Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dear President Obama, from Bill Gross of PIMCO

A Wall Streeter (well, he works in Newport Beach, CA, but Wall Street is not just an address) gives advice to the soon-to-be-new President. It can be summed up as: stop obfuscating, prime the pump, do some Keynesian deficit spending, and get the economy going. You're inheriting a wicked mess from W and Dick, so get ready to do some heavy lifting. It'll be tough, but here's how to get it done. Fascinating reading.

Thought I would jot down this little note to President Obama.
It’s a little presumptive of course; first that he’ll even be President (he will)
and second that he’d read it (he won’t). But presumptiveness is an inherent
requirement of an investment manager and so I shall proceed.

Dear President Obama:

You have inherited a mess. Your predecessor, fixated on emulating a former Republican icon from a far different economic era, chose to emphasize tax cuts for the rich and excessive consumption for all Americans. He promoted deregulation and free markets when, in fact, the markets and their institutions needed tough love. Over eight years, he failed to put forth a coherent energy policy. He needlessly invaded Iraq and lowered worldwide esteem for this nation as a symbol of freedom and benevolence. But enough about W’s spilt milk.

I myself won’t enjoy paying that near 50 percent marginal tax rate after you remove the current cap on the payroll tax, but my wealthy neighbors and I in Newport Beach should just look at it this way: we’ve had an eight-year lease extension on the “high life.” Now it’s time to give something back and I suspect we won’t be working any less hard. That ol’ Laffer Curve has a certain logic to it, but it only makes sense at the upper margin.

By January, home prices will be down another 10 percent or so and our Japanese-style property deflation will be in full stride. Congress will have had its summer recess though and spent September and October on the campaign trail. They had to get re-elected you know, so those homeowners just had to wait.

You’re smarter than Ronald Reagan and too nice of a guy to distort reality like King George. So let’s start out by dropping all of that “budget neutral” rhetoric and admit where we’re headed. Your administration will produce this nation’s first trillion dollar deficit!

You’ve inherited an asset-based economy whose well has been pumped nearly dry with lower and lower interest rates and lender of last resort liquidity provisions that have managed to support Ponzi-style prosperity in recent years.

this economy will need an additional jolt of $500 billion or so of government spending real quick. It must replace both reduced residential investment and consumption whose decline has placed the U.S. economy near, if not in a recession. Some quick math for you Sir: gross private domestic investment (machines, houses, inventories) has declined by $200 billion since its peak in late 2006. Due to higher unemployment and energy costs, domestic consumption will soon be $300 billion less than it should be if we are to return to historical economic growth rates. According to that old C + I + G formula (scratch the trade deficit for now) when C + I is reduced by $500 billion, then G should increase by that amount in order to fill the gap. The G, Sir, is you – the government deficit, the fiscal stabilizer popularized by Keynes following the Depression. And since the fiscal deficit for 2008 is likely to press $500 billion even before you take the oath of office, well there you have it: $500 billion + $500 billion = $1 trillion big ones, probably by sometime in 2011 or so. It takes time to spend those types of bucks.

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