Last week’s election results have put fiscal policy back on the map come 2017. For the past six years, fiscal policy has been nearly nonexistent at best, and a joke at the worst. Since the Republican Party took the House in the 2010 midterms, there’s been the sequester, and with that a modest increase in tax rates. That’s about it.
That pales in comparison to the flurry of fiscal changes during the first two years of Obama’s presidency, when the Democrats held both houses of Congress. In that narrow window, there was a massive amount of government spending on health care reform (Obamacare), the auto industry bailout, and some financial-crisis-era bailout/stimulus programs.
Now, with President-Elect Donald Trump coming into power, and backed by a Republican-led House and Senate, we’ll be seeing that same flurry of activity all over again, starting within the first 100 days.
Trump has repeatedly called for massive infrastructure projects to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges. In fact, he’s called for more spending in that area than Obama has over the years. But with his powers of persuasion as well as a supportive Congress behind him, passive of massive infrastructure programs is likely to happen.
Then there’s the wall. While not all of America’s 2000-mile border with Mexico will need a massive wall—fencing will do in some places— building up the wall will create construction jobs, as well as related jobs in aggregate production. That’s to say nothing of the increased Border Patrol personnel that Trump wants to better apprehend those who do manage to circumnavigate whatever barrier we put up.
Healthcare costs have spun out of control. In some parts of the country, a monthly health-care deductible costs more than a mortgage. Remember, that’s just the deductible. Anyone facing a major medical emergency would also have to pay significantly out of pocket as well. Repealing and replacing the existing Obamacare law will go a long way to freeing up money into consumer’s pockets, even if it keeps some of the elements of the law that don’t add to the costs of care.
Finally, there’s taxes. Trump has called on a simpler tax code that should benefit most Americans. Lowering business taxes will make American companies more competitive abroad, as even most Western nations have lower business taxes than the United States. While an immediate reduction in tax rates may mean bigger deficits now, faster growth in the private sector will lead to higher revenues over time.
The point is, there’s a lot of potential fiscal policy that we’ll be hearing about in the weeks and months ahead— not to mention whatever happens after the inauguration. While not all of it is great from a free-market perspective, what does matter is that monetary policy is no longer bearing nearly the entire load of propping up the economy.
For the past six years, the Federal Reserve has tried rounds of quantitative easing (economist-speak for money printing), to things like Operation Twist, a way of changing bond purchases to stimulate the economy without resorting to money printing.
As a Trump presidency unfolds, we can expect the Fed to continue on its policy of gradually increasing interest rates off of their financial-crisis lows. That’s for a few reasons. First, the Fed started on that path nearly a year ago with a single quarter-point rate hike. They mentioned raising rates a few times in 2016, but haven’t yet. There’s still December, and with official government statistics showing a somewhat growing economy, raising rates some more will give the central bank some room to lower rates again if things slow.
As the real economy grows, the need for ultra-low interest rates will abate. What’s more, increased pro-growth fiscal policies tend to create inflationary pressures. When inflation expectations rise, the Fed will feel increasingly pressured to raise interest rates.
That said, it’s still likely that we’ll have a recession in the next presidency. That’s because markets have gotten used to the allure of cheap money. Fiscal policy, i.e., government spending, can only do so much. Readjusting to a more normal economy, where interest rates are high enough that people can invest without fear of loss in the bond market, likely means a period of somewhat painful readjustment.
In a rising rate environment, the last place you want to invest is in fixed income. As interest rates rise, bond prices fall. Rising inflation expectations mean that gold might be a good hedge—but gold tends to perform better when inflation is sudden and unexpected.
The best bet? Stocks. Specifically stocks in industrial/aggregate production that will benefit from the rising wave of infrastructure spending.
Infrastructure companies like Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI) look like a solid bet here. Trading around $30, shares of CBI trade at 11 times earnings, and have fallen out of favor with the market ahead of the election. Two years ago, shares traded for $70. They’ll likely head in that direction again as the company wins more bids on more infrastructure projects going forward.
There are plenty of other names in the space, like Granite Construction (GVA) or U.S. Concrete (USCR), but they’re far more expensive on an earnings basis, so the expected future returns are a lot lower. On the consumer side, a growing economy should fare well for the overall market, but remember, stocks are generally on the high end of their historical valuation. Anything can happen.
The election results point to an increase in fiscal policy after a long drought. That increased government spending, combined with tax reform, could get the economy growing at a faster rate. That should be good for stocks, but it’ll likely be coupled with a rising interest rate environment that will be bad for bonds.
It’s too early to know for certain, but the biggest winners will likely be in the infrastructure space. We’ll know more as 2017 unfolds, but for the time being, bet on fiscal policy to come back into the spotlight.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and is managing editor of Financial Intelligence Report.
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