How will Trump revive the golden days?

By Josh Boak, Bernard Condon

Sketchy plan to fire up the US economy raises fears of deeper debt, trade wars and recession
Trump vowed he would fire up the US economy but was short on how he would achieve this. Photo / AP
Trump vowed he would fire up the US economy but was short on how he would achieve this. Photo / AP

Donald Trump won the presidency by pledging to restore a vanished and golden economic era, when growth roared, factory jobs flourished and America sat unchallenged atop the global economy.

Yet he never offered much of a road map.

Which is why it's far from clear how Trump will affect the economy, even though his agenda enjoys the advantage of Republican control of both the House and Senate. Trump has pledged to revitalise the mainly white working class that elevated him; a tough task given an ageing US work force, dwindling options for people with little education and years of stagnant pay.

Trump has said he'd slash taxes, strong-arm US trading partners, end commitments to environmental rules and make it easier to drill for oil.

He'd lift federal regulations, void President Barack Obama's healthcare law and curb immigration. And, of course, build a wall on the Southern border and force Mexico to pay for it.

Those steps, Trump says, would turbocharge the economy. Yet many economists warn that his plans could spike the national debt, ignite trade wars and perhaps cause a recession.

It's impossible to tell how his presidency will affect the economy and financial system just because so much is unknown, said Michael Arone of State Street Global Advisors: "What policies will he pursue? How he moves from election to governing is unknowable."

Here's how Trump's presidency might affect sectors of the US economy and financial system:

Economy and the Federal Reserve

The president-elect has said he can get the economy to grow nearly 4 per cent a year; it's now running at half that pace.

He would ignite that growth, he's said, by cutting taxes by roughly US$6trillion ($8.34t) over 10 years, expanding oil and natural gas production and slashing most federal regulations.

Yet few analysts think the economy can expand much faster. An ageing population means the workforce is adding fewer people, a recipe for tepid growth. Productivity, output per hour worked and vital to economic health, is chronically sluggish.

Those trends help explain why the US Federal Reserve says the economy's long-term annual growth is a slow 1.8per cent. That's a rationale for keeping interest rates near historic lows, especially with inflation tame. Trump has called Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen essentially a puppet of Obama. Yellen has inflated a stock bubble, Trump argues, by keeping rates too low for too long.

What policies will he pursue? How he moves from election to governing is unknowable.
Michael Arone

Yellen's term as chairwoman will end in early 2018, and Trump won't likely re-nominate her for a second term. Still, analysts don't expect Yellen to resign before her term ends, in part because of the disruption it might cause in financial markets.

The Fed has been considered all but sure to raise rates at its next meeting in mid-December, reflecting a strengthened US economy. After Trump's victory, investors still peg the likelihood of a December rate hike at 81 per cent, according to the CME Group.

Infrastructure

Trump has vowed to fix roads, bridges and airports; a sticking point in recent years as Congress and Obama failed to compromise on ways to pay for repairs to ageing infrastructure.

As President, he said, he'd rely on tax credits to incentivise development. His advisers have asserted that US$140 billion in tax credits could generate US$1t more in infrastructure investments during 10 years.

The approach might speed construction, although tax credits would likely favour profit-generating projects. It's uncertain whether tax credits would lead to upgraded decaying sewer systems in impoverished cities with a shrinking tax base.

Overall, the funding would provide what economists see as an urgent priority. Public spending on transportation and water infrastructure has sunk below its 2003 levels, says the Congressional Budget Office.

Taxes

Trump's election could mean a big tax cut for affluent Americans, particularly the richest 1 per cent, and a much smaller tax cut for many others.

Analysts say those tax cuts would likely boost growth in the short run. But if all his changes were enacted, they would balloon the budget deficit and potentially lift interest rates and shrink the overall economy, economists say.

Nearly half the benefits from Trump's proposed tax cuts would flow to the top 1 per cent, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Centre. The richest would receive an average tax cut of US$215,000, lifting their after-tax income by 13.5 per cent, the policy center found. The top 0.1 per cent would get a tax cut exceeding US$1million.

Trump has proposed reducing the top bracket's tax rate from 39.6 per cent to 33 per cent. He'd end taxes on estates and repeal some taxes on investment income. The corporate income tax rate would sink to 15 per cent from 35 per cent.

Trade

Trump says the economy's sluggish growth is due to trade deals negotiated by incompetent leaders who betrayed workers, choosing instead to favour rich donors.

Mexico, China and Japan, he argues, operate by rules that have hurt the United States. He says agreements to open markets, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), led firms to ship factory jobs abroad, a trend he would stop by renegotiating these deals and penalising US companies which move manufacturing operations offshore.

Trump says the result of these trade deals is a $500b trade gap that he'd close by raising tariffs if necessary to restore factory jobs.

Yet foreign governments could view the threat of higher tariffs as the start of a trade war.

Healthcare

Within the healthcare industry, Trump is viewed with trepidation. Insurers, pharmaceutical firms and hospitals would stand to lose if a repeal of Obama's healthcare law, as Trump has vowed, increases the number of uninsured Americans. Even if, as critics like Trump say, the Obama healthcare law is rife with complexity and complications for healthcare companies, it does offer the long-term prospect of more paying customers.

Insurance and hospital industry groups reminded Trump on Thursday of his pledge to replace Obama's law with a system that provides affordable high-quality coverage for Americans.

Financial reform

The fate of key piece of legislation passed after the financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank regulatory reform law, is now in question. House Republicans want to repeal all or parts of Dodd-Frank.

The twist is that Wall Street, generally, has little interest in repealing Dodd-Frank. Banks have spent billions restructuring themselves to comply with the requirements of Dodd-Frank and generally believe the banking system is stronger with the law.

Technology

Trump's election could have a sweeping effect on the technology industry, from foreign-worker visas to international trade agreements.

Mark Moerdler, an analyst at Bernstein Research, foresees potential benefits for the industry, he wrote in a research note: "A pro-corporate administration should be positive for the software industry: streamlining red tape, lowering corporate taxes, returning overseas cash and further spurring start-ups."

Still, Trump's anti-globalisation stance could hurt such companies as Microsoft, Oracle and VMW that do big business overseas. If Trump manages to restrict immigration and restrict H-1B visas, it could make it harder and costlier for tech companies to hire foreign IT workers.

Energy

The president-elect is sure to be friendly to the oil and coal industries and sceptical of the renewable-energy sector. He pledged to make the US a dominant player in energy, independent of Opec oil.

It's unclear whether Trump's policies will have much effect on drilling, if oil prices remain relatively low, or on jobs in coal-producing states.

Trump wants to unlock untapped US reserves of fossil fuels. He's supported what he calls "safe" hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which has helped US oil and gas production boom. He supports more leasing on federal lands and the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

Auto industry

Trump's election could shake up the auto industry, in part because he's vowed to redo trade deals and slap tariffs on Mexican-made cars.

Also uncertain is what will happen with auto safety regulations and government fuel-economy requirements. Trump favours cutting regulations that he says stifle businesses. Trump railed about corporations moving jobs across the border to exploit what he called a lopsided North American Free Trade Agreement.

He vowed to scrap the trade pact, impose tariffs on Mexican imports and punish US companies including Ford.

Retail

Retailers might have to raise prices if Trump makes good on his promises to repeal trade agreements. He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would eliminate most tariffs on goods from countries in the alliance. The National Retail Federation says the TPP, which it backs, would increase US spending power by more than US$1000 per household.

Trump also wants to impose big tariffs on imports from China and undo NAFTA.

Stocks

With his threats to slap tariffs on trading partners, punish US companies that move production overseas and rethink military backing for allies, Trump is widely viewed by investors as an unsettling risk.

Still, a big stock rally on Thursday in certain sectors suggested that investors think companies involved in repairing roads and bridges or in expanding transit systems could enjoy a boost under Trump's plan to increase infrastructure spending.

Stocks of drugmakers also soared on expectations that Trump's victory and Republican control of Congress make a broad crackdown on drug price gouging less likely.

Stocks of gun makers plunged, though.

People tend to buy up guns in anticipation of rules expanding gun checks and curbing certain kinds of sales, but a Trump victory helps ease that fear.

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