U.S. President Donald Trump holds out a book containing environmental impact statements for a road during an event on infrastructure investment and deregulation at the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, June 9, 2017. Trump said he is setting up a new council to help managers of infrastructure projects “navigate the bureaucratic maze” of federal regulatory reviews and permitting, wrapping up what his administration had called “infrastructure week.” Photographer: Michael Reynolds/Pool via Bloomberg
President Trump, who loves a crowd, capped “Infrastructure Week” in much the way it began.
During a press briefing, Trump flipped through thick binders of what he said were unnecessary and burdensome environmental reviews holding up a highway project. He flopped them around the table until microphones picked up an audible “thunk” and then dropped them to the ground.
He pledged to cut through the “dense thicket of rules, regulation and red tape” he said were causing “terrible delays” for infrastructure permits.
Trump also announced the White House will be setting up a new council to help project managers navigate bureaucracy, and an “online dashboard” to track projects through the approval process and impose “tough penalties” on federal agencies that delay projects.
He also said the White House would create a new office in the Council of Environmental Quality, “to root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority, and streamline federal, state and local procedures.”
But he didn’t unveil a formal plan for achieving any of these goals.
A week of speeches and non-binding letters
The President’s remarks capped a week of non-starters.
On Wednesday he delivered an infrastructure speech in Cincinnati that offered no new details on his plans.
Nor did his remarks address the paradox of promising to boost highways while his own budget outline proposed cuts to the Highway Trust Fund that could delay local projects in the city he was speaking in, like the crumbling Brent Spece Bridge that carries traffic from two major highways into Cincinnati.
On Monday, surrounded by flashing cameras, politicians and business leaders, President Trump kicked everything off by signing non-binding memos and a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to work on a bill to privatize air traffic control.
“We have studied numerous countries, one in particular, they have a very, very good system; ours is going to top it by a lot,” he said in a speech after the ceremony in the East Room.
Like the signing of a major piece of legislation, he handed out pens to lawmakers and took in applause. Then it was quickly denounced by Democrats.
What is known of Trump’s sketched out infrastructure plans include calls for a $200 billion boost in federal spending that is supposed to trigger $800 billion in private financing through public-private partnerships.
Infrastructure stocks unmoved
By Friday, however, Infrastructure Week hadn’t moved infrastructure stocks much.
What do the markets know, and when did they know it?
In March, stocks of Caterpillar, U.S. Steel and construction materials supplier Vulcan Materials all rose on Trump’s first address to Congress in late February promoting his plans to invest $1 trillion in new bridges, roads, tunnels, airports and railways through a combination of public and private investment. Along with banking stocks, these helped carry the Dow to a record high of 21,000.
This week by Friday mid-day, U.S. Steel had risen from $20 to $22 per share, Vulcan Materials went from $126 to $130, and Caterpillar ended where it started Monday, at $106.
And despite the president’s promises, management at top infrastructure companies hasn’t been issuing new guidance to investors and isn’t factoring in boosts to federal spending in their forecasts.
“The 2017 guidance we provided in February and reaffirm today does not reflect any benefits that may be gained from potential legislation, increasing federal infrastructure investment,” Howard Nye, the CEO of Martin Marietta, a leading supplier of heavy building materials, said in its first quarter report.