Recently I had lunch in a major Arab capital city with my portfolio manager. My portfolio manager is a national official heading up one of the Arab world's largest sovereign wealth funds.He is responsible for investing billions of dollars in equity and debt markets, or in assets like real estate, around the world. And let me explain - he's your portfolio manager, too. A decision by him and his fellow portfolio managers at sovereign wealth funds around the world to invest or not to invest in American markets drives the value of our assets, including your retirement funds, up or down. He and his colleagues literally move our markets. That's why he's your portfolio manager, too - he's one of America's portfolio managers. And Europe's. And Japan's.
Even with oil prices at levels lower than last summer, the sovereign wealth funds have access to hundreds of billions of dollars in wealth that they are charged with investing. And making investment decisions is harder than you may think. This is because the world economy is in a difficult state. Stock markets are highly volatile right now, expressing our collective uncertainty about the future. Our portfolio manager is taking large positions, and he needs to make wise decisions or risk difficulty in unloading a large investment in the future.
In recent years, our portfolio manager has been very eager to invest in the United States. Historically, we have had a dynamic economy with risk-taking entrepreneurs that build companies like Google, Microsoft, and biotechnology innovators. We have had a fair and open legal system and generally reliable enforcement of contracts. We have had large, transparent capital markets for both equity and debt. But government policy is changing and all of these attributes of our markets and economy are now in question.
For the last decade, our portfolio manager has actively purchased U.S. Treasury bonds. His purchase of our debt has permitted us to finance our budget deficits at a fairly low cost of borrowing. But now, the Federal Reserve has effectively reduced interest rates to zero to try to get the economy moving, and this reduces the returns available to investors like our portfolio manager. This worries our portfolio manager. After all, his job is simply to find the highest and safest returns for his fund--just like any portfolio manager.
And there are other issues for our portfolio manager to consider. He is concerned with the news coming out of America. What does it say to our portfolio manager when the Obama Administration proposes a $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009? (Even in the Gulf countries, that's real money.) Or when the Administration strong-arms major creditors at investment funds to give up their legal rights in the Chrysler bankruptcy? And when our President publicly belittles people for asking only that their contracts be enforced?
Our portfolio manager has become concerned that the rule of law and property rights are not respected in the United States as they once were. He has looked at our unfunded entitlement crisis-just the looming costs for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security alone threaten to bankrupt us in the future. This crisis--which our Congress is reluctant to address--makes the American economy less secure for long-term investors. And a spate of protectionist rhetoric from US politicians makes our portfolio manager question whether foreign investors are truly welcome to purchase American real estate, factories, or companies.
Despite the short-term rally in the stock market this Spring, our portfolio manager looks at broader issues, like the health (and transparency) of the banking system and industries, to see whether the American economy will ever come back to the prominence it had a few short years ago. The Obama Administration should realize that they have an international, and not just a domestic, audience for their policy pronouncements and that our portfolio manager is among them. The clever remark that's popular at home may have a huge and negative effect abroad.
The recipe for keeping people like our portfolio manager interested in our markets - and thus keeping the value of our own portfolios higher - is simple: Open, honest capital markets with low taxation. Security of contracts. An end to corporate scapegoating and open class warfare. Renewed appreciation for economic fundamentals, including entitlement reform. Our President needs to take the steps to restore confidence in America.
Global investors like our portfolio manager are, above all, realists. As Wall Street has crumbled, they have hired away some of the best and brightest to help manage their portfolios and advise them on US economic and political risk. As shrewd investors, they will park their money where it can earn the highest and safest returns. For a while now, that has been United States and American markets, in part because we have efficient, clean and transparent markets. But if this starts to change, we may not always be an attractive investment opportunity for global investors. Without global investors to purchase our debt, our costs of borrowing will skyrocket-delaying our economic recovery.
Unless we do what it takes now to address the concerns of our portfolio manager and others like him, we will quickly lose out in attracting foreign capital to our global economic competitors- with dire consequences for our economic recovery and our economy in general.
Mallory Factor joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2013 and currently serves as a contributor.