Initial Thoughts on the Presidential Election

Last week, America witnessed the conclusion of one of the most talked about elections in recent memory, as Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton and was elected to become the 45th President of the United States. Not only did Trump win the toss-up states he needed to in order to capture 270 electoral college votes, he even turned some states red that had historically been blue. While we await to see which promises made during Trump’s campaign become true, we wanted to share our initial thoughts on the election and the potential impact of those promises on America’s tax code and fiscal policy.

Map

First, we must acknowledge that Trump is becoming President at an opportune time, with the economy and unemployment rates being in significantly better positions than when President Obama took office in 2008. In addition, Republicans have gained control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, providing a seemingly unobstructed pathway for his legislative initiatives to be passed into action. However, Trump does face some pushback within his own party and must deal with the Republicans not having 60 votes in the Senate. Although the “reconciliation” process (whereby most spending and tax legislation can be passed with a simple majority) can be utilized to pass some of his tax reform, he will have more difficulty passing non-budgetary items, which include the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate or altering the Dodd-Frank legislation.

Unfortunately, there is still tremendous uncertainty about the specifics of all of Trump’s proposals for tax reform. Some of these proposals are in alignment with the House Republicans’ plan while others are in misalignment. Trump’s Tax Plan website lists the following proposals:

  • “Low-income Americans would have an effective income tax rate of 0%”
  • Income tax brackets would be simplified and tax rates would be reduced
    • Less than $75,000: 12%
    • More than $75,000 but less than $225,000: 25%
    • More than $225,000: 33%
  • Carried interest would be taxed as ordinary income
  • The Affordable Care Act would be repealed, including the 3.8% tax on net investment income
  • The corporate and personal Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) would be repealed
  • The standard deduction would be increased and personal exemptions would be eliminated
  • The estate tax would be repealed, but capital gains on property held until death and valued over $10 million would be subject to tax
  • Corporate tax rate would decrease from 35% to 15%
  • Deemed repatriation of corporate profits held offshore at a one-time tax rate of 10%
  • “Most corporate tax expenditures” would be eliminated (except for research and development)

In all likelihood, there is going to be some form of substantial tax reform during Trump’s presidency. The questions are how significant will the reform be and in what method will the reform take place. For example, the repeal of the estate tax has occurred a few times in the history of the United States, with it being reinstated in times of war or as part of a budget or tax reform. The last time there was a repeal of the estate tax was in 2010 as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act of 2001. This Act called for a phase-out of the estate tax over a 10-year period. However, additional legislation in 2010 and 2012 led us to our current estate tax policy. Therefore, will Trump be able to repeal the estate tax or possibly reform it over a period of time? The answer will come down to a careful negotiation between Trump and Congress and the balancing act of tax reform, entitlement reform (which Trump has said he will not change), and managing the federal deficit.

For our insurance practice, the potential repeal or even reform of the estate tax may change why and how insurance policies are purchased in the future. However, even if the estate tax is repealed, Trump has proposed there would be capital gains taxes on assets held until death (with capital gains not applying to the first $10 million of assets). Even if the reason to own insurance to provide liquidity for estate taxes is minimized, there is still a need for liquidity. The death benefit could offset the capital gains tax incurred on the sale of the inherited property.

The other reasons for having life insurance remain valid, such as providing spousal security, income tax diversification, supplementing your retirement income, succession planning for a business, estate equalization, creating a family legacy or funding philanthropic objectives. Given Trump’s proposal to reduce income tax rates in the near future, we will likely see a surge of individuals purchasing insurance policies to serve as a cash accumulation vehicle to supplement their retirement planning. Generally, most qualified retirement plans only make economic sense when you defer paying taxes at a higher tax bracket and withdraw the funds at a lower tax bracket. However, if income tax rates are decreased, it may make more sense from a tax planning perspective to participate in more after-tax planning as opposed to continuing to promote and invest in qualified retirement plans. It really comes down to two questions; would you rather pay taxes at a higher or lower tax rate and would you rather pay taxes on a higher or lower amount? Utilizing insurance would result in investing after-tax dollars to purchase a policy, allowing those funds to grow tax-deferred and withdrawing those funds income tax-free.1

The concern of many, including Paul Ryan and other members of the Republican Party, is how much will these potential tax cuts add to the federal deficit. Trump has also discussed increasing military spending, which would further exacerbate the federal deficit problem. Some argue that his tax reform lowers tax rates but increases the tax base so there shouldn’t be any change in overall tax revenue. There were also discussions during the campaign of imposing tariffs to generate additional revenue for the government. Although monetarily this may work, trade agreements would have to be negotiated which could have severe political ramifications and strain our relationships with Allies across the globe. While it’s still unclear what impact these changes will have, most Americans agree there needs to be a defined path for how we are going to navigate our ever-increasing debt burden. Potentially decreasing tax revenue and increasing spending does not appear to be in alignment with reducing our country’s debt. In fact, while increasing our revenues or decreasing spending on their own would be a start, it will most likely take both actions to change our fiscal policy, make an impact on our national debt and put the U.S. on a path towards financial stability. It seems that any other path will compound the debt burden and lead us toward an unsustainable and uncertain financial future.

Perhaps more than we have seen in recent memory, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding what the future will hold. The capital markets reflected this on election night, as we saw the futures market predict the market would be down 5% the day after the election. Anytime there is uncertainty and especially after a Presidential election, the markets usually act negatively. Throughout history, we have seen this occur, such as when the markets dropped by 5.27%, 4.61% and 4.42% the day after President Obama, President Truman and President Roosevelt were elected. However, maybe there is reason for optimism as the markets actually gained by 1.40% the day after Trump was elected and continued that upward trend the rest of the week.

Trump will also be the first President to have never served in a government position. However, Trump’s supporters showed they are less concerned about his lack of political qualifications and more concerned about challenging and changing the status quo. They were dissatisfied with Washington and felt alienated amongst all of the change that has been occurring around them. As Andy Friedman pointed out on his Washington Update blog, Trump supporters “see a political system that at best has ignored them and at worst is stacked against them.”

Whether you voted for Trump, Clinton or anyone else, we need to be reminded that our government was designed on a system of checks and balances to serve in the best interests for all Americans. It was structured this way to prevent one man or woman from making unilateral decisions. Trump must work closely with our elected representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate in order to pass legislation. Furthermore, he must work collaboratively with his Cabinet members to navigate the multitude of domestic and foreign issues he will face while in office. Regardless whether Trump or Clinton was elected the 45th President of the United States, we should look optimistically toward the future and remember that we live in a country where our opinions are heard and our votes can inspire change.

Should you have any questions about how President-elect Trump’s proposals may affect your individual, estate or corporate tax situation, please feel free to give us a call.


This information does not reflect the political views of WealthPoint, LLC or any of its employees or affiliates. WealthPoint, LLC does not provide any tax or legal advice. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only.  There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness.  It is not intended as legal or tax advice and individuals may not rely upon it (including for purposes of avoiding tax penalties imposed by the IRS or state and local tax authorities).  Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed herein and before entering into any estate planning, trust, investment, retirement, or insurance arrangement.

1 Subject to policy performance and product specifications.

 File #: 1861-2016

 

Election Day and the Markets

A number of weeks ago – before the release of the Access Hollywood tape that threw Donald Trump’s campaign into turmoil – we predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the presidential election.  At the same time, we predicted that the Democrats would seize control of the Senate, but that the Republicans would keep control of the House.  Events since that time threaten to affect how the markets may perceive these election results.

Control of the House

Some political commentators are now suggesting that Trump’s precipitous fall could cost the Republicans control of the House as well as the Senate.  Democratic control of the House would remove a check on Clinton’s ability to implement her legislative priorities, which include increased spending on social programs and higher taxes on affluent families.

When one party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, the possibility of Congress passing sweeping legislation antithetical to businesses becomes much greater.  During the first two years of his presidency Obama enjoyed a filibuster-proof Congressional majority.  Those years saw the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank bank reform, and other sweeping legislation viewed by many as harmful to business.

Recent turmoil notwithstanding, we do not believe that the Republicans in fact will lose control of the House in this election.  Thus, we continue to see a Clinton presidency as a continuation of the Washington gridlock of the last six years (since the Republicans assumed control of the House in 2010).  Few initiatives will be enacted and sweeping legislation will be scarce to non-existent.  Instead, Washington will address fiscal deadlines with eleventh hour short term extensions, kicking the can down an abbreviated road.

Although such gridlock is frustrating to many American voters, it might be fine for the markets.  Gridlock virtually eliminates the risk of major legislative changes, freeing the markets to focus less on Washington legislative policy and more on economic developments.  Nonetheless, markets could be volatile through Election Day if portions of the media continue to assert that Democratic control of the House is possible.

A “Rigged Election”

In the third presidential debate, Trump declined to provide assurance that he would accept the election results, saying only “I will tell you at the time.”  Trump’s refusal is consistent with pronouncements he has been making on the campaign trail.  Since the release of the Access Hollywood tape and the subsequent decline in his poll numbers, Trump has asserted with increasing frequently and forcefulness that the election is “rigged” against him.  He posits a conspiracy working to deprive him – through voter fraud and other means — of the presidency he otherwise would have won.  At various times he has singled out as conspirators the media, the Democrats, minorities, the Republican Party “establishment,” international bankers, the FBI, polling monitors, and the debate commission.

Given the tone of his rhetoric, it is hard to imagine Trump making a gracious concession speech and disappearing after the election (assuming he, in fact, does not prevail).  His actions and temperament suggest that the unfairness of losing something he believes he rightfully won will gnaw at and motivate him to continue to seek the comforting support of his followers.  Trump post-election is likely to continue to tweet observations, give interviews to friendly networks (and perhaps start his own), and even schedule the rallies he so enjoys.

The possibility of continued turmoil post-election could cause significant market volatility.  American democracy relies on voters having confidence in election results.  Questioning the legitimacy of a presidential transfer of power come Inauguration Day is unprecedented here.  Yet Trump’s continued exhortations could engender resentment – and even sporadic outbursts of violence – on the part of some of his followers.  Widespread doubt about the integrity of the election results would lead the country into uncharted territory, producing the sort of uncertainty that makes markets nervous.  Thus, market volatility could continue even after Election Day.

Less important in the short term, but nonetheless meaningful for future elections, is the effect on the Republican Party of Trump’s continued crusade.  The intra-party clash between Trump’s supporters and social conservatives is unlikely to disappear after the election.  Conservatives will blame Trump for the election defeat, while Trump will blame the party establishment for abandoning his campaign.  And the traditional free-market, pro-business, fiscal conservative wing will also vie for power.  The ensuing fight could render the Republican Party a shambles, a situation that won’t be resolved quickly.  While the disarray is unlikely to cost Republicans the House in 2018, it could prevent Republicans from taking control of the Senate in 2018 (when the numbers otherwise favor them).


Andrew H. Friedman is the principal of The Washington Update LLC and a former senior partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm.  He and his colleague Jeff Bush speak regularly on legislative and regulatory developments and trends affecting investment, insurance, and retirement products.  They may be reached at www.TheWashingtonUpdate.com.

The authors of this paper are not providing legal or tax advice as to the matters discussed herein.  The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only.  There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness.  It is not intended as legal or tax advice and individuals may not rely upon it (including for purposes of avoiding tax penalties imposed by the IRS or state and local tax authorities).  Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed herein and before entering into any estate planning, trust, investment, retirement, or insurance arrangement.

Copyright Andrew H. Friedman 2016.  Reprinted by permission.  All rights reserved.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the view of M Holding Securities or WealthPoint, LLC.

File #: 1712-2016

The Candidates and the Markets: How Would Clinton or Trump Govern?

As the personality-fueled presidential campaign rages on, little time has been spent on how a Clinton or Trump presidency might affect the economy and the markets. Yet the candidates’ respective policy objectives are likely to have profound effects on investors. This paper discusses the fiscal policies a Trump or Clinton administration would likely pursue, whether those policies are likely to be implemented, and how those policies could affect businesses, borrowing, taxes, and the markets.

Our Election Predictions A Review

Here are the predictions from our July white paper, Sizing Up the General Election:

  • The Republicans will keep control of the House of Representatives.
  • The party that wins the White House also will control a majority of the Senate.
  • Neither party will hold the 67 Senate seats needed to override a presidential veto or the 60 seats required to break a filibuster and allow legislation to proceed. The metrics underlying the presidential election (evolving demographics and the Democrats’ natural advantage in the Electoral College), combined with the manner in which the candidates have operated their respective campaigns to date, make Clinton the heavy favorite. But it is too early to declare the race over. Trump’s uncanny ability to control and bend the rules of engagement give him a “puncher’s chance” of prevailing. Facing a heavily favored opponent, he still could pull off an unlikely win by landing a rhetorical punch that gets through Clinton’s defenses and severely rattles her. Until we see how — and whether — Clinton handles the Trump onslaught in their debates, it is premature to declare her the clear winner.

A Clinton Presidency

Hillary Clinton’s fiscal and tax policies hue to the Democratic Party line. She believes that capitalism has hard edges, and government programs are needed to help those in lower socioeconomic classes move up to the shrinking middle class. Clinton advocates for new or expanded government education and jobs initiatives and a higher minimum age. She would not reduce entitlements, instead leaving in place (or increasing) current Social Security and Medicare benefits even for young workers.

Clinton would pay for her initiatives with new taxes that would fall almost exclusively on affluent families. Higher income families, she asserts, have done far better financially in the economic recovery than have working Americans, and can afford to help those left behind.

Based on our predictions, Clinton will face a Republican-controlled House. In our view, Clinton’s unpopularity (over 50% of voters view her unfavorably), coupled with extant Republican antagonism, will significantly compromise the honeymoon period that typically follows a presidential inauguration. We look for a contentious relationship between the House and the White House from the beginning.

House Republicans are exceedingly unlikely to agree to Clinton’s call for higher tax rates and higher domestic spending. Thus, we see a Clinton presidency as a continuation of the Washington gridlock of the last six years (since the Republicans assumed control of the House in 2010). Few initiatives will be enacted and sweeping legislation will be scarce to non-existent. Instead, Washington will address fiscal deadlines with eleventh hour short term extensions, kicking the can down an abbreviated road.

Although such gridlock is frustrating to many American voters, it might not be detrimental to the markets. Markets react negatively to uncertainty. When one party controls the White House and Congress, the possibility of sweeping legislation antithetical to businesses remains a possibility. During the first two years of his presidency Obama enjoyed a filibuster-proof Congressional majority. Those years saw the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank bank reform, and other sweeping legislation viewed by many as harmful to business. Gridlock virtually eliminates the risk of major legislative changes, freeing the markets to focus less on Washington policy and more on economic developments.

A Trump Presidency

Donald Trump is anything but predictable. That attribute alone has the potential to roil the markets. A number of months ago, Donald Trump, drawing on his bankruptcy experience, ruminated that it might make sense for the U.S. to negotiate a “haircut” on its loan repayments, giving Treasury debt holders less than the face amount to which they are entitled. Trump walked back that comment shortly after making it, but a similarly explosive comment from a sitting president likely would cause significant market turmoil.

Consistent with his “America First” policy, Trump wants to impose hefty tariffs (reportedly as high as 40%) on foreign goods entering the United States. Our trading partners presumably would retaliate with their own tariffs on goods from the United States. Most economists believe the resulting drop in U.S. exports could have a devastating effect on domestic businesses.

In contrast to Trump, most of the House Republican leadership supports broad free trade principles, and thus is unlikely to enact Trump’s radical trade policies. But failure to derail those initiatives quickly could precipitate nervousness in the markets.

On the fiscal side, like Clinton (and unlike the other Republican presidential candidates), Trump would not reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits even for young workers. Also like Clinton, Trump would initiate a large scale infrastructure repair program. And he would spend significantly more to shore up the military. But while Clinton calls for increased taxes on the wealthy, Trump would reduce taxes significantly across the board. Trump’s tax plan is in line with that of the House Republicans, and thus would have a good likelihood of passage.

Although markets initially might cheer lower taxes, the negative consequences to the federal deficit of more spending and reduced taxes could cause overleveraging problems down the road. Thus, a Trump presidency could follow the arc of the George W. Bush presidency, with exploding debt leading to an economic (and market) downturn.

The Fiscal Situation and Taxes

Over the past several years, the deficit has declined steadily from its all-time high in 2009. But, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the deficit is now rising again: the 2015 deficit will grow by a third in 2016. Congressional Budget Office, Long Term Budget Outlook (August 2016). Even in the absence of additional spending, this deficit increase will accelerate in coming years as major entitlement expenditures (Social Security and Medicare payments) grow with the aging population.

Neither presidential candidate seeks to reduce the federal deficit. With spending up, entitlement reform off the table, and the deficit growing, we believe the deficit hawks in the House leadership will be forced to undertake a constant search for revenue. Of course, Republicans will not seek to enact broad tax increases – such as higher tax rates or the elimination of popular deductions or exemptions. Instead, the House leadership is likely to look at less controversial tax changes — smaller items that curtail tax treatment that many in Washington believe is inappropriately generous.

Indeed, this process has already begun. The last government funding compromise (in December 2015) sought partially to recoup increased spending by eliminating a popular (and, in the eyes of many politicians, overly generous) Social Security planning strategy called “file and suspend”.

We believe eliminating the “file and suspend loophole” is a harbinger of things to come. Future funding bills could close other perceived loopholes, resulting in a whittling away of techniques investors use to reduce taxes. Examples of other loophole closures that have been under discussion include:

  • Tax the sale of “carried interests” as ordinary income.
  • Curtail “stretching” of inherited IRAs and 401k’s.
  • Apply required minimum distribution rules to Roth accounts beginning at age 70-1/2.
  • Limit Roth IRA conversions to pre-tax dollars.
  • Treat all distributions from S corps and partnerships to owner-employees as subject to employment taxes.
  • Curtail sophisticated wealth transfer techniques.

Most investors note that taxes already are high. In 2013, tax increases to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and to fund the Affordable Care Act caused the top tax rates on investment income to jump by ten percentage points. As a result, the top 10% of tax returns by income now pay 82% of all federal individual income taxes, the highest number ever recorded. Fairness and Tax Policy, Joint Committee on Taxation (February 2015). Tax rates imposed on upper income taxpayers are now the highest they have been in the past 35 years. The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes (CBO November 2014). And the effort to raise revenue through loophole closers could eliminate many current tax reduction techniques, effectively raising taxes further.

High and increasing taxes make effective tax planning for investments paramount. We review a number of tax planning suggestions – and discuss possible loophole closers in more detail — in our white paper, Investing in a Rising Tax Environment 2016, published earlier this year.

After the election and before the new administration takes office, we will prepare a white paper that discusses in more detail the new president’s policies and their likelihood of enactment, including how the policies could affect individual economic sectors.


Andrew H. Friedman is the principal of The Washington Update LLC and a former senior partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm. He and his colleague Jeff Bush speak regularly on legislative and regulatory developments and trends affecting investment, insurance, and retirement products. They may be reached at www.TheWashingtonUpdate.com.

The authors of this paper are not providing legal or tax advice as to the matters discussed herein. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. It is not intended as legal or tax advice and individuals may not rely upon it (including for purposes of avoiding tax penalties imposed by the IRS or state and local tax authorities). Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed herein and before entering into any estate planning, trust, investment, retirement, or insurance arrangement.

Copyright Andrew H. Friedman 2016. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the view of M Holding Securities or WealthPoint, LLC.

File #1658-2016