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Fact-Stretching in Presidential Debate

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Grab your pizza and popcorn, folks -- it's U.S. presidential debate season!

Every four years, we're treated to the spectacle of two men jockeying for power in the world's most powerful nation -- and predictably, this involves ample fact-stretching and twisting. At Fisher Investments, we're politically agnostic: We prefer neither party over the other, finding much to dislike (and occasionally something to cheer) in both parties' policies and proposals.

Either party is capable of implementing market-friendly reforms, and both have borne responsibility for some rather disruptive regulation throughout history. And during the first debate, both candidates proved adept at painting a rather fuzzy economic picture. Here, Fisher Investments reviews each candidate's portrayal of the U.S. economy.

We start with the challenger: former Massachusetts governor, Republican Mitt Romney.

Statement: Romney described this year's economic growth as "slower than last year, and last year slower than the year before."

Looking purely at percentage-based growth rates, this is true. Real U.S. GDP grew 2.4% in 2010 and 1.8% in 2011, and 2012's first half was slower than 2011's. But much of that slowness comes from higher imports -- a sign of healthy domestic demand -- and falling government investment.

Strip those components out, and the picture looks different. Total household spending and private investment rose $352.6 billion in 2011, higher than 2010's $330 billion increase (measured in 2005 dollars). The GDP components that better reflect the economy's health are more resilient than Romney's general statement would suggest.

Statement: "I'm not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for."

He won't necessarily have to -- China doesn't own a huge share of our debt. In fact, our biggest creditor is, well, ourselves: 66.6% of net public debt is owned either by the federal government or domestic investors. China owns a whopping 7.4%.

According to Fed and Treasury data, U.S. households have purchased significantly more Treasuries than foreigners in recent quarters, and China's purchases have lagged other nations'. One can't exactly say China is financing the U.S. government.

Statement: "Spain spends 42% of their total economy on government. We're now spending 42% of our economy on government. I don't want to be Spain."

Good, because we're not Spain. Not even close.

First, consider Spain's situation isn't all about debt. In fact, Spain's federal debt-to-GDP ratio wasn't high by global standards in 2010, when peripheral debt fears first took hold. Spain's situation is as much or more about economic competitiveness than about debt.

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