Last updated: April 28, 2009 8:21 pm

Assessing Obama

That governments are judged over their first three and a bit months is a tad arbitrary. Still, 100 days is all one needs to understand the Obama administration’s economic agenda, thanks to the need for a rapid response to a worldwide crisis. In short, the president has been interventionist, like that of his predecessor, with every arm and leg of the state being employed to fight for the cause. Whether and how these limbs are retracted remains to be seen. But the consequences of some policies may be felt for decades.

Those passing short-term judgments do not have much to work with. The S&P 500 has been flat since the day Mr Obama raised his right hand. So have bank stocks, the focus of so much of his time. Currencies have not done much either. If anything, that should be seen as a positive. There has been no sell-off in the dollar on the back of the administration’s $790bn stimulus bill, nor the ballooning of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet. Other indicators of stress have also eased: three-month Libor, for example, is down 14 basis points to just above 1 per cent.

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In truth, the days to watch will actually be the last 100 of Mr Obama’s opening term. By October 2012, some very important questions should be answered. Can government debt be wrestled from 14 per cent of output at the end of this year back down towards the International Monetary Fund’s forecast of 5 per cent in 2014? If not, bonds and the dollar will wobble. It will also be clear by then whether the Federal Reserve has averted a deflationary slump. On the flip side, Mr Obama had better hope that the Fed can rein in monetary policy if the economy recovers. If it fails, his re-election campaign will be even more expensive than the first bid – in nominal prices, at least.

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