From Joe Biden to Sarah Palin to John Edwards, none of them were ever known for their grasp of economic policy.
But Paul Ryan is different.
His selection as vice presidential nominee last weekend has significant implications for the economy if the Republican ticket wins Election 2012.
In fact, the selection tells us more about Mitt Romney than we knew before, since Ryan is committed to a group of policies difficult to implement but which would change the direction of U.S. fiscal policy.
If you're interested in an adult conversation about the dangers of the fiscal cliff, the selection of Paul Ryan ensures you are going to get one this fall.
As an investor, that means you need to position yourself to benefit from a GOP win, without damaging your wealth if the just about equal possibility occurs of losing to President Barack Obama and Vice-President Biden.
With Ryan now in the race, here's what you need to know about this up-and-comer from Wisconsin.
What Paul Ryan Brings to the Ticket
As head of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan has made two major economic proposals, both of which have been passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
One is to restructure Medicare, keeping it as it stands for those over 55, but transferring those below that age into a premium-support scheme that would leave individuals more fully in control of their healthcare costs.
The other is a budget that, apart from reforming entitlements, proposes to reduce top tax rates and pay for that reduction through means-testing the home mortgage, state income tax, medical insurance and charitable tax deductions.
From Mitt Romney's point of view, Ryan's Medicare proposal is the more dangerous issue in the campaign since the Ryan budget proposal is fairly close to Romney's own.
However, with his selection of Ryan we can assume that Romney is prepared to defend the principles of Ryan's Medicare plan, and that if he wins, something like the Ryan plan and his budget will be put forward to Congress.
Of course, being a sausage factory, what Congress actually gets enacted may bear little resemblance to the wholesome ingredients that go into the mixture!
One other key issue at stake in this election is monetary policy.
Like the other Republican candidates, Romney pledged not to re-nominate Ben Bernanke when his term expires in January 2014.
But the truth is, Ryan is much more seriously committed to reforming the current monetary policy and eliminating the huge costs it has inflicted on American savers and the pensions industry.
Given that the majority of Republicans are also committed to Bernanke-replacement and higher interest rates, we can be fairly confident that a Romney/Ryan victory would prove a watershed moment in U.S. monetary policy.
Election 2012: An Investor's Guide to Romney/Ryan
As investors, we can assume that if Romney wins, a serious effort will be made to cut public spending, possibly accompanied by a net tax increase, although with a slashing of tax deductions fairly similar to the 1986 tax legislation.
We can also assume that Obama's healthcare legislation will be revisited, with a greater emphasis on the private sector and an attack on cozy healthcare oligopolies in the hospital, pharmaceutical and insurance sectors.
Finally, we can assume that interest rates will rise.
With those outcomes we can certainly plan on what to do if the Romney/Ryan ticket wins the November election.
Investors should short the hospital and pharmaceutical sectors, whose profits will be squeezed, but go long the private insurance sector, whose role may well increase.
Because interest rates are likely to increase, investors should also short government bonds -- even though the deficit will finally be addressed.
A Romney/Ryan win will also be bad for the home builders because of the reduction in subsidies for housing and the likely attack on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will slow their recovery from the 2007-12 housing downturn. Builders at the high end like Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL) look especially vulnerable.
However, as investors we cannot usefully do any of this before the election.
However, there is one thing investors can do before the election. They can buy the ProShares UltraShort 20+ years Treasury ETF (NYSE:TBT). This ETF takes a leveraged short position in long-term Treasury bond futures, so if interest rates rise (and bond prices decline) TBT benefits.
Whichever candidate wins, it looks like a good buy. If Romney/Ryan wins, interest rates will rise in 2013, and Treasury bond prices decline.
If Obama/Biden prevails, then less will be done to address the Federal budget deficit, while monetary policy will be kept very loose.
In that case, either inflation will surge or the market will start worrying seriously about the long-term U.S. budget position, or both. Again, that will be good for TBT, although the payoff may be delayed slightly longer.
Of course, the last major economic policy figure to run for the Vice Presidency was Jack Kemp in 1996, an author of the 1980s Kemp-Roth tax cuts. It's said Kemp has been a major formative influence on Ryan.
Whether Romney/Ryan faces the same fate as Dole/Kemp remains to be seen.
Either way, you can expect the debate to be one of two very different ideas.
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About the Author
Martin Hutchinson has nearly 30 years’ experience as a global investment banker – plus a reputation for being bearish at just the right time. Slate magazine singled him out as the financier who most accurately predicted how bad the 2009 bear market would turn out to be. Martin is the editor of the Permanent Wealth Investor, where he focuses on stocks that pay high, reliable dividends. In his Merchant Banker Alert, Martin uncovers the fastest-growing companies in the fastest-growing economies and brings those ideas back home to you. Learn more about Martin on our contributors page.
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