The winds of change
On the face of it, the ideological and political differences between the outgoing Obama administration and the incoming Trump regime could not be greater. Barely a single policy is likely to remain unaffected, with everything from public spending to international relations predicted to shift into sharp reverse under the auspices of a maverick who’s made his mark by defying convention throughout the presidential campaign.
In the last months of 2016, the financial markets reacted to Trump’s unexpected victory via a textbook surge in stocks and government yields as well as a significant upshift in the value of the dollar following predictions of increased growth and higher levels of inflation on the wave of announcements regarding deregulation, tax reforms and infrastructure spending.
Emerging from the doldrums
The pace of US growth recovered sharply in the third quarter, peaking at its highest rate in two years and lending credence to forecasts that the country is on track for greater economic stability as 2016 draws to a close.
The economy expanded at a 2.9 percent annualised rate in the third quarter, up from 1.4 percent in the second quarter, which topped predictions of a more modest rate of 2.6 percent and reflected a spike in exports as well as an increase in federal spending, according to the US Commerce Department.
That said, consumption growth – another key indicator of the health of the economy – dropped back over the same period to just 2.1 percent, down from more than double that figure in the previous quarter, and falling a long way short of the expected 2.6 percent benchmark.
Illegal banking practices come home to roost
A year ago, the city of Los Angeles sued Wells Fargo for unethical customer conduct, alleging that the bank had covertly opened unauthorised accounts on behalf of customers. Twelve months on and the bank has been forced to reach settlements with city and federal officials totalling almost $200 million.
At a September hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Wells Fargo CEO John G. Stumpf announced he was forfeiting at least $41 million in pay, at the same time vowing to immediately drop the banks sales incentive programme that was to blame for inciting bankers to set up the illegal accounts.
But it seems that few of his interrogators were impressed, with lawmakers from both sides of the house taking turns to tear into Stumpf over a period of four hours, labelling the bank’s actions as ‘theft’ and commenting that the fallout from the scandal had dealt a devastating blow to the entire banking industry.
Room at the top?
Ever get the feeling that it’s about time you changed some of your fixtures and fittings? Well it’s a message that corporate governance advisor ISS is trying to get across to the shareholders of some of the United States’ top companies – including Alphabet and Berkshire Hathaway – as it begins to apply pressure for a little light boardroom ‘refreshment’.
As part of its latest annual survey, ISS is canvassing opinions on boards where long-serving directors hold sway or where new members are about as rare as hens’ teeth. The outcome could help to shape changes in its investor voting guidelines in the future.
Recovery is slowing
New figures released by the Commerce Department show that the US economy slowed to a virtual halt in the final three months of 2015, its annual rate rising at just 0.7% amid signs of a global economic slowdown. Consumers and businesses alike scaled back their spending and US exports were reduced. The lower-than-expected rate is likely to fuel concern that gains made over the last six years are now losing ground.
Why $100 isn’t the same everywhere
How much bang are you getting for your buck this year? Well, it pretty much depends on where you live, according to the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy research organisation which regularly collates data from The Bureau of Economic Analysis to demonstrate how much $100 buys you on a state-by-state basis. It may come as little surprise to discover that the same goods are often much cheaper in states like Missouri than they are in New York, but there are some interesting discrepancies outside the obvious.