Carousel of Political Discontent

Stuart Quint, Investment Insights PodcastStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager & International Strategist

Hung parliaments in three recent elections may have investment implications. On this latest podcast, Stuart discusses what’s happening in Spain, Austria and Australia.

Quick hits:

  • Recent elections in Spain, Austria, and Australia highlight that voters are divided and unable to render a clear mandate for government.
  • Other parts of Europe appear vulnerable.
  • Politics pose risk to financial markets; loose monetary policy likely to persist in many places.

What do Spain, Austria, and Australia have in common? (No, this is not a trivia question nor the opening line of a bad joke.)

Each country in recent weeks has held elections, all of which failed to elect governments backed by a majority of the vote (with one case leading to yet another election).  Tepid economic growth has led to divided voters that could make it more difficult for governments to enact policies needed to stimulate economies. They each are riding “a carousel of political discontent”.

Starting in Spain

On June 26, Spain held general elections for the second time in six months (results of which were overshadowed by the Brexit referendum).  Both elections failed to confirm one party with a sufficient majority to form a government.  In fact, the two centrist-right and left parties lost parliamentary seats to smaller fringe parties. However, the June election did result in a higher seat count for the ruling center-right party.  Hope exists for the incumbent center-right party to be able to form a coalition, though most likely without support of a majority of parliament.[1]

Sobering developments in Austria

In May, Austria tried to elect a president, an office with more ceremonial functions than real political power.  The two final candidates came from the Greens and the far-right Freedom Party, parties not belonging to the traditional establishment.  After a very slight victory (50.3% to 49.7%)[2] for the Green candidate, the Austrian Constitutional Court annulled the results and rescheduled the election for October.[3]  Austria potentially might be the first country in the EU to elect a president from the far right, a sobering development in light of populist antipathy to the Euro project.

Instability in Australia

Elections that were intended to solidify the ruling coalition in Australia could end up having the opposite effect.  The ruling Liberal-National party coalition has lost seats in both houses of Parliament and faces the risk of forming a minority government.  Yet again, fringe parties siphoned off votes both from the incumbents and main opposition party Liberals. Australia has already suffered through five different Prime Ministers in the last six years. The last thing it needs is another unstable government and the risk of political paralysis and potential new elections.

Notable similarities

Three different countries with three different cultures still share some common themes. Slow economic growth has contributed to disillusionment with establishment parties. The new wrinkle is that cohesion in the traditional opposition, as well as incumbent parties, is unraveling. Fringe parties representing both ideological (far right and left) as well as parochial interests are gaining. Though unable to govern themselves, these fringe parties potentially could play greater roles as “kingmakers” for establishment parties to form ruling coalitions. More focus would be spent on holding together the coalition and catering to parochial issues rather than carrying through reforms to stoke confidence in the economy. Weak coalitions are prone to collapse and thus, new elections.

What’s the impact on other countries?

Other candidates for this cycle of discontent stand out in Europe, particularly countries in the Euro.  With its past history of rotating governments, Italy might reemerge as the popularity of incumbent PM Renzi has taken a hit from reform setbacks and lack of economic growth. The fringe opposition party Five Star enjoys significant popularity as shown in victories in recent municipal elections. The party espouses holding a referendum on Italy’s membership in the Euro. It might see opportunity to challenge Renzi in October when a referendum on voting reform is scheduled. If Renzi were to lose that vote, early elections are likely to ensue.

France also stands out with a vigorous populist far-right opposition party in the National Front of Marine LePen.  General elections in 2017 with the incumbent government suffering from depressed approval ratings could introduce additional market volatility. Along with a stagnant economy, France has also suffered backlash against efforts to reform labor markets.

What needs to change?

Political malcontent with economic growth has the potential to continue and add to market volatility. It also could lead to paralysis on fiscal and structural reform needed to accelerate growth. One consequence is likely: central banks will not be retreating from active monetary policy anytime soon in the face of weak growth, even if much of their dry powder has already been spent. Government inaction will still be replaced by central bank stimulation unless the situation changes.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

[1] http://www.abc.es/espana/abci-rajoy-cita-manana-moncloa-201607051229_noticia.html  accessed on July 5, 2016.

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-24/independent-van-der-bellen-wins-austrian-presidential-vote/7439372  accessed on July 5, 2016.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/austrian-presidential-election-result-overturned-and-must-be-held-again-hofer-van-der-bellen accessed on July 5, 2016.

Investment Insights Podcast – Brazil: Does Rousseff’s Impeachment Muddy the Future?

Stuart Quint, Investment Insights PodcastStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager & International Strategist

On this week’s podcast (recorded May 16, 2016), Stuart discusses what the President of Brazil’s impeachment means for the near-term future of the country. If you missed Stuart’s initial framework around Brazil, you can catch up here first.

As discussed, why talk about Brazil?

  • It’s the largest economy in Latin America.
  • It’s the eighth largest economy in the world.
  • For the last several years, it’s been a large drag on emerging market economic growth.
  • There is potential to have a positive impact with the recent shock to the political system.

What does Rousseff’s impeachment announcement entail?

  • Brazilian senate approved in large majority to impeach President Dilma Rousseff and replace with Vice President Michel Temer.
  • General elections to take place in 2018, and with the Olympics in Rio a few months away, the window for the government to pass reforms is short.
  • Rousseff is the third president to be impeached since 1992.
  • Key test will be whether such enthusiasm for impeaching Rousseff will apply to tough votes on fiscal reform needed to restore economic confidence in Brazil.

What’s the upside with Temer?

  • Michel Temer has already named a cabinet that includes former president of the Central Bank of Brazil, Henirque Meirelles
  • Meirelles presided over the strong Brazilian economy during the two terms of former President Lula prior to Rousseff taking office.
  • The government deficit lies at the heart of what ails Brazil and might improve under the right circumstances.

How does the government begin to reign in the deficit?

  • Debt to GDP is growing 10% a year.
  • The government, simply put, must raise revenues and cut expenditures; but, this is easier said than done.
  • Higher taxes are troublesome and could stunt the already weak economy.
  • One tax likely to be reintroduced is a basis point tax on financial transactions, which should have a high success rate in collecting revenues, but it also could dampen economic activity.
  • Expenditures could be difficult to reduce given legal restrictions and the still-fragile political situation.
  • Fiscal expenditures offer the potential to improve the fiscal situation, but it is also the most susceptible to politics.

 Where does Brazil stand now?

  • Given that Temer has an approval rating just barely above that of Rousseff¹, it is unclear whether he has enough political capital to push through needed reforms.
  • The ongoing corruption investigations known as Carwash potentially affects politicians of all stripes.
  • Opposing interests in Congress might find it in their own self-interest to “bite the bullet” on passing just enough reforms to stabilize the country in time for new elections in 2018.
  • In short, while the economic obstacles are challenging, it is possible to see improvement in the fiscal balances.

Please click here to listen to the full recording.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast – October 27, 2015

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded October 27, 2015):

What we like: Tentative budget debt deal between Congress and President should fund government for next several months; better news and business activity out of China; U.S. consumer balance sheet good; wage growth positive; oil prices remain low

What we don’t like: Initial third quarter earnings just OK; some sales misses due to strong dollar and energy; manufacturing sector under great pressure

What we’re doing about it: Slow and steady wins the race; keeping an eye on any recession-related talk

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Stalemate

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Portfolio Specialist, Brinker Capital

The ongoing dysfunction in Washington D.C. reached a fever pitch this week, as the failure of lawmakers to agree on a bill to fund the Federal Government resulted in the President ordering its first shutdown since 1995.  The inability of Congress to effectively legislate has led to the furlough of more than 800,000 Federal workers, and a shuttering of all non-essential services.  Although equity markets around the world have remained relatively sanguine about the current state of affairs inside the beltway, the looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department has declared to be no later than October 17, has heightened the stakes of the current impasse immeasurably, as a breach of this borrowing limit would have dire consequences not just for the United States, but for the global economy in aggregate.  It is the presence of this possibility that provides us with cautious optimism that a resolution might be forthcoming; as our belief is that the closure of the government and the subsequent pressure being applied by the electorate to end the stalemate has pulled forward the debt ceiling debate, which may result in a bargain that addresses both issues.  However, we intend to remain hyper-vigilant about the progress of these negotiations as we fully recognize the severity of the impact of a failure to honor our nation’s debts.

10.4.13_Preisser_Stalemate_1The current standoff has resulted from a multiplicity of factors, chief amongst which is a fundamental ideological difference between the parties over the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare”, which went into effect this week.  It is the vehemence of both sides in this debate combined with the extreme partisanship in the Capital that have made this situation particularly perilous.  Despite assertions to the contrary, the shuttering of the government comes at an exorbitant cost.  According to the New York Times, “ the research firm IHS Inc. estimates that the shutdown will cost the country $300 million a day in lost economic output…Moody’s Analytics estimated that a shutdown of three or four weeks would cut 1.4 percentage points from fourth-quarter economic growth and raise the unemployment rate.”  With consensus estimates for GDP currently at only 2.5% per annum, the present state of affairs, if not soon rectified will take an ever increasing toll on the nation’s economy.

Since 1970 there have been a total of 18 shutdowns of the Federal Government, including this most recent closure.  Although each situation was unique, what is common amongst them is that investors have, on average, approached them with relatively little trepidation.  According to Ned Davis Research, “during the six shutdowns that lasted more than five trading days, the S&P fell a median 1.7%.”In fact, optimism in the marketplace has tended to follow these periods of uncertainty.  Bloomberg News writes that, “the S&P has risen 11 percent on average in the 12 months following past government shutdowns, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on instances since 1976.  That compares with an average return of 9 percent over 12 months.”

Source: Ned Davis Research Group

Source: Ned Davis Research Group

There is one glaring difference between this year’s shuttering of the government and those of recent history, and that is the presence of the debt ceiling.  According to the New York Times, “the Treasury said last week that Congress had until Oct. 17 to raise the limit on how much the federal government could borrow or risk leaving the country on the precipice of default.”  Though we can look to the past as a guide to use to try and gauge the impact of a government shutdown, there is no way to accurately predict the effect of a failure of the United States government to fulfill its obligations, as this would be unprecedented. The need for Congress to raise the debt ceiling cannot be overstated, as the very sanctity of U.S. sovereign obligations depends upon it.  The importance of this faith to the global economy was captured by Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, “Financial markets have long treated U.S. bonds as the ultimate safe asset; the assumption that America will always honor its debts is the bedrock on which the world financial system rests.”

Concerns Over “Fiscal Cliff” Continue to Dominate Markets

Joe Preisser

The sharp selloff in global equity markets that, through Thursday, had sent the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index down almost 6% since the reelection of President Obama, brings into stark relief the depth of the concerns among market participants over the looming “fiscal cliff” in the United States and the potential impact on the global economy if it is not averted.  With the compilation of automatic spending cuts and tax increases totaling more than $600 billion which comprise the so called, “cliff”, scheduled to take effect in January, unless an accord can be reached to forestall it, investors have quickly begun to pare back their exposure to risk based assets.  As Amy Magnotta pointed out in her most recent blog post, the effects of a failure of policy makers in Washington to reach an agreement would be severe, resulting in a  4 percent drop in Gross Domestic Product and casting the world’s largest economy back into recession.  Marko Kolanovic, the Global Head of derivatives and quantitative strategy at JPMorgan Chase & Co. was quoted by Bloomberg News, “about 90 percent of the drop in the S&P 500 since election day can be attributed to concerns about the U.S. fiscal cliff.”

The divided government, which remains in the United States following the Nov 6th elections, with a Democratically controlled White House and strengthened position in the Senate, and a continued Republican hold on the House of Representatives, has led to a continuation of the stalemate that has gripped the Capital for much of the past two years.   Although the representation of differing philosophies and governing styles is essential to a functioning democracy, the current environment inside the ‘beltway’ has degenerated to the point of stagnation.  Neither side of the proverbial ‘aisle’ appears, at least publically, willing to compromise with Republicans declaring their resolve to avoid tax rate increases of any kind, and Democrats extolling the need to increase the percentage paid by the top income earners in the country.  It is impossible to know how much of the recent rhetoric is simply political posturing and how much represents entrenched positions, but what is evident is that it has created an atmosphere of uncertainty which financial markets abhor. One potential area of concession, that has lately developed, is the rate of increase Democrats are seeking.  Although it had been earlier suggested that a return to the 39.6% level last seen under President Bill Clinton was all that would be accepted, that stance has softened in recent days,(Strategas Research Partners), suggesting that a smaller increase could be where an accord is found.

As I am writing this morning, leaders from both political parties are preparing to meet at the White House to begin negotiations on bridging the gap that divides them.  If they are successful in their efforts and common ground is reached, even on a temporary basis, which is the most plausible scenario, we should see a strong rebound across financial markets.  While the process of resolving the differences that separate the two sides of this debate will undoubtedly take time and potentially create turbulence in the marketplace, if our policy makers can fulfill their responsibilities and find a resolution to this issue it will greatly strengthen the recovery in the global economy and lead to a substantive rally in risk based assets.