Reuters blog archive
By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Two years ago, there was no gloomier place than Japan. The country was recovering from the horrific devastation of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Fearful of radiation poisoning, Tokyoites were purchasing Geiger counters and eschewing vegetables. The government was a thicket of finger-pointing, evasion and paralysis.
Things couldn't be more different today. Just this week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe forged ahead with the kind of measure that in any normal democracy would provoke howls of protest: a 60 percent hike in consumption taxes.
Now, contrast Tokyo's politics with those of the country that effectively drafted the Japanese constitution: The United States. An impasse over whether to pay the nation's bills – between Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate - has plunged the nation into such dysfunction the government has shut down, sending 800,000 federal workers home and forcing parks like the Statue of Liberty to padlock their gates.
If there was ever a time to be worried about whether the Federal Reserve's bond-buying stimulus is having a positive effect on the economy, the last few months were probably not it. Everyone expected government spending cuts and tax increases to push the economic recovery off the proverbial cliff, while the outlook for overseas economies has very quickly gone from rosy to flashing red. But the American expansion has remained the fastest-moving among industrialized laggards, with second quarter gross domestic product revised up sharply to 2.5 percent.
Yet for some reason, at the highest levels of the U.S. central bank and in its most dovish nooks, the notion that asset purchases might not be having as great an impact as previously thought has become pervasive.
By Agnes T. Crane
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.
The new-year euphoria in financial markets looks overdone. The S&P 500 is up 5 percent, investors are throwing record sums into equities and Treasuries are flirting with 2 percent yields. But fiscal cliff diving can still hurt the economy and at least one incentive to put money to work may wear off.
It doesn’t sound sustainable but, at least in coming months, businesses look set to keep booming even as consumers come under pressure - in line with the recent trend. That’s because the economic hit from the partial deal on the fiscal cliff will hurt salaried workers disproportionately, says Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho.
Although the worst of the fiscal cliff has been avoided, the compromise is not macroeconomic neutral. Our calculations, in fact, suggest that the drag created by the reversal of the payroll tax cut and the various tax hikes on upper income households will cut real GDP by upwards of 0.5% to 1% from our preliminary 1.5% to 2% forecast.
from Anatole Kaletsky:
Will the world economy be in better shape in 2013 than 2012? The Economist asked me to debate this question with Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer of PIMCO, the world’s biggest bond fund. El-Erian is the author of When Markets Collide, a brilliant book that coined the term “New Normal” to describe the world’s inevitable descent into a Japanese-style era of stagnation after the 2008 financial crisis. I was delighted by the invitation because I wrote a book at about the same time, taking a very different view of the crisis – and many of my predictions finally look like they will be realized in 2013.
In Capitalism 4.0, I argued that the crisis would create a new model of global capitalism, one based neither on the blind faith in market forces that followed the Great Inflation of the 1970s nor on the excessive government intervention inspired by the Great Depression of the 1930s. While this new species of capitalism would doubtless go through a painful period of evolution, its character would be fundamentally optimistic because it would be driven by four historic transformations. Those transformations helped trigger the 2008 crisis, but their roots are in the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
from The Great Debate:
The hypocrisy over deficits and calls for shared sacrifice can be illustrated with one simple statistic. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, 25 of the most-well-paid chief executives got higher compensation than their companies paid in federal taxes. There’s a class war on, as Warren Buffett has noted, and his class is winning it.
The drive for austerity, with its attendant manufactured crises, carries with it a host of mini-outrages making this point. Americans learned after the fiscal cliff negotiations ended that the final agreement, ostensibly to pass “tax hikes for the wealthy,” extended huge corporate handouts. These included special breaks for NASCAR, help for Hollywood movie studios, $3 billion a year for General Electric, support for mining and railroad companies, and even a push for electric scooters.
from Stories I’d like to see:
1) Fiscal cliff Medicare meddling:
According to this report in the New York Times, last-minute negotiations on the fiscal cliff included new congressionally imposed limits on what Medicare will pay for “nonemergency ambulance transportation of kidney dialysis patients” and “would reduce Medicare payments … for stereotactic radiosurgery, complete course of treatment of cranial lesion(s) consisting of one session that is multi-source Cobalt-60 based.’”
Yes, Congress really does get that far down in the weeds when it comes to dictating how Medicare doles out more than $500 billion a year. This includes, for example, overseeing the payments Medicare allows, by state, for designated categories of ambulance rides (“critical,” “emergency,” “air evacuation,” etc.).
U.S. government bonds sold off last week following December Fed meeting minutes indicating growing doubts inside the central bank about the effectiveness of quantitative easing. Yields on benchmark 10-year notes hit an eight month high of 1.975 percent on Friday, in part as investors priced out some of the Fed asset purchases traders had been counting towards the end of 2013.
Other forces were also at work. Markets were relieved that the ‘fiscal cliff’-related expiration of Bush-era tax cuts had been circumvented, and encouraged by some moderately better U.S.economic data. The S&P 500 closed the first week of the year at its highest in five years.
from The Great Debate:
“Tax relief is an achievement for families struggling to enter the middle class,” the president trumpeted, shortly after Congress, by sweeping bipartisan margins and after a bruising battle, had lowered taxes for almost all Americans. “For hard-working lower income families, we have cut the bottom rate of federal income tax from 15 percent to 10 percent. We doubled the per-child tax credit to $1,000 and made it refundable. Tax relief is compassionate, and it is now on the way.”
Despite a furious counterattack from the opposition, the president had scored a major victory by securing lower tax rates for everyone in the middle class on down.
from The Great Debate UK:
--Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.--
The deal to break the deadlock in the US looks awful, far worse than going over the cliff, which I suspect would have been a lot less damaging than is usually assumed.