The Keynesian Trifecta . . . Taxes, Spending Cliff and Debt Ceiling

Takeaway: The fiscal cliff and debt ceiling loom large in 2013. Even Romer is worried about growth!

Tax changes have very large effects: an exogenous tax increase of 1 percent of GDP lowers real GDP by roughly 2 to 3 percent."

                -National Bureau of Economic Research

We have been at times criticized for using Keynesianism in a derogatory sense as it relates to economic policy.  Critics of this use suggest that current policy makers are not really true Keynesians and are misusing and misinterpreting, the tenets of Keynesian economic policy.  This may well be true and we will fully admit that Keynes has become a bit of a straw man of sorts for us. 


Nonetheless, there is no denying that government deficit spending has led to unsustainable debt loads globally.  In the United States, the outcome of a decade of unfettered deficit spending is coming to a head in the next quarter with what we are calling the Keynesian Trifecta – increased taxes, lower government spending, and another debt ceiling.


On the first point of taxes, based on current policy we are set to undergo perhaps the most meaningful tax increases in a generation effective 2013.  The quote above comes from a paper co-written by Christina Romer, formerly President Obama’s chief economic advisor entitled, “The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks.”  The key takeaway is that tax increases in the short run negatively impact growth.


The key areas in which the tax increases are coming in 2013, which the Washington Post has aptly named Taxmageddon, include:

  • 34% of the tax increases come from the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts (includes capital gains and dividend increases);
  • 25% of the tax increase comes from an expiration of the temporary payroll tax cut (including on Social Security deductions); and
  • The remainder largely comes from new taxes under the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare).

Below, we’ve attached a graphic that looks at the scale of the coming tax increases.  There are many estimates for the actual annual scale, but the range is $380 - $450 billion.  On a GDP base of just north of $15 trillion, this accounts to an aggregate GDP tax of 2 – 3%.  


The Keynesian Trifecta . . . Taxes, Spending Cliff and Debt Ceiling - 1


In the current form, the tax increases look to impact a wide portion of the tax base.  The key exception is the purported middle class, so those unmarried filers making less than $35K per year or married joint filers making less than $70K per year.  In the table below, prepared by our Financials Sector Head Josh Steiner, we look at tax increases by both income level and also by line item.  The key takeaway is that the upcoming tax increase will be broad based and comprehensive.


In fact, a report released today from the Tax Policy Center finds that 90 percent of Americans will see their taxes go up starting January 1st. The average tax increase will be $3,500 and the typical middle-income taxpayer will see his or her tax bill go up by $2,500.  


The Keynesian Trifecta . . . Taxes, Spending Cliff and Debt Ceiling - 2


In conjunction with these tax increases is the automatic cut in government spending that is going to occur under the Budget Control Act of 2011.  Since the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to implement a $1.5 trillion deficit reduction plan, the sequestration process is triggered.   Sequestration cuts are not new in the United States (three under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit targets and two under the statutory discretionary spending caps), but this round will be the largest in terms of scale.


One interesting note is that while the federal fiscal year ends in September, the first year of sequestration doesn’t begin until January 2013.  As a result, a year of cuts will be squeezed into nine months.  As American Progress wrote:


“On a percentage basis the cuts would have to be about a third larger than the 8.5 percent to 10 percent required for the year as a whole. Such programs would face cuts of between 11.3 percent and 13.3 percent during that nine-month period.”


Therefore at a time when we are set to see tax increases that are as large as the U.S. economy has experienced in a generation, the cuts in government spending will also be magnified.  


The Budget Control Act spells out the steps that the Office of Management and Budget must take due to the lack of agreement by the Joint Committee.  In 2013, sequestration cuts will be equally split between defense and non-defense for a total of $109.3 billion in total cuts.  In terms of the non-defense cuts, it is expected that $16.7 billion come from mandatory programs with the bulk coming from Medicare.


In the long run, we are firm believers that taking capital away from the government and giving it back to the people to more efficiently allocate is a great thing.  In the short run, though, we do need to be aware that deep cuts in government spending will be a headwind to growth.  On the basis of $109.3 billion in spending cuts, this will be an incremental -0.5% detractor from GDP in 2013.


Finally, as if the cliff weren’t enough, the debt ceiling is about to be breeched again.   The statutory debt limit is $16.4 trillion.  As of September 28th, the total debt outstanding of the U.S. government was $16.0 trillion. The estimated required debt issuance for Q4 2012 is $316 billion.  This would mean that the implied capacity going into 2013 is $50.1 billion.  Therefore the debt ceiling is likely to be breached in January 2013.  In reality, the ceiling can likely be extended a quarter or two based on a number of one-time items, but will most definitely be hit in the first half of 2013.


The Keynesian Trifecta . . . Taxes, Spending Cliff and Debt Ceiling - 3


 If you recall to the summer of 2011, the debt ceiling was a major catalyst for the market.  In the last chart we highlight the impact to equity markets in the summer of 2011 as uncertainty around the debt ceiling accelerated.  From July 1st the S&P 500 went from 1,315 to its summer trough of 1,127 on August 22nd - for an aggregate decline of some 14%. 


The Keynesian Trifecta . . . Taxes, Spending Cliff and Debt Ceiling - SP500


As if Taxmagedon weren’t enough . . . the Keynesian Trifecta is looming on the horizon and will slow growth and potentially be a negative catalyst for the equity markets.


Daryl G. Jones

Director of Research






Housing is improving but still not good enough


  • We’ve shown that housing prices have historically been the most statistically significant macro variable in explaining gaming revenue growth
  • While better, home prices were still down YoY in Q2.  The good news is that price change might be on the positive side in Q3.
  • The mortgage delinquency rate continues to slope downward which is a decent economic barometer.  However, that could also mean that more people are paying their mortgage or have moved out and are now paying rent.  Either way, it likely means less monthly discretionary spending which could be impacting gaming spend.  This phenomenon could continue to suppress locals gaming revenue.



Takeaway: Latin America is reminding US policymakers of the unpleasant direction in which they're steering the US economy.



  • From excessive froth in Mexican capital markets to a serial CPI under-reporter (Argentina) calling out the US for being guilty of the same to Latin America’s resident socialist (Hugo Chavez) giving Obama a hyper-supportive thumbs up, recent occurrences and quotes from Latin American companies and policymakers have shed an unflattering light on the direction of US monetary and fiscal policy.
  • As it relates to specific investment ideas and themes across Latin America, we maintain our TAIL-duration bearish thesis on Argentinean peso-denominated assets as the continued popping of Bernanke’s Bubbles perpetuates both currency devaluation and sovereign default risk. Refer to the following two notes for more details: “ARGENTINA, IMPLODING” (APR 18) and “POPPING BERNANKE’S BUBBLES: READING THE WRITINGS ON THE WALL” (SEP 4).
  • Additionally, we maintain our bullish intermediate-term bias on Brazilian equities – though certainly on a short leash amid the backdrop of potential global economic contraction. Our view on Brazil is supported by our quant levels on the Bovespa, our country-specific economic models and our analysis of historic cycles (OCT ’08 bottom in the Bovespa Index). For more details here, refer to our SEP 25 note titled, “IDEA ALERT: BUYING BRAZILIAN EQUITIES (EWZ)”.



Mexican auto parts maker Sanluis Rassini SA in planning to market $250 million of B-rated 10yr bonds to international investors – just two years after the holding company in charge of the unit defaulted and 10yrs since its parent company stopped servicing its debt! While we are certainly not surprised to see the issuance pipeline filled with complete junk at/near all-time highs across a bevy of liquid asset markets globally, we would be surprised if this did not ultimately turn out to be yet another signal of the Topping Process underway across international capital markets.


Pause for a second and read the following sentence slowly: A company that has defaulted twice in the last 10yrs is marketing a quarter-billion dollars of 10yr, B-rated debt to yield-starved international investors – at/near the top of the global economic cycle.


We maintain that the academically-partisan Policies To Inflate out of the Fed, ECB and BOJ continue to fuel a broad-based mispricing of credit risk across international capital markets – a phenomenon that is directly born out of the Dare To Chase Yield and perpetuated via gross capital misallocation and malinvestments. From our purview, this is precisely why global economic growth and the domestic labor market continues to remain sluggish, as both continue to reel from allowing bad actors and bad investments to remain liquid.


Moreover, we believe that recessions and cyclical growth slowdowns are healthy insomuch that they promote an effective transition away from outdated growth strategies that no longer work. It’s highly unlikely that the global economy will ever be able to achieve any semblance of sufficient and sustainable economic growth if policymakers continue to incessantly manage their own career risk by attempting to reflate asset price bubbles, rather than promoting new organic growth opportunities. Refer to our AUG 10 note titled, “THINKING OUT LOUD RE: GLOBAL GROWTH” for more of our thoughts on this topic. But don’t just take our word for it; the Dallas Fed agrees wholeheartedly:



In a response to IMF managing director Christine Lagarde’s plan to censure the Argentine economy (i.e. blacklisted from the bailout bonus pool) for not allowing the Washington D.C.-based organization to conduct its Article IV consultation of the country’s official economic statistics, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez recently said she would not accept any threats from the institution and followed up by saying:


What were the statistics of Portugal, of England, of this country? Do you really believe them? Do you really believe the cost of living in the United States is rising just 2 percent?”

–Cristina Fernandez at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.


For a bit of background here, this is the embodiment of the pot calling the kettle black, as Argentina has been serially underreporting CPI since her late husband Nestor cleaned house at the country’s national statistics agency INDEC back in 2007. Last year, the government fined more than a dozen researchers as much as 500,000 pesos ($106,000) each for reporting inflation rates that were in the range of 10-15 percentage points higher than official rates – which are already elevated to begin with (+10% YoY in AUG). By artificially suppressing the reporting of inflation, the Fernandez’s have been able to A) record higher rates of real GDP growth than otherwise possible and B) limit interest payments on inflation-protected debt securities, which, at $37.6 billion outstanding, account for ~21% of Argentine sovereign debt. It’s worth noting that the securities are down -13.7% in the YTD.




In calling out the US, which continues to pursue a brand of ultra-easy monetary policy not seen domestically since the 1970s, Fernandez shed light on what policymakers like former presidential hopeful Ron Paul have alluded to in recent years: US CPI is also being systematically underreported, likely to help the powers that be achieve the aforementioned goals Argentina is pursuing, as well as to hold down the pace cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments to government benefits. But don’t just take our word for it;, an increasingly respected research provider and scrutinizer of faulty US government statistics, agrees wholeheartedly:




But maybe we’re just a bunch of grumpy conspiracy-theorists-turned-macro-analysts. Perhaps there’s a chance that Obama isn’t having Bernanke debauch the USD in pursuit of his politicized goal to promote US manufacturing and exports (GM bailout?), all the while having the BLS report that there’s little-to-no inflation to speak of. Perhaps the bond market has it completely wrong by pricing the 10yr breakeven at 2.46%, which is a mere 20-25bps shy of all-time highs. Markets do tend to get things wrong from time-to-time; the S&P 500 peaked in OCT ’07 – just months ahead of the largest financial crisis and economic recession since the Great Depression!



Just in time for the Venezuelan presidential election (OCT 7) and the US presidential election (NOV 6), current Venezuelan president and presidential hopeful Hugo Chavez just dropped what may be the defining quote of the Obama presidency:


“If I was American, I would vote for Obama. And I think if Obama had been born in a Caracas slum, he would be voting for Chavez. I’m sure of it.”

–Hugo Chavez


It’s only fitting that North America’s most-socialist head of state is getting the official back-slap from South America’s resident socialist – especially given that both the Bush and Obama administrations have incessantly sought to make the US more like Venezuela over the last 12 years (i.e. perpetuating stock market inflation via currency devaluation and big government spending initiatives).




All told, the present-day Venezuelan economy – with its persistent 20-plus percent annual CPI readings and university graduates working as mere street vendors – may be a startling glimpse into the US’s future if we continue down the path of Big Government Intervention in the US economy and global financial markets.




Enough said; enjoy the rest of your respective afternoons.


Darius Dale

Senior Analyst

Early Look

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FDO: Bearish Setup - FDO TTT Table


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FDO: Bearish Setup - FDO SNAP



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