I recently retired after 39 years in Financial Services. Along the way, I believe that I learned a lot, not only about Economics and Financial Markets; but, about a number of other topics. In today's World, everything is connected--Foreign Affairs, Politics, Medicine, Education, Technology, etc. Also, with today's ever-changing World, it is important for everyone to keep up with what is going on--both at home and abroad. We have to be very curious.
Posted in Investment Primer on March 26, 2017
Following the Presidential Election, there has been an on-again, off-again rally in the stock market, which might have been partially attributed to Donald Trump’s victory, last November. Generally, the stock market performs best in the first and fourth calendar quarters, most years; however, some investors might have placed too much faith in Trump’s vague promises, raising the seasonal spurt even higher. Also, some CEO’s seem to have swooned over his proposals: the corporate tax-rate being halved; escalating depreciation on plant and equipment; eliminating most all regulations; and the “Border-Adjustment Tax”.
As of Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 9.3% since Trump won, and the S & P 500 was up by 8.3%. There was little in the way of economic activity to have justified such a surge; however, some investors may have just followed the herd instinct. They wanted to believe! But like any other asset, when the price rises for no apparent reason, there might come a time where it cannot sustain that psychological momentum. Did the markets seem to sense that yesterday?
Ever since he announced his candidacy, in June of 2015, Donald Trump has been harping on two primary goals—the worthless Wall, and his vow to “…replace ‘Obamacare’: with something much better, and at less cost. Just trust me!” HA! Donald raised the stakes too high, before his American Health Care Act had to be pulled yesterday—for the second time—due to insufficient support from his own Republican Party!
Always the person to find a scapegoat to blame–rather than blame House Speaker Paul Ryan, or the entire GOP–Donald blamed the Opposition Party. For a self-proclaimed “Negotiator”, how ludicrous was it to have over-sold the “certain” success of his AHCA, as he had often boasted, and then blame the Democrats…but, for what? He was trying to tear-down a perfectly good (first-step) of a comprehensive plan that could provide Affordable Health Care for all!
Many Americans, including investors, are beginning to wonder if Trump can actually govern! He boasted, before the election, about how many things he would do, beginning “Day One!” But so far, he has accomplished very little. On the negative side, however, the list of his idiotic moves is a mile long!
Consider the following problems that he has been entangled in: the failed raid in Yemen, which resulted in the death of one Navy DEAL and 24 Yemeni civilians; attacking the American Judiciary for rebuking his two Anti-Muslim Bans; his apparent desire to control the Media; threatening a pre-emptive attack on a nuclear-armed North Korea—in China’s back yard; Trump’s potential collusion with Russia, and so on!
A number of Americans who voted for Trump have been on TV stating that they are having Voter’s Remorse. It’s times like this when I wish that we had a Parliamentary System. That way, just one “No Confidence!” vote would place M. P. Donald Trump, in a back-bench seat, where he belongs. Oh, if only…!
When Trump stated yesterday that the GOP’s AHCA Plan had to be pulled, distancing himself from bad news as always, he proclaimed that the next item of business would be Tax Reform. But there are two problems with that strategy, which he is overlooking: a number of deep-pocketed conservative organizations, including the Koch Brothers, have come out again Trump’s Tax Plan; and the money that he was supposed to take from ACA customers was necessary to fund his large tax cuts for the Wealthiest two-percent!
Meanwhile, many institutional and individual investors are, no doubt, using this weekend to review Trump’s record—both positive and negative—and to decide what their next financial moves might be. Additionally, many overseas investors are also considering whether the recent Trump Rally is real, or just a market bubble! I sure wouldn’t be surprised it there is a pause, at least, in the rally–or perhaps a reversal.
Posted in Investment Primer on March 25, 2017
President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, was designed to provide health insurance for poor Americans who could not afford it. Many people already have health insurance through employer-sponsored programs, or through Medicare, for Senior Citizens. Small businesses, however, often do not offer insurance, and minimum-wage workers cannot afford it anyway. Uninsured Americans were just left to fend for themselves and, of course, private insurance has always been quite expensive.
The Affordable Care Act provide subsidies for poor Americans, including seniors who could not even afford Medicare, and to extend the Medicaid program to more low-income citizens. Many GOP-controlled states, such as Florida and Texas, have not accepted the Extended Medicaid, even though the Federal Government picks-up most of the cost for the first ten years.
Prior to ACA, cheap health insurance policies, designed for young adults, excluded “pre-existing conditions”, and even maternity was often excluded for young women. For older Americans, the premiums were exorbitant, and out of reach for many. Policy holders took comfort in being “insured”; however, they didn’t realize how little the policies actually covered—that is, until they became sick or injured!
The total number of previously uninsured Americans, who were able to buy subsidized health insurance, through ACA, approaches 30 million, when the 11 million covered by the Medicaid Extension is included. Many state Legislatures, that have Republican majorities, have not even allowed their Insurance Commissioners to negotiate for lower premiums, with the insurers. Basically, those states were working against ACA—and against their own residents.
ACA was assumed to be the first step in providing Affordable Health Care for all Americans. Like Medicare, some 50 years before, this comprehensive program was expected to need to be amended and modified over time. But the Republicans, at the Federal and State levels, just fought against the program every step of the way.
TChe Affordable Care Act also required the Health Insurance Industry to meet certain goals: pre-existing conditions would be covered; contraceptives and maternity must be included for women; equal premiums for males and females; premiums for the elderly could not be more than three times those paid by the younger insured; and no more than 20% of customer premiums would go toward expenses. Many of these requirements have been dropped, or watered down, under the GOP’s AHCA.
When people do not have health insurance, they only seek medical assistance when they are gravely sick or injured, generally at hospital Emergency Rooms. By then, the medical condition is usually more aggravated, and the medical personnel are working without any knowledge of the patient’s medical history. The cost of health care, in this advanced stage, is normally much more expensive, and society and the hospitals bear the expense.
The most humane, as well as the most cost-effective, way to address the need for Affordable Health Care, is to make it available on a regular preventive basis. Should we ignore the grievously sick, and allow them to die on the streets? Do we continue to just ignore the overall costs—assuming that they will just go away? Realistically, we should take pre-emptive action!
Among all of the world’s industrialized nations, American spends the most on health care; but, it gets the lowest return on its investment, by most every metric. Is this how we wish to continue on? Should we address the need for providing Health Care for all, in a caring and effective manner? Or do we, as a Nation, just continue to sink. further and further into the bowels of Humanity.
NOTE: I was wondering who Donald Trump would try to make the scapegoat when his first foray into major legislation had to be canceled twice, for insufficient support. Would it be House Speaker Paul Ryan or the entire GOP? No, he blamed the Democratic Party since they were perfectly happy with the ACA, which they passed seven years ago! Next stop: Trump’s Tax Scam!
WE CAN’T KEEP WAITING FOR CONGRESS TO GO NOWHERE FAST, REGARDING TRUMP’S POSSIBLE COLLUSION WITH RUSSIA. WHAT’S PLAN B, AND PLAN C?
Posted in Investment Primer on March 23, 2017
In my last post, I suggested that behind Donald Trump’s Visible Regime, there might be a Shadow Government, which controls the real power in Washington. But, here are just a few of the problems, emanating from today’s White House, that smell:
1. Trump’s Political Strategist, Steve Bannon, is a permanent member of the National Security Council.
2. With two former generals in Trump’s Cabinet, why was it the Secretary of State, who suggested a potential pre-emptive attack on North Korea, and in Chin’s backyard?
3. Why have Cabinet Officers not been allowed to appoint Deputies, as usual, and their Confirmation Hearings should have been held, or at least scheduled by now?
4. Why was Donald Trump so discourteous after he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Friday? He looked like a pouting schoolboy who had just been smacked-down!
5. Why is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson skipping the coming NATO Summit in order to visit Moscow, which he is quite familiar with? Couldn’t he take a side trip there, either before or after the NATO meeting?
6. Numerous former and current Trump Associates have had contact with various Russian officials, both in Moscow and Washington.
7. Yesterday, Donald Trump was threatening Congressman, who vote against his ideology-based Health Care Plan? Does he know that we were still a Democracy?
8. And, why does his daughter, Ivanka, sit in on meetings with foreign Heads of State?
Plan A, just holding Congressional Hearings, when Donald Trump’s Republican Party holds the majority in both Houses, will always have a Chairman who belongs to his party, as well as a majority of members. Also, since the GOP believes that it can jam even the most Draconian Legislation through Congress, with their own Man in the White House, can it really be trusted to find collusion, between Trump and Russia, if it is found to have been present?
A “Select”, or Temporary, Committees of Congress will fare no better, since it also will have many of the same party and ideological biases as standing committees do. The Nation needs to have a Plan B, and a Plan C. Plan B would be the appointment of “Special Prosecutor, someone of exemplary legal credentials and who is unbiased, for or against anything but the Truth. And Plan C would consider other options, besides Impeachment, such as a complete Regime Change.
The Special Prosecutor should delve into all aspects of the Russia-Trump Connections, where there may be improprieties. This would include: current and former Trump employees, agents and advisors; whether in person or any other form of contact, and whether the location was foreign or domestic. And Yes, the Special Prosecutor should have complete access to any and all Federal Tax Returns (and all Schedules) of Donald Trump—and for every prior year!
Plan C should draw-up plans, in the event that there was some form of collusion, between Donald Trump and his Campaign, with the Russian Federation. Simple Impeachment proceedings might not be appropriate, since it would be merely eliminating the Head of an Illegal Government. Just like the proverbial Hydra: cut-off the head, and it frown another. Plan C should decide whether usual Impeachment proceedings would be appropriate or, perhaps, a Declaration of the Election as being null and void might be in order
Plans B and C, or some other appropriate meassures, will take time to consider, draft and, perhaps, need to be ruled on by the Supreme Court. Given the many important policy issues—both foreign and domestic—which are constantly arising, we need to insure that we have plans already in place to maintain that “finely-tuned” Government that the United States must have!
NOTE: I realize that if the world-clock stopped ticking, we would have time to call for a Constitutional Convention, or to otherwise Amend the Constitution; but, WE DON’T!
Posted in Investment Primer on March 20, 2017
In the great Cold War Era movie, “The Hunt for Red October”, the submarine Captain (Sean Connery) needed two keys to fire a torpedo—his own, plus the one in the Political Officer’s possession. Soviet government units, including submarines at sea, had a (Communist Party) political officer to insure the loyalty of the Commander. Has a similar role been devised within the Trump Regime?
According to an article in The Washington Post, Cabinet Officers and Key Agency Administrators, have such an “eyes and ears” of the White House: political appointees, installed by the White House, who are charged with supervising the Secretaries’ loyalty, according to sources. That might explain why most department heads have not been able to choose their own Deputies, and few are in place. And thus, many of such positions are vacant.
When I think of any President’s Cabinet, I have always considered the very most important positions, by far, to be the Secretaries of State, Defense and Treasury. Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine General, had been confirmed and sworn-in on January 20, the day of Trump’s Inauguration. Wouldn’t a former general, who undoubtedly understands the operation of the Pentagon, have been expected to have Deputies confirmed by now?
As I pointed-out in my last post, I am concerned as to who Donald Trump has handed-off the responsibility of solving a situation, which is arguably the most dangerous one that confronts the world today! That is the situation with nuclear-empowered North Korea, which could set-up a potential face-off, tween China and the U. S. Besides SecDef Mattis, National Security Advisor R. C. McMaster, another Marine General, remains silent. And Secretary of State Rex Tellerson’s suggestion that the U. S. might make a pre-emptive attack—virtually on China’s door step—is downright scary!
Now, the Regime has suggested that the political appointees might have had heightened authority due to a lack of a complete Leadership Team in the respective departments. That sounds somewhat disingenuous, when you consider a retired general not having deputies in place, at the Pentagon, or Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, a former Secretary of Labor, not being adequately staffed, as well! The Departments are short-staffed on purpose!
Donald Trump appears to be running the United States via a Shadow Government, of powerful people, who report directly through a hidden mass of tentacles to his loyal assistants. The Trump shadow government appears to be run via a coterie of apparatchiks, who carry the title of “Senior Advisor”. Does that title sound familiar?
What is Donald Trump tying to hide by operating two governments: a visible one, that has been going through the usual vetting process of Congressional Confirmation; and a shadow government, which remains out of sight, unconfirmed or vetted by Congress; but, which conceivably holds the ultimate power? Former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama did not have such a dual operation. Why does a political novice, like Trump? And, who is the ultimate Puppet-Master?
Again, going back to the Defense Department, during a potentially dangerous situation of the highest magnitude, Trump apparently has not seriously consulted with his NSA McMaster or SecDef Mattis. Also, since Tellerson is apparently lost in Defense matters, who is truly in Command, when it comes to matters of National Security? Adding to the mystery: why was Trump’s Senior Political Strategist, Steve Bannon, appointed to the National Security Council?
As far as I m concerned–and as I connect the obvious dots–the man who does, in fact, control the National Security Apparatus also runs Trump’s Shadow Government. Can there be any question as to who really is in charge? Just consider which of Donald Trump’s close loyalists has always seemed to lurk in the shadows: Steve Bannon!
WHO WILL DONALD TRUMP HAND-OFF THE MOST DANGEROUS PROBLEM CONFRONTING THE WORLD TODAY? NORTH KOREA! WILL IT BE R. C. McMASTER, OR STEVE BANNON?
Posted in Investment Primer on March 19, 2017
North Korea’s nuclear arms have advanced beyond the primitive state. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un now has real nukes, and he is in the process of improving the range and accuracy of his missiles, while continuing to miniaturize the warheads to extend the range. And then, he will be ready to build an arsenal!
China does not want to place anymore political pressure on its failed neighbor; because, that would cause millions of destitute North Koreans to stream across its border, and Beijing would then have to care for the refugees. Additionally, an invasion would also set-up a potentially disastrous confrontation with the United States.
In a webcast discussion, between Robert Litwak, Vice President at the Wilson Center, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on North Korea, and NY Times National Security Correspondent David Sanger, the topic was “Preventing North Korea’s Nuclear Break-Out.” The proximity of U. S. Forces, both in South Korea and nearby Japan, along with our allies, turns a potential confrontation with China into a powder keg.
Mr. Litwak suggested, during the discussion, that the likely options—all bad ones—are: “bomb, negotiate, or acquiesce… “ Bombing, which would usually be followed by a ground attack, would merely anger China, and would draw them into the war. Beijing certainly doesn’t want the U. S. Military just across their border, nor would we want theirs! That would leave two intolerable situations: facing an unlimited Chinese force, virtually in their backyard; or going nuclear. Either way, we would not want to see that scenario play out!
Acquiescence is also a terrible option. North Korea’s Supreme Leader, 33 year-old Kim Jong-Un runs a dynastic dictatorship and, judging by the living conditions that his people must endure, he seems to care little about them.
So, if we merely allow Mr. Kim to maintain the status quo, he will surely begin considering his next move—going even more bellicose. The North Korean “Leader” is unstable, and cannot be trusted. And don’t count on regime change; because, Kim has already eliminated the prior military leaders, and replaced them with his generals.
This leaves us with the only one acceptable option: to negotiate some sort of Iran-like Nuclear Agreement—along with, say, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. Similar to the Iran Deal, North Korea must be required to: dismantle its nuclear program and ship, say 95% of the plutonium and centrifuges out of the country, perhaps to China, before the negotiations even begin.
There must be a slight easing of restrictions initially, mostly for humanitarian purposes, and the IAEA must be able to make unannounced inspections. The negotiating team, and perhaps others, must provide North Korea with increasingly necessary supplies. The DMZ, between North and South Korea, should be widened, from two and a-half. to 20 miles. At least, that will eliminate offensive broadcasts and sniper fire, back and forth, between the two korean armies.
The one immediate question that comes to mind is: would Donald Trump agree to an Agreement similar to the one that President Obama, and five other nations, entered into with Iran? So far, Trump has appeared to be intent on eliminating anything that Obama had accomplished. Yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tellerson said that the U. S. might consider a pre-emptive attack on Pyongyang, rather than a retaliatory attack. That concerns me!
I believe that National Security Advisor, R. C. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, might agree to the merits of a Nuclear Agreement, similar to the one with Iran. Secretary Tellerson, however, the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil, is a veritable novice when it comes to National Security. So far, Donald Trump has been more willing to hand-off the most important problems to the loyalists among his Regime Staff. Steve Bannon? OMG!
Posted in Investment Primer on March 18, 2017
As the Irish are one of the oldest, and most easily assimilated groups of immigrants, St. Patty’s Day has come to be a day of celebration, not only for the Irish, but for many Immigrant groups.Ω even those who might seem to be flying under the radar—because they are of European stock. But they realize that Trump’s racially-motivated immigration ideas today could turn against all other groups tomorrow. So, they stand together!
Sure, Donald Trump might have toasted Irish Prime Minister Enda Kelly with green beer, on Thursday, and both men had-on green ties, and the fountain on the White House’s south lawn glowed green, for a day or two. The undocumented Irish find little solace in those hollow events, however, due to the fact that they entered the U. S. on perfectly legal Visas, and remained here after they had expired. Besides the Irish, many others, like the Polish, the Mexicans, Nigerians, Filipinos, etc., are hard-working taxpayers, who are raising families here.
Perhaps the Irish won’t be the first group to be deported; but, how can they ever be sure that, as Trump or some other demagogue like him, works their way down the list of nationalities that, at some point, they might be next! As much as Trump talks about creating jobs, he doesn’t realize that immigrants often are the reason for economic expansion as they add (usually) younger workers, entrepreneurial and technological skills, and they also increase the consumer base, as more spenders can grow the economy exponentially.
Undocumented immigrants normally enter the U. S. incrementally, and they are eventually assimilated into our society. Unfortunately, racist actions do make it difficult for some, such as today’s Muslims, and of course blacks after centuries of living in America!
In 1981, 120,000 Cubans came ashore in Miami, in just two months time, and they were quickly assimilated into the local, very large Cuban-American community. That many refugees, arriving in one area, and being quickly assimilated was, of course, an aberration. Even though some of those “Marielitos” were, as Donald Trump would say, “Bad Hombres”, their proportion generally pales when compared to the overall percentage of criminals in American society.
So, while Mr. Trump was toasting Prime Minister Kelly at the White House, Joe McHugh, Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora and International Development visited the Aisling Irish Community Center, in Yonkers, N. Y. Aisling is one of a number of community centers that provides social services, health screenings and other assistance to, what it calls, the “forgotten Irish”. Staff members at Aisling, and other such centers, say that anxiety is peaking because of Trump. Minister Joe McHugh, said, after his visit: “They live in fear.” But why?
Is this what America has come to: like those billionaires, who have more money than they could ever hope to spend, and they just seem to want more? Everyone of us are descendants of people who had come from somewhere else–even the Native Americans. And for all of those “god-fearing Christians”, I surely wonder how you can mouth the words: “Do unto others…”
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL WILL MEET WITH DONALD TRUMP ON FRIDAY. WHICH SIDE WILL HE GET—CHARMING ANGELA, OR NASTY?
Posted in Investment Primer on March 13, 2017
Raised in East Germany, where her father was a minister, Mrs. Merkel earned a Ph.D. in physics, and worked as a scientist. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989; however, she entered politics, and has been the German Chancellor for the past ten years. As Donald Trump will find, Angela Merkel is anything, but the quiet hausfrau. An article from popular German periodical “Spiegel” provides more detail for Friday’s meeting.
They will meet at the White House, in what is hoped to be the beginning of a friendly relationship-building process. So far, Germany and the European Union believe that the Trump Regime will be more pragmatic than previously expected, due to the ouster of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. They believe that the new NSA, H. R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, are more rational presidential advisors whom they can work with, in order to maintain a strong Atlantic Alliance.
Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, calmed fears, at the recent European Security Conference, in Munich, where they all reaffirmed America’s support for NATO. Although there was no discussion, on the part of the Americans, about the European Union, Chancellor Merkel hopes to update Trump on its purpose, its history, and the simplification it provides the U. S., in dealing with one entity, rather than all 27 E. U. member nations.
Germany has noticed some changes in Trump’s actions, post-Inauguration, which it believes are showing a more open-minded person. At least so far, the Iran Nuclear Agreement is still in place, and he hasn’t moved the U. S. Embassy in Israel, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Mrs. Merkel also recalls that, on January 28, Donald Trump called her, so that she might explain the Russian Policy with regard to Ukraine, before he called Russian President Vladimir Putin. That was certainly a positive note.
Mrs. Merkel believes that Trump has more trust when dealing with business executives than with politicians; so, she is bringing the Chairmen of two of Germany’s blue chip corporations—Siemens and BMW—to join-in the Friday meeting. They will explain the number of jobs that Germany creates in the U. S., the fact that one-third of its foreign investment goes to America, and that German auto makers build more vehicles in this country than it exports to us.
Chancellor Merkel is also prepared to demonstrate her nasty side; but, only if she must. Germany’s trade relationship with America is an important one and, if Trump begins a trade war with China and Mexico, Germany is ready to go on the offensive. Among Germany’s defensive weapons are: counter-tariffs, in response to America’s. It could also allow German corporations to write-off American tariffs and taxes; and Germany could lower its own tax rates so that its companies will remain profitable.
There is another tool that German exporters, as well as American importers, are concerned about: Trump’s suggested “border adjustment tax”, which might not be in compliance with World Trade Organization rules. This tax would be deductible for American companies for goods that they export overseas; however, the cost of importing products, or foreign components for inclusion in domestically manufactured products, would not be deductible.
The entire E. U. is prepared to take the border adjustment tax to the WTO. Additionally, the European Commission has been reviewing Google for competition violations, and McDonald’s and Starbucks for tax evasion; however, that list may potentially be expanded.
Cecilia Maelstrom, the E. U. Trade Commissioner, has been visiting other countries and regions in order to maintain free and open trade, in case the U. S. isolates itself through protectionism. Other regions, such as Asia-Pacific and Latin America, in turn, are also considering taking similar actions. If Donald Trump does, in fact, lead America into a trade war, we might find ourselves isolated from an ever-interconnected Global Marketplace.
NOTE: Welcome to my readers from (the former Soviet) Georgia!