Fiscal cliffhanger

I’ve been following, albeit not blogging, this one closely, not least as every market report of the last month or so has had to explain what it is and what it means. I’m going to assume some knowledge and just note a few particular aspects about it. There’s an idea doing the rounds that there isn’t too much to worry about because, as neither Democrats or Republicans want to raise taxes, they’ll let the automatic tax rises happen, then strike a deal, so they can claim credit for “cutting” taxes for the bottom 96 percent rather than raising them on the top 4 percent. As they is the possibility of retroactive application of these measures, then the crisis can be averted after the deadline and still avoid the cliff’s full force. It seems like quite a big fuss to cause for a basically semantic point – sure, incumbent Republican Representatives may have right-wing ¬†primary challengers to fear more than anyone for the next election, but I think most people know the difference between an expired tax-cut and a tax raise. True, Ezra Klein points out that Democrats do actually want to raise some taxes, but then so do Republicans. So it’s a question of which taxes are being raised, and who will bear the brunt, so I think there are still substantive issues to overcome, and the idea that a deal will be straightforward once the deadline expires is simplistic (even if it does instill a sense of urgency).

The thesis that there is a mutually beneficially desire for Dems and the GOP to cut taxes after a rise rather than pre-empt the rise (and so the fiscal cliff with have limited impact) is interesting, however, because of how recent this it is. No-one was entertaining thoughts of retroactive tax cuts and technical tactical maneuverings two months ago – if you spoke to to analysts and traders, the majority would say that they anticipated a deal with time to spare. This meant that stock markets, which have already seen impressive gains for the year, could push on – especially in Europe. Yet at the same time the good news of a resolution is not seen as priced in, so a resolution, it is anticipated, could see prices spike higher. Even U.S. indices, which haven’t seen gains in December, don’t really seem to have the bad news priced in (S&P 500 is up 12 percent on the year). And as the deadline closes in, stocks may finally be easing off on gains, but people in the market are still inventively coming up with new reasons why a deal isn’t getting done, and new reasons for longer term optimism. And I’m not saying they’re wrong to, it’s just interesting that had you put it to them two months ago that we’d have 2 business days til New Year and no deal, I think they’d have been less phlegmatic about it.

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