Populism is on the march, Bill Gross warns

Bill Gross, portfolio manager of the Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund gives his view on Donald Trump’s election as 45th US president and its impact on the markets.

The Trumpian Fox has entered the Populist Henhouse, not so much by stealth but as a result of Middle America’s misinterpretation of what will make America great again. Not having voted for either establishment party’s candidate, I write in amazed, almost amused bewilderment at what American voters have done to themselves.

A Reuters/Ipsos Election Day Survey of 10,000 voters revealed the extraordinary fury of the American populist movement. Almost 72% agreed that “the American economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful”. Count me among them, yet in voting to deny Hillary Clinton the Henhouse, they “unwittingly” (lack of wit), let Donald Trump sneak in the side door.

His tenure will be a short four years but is likely to be a damaging one for jobless and low-wage American voters. They were the force for Trump’s flipping the Midwest into a Republican Electoral College victory.

But while the Fox promised jobs and to make America great again, his policies of greater defense and infrastructure spending combined with lower corporate taxes to invigorate the private sector continue to favor capital versus labor, markets versus wages, and is a continuation of the status quo.

For example, Republican pleas for tax reform are centered around the argument that America has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world at 35%. Not so. Of the S&P 500’s largest 50 corporations, the average tax rate (including state, local and foreign regulations) is 24%. US corporations rank among the world’s most lightly, as opposed to heavily, taxed. Trump policies also appear to favor the repatriation of trillions of dollars of foreign profits at extremely low cost under the logic that the money will be spent for investment here in the US Doubtful.

The last time such a “pardon” was put into law in 2004, no noticeable pickup in investment took place. Of the $362 billion that earned a “tax holiday”, most went to dividends, corporate bonuses, and stock buybacks. Apple or any other large US corporation can borrow the money they need here in the US at historically low interest rates to fund investment.

A few have, but over $500 bn annually in recent years has gone to the repurchase of corporate stock and the increase of earnings per share, instead of earnings and GDP growth. Why would they need to repatriate anything for investment in the real economy?

But could a Clinton Administration have done much better? Probably not.

Both the Clinton Democrats and almost all Republicans represent the corporate status quo that favors markets versus wages; Wall Street versus Main Street. That’s why the American public and indeed global citizens will continually take a wrong turn in their efforts to neuter the establishment and to regain several decades’ lost momentum in real wages versus real profits.

Neither party as they now stand has bold policies beyond the reach of K Street Lobbyists. To my mind, there are better solutions than either party’s election platform, such as a Keynesian/FDR job corps or a Kennedyesque AmeriCorps that puts people to work helping other people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adrien Paredes-Vanheule
Adrien Paredes-Vanheule is French-Speaking Europe Correspondent for InvestmentEurope, covering France, Belgium, Geneva and Monaco. Prior to joining InvestmentEurope, he spent almost five years writing for various publications in Monaco, primarily as a criminal and financial court reporter. Before that, he worked for newspapers and radio stations in France, in particular in Lyon.

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