It is tempting to see yesterdayÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s elections results as vilification of the old adage, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you canÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½t fool all the people all of the time.ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½
It seems people voted against an ill-conceived war in Iraq, despite a good economy.
The debacle of the Iraq war, along with recent scandals, provided good headlines and fodder for resentment. In addition, massive government spending gave the impression to independents and even to staunch conservatives, that Republicans were not governing in a Republican way.
The exit polls vary from region to region. But exit polls in some areas now appear to show that the economy was in fact ahead of Iraq as the main issue on votersÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ minds.
What Went Wrong?
This begs the question of why the Republicans did not fare well when the economy appeared so strong.
On the surface, the economy looked good. Jobs and wages were up. Unemployment was low. Despite ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½stealth inflation,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ real interest rates (nominal less inflation) were low and stock markets were at new highs.
In answering this question, we feel that the commonly held political adage, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ItÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s the economy stupid,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ should more accurately read, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ItÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s the pocket book, stupid!ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½
When one looks beyond the general economic indicators and into peoplesÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ pocket books, we find a different story. It is a story that could be expected to breed discontent, even anger, in some.
For the individual consumer, we see gas prices that rose alarmingly, acting as a hidden tax on individuals. At the same time, we see personal debt rising to record levels, just as house prices began to fall in earnest. This is a cause for real concern to many consumers.
We also heard of record corporate profits and that the average salary of an S&P company CEO was some $7 million a year. It appeared to many voters that tax cuts and the increases in national wealth were not being distributed in a fair manner. We believe this caused resentment and a costly loss of support.
Therefore, we judge it was a combination of Iraq, scandals, and the economy that caused the major power shift in Washington to which we must now all adjust.
This was an election that was not won by the Democrats, but lost by the Republicans.
What Do the Cards Hold for Investors?
So what will be the key effects of this power shift?
First, we believe that the Democrats will fight not on the old-line liberal ground, but on the center ground. During the campaign, they changed their rhetoric to sound more like Republican and it appeared to work. They have a large number of right-leaning representatives who will make demands in return for cooperation. They also will have their eyes on the 2008 presidential election.
As governor of Texas, President Bush proved that he could work with Democrats. He will now be put to the test in Congress. Nancy PelosiÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s initial comments and meeting with the president gave grounds for hope that the Democrats will work with the president to avoid a political gridlock.
The main, immediate item for discussion will be Iraq. We feel that U.S. withdrawal is imminent. We have long forecast that Donald Rumsfeld will be replaced. As we go to press, we note that he has now patriotically offered his resignation and is to be replaced by Robert Gates, a candidate likely to meet with cross-party endorsement.
Sadly, Bush still persists in trying to tie the war in Iraq to the defense of the American homeland. This does not bode well for bipartisan work in Congress.
He would be well advised to remember that defeat is usually a military necessity imposed from outside, not a political option merely accepted from within.
We forecast that Robert GatesÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ new perspective will be to urge an early withdrawal from Iraq, possibly dressed as a request by the Iraqi government.
Time Will Tell
Democratic views on such areas as free trade, health care (drugs), immigration, a minimum wage increase, student loans, a windfall oil tax, and even allowing for more consolidation of the airlines, will be negotiated. Here, the Democrats have a most powerful card: agreement to President BushÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s tax cuts after 2010.
In the meantime, the American bond and equity markets meandered downwards and are now recovering, as investors assess the great power shift in Washington, including an unexpected Democratic majority in the Senate.
The next few days will contain vital clues as to what investors can expect from the new Congress, particularly on drug, steel, and defense stocks for instance.
Generally, markets like stability. The restoration of some discernable direction in the American and indeed many overseas financial markets will depend critically upon how soon Bush and Speaker Pelosi succeed in creating an atmosphere of stability.