Question: Why are so many politicians fighting President Reagan's tax proposal? Wasn't it apparent from the election results that the American people wanted the Kemp-Roth legislation that the president endorsed during the campaign?
Answer: I don't usually respond to questions with political implications, but I decided to try my hand at this one because it's been raised by several people and because the broad question of tax cuts has a major impact on personal finances.
The administration claims to have received a mandate in November to press ahead on all fronts for the principles it espoused during the election campaign -- principles that obviously were endorsed by the results of that election.
Without disputing the size and significance of Reagan's election victory, however, the reality is that no one knows just what that victory meant.
The reason for this uncertainty is that we each cast but a single vote for the president, and that vote does not necessarily signify a "yea" vote for every plank in the party platform.
We do not have a mechanism for fractioning our votes to show support or opposition on individual proposals. For example, there may well have been anti-abortion adherents who disagreed with Reagan's economic policies but voted for him because they felt his position on abortion was of overriding importance.
Conversely, there were probably voters who opted for Carter because they disagreed with Reagan's stand on reducing the role of the federal government in social programs even though they may have been in sympathy with his opposition to gun control legislation.
And I'm quite sure many Reagan votes were registered in support of promises to reduce federal involvement in personal and business life despite misgivings about the possible inflationary impact of putting tax cuts ahead of a reduction in the size of the federal deficit.
In fact, some recent polls indicate a majority of people would prefer to see some reduction in federal spending and movement toward a balanced budget before major tax cuts are enacted.
What I'm saying is that it's to easy to read last November's election results as a public mandate for whichever campaign promise you happen to endorse.
But the presumed mandate is not really that clear. There is obviously majority support for the overall concept of government professed by the president. But that doesn't translate automatically into similar support for every individual element of that concept.
So there is room for disagreeing with and arguing against individual legislative intiatives from the president without denying the degree of national support for his overall political philosophy.
Q: I have investments spread among money market funds, stocks and second trust notes. These days utility stocks seem to offer the best rates of return, running as high as 15 percent. How do you evaluate them for prospective capital gains as well as safety? Can they be expected to appreciate in market value?
A: Utility stocks are priced low now for a couple of reasons. First, an electric utility is a highly capital-intensive business. That is, it needs a large and continuing flow of capital for the construction and maintenance of massive generating and transmission equipment. So operating results are very sensitive to interest rates.
In addition, in the minds of many investors, utility stocks are linked to bonds rather than to industrial stocks, I guess because of their stability and relative safety and because they are generally bought for income.
For these two reasons, prices of utility stocks tend to move inversely, and yields directly, with general intestest rates. As a result, prices are at or near historic lows -- and I think there are some excellent buys now in the utilities for income-oriented investors.
But I don't consider them good candidates for capital gains. Share prices can be expected to rise as interest rates moderate, but it looks like that's likely to be a long, slow process.
Some utilities, however, offer a partially tax-free return of capital as a part of their dividends, which in the long run can mean a substitution of capital gains (taxed at a lower rate) for current dividends.
Check with your broker for his recommendations. You can get useful information on yield and safety of specific utility issues from Standard & Poor's, Value Line and other investment publications, available in the reference section of major libraries.