Cautiously Optimistic in Washington, DC

11/12/2008 10:44 am EST


Lawrence Kudlow

CEO, Kudlow & Company, LLC

Democrats and Republicans split the “investor class” vote for the first time in several elections, helping Senator Barack Obama win the presidency.

That’s what Lawrence Kudlow, the conservative economist and host of CNBC’s Kudlow & Company, said in his keynote address at last week’s Washington, DC Money Show. According to Kudlow, who says he coined the term some ten years ago, the investor class is anyone who owns $5,000 or more in stock—an increasingly important voting bloc.

Kudlow also emphatically stated that current economic conditions aren’t remotely like the Great Depression. Some of the biggest mistakes that were made during the depression—a contracting money supply, severe trade protectionism, and substantial tax hikes—are not being made today, he said. 

And although we did tighten our money supply for a while, it is now being expanded. Certainly, the new administration may increase tariffs and taxes, but he didn’t think it would be to the level of the depression era.

He also noted that central banks worldwide were working to pump liquidity into the system and cited the US Treasury’s guarantee of interbank loans in the London and New York money markets, which helped lower rates and unlock the commercial paper markets.

Kudlow complimented President Bush on lowering tax rates on capital gains and dividends, but said his biggest economic mistake was encouraging the fall of the US dollar. This cheap dollar helped create the housing, commodities, and energy bubbles.

Now, the dollar is coming back and oil has collapsed, which Kudlow described as a big tax hike that is turning into a big tax cut. He added that current pessimism about the outlook for consumer spending has not yet factored in this “tax cut.”

Inflation looks to be on a downward trend. Stocks are off some 40% from their peaks of a year ago, but IRS profits are down only about 30%, which may mean markets are undervalued.

Already, the profit picture is brightening, with wholesale prices collapsing faster than consumer prices. That may result in a decent profit recovery during the first quarter of 2009, as companies sell their products for an increasing margin over their costs.

Pondering the incoming Obama administration, Kudlow predicted that Obama will be a strong dollar president. And while he believes President Obama will have to pay some tribute to his union supporters, he thinks the influence from his hard-won red states may help moderate and influence his strategy, politically and financially. And given the recession and bear market, the new president may decide that now is not the time to tamper with investment taxes.

In summary, Kudlow says he’ll “wait and see” before forming an opinion on the Obama presidency. But all in all, he has a very deep, abiding faith in American democracy. His last words: Don’t sell Americans short.

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