Sunday, March 10, 2013

the effects of sequestration

The Federal government has agreed to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion over the next nine years, which amounts to $130 billion a year. This is set to start immediately and then ramp up over time. This fiscal year, $85 billion in cuts are required, and then $85 billion the year after. Subsequently, the spending cuts ratchet up in the years following.

Keep in mind, U.S. GDP is $16 trillion, and the budget deficit is 5.3%, or $840 billion. Therefore, spending cuts of $85 billion takes the U.S. deficit to roughly $760 billion. As U.S. government spending decreases, it reduces GDP, reduces corporate earnings, and could have a negative effect on the market over the short-term.

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While the sequestration will be a negative for economic growth in the short term, we believe the spending cuts will result in a rise in private growth over the long term.

The U.S. Federal deficit needs to be reduced in order to raise the long-term growth rate potential of the economy. As the U.S. government continues to run a deficit, there is an increasing amount of debt that is issued in the form of treasury bonds.

This debt crowds out investing in the private sector. In the private sector, new ideas, products and companies may not get funded at a lower rate because investors tend to purchase government debt as opposed to lending to corporations. As the debt is reduced, or at least stops growing at such a rapid rate, the economy will benefit over the long term because it will lead to positive growth for the private sector. We believe this is why the market has not reacted negatively to the sequestration. At the end of the day, cutting spending helps long-term GDP growth.

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The biggest problem with sequestration is that it does not address entitlement programs. Medicare and Social Security are not being touched. Politically, both sides of the aisle do not want to touch entitlement programs that support the elderly because of the historic consequences on national elections.

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The stock market is soaring to new highs, largely, because of the Fed’s quantitative easing programs. The biggest risk to the market is the reversal of those programs as we believe that would trigger a massive sell-off in the equity market.

Cutting spending actually reduces the risk that quantitative easing will stop. This is because the budget cuts soften the economy, which allows the Fed to continue to essentially print money. Effectively, budget cuts increase unemployment and therefore reduce the chance that the Fed is going to scale back their quantitative easing programs anytime soon.

Cutting spending has become a sideshow. The Fed is the key. The fact that the stock market is approaching new highs is proof that the market and economy are fine with these cuts.

What’s Next

Down the road, we need to see the politicians agree to more spending cuts, and agree to do it rationally. This would help the stock market and the economy. So far, they are not doing it in a coherent, economically efficient, fashion.

-- Mitch Zacks, ZIM Weekly Update

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The sequester has been advertised as “cutting” discretionary spending over a ten year period by $995 billion. After inflation adjustments and exempting more than a trillion dollars of defense and non defense discretionary spending from the sequester, the CBO projects  (in its Table 1.1) discretionary spending to increase by $110 billion over the decade. There is no actual $995 billion cut after the CBO applies its magic adjustments. Rather there is a $110 billion increase.

[In other words, instead of increasing by $1105 billion, it will increase by $110 billion.  So about a 90% reduction of increased spending.]

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