Wednesday, April 15, 2009

President Obama - The economy has glimmers of improvement

Lately President Obama has been commenting on the positives in the economy. It’s a huge reversal of the absolutely impending doom that he has virtually preached before and after his inauguration. But the big question is if it is true.

Is the economy better? Did any of the things that the Obama Administration pushed forward helped? When will joe average feel more confident?

All good questions, but there is no clear answer so far.

If you look at the economy as a whole you get mixed answers. Looking at NY State I can say that I am aware of a huge mixed bag. There are several businesses that have folded just this month, or are looking to sell right now. This is in part the fault of the overall economy, but also has to do with all the new taxes that Gov. Patterson is enacting. It just costs too much to do business here, especially in a bad economy.

A great example is the fact that over the last 30 days sales of potato chips and snack foods for a large multinational chain have plummeted to all-time lows from Buffalo to Syracuse. Is that a reaction to the new food tax that Gov. Patterson has recently proposed? Add to that the fact that cigarette sales have now jumped as well, costing about $7 on average in Binghamton alone. Which flies in the face of the fact that a 15 minute drive provides cigarette buyers a roughly 35% discount if they cross the border and buy cigarettes in Pennsylvania. How much do you think the higher costs will help NY business owners?

Consider that while there are some businesses that are expanding, they tend to be larger businesses. The smaller private businesses that provide most of the jobs for the local economies are just dropping off the radar, leaving other connected businesses with nothing but a debit in their accounting. The ratio is such that for every job that is generated somewhere around 3 or 4 are being lost.

So is that an improving economy? Jobs are being created, but is the cost too high? And can any local or even federal economy survive such a discrepancy when even the most mundane products are encountering dramatic downturns?

And then there is the banking sector. We have banks that took Government bailout money, even if they didn’t need it (to have a hedge), that now are being strangled by Government intervention. New regulations are being required that are obtuse at best. Which is preventing banks from providing loans to businesses that normally would have been provided.

A recent conversation I had concluded

'We have these guys in the Government. They have never worked in finance. They don’t understand making a loan or stock market operations. But they are the ones making regulations on how to make a loan or oversee the stock market. What do they know about it? Nothing. But they are the ones overseeing everything, bogging down what works and flooding everything with what doesn’t work.'


Consider this, the Government is so far up banking that even if a bank that took public funds wants to pay back every dime and interest, the Government won’t accept it. That is part of the provisions of the stimulus plan that was passed without anyone, especially Congress, reading it. Government is imposing regulations that they themselves don’t understand, nor can comprehend the impact of. Government is actively demanding business transactions that have no proven benefit (like the demand for hybrid cars though the market is immature and still developing). All the while it is imposing new taxes that impede business growth, and/or increase the cost to the end consumer - like new taxes on energy that directly affects the end user and increasing taxes on businesses and investments limiting growth.

So is the economy really improving? Or is it just getting a polispeak political shuffle that makes some aspects look impressive while diverting attention from long-term problems. I once offered the example of lowering the average Americans debt, just as President Obama has offered to lower the national debt. No one that I presented this scenario to found it to be worthwhile, yet the Obama Administration's budget plans continue without discourse or change. How can this make sense?

Window dressing is great. The President finally speaking about the economy in terms that do not sound like chicken little is a bonus. But the long-term impact is something far more murky and glum.

If the current actions in New York State are any indication, the rollercoaster ride is hardly over. The worst of what is to come is far more dire than what we are being presented. True consumer confidence is still at arms reach, in the best case.

Take that all into consideration the next time you hear that the economy is glimmering with improvement. Because all that glitters is not gold.

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