May

With January opening 2017 with one of the largest trade deficits in five years, the darkening shadow of “Smoot/Hawley” gives foresight to an unbalanced export/import factor in America’s globally dominant economic superstructure.

To those not familiar with the aforementioned Congressional initiative that closed the door to significant imports, while foreign markets retaliated by shorting U.S. exports, “Smoot-Hawley” can rightfully be blamed for accelerating the 1930's “U.S. economic depression,” which this odious mandate was originally supposed to reverse.

While the Trump Administration owes its election victory, to some extent, to promised reversal of the increasing unemployment of America’s factory workers, and even major industrial unions, the rightful “Buy America” call may be going too far in reversing the opposite trend. This, for 16 years, had concentrated on “low-cost imports” to engender support from America’s top-heavy (68%) consumption sector.

Unfortunately, the victims of current over-enthusiasm with mandating “Made in America” may well be the farmers, industrial workers, and the greatly increased export sector, as a whole, which has elevated the U.S. to one of the world leaders in the “outbound” surge.

The answer to such balanced approach that could renew America’s internal production and employment growth can be found in the “Reagan Administration” era (1981-1989), which almost miraculously broke the back of runaway inflation, growing unemployment, and slumping exports.

This often underrated shining decade in America’s recent economic history, owed its success to a rational, rather than extremist approach. That period lofted the American economy to new heights domestically, while also restoring the popularity of U.S. goods worldwide. This included aircraft and automobiles, technology, retail goods, and farm products, not seen since the post-war “Marshall Plan” rebuilt Europe.

It also opened the door to the North American Free Trade Authority (NAFTA), and expansion of economic relationships with Asia, South and Central America, and the Mideast. This was done by thoughtful negotiations, which proved beneficial to the partners in these ventures, not by a one-sided criticism of previous import/export disparities. It should be the desire of the Trump Administration to borrow several pages from such “Reagan Administration” successes.

While the British United Kingdom completes its disentanglement from the European Community (EUCOM), the beginnings of a stronger Anglo/American economic relationship are becoming increasingly apparent.

When the U.K. decided to tie its economic future to the European consortium, its focus became increasingly involved with the European mainland, as one of its 28 members. This decision originally opened markets for the broad spectrum of British industry, making it more effective through tariff reduction and the availability of labor needed to man British technology and general industrial construction expansion. The early development of the European Community gave an economic boost to overall British production capability, and easy proximity.

In the meantime, the British population was substantially increased from roughly 50 million to 75 million at latest count, as India, Pakistan, and other former British ex-colonies unleashed many of its subjects to the English homeland. During the past 20 years, this has provided London with a much greater labor pool, allowing its gross domestic product of goods and services to vault into the substantial multi-billion dollar range.

But with the current U.K. “divorce” from the EUCOM, a brisk cross-Atlantic economic expansion is in the making. In addition, Britain’s wise withholding from Eurozone of its world-leading pound currency (along with the U.S. dollar) has opened up and facilitated a potential acceleration with its English-speaking, and shared value partners from “across the pond.”

Britain’s frustration with the Eurocom’s “Brussels edicts” had begun to wear on its intra-continental relationships. Also, the greater size of the British home market provides an attractive partnership with its American cousins. This anticipated growth relationship will also benefit America’s economy with the strong British influence; that still asserts itself in the Mideast Arab nations, due to long-term relationships dating back to the 19th century.

With Germany’s, and potentially, France’s security positions being undermined by some of the large number of immigrants seeking sanctuary, Eurocom’s previously enticing marketing partnership doesn’t hold the promise it once did.

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, stands on the verge of a $50 billion plus economic increase that stands to be shared with its readily-available American cousins.

With the passing of the first 100 days of President Trump’s promised remake of America’s multi-year lagging economy, only the bare outline of its future development has begun to take shape.

Despite the lack of major breakthroughs as yet, America’s business and industry segment, as well as the overwhelming majority of components comprising it, has shown its enthusiastic support of what it expects to happen. The major factors that have ignited this optimism are as follows:

  1. The broad spectrum of the stock market’s values have achieved double digit increases since President Trump’s November 8, 2016 election. This has sustained itself through the first quarter of the new year.
  2. The spending lack of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of indigenous monetary wealth retained by U.S. corporations, large and small, has begun to manifest itself in preliminary factory expansion, utilizing monetary reserves.
  3. The U.S. financial community has greatly accelerated its intent to initiate the outright purchase of, or the investment in, the countless U.S. independent businesses, which had previously engendered little interest during the last 16 years. This has been primarily due to regulatory strictures and an open-ended Environmental Protection Agency agenda. Also pressuring independent businesses were the previous Administration’s emphasis on imports to achieve the ultimate cheapest costs, with which domestic companies could not compete.
  4. The current U.S. Governmental budget, which has increased military spending, along with the anticipation of even greater future expansion, has emphasized America’s return to leadership dominance of the “free world.” This trend, promised by President Trump, has reignited a “Made in America” spirit, last witnessed during the 1980's Reagan Administration.

With the several presidential executive orders that have been issued, foretelling an emphasis on rebuilding the U.S. infrastructure, a remake of the “Affordable Healthcare” legislation, and vastly increased energy sector job opportunities, growth expectations have reached ever-higher levels. Even a “regulatory remake” is eagerly anticipated.

But while President Trump is echoing Ronald Reagan’s “The U.S. Government is not the solution, but the problem,” when it impacts America’s industry, the halting, and future reduction of the U.S. Treasury debt has as yet not been properly addressed. So far, cutbacks on non-military spending, reduction in financial support to a multitude of foreign nations, and potential re-evaluation of payments to the United Nations, World Bank, and even NATO have already been sent up as trial balloons.

The most innovative tax structure in 30 years, and the “recall” of close to $2 trillion of U.S. conglomerates’ overseas holdings would help, but depend on final Congressional approval for implementation and approval.

But despite the well-received Administration’s intentions, the mounting U.S. Treasury debt, especially as interest rates increase, may well turn out to be the undesirable stumbling block, casting a dark budget shadow as Trump’s first year ends.

While there seems to be some questions as to President Trump’s impact on “small business,” the National Federation of Independent business survey gives POTUS a strong positive rating.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has validated that these so-called “small businesses,” employing less than 500 employees, make up 53% of the current U.S. labor force. Historically, U.S. job growth or decline has been indicated by the expansion, or contraction, of these businesses. By this measure, the Obama Administration has had a negative impact on the formation, expansion, or continuation of these close to one million independent business units.

Last year, 2016, indicated the first substantial contraction of these American-based independent businesses since 1973, according to the “national small business” federation’s survey. The reasons given include discriminatory taxes, a regulatory binge, and the mountain of additional “paperwork” impinging on these independent businesses’ ability to keep costs in line. These factors have not only restricted profitability, but have resulted in sales decline.

A positive reversal of this pessimistic trend has shown up in the “National Federation’s” most recent survey, which shows small business optimism has soared to its highest level since 2004, generated by the election of President Donald J. Trump. This newly engendered optimism has also been confirmed by the University of Michigan’s consumer confidence survey, which has recently hit the highest levels since 2004, when gross domestic product was growing at an annual level of near 4%.

Of particular emphasis in the NFIB report has been a most recent gain in members’ capital spending plans. Almost 30% said they would make new capital outlays to expand, matching its highest level since 2007.

However, a “watch and wait” attitude was also revealed in these latest surveys, especially after a most disappointing last year, when “revenues generated” were in decline. What seems to have particularly impressed “small business” owners and active company general managers is President Trump’s “Buy American” mandate. This presidential promise rings loudest as a potentially “fulfilled promise.”

As the incoming “Trump economic initiatives” become reality, the overwhelming majority of independent businesses polled stand ready to juice up their businesses dramatically, since loan availability has not been a problem for this group, according to the National Federation surveys.

This belief cuts across all lines of endeavor, whether manufacturers, distributors, fabricators, contractors, or consultants, etc. The success of this apparent evaluation should indicate its reality by the end of this year.

According to the International Monetary Fund, eleven independent nations located in and around the South Pacific Ocean comprise a rapidly emerging economic growth sector, identified as Southeast Asia.

Although approximately 750 million people occupiy this vast geographic spectrum, the variance in the racial, religious, and political makeup of this fragmented region generates an overall annual gross domestic product that barely exceeds $1.5 billion per annum. This is about one-tenth that of China, whose continued growth has placed that dominant Asiatic giant in the world GDP runnerup spot to that of the U.S.A.’s $18 plus trillion per annum.

Of the Southeast Asian nations’ 11 entities, six have reached or exceeded the $500 billion gross domestic product of goods and services per annum mark, as of the latest figures available (2015). All are in or abutting the Pacific Ocean.

These rank among world nations as follows: 1) Indonesia (#18)— $750 billion; 2) Thailand (30)— $330 billion; 3) Malaysia (37)— $250 billion; 4) Singapore (39)— $230 billion; 5) Philippines (45)— $200 billion; and 6) Vietnam (#58)— $110 billion.

These are followed by the smaller land-bound nations of Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Timor Leste, whose total GDP registers less than an annual $75 billion. With the exception of number seven, Burma, with less than $50 billion GDP, and ranked #76 among world nations, the other four lag well below the 100 mark in the global economic standing.

While Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam have become major global importers, their exports are more aligned with retail purchases, such as clothes, shoes, shirts, and other low-cost items for the world consumer sector.

However, Indonesia has established itself as a world class provider of copper and oil. This production is spread over the many islands making up the Indonesian archipelago.

While the world’s Asian fixation in the last few decades has been focused on China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, the Southeast Asian group of nations, herein defined, have shown increasing internal economic dynamism of late. That will make them even more substantial importers/exporters, as the global economy approaches the 21st century’s second quarter.

When former President Barack Obama grudgingly allowed the lifting of the 43-year-old “Nixon” US oil export embargo as part of a Congressional long-term budget compromise, few expected this concession to have much of an impact on the inverted crude oil supply/demand ratio of America’s energy production.

Coming off a three-year drought in global oil demand, and a tepid price recovery in the middle “fifty dollar” per barrel range, little improvement in the overall oil profitability is in the cards. Even if OPEC cuts back, or maintains limited production, the U.S. “fracking” capability could easily double its current near 10 million bpd in an all out production effort.

This is now in the process of opening up export doors for the U.S.-produced West Texas Intermediate (WTI) lightweight oil, which is most desirable for the refineries in the flourishing Southeast Asian economies of China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, etc.

The main reason that the bulk of America’s world-leading 140 refineries prefer the “Brent” crude from the Middle East, Venezuela, and even the North Sea U.K. and Norwegian oilfields, is that “heavy crude” is tailor-made for U.S. refineries ‘ sophisticated capabilities.

Southeast Asian refineries, on the other hand, prefer “light crude,” such as WTI, predominant in America’s current oilfields, and major new shale recoveries. That is why the U.S. refining industry has heavily lobbied for the Canadian “Keystone oil pipeline” and imports from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to keep its highly mechanized refineries highly profitable. That is also why the future of America’s “light” West Texas Intermediate oil is far more suited for the ongoing upsurge of the Southeast Asian growth economies.

The proof of this belief is already occurring, as the first months of 2017 are envisioning back-to-back record shipments, with 500,000 barrels per month an attainable goal by the end of the year.

While overall global oil pricing will not return to the 2014 $100 per barrel oil pricing range, whether WTI or slightly more expensive Brent crude, the cost of drilling rigs and related production components have dropped enough to make current cost of exploration and production minimally profitable.

That is why the unleashing of U.S. oil production for exports is the surprise addition to U.S. economic goals not previously counted on. With the pipeline infrastructure updating just beginning, both the incoming Brent crude to keep U.S. refineries at maximum productivity, plus an unprecedented export of WTI will make the U.S. the dominant global oil industry leader by the end of the current decade.

What seems to have been overlooked in analyzing the electoral results of the November 8, 2016 Presidential and Congressional elections is that the Republican domination of the White House, Senate, and Congress constitute a major shift. When adding 33 state governors (out of 50), and growing dominance of state legislators, the GOP electoral supremacy is on the verge of becoming overwhelming.

This represents not only a major political tilt to the right, but indicates a growing political hold that the once staid party of the “upper classes” has assumed over a majority of the American voting public.

While Democrat partisans point to the slight superiority in voters at the last election, these are concentrated in California, Illinois, and New York, the only solidly reliable major “Blue” states.

This represents a dramatic political realignment from the ascendance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s lengthy hold on Democrat power, which dominated the American political scene from the beginning of the 1930's Depression to most of the rest of the 20th century, with few exceptions. Even the emergence of the Republican Eisenhower, Reagan, Nixon, and Bush presidential Administrations during that lengthy period had to be content with “House and Senate” dominated by the Democratic Party.

What has now culminated with Donald J. Trump as the unquestionable articulator of the majority of America’s 330 million population has been his popularity with the “blue collar” workers; dominance with white middle-aged males, and even a last election improvement with minorities and women.

While this most recent political re-direction can be explained by growing disappointment over lack of economic growth and America’s lessening influence in world events, it also magnifies the lack of leadership capacity offered by the competing major political parties.

While the GOP offered a substantial number of potential candidates in the most recent presidential primaries, the Democrats were hard-put to come forth with anyone exciting but Vermont Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. In looking forward to the 2018 mid-terms, the results may even grow dimmer, as two-thirds of the Senate seats, up for “renewal” are Democrat defendants.

Those forthcoming outcomes may result in even more lop-sided Republican majorities, dependent largely on the success of President Trump’s multi-faceted economic improvement objectives.

That anticipated 2018 mid-term election will determine whether the broad base of American voters now consider the Republicans as more reliable in the guarantee of jobs, factory expansion, “independent business” development, and a rebound in America’s military strength and global respect.

While the Federal Reserve has used maximum interest rate recovery restraint to encourage employment and production recovery, the easy money that this made available did little to stimulate an eight-year economic growth contingency that barely reached two percent per annum.

With President Trump’s bombastic speech to the joint “Houses of Congress” setting the stage for a badly-needed economic recovery earlier this year, the Fed has also cranked up its plans for fed fund interest rate increases, lagging, but not preempting, solid recovery.

With both the consumer price index, (CPI) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) reflecting this upward move in financial rates, both CPI and PCE will likely point the way. Although the consumer price index is the best-known inflation indicator, it has two shortcomings:

1) It only tracks spending by urban consumers, and it gathers data from household surveys, both of which have proven to be unreliable over the long term.

2) Instead, the Fed uses the personal consumption expenditure index (PCE), which is a much more expansive metric. It tracks prices paid for a basket of goods and services by consumers, employers, and federal programs. The PCE is calculated by collecting retail sales data from businesses.

The personal consumption expenditure index (PCE) tends to lag the consumer price index (CPI), though both have been trending upward recently. Even so, both have been locked in the low two point increase, year over year. This reflects the lack of even moderate economic growth factors during both the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations. Their economic leadership directions oversaw weak, economic dynamics. This was magnified by the lack of badly needed infrastructure updates, as well as an updated tax structure; plus a deepening debt that doubled the amount accumulated by the previous presidents.

If President Donald J. Trump can make good on the promises outlined in his February 28 speech, a new growth dynamic may be reaching new heights for the current century in the months ahead.

While “climatological purists” are doing their best to put an end to, or at least dramatically weaken, the fossil fuel domination (coal, oil, and natural gas), and its giant electricity end use markets, the many flaws facing renewables are strongly muffled.

In 2014, the International Energy Agency (IEA), a respected projector of global energy’s future, predicted that decarbonization of the global electricity grid will generate awesome consequences. The IEA states that it will require almost $20 trillion in the next 20 years to accelerate the evolution to electricity’s minimization.

Even then, an international domination of renewables (solar, wind, geodesic, etc.) to replace electric power totally would be far from finished. Furthermore, an unfinished global “renewable” domination still depends on a greatly weakened conventional electricity that would find financial investors deserting this transformed electrical residue.

Unquestionably, this “renewable” offensive has gained accelerated momentum, led by the two-term Obama Administration; and its partisans in Congress and the rest of the world. This has resulted in a renewables world utilization percentage of 7.5 percent, North America of 7 percent, and Europe and Eurasia of 12 percent by the end of 2015.

If the global surge toward renewable domination persists in the years ahead, it might cause an increasing number of incongruities during this transitional period.

A major problem that will face an increasingly energy-driven world in the future is “intermittency.” This means that interruptions in hydroelectric-driven plants, and those still using nuclear power, will face gaps of non-productivity, when the sun doesn’t shine, and the winds don’t blow.

This means that countries which have gone overboard with the renewable fever will need to keep older fossil fuel capacity available as a stand-by to cover peaks in industry demand. In the years and decades ahead, fossil fuel production will be at least partially retained. Germany, which has been one of Europe’s most enthusiastic progenitors of renewables, will be hanging on to some power stations powered by brown coal, as well as backup diesel generators in the United Kingdom.

Like all major evolutions, influencing the expansive, accelerating transitions of the 300 year-old Industrial Age, the enthusiasm embracing technological headway, spurred by the intense communications propaganda embracing “renewables” will be increasingly experiencing the reality of change as the “climatological purists” retain their momentum.

As the nation’s Democratic Party fractures into “Leftist” and Far-Left realignments, the GOP is tilting further to the right with the Alt-Right wing becoming a growing factor. These divergent shifts became clear early in the year by two significant events:

  1. The Socialist Bernie Sanders wing backing Congressmen Keith Ellison and John Lewis came close to being dominant; but the more moderate Leftists were able to hold on, with the election of relatively unknown Tom Perez, former Obama Labor Secretary, a relatively soft-spoken party regular of Dominican persuasion.
  2. The Democrats’ split was more than matched by the Republicans, whose “Bannon wing” seems to have gained the upper hand. Steve Bannon, the former CEO of the powerful arch-conservative Breitbart digital website, has been positioned as President Trump’s chief advisor. This widening political gap between and within the two major U.S. political parties sharply reflects the outcome of the November 2016 presidential election; and the surprising strength of the Sanders socialists.

Much to the surprise of the one-sided mainstream media and most pollsters, the Trump candidacy received solid support from both dissatisfied factory workers, and even some labor leaders. In addition, Trump did much better among so-called minorities, and women in general.

What the current political party realignment portends is the solidification of the Far Right in the Republican Party, and the growing power of extreme Leftists in the Democrats’ Bernie Sanders wing.

With President Trump dominating the GOP, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did the Democrats in his four times winning elections, the “Trump personage will override any digression from his leadership, while he is in office.

But under Trump’s widening shadow, and Bernie Sanders’ continued popularity among the numerous “socialist-minded” up-and-coming generation, a dramatic future political confrontation is sure to be forthcoming.

While sovereign wealth funds have been in existence for close to a century, there is much confusion as to the rationale of their existence, their flexibility, and their long-term objectives.

Although independently managed, sovereign wealth funds represent the excess monetary liquidity of many of the world’s leading nations, and are utilized by these nations’ governing bodies as a means of taking advantage of their indigenous commodities, and other wealth-producing factors under their control. Their size, activities, and independent ongoing buy/sell directives are monitored by the sovereign wealth fund institute. It provides general up-to-date information regarding these funds on an ongoing basis:

1) Norway, with a population barely exceeding five million, controls the largest single-most holdings, just under $1 trillion. Its existence is primarily based on Oslo’s large share of the North Sea Oilfields, to which Norway was bequeathed late in the 1900's, along with Scotland/United Kingdom.

2) But China, with the world’s leading population of over 1.4 billion, has the most sovereign wealth funds under management, with four funds totaling $1.6 trillion.

3) Surprisingly, the U.S., Russia, South Korea, and Australia are among the world’s smallest fund holders, measured in the low $100 billions. This is due to their flexibility limited by private domestic investments, and internal growth soaking up much, if not all, indigenous monetary liquidity.

Over the last two decades, oil-and-gas-based funds have made up more than half of the market based asset value. Due to the depressed pricing of these commodities of late, new challenges have been created for commodity exporters.

At present, all eyes are riveted on Saudi Arabia. That globally-leading oil producer is trying to diversify away from oil. It intends its public investment fund to play a central role in this change. It’s been expected that these government-owned Saudi Arabian public offerings would swell its sovereign wealth funds position enormously, with the timing of the share sale not known at this writing.

With global liquidity shifting away from key European nations, and expanding dramatically as Southeast Asian and central African sovereign wealth funds are keeping their eyes peeled daily on such economic relocations, the use of these funds’ monetary liquidity will play a large role as to which of these international directions will be taken in the times ahead.

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