PhillyDeals: Does Washington help or hurt the economy?

"Seems to me that the economy is performing remarkably well despite all the clueless people running this country from Washington," economist Ed Yardeni says.
"Seems to me that the economy is performing remarkably well despite all the clueless people running this country from Washington," economist Ed Yardeni says.
Posted: November 03, 2010

Government-watchers on Wall Street like to tell each other that a politically divided Congress is good for business - Washington has a tough time doing anything radically damaging to financial interests when neither party can force legislation through.

A "Divided Washington is what the U.S. economy needs," Kevin Hassett, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a column for Bloomberg L.P. as voters went to the polls Tuesday.

The 1990s showdown between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich "offered more than good political theater: It produced some results," Hassett wrote, including a more-balanced budget, ignoring the fact that the same combination produced boneheaded financial deregulation that led to the current slump.

Maybe we need more from our government, at a time when one in 10 American workers (or one in six, if one counts the underemployed) needs a job.

"Gridlock surely promotes the status quo [and] that is not great in a time when action is needed," Jan Loeys, head of asset allocation at JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a report to clients.

If a gridlocked Congress can't decide what to do, the Federal Reserve will likely continue its bold attempt to boost the money supply and spark controlled price inflation, to promote business lending and help work America out of debt.

Or maybe the economy is actually recovering despite Washington, and this autumn's often ludicrously simpleminded $4 billion election campaigns.

"Seems to me that the economy is performing remarkably well despite all the clueless people running this country from Washington," economist Ed Yardeni wrote in his daily newsletter Tuesday.

Third-quarter profits were up 50 percent over last year at 350 big companies that have reported so far, Yardeni reports. You can boost profits by cutting costs. But sales at the same companies were up 7 percent, which Yardeni takes as a sign of actual growth.

I'd like to see mergers and acquisitions at those swollen companies taken into account, before we declare the slump is over.

Yardeni is confident anyway: "The people who really run our economy are the ones managing businesses, and they are managing to produce surprisingly strong profits despite Washington's meddling," he wrote.

So, when will they start hiring?

Dell's outpost

Boomi's 40 employees, at the 10-year-old integration software company's headquarters in the redeveloped quarry district on the road from Berwyn to Valley Forge, will keep their jobs following Dell's acquisition of the firm Tuesday.

Boomi founder Bob Moul and venture-capital backer FirstMark Capital of New York (which invested $4 million in the firm two years ago) are counting their profits. Neither is saying what Dell paid.

Not a good sign: Boomi's site crashed on news of the acquisition.

New Philly fund family

Nearly two years after he launched it amid the securities-market collapse, Michael Forman's Franklin Square Capital Partners has boosted its staff to 60 people, including a full-time national sales force supported by 20 staff at its Cira Centre headquarters.

"We're planning to have as many as 100 by spring," Forman tells me. "How many fund companies can you name that are expanding?"

Franklin Square invests in corporate debt and leveraged credits. Its first publicly registered, non-traded (so you can't easily sell it) business-development company, FS Investment Corp., reported $500 million in assets "from the mass affluent, to smaller institutions, to low-end accredit investors," which is to say, millionaires, as of Oct. 18.

The fund has invested in debt instruments from companies including TXU Energy, the big Texas-based company, and Wayne-based SunGard, the data-recovery and financial/government/college software firm and one of several positions Forman said his fund has sold at a profit. The investments are selected by GSO Blackstone in New York.

Franklin Square last month filed with the SEC to register a second fund, FS Energy and Power Fund. "We've done exactly what we wanted to do: We're hiring and expanding the business," Forman told me.

Forman is the managing partner. Another owner is David Adelman, of Campus Apartments. Philadelphia-based directors include Cozen O'Connor partner Michael Heller, Evolve IP founder Tom Gravina, and Richard Vague, of Energy Plus.


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or JoeD@phillynews.com.

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