Corporate America Still Counting on Tax Reform

Businesses are more optimistic than fund managers, according to Bank of America surveys.

Corporate America and the people who manage your money are hugely divided on the prospects changing the U.S. tax code.

Businesses are “still optimistic on fundamental U.S. tax reform” while “investors have given up,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch strategists Athanasios Vamvakidis and Ronald Man wrote in a note Friday, citing surveys conducted by the bank.

Trades tied to expectations of faster growth that were in vogue immediately following the U.S. election have stalled as the Trump Administration’s agenda remains in a legislative quagmire. Goldman Sachs’ basket of companies with high effective tax rates — which would stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries from reform — has far lagged another index that tracks firms with low tax rates, implying that investors have soured on the prospects for action in this area.

If tax reform is passed this fall, “many of the so-called Trump trades will come back,” Vamvakidis and Man argue. The power of tax overhaul — and in particular, a repatriation tax — to serve as a catalyst for dollar strength may be fairly limited given that most profits held abroad are stored in U.S. dollar-denominated instruments. But BofA’s strategists contend that the share of foreign-denominated assets held abroad is higher than most of their peers believe, which could foster a much stronger tailwind for the greenback.

“There is still hope for tax reform in the U.S.,” they wrote. “Everyone agrees that the U.S. badly needs it.”

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon impressed upon the media and sell-side analysts the need for policy changes to boost U.S. growth during a pair of calls on Friday following the bank’s second-quarter earnings release.

“The United States of America has to start to focus on policy which is good for all Americans, and that is infrastructure, regulation, taxation, education,” Dimon said, later adding, “We have the most, one of the most bureaucratic, confusing, litigious societies on the planet, it’s almost an embarrassment being an American citizen traveling around the world and listening to the stupid shit we have to deal with in this country.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has affirmed that the White House is “100% committed” to completing tax reform this year, and has suggested that a proposal will be released in early September. Republican leaders wanted to spend July ironing out a plan, but haven’t yet been able to complete their top legislative priority: the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

Even though investors are reticent to bet on tax relief, there’s one big sign they’re longing for it. BuzzFeed’s Matthew Zeitlin observed that high earners appear to be electing to hold off on recognizing income this year, delaying a taxable event in hopes that they’ll be paying a lower rate in the future.

Bloomberg News

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