What to Expect From the Trump Administration on Four Key Tech Issues

A Farewell to Net Neutrality

Look for federal telecom regulators to take a hands-off approach to regulating the internet after Trump appoints a Republican chairman to the Federal Communications Commission. The appointment will give Republican commissioners the majority vote for the first time since 2009. Though the FCC operates as an independent agency of the government, its decisions will surely be shaped by Trump’s choice for chairman. The pick is likely to be a pro-business Republican who supports a light regulatory touch.

To recap: Net neutrality regulations, which call for all lawful web traffic to be treated equally by web providers, took effect in June 2015. Most contentiously, the rules reclassified consumer broadband as a utility, so it faces new red tape on everything from pricing to privacy. (I wrote about the impact of the FCC’s net neutrality rule back in March 2015.) Continue reading “What to Expect From the Trump Administration on Four Key Tech Issues”

Coming: GOP Infighting over Federal Spending

It’s a good bet that federal spending and the annual budget deficits will increase during the Trump administration, despite opposition from many members of his own party who will hold firm on reining in government outlays.

But the Republican-controlled Congress isn’t about to give President-elect Donald Trump a blank check. The credit rating service Moody’s forecasts that if he were to get everything on his spending wish list, the deficit as a share of GDP would likely top 10% by the end of his four-year term, compared with 3% now. That’s not going to happen.

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What now after a Texas judge has blocked DOL’s overtime rule?

Now that a federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked implementation of the Department of Labor’s new overtime rule, what’s likely to happen next and what should employers do in the meantime?

Don’t be surprised if the contentious overtime rule is dead. With just over a week before the Dec. 1, 2016, effective date, the injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant in Texas ruled that the department had overstepped “its delegated authority.”

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What Rising Interest Rates Mean for the Housing Market

Low inventories of homes, especially those at the lower end of the price range, should keep rising mortgage rates from pulling down sales growth much. But home price gains are likely to slow, especially for homes at the higher end of the price range and ones in large metro areas of the West where price growth had been high for a while.

Thirty-year fixed mortgage rates have risen by about half a percentage point since the election. For a new $250,000 loan with a 20% down payment, the principal and interest payment has risen by $55 per month. The annual income a borrower needs to qualify for that loan is now $44,000, up from $42,000 earlier. Qualifying income for those who make a down payment of 5% has risen from $50,000 to $53,000. For a $350,000 loan with 20% down, the increase in the monthly nut will be $80, with qualifying income at $65,000, versus $62,000 earlier.

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Changes to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)

There’s no doubt that changes are coming to the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, now that the White House and both chambers of Congress are in Republican hands.

The big questions are what will replace it and when? Part of the uncertainty is that President-elect Trump has already said he won’t kill parts of the law that are popular with consumers, such as allowing children to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26 and requiring insurers to accept all comers, even those with preexisting conditions. The law also contains hundreds of provisions affecting Medicare, the health care workforce, prevention and many others that few associate with Obamacare. Continue reading “Changes to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)”

Previewing OPEC’s Latest Confab

All eyes in the oil market are on OPEC’s upcoming meeting. But whether the cartel finally makes good on its long-awaited promise to cut production or not, we counsel taking a longer view on prices.

Production Cuts: Are We There Yet?

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has been disappointing oil bulls for two years now. In fact, it was just about two years ago, when the group shocked markets by publicly opting not to cut production despite weak crude prices, that oil’s rout began in earnest. Traders seemed flummoxed that OPEC was abandoning its long-standing role as the unofficial regulator of global oil supply at a time when U.S. crude output was soaring and the world was awash in excess oil.

Over the last two years, the oil market has rallied repeatedly on rumors that OPEC was finally going to rein in its output to bring supply and demand into better balance and prop up prices. So far, all of those rallies have fizzled as OPEC failed to follow up rumors of a production cut with concrete action.

Could the OPEC meeting next week finally deliver and give oil prices the boost that bulls have been seeking? I remain skeptical, for two reasons. First, there’s the simple “Charlie Brown and Lucy” factor. How many times does OPEC have to pull away the proverbial football before traders realize they’re being played for fools? Or, to use an old stock market adage: “The trend is your friend.” For two years now, the trend has been for OPEC to overpromise and underdeliver.

Second, OPEC seems stuck between a rock and a hard place. No individual OPEC member wants to export fewer barrels, unless the group can jointly cut enough to push prices up significantly. No one will squawk about a 5% cutback in exports if it results in a 10% price increase, for instance. But how much confidence can OPEC members have that they can engineer a price pop big enough to make up for exporting less? Especially in a world in which U.S. energy companies can quickly put more rigs to work in places such as the Permian Basin in Texas when oil prices rise?

That’s not an academic question. The latest weekly reports from oilfield services company Baker Hughes show that U.S. drilling is already picking up, with much of it targeting the Permian because of its abundant resources and relatively low production costs. The U.S. Geological Survey just issued an estimate showing that one formation in the Permian, the Wolfcamp Shale, holds 20 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil. That’s three times the size of North Dakota’s prolific Bakken Shale. And as we wrote recently, shale operators are growing increasingly efficient at getting more oil out of each well they drill while also cutting costs.

Combine an OPEC-sparked oil price rally with this leaner, meaner cost structure, turn it loose on a massive oil play, and you can pretty much bet that American oil output would soon be humming. Indeed, the latest reports from the Department of Energy show that production is already creeping up after a year-long slide. Surely OPEC knows all of this.

When the Dust Settles

I expect plenty of volatility in oil markets after the OPEC meeting next week, no matter what the cartel decides to do. An announcement of a deal to cut production would engender a quick price rally, likely pushing West Texas Intermediate above $50 per barrel. Failure to reach an agreement would probably see prices plunge to $40 or lower. Something in between, such as an announcement of a temporary cut or a smaller cut than markets had expected, could send the price of crude up, down and up again with little net change.

But the longer term is what matters for businesses and investors. And our long-run view remains the same: Oil prices will gradually grind higher next year, averaging somewhere in the low $50s per barrel, versus today’s high $40s. World oil demand figures to keep growing at a modest pace, and many large drilling projects around the globe have been canceled recently because they aren’t economical at today’s oil prices. U.S. output should increase thanks to its increasingly productive shale oil fields. But production elsewhere stands to suffer because of the pullback in ventures such as deep-water wells and offshore drilling in Arctic waters.

That sort of gradual price gain is no doubt less than what oil companies and the petro states of OPEC would like to see. But it’s probably the world they’ll have to live with for some time to come.

Will Trump’s foreign policy upend the post cold war consensus?

With his victory in the U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump has the potential to upend the consensus that has governed American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

Will he? The short answer: Probably not. There’s an old saying about presidential candidates and foreign policy: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” In other words, Trump the president will take a far different approach than Trump the Republican nominee, much as Barack Obama did after he was elected in 2008.

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’Tis the season for holiday discounts

Sale signs will be as prolific as tinsel and mistletoe this holiday shopping season. Marketers have already begun peppering storefronts and e-mails with markdowns — 50% off, 40% off, 25% off, buy-one-get-one-half-price — joyful music to price-conscious consumers’ ears.

Holiday shopping

Many merchants have trapped themselves in a cycle of promotions, fueling consumers’ reluctance to pay full price. Inventory levels are evening out, but years of near-constant discounting and a lack of exciting new product lines have pushed shoppers to hold off on purchases longer, until sellers slash prices.

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What’s Next for the Internet of Things

Businesses of all stripes are ramping up efforts to profit from the budding Internet of Things. But cashing in won’t be easy. The Internet of Things, also known as IoT, is the growing phenomena of cars, drones, street lights, machines and a myriad of other things that can be connected to the web via a network of small sensors. The potential benefits aren’t hard to imagine. Just think of sensor-laden factories that spot malfunctions before they occur or “smart cities” that rapidly collect and analyze traffic data to shorten commuting times. But coming up with a surefire business model keeps telecom providers up at night.

To see where things stand, I stopped by an event last week in Washington, D.C., where technology company representatives, government officials and industry analysts mulled the different ways IoT could lead to smart cities and other services. Here are some of the key takeaways:

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Trump’s Agenda and Challenges

Now comes the hard part for Donald Trump – turning the rhetoric of one of the most divisive campaigns in decades into the reality of governing.

When Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017, Republicans will hold power in the House and have narrow control of the Senate. In normal circumstances, that’s a huge advantage when it comes to implementing an agenda. But these might not be normal circumstances.

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