Comment Nothing affects the outcome of a US presidential election more than the state of the economy, and if Barack Obama heard the comments made by Intel and AMD execs when they announced their company's earnings this week, he may very well have broken into a flop sweat.
"As we look ahead to the second half of this year, consumer market growth in Western Europe and North America is not forecasted to recover as fast as we had anticipated." Intel CEO Paul Otellini told analysts and reporters when announcing his company's second-quarter financial results on Tuesday.
AMD CEO Rory Read agreed during his conference call with the same crowd, when announcing his company's disappointing results. "It is clear that global economic activity is slowing," he told his listeners.
As the wily politico Bill Clinton so aptly explained, when it comes to defining a presidential campaign's message, "It's the economy, stupid." And across the globe, said economy is in increasingly sorry shape, and neither Otellini nor Read sees it improving before Tuesday, November 6.
The two CEOs, of course, see the world through the lens of their own businesses. But the microprocessor market, it can be argued, is a useful bellwether for the health of the global economy as a whole.
If that's the case, the rest of 2012 doesn't look all that hot.
From Read's point of view, times are tough and they're going to get tougher. "For the first time since 2001, client PC shipments have declined sequentially for three consecutive quarters, and have been below historical averages for the last seven quarters," he said, then added in a fine bit of CEOese, "We expect macro headwinds will continue for the third quarter.
Those macro headwinds are creating a macro headache for Obama and his Democratic party.
Conditions for a continued incumbency were better earlier in the year. Recalling those relatively halcyon days, Otellini said that he then expected the market "softness" that he had seen for several previous fiscal quarters be in recovery mode by now. But as he told the reporters and moneymen, "We don't see PC sales to be as robust as we first thought."
Read has also tempered his expectations. "We believe that the expectation in the PC market across 2012 at the beginning of the year was to be expanding each quarter," he said, "and as you can see, in 2Q the macroeconomic headwinds have obviously slowed that PC growth. We believe that will continue in the second half."
The two companies' CFOs also chimed in with phrases guaranteed to furrow the brows of donkey devotees. Intel's Stacy Smith talked about "continued weakness in mature markets," and AMD's Thomas Seifert bemoaned the "choppy macroeconomic environment."
When Obama took office in January 2009, the US economy was – not to put too fine a point on it – in the toilet. That very month, 839,000 jobs were lost. This January, by contrast, the US economy added 277,000 jobs.
But that was then, and now is now. In June, job growth sank to a mere 84,000 – and if Otellini, Read, and many others are correct, the combination of what the Intel CEO refers to as the "abatement of GDP growth" in China, the EU's ongoing fiscal follies, and a dip in stateside consumer confidence spells growing trouble for the man of the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
After all, American voters have as their motto, "What have you done for me lately?" And with the electorate's famously short attention span, the accent is most definitely on the last word of that question.
The man whose name is consistently prefixed with "presumptive Republican presidential nominee", Willard Mitt Romney, must be viewing the saggy, soggy global economy with mixed feelings. If it remains sluggish, his road to the White House will be easier. But if it tanks completely, he'll inherit as big a mess as Obama did when he took office.
But Romney does have one ace in the hole. With a personal net worth hovering in the $250m range, even if the economy takes a nosedive as screamingly steep and frightfully deep as it did in the waning months of the Bush era, it's not likely that the "pRpn" will find himself tossed into the fraying federal safety net.
In fact, if Romney wanted to pour a little honey onto the struggling PC market, we suggest that he might buy Intel-equipped ultrabooks or AMD-equipped ultrathins for Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben, Craig, and Ann.
Hey, every little bit helps when the US economy is being buffeted by what AMD's Read identifies as "macroeconomic headwinds". ®