Amidst all the "fiscal cliff" talk of raising tax rates, few dare to ask: have tax revenues topped out? How could tax revenues decline as rates go up? Easy: people modify their behavior in response to whatever incentives and disincentives are present. Make mortgage interest deductible and people will rack up huge mortgages. Reduce the yield on savings to near-zero (thank you, Federal Reserve) and people will save less. Raise tax rates and people will lower their income or move to low-tax locales. As the saying has it, "Money goes where it is treated well." Supporters of higher rates tout studies that find upper-income taxpayers shrug off higher rates, staying put in high-tax states: Do High Taxes Chase Out The Rich? and Superrich stay put in high-tax states like California. On the other side of the ledger is this study from Britain: Two-thirds of millionaires left Britain to avoid 50% tax rate. Which view is correct? Both, as a result of different dynamics. There are at least four separate dynamics in play.
Watching Barack Obama and Mitt Romney duel in the presidential campaign should have convinced the spectators that we live in an age of illusionists. Few of the assertions and conjectures thrown around have been subjected to what the political chattering classes deem to be the indignity of factual verification. This brings us to the sharp pencil people in the Obama administration, specifically the OMB. They claim to know what the relative size of the federal government will be in 2016, at the end of President Obama’s term. According to the OMB’s plans, the federal government, as a percent of GDP should be 22.5%. That’s a 1.8 percentage point drop from the current level. Given that President Obama’s first term recorded a record growth in the relative size of the federal government, and that the President campaigned on a platform of more big government, it is doubtful that he will come close to meeting his own OMB forecasts, in his second term. Yes, the illusionists, not the President’s sharp pencil people, will probably carry the day. What will make the President’s task even more onerous is money – as in the money supply. Thanks to Basel III, the U.S. money supply isn’t the only one creating growth headwinds. Europe faces significant money supply deficiencies. Will Asia continue to be the world’s locomotive? We will have to wait and see. At present, though, one thing is certain – an age of illusionists has arrived.
An initial lower open in major European cash bourses has been pared despite concern over Greek and a lack of any progress in agreement between Eurozone officials and the IMF. Source comments early on in European trade helped provide renewed optimism that a plan for Greece is edging closer after it was reported that the German Chancellor Merkel told lawmakers Greece's financing hole through 2016 can be filled with combination of lower rates and increased EFSF. The FTSE is under-performing its European peers at the mid-point of trade today as several large cap stocks go ex-dividend, although strength has been seen following the latest Bank of England minutes which showed a less dovish than expected 8-1 vote split to hold fire on QE between the MPC meetings. Following the release of the minutes, a now reduced expectation for asset buys at the December meeting saw upside in GBP/USD in a move away from the 1.5900 handle, and Gilt under pressure, although short-sterling shrugged off the comment that the central bank is unlikely to cut bank rate in foreseeable future.
- Rough start for fiscal cliff talks (Politico)
- Europe Fails to Seal Greek Debt-Cut Deal in IMF Clash (Bloomberg)
- Japan’s Exports Reach Three-Year Low as Recession Looms (BBG)
- Beggars can be angry: Greek leaders round on aid delay (FT)
- More financial blogs launching soon: Financial Times Deutschland closing (Spiegel)
- China's backroom powerbrokers block reform candidates (Reuters)
- BOE Voted 8-1 to Halt Bond Purchases as QE Impact Questioned (Bloomberg). In the US the vote is 1-11
- UK heads for EU budget showdown (FT)
- Eurodollars - another epic scam: How gaming Libor became business as usual (Reuters)
- Clinton Shuttles in Mideast in Bid for Gaza Cease-Fire (Bloomberg)
- Fed Still Trying to Push Down Rates (Hilsenrath)
We all stand 'fingers-over-eyes and thumbs-in-ears' awestruck at the immense wreckage that the fiscal cliff titan will wreak upon the country. However, deep inside our socially responsible minds, all we can really think about is - what about my needs? The Pew Center On The States has just released a very broad and detailed look at just how the increased taxation and reduced spending will impact each and every state. Here, in two simple charts, is the answer.
Whenever the case is made for a stronger U.S. dollar (USD), the feedback can be sorted into three basic reasons why the dollar will continue declining in value:
- The USD may gain relative to other currencies, but since all fiat currencies are declining against gold, it doesn’t mean that the USD is actually gaining value; in fact, all paper money is losing value.
- When the global financial system finally crashes, won’t that include the dollar?
- The Federal Reserve is “printing” (creating) money, and that will continue eroding the purchasing power of the USD. Lowering interest rates to zero has dropped the yield paid on Treasury bonds, which also weakens the dollar.
All of these objections are well-grounded. However, the price of gold is not consistently correlated to the monetary base, the trade-weighted dollar, or interest rates. We have seen interest rates leap to 16% and fall to near-zero; gold collapse, stagnate, and then quadruple; and the dollar gain and lose 30% of its trade-weighted value in a few years. None of these huge swings had any correlation to broad measures of domestic activity such as GDP. Clearly, interest rates occasionally (but not always) affect the value of the trade-weighted dollar, and the monetary base occasionally (but not always) affects the price of gold, but these appear to have little correlation to productivity, earnings, etc., or to each other. Gold appears to march to an independent drummer.
"Capitalists seem almost uninterested in Capitalism" is how Clayton Christensen describes the paradox of our recovery-less recovery. In an excellent NYTimes Op-ed, the father of the Innovator's Dilemma comments that "America today is in a macroeconomic paradox that we might call the capitalist’s dilemma." Business and investors are drowning in Fed-sponsored liquidity (theoretically, capital fuels capitalism) but are endowed with what he calls the Doctrine of New Finance - where short-termist profitability guides entrepreneurs away from investments that can create real economic growth. We are trying to solve the wrong problem. Our approach to higher education is exacerbating our problems. There is a solution, it's complicated, but Christensen offers three ideas to seed the discussion.
The U.S. has a three-and-a-half class society. According to demographer Joel Kotkin, California has become a two-and-a-half-class society, with a thin slice of "entrenched incumbents" on top (the "half class"), a dwindling middle class of public employees and private-sector professionals/technocrats, and an expanding permanent welfare class: about 40% of Californians don't pay any income tax and a quarter are on the Federal Medicaid program. I would break it down somewhat differently, into a three-and-a-half class society: the "entrenched incumbents" on top (the "half class"), the high-earners who pay most of the taxes (the first class), the working poor who pay Social Security payroll taxes and sales taxes (the second class), and State dependents who pay nothing (the third class). This class structure has political ramifications. In effect, those paying most of the tax are in a pressure cooker: the lid is sealed by the "entrenched incumbents" on top, and the fire beneath is the Central State's insatiable need for more tax revenues to support the entrenched incumbents and its growing army of dependents. Let's start our analysis of the three-and-a-half-class society by noting that the top 25% pay most of the Federal income tax, and within that "middle class" the top 10% pay the lion's share of all taxes.
With US Federal tax (mostly) and spending (far less) policy having become two of the key issues of the ongoing presidential debate, we wish to present to our readers 111 years of US revenue and spending data, both in absolute terms, and as a percentage of GDP.
Everyone has been desperately waiting for this. At 3:00 pm it will be publicly released. Hopefully, shortly thereafter we can proceed with the discussion of important things such as the complete economic collapse of not only America, but the entire world (which is apparently now hooked into voting for Obama as disclosed earlier). For those strapped for time here is the summary: Romneys 2011 tax rate 14.1%, Charity donations: 30%; Obamas tax rate: 20.5%, Charity donations: 22%. And going back, "Over the entire 20-year period, the average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%."
- In 2011, the Romneys paid $1,935,708 in taxes on $13,696,951 in mostly investment income.
- The Romneys’ effective tax rate for 2011 was 14.1%.
- The Romneys donated $4,020,772 to charity in 2011, amounting to nearly 30% of their income.
- The Romneys claimed a deduction for $2.25 million of those charitable contributions.
- The Romneys’ generous charitable donations in 2011 would have significantly reduced their tax obligation for the year. The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the Governor's statement in August, based upon the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13% in income taxes in each of the last 10 years.
The US Will Spend Between $3 And $7 Per Gallon Of Gasoline "Saved" By Consumers Driving Electric VehiclesSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/20/2012 21:51 -0400
Sometimes you just have to laugh - for fear of the hysterical crying fit that would ensue from recognizing our shameful pathological reality. To wit: Reuters is reporting on a CBO study that shows the US electric car policy will cost $7.5bn by 2019. The report finds that the government's policy will have 'little to no impact' on overall gasoline consumption. 25% of the cost of the program is going up in Fisker Karma-inspired smoke as part of the $7,500 per vehicle tax credit and the rest of the cost is in grants to such well-deserved and successful operations as GM's Chevy Volt - which will backfire since the more electric vehicles the automakers sell (thanks to government subsidy) the more 'higher-margin' low-fuel-economy guzzlers it can sell and still meet CAFE standards (re-read that - amazing!) In 2012, 13,497 Chevy Volts and 4.228 Nissan Leafs have been sold (all that pent-up demand) as the CBO notes that despite the $7,500 subsidy, the cost-differential to conventional cars remains too wide - inferring a $12,000 tax credit would be more comparable; as the U.S. government will spend anywhere from $3 to $7 for each gallon of gasoline saved by consumers driving electric vehicles.
While watching the political conventions over the past couple of weeks, JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest wonders aloud: What if, something like the CBO’s Alternative Case scenario came to pass; debt markets were no longer willing to fund trillion dollar deficits, so the deficit had to be reduced to 3% of GDP by 2020; taxing the rich was the only thing the country could agree on doing? If this happened, how high would top marginal Federal income tax rates have to go? The answer, after some number-crunching: 71% for the top bracket, and 57% for the second highest bracket. Adding state, local, and payroll taxes, and in 'Blue' states like NY and CA, income taxes will approach 80%. This is not a projection, but an illustration that there are not enough Americans subject to the top brackets to reduce the deficit to 3%. Eventually, the US will more likely have to adopt broader-reaching tax reform (e.g., raising taxes on the middle class), larger spending cuts than those already adopted, and/or Federal Reserve monetization of the public debt.
A few months ago when the new French socialist president gave details of his particular version of the "fairness doctrine" and said he would tax millionaires at 75%, we said that "we are rotating our secular long thesis away from Belgian caterers and into tax offshoring advisors, now that nobody in the 1% will pay any taxes ever again." While there was an element of hyperbole in the above statement, the implication was clear: France's richest will actively seek tax havens which don't seek to extract three quarters of their earnings, in the process depriving France (and other countries who adopt comparable surtaxes on the rich) of critical tax revenues. It took three months for this to be confirmed, and with a bang at that. The WSJ reports that Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, and the richest man in France, has decided to forego hollow Buffetian rhetoric that paying extra tax is one's sworn duty, and has sought Belgian citizenship.
Are you ready for some.. free-money? With 15 minutes until the NFL season opens this evening, we thought this little gem from Bloomberg was perfect to stoke the fires of Giants-Cowboys fanatic antagonism. That’s because the 80,000-seat Cowboys Stadium was built partly using tax-free borrowing. The resulting subsidy comes out of the pockets of every American taxpayer, including Giants' fans. The money doesn’t go directly to the Cowboys’ billionaire owner Jerry Jones. Rather, it lowers the cost of financing, giving his team the highest revenue in the NFL and making it the league’s most-valuable franchise. "It’s part of the corruption of the federal tax system, subsidizing activity that the private sector can finance on its own." This is not just the Cowboys but such tax-free public borrowing 'municipal' debt helped build structures used by 64 major-league teams, including baseball, hockey and basketball. As Bloomberg concludes, “You come back to this thin line of, ‘What is a legitimate municipal government undertaking?’ If the owner can get away with the public putting up part of the money, he’s going to do it.”
“The extent of tax fraud by the Swiss has no numbers”