DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING "Cost of Freedom Recap" CONTAINS STRONG OPINIONS WHICH ARE NOT A REFLECTION OF THE OPINIONS OF FOX NEWS AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS INVESTMENT ADVICE WHEN MAKING PERSONAL INVESTMENT DECISIONS. IT IS FOX NEWS' POLICY THAT CONTRIBUTORS DISCLOSE POSITIONS THEY HOLD IN STOCKS THEY DISCUSS, THOUGH POSITIONS MAY CHANGE. READERS OF "Cost of Freedom Recap" MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR OWN INVESTMENT DECISIONS.
Hillary Clinton trotting out that whole “vast right-wing conspiracy” charge. John Edwards and the rest of the Democrats caving to far left blogs canceling a FOX sponsored presidential debate. Are the far left Democrats hijacking the Democratic Party and should Wall Street be worried?
CHARLES: Wall Street is absolutely worried. Not only Wall Street, but the Democratic Party should be worried too. It’s amazing how all these candidates are pandering to the left. Wall Street is worried because they are talking about protectionism, higher taxes, increased regulations — of course Wall Street is very concerned.
SCOTT: Wall Street is not afraid; the Democratic Party should be afraid. The extreme elements of the Democratic Party run the risk of alienating the moderate Democrat and turning that vote to a moderate Republican. That would be a win for Wall Street.
GARY B.: Assuming that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the Democrats’ two frontrunners, they are two of the most liberal senators in the Senate not to mention two of the most liberal Democrats. I can’t remember the last time someone that far left won the presidency, however one of them may and will win the nomination. America normally votes to the center, even if it is a Democrat. And that goes back to people like JFK and Bill Clinton . They were more centrists than ultra left liberals.
TOBY: Republicans are probably worried that this real sort of ultra liberal is coming out like this. But I think that the other thing that Republicans have to want is to see a little turn in the Iraq war. If this surge and other things start to do well, then the real trump card of the ultra liberal which is “let’s pull out of this place” goes away. When you take that away, you’re left with a guy who wants to raise taxes on everybody, and take everything out of the economy that has made is work. I think they are going to die a slow and ugly death.
PAT: The subprime mess seems to be what’s on everybody’s mind, worrying that it will cause some kind of financial meltdown, which contrary to some doomsayers, it is not. The real worry is whether these issues we’re seeing in the subprime market will spill over into the larger part of the mortgage market, which are folks who are the prime market, who have decent incomes. If they start to fall, then you get a real weakness in consumer sentiment and consumer spending. That’s a real danger, not a large one, but something that it worth worrying about — far more so than if someone on the far left or far right takes the presidency.
REBECCA: Wall Street is probably in wait-and-see mode like the rest of us. I don’t think the left liberals are going to hijack the Democratic Party. The Democrats want to get elected here, so they will say “hey we can’t go that far to the left here”. There are more tangible things that they are worried about right now then what will happen down the road
Stop Illegal Immigration by Creating Jobs in Mexico?
Want to stop the flow of illegals into America? Invest in Mexico’s economy to create as many jobs as possible. That's what Mexican president Felipe Calderon says we should do. But is it a good use of our tax dollars?
REBECCA: Absolutely, we already give Latin America $1.6 billion in aid for health programs. Why don’t we push a lot of that money towards economic development? The sole reason they are coming here is for jobs!
CHARLES: We keep giving money and we don’t even get credit for it. All we have to promote is capitalism and free trade. As far as creating jobs in another county, that is not our responsibility.
GARY B.: It’s a fantastic use of our money. We aren’t just giving it to give it. It ends up helping us. It’s another county we can export to, that will import from us. It will create jobs, and cut down on the immigration problem. We have a great example just north of us. We don’t have a problem with illegal Canadians coming across the border. They have a great democratic, capitalistic country that provides jobs for people in that country. The same can be true in Mexico and everyone wins.
PAT: You have three ways to solve this: either you let them keep coming, you build a fence to stop them from coming, or you try stem the flow a little bit. Mexico has been slowly moving over the past 25 years to a populist, very highly regulated economy towards one that is more open and more free market. We should do everything possible to support that because it will drive growth there. Mexico has been severely below its potential.
SCOTT: The Mexican economy is a direct reflection of the U.S economy. As long as we do well, Mexico will do slightly less well. They can’t do better than us! And even when we’re doing great and they are doing better than usual; they still come over en mass. And that will continue to happen.
StockBaby Shower! The gang picked stocks for Pat’s new twins to get them started on the road to prosperity!
Wal-Mart gives up its bid to become a bank. Could middle class Americans who might have saved money be the real losers here? Herman Cain, what do you make of this?
Herman Cain: It’s a bad move. It’s bad because anytime you have more competition, competition is ultimately good for the consumer. Now if Wal-Mart pulled back because of an internal business decision, that’s one thing, but anytime you expand competition, it’s ultimately good for the consumer. I think it was a bad move.
Neil: So by them pushing out of this business, Cheryl… bad longer term?
Cheryl Casone: Bad longer term for consumers, yes, but good for the banking industry. The banking industry did not want Wal-Mart to get into the consumer lending and the mortgage business because it’s more competition, which is good for consumers. The banking industry was lobbying against this deal and it has won — at least this week.
Neil: John Bradshaw Layfield, what do you make long term of this decision? The company officially said there’s a lot of bureaucratic red ink to get through. This could take a long, long time, and we couldn’t bother with that.
John Layfield: I think it’s a bad harbinger of things to come. What Wal-Mart wanted was an aisle seat, the same thing that the government allowed Target, Harley-Davidson and many other companies. They said they weren’t going to get into retail banking, but they said they wouldn’t get into hardware and groceries as well. I think they would have. But by punishing good businesses because they’re going to be ultra competitive, you’re sending a terrible message to the free markets and doing a disservice to consumers. What you’re going to see long-term is what they’ve done with the airlines. They’re bailing out bad businesses, and punishing good businesses, and it’s exactly contrary to free markets.
Gregg Hymowitz: I’m not sure it wasn’t a business decision. I think the market they were targeting was getting more and more competitive. They didn’t have the same competitive advantages they have on pricing issues in their regular business. I think it was going to be a competitive business, and I’m not so sure it wasn’t a wise business decision to not go forward with it.
Neil: Ben, I’m not so sure they weren’t looking at the subprime fiasco and saying, “Maybe that’s a market we don’t want in.”
Ben Ferguson: You look at Wal-Mart and it’s dominated everything it’s ever done. That may have been one of the things that scared them about this, because it is competitive. For the little guy, though…this isn’t such a bad thing. So many small banks are where people trust to put their money. Where did your parents put their money? Where did your grandparents put their money? And if you have Wal-Mart come in and expand – and once they get in the door, they’re gonna go full speed ahead — they could easily undercut small banks in middle America, and I think that would be a problem. A lot of people don’t know what to do with their money. They trust their family banker to give them good, wise advice. Instead, you may be going to someone who doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your family and basically will say, “Hey, you can afford this loan. You can afford this car. I’ll lend you the money.” We see the fallout from that.
Neil: Tracy, what do you think the implications are?
Tracy Byrnes: There are people who save about $245 million a year because they bank at places with lower fees on check cashing and credit cards. These guys were just trying to get their transaction costs down with the first leg of it. I agree with John. I do think they were going to go into the consumer end of things. But you know what? They’d be offering checking accounts to people who don’t have them right now. It actually would have been a really great thing for people. I’m disappointed that Wal-Mart backed down. It’s not like them.
Neil: Why do you think they backed down?
Cheryl: They were under a lot of pressure from the banking industry. Here’s what the banks want. Community banks, Chase, Bank of America…they want to partner with Wal-Mart. They don’t want Wal-Mart to go into the banking business by themselves. They would rather have branches in Wal-Mart stores across the country. That’s far more lucrative.
Gregg: What leverage does the banking industry have over Wal-Mart in this issue? I don’t think Wal-Mart has the same competitive advantages. When it comes to other facets, they can force the prices of their goods down and put pressure on suppliers, but here it doesn’t seem like they have the same competitive edge.
Ben: Wal-Mart would have a branch already in every city in America, every small town, every big town. That’s a huge advantage.
Neil: Herman Cain?
Herman: What does Wal-Mart have? What advantage would there be for them to partner with banks? It’s called distribution and customers. That’s what it’s about. And so obviously they wanted to look at this. And I agree, they wanted to bring these transaction fees inside so they could lower those fees for that customer. So, they have millions and millions of customers that banks would be interested in.
Neil: I agree with Gregg to the point that this is a bad week for a lot of other stuff, for subprime lending. Maybe Wal-Mart decided it’s a business it doesn’t want to be in, but it didn’t help any that the company has been under a microscope, and it’s been sort of a political football. How much do you think the latter weighed on their decision to pull out?
John: I don’t think the former because it just happened, Neil. I think the latter is what this is all about. Gregg asked what leverage the banking industry has over Wal-Mart. It has political leverage. The political winds right now are against Wal-Mart. They are for the mom-and-pop businesses. And to answer Ben’s question, if these companies go out of business—regional, small-town community banks—and service gets better for the consumer, that’s economic Darwinism. That’s good for the consumer.
Head to Head
Neil: Could it be a tax-hike alert? Congress about to vote on the biggest tax hike ever, increasing taxes on all Americans from the poor right up to the wealthy. That is the warning from the GOP about the Democrats’ latest budget plan, because they say it fails to extend the Bush tax cuts. What’s the fallout for the economy and stocks?
Ben: It will kill this economy. I think the Bush tax cuts helped stimulate this economy, stimulate small businesses, and they hired more people. That’s why you’ve seen the unemployment rate stay very low and job growth go up in this country. The Democrats are being very smart playing politics here. If they can get this to pass, and there is a tax hike, they’re going to blame it on Bush because everybody blames the man at the top of the totem pole.
Neil: They’re not renewing the tax cuts.
Ben: But they’re gonna say this is because of Bush’s leadership.
Cheryl: Which is very dangerous — you will take the 2001/2003 tax cuts that were very beneficial to the economy away. The tax cuts helped to boost consumer spending, which has helped the market get to the place it is today. Now they’re gonna say, “Here’s your $1,000 credit. Oh, by the way, we’re going to take that back.” That’s not going to work.
Neil: Herman Cain, to be fair, there’s no tax plan for this year or next year. They left open the possibility that maybe in 2010, when the upper income one expires, they’re going to raise that, but that’s about the extent of it. Are Republicans just overstating this?
Herman: No, they are not, Neil. I think that this whole budget is just downright dishonest. They’ve already said they do not want to extend the tax cuts, which is the source of what’s fueling this economy. They keep saying that this economy is headed in the wrong direction. What direction from up is that? It’s called “down.” They won’t be happy until it’s headed down.
Neil: Greg is agreeing with that.
Gregg: I’m not sure what economy Herman is talking about. If you talk to most investors out there on Wall Street, many people are concerned that the economy is headed in the wrong direction right now. That’s why you’re hearing more and more about conversations now that the Federal Reserve possibly has to come in and lower rates.
Neil: And a good environment for rates.
Gregg: There have been some inflationary numbers that may prevent that, but if you speak to most professional investors today, most people are concerned that the economy is already slipping potentially into a much slower growth mode.
Neil: Bradshaw, what about that? If the economy is slowing and some of the numbers point to that, the last thing you want to do is hike taxes, right?
John: Absolutely. The one thing the Democrats are making a terrible mistake on here is that they’re going to do to harm the economy; they’re making a politically bad mistake. Go after Bush for reckless spending. He has been abysmal on his spending policies, but with housing prices off and oil testing $80, the economy is still doing remarkably well because of these tax cuts. Don’t go after tax cuts!
Ben: I agree with what he said. Things are changing in this country. So why in the heck would you want to raise taxes right now? It is irresponsible—things are slowly starting to change in this country and people on Wall Street are concerned. Then why would you raise taxes?
Gregg: No one is raising taxes right now. I guarantee you that any Democrat elected to the White House will ultimately propose tax cuts for the middle class. What you’re talking about here is not extending the tax cuts. And as you said, new tax rates don’t come into effect until 2010.
Cheryl: But how can taking away the marriage deduction and taking away a child tax credit not be considered a tax hike? It is.
More for Your Money
Forget the green beer and shamrock shakes! Our guys show you how to getyour ownpot of gold! Al Gore is at it again. Basking in the glow of his Oscar-winning movie about global warming, he takes his message to Congress this week. Could Al’s “Green Machine” push gas prices higher?
Jonathan Hoenig says that the green agenda could absolutely push gas prices higher. They support higher tariffs, tax and mileage standards: all items that would make gas more expensive. The problem is: the green movement doesn’t want cleaner fuel; they want less fuel.
Laura Schwartz says that the key to gas prices is not to play with “scare mongering” tactics about the Democrats and the environmental movement, but to see what we can do now to lower our dependence on foreign oil. This is almost less a matter of global warming and more a matter of national security, in terms of finding alternative fuel that lessens our dependence on foreign oil.
Wayne Rogers thinks anything that can drive us to move away from our dependence on foreign oil is a good thing. If we don’t act on that soon, future generations will be paying for the lack of action.
Gary Kaltbaum is trying to figure out when Al Gore became “Albert Einstein.” Not only would gas prices go up if the environmentalists got their agenda, the cost of business would go up. And that would set off a bad cycle for the economy.
Meredith Whitney says that when we have seen higher gas prices, it hasn’t hurt jobs or the economy, or more importantly, consumer spending. She does agree with Jonathan that there is a lot of “nonsense” that can drive gas prices up to that $4 range (taxes, mileage standards, etc.). We should have a focused national policy on where we are going with energy.
Dagen McDowell wants to see Al Gore to go to Congress (especially since it seems as if he is not running for president) and ask for $4 gas with higher taxes to get us there. It would get us to stop using foreign oil, which would in turn help us to fight terrorism.
Business v$ Charity: Which Is Better for the Poor?
Businessmen like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett shouldn’t be “going around like Santa Clause”, giving billions of dollars away to charity. That was the word from the third-richest man in the world: Mexico’s telecom mogul Carlos Slim. He also said: “poverty isn’t solved by donations.” Is he right?
Gary Kaltbaum thinks that Slim is right on. There is no doubt that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are doing a lot of good with their charitable work. But there have been billions of dollars thrown at poverty over the decades with nothing to show for it. Gary likes the “Magic Johnsons” of the world – people who go into a community, build businesses that help create jobs, and solve the problem like that.
Dagen McDowell says that building a business here in the United States is not going to help treat people in underdeveloped countries. So the money that people like Gates and Buffett are spending is a totally useful form of charity.
Meredith Whitney thinks that it is a little bit of both: developed countries need jobs, and underdeveloped countries need the fundamentals that help create jobs. That is where charity comes in: helping those underdeveloped countries to try and put the systems in place to create jobs and a stronger economy.
Wayne Rogers isn’t so sure you need to have these two things opposing each other (business versus charity). In fact, they support each other. A businessman or an entrepreneur goes out and creates a company and makes money, then goes and gives some of that wealth to the community to help create better systems.
Laura Schwartz says that by charities helping to create a healthier society, they create a more productive society by ridding the world of sickness and disease.
Risky Mortgage Mess: Good News for Housing?
More fallout from the risky “subprime” mortgages that set off Wall Street’s recent sell-off: poor-credit customers defaulting on loans, causing a wave of foreclosures. But could this “shake-out” actually be a good thing for the housing market?
John Sauro says that we aren’t “going to hell in a hand basket” with the mortgage mess. Take a look at what is really going on: as money comes out of stocks and into bonds, rates are coming down. And this bodes well for the real estate market. He thinks the subprime story is very overblown, simply by the numbers.
Wayne Rogers thinks that this is a timing issue. We all know that real estate works in cycles, and right now we are in the middle of the price adjustment cycle. And we still have a ways to go before we get to the major foreclosure cycle. But this is all part of the natural process of the housing cycle.
Dagen McDowell also agrees that this is part of the natural cycle. And in the long run this is probably a good thing, because it gets rid of some bad business practices and unnecessary risk-taking, which in turn might take out some of the wild “boom/bust” aspects of housing.
Jonathan Hoenig doesn’t think that the mortgage mess is good for the asset class in general. What is worrisome is the fact that it is starting (slowly) to spread to other financial stocks.
'Cinderella' Stocks for March Madness
Emdeon Corp. (HLTH)
Friday’s close: $14.35
52-week high: $16.23
52-week low: $10.26
T. Rowe Price Global Technology Fund (PRGTX)
Minimum Investment: $2,500
iShares Lehman TIPS Bond (TIP)
Friday’s close: $100.98
52-week high: $102.15
52-week low: $97.77