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Second Guessing the FED

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A HISTORICAL CHAIR REVIEW

Art

By Arthur Chalekian GEPC

[Elite Financial Partners]

***

AN AGE OLD AMERICAN PASTIME

Americans have been speculating about the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy choices – rate hikes, rate declines, quantitative easing, etc. – for a long time. It’s clear when you take a look at a few modern Fed Chairs and the Fed’s activities under their leadership.

Paul Volcker (1979-1987) took over an economic quagmire known as The Great Inflation. In the early 1980s, U.S. inflation was 14 percent and unemployment reached 9.7 percent. Volcker unexpectedly raised the Fed funds rate by 4 percent in a single month, following a secret and unscheduled Federal Open Market Committee meeting. His policies initially sent the country into recession. The St. Louis Fed reported “Wanted” posters targeted Volcker for “killing” so many small businesses. By the mid-1980s, employment and inflation reached targeted levels.

Alan Greenspan (1987-2006) was in charge through two U.S. recessions, the Asian financial crisis, and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Regardless, he oversaw the country’s longest peacetime expansion. In the late 1990s, when financial markets were bubbly, critics suggested, “…Mr. Greenspan’s monetary policies spawned an era of booms and busts, culminating in the 2008 financial crisis.”

Ben Bernanke (2006-2014) took the helm of the Fed just before the financial crisis and Great Recession. When economic growth collapsed in 2007, the Fed lowered rates and adopted unconventional monetary policy (quantitative easing) in an effort to stimulate economic growth. In 2012, economist Paul Krugman called Bernanke out in The New York Times, “…the fact is that the Fed isn’t doing the job many economists expected it to do, and a result is mass suffering for American workers.”

Janet Yellen (2014-present) is the current Chairwoman of the Fed. Under Yellen’s leadership, after providing abundant guidance, the Fed raised rates for the first time in seven years. The International Business Times reported several prominent economists think the increase was premature, in part, because there are few signs of inflation in the U.S. economy.

Assessment 

In many cases, it’s difficult to gauge the achievements and/or failures of a leader – Fed Chairperson, President, Congressman, or Congresswoman – until the economic or political dust settles. Sometimes, that’s long after they’ve left office.  

Conclusion

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Are Interest Rates expected to increase in December?

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And, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said …

Art

By Arthur Chalekian GEPC
[Financial Consultant]

U.S. job growth surpassed expectations in October. About 271,000 jobs were created across diverse industries: professional and business services, health care, retail, construction, and others. That was a significantly higher number than predicted by economists who participated in a survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal. They expected to see 183,000 new jobs for October.

BLS revised

The BLS revised August and September jobs numbers higher overall and reported improvement on the wage front, too. Average hourly earnings increased by nine cents during October. For the year, hourly earnings are up 2.5 percent. Rising wages and a 5 percent unemployment rate “appear to indicate the labor market has reached full employment,” reported Barron’s.

Strong employment data supports the idea the Fed will begin to lift the Fed funds rate this year. On Friday, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke wrote in his blog:

“Wednesday was something of a trifecta for Fed watchers: Chair Yellen, Board Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer, and Federal Reserve Bank of New York president Bill Dudley (who is also the vice chair of the Federal Open Market Committee) all made public appearances. Moreover, the comments by all three members of the Fed’s leadership explicitly or implicitly supported the idea that a December rate increase by the FOMC is a distinct possibility. (The possibility of a rate increase is even more distinct with this morning’s strong job market report.)”

Markets responded swiftly, according to The Wall Street Journal, as investors repositioned their portfolios in anticipation of a rate hike. While stock market indices remained relatively steady, there was considerable volatility within certain sectors. An expert cited by the publication commented:

“…one of the big rotation trades on Friday was investors taking money out of companies such as utilities and real-estate-investment trusts, and putting it into those that are expected to benefit from higher rates, such as financial companies.”

Conclusion

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Ben Bernanke: Buy One Suit, Get Three Free

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Linear thinking is dangerous

vitaly[By Vitaliy Katsenelson, CFA]

Linear thinking is dangerous. It is the easiest form of reasoning, lying on the path of least resistance. The simpler the path, the more readily people will march along it. Linear arguments are easy to make, as they require the least amount of evidence — past data points with a straight line drawn through them.However, the larger the crowd that follows the wrong line of reasoning, the more people pile in, and the greater the consequences if they are proved wrong.

A lot of things in nature, and thus in investing, are not linear. A past trend may or may not persist into the future. Events don’t happen in a vacuum; they are observed, studied and capitalized on — which in the case of investing may preclude a company’s future from resembling its past. As I write this, I think of successful companies whose achievements attracted competition, which then marginalized them.

Some things are inherently nonlinear, their behavior reminiscent of a pendulum’s: The further they swing in one direction, the harder they’ll go in the opposite direction. It is very dangerous to default to linearity with such nonlinear phenomena, as the more confident we become in the swing (the more linearity we observe), the closer we are to the pendulum’s reversing course.

Price-earnings ratios often follow a pendulum behavior. If you look at high-quality dividend-paying stocks — the Coca-Colas and Procter & Gambles of the world — they are now changing hands at more than 20 times earnings. Their recent performance has driven linear thinkers to pile into them, expecting more of the same in the future. Don’t! These stocks were beneficiaries of a swing in the P/E pendulum as it went from low to average and then to above-average levels.

Pattern recognition is an important contributor to success in investing. Mark Twain once said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. If you can identify a rhyme (that is, see a pattern) relating to the current situation, then you can develop a framework to analyze and forecast it. But what if the current situation is very different — if it doesn’t rhyme with anything in the past? This is where the ability to draw parallels becomes helpful. It allows you to overlay rhymes (patterns) from other companies, industries or even fields. Building analogous frameworks is a cure for linear thinking; it helps us see nonlinearity and facilitates the creation of nonlinear mental models.

Then there is pseudolinearity: things that seem to be linear but are forced into linearity by extrinsic factors. This was a subtopic of my presentation at the Valuex Vail investing conference in June. I drew a parallel between two entities that suddenly looked analogous: Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, a Hampstead, Maryland–based retailer of men’s apparel, and the Federal Reserve.

***

rote

***

Jos. A. Bank

Jos. A. Bank has always been a very promotional retailer. It would jack up prices, then run sales for consumers happy to be deceived — a typical American retail tale. But sometime in 2008, Jos. A. Bank went promotional on steroids. You could not watch CNBC for an hour without seeing one of its ads. The company started out by encouraging you to buy one suit and get one free. Then you got two free suits. Finally, it started giving away Android phones with suit purchases. For a while this past March, Jos. A. Bank offered consumers the opportunity to buy one suit and get three free.

There are several problems with the strategy: It does not emphasize the quality of the suits or the company’s great service, and the ads aren’t helping to build a brand but are intended just to pimp sales at Jos. A. Bank, as if it were a grocery store with USDA choice beef on sale.

This brings us to the latest quarter. Jos. A. Bank’s same-store sales dropped 8 percent, but what really piqued my interest was this explanation by its CEO, R. Neal Black, during its earnings call in June: “Since 2008, at the beginning of the financial crisis and the recession, the overall sales picture has been one of volatility, and strong promotional activity has been consistently and effectively driving our sales increases. This strategy was designed with 18 to 24 months of effectiveness in mind, and we stuck with it for more than 60 months since — as the economy remained weak. Now the strategy has become less effective.”

What Jos. A. Bank has really been doing since the financial crisis is running its own version of quantitative easing. The company had a temporary strategy that was supposed to get people into its stores during the recession — much like the Fed’s original QE, which was designed to provide liquidity in a time of crisis — but the recovery that ensued was not to Jos. A. Bank’s liking. So just as the Fed implemented QE2, and then QE3 when the economy did not improve to its satisfaction, the retailer followed with more QE.

It is understandable why Jos. A. Bank’s management did what it did. The company was being responsible to its employees — it didn’t want to close stores or have layoffs — and it had to report quarterly to shareholders. The focus shifted from building a long-term sustainable franchise to using short-term measures to grow earnings the next quarter and the quarter after that.

There are many lessons that one can draw from the parallels between Jos. A. Bank’s behavior and the Fed’s handling of our economy. First, it is very hard to challenge someone who has a linear argument. Let’s say that a year ago you talked to Jos. A. Bank’s management and raised the question of the sustainability of their advertising strategy. They’d have pointed to four years of success, and they’d have been right, at least up to that moment. They would have had four years of data points and a bulletproof linear argument, and you would have had your common sense and little else.

***

suit-869380__180

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Ben Bernanke

Right now Ben Bernanke looks like a genius. He can show you all the data points in the recovery, but so could Jos. A. Bank, and this leads us to a second lesson: Pain is postponable, but it is cumulative. During Jos. A. Bank’s quarterly call, its CEO also said: “The decline in traffic is because existing customers are returning slightly less frequently. . . . It makes sense when you consider the saturating effect of our intense promotional activity over the past several years.”

With every sale Jos. A. Bank stole its future purchases, because when you buy one suit and get three for free, you may not need to buy another one for a while.But there is also a snowball effect that you cannot ignore: Every ad chipped away at the company’s brand. Now when you show someone that you wear a Jos. A. Bank suit, they don’t think about its quality, just that you have two or three more suits in your closet.

There is a cost to our recovery — a bloated Federal Reserve balance sheet and our addiction to low interest rates. Of course, we spread that addiction globally.

According to Hugh Hendry, founding partner and CIO of London-based hedge fund firm Eclectica Asset Management, rising U.S. bond yields have driven global yields higher. “In Brazil for instance, the biggest emerging debt market, no company has been able to raise debt abroad since mid-May as borrowing costs soared to a four-year high in June, at 7.1 percent,” he wrote in a recent investment letter.

The Fed is betting on George Soros’ theory of reflexivity, in which people’s biases and actions can change the economy: Instead of the wagon being towed by the horse, the wagon, in expectation that it will be towed by the horse, starts moving on its own, thereby motivating the horse to start towing the wagon.Lower interest rates drive people to riskier assets, and as asset values go up, people feel confident and spend money, and the economy grows. But this policy puts us on very shaky ground, because reflexivity cuts both ways: If asset prices start to decline, confidence declines — and so will the economy. Now there are a lot more savers owning riskier assets than they otherwise would have, and their wealth is at risk of getting wiped out.

The third lesson from the parallels between the Fed and Jos. A. Bank: We are in the midst of a game of musical chairs, and when the music stops, no one wants to be left standing around holding risky assets. Everyone is focused on the Fed’s tapering, and they are right to do so. Just as we saw with Jos. A. Bank, economic promotions cannot go on forever. With every sale the company had to increase the ante, giving away more and more to get people to come into its stores. The Fed may continue to buy Treasuries and mortgage securities, but the purchases will be less and less effective. And the music may stop on its own, without the Fed doing anything about it.

Last, pseudolinearity eventually leads to high uncertainty and thus lower valuations. Put yourself in the shoes of an investor analyzing Jos. A. Bank today. Before buying the stock, you’d have to answer the following questions: What is the company’s earnings power? How much did its promotional strategy damage the brand? And how much in future sales did that strategy steal?

Assessment

In the wake of Jos. A. Bank’s own five-year, nonstop version of QE, it is difficult to answer these questions with confidence. The company’s earnings power is uncertain, and investors will be willing to pay less for a dollar of uncertain earnings, thus resulting in a lower P/E. At some point, when U.S. economic activity weakens, investors will have to answer similar questions about the U.S. and global economies. And as they look for answers, they’ll be putting a lower P/E on U.S. stocks.

ABOUT

Vitaliy N. Katsenelson CFA is Chief Investment Officer at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo. He is the author of Active Value Investing (Wiley 2007) and The Little Book of Sideways Markets (Wiley, 2010).  His books were translated into eight languages.  Forbes Magazine called him “The new Benjamin Graham”.  

Conclusion

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Doctors Living With Higher Stock Market Volatility

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Change is afoot in the market, the rally of which lulled many into complacency

DG

By David Gratke

Volatility, on vacation for most of the past few years, is back this fall for physician investors and us all. It hit a new 52-week high in mid-October, double the level of August. That means change is afoot in the market, whose rally lulled many into complacency. So. this is a good time to see where your portfolio stands in risk terms.

The last time volatility really spiked, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500 volatility index, or VIX, was the fall of 2011 when the market last corrected by 20%. Then, the VIX level was twice as high as now. Volatility is market price fluctuation, and it signals greater risk.

Financial Risk

financial risk

The root cause of higher volatility is that the world’s major central banks, including our Federal Reserve, have flooded markets with liquidity – printing money, if you will. In other words, in an effort to jump-start local economies, they have kept rates so low that stocks are artificially higher, and thus ripe for a price-churning correction. The insidious side-effect of this money printing has been to greatly reduce, if not extinguish, historical, and normal, market price fluctuations.

As David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer of Cumberland Advisors, puts it: “An era is ending: for over half a decade, nearly worldwide, zero interest rates suppressed volatilities. That is over.” The initial indication of this, Kotok says, was when then Fed-Chairman Ben Bernanke indicated that his bond-buying stimulus program was coming to an end. Well, now it’s over and the market fears interest rates are on the way up.

Investor Sentiment

Transferrable  Emotions

Stock market volatility can be measured and is used to gauge investor thinking, or what we call investor sentiment.

The VIX gauges investor sentiment. When volatility is low, the implication is that investors are complacent. Said differently, they are not paying attention to the underlying risks in the marketplace. Also during times of low volatility, markets are often fully valued, or even overvalued due to investor contentment.

When the VIX is high, as it was during the 2008-09 financial crisis, investors exhibited great amounts of fear. They sell out of their investments, and markets are typically undervalued.

Volatility was low prior to 2008, hovering around its historical average of 20. The index then zoomed to 90 during the 2008-09 stock market slide. In recent months, however, most notably June and July, we witnessed a historic low in this index, hovering near 10. Sure enough, there were high levels of margin balances and bullish investor sentiments, along with above-average stock valuations, as seen by lofty price/earnings ratios.

Now, the VIX is slightly below average, at about 15.

Since August, volatility rose from its sleepy historic mid-summer lows for many reasons: Middle East tensions, the Ebola outbreak, low gross domestic product growth, central bank stimulus slowing down, corporate stock buybacks, high P/E ratios, just to highlight a few.

Stock_Market

A New Normal?

Assuming this higher volatility is the new normal, what can you do about it? One alternative is to do nothing and ride this out. Another is to trade options, betting on which way the market will cut. But this is very risky and best done by professionals. Kotok says a volatility surge is a good time to examine your portfolio’s risk profile: His firm’s largest positions are in defensive stocks, like utilities and telecoms – ones that don’t tend to rocket around when the market gyrates.

During a recent volatility boost to the current level, in 2013, a Wall Street Journal story offered some market pros’ tips. Examples: putting money in a balanced fund, where stocks and bonds are in roughly equal proportion. Another warned that whenever stock holdings were over 70% of a portfolio, or under 30%, you are most vulnerable.

Regardless, Kotok cautions that “more and exciting volatilities lie ahead.”

Follow AdviceIQ on Twitter at @adviceiq.

About the Author

David Gratke is chief executive officer of Gratke Wealth LLC in Beaverton, Ore.

Conclusion

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How Bad Is Our National Debt Problem, Anyway?

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And … Will a Deal Fix It?

By Theodoric Meyer
ProPublica, Dec. 28, 2012, 12:34 p.m.

President Obama will meet with congressional leaders today [1] in another attempt to avert the fiscal cliff — the automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1st unless Congress can strike a deal. The cuts and tax hikes, which total more than $500 billion, are so large and so sudden that many economists fear they would plunge the country back into recession.

As Washington tries to hash out a deal, we’ve taken a step back to break down the numbers behind our deficit — how it grew so big, why it is actually shrinking and whether a deal can bring it under control.

How much are we in debt?

The federal debt is just shy of $16.4 trillion [2] at the moment, which also happens to be the debt limit that Congress set in 2011. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner announced on Wednesday [3] that the nation would hit the limit on Dec. 31. The Treasury can take some “extraordinary measures” to keep paying its bills for a few weeks, but it’ll run out of cash by February or March unless Congress raises the limit again.

And that’s different from the deficit, right?

Yes. The debt is the total amount of the government’s outstanding obligations. The deficit is how much the government is in the red in a given year. In the 2012 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the deficit amounted to $1.1 trillion [4].

That seems like a huge number. How did the deficit get so big?

The 2012 deficit was actually the smallest one since 2008. But it’s still a giant shortfall.

As Binyamin Appelbaum noted in The New York Times [5], the federal government has run a deficit in 45 of the last 50 years. (The exceptions were 1969 and 1998 through 2001.) The financial crisis in 2008, however, caused the deficit to skyrocket, as tax revenues fell because of the slump in incomes and production, and government spending on the stimulus and safety net measures such as unemployment insurance shot up. The deficit for the 2008 fiscal year was $455 billion. In 2009, it surged to more than $1.4 trillion.

Since then, the deficit has been falling, albeit very slowly. The government took in 6.4 percent more in taxes in 2012 than in 2011, as the economy improved a bit and several tax breaks expired. And it spent less on Medicaid, unemployment insurance and the continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What about the total debt? How much of that is President Obama’s fault?

The debt has grown by nearly $6 trillion since Obama took office, from $10.5 trillion to $16.4 trillion.

Figuring out how much of that is due to Obama is tougher. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, working with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, calculated in January [6] that the legislation Obama had actually signed — as opposed to factors like the economy — had added about $983 billion to the debt.

Klein has also rounded up several charts [7] that break down exactly what’s caused our debt to grow so large. The biggest single factor has been the weak economy; President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also fueled the debt buildup, as did President Obama’s stimulus.

Have debt levels ever been this high before?

Yes, proportionally. Economists like talk about a country’s debt in relation to its gross domestic product (a measure of the economy’s total annual output). And instead of using a country’s total outstanding debt to calculate this debt-to-GDP ratio, economists typically use the amount of debt held by the public. (Somewhat confusingly, the federal government holds about $5 trillion in obligations to itself, most of which is money owed to the funds that support Social Security and other programs.)

Using this measurement, our debt was about 67.7 percent of GDP last year. As this chart compiled by Quartz’s Ritchie King shows [8], that’s the highest our debt-to-GDP ratio has been since the 1940s, when the need to finance World War II caused the debt to surge to 112.7 percent of GDP. But the economy grew fast enough after the war that the debt soon became a much smaller percentage of the country’s GDP.

It’s worth noting that a number of other developed countries have higher debt-to-GDP ratios [9] than the U.S. Germany’s public debt is 80.6 percent of GDP, and Canada’s is 87.4 percent. The euro zone’s most troubled countries fare even worse: Italy’s debt is 120.1 percent of GDP; Greece’s is 165.3 percent.

US Capitol

At least we’re not Greece. How much longer can we keep borrowing?

That’s a tough one. Some commentators — including Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist and columnist for The New York Times — have argued that our current deficits are mostly a product of the sluggish economy. The deficit, Krugman wrote last week [10], “is a side-effect of an economic depression, and the first order of business should be to end that depression — which means, among other things, leaving the deficit alone for now.”

Other economists — including Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, who studied eight centuries’ worth of financial crises for their book “This Time Is Different” — argue that countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above a certain level tend to experience slower economic growth. Reinhart and Rogoff suggest the level is around 90 percent of GDP [11] — which the U.S. is rapidly approaching. A recent Congressional Research Service report [12] concluded that while the debt-to-GDP ratio can’t keep rising forever, “it can rise for a time.” The report continued:

It is hard to predict at what point bond holders would deem it to be unsustainable. A few other advanced economies have debt-to-GDP ratios higher than that of the United States. Some of those countries in Europe have recently seen their financing costs rise to the point that they are unable to finance their deficits solely through private markets. But Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any advanced economy, and it has continued to be able to finance its debt at extremely low costs.

How does all this fit into the fiscal cliff?  Would a deal to avert it fix our debt problem?

Actually, going over the fiscal cliff would almost singlehandedly erase the deficit. Tax rates would shoot up, and the fiscal cliff’s indiscriminate budget cuts would slash military and safety-net spending alike.

The problem is that all those tax increases and spending cuts would likely throw the economy back into a recession, causing the deficit to balloon again. “The economy will, I think, go off a cliff,” said Ben Bernanke [13], the Federal Reserve chairman.

(For more detail, see The Washington Post’s exhaustive fiscal cliff explainer [14].)

What the two sides are trying to do is identify cuts that are ultimately deep enough to bring down the deficit — and thus, eventually, the debt — without stalling the economy. But negotiations collapsed last week [15] after John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, tried and failed to pass a “Plan B” alternative to the president’s proposal in the House. Obama is set to meet with congressional leaders today to try to strike a deal to block at least some of the cliff’s impact by Monday night. But its prospects seem dim.

“I have to be very honest,” Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, said on Thursday. “I don’t know timewise how it can happen now.”

Assessment

Of course, some analysts have pointed out that people on both the Republican and the Democratic sides may actually want to move the cliff just slightly down the road into the next Congress, which convenes Thursday, Jan. 3. The advantages: Boehner can be safely re-elected as Speaker before he has to do serious twisting of arms of fellow GOP House members to get their votes for any compromise plan. And there will be a few more Democrats in the House and the Senate for the White House to rely on in enlisting the votes it needs to ratify any such deal. The disadvantage: Delay makes the risk of miscalculation greater for either or both sides — and for the public.

Link: http://www.propublica.org/article/how-bad-is-our-debt-problem-anyway-and-will-a-deal-fix-it

Conclusion

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Understanding The Federal Reserve Act

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[By Staff Reporters]

Uncovering The FED

In the early 20th century, a financial crisis led panicked citizens to withdraw all their money at once, damaging banks. By 1913, Congress responded with the Federal Reserve Act, creating 12 regional banks acting as a federal bank to deal in local and global affairs with both private banks and the federal government.

Balancing v. Manipulation

Some say the Fed was meant to create a balanced economy, while others argue its purpose was to inorganically manipulate free enterprise, rescuing banks that we’d be better off without.

Assessment

Is the Fed still doing its job today? What secrets are being kept from us and how are the Fed’s actions impacting our economy?

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CBO Director Elmendorf on Debt and Taxes

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A CBO Political Review

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is responsible for providing Congress with financial estimates for future budget and tax policies. CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf testified before the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives on June 6.

Elmendorf started by noting that the public federal debt for the past 40 years has averaged 38% of the economy. At the end of 2008, the public debt was 40% of gross domestic product (GDP). By the end of 2012, the public debt will be 70% of GDP.

Elmendorf pointed out that there are two major trends that will substantially impact the federal budget. First, there are 78 million baby boomers that will be retiring and receiving benefits from Social Security and Medicare. Second, the cost of healthcare for the past decade has been increasing more rapidly than the general inflation rate. He suggests that this increasing cost for healthcare is going to continue for the foreseeable future.

Elmendorf then offered two scenarios for the future. He called these the “baseline scenario” and the “alternative scenario.”

Baseline Scenario

The baseline scenario assumes that the current law will be applicable. On January 1, 2013, the existing tax cuts will expire. In addition to higher tax rates, many individuals will be subject to alternative minimum tax. Finally, the 3.8% tax under the Affordable Care Act will apply starting in 2013.

With the substantial tax increases under the baseline scenario, federal tax revenue increases to 24% of the economy by the year 2037. Elmendorf noted that this would be the highest level of taxation since World War II. Under this scenario, the increasing tax revenue permits debt to be reduced from the current 70% to 53% of GDP by 2037.

The alternative scenario assumes that Congress will follow the pattern of the past four years. The tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 will be extended. The alternative minimum tax exemptions will be indexed. The $5.12 million applicable exclusion amount for gift and estate taxes will continue (with indexed increases in future years). Medicare payment rates for physicians will continue to increase. This last provision has been called the “Doc Fix” in Washington. Finally, federal budgets will continue with the same general provisions that exist today.

Under the alternative scenario, the increasing deficits lead to public debt of 90% of GDP by 2022. With the rising expenditures for the baby boom generation, the public debt increases to 200% of GDP by 2037.

Elmendorf Opines

Elmendorf noted that many economists believe that this large debt may lead to creation of fewer new jobs. He suggested that it will be necessary to increase revenue and decrease spending substantially from projected levels to avoid a large increase in the national debt. He did not specify how this should be accomplished.

Assessment

Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke also testified before Congress this week. He pointed out that January 1 is a “fiscal cliff” that could have great impact on the nation. Bernanke believes that the scheduled increase in taxes and reduction in spending should be spaced out over time to avoid a dramatic impact in January. However, he also declined to offer any advice on specific ways to increase taxes or cut spending.

Editor’s Note: These discussions in Congress are preparations for the legislative session that will occur following the November election. Congress is debating the combination of tax increases and budget cuts to pass this year. In addition, preparations are being made for a major tax reform act in 2013.

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