The stock market’s feeling some pains
As word is that capital gains
Will soon be taxed highly
As Biden, so slyly
Pays tribute to John Maynard Keynes
It can be no surprise that the Biden administration has begun to float trial balloons regarding higher tax rates as they were a key plank in Biden’s presidential campaign. Given the remarkable amount of money that this administration seems to want to spend, there needs to be some additional revenue to help pay for things, although the gap between the spending plans and forecast revenue enhancements remains extremely wide. For instance, while the mooted price tag for the American Jobs Plan, the latest proposal, is on the order of $2.3 trillion, the estimated revenues of the capital gains tax rise is somewhere in the $500 billion to $1 trillion zone. That’s still a pretty big gap that needs to be filled. Of course, we know that the Treasury will simply borrow the difference, and based on current form, the Fed will buy most of that. Who knows, maybe MMT really does work, and everything will work out fine.
Investors, though, seeing the world through a slightly different prism than policymakers, may decide that while the extraordinary equity market rally has been lots of fun, it might be time to take some money off the table. When the first headlines about a doubling of capital gains taxes hit the tape, US markets fell about 1.3% and finished lower on the day. Now, we are still a long way from those tax laws being enacted, but do not be surprised if equity markets have more difficulty making new highs going forward. After all, if the government is going to tax away your gains, the risk/reward equation will change for the worse. (While on the subject of taxes, there was a rumor that the Treasury was talking about 70% marginal tax rates on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency gains. It should be no surprise they suffered as well.)
Attempting, us all, to assure
Lagarde said, t’would be “premature”
To taper our buying
Since we are still trying
To help the recovery endure
Yesterday’s other big story was the ECB meeting where, while policies were left unchanged as expected, there was a great deal of anticipation that Madame Lagarde might offer some hints as to the structural reforms due to be announced in June, or even give a bit more guidance on the current situation within the PEPP. Alas, the information quotient from this meeting was pretty limited. Lagarde insisted that increased buying in the PEPP, which was a key outcome from the March meeting, would remain in place, although the pace of purchases does not seem to have increased all that much. Yet when asked directly about the probability of tapering those purchases, Lagarde was adamant that it was “simply premature” to discuss that subject.
What is becoming apparent at the ECB is that there is a growing divide between the hawks and doves regarding how policy should evolve. The Frugal four are clearly seeing improved economic activity and the beginnings of rising prices while the more profligate southern countries continue to lag in both economic activity and rate of vaccinations. It is becoming clear that a single monetary policy is no longer going to be efficient for both groups of countries simultaneously. When Super Mario was ECB President, he simply ran roughshod over the hawks, but then he had the policy chops to do so on his own. It remains to be seen if Madame Lagarde will have the same ability. The upshot is that we could be looking at some more volatility in Eurozone markets if the hawks start speaking in concert and do not back Lagarde. We shall see.
Away from those stories, though, the market this morning is ostensibly focused on the better than expected PMI data that we have seen around the world. Starting with Australia last night, and on to Japan and most of Europe and the UK, the big gainer was Services PMI, which is back above 50 everywhere except Japan, which printed at 48.3. But Australia, the Eurozone and the UK are all back in expansionary territory as anticipation of the great reopening takes hold. In this regard, the Japanese data makes sense as the nation is about to impose lockdowns again for the next two weeks in Tokyo, Kyoto and two other prefectures, closing bars and restaurants and banning public gatherings.
In addition to the PMI data, UK Retail Sales was quite strong, rising 4.9% M/M ex fuel, as were Japanese Department Store Sales (+21.8%). With all of this positive data, it can be no surprise that the dollar is under pressure this morning, but it is a bit surprising that equity markets in Europe are under pressure (DAX -0.3%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 -0.4%) and sovereign bond yields are softer (Bunds -1.3bps, OATs -1.2bps, Gilts -0.7bps). While buy the rumor, sell the news is always a viable thought process, it strikes me that there were no rumors of this type of economic strength.
Finishing the market recap, commodities are firmer (WTI +0.5%, Au +0.1%, Cu +0.8%), which syncs well with the dollar’s weakness. In the G10 space, the dollar is softer versus the entire spectrum of currencies, with EUR (+0.3%) and GBP (+0.3%) leading the way while JPY (+0.1%) is the laggard today. In the EMG space, RUB (+0.6%) is the leading gainer after the Bank of Russia raised their base rate by 0.50% to 5.00% in a surprise as only 25bps was expected. Away from that, the CE4 are all following the euro higher and then commodity currencies are also edging higher, but by much lesser amounts (ZAR +0.2%, MXN +0.2%). There are a few decliners here, TRY (-0.2%), INR (-0.1%) but the size of the move is indicative of the lack of general interest. Certainly, both those nations have been suffering more significantly with Covid lately, and it would not be a surprise to see both currencies continue to lag until that situation changes.
On the data front this morning, New Home Sales (exp 885K) is the major number, although preliminary PMI data (61.0 Mfg, 61.5 Services) is also due. In the US, though, there is far more focus on ISM than PMI. With the Fed coming up next week, there is no Fedspeak to be had, so as we head into the weekend, it is reasonable to expect a quiet session. Equity futures are currently slightly in the green, roughly 0.15%, so perhaps the gut reaction to the tax news has passed and won’t have an impact. But the one thing of which we can be certain appears to be that higher taxes are on the way. That is a double whammy for equities as higher corporate tax rates will reduce earnings while higher cap gains taxes will encourage selling before those taxes come into effect.
In the end, though, nothing has changed the underlying market driver, the 10-year Treasury. If yields there continue to slide, the dollar will remain weak across the board. If they reverse, look for the dollar to rebound. Next week, after the Fed, we see Core PCE data on Friday. Currently, that is forecast to rise 1.8%. a high side surprise there could well shake things up with regard to views on tapering with a corresponding impact on all markets. But until the Fed on Wednesday, it seems we are in for some slow times.
Good luck, good weekend and stay safe