A reality check on Trump’s tax reform agenda

Still etched in my brain was the great income trust debacle that took place on Halloween of 2005. The Canadian conservative government won re-election promising not to change the tax preferred treatment of income trusts. That promise was broken and Canadian investors lost billions of dollars overnight. The value of my income trust holdings fell by 40% instantaneously.

Needless to say, as an investor in U.S. stocks, failure to appeal and replace Obamacare (ACA) makes me very nervous. Trump’s promise of massive tax cuts and infrastructure spending will need support from the Freedom Caucus (tea  party) who want a border adjustment tax to offset some of the loss revenue.

There is also a complicated Senate rule that would prevent Democrats from blocking the tax bill. Under the rule, the bill cannot add to long-term budget deficits. That means every tax cut has to be offset by a similar tax increase or a spending cut.

‘‘Yes this does make tax reform more difficult,’’ said Ryan. ‘‘But it does not in any way make it impossible.’’

Nevertheless, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday the administration plans to turn quickly to tax reform with the goal of getting an overhaul approved by Congress by August.

House Republicans have released a blueprint that outlines their goals for a tax overhaul. It would lower the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The House plan retains the mortgage interest deduction but repeals the deduction for state and local taxes.

However, nearly 34 million families claimed the mortgage interest deduction in 2016, reducing their tax bills by $65 billion. Also, more than 43 million families deducted their state and local income plus personal property taxes from their federal taxable income last year. The deduction reduced their federal tax bills by nearly $70 billion.

On the corporate side, the plan would repeal the 35 percent corporate income tax and replace it with a 20 percent tax on profits from selling imports and domestically produced goods and services consumed in the US. Exports would be exempt from the new tax. (border adjustment tax)

The general goal for Republicans is to lower income tax rates for individuals and corporations and make up the lost revenue by reducing exemptions, deductions and credits. Overhauling the tax code is actually hard because every tax break has a constituency and the biggest tax breaks are among the most popular.

Over the past week, some investors are starting to doubt that the tax cuts will get passed. The value of the U.S. dollar has weaken and ten year bond yields have fallen  from 2.62% to 2.4%. Eight of the ten sectors that make up the S&P 500 were negative for the week. The biggest losers were U.S. financials (-3.72%), energy (-1.78%) industrials (-1.75%) and materials (-1.3%).

There is a lot of money on the sidelines that missed the Trump rally and are waiting for a stock market correction. I took some profits before the Canadian federal budget that hinted at tax increases so I also have some money to re-invest. The Canadian conservative government taught me a valuable lesson back in 2005. What government promises to do and what they actually do can have a negative affect on your investments.

 

10 Reasons to be cautious on equity markets

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David Rosenberg is chief economist with Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc. and author of the daily economic newsletter Breakfast with Dave.

Here are my 10 reasons to be cautious on equity markets right now.

Valuations are stretched

Trailing and forward price-to-earnings multiples are now in the top quintiles historically and the most expensive in 15 years.

Only in 1929 and the “Dotcom” bubble has the cyclically-adjusted multiple (CAPE) been as high as the case today.

We are heading into the ninth year in the cycle and have logged an epic 250-per-cent surge in the process. As retail investors now plow in to this market in the late innings, one could legitimately ask what it is they could possibly know that corporate insiders do not, considering the latter have been selling their company’s stock this year at a pace not seen since the data began to be published in 1988.

Extended leverage

U.S. margin debt has surged at a 27-per-cent annual rate since immediately prior to the election to stand at $513-billion, the highest level on record (eclipsing the high from April 2015).

Retail inflows

After an eight-year hiatus ($200-billion of net outflows), private clients have thrown in the towel and plowed nearly $80-billion into mutual funds and ETFs since the November election.

Remember Bob Farrell’s Rule No. 5: “The public buys the most at the top and the least at the bottom”.

Narrowing leadership

For the past four sessions, we have seen more new 52-week lows than new highs (the longest streak since Nov. 4) — a technical sign of a toppy market.

Moreover, the Russell 2000 index is now flat for the year and off 4 per cent from the high — again, we know from history that the generals tend to follow the privates.

Tack on the fact that the S&P 500 recently traded as much as 10 per cent above the 200-day moving average, and we have a market ripe for a near-term correction.

Complacency abounds

From a VIX of 11.9 to nearly 60-per-cent Bulls in the Investors Intelligence poll — though this has begun to roll off its highs in a sign of the “smart money” beginning to take profits.

The S&P 500 has gone 57 days without so much as a 1-per-cent intraday swing, something we have not seen in at least 35 years. The proverbial calm before the storm.

The Fed is in play

The front-end Treasury yields are rising discernibly — the two-year T-note yield has gapped up to nearly 1.4 per cent and futures market is in the process of pricing in an extra two rate hikes after the likely March tightening (the overnight index swaps market currently has priced in 70 basis points of tightening by year end).

The Fed has met its twin objectives and the fed funds rate consistent with that is 3 per cent, not the 0.75 per cent currently.

By the time the Fed reaches that level, the yield curve will likely have inverted long before and that’s when the clouds will come rolling in.

This could be next year’s story, which means a forward-looking market begins to discount this prospect sometime later this year.

Inflation pickup

Cyclical price pressures are showing through, with the core PCE inflation rate at a 30-month high of 1.738 per cent year over year.

As was the case in 1990, 2000 or 2007, this likely is not sustainable, but is a classic late-game signpost nonetheless.

All one needs to see is the latest blow-off in the commodity complex, which is now on pause, to notice how late cycle we are. Remember what oil did, for example, in 2008?

Lofty expectations

The survey data are at extremely high levels at a time when actual economic growth is running barely above a 1% annual rate.

Gaps like this, once again, are classic near-end-of-cycle developments.

The prospect of there being huge disappointment over the pace of policy change in Washington is also very high.

Over-ownership

While households were not net buyers of equities until very recently, the near-quadrupling in the stock market has still boosted their exposure to a 21.1-per-cent share of total assets. Only five times in the past 16 years has the share been this high or higher — this is 42% above the norm.

Frothy credit markets

Bonds lead stocks, just know that. And the risk-premium on U.S. high-yield corporate bonds very recently approached lows for the cycle at a super-tight 335 basis points.

However, they now are widening again, and with the overall narrowing path of the Treasury curve, this is well worth monitoring for those equity investors who are still long this market.

Nobody ever lost money by booking a profit, especially for a cycle that is now heading into year number nine.

Do you think that David is right?

Being Canadian, I am worried about the Federal Budget scheduled for March 22 because there are rumours of an increase in the capital gains tax. I have been taking some profits in my taxable accounts and for investment club just in case. I do believe it is impossible to time the market so I am still fully invested in my tax sheltered accounts.

 

Gold as a hedge against Trump’s Border Tax

Talk of a “border adjustment tax” has gone from the sidelines to center stage in Washington, which has a lot of people asking: What is it exactly?

Currently, U.S. corporations are taxed on their worldwide profits at 35 percent. The House GOP plan would change that radically. The new tax formula would tax domestic revenue (minus domestic costs) at a much lower rate of 20 percent. The net effect would be one that favors exports over imports.

The change would convert the country’s tax system to a “territorial” system rather than a worldwide tax system. It’s meant to create incentives for domestic production because companies also would no longer be able to reduce their taxable income by deducting their overseas expenditures.

The plan would essentially subsidize exports and lead to a 20 percent tax on imports for corporations.

Retailers are very opposed to a border adjustment tax because a large percentage of the products they sell are imported. The end result is Americans will pay higher prices for consumer goods including imported fruits and vegetables.

Now economists who support the tax say the policy would lead to a sharp rise in the value of the dollar. As a result, retailers’ costs will go down so much that it will be a wash to consumers. However, many CEO’s worry whether the economists are right in that assessment.

In the past, gold and gold stocks have been used by money managers to hedge against inflation, currency risk and world chaos. For years, financial advisors recommend having 5% to 7% of your portfolio in gold or gold stocks.

Unfortunately, we have been living with deflation so gold as an investment has not performed very well over the past five years. The chart below compares three ETFs – gold bullion GLD, large cap gold miners GDX and junior gold miners GDXJ

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The border adjustment tax could change all that. It could cause mayhem in world trade, leading to higher inflation and extreme volatility in currency markets. The chart below illustrates the 2017 year to date price movements in the above mention ETF’s

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The biggest risk to owning gold or gold stocks is if the Fed’s interest rate policy changes and they are more aggressive in raising rates. This could cause the value of the U.S. dollar to increase which would be bad for gold.

Fed watchers believe that the June meeting would be the earliest date for an increase in interest rates. The stock market has only priced in two rate hikes for all of 2017. President Trump’s immigration ban and talk on renegotiating trade deals will be in the news for the next few months making investors nervous.

I am considering three short-term trades in gold

  1. Dollar cost average: Buy 300 shares of GDX  at 24.50, Sell 3 Apr 26 call options for $1.20 & Sell 3 April 24 put options for $1.50 (Total investment = $6540.00 U.S.) 
  2. Covered call: Buy 100 shares of GLD at $116.20, sell 1 April $118 call for $2.25 (Total investment $9,370.00 U.S)
  3. Call spread: Buy 5 GLD April $110 calls for $7.10 & Sell 5 GLD April $118 calls for $2.25  (Total investment =$2,425.00 U.S.)

 

The problem with using options in these trade choices is the VIX that measures volatility is quite low. Having to wait until the April 19 expiration date reduces the profit potential. That being said, I think that the first trade is less risky, if I am wrong on the direction of the price of gold. I would own 600 shares of GDX at an average price of $ 22.90 but could then sell more call options.

Do you own any investments in gold stocks or gold ETF’s?

 

Disclaimer: These are not recommendations, please do your own research before investing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips on rebalancing your retirement portfolio

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Many investors are in for a rude awakening when they open their year-end retirement plan statements. The bond portion will probably show negative returns. It could even wipeout a good portion of their positive returns from owning equities.

Now, the most common method used in rebalancing your established asset allocation mix would be to reduce the holdings that are up in value (sell stocks) and buy assets that have fallen in price (buy bonds). This practice may have worked very well in the past but interest rates are going up forcing bond prices down.

The chart below compares the S&P 500 with the IShares 20 plus year Treasury bond ETF

tlt

“The decades-long bull market in U.S. Treasuries has finally drawn to a close following Donald Trump’s surprise presidential election victory, according to mutual-fund manager Bill Miller.”

“Miller isn’t the first to call time on the bond bull market. Economist Henry Kaufman, the original “Dr. Doom” who is credited with calling the last bond bear market in the 1970s, told the Financial Times this week that the current bull run is at an end.”

In the past, when the Federal Reserve decided it was time to unwind its easy monetary policies, it would raise the federal funds rate fairly quickly. The Fed believes a neutral stance on monetary policy is reached somewhere above the 4% level. The current Federal Reserve is moving slower than normal. Based on an average of three rate hikes per year, it will take the Fed a little over 4 years to normalize interest rates.

Tip # 1

Short-term, reduce or eliminate investing in target date mutual funds since they automatically rebalance from equities to bonds. Plus they increase your bond exposure the closer you are to retirement.

Tip # 2

During a period of rising interest rates, the prudent strategy is to reduce the duration of your bond portfolio. That could mean using a short-term bond ETF or a ladder of GICs both of which would allow you to benefit from an increase in rates.

Tip # 3

If you’re comfortable with a little credit risk, use short-term investment-grade corporate bonds to get a little more yield.

Tip # 4

Cash is by far the safest asset class. Move some of your equity allocation and some of your fixed income allocation to cash. I have my doubts that President Elect Trump can get congress to pass all his stimulus agenda and even economists are unsure if these policies will actual increase economic growth.

Corrections in the bond market are not as uncommon as you think. Most have been short in duration. See the chart below:

lt-treas-losses

Keep in mind that in the past, rate hikes were implemented  at a much faster pace than what the current Fed has purposed. Losses in the bond market could continue for longer than expected.