Thursday thumbnails

Thumbnail sketches is one of those terms that is often used without thinking about its source. Per Wikipedia, it was first used in the 17th century, but was more widely used in the 19th century as a small pictorial of an idea, the size of a thumbnail.  But, it is often used nowadays for a brief synopsis. So here are a few thumbnails of thuggish behavior on this Thursday.

In the Philippines, the iron thumb leader Duterte has released a list of 200 names of people who may be involved with drugs, including their addresses. This thug has just put targets on this people, so do not be surprised if we read of more deaths.

Speaking of thugs, it is not ironic that Vladimir Putin and Basher al Assad have stalled entry by the UN inspectors to the alleged chemical attack site. Why is that? The only rational explanation is they have something to hide.

Speaking of Duterte and Putin, why does the US President speak more highly of them than he does German Chancellor Angela Merkel? It may turn out he is more than beholden to Putin for his election, but why would a leader spend his cache on Duterte? As for Merkel, he may be jealous of her being looked to as a leader of the western world or it may be something superficial. His emulation of thug like behavior such as lying about most issues, condemning the media, attacking people who criticize him or to off-load his errors, squelching civil rights, etc. is not Presidential, but autocratic.

Finally, something that needs even more notoriety is the imposition of tariffs on allies and other trading partners by the US President. Tariffs usually backfire and throw water on global and specific economies. Yet, the bullying of allies is another key part. This President has introduced a huge amount of uncertainty and threats to businesses that must import certain products that are not made here. The uncertainty is showing up in the capital markets and watering down hoped for greater growth from the Tax Law change. His own party leaders have not been too keen on this path.

That is all for now. Have a great rest of your week and keep your eyes open,

 

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A couple of tax truths get revealed

Long before the Tax Plan was passed in December, I have shared my concern about our runaway debt problem. So, I am none to thrilled by a Tax Plan that will make it worse. Yet, that is not my only concern. While I was all for some tax relief on corporations to encourage the repatriation of overseas earnings, Congress and the President went much too deep.

Their stated goal was to fuel even more growth in the economy which was already doing pretty well for a long time – over 8+ years of growth – which is now the second longest growth period in our history. In essence, we borrowed from our future to improve on something that was percolating at a pretty good clip.

Yet, while this was a stated goal, I said then and repeat now, that may have been oversold. My fear is by giving money to corporations with no requirement, they would likely use it to benefit their EPS using a fairly expedient approach – they would buy back shares from the open market. Companies that cannot figure out how to grow earnings, can easily reduce the outstanding shares in the denominator through buy backs. I learned many years ago, share buy backs are usually a sign of weakness. Companies do this to meet EPS targets to pay bonuses. Board members do not complain as they may be doing the same thing at their own companies.

But, don’t take my word for this concern. In an article in Reuters this week, “Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, in a move that may undercut his party’s message about the recent tax overhaul ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, told the Economist magazine there is ‘no evidence whatsoever’ the law significantly helped American workers.

‘There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,’ Rubio said in the interview published Thursday.

In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.’”

Per an article in March by CNN Money reporter Matt Egan, “Buy backs have exploded in 2018 thanks to windfall from the Republican tax law. American companies including Wells Fargo (WFC) and Cisco (CSCO) have showered Wall Street with $214 billion of stock buy back announcements so far this year, according to research firm TrimTabs.

But critics argue Corporate America’s fascination with stock buy backs has come at a real cost to American workers. Instead of focusing on short-term rewards for shareholders, they say companies should make long-term investments by retraining workers, ramping up benefits and boosting wages.

Stock buybacks have been a prime mode of both concentrating income among the richest households and eroding middle-class employment opportunities,‘ said William Lazonick, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell who has studied the impact of stock buybacks.”

In my view, it would not be surprising to see some additional growth in our economy, but it is projected to be much less than Congress and the President have touted. What is throwing even more water on projected growth is the President’s announced tariffs. This has thrown global markets in a state of disarray and companies do not like uncertainty. If they don’t know if terms will be favorable, they will choose more cautious roads which lead to less but more predictable profits.

This uncertainty is already showing up in the capital markets. What frightens me is we sold our future with more debt while not even addressing the existing debt. And, for what purpose is to be determined.

Saturday’s Alright for Fighting

One of Elton John’s more boisterous songs is the title of this post. It is OK to stand up for the rights of others and yourself, but we need not resort to physical fighting. We must do so with our words that express our ideas. Words that are hurtful or demean are a verbal form of fighting.

I mention this as we must not follow the example of how the President chooses to communicate. We must be civil and listen to each other’s ideas and perspectives. Name calling is a shortcut when the speaker does not have a good argument. When I hear the President or anyone else name call, it makes me pay attention to the opposing side’s argument. The same holds true when he berates people.

The sad truth is people who act like this do so to be tough and bully others into doing things their way. Eventually it wears thin and others won’t want to be around people who act this way. It is one reason the White House has so much turnover. It is reported the latest departure is due to her being constantly berated by her boss. It came to a head when she admitted under oath she told “white lies” on his behalf.

Our issues are complex and deserve rational and reasoned debate. The causes are often multi-faceted and deserve holistic solutions. They do not need to be based on whims or inaccurate information. They do not need to be rashly done without vetting, especially when others need to be aware of and can plan for them. The rash decision by the President to impose tariffs is a good example because it caught the White House staff, members of Congress, our trading partners, investors and business leaders off guard.

This should not be how important decisions are made. We should rationally talk through them and look at their ramifications. We should invite input as complex issues need to be vetted. They need buy-in. This one was not. Tariffs may sound good, but they usually have devastating results. As one global economist said “this is how recessions start.”