MorningWord 5/11/17: You’ve got fail

by Dan May 11, 2017 10:06 am • FREE ACCESS

There are a lot of interesting things going on in financial markets today that investors clearly care about. SNAP down 20% after reporting its first quarter as a public company is interesting, so is Macy’s (M) and Dillard’s (DDS) down 10% a piece offering less than stellar, but far from unexpected results last night. Probably the most important thing going on as it relates to your money is not coming from Wall Street but out of Washington. Yep you guessed it, the abrupt firing of the FBI director by the president. I am not going to argue about the politics of the move, but the manner in which it was executed, and the explanations for why it was done and who the decision was influenced by have created a firestorm on both sides of the aisle. As Axios’s Mike Allen put it this am: Trump puts agenda, presidency at risk. Despite the fact this sort of headline puts a little spring in my step, his reporting on the matter, and the possible implications of an abrupt, ill-conceived act might be the most important thing you read this week:

The answers to why Trump canned Comey are becoming clear: The president was filled with grievance about the FBI probe and acted on impulse without clearly thinking through the fallout, numerous sources tell me.

The consequences are also becoming clear: This one quick decision put everything at unnecessary risk, from his legislative agenda to his public standing — and potentially his presidency.

“It is a debacle,” said one Republican in constant touch with the West Wing. “They got everything — timing, rationale, reaction — completely wrong.”

The fallout:

  • A Senate committee put off a health-care markup yesterday because Democrats and Republicans were occupied with their Comey response — a first indicator of the price the Trump agenda may pay in the days ahead, through both distraction and the souring of interpersonal relations along Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • Dems smell blood, both with investigations and a possible House takeover. They had little incentive to help before. Now they have none.
  • We told you yesterday that this would only increase the ferocity of the investigations. That’s already true in the Senate, where Mike Flynn was subpoenaed yesterday for documents about his interactions with Russians that he had refused to provide.
  • Axios’ Jonathan Swanpointed out yesterday that the White House isn’t prepared for the leaks that are coming. Sure enough, CNN’s Jake Tapper soon popped some of the day’s most damaging reporting: A source close to Comey said he believes he was fired because he “never provided the President with any assurance of personal loyalty,” and because “the FBI’s investigation into possible Trump team collusion with Russia in the 2016 election was accelerating.” And this is someone who’s going to be called to testify before Congress, and is likely to write a book and speak widely.

As one Republican put it to me: “The team are rank amateurs who picked a fight with the intelligence agencies and the FBI. Hard to unite those historically competitive organizations. And they have the ability to find out almost anything!”

Sound smart I: This crisis of his own making is about to get worse.

Sound smart II: Wait, Spicer’s to blame?! Hard to see how anyone could magically spin your boss abruptly canning the guy investigating the very legitimacy of his job.
If you get your news and political analysis, this thought process probably feels a bit hyperbolic, the few surrogates the president has supported him this week have brushed off any and all notions that this week’s act was in any way related to the FBI’s ongoing investigation of the president’s campaign colluding with the Russians during the election. They are telling Steve Ducey and the brown haired guy who is not Steve Ducey that the press needs to move on. I think one thing is certain now, that Wahington is headed for full blown scandal., If the president was trying to shift the attention away from fired former acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ testimony earlier in the week to congress, well he certainly did that but compounded the damage exponentially.
At some point in the not so distant future investors might start to price the risk of political scandal and the strong likelihood that many of the proposed pro-growth policies that need to go through a thorough legislative vetting process, ultimately with some bi-partisan support are not going to happen, at least until there is some sign of affirmation of the president which might not come now until post the November 2018 midterm elections. Financial markets in the not distant future will need to rest of the prospects of the economy, and earnings expectations that we have under the existing tax laws of the land, healthcare system, regulatory and infrastructure spending environment.
Since I started to write this, markets are starting to take notice, the 55 bps the SPX is down feeling like the worst opening for stocks in weeks, and after a brief dalliance with a 9 handle, the VIX is back above 11.