US stock indexes reached record highs again on Wednesday on expectations that the policies of the incoming Trump administration, based on “America first” economic nationalism, the removal of all regulations restricting corporate profit-making, and huge business tax cuts, will provide a major boost to the bottom lines of banks and corporations.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average continued its rise after closing above 19,000 for the first time ever on Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the Russell 2000 were also in record territory. Only the tech-based Nasdaq index was slightly down after hitting a record high on Tuesday.
All four major indexes reached record highs on Tuesday, something that had not occurred since New Year’s Eve in 1999, at the height of the dot.com bubble.
The market rise is being led by two groups of stocks, banks and those involved in construction and infrastructure.
Bank stocks are being propelled by the prospect of interest rate increases, which will boost their profits, and indications that the Trump administration will wind back regulations, including some of the limited restrictions imposed under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. The rise in bank stocks is the main reason for the jump in the S&P 500.
The other major boost to the market was provided by construction firms. Shares in John Deere jumped by more than 10 percent, resulting in a boost to the S&P 500 index. Shares in other industrial stocks, including Caterpillar, were responsible for a major part of the rise in the Dow.
Stocks in these companies have been boosted by Trump’s commitment to initiate an economic stimulus package program of tax cuts and infrastructure spending. The tax measures include a reduction in corporate taxes from 35 to 15 percent, as well as a reduction in the top tax levels for the ultra-wealthy. Companies repatriating profits from overseas may have to pay as little as 10 percent.
But it is the infrastructure program, which has been put at $1 trillion, that has sent the markets soaring on the ever-stronger smell of money. It is not a plan for the government to borrow money and use it to finance much-needed improvements on roads, bridges and other basic facilities.
Rather, it is based on a privatisation scheme, in which firms will receive massive tax cuts for undertaking such projects. By means of tax breaks, they will receive back as much as 82 percent of the money they invest. As the owners of the projects they initiate, they will then be able to collect tolls or user fees in perpetuity. In many cases, the projects will involve profitable ventures to which companies would have been attracted anyway.
The same modus operandi applies to deregulation of the energy and pharmaceutical industries. In his brief video announcement on Monday, Trump said that for every new regulation that is introduced, two existing regulations will have to be eliminated. This is a program aimed not at increasing jobs and wages or improving social conditions for the masses of working people, but at providing a profit windfall for corporate America.
Trump’s economic plan for the US economy bears a striking resemblance to the business model of his real estate and casino empire: a mixture of tax evasion, scams and outright swindling, coupled with the exploitation of low-wage workers.
It has been estimated that the tax cuts and infrastructure spending increases will lead to an increase in US budget deficits from 3 percent of gross domestic product to 6 percent. Trump is also planning an immense increase in military spending. Who is to bear the burden of this debt explosion? The working class.
Trump is planning to cut non-defense discretionary spending by 1 percent a year, which will mean further reductions in food stamps, home heating assistance, unemployment benefits, health programs and the enforcement of job safety and environmental standards.
He is targeting federal workers for immediate attack, calling for mass layoffs, the gutting of job protection provisions, the elimination of automatic raises and the imposition of 401(k) plans instead of pensions for new-hires.
During the election campaign, Trump sought to attract voters suffering cuts in their wages and living standards with the promise that Medicare, Social Security and other entitlements would not be touched by his administration. But the budget process is in the hands of the Republican-controlled Congress, where House Speaker Paul Ryan has reiterated his plan to privatize Medicare. Since the election, Trump has said he is “open” to such a plan.
The Trump agenda has major implications for financial markets and international economic relations. The rise in the stock market has been accompanied by a significant rise in bond yields—up from around 1.7 percent before the election to around 2.3 percent today on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury note. This means a sharp fall in bond prices, which move in the opposite direction of yields.
Coupled with the near certainty that the Federal Reserve will lift its base rate at its meeting next month, the rise in interest rates could have a major impact on a financial system in which the bond market has been described as a bubble. Increased interest rates could bring about significant losses on financial deals made on the basis of rates remaining at their previous record-low levels.
The prospect of rising rates has already seen a rise in the value of the dollar, which has reached its highest point in 13 years as measured against a basket of international currencies. This means that US corporations that rely on international markets will face increased competition.
The Trump agenda of “America first” economic nationalism represents a major shift in US economic policy. It is being adopted under conditions in which the previous policy of near-zero interest rates and central bank money-printing is widely recognized to have exhausted its usefulness and failed to resolve the crisis that erupted with the Wall Street crash of 2008.
While the American ruling class has always pursued its own interests, US economic policy in the post-war period was based on the assumption that the interests of American capitalism were bound up with the expansion of global markets and trade. Now the free trade mantra has been thrown aside, threatening to set off a wave of retaliatory trade and economic warfare that sooner rather than later will rebound on the American economy.