Following months, if not years, of pre-election positioning, discussion and policy proposing, focus can now be placed on the variety of issues affecting the economy and capital markets. For the most part, policy players remain the same. Only the urgency to make progress has changed, as time has elapsed.
Looking at the domestic front, several key issues are receiving significant attention. First, the upcoming fiscal cliff must be addressed. If tax increases come into effect and mandatory spending cuts are enforced, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product will be negatively impacted, with some economic prognosticators saying the U.S. will return to a recessionary environment. Various business and media leaders have urged the president and congressional leaders to "rise above" the political rhetoric and do what is needed for the best of the country.
A second domestic concern is the ongoing very low interest-rate environment. Led by the Federal Reserve's initiatives to keep short-term borrowing at or near zero interest-rate levels combined with the Fed's purchases of longer-term mortgage-backed securities and U.S. Treasury bonds designed to lower longer-term interest rates, the struggling economic activity is being fed by ultra-cheap borrowing costs. Low interest rates are artificially masking the borrowing costs of the ballooning U.S. government debt level. At the same time, anyone with savings in interest rate-bearing instruments is receiving an artificially low return on their savings. In a very general sense, those who save are penalized while those who borrow are rewarded.
International economic concerns, while somewhat outside the direct influence of U.S. fiscal and monetary policies, do deserve attention and are partially influenced by U.S. domestic economic activities. Euro zone finances remain questionable. Debt levels in Greece, Italy, Spain and some other countries have grown to the point that significant cuts are needed in government spending, and increased taxes of all varieties are being considered.
In China, the once-a-decade-leadership transition is taking place. No doubt these newly appointed political leaders will want to ensure ongoing economic growth, continue the improving standard of living in that country and promote the global economic footprint of China. U.S. trade, currency and general economic policies toward China and the other growing Asian economies will remain important aspects of U.S. economic prosperity.
With the latest round of U.S. political elections now behind us, many believe it is now time to focus on policies and actions designed to accelerate economic growth, spur job creation and get the burgeoning U.S. government debt balance under control.
Kirby Brown is the CEO of Beneficial Financial Group in Salt Lake City.