Economic Factors Impacting 2022
Episode 16: In today’s episode, host Jim Ray interviews Dr. Frank Raymond (Professor of Economics) and Mr. Carl Hafele (Investment Manager and MBA Professor). In this extended episode, we’re going to discuss the economy as we begin 2022. We’ll touch on inflation, supply chain issues, the worker shortage, energy’s impact on the economy, politics and war and capital gains and more.
Both Frank and Carl joined me for Episode 3 in 2020. We discussed the impact of the pandemic on the US economy and various economic policies. Now that we’re heading into 2022, inflation is a significant, new concern.
The Risk and Impact of Inflation
Frank provides some data related to some of the current economic indicators. Carl introduces the effects of both inflation and the related Federal Reserve actions. He provides some historical perspectives, beginning with the Nixon and Carter years.
There are multiple drivers of the current inflationary period, according to Frank. The COVID-related economic stimuli share part of the blame. Roughly 50% of the stimuli was spend, 20% saved and 30% was used to pay off debt. Tariffs also contributed to the current situation. Energy demand is rising. The worker shortage plays a factor. The pent-up aggregate demand is playing a role. Add in the supply chain disruptions and you get a volatile soup of economic pressures.
Inflationary expectations played a significant role the 1970s-inflationary period. This was directly related to OPEC and the oil crisis. Frank explains how people remember those times and business owners are now adjusting prices to try to stay ahead of constraints and negative pressures. It’s the sustained period of increasing prices, rather than a one-time event, that is contributing to what we are currently experiencing.
Carl mentions the measures Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker took during the Reagan administration to begin reigning in the inflation. It’s complex and very difficult to manage. The Fed has the responsibility of controlling inflation. Inflation impacts every level of the economy. The lag of the Fed policies (6-18 months) create an additional challenge to confronting inflation in the near-term. Our current Fed is fairly politicized, which is compounding the issue.
Frank comments that the Fed has driven down interest rates far below the true cost of money. This dates back a good 30 years. The control of interest rates is a key tool the Fed uses in dealing with inflation.
Is this Period of Inflation Transitory?
This claim was made early on by the Biden administration. Frank explains the term transitory as it relates to inflation. In 18-24 months, the inflation should subside. While 1.5-2 years seems like a long time, it may not be in economic terms.
Because interest rates remain low, the Fed needs to focus on the psychology of borrowers and lenders. They don’t really have room to drop the rate to stimulate activity. The strategy is to gradually increase the interest rate to slowly cooling the demand, which in theory will begin to starve of the inflationary price pressures.
The Supply Chain Crisis
This is a complex issue, driven by the pandemic. However, Frank also comments on the impact of tariffs on the economy. Some firms may not have been prepared for the results of the tariffs. When a company decides to outsource is production and inventory, the networks are exposed to potential breakdowns in the supply chain. Computer chips is a prime example. Some of the manufacturing of chips is currently returning to the US, in an effort to protect this key input.
Frank discusses how he explains the global supply chain to his undergraduates at the Rubel School of Business. He also predicts that the crisis should repair itself and be resolved by the end of 2022. The private sector finds a way to overcome challenges. FedEx and UPS are prime examples of taking innovative approaches, along with some passenger airlines.
Carl relates the impact of inflation from his perspective as an investment manager. He also sits on the board of an Aluminum company. He echoes Frank’s view of inflationary expectations. The expectations can lead to longer periods of inflation, thus moving inflation far beyond its initial transitory status.
Job and the Worker Shortage
This is another key factor in the struggling economy. There are various reasons for our current situation. Many workers took advantage of the lockdowns to seek alternative employment or to go back to school. The stimuli provided incentives for people to increase savings and reduce personal debt, which also delayed their reentry in to the job market.
An issue people overlook is directly related to the availability of childcare. During the lockdowns, many of these workers left the businesses. The availability of childcare is much more limited, in some circumstances, than it was prior to the COVID lockdowns. This makes it more difficult for adults to return to work.
Carl explains that older workers, nearing retirement age, have seen a dramatic increase in the value of their retirement portfolios. This is making the decision on when to retire much easier and some have obviously begun that transition.
Because economic indicators lag, Carl cautions that moves by the Fed and the federal government may be off-target. “We need to quit fighting yesterday’s war.” As we approach full employment, the adjustments can actually cause more problems than they purport to resolve.
Energy and the Economy
Oil is obviously a commodity sourced on the world market, influenced heavily by OPEC. Refining capacity is a pinch point in our ability to break free of capacity constraints by other producers. As we look for alternative sources of energy, we need to be mindful of the immediate gap created if oil production drops, without a current, viable replacement source. The country and millions of households still need to run. We do that primarily based on oil.
Frank comments how new entrants into the energy production sector increase when the price of energy increases. There’s more room for alternative producers at a sustainable profit margin. New technologies play an important role in this scenario.
Oil is the universal input. Petroleum and petroleum derivatives are found in so many common products and packaging, not to mention the transportation to bring these products to retail businesses for consumption. When the price of oil increases, the impact is felt across the economy.
Carl comments how a rise in energy costs places the heaviest burden on the lower income segment of our economy.
The Global Economy
As the economies of the world continue to be increasingly intertwined and inter-dependent, we have risk of being impacted by what happens internally, politically and economically in other countries. China’s economy is actually much weaker than many people realize. A downturn in that country’s economy will have a significant impact on our domestic economy.
Frank shares his perspective of how an authoritative, command-and-control economy (i.e. China) can make gains for a prolong period of time. But eventually, innovation must provide additional growth. Innovation struggles to thrive in these types of economies. Add to this the enormous population of China, with a significant portion living inland. The domestic infrastructure creates a series of challenges for the Chinese government and its economic stability. In years past, the Chinese economy was growing at a rate of 10-15%. Now, that growth rate has sunk to closer to 5%.
Carl discusses how the world economy is not advancing in terms of globalization as strongly as it has in the past. As the US turns inward to focus on our domestic issues and domestic economy, we expose ourselves to inflation. Climate change is a factor, but as the current administration attempts to constrain the US through various initiatives and agreements, the largest polluters don’t even show up to the conferences. It causes one to think.
Political Strife and the Potential for War
Economic pressure can often lead to political unrest, and possibly war. There are several important hot spots in the world. Any one of which could rapidly escalate into a military conflict with significant economic ramifications on the global markets.
Frank discusses how another benefit of economic trade is that it keeps countries talking and lessens the probability of an armed conflict. This stems back to the mutual, inter-dependence fostered via the global nature of our economies.
We benefit from globalization. Assuming you have ethical trading partners, it can be a tremendous advantage for companies, as well as domestic consumers. One might add it’s an advantage for global consumers. Outsourcing production to a lower cost environment allows for better profits and lower prices – at the same time. However, factors such as tariffs can cause an imbalance. Tariffs can result in price increases for consumers and small businesses.
Domestic Capital Gains Rates
From a practical standpoint, Carl describes how tax policy can also have an impact. He’s involved in a group which develops senior living facilities, employing hundreds of people. The after-tax money used to invest in creating new facilities would be reduced, should the administration increase the capital gains rate. The investors are already paying roughly 33% in capital gains taxes. If that rate increases to 2/3rds (66%) it would severely limit the availability of investment capital and those willing to expose themselves to a higher tax exposure.
Frank and Carl agree that there are tax loopholes used by larger corporations. Small to medium-sized business don’t always have access to those same economic advantages, thus making in more difficult for them to compete with larger companies.
Carl suggests we are beginning to move beyond the pandemic. The capital pumped into the economy had an impact, but the ripple effects of inflation will be a dangerous element for the Fed and our government leaders to manage. The risk is that they continue to fight the last war, instead of dealing with the current challenge.
We injected almost $5 trillion dollars into the economy. A major spending bill on infrastructure was passed. At some point, we need to let the cash flush through the system and enable the markets to stabilize. Inflation is a real risk. Just as oil is the universal input in our economy, inflation is a universal tax.
Carl mentions his concern about the size of government. He comments that the size of government is the inversely related to the size of growth in GDP. He also mentions the risk of more regulation in the banking industry. This could place additional limits on the availability of private sector capital. Carl is forecasting lower rates of return, going forward.
Frank adds that most of this comes down to critical thinking. People naturally tend to overstate the benefits and underestimate the costs. While episodes such as these seem to be wide-ranging, the core theme involves critical thinking. We are attempting to approach the topics logically.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Bellarmine on Business podcast.
The views and opinions expressed during the Bellarmine on Business podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Bellarmine University, its administration or the faculty at large. The episodes are designed to be insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining.
Want to Listen to Additional Episodes?
You can find additional episodes on the Rubel School of Business Podcast page of the Bellarmine website, various Bellarmine social media pages, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, Libsyn, Podchaser and many other podcast directories. We encourage you to subscribe to our podcast so you don’t miss an episode.
Interested in Developing a Podcast for Your Business or Organization?
This podcast was produced by Jim Ray Consulting Services. Jim Ray, host of the Bellarmine on Business podcast, can help you with the concept development, implementation, production and distribution of your own podcast. For more information, visit: https://jimrayconsultingservices.com/podcastproduction.