2020 Forecast for Markets & Elections

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Just because impeachment is almost over and it’s an election year does not mean that Congress won’t be the scene of anti-Trump activity. Congress is set to keep up the pressure on Trump on a daily basis, and the attacks will continue.

Investors should not be shocked if the House impeaches Trump a second time.

There’s no legal limit on the number of times a president can be impeached or the number of articles of impeachment that can move forward. The House impeached Trump in 2019 on bogus claims that aren’t even crimes. If they did it once, they can do it again.

Some of the new charges being floated include whether it was legal for Trump to order the killing of mastermind terrorist Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The killing was clearly legal since Soleimani had officially been declared a “terrorist” under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Act (AUMF) and Iran had been declared a state sponsor of terrorism.

Both designations allowed the U.S. legally to kill a terrorist on foreign soil who was planning terrorist acts against the U.S. Obama had used the same legal rationale to kill hundreds of terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Still, Democrats are claiming that this was an “assassination,” which is illegal under U.S. law. You can expect congressional hearings and possible impeachment charges along these lines this spring.

Another potential impeachable offensive consists of violations of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution alleging that Trump profits when foreign diplomats stay in his hotels. He doesn’t; Trump returns any revenues to the U.S. Treasury.

The House of Representatives can also be expected to hold hearings on alleged Trump “money laundering” in connection with property development in Russia. There’s no evidence of this, but that won’t stop Democrats from making the allegation.

Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank and its financing of his hotels and other properties including the identities of third-party investors will also come under scrutiny.

Other anti-Trump efforts will include hearings to get testimony from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo related to the Soleimani killing and testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton related to the Ukrainian military aid that triggered the first impeachment.

New matters related to Ukraine are also emerging in connection with reported Russian hacking of Burisma, the Ukrainian company that paid Hunter Biden (Joe Biden’s son) millions of dollars for a no-show job for which he was unqualified.

Somehow Democrat critics of Trump can’t get enough of the Russian collusion allegations, even though the Mueller investigation showed no connection at all between Russia and Trump.

All of these matters (Soleimani, property finance, Ukraine and War Powers in Iran) may form the basis for new articles of impeachment against Trump.

This could play out over the course of the spring and summer just as the campaign season is heating up. This may be designed to stir up the Democrat base, but it will probably have the opposite effect of increasing turnout of Trump supporters.

With or without new articles of impeachment, the congressional hearings, bogus claims and anti-Trump rhetoric will continue without relief. Trump will stay on track, but markets may weary of the uncertainty and be worn down by the hyperbolic rhetoric.

Alongside the drama of impeachment and the scandals yet to be revealed, we still have the economy and stock market for investors to focus on. And right now they’re looking good for Trump.

There is almost zero risk of a recession in the next three months and less than a 20% chance of a recession before November. That’s good news for Trump because a recession (or lack of one) is the single strongest indicator of whether an incumbent president will be reelected.

The probability of Trump’s reelection is roughly the inverse of the probability of a recession before the election. If recession odds are 20%, then Trump’s reelection odds are roughly 80% (with adjustment for various factors).

Each month that goes by reduces the odds of a preelection recession even further, which means that Trump’s reelection odds go up. Trump should have a 90% chance of winning by Election Day absent extreme and unexpected economic shocks in the next nine months.

Trump’s chances are also helped by the weakness of his opponents. Americans have shown no appetite for the kind of socialism being touted by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Pete Buttigieg lacks African-American support, which is indispensable for a Democrat. Joe Biden lacks energy and is exhibiting some cognitive problems that will raise serious doubts among voters and hurt his debate performance.

What about the Fed?

The Fed will cut interest rates at least once before the election. This rate cut will not happen at the March or April FOMC meetings because that’s too soon after the Fed told markets it was hitting the “pause” button last December.

The rate cut will not happen in the July or September FOMC meetings because that’s too close to the election and the Fed does not want to appear to be tipping the scales in favor of one party or the other. The Fed will be on hold from July until after the election.

Through a simple process of elimination, the Fed will cut rates in June.

The Fed’s reasons for the rate cut (which markets do not expect) will not be explicitly to help Trump’s reelection (although that will be one consequence). The reason will be to provide an insurance policy against disinflation and recession. The Fed knows its hands will be tied until December, so it will provide a rate cut just to be on the safe side.

A June rate cut will give another boost to stocks, which should continue to perform well. As the election approaches and Trump’s victory becomes more apparent, stocks will gather momentum in expectation of four more years of lower taxes, less regulation and a pro-business environment.

Gold will also get a boost from another rate cut. This comes on top of continued strong buying from Russia, China and Iran and flat output by miners. Geopolitics play a big role in gold prices as a “flight to quality” trend emerges during each overseas crisis. The coronavirus has been a major factor that has taken gold past $1,600 an ounce. The next crisis will send gold even further.

But how might this November’s election affect the political balance in Congress?

As things stand today, not only will Trump be reelected but Republicans should hang onto control of the Senate and possibly retake the House of Representatives. Control of the White House and the Senate alone gives Republicans control of judicial appointments (including one or two more Supreme Court Justice seats) and control of treaties.

Retaking the House will be more difficult but not at all impossible. Presidents typically lose seats in the House in their first midterm election after winning the White House. Trump’s losses in 2018 were actually fewer than Clinton’s in 1994 (when Newt Gingrich led Republicans to the majority for the first time since 1955) and Obama’s in 2010 (when the tea party arose to reject Obama’s policies).

There were 31 Democrats elected in 2018 in districts that Trump had won by five or more points in 2016. All but two of those Democrats voted in favor of impeachment. One of those two has since switched to the Republican Party.

Today, the Republican Party holds 197 seats in the House. Control of the House requires 218 seats. The Republicans need a net gain of 21 seats to take control of the House. With 30 highly vulnerable Democrats (because of impeachment) and demonstrated coattails on the part of President Trump, picking up 21 of those 30 seats (while holding all existing seats) seems well within reach.

A Republican clean sweep of the White House, the Senate and the House with ongoing control of the Supreme Court and other judicial appointments is the most likely outcome for November 2020.

But, there will be a lot of land mines exploding between now and then. Call it another year of living dangerously.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

The post 2020 Forecast for Markets & Elections appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The Fight For 2020 Has Begun

This post The Fight For 2020 Has Begun appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The focus of the anti-Trump forces has shifted. Trump was not removed from office as his opponents had hoped. And the long-awaited Mueller report on “collusion” by Trump with Russia has turned out to be an anticlimax showing no collusion. In fact, Trump is on track to complete a mainly successful first term.

Instead, the “resistance,” aided by the deep state and the media, have turned their attention to the 2020 election. Efforts to harass and distract Trump are now mainly for the purpose of weakening Trump’s reelection prospects and promoting the election of an opponent from among a field of Democratic candidates.

The greatest question facing President Trump over the next 18 months is whether or not he can avoid a recession. If he can, he stands an excellent chance of reelection. If he doesn’t, then a Democrat will likely win.

Trump supporters will be the first to tell you that the stock market has rallied from 18,529 on the Dow Jones industrial average index the day before Trump was elected to about 26,680 as of today. That’s nearly a 45% gain in 29 months.

Unemployment is near 50-year lows. African-American and Hispanic unemployment is at an all-time low. Labor force participation is steady after falling during the Obama years. Food stamp usage is down. Housing prices are up. Inflation is under control.

Growth in 2018 was above the 10-year trend since the end of the last recession and 2018 was the best full-year growth of that entire period. Real wages have shown their best gains in over 10 years.

While the economy is not booming by historical standards, it is producing its best performance since the global financial crisis. The U.S. economy looks particularly strong when compared with major trading partners such as the U.K., France, Italy, Japan and Germany. Even China is slowing dramatically as the U.S. continues to perform as a reliable engine of world growth.

The foregoing economic track record is repeated by Trump supporters and their (few) media allies on a daily basis. Most of the media simply ignore these data and continue the Trump bashing about the Mueller report and Trump’s business practices. These dueling narratives are by now business as usual when it comes to Trump.

But behind the media spin curtain, there is some reason to be concerned about the economy.

Manufacturing output is declining, both on a month-over-month and year-over-year basis. U.S. capacity utilization is showing a recent slight decline. Certain indexes of new orders and shipments are also showing declines. Imports and trade deficits have both increased sharply. The yield curve is slightly inverted in the 2–5-year sector.

None of these indicators is declining to extreme levels and there are other indicators showing positive results. None is pointing to a recession in the short run, but all should be worrisome to Trump.

His supporters continually recite the claim that this is “the best economy ever.” It’s not.

The Fed continues to tighten (through balance sheet normalization if not rate hikes) despite signs of a slowing economy. The problem is that monetary policy acts with a lag of 12–18 months. The economy is slowing now, not because of the December 2018 rate hike, but because of rate hikes in December 2017 and March 2018. The Fed’s later rate hikes in 2018 have yet to take hold.

They will soon and the economy will slow further. This dynamic can be seen clearly in Chart 1 below:

Chart 1

When the trend is not your friend. While GDP got a bump in the second quarter of 2018 as a result of the Trump tax cuts (4.2% annual growth), it appears that growth is declining rapidly toward the 2.24% average annual growth since the end of the last recession in June 2009. Obama also achieved several quarters of over 4% growth, but those strong quarters quickly reverted to the 2% level or lower. 

Trump boosters pointed to the 4.2% annual growth in the second quarter of 2018 as “proof” that the president’s economic policies were returning the U.S. to sustainable above-trend growth. My view at the time was that Q2 growth was a temporary pop from the late–2017 tax cuts (effective Jan. 1, 2018), but we needed more data before drawing conclusions.

Now the data are in. Growth dropped from 4.2% to 3.4% in the third quarter and dropped again to 2.6% in the fourth quarter. Estimates for the first quarter of 2019 by the Atlanta Fed call for annual growth of only 2.8%. In short, the “Trump bump” is over and U.S. growth is trending towards the post-2009 trend of 2.24% (well below the post-1980 long-term trend of 3.23%).

None of these trends (tight money, inverted yield curve, slower growth, etc.) is a sure predictor of recession, but all give some cause for concern. The current expansion (118 months long) is just a few months short of being the longest expansion in U.S. history. However, it is also the weakest expansion in U.S. history. The current expansion shows none of the inflation, labor shortages or capacity shortages that historically cause the Fed to raise rates and trigger a recession.

The Fed is conducting a balancing act between higher rates (to get ready for the next recession) and rate hike “pauses” (to avoid causing a recession now). So far, this finesse has worked, but it’s a delicate balance that could easily tip into recession. In addition, there are other factors (trade wars, global slowdown, financial panic) that are beyond the Fed’s control and could also lead to a recession.

Essentially, the difference between no recession and a recession over the next 18 months is also the difference between Trump’s re-election and the election of a Democrat in 2020.

But recession is the hardest to forecast with great accuracy and is therefore the biggest wild card. Trump was elected in large part, despite his off-putting demeanor, because he promised a better economy. He has delivered in part, but has to keep delivering.

In effect, Trump’s probability of victory is simply the inverse of the probability of a recession in the next 18 months. If recession odds are 40%, then Trump’s chance of losing is also 40%. The inverse is a 60% chance of winning. As goes the economy, so goes Trump.

If the economy goes into a recession, that could translate into a voter search for a new economic solution and that could lead straight to the Democratic promise of “free everything.”

Will the present odds change? You bet. As investors, the key is to stay nimble and stay alert to updates. As a Daily Reckoning  reader, you’ll be the first to know.

The impact of this election cycle on markets will be profound and the stakes for investors have never been higher. The time for investors to prepare is today.

That means you’ll want to be ready with a portfolio of gold, silver, fine art, land, cash, intermediate-term Treasury notes, and private equity.

And buckle in. It could be a very bumpy ride ahead.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

The post The Fight For 2020 Has Begun appeared first on Daily Reckoning.