Posts tagged ‘tax’

‘Tis the Season for Giving

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (December 1, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Holiday season is in full swing, and that means it’s the primetime period for giving. The stock market has provided its fair share of giving to investors in the form of a +2.7% monthly return in the S&P 500 index (up +18% in 2017). For long-term investors, stocks have been the gift that keeps on giving. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 Financial Crisis, stocks have returned +68% from the October 2007 peak and roughly +297% from the March 2009 low. If you include the contributions of dividends over the last decade, these numbers look even more charitable.

Compared to stocks, however, bonds have acted more like a stingy Ebenezer Scrooge than a generous Mother Theresa. For the year, the iShares Core Aggregate bond ETF (AGG) has returned a meager +1%, excluding dividends. Contributing to the lackluster bond results has been the Federal Reserve’s miserly monetary policy, which will soon be managed under new leadership. In fact, earlier this week, Jerome Powell began Congressional confirmation hearings as part of the process to replace the current Fed chair, Janet Yellen. As the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose for the 8th consecutive month to 24,272 (the longest winning streak for the stock index in 20 years), investors managed to take comfort in Powell’s commentary because he communicated a steady continuation of Yellen’s plan to slowly reverse stimulative policies (i.e., raise interest rate targets and bleed off assets from the Fed’s balance sheet).

Because the pace of the Federal Funds interest rate hikes have occurred glacially from unprecedented low levels (0%), the resulting change in bond prices has been relatively meager thus far in 2017. In that same deliberate vein, the Fed is meeting in just a few weeks, with the expectation of inching the Federal Funds rate higher by 0.25% to a target level of 1.5%. If confirmed, Powell plans to also chip away at the Fed’s gigantic $4.5 trillion balance sheet over time, which will slowly suck asset-supporting liquidity out of financial markets.

Economy Driving Stocks and Interest Rates Higher

Presents don’t grow on trees and stock prices also don’t generally grow without some fundamental underpinnings. With the holidays here, consumers need money to fulfill the demanding requests of gift-receiving individuals, and a healthy economy is the perfect prescription to cure consumers’ empty wallet and purse sickness.

Besides the Federal Reserve signaling strength by increasing interest rates, how do we know the economy is on firm footing? While economic growth may not be expanding at a barn-burning rate, there still are plenty of indications the economy keeps chugging along. Here are a few economic bright spots to highlight:

  • Accelerating GDP Growth: As you can see from the chart below, broad economic growth, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), accelerated to a very respectable +3.3% growth rate during the third quarter of 2017 (the fastest percentage gain in three years). These GDP calculations are notoriously volatile figures, nevertheless, the recent results are encouraging, especially considering these third quarter statistics include the dampening effects of Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

Source: Bloomberg

  • Recovering Housing Market: The housing market may not have rebounded as quickly and sharply as the U.S. stock market since the Financial Crisis, but as the chart below shows, new home sales have been on a steady climb since 2011. What’s more, a historically low level of housing inventory should support the continued growth in home prices and home sales for the foreseeable future. The confidence instilled from rising home equity values should also further encourage consumers’ cash and credit card spending habits.

Source: Calculated Risk

  • Healthy Employment Gains: Growth in the U.S. coupled with global synchronous economic expansion in Europe, Asia, and South America have given rise to stronger corporate profits and increased job hiring. The graph highlighted below confirms the 4.1% unemployment rate is the lowest in 17 years, and puts the current rate more than 50% below the last peak of 10.0% hit in 2009.

Source: Calculated Risk

Turbo Tax Time

Adding fuel to the confidence fire is the prospect of the president signing the TCJA (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). At the time this article went to press, Congress was still feverishly attempting to vote on the most significant tax-code changes since 1986. Republicans by-and-large all want tax reform and tax cut legislation, but the party’s narrow majority in the House and Senate leaves little wiggle room for disagreement. Whether compromises can be met in the coming days/weeks will determine whether a surprise holiday package will be delivered this year or postponed by the Grinch.

Unresolved components of the tax legislation include, the feasibility of cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%; the deductibility of state and local income taxes (SALT); the potential implementation of a tax cut limit “trigger”, if forecasted economic growth is not achieved; the potential repeal of the estate tax (a.k.a., “death tax”); mortgage interest deductibility; potential repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate; the palatability of legislation expanding deficits by $1 trillion+; debates over the distribution of tax cuts across various taxpayer income brackets; and other exciting proposals that will heighten accountants’ job security, if the TCJA is instituted.

Bitcoin Bubble?

If you have recently spent any time at the watercooler or at a cocktail party, you probably have not been able to escape the question of whether the digital blockchain currency, Bitcoin, is an opportunity of a lifetime or a vehicle to crush your financial dreams to pieces (see Bitcoin primer).

Let’s start with the facts: Bitcoin’s value traded below $1,000 at the beginning of this year and hit $11,000 this week before settling around $10,000 at month’s end (see chart below). In addition, blogger Josh Brown points out the scary reality that “Bitcoin has already crashed by -80% on five separate occasions over the last few years.” Suffice it to say, transacting in a currency that repeatedly loses 80% of its value can pose some challenges.

Source: CoinMarketCap.com  

Bubbles are not a new phenomenon. Not only have I lived through numerous bubbles, but I have also written on the topic (see also Sleeping and Napping through Bubbles). I find the Dutch Tulip Bulb Mania that lasted from 1634 – 1637 to be the most fascinating financial bubble of all (see chart below). At the peak of the euphoria, individual Dutch tulip bulbs were selling for the same prices as homes ($61,700 on an inflation-adjusted basis), and one historical account states 12 acres of land were offered for a single tulip bulb.

Forecasting the next peak of any speculative bubble is a fool’s errand in my mind, so I choose to sit on the sidelines instead. While I may be highly skeptical of the ethereal value placed on Bitcoin and other speculative markets (i.e. ICOs – Initial Coin Offerings), I fully accept the benefits of the digital blockchain payment technology and also acknowledge Bitcoin’s value could more than double from here. However, without any tangible or intellectual process of valuing the asset, history may eventually place Bitcoin in the same garbage heap as the 1630 tulips.

For some of you out there, if you are anything like me, your digestion system is still recovering from the massive quantities of food consumed over the Thanksgiving holiday. However, when it comes to your personal finances, digesting record-breaking stock performance, shifting Federal Reserve monetary policy, tax legislation, and volatile digital currencies can cause just as much heartburn. In the spirit of “giving”, if you are having difficulty in chewing through all the cryptic economic and political noise, “give” yourself a break by contacting an experienced, independent, professional advisor. That’s definitely a gift you deserve!

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

December 2, 2017 at 6:30 am Leave a comment

King of Controversy Reveals Maverick Solution

Mark Cuban, provocative and brash owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and #400 wealthiest person in the world ($2.4 billion net worth), according to Forbes, has never been shy about sharing his opinion. In fact, this multi-billionaire’s opinions have been discouraged on multiple occasions, as evidenced by the NBA (National Basketball Association) slapping Cuban with more than $1.6 million in fines for his outbursts.

Cuban doesn’t only provide his views on basketball, as a serial entrepreneur who cashed in his former company Broadcast.com to Yahoo! (YHOO) for $5.9 billion, he also is providing his thoughts on Wall Street and the 1,000 point “fat finger” trading meltdown from last week. What does Cuban say is the answer to the rampant speculation conducted by idiot financial engineers? “Tax the Hell Out of Wall Street,” says Cuban in his recent blog flagged by TRB’s Josh Brown.

A Taxing Solution

Specifically, Cuban wants to tax investors 25 cents per share (and 5 cents per share for stocks trading at $5 per share or less) in hopes of encouraging myopic speculating traders to become longer-term shareholders. Cuban believes this approach will weed out the day traders and investment renters who in reality “don’t add anything to the markets.”  Seems like a reasonable belief to me.

According to Cuban’s math, here are some of the benefits the tax would bring to the financial system:

“If the NYSE, Nasdaq, Amex and OTC are trading 2 Billion shares a day or more, like today, thats $ 500 Million Dollars PER DAY. If there are 260 trading days a year. Thats about 130 Billion dollars a year. If volumes drop because of the tax. It is still 10s of Billions of dollars per year. Thats real money for the US Treasury. Thats also an annual payment towards the next time Wall Street screws up and we have a black swan event that no one planned on.”

 

Practically speaking, a flat rate 25 cent tax per share is probably not the best way to go if you were to introduce a transaction tax, but the crux of Cuban’s argument essentially would not change. Creating a flat percentage tax (e.g., 1%) would likely make more sense, even if complexity may increase relative to the 25 cent tax. Take for example Citigroup (C) and Berkshire Hathaway Class A (BRKA). Cuban’s plan would result in paying 1.2% tax on a $4.17 share of Citigroup versus only 0.00022% tax for a $116,000.00 share of Berkshire Hathaway.  Simple accounting maneuvers such as reverse stock splits and slowing of stock dividends, along with reducing company dilution through share and option issuance, may be methods of circumventing some of the tax burden created under Cuban’s described proposal.

Politically, adding any tax to investing voters could be re-election suicide, so rather than calling it a trading tax, I suppose the politicians would have to come up with some other euphemism, such as “charitable administrative fee for speculative trading.” The financial industry has already become experts in taxing investors with fees (read Fees, Exploitation and Confusion),  so maybe Congress could give the banks and fund companies a call for some marketing ideas.

Step 1: Transparency

The murkiness and lack of transparency across derivatives markets is becoming more and more evident by the day. Some recent events that bolster the argument include: a) New CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligation) derivative allegations surfacing against Morgan Stanley (MS); b) The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) charges against Goldman Sachs (GS) in the Abacus synthetic CDO deal (see Goldman Sachs article); c) The collapse of AIG’s Credit Default Swap (CDS) department and subsequent push to transfer trading to open exchanges; and d) Now we’re dealing with last week’s cascading collapse of the equity markets within minutes. The brief cratering of multiple indexes points to a potential order entry blunder and/or absence of adequate and consistent circuit breakers across a web of disparate exchanges and ECNs (Electronic Communication Networks).

The mere fact we stand here five days later with no substantive explanation for the absurd trading anomalies (see Making Megabucks 13 Minutes at a Time) is proof positive changes in derivative and exchange transparency are absolutely essential.

Step 2: Incentives

In Freakonomics, the best-selling book authored by Steven Levitt, we learn that “Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life,” and “Economics is, at root, the study of incentives.”  Incentives are crucial in that they permeate virtually all aspects of financial markets, not only in assisting economic growth, but also the negative aspects of bursting financial bubbles.

Michael Mauboussin, the Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason (read more on Mauboussin), also expands on the role incentives played in the housing collapse:

“Many, if not most, of the parties involved in the mortgage meltdown were doing what makes sense for them—even if it wasn’t good for the system overall. Homeowners got to live in fancier homes, mortgage brokers earned fees on the mortgages they originated without having to worry about the quality of the loans, investment banks earned tidy fees buying, packaging, and selling these loans, rating agencies made money, and investors earned extra yield on so-called AAA securities. So it’s a big deal to watch and unpack incentives.”

 

Regulation, penalties, and fines are means of creating preventative incentives against improper or unfair behavior. Just as people have no incentive to wash a rental car, nor do high frequency traders have an incentive to invest in equity securities for any extended period of time. Adding a Cuban tax may not be a cure-all for all our country’s financial woes, but as the regulatory reform debate matures in Congress, this taxing idea emanating from the King of Controversy may be a good place to start.

Read full blog article written by Mark Cuban

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and an AIG subsidary structured security, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in YHOO, C, AIG, LM, GS, BRKA, or any security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

May 12, 2010 at 1:29 am Leave a comment


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