A lot of time and analytical horsepower is being spent on what will or will not happen to the markets after the presidential election, but it seems to make more sense to talk about what will not change for consumers, investors and financial institutions.
First and foremost, the market environment characterized by low or even zero interest rates, open-market purchases of debt and other forms of social engineering by global central banks will not change. Everybody in the financial world is spellbound over whether the Federal Reserve will or will not raise rates in December. But as Federal Reserve Bank of New York chief Bill Dudley noted quite rightly in a speech at the Lotos Club, a quarter point either way is not a big deal.
GOP nominee Donald Trump's attacks on the Fed's low-rate policies have stoked speculation as to how his election or that of Hillary Clinton might impact the policies of the Federal Open Market Committee. The short answer is very little is likely to change, even if the new president were to appoint new governors or even a new Fed chair. While the FOMC can change benchmarks like the interest paid on bank reserves and the target rate for Fed funds, market interest rates are likely to remain relatively stable in the near term or even fall. The huge flows of foreign capital coming into the U.S. are dampening any upward move in bond yields, even as domestic demand for credit is showing signs of increasing.
Another thing unlikely to change after the election is the harsh regulatory environment that is constraining credit expansion for banks and nonbanks alike. It is pretty clear that legal and regulatory expenses are among the biggest burdens weighing on banks and economic growth. "The roughly $275 billion in legal costs for global banks since 2008 translates into more than $5 trillion of reduced lending capacity to the real economy," said Minouche Shafik, deputy governor of the Bank of England, at a New York conference of regulators and bankers, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Not only will the pressure on bank lending continue after November, but the forward agenda of global regulators promises to further contract access to credit for both businesses and consumers. Thanks to the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, roughly one third of Americans have been excluded from the market for home mortgages because of new regulations imposed on the loan origination process.
Dodd-Frank, for example, outlaws prepayment penalties on home mortgages, making loans to low-FICO borrowers uneconomic. And even for new loans that are made, the industry's ability to service mortgages is under attack due to rising operational and compliance costs imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Indeed, for the financial services industry, little is likely to change in terms of regulation until there is a more basic change in the political narrative. Going back to the 1970s, public policy has provided the impetus for "above trend" growth. Lower interest rates, tax cuts, deregulation of S&Ls and banks, and government sponsorship of home ownership are just some public policy initiatives designed to spur short-term growth. When excesses created by these same pro-growth policies inevitably led to financial crises, the political class naturally blamed the private business and financial community for the problem they themselves created.
Despite the statements by Trump that he will roll back regulations in many areas of the economy, the politics of reform are very different today compared with the 1980s. Even with a Republican-controlled Congress, it is unlikely that many of the Dodd-Frank reforms will be repealed in the near term. For one thing, a President Trump would likely have to contend with a contentious Senate in which even a Democratic minority would be able to filibuster a repeal of Dodd-Frank provisions. Furthermore, even Trump himself has sympathized at times with the anti-bank narrative, such as supporting a restoration of a Glass-Steagall-type structure. Therefore, the effects of a Trump or Clinton presidency on regulatory policy are limited at best.
In the 1930s, the 1980s and post-2008 period, regulations were used to punish private businesses for alleged bad acts, in part to advantage elected officials. Both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt knew the value of attacking "the big banks" as president. Starting in the early 1930s, when "reforms" such as Glass-Steagall and the Securities and Exchange Act were put into place, it took almost half a century for "deregulation" to occur and private credit creation to rebound from basically zero.
Dodd-Frank represents another generational "phase-shift" in regulatory policy that implies substandard investment returns, credit and job growth for years to come, regardless of the level of interest rates or QE from the Fed and global central banks. Indeed, all that the Fed and other central banks are trying to do in terms of boosting economic activity is thwarted by the draconian regulations put in place since 2008.
Both in terms of monetary policy and the approach to regulation, the U.S. and other industrial nations need to reconsider their approach to fostering economic growth. When it comes to encouraging job creation and economic growth, policies that decrease the amount of income to savers or impose punitive sanctions on lenders are unlikely to result in positive results.
The economist Ronald McKinnon coined the term "financial repression," which describes various policies that allow governments to "capture" and "under-pay" domestic savers. Such policies include forced lending to governments by pension funds and other domestic financial institutions, interest rate caps, capital controls and other oppressive expedients.
But you could also argue that the punitive regulatory regime now in place in the U.S. and other nations is likewise a form of financial repression — a retributive regime that denies people the opportunity to access credit and thereby work and prosper. Before we can really deliver better jobs and opportunities for all of our people, this must change.
Christopher Whalen is senior managing director and head of research at Kroll Bond Rating Agency. He can be reached on Twitter @rcwhalen.