Goldman Says "No Surprise" In Biden Cap Gains Proposal, Sees Congress Settling On 28% Tax Rate

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Apr 22, 2021 - 09:25 PM

Today the market freaked out when Bloomberg reported that the Biden Administration will propose to tax capital gains at the top ordinary income tax rate (39.6%, or 43.4% when the existing 3.8% tax on net investment income tax is added).

Well, according to Goldman, this is nothing more than the latest pipe dream trial balloon from progressives, one which won't actually take place and instead has been floated to set the negotiation "ask", with Goldman expecting that "Congress will settle on a more modest increase, potentially around 28%." As such there are no actual "surprises" in the proposal which has been floated in this exact format previously, and while it remains unclear when the tax rate increase would be effective, the bank's economists "think it is unlikely to apply to gains realized before May, and an increase effective Jan. 1, 2022 is more likely."

Here is the full take from Goldman's Alec Phillips

1.Bloomberg has reported that the Biden Administration will propose to raise the federal capital gains tax rate to 39.6%, also the top marginal income tax rate under President Biden’s proposal. In addition to 3.8% tax on net investment income that Congress established in 2009, the combined rate would be 43.4%. We had expected the President to propose this as part of his “American Families Plan” and the proposal comes as no surprise. This proposal would apply to taxpayers with annual incomes over $1 million, and would likely also apply to qualified dividends, which are currently taxed at the same rate as capital gains. We note that the Biden campaign also proposed eliminating the step-up in basis on inherited assets, which would result in much larger taxable gains on those assets once sold.

2. We expect Congress will pass a scaled back version of this tax increase. While it is possible that Congress might pass the proposal in its entirety, we think a moderated version is more likely in light of the razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate. At 43.4%, long-term capital gains would be taxed at the highest rate in the more than 100 years since Congress established the income tax. A 28% rate looks most likely, in our view, as it is roughly halfway between the current rate and Biden’s likely proposal. This is also the rate that President Reagan and a Democratic House settled on a few decades ago when raising the tax from 20%.

3. The issue will likely remain in flux over the next several months. We expect President Biden to discuss the issue among many other topics when he addresses a joint session of Congress on April 28. By early May, the Biden Administration might also release its full fiscal year 2022 budget submission to Congress, which would provide more details on tax proposals including capital gains. However, the timing of this release remains unclear. In the interim, comments from centrist Senate Democrats, such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.),could clarify where key swing voters might come out on the issue.

4. It is unclear when the higher rate would be effective, but we see three main options.

  • First, Congress has occasionally made tax policies effective as of the date when the bill is introduced in the House of Representatives. This would likely be no earlier than May.
  • A second option would be to make the higher tax rate effective for gains realized after the bill is enacted into law, which we think will be sometime between July and September.
  • The third option would be an increase effective on January 1, 2022. We note that the last time Congress legislated an increase in the rate, the policy became law in October 1986 but the increase did not take effect until January 1987.

While a retroactive increase cannot be ruled out entirely, we believe it is very unlikely that it would apply to gains realized before May 2021 (at earliest).