Approximately nine out of 10 metro markets registered home price gains in the fourth quarter of 2022 despite mortgage rates eclipsing 7%, according to the National Association of Realtors’ latest quarterly report. Eighteen percent of the 186 tracked metro areas registered double-digit price increases over the same time period, down from 46% in the third quarter of 2022.

Compared to a year ago, the national median single-family existing-home price rose 4.0% to $378,700. Year-over-year price appreciation decelerated when compared to the previous quarter’s 8.6%.

“A slowdown in home prices is underway and welcomed, particularly as the typical home price has risen 42% in the past three years,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said, noting these costs increases have far surpassed wage increases and consumer price inflation of 15% and 14%, respectively, since 2019. “Far fewer metro markets experienced double-digit price gains in the latest quarter.”

Among the major U.S. regions, the South saw the largest share of single-family existing-home sales (45%) in the third quarter, with year-over-year price appreciation of 4.9%. Prices grew 5.3% in the Northeast, 4.0% in the Midwest, and 2.6% in the West.

“Even with a projected reduction in home sales this year, prices are expected to remain stable in the vast majority of the markets due to extremely limited supply,” Yun added. “Moreover, there are signs that buyers are returning as mortgage rates decline, even with inventory levels near historic lows.”

The top 10 metro areas with the largest year-over-year price increases all recorded gains of at least 14.5%, with seven of those markets in Florida and the Carolinas.

Half of the top 10 most expensive markets in the U.S. were in California.

Roughly one in 10 markets (11%; 20 of 186) experienced home price declines in the fourth quarter of 2022.

“A few markets may see double-digit price drops, especially some of the more expensive parts of the country which have also seen weaker employment and higher instances of residents moving to other areas,” Yun added.

In the fourth quarter of 2022, housing affordability was exacerbated by elevated home prices and mortgage rates which roughly doubled from the beginning of the year. The monthly mortgage payment on a typical existing single-family home with a 20% down payment was $1,969. This represents a 7% increase from the third quarter of last year ($1,838) but a major surge of 58% – or $720 – from one year ago. Families typically spent 26.2% of their income on mortgage payments, up from 25% in the prior quarter and 17.5% one year ago.

Once again, first-time buyers looking to purchase a typical home during the fourth quarter of 2022 encountered challenges related to housing’s growing unaffordability. For a typical starter home valued at $321,900 with a 10% down payment loan, the monthly mortgage payment rose to $1,931, about 7% more than the previous quarter ($1,806) and an increase of almost $700, or 57%, from one year ago ($1,233). First-time buyers typically spent 39.5% of their family income on mortgage payments, up from 37.8% in the previous quarter. A mortgage is considered unaffordable if the monthly payment (principal and interest) amounts to more than 25% of the family’s income.

A family needed a qualifying income of at least $100,000 to afford a 10% down payment mortgage in 71 markets, up from 59 in the prior quarter. Yet, a family needed a qualifying income of less than $50,000 to afford a home in 16 markets, down from 17 in the previous quarter.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $18,914,000 from President Biden’s Infrastructure Law to address emerging contaminants, like Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in drinking water in Montana.  This investment, which is allocated to states and territories, will be made available to communities as grants through EPA’s Emerging Contaminants in Small or Disadvantaged Communities (EC-SDC) Grant Program and will promote access to safe and clean water in small, rural, and disadvantaged communities while supporting local economies.

Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the availability of $2 billion in water infrastructure investments at an event held in North Carolina recently. “Too many American communities, especially those that are small, rural, or underserved, are suffering from exposure to PFAS and other harmful contaminants in their drinking water,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, we are investing in America and providing billions of dollars to strengthen our nation’s water infrastructure while safeguarding people’s health and boosting local economies. These grants build on EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap and will help protect our smallest and most vulnerable communities from these persistent and dangerous chemicals.”

“EPA is delivering on its strategic commitment to address PFAS and emerging contaminants with more than $18 million for infrastructure projects that will safeguard Montana’s drinking water for years to come,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker. “These funds will help water providers invest in treatment technologies and solutions to contamination concerns in the communities that need them most.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $5 billion over five years to help communities that are on the frontlines of PFAS contamination reduce PFAS in drinking water. EPA announced the funds for Montana as part of an allotment of $2 billion to states and territories that can be used to prioritize infrastructure and source water treatment for pollutants, like PFAS and other emerging contaminants, and to conduct water quality testing.

EPA is also releasing the Emerging Contaminants in Small or Disadvantaged Communities Grant Implementation document. The implementation document provides states and communities with the information necessary to use this funding to address local water quality and public health challenges. These grants will enable communities to improve local water infrastructure and reduce emerging contaminants in drinking water by implementing solutions such as installing necessary treatment solutions.

By Dan Brooks, Billings Chamber of Commerce

One of the Billings Chamber’s public policies is to reduce the cost of doing business in Montana. One expense that can be costly to a business is litigation. Fortunately, Montana’s legal climate ranks pretty well according to the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) Lawsuit Climate Survey, putting our state within the Top 10 at #7.

 It hasn’t always been the case that Montana is viewed in that top tier. In previous ILR surveys, our state was ranked 27th, 34th, and 45th in 2017, 2015, and 2012 respectively. We’ve been climbing the ranks as businesses have slowly shifted perceptions of the fairness and reasonableness of our state’s liability systems.

 To maintain and perhaps increase that favorable perception, the Montana Chamber is putting forward some thoughtful tort reform bills that we are thankful for and will be supporting.

 The first, SB 216, deals with product liability reform. Product liability laws are intended to provide compensation to folks harmed by defective products. However, current product liability law in Montana lacks some reasonable defenses for business. This bill makes a number of common sense changes to protect our Montana manufacturing and retail entities from unfair claims:

* Creates a comparative fault defense that allows product sellers to show that another party contributed to the injury.

* Strengthens product misuse defense and allows product sellers to argue that the product was used contrary to an express warning or instruction included with the product.

* Creates a defense for government safety regulation compliance if the product complied with mandatory government safety regulations and requirements.

* Creates a 10-year statute of repose, with reasonable exceptions, recognizing that most products have a limited useful life and eventually wear out.

* Allows for an innocent-seller defense, protecting retailers that sell products unchanged from manufacturers.

* Adds a no safer alternative defense, allowing the reasonable consideration that there is no safer alternative in existence at the time of sale. 

 The second bill is LC 0932, which attempts to shine a light on the unregulated third-party litigation financing (TPLF) industry. Third-party litigation financing is the investment by hedge funds, wealthy individuals, and sovereign wealth funds in the outcome of lawsuits for a profit.

 Imagine the imperfect hypothetical where Mr. Baggins is suing Bert for property damages caused when Bert irreparably soiled Mr. Baggins’ coat, mistaking it for a handkerchief. Typically, Mr. Baggins and Bert would have their day in court, the dispute would get resolved, and damages recovered. However, let’s assume a TPLF, Oakenshield Capital, wants to get involved and helps fund Mr. Baggins’ suit against Bert in exchange for a share of the recovery. Oakenshield Capital’s interest is in a return on investment, not an appropriate or fair outcome. Are they influencing Mr. Baggins to seek more damages than justified? Or to continue a lengthy legal battle when settlement is best? What is the percentage of winnings Mr. Baggins would owe to Oakenshield Capital? In the event Mr. Baggins loses the suit, will Oakenshield Capital assist Mr. Baggins if he incurs additional costs or penalties? Do Bert or the court even know Oakenshield Capital is involved?

 This bill provides thoughtful reforms that protect consumers from potential predatory practices by TPLFs and increases transparency by:

* Requiring TPLFs to register.

* Limiting interest rates TPLFs can charge to plaintiffs.

* Capping TPLF’s share of winnings from plaintiffs.

* Requiring disclosure to all parties of TPLF involvement.

* Creating TPLF liability for court-order costs/penalties against the plaintiff.

We are grateful for the Montana Chamber’s prioritization of these bills. Passage will help improve the legal climate in Montana for our business community.

House Bill 30

Revise laws relating

   to dangerous drugs

Rep. Denise Baum (D)

   HD 47

   Chamber Supports

This bill enhances penalties for criminals who commit the offense of distributing dangerous drugs, or intend to distribute, while in possession of a firearm, a destructive device, or another dangerous weapon. Often, our law enforcement officers encounter dangerous weapons when dealing with drug-related crimes. This provides an additional tool for state prosecutors and disincentivizes drug dealers from carry weapons. The bill has 15 bipartisan co-sponsors from our local delegation, for which the Chamber is incredibly grateful. The bill was heard in (H) Judiciary on Friday, January 27th.

Yellowstone County is Montana’s largest economic hub, made so in large part because it serves a four-state regional area. Partly because its economy is based upon success of other states in the region, which have had their own economic struggles, Yellowstone County’s economy has had a “subpar performance for the latter half of the previous decade,” explains economist Pat Barkey, Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

He referenced areas like the Bakken in North Dakota, whose gas and oil industry has a significant impact on Yellowstone County. Despite that, the county has had some steady improvement over the past two years because of improvement in some of its core industries, which includes “strong visitor spending.”

While Yellowstone County and Billings had strong growth in 2022 at 3.1 percent, Barkey said he is pessimistic about 2023 for the county – projecting a growth of less than zero at – 1.1 percent.

The county’s health care industry, has had “sluggish” growth, which has been the industry’s experience across the state.

Banking and finance, retail, wholesale and transportation-related businesses in Yellowstone County have been enjoying growth.

It was noted that, unlike other areas of the state, much of Yellowstone County’s population growth has been from other counties in the state.

Looking beyond 2023, the BBER forecast was quite a bit better with 2024 projected at 2.4 percent, and 2025 at 3.1 percent and 2026 at 2.0 percent.

Yellowstone County’s most prominent industry (wages as a share relative to US average) is Mining, followed by Wholesale Trade and Health Care, followed by Transportation and Construction.

Defying the law of supply and demand, the number of housing starts over the past two years has slipped, while median sales prices have increased. Housing has barely been able to keep on a par with the county’s population growth which has ranged from 11 percent to 14 percent over the past couple of years. In 1980 housing growth was 46.6 percent in the county while population growth was 23.7 percent.

Recovery in employment over pre-pandemic levels has been strong, with Accommodations and Food having seen phenomenal growth. Growth has also been strong in Construction, Transportation and Professional/ technical fields.

Airport passenger enplanements at Billings Logan International Field have not recovered from declines over the past three years from a peak in 2019.

The situation for other highly-populated areas of the state is varied.


Gallatin County has the state’s fastest growing economy, according to the BBER, noting that that growth is spreading across the county from Bozeman to impact Belgrade, Manhattan and Three Forks. Tourism has had a strong impact on the county’s economy, in more ways than one. While many of the businesses that serve the tourism industry have surged, many have been forced to limit their hours or expansion because of workforce issues. Not only is it difficult to find workers but the escalating cost of housing in Gallatin County makes it difficult for workers to be able to afford to live there.

Nevertheless, visitor spending is expected to remain strong in Gallatin County, which along with strong tech growth and its attraction for out-of-staters to relocate there, will continue to spur strong growth into coming years. While Gallatin County is attracting out-of-state migration, others are leaving the county to relocate in other Montana counties.


Experiencing the second fastest growth in Montana is Flathead County, which in 2021 was almost as strong as Gallatin County. Driving the economy is visitor spending  and construction. The BBER forecasted 2023 growth at 1.9 percent in non-farm earnings. Housing prices cooled in Flathead County in 2022, and wages surged by 20 percent. Its basic industries are non-resident travel, manufacturing, health care and government.

Flathead County is projected to experience 1.9 percent growth in 2023.


Visitor spending was also important to strong growth for Missoula County, which has had “noticeable acceleration” in its economic growth over the past two years. Visitor spending has spurred the expansion of the motel and restaurant business segments in Missoula. The county also has growth in tech industries and in health care.

While not quite as robust as in Flathead and Gallatin Counties, construction has been strong in Missoula, where 2023 growth has been projected at 1.5 percent.


After three years of negative growth, Silver Bow County experienced positive growth of 5.5 percent in 2021. In 2022 growth was 0.6 percent. Such volatility for the county is not unknown, said economist Pat Barkey, because of its exposure to world commodity prices. Mining is the county’s most predominant industry. Like so much of the rest of the state, the county benefited from non-resident spending.

Positive growth is not projected to continue into 2023, according to Barkey, who projects negative growth of -0.7 percent.


Cascade County has “upshifted” into faster growth, according to the BBER. In 2021 its growth was 3.3 percent—the fastest growth since 2006. Its growth has been spurred by new building construction in both residential and commercial projects. A new medical school is one example. Great Falls is a trade center for the agricultural “Golden Triangle” area.

Government and federal military are Cascade County’s biggest industries because of the presence of the military base. Health care follows as the next important business segment.

While the growth in 2022 was 2.1 percent for Cascade County, projected growth for 2023 drops to 0.3 percent.


Lewis & Clark County has seen unprecedented growth in federal transfer payments related to federal transfer payments for pandemic stimulus programs. As those programs wound down, the county’s growth decelerated in 2021 but still came in at 2.7 percent in 2022.

This county too benefited by visitor spending and had an uptick in retail trade. Government and state government are at the top of the most prominent industries in the county. The county is projected to experience 0.5 percent growth in 2023.

Sixteen attorneys general – including Montana’s —are urging members of Congress to modify, clarify, and rescind an emergency-use authorization authority still being used by federal agencies to mandate coronavirus-related policies.

The letter sent to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Committee on Energy & Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers, both Republicans, relates to curtailing the authority of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Food and Drug Administration.

The AGs have requested that Congress override existing emergency-use authorization policies still in effect and to conduct rigorous oversight to establish what mistakes were made related to current and past implementation of the federal authority. They also asked Congress to “consider revising the liability protections provided by a prior Congress, and confirm what President [Joe] Biden has admitted and what the American people in their sound judgment know: any valid grounds for claiming a state of medical emergency due to COVID have ended; normalcy and the rule of law must be restored.”

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has accepted Montana’s petition to delist grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Governor Greg Gianforte petitioned the federal government to delist in December 2021. 

“After decades of work, the grizzly bear has more than recovered in the NCDE, which represents a conservation success,” said Gianforte in a press release. “As part of that conservation success, the federal government has accepted our petition to delist the grizzly in the NCDE, opening the door to state management of this iconic American species.”

The petition from Gianforte said NCDE grizzly bears are not only “within a distinct population” but have “far surpassed” population recovery goals. Gianforte also said that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is capable of managing the bears. 

“FWP monitors grizzly bears in the NCDE with the best available science and a team of dedicated specialists,” said the governor’s office. “Although grizzly bears in the lower 48 states have remained under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, much of the day-to-day management is done by FWP’s specialists who work with landowners and the public to address conflicts and increase safety and education in bear country.”

In 1975, grizzly bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The population of grizzly bears in the continental U.S. was then believed to be in the hundreds. Gianforte’s office said Friday the population in just the NCDE is approximately 1100.

While Montana’s economy has been doing quite well over the past couple ofyears, economists are projecting changing winds in 2023.

During the recent Economic Outlook Seminar, Bureau of Business and Economic Research Economist Pat Barkey said that while Montana’s economy grew by over two percent in 2022 it is likely to plummet to zero in 2023 and perhaps even dip into negative territory of  -1.1 percent. 

Barkey said that whether there will be a recession is uncertain. He noted, “A recession was supposed to be here last year.” A recession is still more likely than not – at the very least, the state’s economy will slow significantly, he said. Whatever the next year brings, “it will be a lot different than a year ago.”

In fact, Barkey explained that “There’s something called the Fed recession in our future. It’s been engineered, it’s there, it’s something the Fed is trying to do, or might do.”

While some aspects of inflation have slowed, there remains the likelihood of higher interest rates and diminished investments.

The impact of a recession could be lessened for Montana should the in-migration from other states continue, bringing with them more spending and wealth to the state. It was reiterated several times that the new comers to Montana are good for the state because they are bringing new wealth and spend money.

Barkey said he calls the likely downturn the “rich-cession” because it has had a bigger impact on higher income people than lower income. That is due in large part because of the huge demand for labor.

While not all the numbers are in, overall 2022 appears to have been a very good year for Montana, continuing the economic surge the state experienced in 2021. Statewide average growth was over 5.3 percent in 2021 – the highest it had been since 2006.

According to BBER, 2021 growth was well above average in Flathead, Gallatin and Missoula Counties, driven by the reopening of the economy after the pandemic. The one exception in the state was counties in the eastern portion of the state that are dependent upon the oil and gas industry, which has struggled given that political winds directed investment away from it.

Most of Montana’s economic activity and growth happens in its seven population centers – only 10 percent of state growth occurred outside the seven largest counties.

Perhaps, much to some people’s surprise, Barkey said that mining is Montana’s and Yellowstone County’s most prominent industry.

Barkey expressed some dissatisfaction for the decisions of the Federal Reserve because they were slow in raising interest rates – “they were asleep,” he said. Raising interest rates sooner would have slowed consumer spending sooner, which is what is driving the US economy and needs to be “moderated”.

”We are starting to run out of fuel for consumer spending,” he said, noting that consumers are running out of savings and starting to rack up charges on their credit cards.

“The economy is healing but not healed.”

Inflation is starting to ease a bit – lumber prices have come back down, commodity prices have “settled down”, big ticket consumer purchases are expected to decline in price 4 percent —“all prices are softening.” “Supply chain congestion is better than a year ago.”

While housing prices increased 52 percent statewide since 2020, creating affordability issues for many people, they have weakened somewhat but home sales have slowed.  As interest rates increase home sales will continue to be slow.

Nevertheless, the construction industry has continued to be strong and may become stronger as material prices decline.

A real concern is energy prices, which have come down somewhat but are “still 42 percent higher since the pandemic.” Barkey was critical of President Biden’s policies which have discouraged investors to invest in oil and gas, which has kept the industry down and gas prices high. That industry’s struggles has been very detrimental to Montana, and to Yellowstone County other eastern Montana counties.

Since the economic impacts of COVID mandates,Montana’s health care industry has had significant struggles dealing with labor shortages and rising costs. It is expected to ease in 2023, however.

Lower consumer prices will ease pressure on the labor market. “We need less demand for workers; those pressures are pushing up costs,” said Barkey, but he also pointed out that the labor shortage was materializing before the pandemic. “The workers are there – they are working – the problem is we need more of them.”

There has been a seven percent increase in wages – but that is not more than the rate of inflation.

“Wages ae not so fat and happy as you think.”

The strength of Montana’s economy over the past couple years is evidenced in income tax collections in the state. They still show double digit growth, but “beware of any forecasting,” warned Barkey, “No one knows where you are until we go through April” – and can see tax returns.

“Last year’s 2 percent growth is amazing.” but Barkey’s forecast for 2023 will see a “slamming on the brakes” for the state.

Montana’s economy may not be as dependent upon performance as it is dependent upon the “fragile” world economy.

Barkey provided predictions from HIS Markit:

—While 2023 may see a recession it will also see the beginning of a recovery from recession which will gain momentum in 2024.

—economic weakness is expected in several segments with residential investment leading the way.

—the price of US farm output, currently more than double its pandemic low, which remain elevated through 2022 will ease as crops come in in 2023.

—slowing growth will cause oil prices to ease to $84.

—consumer spending will grow modestly through 2024, constrained by a rebound in personal savings rate from the unsustainable lows below 3 percent. Fixed income will decline to 4.1 percent in 2023 with weakness concentrated in construction, both residential and nonresidential.

—labor markets will remain tight but the trend in payroll gains is slowing.

—the fed will raise its policy rate by March to the range of 4.75 percent to five percent and allow its balance sheet to decline by about one-third through 2024.

—inflation will decline in three steps. Already underway are declines in the prices of energy and agricultural commodities that are allowing headline inflation to fall quickly below core inflation. In a second step there will be easing in supply-chain tensions, or decline in the pries of certain core goods; such as vehicles, fist used and then new. In step thee, a recession eventually tempers inflation pressures emanating from labor markets.

—a risk exists that a resilient economy remains strong for longer than previously anticipated, requiring a more aggressive and persistent monetary tightening (higher interest rates) to contain inflation which would precipitate a later and more severe recession.

Following a year of records for low unemployment, labor force growth, and total employment, Montana’s unemployment rate fell to 2.8% in December as the state’s total employment and labor force reached an all-time high.

Governor Greg Gianforte said, “Thanks to the hard work of Montanans and our pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs policies, 2022 was a year of record-setting economic growth for Montana. In the year ahead, we’ll continue to cut red tape and other unnecessary burdens on small businesses, create good-paying Montana jobs, and invest in our workforce to ensure Montana workers have the skills they need to succeed and thrive.”

Total employment rose by nearly 1,400 jobs in December to a new record high of over 553,000 jobs.

Montana’s labor force also continued its strong growth in December, rising by some 700 workers to more than 568,800, another all-time high.

Montana added 2,800 payroll jobs in December, with broad-based job gains led by the professional and business services and retail trade industries.

Over the course of 2022, Montana set several records for low unemployment, labor force growth, and total employment.

At the start of 2023, total employment is at an all-time high in Montana, having grown by more than 15,300 jobs over the course of the year. Montanans have created nearly 33,500 new jobs since Governor Gianforte was elected. Total employment has grown in Montana in 22 of the 23 months Governor Gianforte has been in office.

Montana’s labor force is also at an all-time high, with thousands of workers rejoining the labor force since the COVID-19 pandemic. Montana’s labor force today is almost 22,000 workers larger than it was pre-pandemic.

Montana’s unemployment rate set new records in 2022, reaching 2.3% in March and April, the lowest level ever recorded. Montana’s unemployment rate has dipped below 3% in just 16 months since recordkeeping began. Fifteen of those 16 months have taken place during Governor Gianforte’s tenure.

Per the U.S. Chamber’s recently released State of American Business, the worker shortage trend is getting worse, with 10.5 million unfilled jobs. For every 100 U.S. job openings there are only 73 available workers. Manufacturing has been a stable economic factor for decades but with the growing skills gap and workforce shortages, innovation is key to sustainability.

Montana Chamber and the Montana Manufacturing Association are bringing together manufacturing leaders, executives, and employees alongside business associations and local chamber members and legislators for Manufacturing & International Trade Day, on March 16, in Helena, 10 am – 7 pm / $75 per person (includes reception

The event features solution-oriented seminars and keynotes from leading industry experts along with a Trade Show.

Registration information is available on the Montana Chamber website.

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

Montana will no longer allow state funds to go towards environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing.

Joining the Montana Board of Investments in his announcement, Gov. Greg Gianforte said recently his administration is committed to getting returns on $26 billion in investments of the state’s financial assets, but it “will not advance a political agenda.”

“As the State of Montana invests its financial assets, our priority is and should always be maximizing returns for our shareholders – the people of Montana,” the governor said in a press release. “On my watch, we won’t undermine taxpayers’ returns on investment in favor of the trend of activist, woke capitalism through ESG investing.”

ESG is defined by Investopedia as a set of standards that socially conscious voters use to screen investments. Critics say investment firms are using “activist” ESG policies regardless of what investors want. 

Stephen Soukup, who’s head of the investment consulting group The Political Forum, applauded Gianforte and the board’s move, saying ESG is a “top-down, anti-democratic, and coercive investment technique that takes power out of the hands of the people’s representatives and hands it to large, centralized multinational asset management firms who should be investing on behalf of their clients’ best pecuniary interests.”

“I think that state executives, treasurers, comptrollers, and pension boards should most definitely be willing to take back control of pension investment decisions from large Wall Street firms,” Soukup told The Center Square.  “The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of the big firms misses and ignores state and local needs, beliefs, and investment goals and is, therefore, an unfit solution.” 

Soukup, whose books include ‘The Dictatorship of Woke Capital” and the upcoming “Other People’s Money,” thinks there is a lesson here for elected officials across the nation.  

“Governor Gianforte and the Montana Board of Investments are exercising their responsibilities as fiduciaries of the people of Montana,” Soukup said. “More politicians – right, left, and in between – should follow their lead and put the community interests of their constituents ahead of the ideological predispositions of the Wall Street mega-firms.”