“We feel tax reform legislation could have a permanent impact on companies’ earnings, which could potentially drive stock valuations for many years to come,” said Ben Phillips, chief investment officer at EventShares, which is the firm that started U.S. Tax Reform Fund.
The fund has 33 publicly held stocks in its investment portfolio that it thinks will profit from two-tenets of the legislation: corporate tax cuts and allowing companies to expense their capital investments upfront instead of over 20 or 30 years.
“Investors are looking for a way to get exposure to certain themes,” said Todd Rosenbluth, director of ETF research at CFRA, an independent research firm. “Tax reform is top of mind for many. And this ETF aims to give you exposure to potential beneficiaries with one trade. Whether or not these companies will benefit — and whether the stocks will follow suit — is to be determined.”
Phillips has a decade of investing experience, most recently working at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, and Providence Equity Partners and Lord Abbett & Co. before that. He said the idea for the fund dates to April 2016, when he and his co-founders contemplated the market impact of a Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton election.
“We thought if Trump or Hillary won, it could have a major impact on the markets, one way or another,” Phillips said. He said his fund is not investing on politics, but on policy.
“Politics is day-to-day. Policy is the actual result and what that impact has on capital markets in the real world,” he said. “We are looking at the long-term economic impact of major policy decisions and working to identify winners and losers.”
So how do they assess which companies might do well? Let’s take one called Caleres, best known as the manufacturer of Allen Edmonds men’s shoes, as well as clothing and accessories.
Caleres is one of the few retailers that manufactures and sells most of its products in the United States, exposing it to the relatively high U.S. corporate tax rate, Phillips said.
“A permanent tax cut has the potential to impact the company in perpetuity,” Phillips said. He and his team have made 17 other investments in companies that they think will benefit from a tax cut. Those range from fast-food restaurants like Chipotle to biotech firm United Therapeutics to used-car retailer CarMax and energy giant Phillips 66.
“These are high taxpayers,” Phillips said. “Nearly all the companies we’ve included pay over 30 percent tax rates and would be the largest beneficiaries of a one-time tax cut. A lot of businesses domiciled in the U.S. are subject to higher U.S. corporate taxes.”
EventShares is also betting that a bunch of companies with high equipment purchases such as Air Lease Corp., Southwest Airlines and energy firm Matador Resources will see an increase in profits if they are able to deduct those purchases in the year they buy them.
In addition to the direct benefit of a corporate tax cut and changing the way companies pay taxes on new equipment, Phillips said he has invested in eight companies that will be able to price their foreign sales more competitively if they pay less in U.S. taxes.
AK Steel Holding Corp. and Ford Motor Company are two examples.
“They are similar and produce a lot of their goods in the U.S.,” Phillips said. “AK is inherently an auto play, with two-thirds of its steel going to automobiles and 90 percent of the revenue derives from the U.S. AK not only has improved export potential, but also improved earnings situation from the tax cut. Ford, which is the largest U.S. producer of any car company in the world as a percentage of sales, has the same issue.”
But what if the tax reform bill tanks and people invested in a fund that is betting on a vaporized policy?
“The portfolio stands well on itself,” Phillips said. “But our view is that there is enough impetus in D.C. to get something done on tax reform. If the first vote failed, we would expect another bill.”
An exchange-traded fund is a hybrid of sorts between a mutual fund and a public stock.
“We are bridging that gap more than anyone else has done,” Phillips said. “The gap is daily transparency. Mutual funds report quarterly. We report daily and every day at the market close. It gives transparency to the fund-holder, and it’s not a black box you are buying.”
The average market capitalization of its portfolio companies is $11.1 billion, and its net expense to the investor is 0.85 percent — or $85 for every $10,000 invested.
EventShares also has two nascent ETFs built on companies that may benefit — or suffer — from Republican policies and from Democratic policies.