The Week in Brief: 1/26

January 30, 2015

As global power brokers drifted from Davos last week, the lingering question was this: is the U.S. economy strong enough to power the rest of the world?
The attending investors, executives and policy makers determined that the current global economy is demarcated between the U.S. everyone else. An opinion widely held at last week's annual retreat in Switzerland. As the strongest U.S. expansion in 11 years continues, will it be enough to drive the global economy? Or will this one good thread come unwound by the weakness in Europe, China and Japan?
The global economy has already driven the dollar to 11-year highs against the euro. And while the U.S. appears to be the only safe haven, a strong-and-rising U.S. dollar could derail that.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund made its biggest cut to global growth forecasts in three years. Cutting growth rates to 3.5 percent in 2015 from 3.8 percent. This, because even as the world's largest economy remains a hotspots, other regions remain tepid or worse. Europe seeks to avoid deflation. China is slowing. And plunging commodity prices have hurt nations like Brazil, Canada and Australia.

Is U.S. growth enough?  The answer is dicey.
While leading economic indicators continue to trickle higher, the overall economy is still lackluster. Attempting to achieve post-crisis escape velocity. Six years after the crisis!  As evidenced by the Fed's continuing lack of conviction in discussing an elevation in interest rates.
We believe the U.S. should have achieved today's growth rates two years ago. But, government policies have stunted growth. While this argument has grown tiresome, it remains valid and compelling. Recent facts bear this out.
ObamaCare has come under Democratic scrutiny for its lack of efficacy given the benefits on which it was sold. Further, it has proven vastly more expensive than thought. This article shows how ObamaCare costs $50,000 for each American who uses. This revelation provided by Congressional Budget Office.
More maddeningly, Gallup recently revealed that-for  for the first time in 35 years-more American enterprises are going out of business than are being created. Such statistics do not belie real economic recovery.
Yet, having watched last week's State of the Union, you'd think the economy was humming. Hardly. Considering the Federal government's spending addiction. And the massive uncertainty healthcare's overhaul tossed into an already opaque post-crisis business landscape. One begins to understand why this anemic recovery.
Public policy drives economic results. Capable of helping and hindering growth. A nation cannot simultaneously enjoy redistributive policies and economic growth. Today, following six years of redistributive policies, growth remains subpar. Yes, the economy appears to be improving. But those statistical gains have largely been confined to those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder. The middle class has gleaned little upside. The number of working-age individuals out of the workforce remains at multi-decade highs. We've lost many of our best jobs. Replaced them with burger flippers, bell hops and fry cooks.
This nation was built on aspirations. By immigrants. Filled with envy. As Sam Zell says in this video, perhaps we stop attacking the one percent and begin emulating them. 
Islamic Radicalism: Say It Like It Is
The New York Times' Thomas Friedman asks that the administration and others pull their heads from the sand and begin addressing this alarming problem directly. Anything otherwise is a waste of time, energy and resources. Article.
Free College for Everyone?
Q: What's the quickest means of destroying the value of anything?
A: Giving it away.
The U.S. already has too many unemployed millenials with myriad useless degrees. But handing out degrees to everyone will improve the situation? Did no economists help spitball this idea? And while Mr. Hanks, whom I respect and enjoy as an actor, loves the idea (here), his story is hardly that of the average graduate. The laws of supply and demand do not change. If you give something away, you cheapen its value. Story here.
But You Promised Space Lasers? (Hyperbole from Past States of the Union)
Over the years, The State of the Union has become propaganda with a touch of reality television. The president discusses how good things are (regardless of the statement's veracity). Then pledges to begin a number of initiatives spanning from mundane to mind blowing. This piece proffers a number of past promises made during the SOTU. Enjoy.
The Corollaries Between Radical Islam and Latin American Leftists
Hugo Chavez once justified a shortage of toilet paper by saying that "socialists are afforded the opportunity to eat more." Add in the cruelty, intolerance and narrow world view and one finds a host of similarities between Latin America's leftist movements and radical Islam. Article.
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
In this video, Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF, explores the damaged caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin. New Year resolution involve better health? This might be a solid start.
Economic Distress Affecting Putin's Propaganda Machine
Three months ago? He was the most interesting man in the world. Today, Vlad is struggling to keep all balls in the air. One of the recent casualties of Russia's oil-price-decline-driven economic downturn has been his massive propaganda operation. Amid the falling oil wealth, these media outlets have cut staff and salaries. Does this portend a corresponding downturn in his domestic popularity? Time will tell. More here.
The Worst Case Scenarios for 2015
South Sea skirmishes lead to a full-fledged naval confrontation. Nigeria crumbles amid increasing radicalism. Israel bombs Iran, setting of an escalation of violence in the Middle East. These and other scenarios were identified by economists, foreign policy experts, investors and military analysts as the prospective flashpoints of 2015. Check this out.
Sex? Yes Please!
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is worried about the U.S. media's portrayal of sex.  Japans' leaders are trying to motivate their population into having more. This to combat the nation's demographic woes. Evidenced by the fact that in 2011, sales of adult diapers in Japan exceeded those of baby diapers. Story.
The Good
China GDP increase 7.4%, beating expectations... Earnings news has been positive, with 79% of S&P 500 companies beating estimates... Gas savings are showing up in consumer spending habits... Bullish sentiment declined (a contrarian positive)... Housing starts rose a better-than-expected 4.4%... European QE beat market expectations... Leading economic indicators increased 0.5%...
The Bad
The State of the Union was not market friendly, exemplifying political cooperation, or replete with forward-looking economic ideas... Forward earnings estimates continue to decline... Building permits declined... Existing home sales missed expectations...
The Ugly
The conflict in Ukraine appears to be worsening. The human toll, as well as the potential global economic costs, have risen markedly. More here.
Weekly Results
Major markets finished higher last week. The DJIA rose 0.92%, the S&P 500 gained 1.60%, and the Nasdaq climbed 2.66%.  Small cap stocks advanced 1.04%.  And the 10-year Treasury bond yield lost 4 basis points to 1.79%. Gold gained $14.04 per ounce, or 1.10%.
Check out JP Morgan's weekly recap here.

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