“Uncertainty” Is Nothing More Than Wall Street Whining

Originally posted at Capital Gains and Games.

It’s time to have an honest talk about “uncertainty” — the B.S. complaint by Wall Street and corporations that they don’t know what’s going to happening in Washington; don’t, therefore, know what to do; and are sitting on their hands and cash rather than (take your pick) expanding, hiring, investing.

Look, for example, at this story by John Melloy at CNBC.com about the latest from David Kostin at Goldman Sachs. In talking about the fiscal cliff, Kostin is quoted as saying, “We believe the uncertainty is greater this year than it was 12 months ago.” Because of that, he urges investors to get out of equities before the fiscal cliff hits, could hit, might be settled, or…well…Kostin/Goldman Sachs doesn’t really know, that is, they/it are “uncertain.”

First, as Melloy relates in his story, Kostin’s analysis of the situation is right on the mark. Investors that think that economic rationality will rule the day as the fiscal cliff gets ever closer could be very surprised and lose money as policies are put in place or allowed to happen that are different than what they expect. As Kostin notes, last August’s cliff-hanger fight over the debt ceiling should convince anyone who’s watching what’s happening now that there’s no guarantee a deal will be cut, a rational agreement will be reached or the Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, and Congress and the White House have the ability to deal with tax, spending, debt and deficit issues in a timely manner.

But to bemoan the uncertainty as immobilizing and make it into its own issue is disingenuous if not completely deceitful. It’s time to call it what it really is: Wall Street Whining.

Here’s why.

1. When isn’t there uncertainty facing Wall Street about what’s going to happen? Whether it’s weather, Geo-political, economic or political, uncertainty is one of the most basic elements of capitalism and free enterprise.

2. In fact, it’s one of the first things you learn on your first day in Econ 101: Uncertainty — that is, the lack of perfect information — is one of the things that drives markets. If everyone knew…or assumed…the same thing, there wouldn’t be different investment strategies, alternatives, funds or trading. Everyone would want to buy or sell the same things for the same price. In other words, for all the complaints about it, without uncertainty Wall Street wouldn’t exist.

3. For all its whining, Wall Street doesn’t really want certainty unless it’s a guarantee that what it wants will happen. Would it feel better if a decision were made on Capital Hill right now that the Bush/Obama tax cuts will expire on January 1 and that the sequester spending cuts won’t be changed, that is, if the uncertainty were completely taken out of the system?

If it can’t get certainty that what it wants will happen, Wall Street seems to be happy to work with the notion that what it wants might happen. In other words, in the current situation, uncertainty about the fiscal cliff could actually be far preferable to certainty.

4. Much of the uncertainty about the current situation has been caused by Wall Street itself because it doesn’t want most of the fiscal cliff policies to go into effect. If Wall Street was willing to let all of the spending and taxing changes happen, it could know four-plus months in advance about the future and, therefore, completely eliminate all of the fiscal cliff-related uncertainty.

The fact that Wall Street isn’t doing this tells you all you need to know about the charge of “uncertainty”: Its a phony issue that should be dismissed out-of-hand.

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