The Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t faze investors
Yesterday, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping climate and health care law that is the type of tax-and-spend legislation Wall Street usually loathes. Some of the bill’s details:
The act, despite its name, is unlikely to lower prices, except for some medications, and may spur inflation for a year or two.
It increases corporate taxes when bottom-line growth is already slowing.
According to academics at the Wharton Business School, it may reduce economic growth over the next decade — or at least until its big investment in green energy pays off, if it ever does.
Still, Wall Street seems to like the Inflation Reduction Act, or at least not hate it. The market has climbed nearly 10 percent since news of a deal between Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, which let the legislation pass.
That’s because there are plenty of positives, analysts say. The legislation is expected to provide a big lift to the green energy sector. At the same time, analysts who follow pharmaceutical companies say the act’s drug price controls are not as strict as the industry feared, and unlikely to significantly dent profits. The same goes for the 1 percent tax on stock buybacks. Democrats hope the measure will encourage executives to spend more on workers and long-term investments, though financial analysts are skeptical, reports The Times’s Joe Rennison. “We don’t think it will make a large difference,” said Ben Snider, an equity strategist at Goldman Sachs.
The act comes as Wall Street’s worries about inflation are easing, and concerns about a recession are growing. The key measure of inflation remained unchanged last month, after months of increases. Other things have helped the stock market as well. Gas prices, key to inflation, are well off their highs. The Federal Reserve has indicated that it is likely to slow its interest rate increases. “The premise of the market’s recent rise is that we are moving to a new easing cycle,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group. And Paulsen says the spending side of the Inflation Reduction Act is signaling to investors that Washington may soon once again be ready to stimulate the economy if needed.
But the reaction could just be another signal that investors are too optimistic about stocks. There are certainly signs of froth in the market. In what seems like a repeat of last year’s meme stock rally, shares of Bed Bath & Beyond, for instance, jumped nearly 95 percent in the past week.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Liz Cheney concedes defeat. As expected, Cheney lost the Republican primary for her congressional seat in Wyoming by a landslide, as conservative voters punished her for voting to impeach Donald Trump, and for jointly leading the Jan. 6 committee. Harriet Hageman, who had Trump’s endorsement, won the nomination. Elsewhere at the polls, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a centrist Republican who also voted for impeachment, narrowly survived a primary battle.
Germany will keep nuclear power a little longer. Facing a historic energy crisis, it will run its remaining three nuclear plants through the winter, pausing a long-term national policy to phase them out. The reversal comes as the German energy regulator warned that the country may not have enough fuel stored for winter should Russia, its main natural gas supplier, completely shut off supplies.
Inflation hits a 40-year high in Britain. Consumer prices soared by a worse-than-expected 10.1 percent year on year in July as food and energy prices showed no sign of cooling. The report prompted a steep sell-off in short-term government bonds as investors braced for sharper interest rate rises. Bank of England economists predict inflation of over 13 percent this fall.
The Biden administration wipes out billions in student loan debt. The Education Department agreed to waive $4 billion owed by some 208,000 students who attended the bankrupt ITT Technical Institute schools, and forgave another $24 million for DeVry University students. Biden still hasn’t decided whether to extend a pause on federal student loan obligations, which would otherwise resume next month.
Anti-E.S.G. measures fail to get traction
As primaries for a bitter midterm election begin, the political fight over environmental, social and governance investing continues in corporate America. And while several high-profile politicians have condemned the E.S.G. approach — including the potential 2024 presidential candidates Mike Pence and Gov. Ron DeSantis — its opponents are making little headway in the boardroom.
The 43 anti-E.S.G. shareholder proposals tracked by Morningstar in the first half of the year received on average only 7 percent support, compared with more than 30 percent across all proposals, a report found. The large money managers such as BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street have publicly committed to various E.S.G. efforts. While BlackRock said it would back fewer climate proposals this year, it would be harder for it to justify voting for blanket bans on E.S.G. initiatives.
Only a dozen anti-E.S.G. proposals got more than 5 percent support. Those that succeeded were focused on seemingly less partisan issues, like disclosure on lobbying activity at companies including McDonald’s and Twitter. Some, like a resolution requesting disclosure on child labor in the electric vehicle battery supply chain at General Motors, became more obviously political after the vote, Morningstar notes. At the General Motors annual meeting, the National Legal and Policy Center, which presented the resolution, attacked “renewed fanaticism for electric vehicles from corporate management, the corporate media and the failed Biden administration.”
What’s in the Inflation Reduction Act
But E.S.G. investing continues to draw scrutiny. Comments are piling up against the S.E.C.’s proposals to enhance disclosure for E.S.G. funds. The National Federation of Independent Businesses calls the proposed rule “an unnecessary burden.” The Committee on Capital Markets Regulation expressed concerns aspects of the proposal could actually increase “greenwashing” — such as the absence of a definition for E.S.G. The S.E.C. held meetings about the rule earlier this month with a number of investment professionals, from firms including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and T. Rowe Price.
The Taliban’s central bankers
A year ago this week, the Taliban took over Afghanistan, creating a novel fox-in-the-henhouse problem for global financial regulators. A designated terrorist organization had claimed control of a central bank.
The U.S. responded by freezing Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves in New York — $7 billion worth. President Biden set aside half of that for relatives of Sept. 11 victims to pursue in the courts. The other $3.5 billion is supposed to support Afghan needs, but the U.S. said on Monday that it would not release the funds anytime soon, despite criticism from economists and humanitarian groups.
“The global architecture against financial crimes is designed to exclude and go after groups like the Taliban,” said Alex Zerden, formerly of the Treasury’s Office of International Affairs, and an expert witness for some 9/11 victims. So the system was ill equipped to manage the “perverse” turn of events in Kabul, he added.
The U.N. began flying cash into Afghanistan this year. About $760 million has come from the international community, according to the Afghan central bank, which says it uses the money to support the local currency, the afghani. John Sopko, the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, is concerned about funds reaching the Taliban, but acknowledged that the economic situation was treacherous and humanitarian aid has been insufficient.
The urgency of the crisis “is undeniable,” wrote William Byrd, an economist and expert on Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a congressionally created research body. Byrd believes the U.S. “should urgently prioritize” moving Afghan money to a trust account abroad and setting up an alternate system. “The Taliban need not and should not be involved at all in this process,” he argued. “With credible oversight, limited amounts of the money could be deployed in appropriate ways that begin to build confidence in the Afghan economy and banking system.”
Still, any efforts to prop up the Afghan economy and people could indirectly aid the Taliban. When terrorists become central bankers, there are only so many options.
“We tell buyers, ‘Your buddy has 8,000 acres so we know you can’t buy less than that.’ It’s a funny joke but it does seem to work.”
— Greg Fay of the Fay Ranches brokerage in Montana. The superrich are fueling a boom in the luxury ranch market.
Mexico loves fossil fuels
As the U.S. and countries in Europe scramble to reduce carbon output while dealing with the energy crisis brought on by Russia’s war, Mexico is staking its future on fossil fuels.
“We ignored the sirens’ song, the voices that predicted, in good faith, perhaps, the end of the oil age and the massive arrival of electric cars and renewable energies,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico said during a ceremony last month celebrating a new oil refinery.
The president is pushing to bring the energy sector under state control and reverse what he sees as corrupt privatization, reports The Times’s Oscar Lopez. His hope is to return Mexico to the days when oil production underpinned its economy. He is putting up roadblocks to renewable energy, blocking plants from operating so that state fossil-fuel-powered ones can do so instead.
The changes mean leaving behind Mexico’s climate goals. López Obrador has said the country will transition to renewable energy someday, but that it needs more time. His government plans to spend about $1.6 billion to build a solar plant and refurbish more than a dozen state-owned hydroelectric plants. But it has also budgeted $6.2 billion to build 15 fossil fuel-powered plants by 2024.