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The Market Weighs in on Trump’s Economic Policies

The whole of Trump’s economic policy has been a massive injection of debt into an already healthy economy

To be sure, the higher interest rates borne of Trump’s profligate borrowing will deliver huge returns to his true base: the rich.(Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

To be sure, the higher interest rates borne of Trump’s profligate borrowing will deliver huge returns to his true base: the rich.(Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

The almost 1,400 point, two day drop in the Dow was the market putting its money where its mouth is on Trump’s economic and trade policies.  Like so much else that is of Trump, it’s ugly.

Just as Trump was gifted $400+ million dollars from his father and claimed to be a Self Made Man, so, too, he inherited an economy and stock market from Obama that had been rising for the prior eight years, since March 2009.  In true Trumpian fashion, he claimed to have created the greatest economy of all time. 

In truth, the whole of Trump’s economic policy has been a massive injection of debt into an already healthy economy. His tax cuts for corporations and deficit spending for military expansion have added more than $2 trillion to the national debt in just two years.  It’s like injecting adrenaline into an already healthy runner in the middle of a marathon. 

That’s all the Trump economy is: borrowing trillions of dollars from the future, spending it today, and pretending to be a genius.

Let’s be clear.  Any moron with a handful of credit cards charged off to the next generation can gin up the illusion of prosperity.  That’s all the Trump economy is:  borrowing trillions of dollars from the future, spending it today, and pretending to be a genius. But the market has figured it out. Here’s what it knows.

Borrowing money when the economy is already strong raises interest rates. It’s just supply and demand. Trump’s aggressive deficit spending has pushed up the demand for borrowed money. The price of borrowed money is the interest rate. So, interest rates are soaring.  

The interest cost on a 10-year Treasury note is up almost 36% from a year ago, from 2.2% to 3.0% today. Rates on 30-year mortgages are up 19% over the same period.  Remember, the interest rate is the cost of borrowed money.  So, when interest rates rise, everything that requires borrowed money—think cars, homes, credit cards, student loans, inventories—becomes more expensive.    

As you would expect, when things get more expensive, people buy less of them. It’s hitting the residential construction industry especially hard. Existing home sales are down by more than 400,000 units since this time last year.  Building permits are off 6% year-over-year.  Mortgage applications are off 15% from a year ago.  Housing starts are off 5%.  It’s the beginning of a debacle. 

At the same time, higher interest rates drive up the value of the dollar, because foreigners need to purchase dollars to be able to buy those Treasuries that are now yielding higher rates.  But a stronger dollar means that foreign goods become cheaper to American buyers, who spend more on imports, while American goods become more expensive to foreigners, who buy less of them.  A trade deficit drains money directly out of the economy. 

So, the trade deficit, which Trump promised to reduce (just as he promised to reduce the budget deficit) just jumped dramatically, up 9% year-over-year in June. In August, exports were off .8% while imports were up .6%.  This is textbook economics 101. 

The trade deficit with China, an especially important measure of Trump’s economic prowess—jumped 10% in July.  Since Trump took office, the overall trade deficit—that is, money draining out of the U.S. economy—is up a startling 17%.  Notice, Trump doesn’t talk about the trade deficit any more.  Guess why. 

These are the canaries in the coal mine of an economy that has been driven beyond its sustainable capacity by too much government borrowing and is now cresting.  Think of the marathon runner as the adrenaline starts to wear off.  The crash will be agonizing.  This is what the stock market is now signaling.    

The market and its players know that the recent runup in stock prices was driven entirely by companies using their Trump-given tax cuts to buy back their own stock.

The market and its players know that the recent runup in stock prices was driven entirely by companies using their Trump-given tax cuts to buy back their own stock. That drove up the prices of stocks. The companies have conspicuously not used the money for big investments in plant and equipment, or research and development, or, God forbid, higher wages for employees. 

But unless there are more such deficit-driven tax gifts for corporations in the future, that’s as high as it goes.  The money’s used up.  In the long run, there has to be some correspondence between a company’s earnings and its stock price, not just between tax scams and its stock price.  The free-fall in prices is the stock market readjusting itself to reflect that long-term reality. 

The market is reminding us that real, long-term, sustainable economic growth is the product of broad and deep investments in economic infrastructure, plant and equipment, scientific research, innovation, and improved productive skills on the part of the workforce.  These are precisely the kinds of investments Trump has not made.  Nor will he.  They don’t deliver short-term glitz like deficits do.  Or, like lying does.

To be sure, the higher interest rates borne of Trump’s profligate borrowing will deliver huge returns to his true base: the rich. It is they, after all, who are now loaning the trillions of dollars of money the government and the economy need to operate, and at much higher interest rates. 

But more money shunted to interest payments means less money available for the purchase of everything else in the economy.  It is a dollar-for-dollar transfer from borrowers, which is to say the 150 million-odd workers in the economy, to lenders, the very richest people on earth.  That was always the plan, but it means a dollar-for-dollar fall in purchasing power in the real economy, an ominous omen for future corporate profits.

Like so much else that is Trump—his business savvy, his negotiating skills, his Self Made Man charade—his economic “miracle” is a fraud.  We’re just now getting a glimpse into the beginning of the end.  It will be a long way down. 

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Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman is the author of The Best One Hour History series, which includes World War I, The French Revolution, The Vietnam War, and other titles.  He is the founder of One Dollar For Life, a nonprofit that builds infrastructure projects in the developing world from donations as small as one dollar.

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