It may seem very far out right now, but the 2020 election is looking like it could be a very bad outcome for markets. Democrats are still leading in the polls, which is bad news because pretty much every candidate (perhaps with the exception of Biden) looks like they would be quite bearish for markets. Between higher taxes, more regulations, and government run healthcare, the outlook for markets from most of the leading candidates appears bleak.
FINSUM: When you take even a casual glance at how this election is shaping up, things look rough. You have the most leftist Democratic candidates in memory, and they are leading the polls. We think the polls are off and Trump still has better odds, but there is undoubtedly a very large risk.
Here is a data signal most of the market is not paying attention to when it comes to recession forecasting: nationwide capital expenditure, or Capex. Morgan Stanley’s index of capex has shrunk to its lowest level in two years, as the high from the Trump tax cuts wears off for companies and they tighten purse strings. Capex growth is likely to weaken from 11% last year to just 3% this year. According to the deputy CIO of State Street, “Low capex growth is very worrying … You’re starting to see the trade tensions and the macro growth concerns play out in business confidence — companies won’t open a new factory if they think we’re on the cusp of a recession”.
FINSUM: This is a worrying sign but not wholly unexpected given the waning benefits of the tax cuts. However, even though this is expected, it does not mean it won’t hurt the economy.
The White House is considering a new plan to cut capital gains taxes. The administration is seeking to do so by indexing capital gains rates to inflation, a move that would significantly help wealthier Americans lower their tax bills. Interestingly, the White House is considering advancing the bill in such a way as to bypass Congress. The impetus for doing so is that they want to make sure the changes hit before the 2020 election.
FINSUM: This is quite logical and could have a big impact. Imagine you could exclude 2% of an annualized 8% gain from all capital gains taxes!
It has largely faded from the news, but Americans in high tax states are feeling the pinch from the SALT cap limits. States are currently mounting a last ditch attempt to stop the new limit through a highly creative legal argument that relies on court precedent from as far back as the Civil War. However, early indications are that the push will fail, finally sounding a death knell for any hopes the cap would be overturned.
FINSUM: As one of our esteemed readers pointed out to us, this SALT cap has much more significant implications than real estate prices or asset allocations. The bigger worry is that the tax-home migration of the wealthy could hollow out the public finances of already precarious state and local governments.
One of the oldest tricks in the American tax book is seeing new life because of recent changes to the tax code. The process is referred to as upstream tax planning. Changes to the tax code mean that investors can take assets that have seen capital gains and transfer them to a trusted older relative with the understanding that they will be bequeathed. When that asset is re-inherited by the original donor it now has a new basis and can be sold into the market immediately with no taxes due despite the initial capital gains. One estate planner summarizes the changes, saying “People didn’t want to use up their estate tax exemption, but the whole paradigm has shifted because of this new high exemption amount … When they doubled the exemption, everyone thought they’d do away with the step-up in basis at death, but that didn’t happen. So this creates a huge opportunity for taxpayers”.
FINSUM: This is a very good loophole, but it does have a trust component where the donor needs to be confident the beneficiary will hold onto the asset!