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Michael Milken. Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Three takeaways from this week's Milken Global Conference, where many of the world's top financiers, politicians and philanthropists gathered to exchange ideas and host dinners:

1. Optimism. So much optimism, about nearly everything. If Mike Milken had decorated the Beverly Hilton with rainbows, it wouldn't have been out of place. Someone actually said to me yesterday that the rules of economic cycles may no longer apply, and this was a senior capital markets professional with a head full of gray.

2. Regulatory confusion, as the venerable playbook has been set on fire without a replacement. Several M&A bankers told me that they feel unable to give reliable regulatory advice right now, either domestically or internationally. Some of this may be resolved this week in Beijing, but it goes further than CFIUS or China's MOFCOM. And even a ruling in AT&T vs. DoJ is unlikely to settle things, as the loser is widely expected to appeal (particularly if that loser is DoJ).

  • But going back to #1, global M&A is still way up over this time last year. So this is really an argument about how a hot market could be a few degrees higher.

3. Less Trump. Last year's conference was dominated not only by talk of Trump, but also by top administration officials on the agenda. This year Trump was more in the background, as not even the tariff spats seemed to particularly irk the free-trading crowd (again, optimism). The official program still included some cabinet bigs like Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross, but it felt like much fewer than the 2017 edition.

Go deeper

2021 economy boomed at fastest rate in 37 years

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The U.S. economy surged ahead with a 6.9% annual growth rate in the final months of 2021 and achieved the strongest growth over an entire calendar year since 1984.

Driving the news: New GDP numbers from the Commerce Department show a remarkable acceleration in economic activity, much faster than the 5.3% growth rate analysts expected.

The Fed isn't the only problem investors are worried about

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Federal Reserve will be raising rates, just as the economy is slowing. The markets hate that.

Why it matters: The ugly start to the stock trading year doesn't just reflect Fed-induced agita — investors are also worried about a growth slowdown.

4 hours ago - Health

White House says Obamacare sign-ups hit record

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaking in the White House in December 2021. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The White House said Thursday that a record 14.5 million Americans have signed up for health insurance through Obamacare marketplaces since Nov. 1, including more than 10 million enrollments through HealthCare.gov.

Why it matters: Last year's stimulus bill contained substantial investments in the program, including increased subsidies for people who don't receive health insurance from an employer or through Medicare or Medicaid.