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The last economic data to be released before the election has given no advantage to either candidate. We did pick up 171,000 jobs in October, a little better than forecast, and revised up another 84,000 in prior months.
However, the average workweek was unchanged for the fourth month in a row, and hourly earnings fell slightly, over the last year rising only 1.6 percent. “U-6” — the measure of unemployment including “involuntary part-time” — is still 14.6 percent.
On net a brighter sign than the jobs report: the ISM survey of manufacturing in October crawled 0.2 further into positive ground at 51.7. Markets are flat, I think suppressed more by the election than anything, although stocks are clearly hurt by diminished earnings. Foreign action has also been muted and deferred by our election, especially in Europe.
So, Wednesday morning — assuming we know the election results by then — how will events and markets break from months of unnatural quiet?
1. We’ll know by then. The 2000 election was a coin toss like this one, but the damned thing won’t land on its edge again … not twice in four tries.
2. Who? Obama has an Electoral College edge, but that edge has narrowed steadily. Iffy polling results this year seem to make even the pollsters queasy. This one may more resemble ’48 and the Chicago Tribune’s “Dewey Beats Truman!” — but either man could be Truman.
3. With no forecast to work with, markets can’t discount either outcome. Wednesday could be an explosive trading day, but maybe not. If it’s Obama, things are going to happen fast; if it’s Romney, no matter what he says after winning, he still won’t be in office for almost three months.
4. Fiscal cliff. If it’s Romney, then Obama and Congress will punt 90 days. If it’s Obama, markets will begin to trade rapidly on prospects for a deal. If Obama sticks with his ethereal hope that “Congress will reach a compromise,” find something big and solid to hide under.
In our system of government — intentionally designed so that it’s hard to get things done, and so that nothing at all gets done in a hurry –either the president leads, putting his reputation on the line and giving cover to legislators of his own party, or nothing of substance ever happens.
If we seem in for a replay of 2011, markets aren’t going to like it. If we get a deal –– a real one — markets will like it no matter how tilted Left or Right.
5. No matter who gets elected, Tim Geithner will be gone from Treasury. He has wanted to leave for a year, and the White House has not explained why it begged him to stay. Anybody can do nothing. It’s been a challenge to annoy Right, Left, and Business Center, but the Prince of Procrastination has been up to it. Whoever replaces the Wizard of Waiting cannot do less.
6. Any pop the economy gets from an Obama resolution of the fiscal cliff will be smothered in its crib by runaway regulation. Romney might overdo regulation relief, but it would take many years to do harm: Really bad financial actors and practices are long gone. Even Vikram Pandit is gone. The link from regulation to the economy is finance. Somebody is going to have to decide, quickly, whether we want Dodd-Frank and Basel III risk-based bank capital rules, or want loans. A or B.
7. Housing. Finance is everything, and the most damaged by the “regulation bubble.” Edward J. DeMarco, czar of Fannie and Freddie, must be either removed or recalibrated. There will come a day to privatize these two, but squeezing the life out of them before a private supply exists makes a broad housing recovery impossible. Oh, by the way, the FHA needs a $50 billion to $100 billion bailout.
Housing’s benefit from the election? I don’t see any.
8. The new guy will nominate the next Fed chairman. There are many able candidates, but this is a tough stream in which to change horses.