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Weekend Reading: Washington, We Have A Problem

Written by Lance Roberts | Mar 31, 2017

In this past weekend’s missive, I discussed the failure of Congress to get the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repealed, much less replaced. The problem, of course, is the failure to repeal the ACA leaves in question the ability to pass other agenda based items such as tax reform, border wall construction, repatriation or immigration reform. As I noted the debt ceiling debate, which is rapidly approaching, is the next major hurdle. To wit:

With the government currently at the ‘debt ceiling limit,’ and the June 1st deadline approaching for ‘extraordinary funding measures,’ Congress will need to address the FY18 budget resolution before it can act on tax reform. This is necessary to provide the ‘reconciliation instructions’ that allow Republicans to pass tax legislation with only 51 votes in the Senate (and therefore no Democratic support). Reaching an agreement on the FY budget resolution will not be easy; in the past, conservatives have demanded a balanced budget within ten years but this would require endorsing spending cuts (in non-binding form) that some centrist Republicans might oppose along with the BAT.

Given this backdrop, tax reform will probably not begin to move through the legislative process until after June at the earliest. Of course, while Wall Street believes ‘tax reform’ will be a much easier process than repealing health care, the reality is it could be just as tough as government entitlement programs, funding for Planned Parenthood, and other programs central to the Democrats, and some left-leaning Republicans, come under attack.

For the markets, which have ramped up since the election on ‘hopes’ of a quick implementation of reforms under the new Administration, the risk of disappointment is running high.” 

This assessment has not changed in the past week, and already we are beginning to discussions of border wall construction being postponed, along with infrastructure spending, and tax cuts being whittled down to just 28% for corporations vs. 15-20%. 

The last point is the most important given that current valuations in the market are currently being supported by the notion that tax cuts will lead to a profits expansion. The issue, however, remains that while profits may expand from paying lower taxes, and could be much less than currently hoped for, top line revenue growth still remains a missing ingredient as shown in the chart below. 

While anything is certainly possible, there is the simple issue that economic cycles do NOT last forever. With wage growth still stagnant, debt levels rising and inflation coming from all the wrong areas (health care, rent & gasoline), the risk of disappointment in the “hope” trade is very high.

Of course, you combine the risk of a “fiscal policy” error with the Fed on a “monetary policy tightening” cycle and you have all the ingredients for a bad outcome.

But then again, maybe this time will indeed “be different.”

Just some things I am thinking about this weekend as I catch up on my reading.


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Lance Roberts is a Chief Portfolio Strategist/Economist for RIA Advisors. He is also the host of “The Lance Roberts Podcast” and Chief Editor of the “Real Investment Advice” website and author of “Real Investment Daily” blog and “Real Investment Report“. Follow Lance on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and YouTube

2017/03/31
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