Election Outcome Overshadowed by Structural Concerns

The election of your lifetime.

That’s what the vote on November 2nd vote has been called. It’s probably a fair description in many, many policy areas. The two major party nominees for President differ on a host of issues, ranging from international affairs to economic strategy to tax policy. Even on basic issues of science – stem cell research (biology), global warming (chemistry), missile-defense (physics) – there are huge distinctions between the Republican and Democratic candidates.

When it comes to the capital markets, conventional wisdom assumes that the outcome of this election will matter a great deal.

I disagree.

Why? There are simply far too many structural factors that will hamstring whoever assume the Office of Presidency on January 20, 2005. The post-bubble environment has problems that will likely be cured only by the passage of time. Large budget deficits will continue, as will the ongoing weakness of the dollar. The economy is likely to grow, albeit at only a very modest pace, for the foreseeable future.

Further, U.S. presidents have far less influence over the macro-environment than most believe. The United States economy is a multi-trillion dollar behemoth, and its business cycle is not readily changed by minor – or even major – course corrections.

Consider the environment the president-elect steps into: With the 2003 stimulus fading, the economic expansion has already started to slow down. The trend of the past four quarters of GDP growth is revealing: 7.4% in the third quarter of 2003, 4.2% in the fourth quarter, 4.5% in the first quarter of 2004, and 3.3% in the second quarter. The end of the softspot was supposed to be 2004′s 3rd Quarter GDP — that came in below consensus, at a (disappointing) 3.7%.

This movement is even more pronounced if we back out government spending on military and wartime explanations.

Unless another trillion-dollar stimulus package is forthcoming – and given the huge deficit, that is highly doubtful – economic growth will be in the 2.5% to 3% range.

And that’s without factoring in the impact of $50-plus-a-barrel crude.

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