Fiscal Cliff: What to expect and how the market may react

Remember, often the stock market's reaction to a positive outcome is negative. The share market fell after TARP in 2008, the Spanish bailout, the last US mid-term elections and after the presidential election

The world seems to be a much safer place. Several stock markets are just slightly off their 52-week highs. Many of the world’s problems appear to be solved, but they may just have passed out of sight. Europe is still in a severe recession. China’s slowdown apparently bottomed, but the renewed growth is due to factors which will make its bad debts, real estate bubble and shaky banking system worse. Still these little issues are being ignored. The one major concern is the coming calamity in the US, known as the “fiscal cliff”.


The fiscal cliff is an imaginary deadline, but one with real consequences. It is the result of an earlier stalemate and continues for the same reason. Ten years ago during the Clinton administration the debt of United States stood at about $6 trillion or about 60% of GDP and revenues exceeded expenditures as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic product). Thanks to wars and tax cuts during the Bush administration and stimulus spending and lowered tax revenues from the recession during the Obama administration the debt now stands at over $16 trillion and is climbing to near 100% of GDP.


Under US law the Congress sets a ceiling for the US debt. To allow the US Treasury to cross the ceiling and institute a higher one takes a vote in Congress. With the houses of Congress divided between the two parties, Republicans and Democrats, either party can block the agenda of the other and are exceptionally happy to do so. So when the debt needed to be raised in August 2011, the negotiations came down to the last possible moment. The compromise was that the debt would be allowed to rise, but if there was no future compromise, on 2 January 2013 there would be a dramatic rise in taxes and a severe cut in spending. The result would be about $600 billion in savings. The reason for the deal was that both parties felt that by 2013 the elections would give power to one party or the other. Instead the elections decided nothing. It just delivered the status quo.


To read more US stock market news and analysis on Moneylife, click here.


The fiscal cliff has two aspects. Basically it is a severe program of austerity of the type that the EU (European Union) is forcing on the EU’s peripheral countries like Ireland, Spain and Greece. The program would cut the budget deficit in half. Even with the fiscal cliff, the US debt is likely to continue to grow, but the projected increases in the debt would be lowered by as much as $7.1 trillion or about 70%. With lower debt, the US economy would be in much better shape, but the impact of large spending cuts and tax increases would reduce the GDP potentially putting the US into recession. The depth of the reduction is subject to debate. The Congressional budget office is predicting a slow descent into a -1.3% contraction. However the effect of zero interest rates could push the contraction down to - 2.2% and the unemployment rate up to over 9.1%. The recession would be avoided if Congress found a different solution, but any less drastic solution would simply push the problem further down the road most likely resulting in higher debt and slower growth.


The other reality of the fiscal cliff is that there is more than one. Besides the spending cuts and tax rises, the Congress needs to authorize another rise in the debt ceiling. In addition at the beginning of the crisis, Congress authorized a temporary guarantee of certain non interest bearing accounts held in US banks. The amount of money in these accounts (TAG accounts) is huge—about $1.5 trillion, or 13% of bank assets. This program ends on 31st December as well.


The odds of a deal by 31st December are slim. President Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans, but he wants to protect the expensive entitlement programs. Of the 287 Republican members of Congress all but 13 have taken an oath not to raise taxes. The election was bitterly fought on this issue at a cost of $6 billion and little was decided. The president, who ran on the issue, feels he has a mandate. The Republicans who retained most seats have no reason to change.


The only real power that could get the legislators to compromise is the market. In October 2008 after the Republican House failed to pass the stimulus program (TARP), the market dropped 800 points. However market reaction to political deals can be even more negative. Markets dropped after TARP, after the debt ceiling deal in August of 2008, after the Spanish bailout, after the last US mid-term elections and after the recent presidential election. So although many are expecting a rally if there is resolution, the evidence suggests that reality could be worse than uncertainty.


To read more articles by William Gamble, click here.


(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages.)


Wal-Mart spent Rs125 crore for lobbying in India


Wal-Mart has spent close to $25 million or about Rs125 crore since 2008 on its various lobbying activities. During the September 2012 quarter, it spent around Rs10 crore on various lobbying issues, which including discussions related to FDI in India.

Washington/New Delhi: Global retail giant Wal-Mart -- waiting for years to open its supermarkets in India -- has been lobbying with the US lawmakers since 2008 to facilitate its entry into the highly lucrative Indian market, reports PTI.
As per the lobbying disclosure reports filed by Wal-Mart with the US Senate, the company has spent close to $25 million (about Rs125 crore) since 2008 on its various lobbying activities, including on the issues related to "enhanced market access for investment in India".
In the last quarter ended 30 September 2012 itself, the company spent $1.65 million (about Rs10 crore) on various lobbying issues, which included "discussions related to FDI in India".
During the quarter, Wal-Mart lobbied for its case with the US Senate, the US House of Representatives, the US Trade Representative (USTR) and the US Department of State, as per its latest quarterly disclosure report.
The companies are allowed to lobby for their cases in various departments and agencies in the US, but they are required to file their lobbying disclosure reports every quarter with the US Senate.
So far in 2012, Wal-Mart has spent more than $3 million or about Rs18 crore on its various lobbying activities, including those related to India.
As per Wal-Mart's lobbying disclosure reports, the company has continuously lobbied for its India entry since 2008, except for a few quarters in 2009.
Indian government recently opened up its multi-brand retail sector for foreign companies after years of political opposition and a Parliament motion against this decision was defeated last week in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
The US-based supermarket chain operator Wal-Mart Stores, which has an annual turnover of $444 billion and a world- wide headcount of 2.2 million, has been eyeing for a long time to enter India.
The Indian retail market is estimated to be worth about $500 billion currently and is pegged to cross $one trillion mark by 2020, given the rising personal income and growing consumer spending trends.
According to a report by global consultancy major AT Kearney, the organised retail is expected to reach 25% of the overall market by 2020.
The report also said that India remains one of the most favourable destinations for international retailers and an accelerated retail growth of 15-20% is expected over the next five years.


Do stocks behave differently during the results season?

They become more volatile and act more irrationally. Here are some examples

The quarterly and annual results announced by companies are keenly watched by the analysts in the stock market. There is a lot of analysis that is done during pre and post result period by fundamental analysts. Buy, sell or hold decisions are driven by these results as well. But results are not just about these analyses. The results season brings some interesting behavior of the stock market out in open. In fact results announced by the companies shatter many of the established logic on which the market operates. Let us have a look at some unusual behavior of the market during the result season:

Option contracts become riskier than the underlying: Option contracts are often pitched as derivatives contract which have a limited loss with an unlimited potential gain. While the loss of the buyer remains limited to the premium paid by him, the gains are potentially unlimited (in call option only technically). However, what people often fail to notice is that during the results season the options contract becomes more risky than the underlying and cause severe loss to the option buyers. Though loss remains limited, the severity of loss is so huge that entire wealth of the investor may be wiped out.

Let us look at result announced by State Bank of India (SBI) during 2nd quarter of current financial year. On the date of announcement of the result, the SBI stock fell by 3.98% while the call option contract value was eroded by 80.80% for the strike price of 2350. In terms of amount, fall in the stock price was more than the option contract, however in terms of wealth erosion the option value was almost completely wiped out. For a trader, the results season is a lesson for adopting an appropriate trading strategy where positions should be created both with call and put option to avoid any unbearable loss of exposure in only call or put option.

Low beta stocks temporarily turn into high beta stocks: Risk averse investors often opt for low beta stocks because they believe that low beta stocks will protect them against any significant downward movement in the market. However, the results season defies this logic. Low beta stocks also become high beta stocks during the results season. If you compare beta of a stock based on the last six months’ data with a beta calculated seven days prior to result and seven days post result, beta of the stock goes up significantly. Even stocks like ITC start showing beta more than 1.

It often happens that a low beta stock cause significant loss to the investor who had entered into the stock thinking that losses will be limited. While this phenomenon may be temporary, an investor needs to know and understand this erratic behavior of market.


Market reacts to results and ignores analysis:  It is frequently observed that better-than-expected result causes the stock price to go up significantly. This is the result of reaction rather than analysis. So after a sudden spike in the price, the stock price starts moving southwards and very often stabilizes to pre-result price. When ITC announced its 2nd quarter result for the current fiscal, the stock price zoomed up to Rs299, which was the 52-week high for the stock price. After sometime post the result, the stock price retreated to Rs278 level. This fall of around 8% from peak was not because of any strong fundamental reason. Recently, the ITC stock  crossed the price of Rs299 because of sudden bull run in the market.

This aspect of unusual behavior of the stock market shows that investors need to read much more than the immediate impact of result. Stock selection needs to be based on analysis. For traders this kind of movement may create profit opportunities but investor’s decision should not be driven only by temporary spike.

There are many other cases of unusual behavior of the stock market during the results season like increase in volume of transactions, increase in speculation, etc. The results season is the season when aberrations become the rule and defy time-tested logic. No wonder, analysis should rule over reaction during this period.

(Vivek Sharma has worked for 17 years in the stock market, debt market and banking. He is a post graduate in Economics and MBA in Finance. He writes on personal finance and economics and is invited as an expert on personal finance shows.)


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