Markets might be overestimating the upside of deregulation from Capitol Hill.
Having Republicans in control of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives has spurred investor confidence that market-boosting deregulation is on the horizon. But Goldman Sachs (GS) warned on Friday that Wall Street may be a bit too optimistic about the effect rolling back government rules and oversight can actually have.
"Despite the significant attention that the theme has received from investors since the election, we see deregulation -- at least outside of the financial sector -- as a more minor issue for near-term growth than fiscal policy," said analysts David Mericle and Daan Struyven.
President Trump has promised to unleash the United States economy through a process of tax reform, infrastructure spending and deregulation, but the details on all three fronts are hazy at best. The White House's one-page list of principles on tax reform in April is far from becoming actual legislation, and a top administration official said on Monday that the blueprint of an infrastructure plan will come in the next several weeks.
Trump and his aides have on numerous occasions given a nod to deregulation, though they've largely been light on specifics. Trump has said he wants to cut regulations by 75% or more, and top strategist Steve Bannon has called for the "deconstruction of the administrative state." Soon after arriving at the Oval Office, the president signed an order requiring that for every one new regulation, two should be discarded.
Still, Goldman analysts remain dubious as to the true effect of deregulation out of D.C., pointing to three reasons.
First, regulation doesn't have a big impact on the economy in the first place. The Office of Budget and Management estimates the cost of major regulation to be just 0.5% of GDP.
Second, making changes, even through executive action, takes time. Required comment periods can take a couple of years to be completed, and court battles can cause further delays. And the Trump administration in particular hasn't been fast at getting its executive branch nominees through the Senate, complicating matters even more.
Third, the two areas where regulatory changes are likeliest -- environmental and anti-trust policy -- aren't market and economy-boosting slam dunks, as both have offsetting effects. Environmental regulations, for example, might have negative effects on productivity, output and earnings of affected firms, but more broadly, their effect is more ambiguous. Some affected workers and companies shift to less-regulated or cleaner areas, and pollution reduction involves investment and job creation as well.
Trump and congressional Republicans have already taken a number of steps toward deregulation. They've already rolled back about a dozen Obama-era rules using the Congressional Review Act, including scrapping an anti-corruption rule for oil and gas companies and a rule protecting retirement investors.
On the environmental front, the Trump administration has ordered a review of fuel economy standards for car companies, blocked a rule to protect streams from coal mining waste, approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and put the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan in jeopardy. Trump also signed an executive order to expand offshore drilling.
Goldman analysts don't dive in on the potential impact of financial sector deregulation, which the GOP has also put on the agenda, targeting Dodd-Frank and other sector-specific rules. But beyond finance and banks, they say investors might be counting their chickens before they hatch on loosening up federal rules and oversight.