less than the amount of the loans outstanding, thereby inflicting huge losses of capital to the Japanese banks. With the decline in bank capital, the Japanese banks could not extend new credit to the private sector even though the Bank of Japan was offering credit to the banks at very low nominal rates of interest.”

Another way to put this is as follows: Liquidity is a function of two factors, […] Read More