Its Still the Economy, Stupid

Monday, November 06, 2006 | 06:48 AM

Is it Iraq or the Economy? That's the question the MSM seems to be focused on. The obvious answer is being overlooked:

How about both.

Most pundits, politicians and economists have yet to figure out what the public long ago came to realize: We now have a dual economy -- one that distributes gains and losses in a very uneven manner.

The lowest economic strata have seen tremendous job creation, particularly in China, India, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Taiwan, and parts of Eastern Europe. And any owners of hard assets:  real estate, energy, precious metals, as well as global equities, have seen their fortunes move up.      

253229646766_1 So while the media drones on about whether the GOP will suffer from Iraq in tomorrow's elections, or prosper from the "strong" economy, you can be sure they know not what they say. While those of us in the top percentiles are doing very nicely indeed, the rest of the country is scraping by.

The economy, despite good overall data and record high corporate profitability, does not exactly imbue to the incumbent's advantage.

Evidence for this can be found in a recent study, titled "The Evolution of Top Incomes," by University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. Consider the following info from the study about the nation's richest income gainers. This top 1% of all American households -- 719,910 of them -- had:

• an average annual income of $326,720 in 2004;

• this represents 19.8% of the entire nation's pretax income; That's up more than 10% (from 17.8%) from 2003;

• In 2004, the top 1/10 of that 1% -- 129,584 American households  -- reported income equal to 9.5 percent of national pretax income.

• Between 2001 and 2004,  median, or midpoint, family income rose only 1.6 percent.

• Median family real net worth - a family's gross assets minus liabilities - rose only 1.5 percent during those four years.

Compare the recent sluggish income-growth with the four years between 1998 and 2001:

• Median family income grew by 9.5 percent and median family real net worth grew by 10.3 percent.

• Over 2000-05, workers with four-year college degrees saw their inflation adjusted wages fall 3.1%

• Only two groups, who together make up just 3.4 percent of the workforce, saw inflation-adjusted wages rise:  workers with doctoral degrees or specialty degrees, such as medicine or law, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

• Soaring pay enjoyed by top CEOs, athletes and entertainers has also added to the widening income divide.

• The median value of stock holdings for the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans was $110,000 per household in 2004, according to Morgan Stanley, the banking giant. The value of stocks held by the other 90 percent of Americans averaged $8,350.

Those numbers are precisely why the Middle Class rates the economy only fair to poor, despite the data showing overall (but diminishing) strength.

Depending upon the elections results tomorrow, the Middle Class might force some changes -- in both the economy and the stock market. A minor realignment would produce gridlock, and that would be a good thing: it would act as a check on the profligate spending, and force some of the more heinous lobbying abuses back to merely egregious.

A major shift would reflect a full blown political re-alignment, and that could cause all sorts of mischief as far as markets are concerned. Its more than Iraq, the budget surplus deficit, earnings and inflation. We can expect to hear questions raised about fundamental fairness, given how the benefits of the tax cuts have accrued primarily to the top percentile.

Individual income tax rates were lowered, most especially the highest brackets, down to 25, 28, 33 and 35%. The big cuts in the way capital gains and dividends are taxed also fell to the wealthiest Americans. Indeed, much of the market run from 2003 is in large part predicated on tax policy that made it cheaper/more profitable to be a stockowner. (And I personally benefited from all of these changes).

I expect all of these 2003 tax cuts to be revisited in the event of a major GOP loss.

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers takes note of the way various economic classes have been impacted by the recent changes. Writing in the Financial Times, he notes:

"Against all odds, we are living in a time of plenty. Neither the after-effects of September 11 2001 nor a tripling in oil prices has prevented the world’s economy from growing faster in the past five years than in any five-year period in recorded economic history...

Two groups have found themselves in the right place at the right time to benefit from globalisation and technological change. First, those in low-income countries, principally in Asia and especially in China, who are able to plug into the global system. The combination of low wages, diffusible technology and the ability to access global product and financial markets has fuelled an economic explosion.

Second, it has been a golden age for those who already own valuable assets. Owners of scarce commodities have seen their returns rise prodigiously. People running businesses that can take advantage of globalisation to source labour less expensively and sell to larger markets have seen their incomes rise far faster than incomes generally. Certainly those in the financial sector in a position to benefit from the asset revaluations associated with globalisation have prospered." (emphasis added)

That pretty much sums up the upper and lower strata -- but its in the great middle where we see all sorts of angst coming out of this "new era."

And, if we are to believe what members of this group are actually saying to pollsters, its that same middle that is likely to impact the mid-term elections in the United States . . .


Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez
January 2006


The rich are getting much richer, much faster than everyone else
Kevin G. Hall
McClatchy Newspapers, Thu, Nov. 02, 2006

The global middle cries out for reassurance
By Lawrence Summers
FT, October 29 2006 18:48

Monday, November 06, 2006 | 06:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (58) | TrackBack (1) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



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The cartoon below reminded me of something. About 15 months ago, I penned a post called Its Still the Economy, Stupid. Now, we see this: Gee, who could have ever seen this coming? [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 5, 2008 3:31:17 PM


"It's a great time to buy or sell a stock!"

Interest Rates Near Record Lows

Today’s interest rates are comparable to 40-year lows, offering stockbuyers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Large Inventory Won’t Last

There are currently billions of shares of stock for sale. We have had a record inventory of stocks on the market in recent months, offering consumers the greatest choice in decades.

Prices Overall Have Stabilized

Prices of stocks in June - November are only up 12 percent and the outlook is for stock prices to increase next year.

Positive Outlook

Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan recently said that housing prospects are looking up. “Most of the negatives in housing are probably behind us. The fourth quarter should be reasonably good, certainly better than the third quarter.” According to industry estimates, 2006 will be the third-best year on record for stock sales.

Stocks are a Great Investment

Stock ownership is a safe, secure way to build long-term wealth. The national median price/earnings ratio of stocks bought ten years ago has increased 88 percent. The number of US households is expected to increase 15 percent during the next decade, creating a continued high demand for stocks.

Don’t Delay

Now is a great time to buy or sell a stock. If you delay, you run the risk of paying more for a new stock.

I couldn't resist

Posted by: blam | Nov 6, 2006 7:54:30 AM

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