President Trump took a bold announcement by Apple on Wednesday and made an even bolder claim about it.
The electronics giant touted a massive new investment in the U.S. economy, pledging to contribute $350 billion to it over the next five years, with $30 billion of that sum coming in the form of capital spending, including for a new campus. And the tech company said it will create 20,000 new jobs in the United States. The president seized on the news as validation of the Republican tax package:
I promised that my policies would allow companies like Apple to bring massive amounts of money back to the United States. Great to see Apple follow through as a result of TAX CUTS. Huge win for American workers and the USA! https://t.co/OwXVUyLOb1— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 17, 2018
The issue: It’s not clear how much the new tax regime contributed to Apple’s decision, if at all.
In a 1,093-word statement detailing the move, the company noted it is handing the Treasury a $38 billion one-time payment. That meets a requirement under the new law that corporations pay previously deferred taxes on their foreign profits. The law set up that provision as a sort of compromise: Companies are being forced to fork over a portion of those overseas stashes to Uncle Sam, but they are being charged a deeply discounted rate (15.5 percent for cash and 8 percent for less liquid assets.) Apple says it is counting the $38 billion it’s paying toward the $350 billion total it advertised Wednesday.
The law gives companies the flexibility to spread what they owe under the levy over five years. But the payment is mandatory — and not, as Trump suggested in his tweet, itself a vote of confidence in the brightening business climate at home.
Beyond that, the company doesn’t chalk up anything else in its announcement to the tax law. The Wall Street Journal’s Tripp Mickle does a careful job parsing the company’s statement:
The company previously said it planned $16 billion in capital expenditures world-wide in the fiscal year that ends this September, up from $14.9 billion the previous year. However, Apple doesn’t break out its spending in the U.S., making it difficult to gauge how much of the $30 billion over five years it announced Wednesday is new.
Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said Apple’s plans are in line with Trump administration goals, but that it isn’t clear how much of the commitments are new. And he said the company could deliver on those commitments with existing cash flow — without needing to tap cash holdings.
“It’s a nice number and puts a foot forward in line with where the administration wants to go with adding jobs and building in the U.S.,” he said. But he added, “It’s not clear these investments were impacted in any way by tax reform.”
Separately, Bloomberg News's Mark Gurman reported Wednesday, the company is awarding most of its employees worldwide a $2,500 bonus in stock grants in the months ahead. For that, beneficiaries can thank the tax cuts.
But the announcement of Apple’s multibillion-dollar investments carried significantly more weight for Trump and other Republicans eager to find signs the tax package is supplying a big boost of momentum to broader economic growth. Another entrant in the parade of companies handing out bonuses may be nice. What the GOP would prefer, however, is evidence that corporate giants are plowing their windfalls into the kind of spending that will trickle down to workers.
"Certainly higher wages and bonuses are good news," Tax Foundation senior analyst Scott Greenberg says. "But if the tax bill is going to have a large economic effect, it's likely going to take some time to show up, because will take some time for companies to respond to the incentives offered by the new tax provisions." And, he cautioned, "it's difficult to separate causality from companies looking for gestures of public goodwill."
Apple isn’t likely to fact-check Trump’s claims.
The announcement appeared designed to win the company some good-citizen points, with Apple CEO Tim Cook declaring in a statement that his company “could only have happened in America, and we are proud to build on our long history of support for the US economy.”
Recall that the tech titan came in for special abuse from Trump during the 2016 campaign. The candidate promised to make Apple “start building their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries,” at one point urged a boycott of Apple products, and said he would “come down so hard” on Cook that “his head would be spinning all of the way back to Silicon Valley.”
Breaking ground in Reno today with @GovSandoval & @MayorSchieve as part of our data center expansion plan, one of many Apple initiatives which will contribute $350 billion to the U.S. economy and create 20,000 new jobs over the next 5 years. pic.twitter.com/g40dlHsxuC— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) January 17, 2018
But Apple isn’t the only corporate giant that has been coy about pledging to use its tax gains for investments and wage hikes rather than, say, stock buybacks and dividend payments.
A CNBC survey of the 100 biggest companies by market cap found only nine with “specific plans to use some of the money saved from the corporate tax cuts to boost worker pay or invest in facilities or charitable causes.”
In other news, the sun rose today. Can we say for sure it would have but for the corporate tax cut?
|You are reading The Finance 202, our must-read tipsheet on where Wall Street meets Washington.|
|Not a regular subscriber?|
— DOW 26,000. CNBC's Fred Imbert: "Stocks traded higher on Wednesday following the release of stronger-than-expected quarterly results from some of the biggest U.S. companies. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 322.79 points, closing above 26,000 for the first time. The index first broke above the milestone mark on Tuesday. The S&P 500 gained 0.9 percent to finish at 2,802.56, with staples and tech rising more than 1 percent. The index also posted a record close.Tech stocks got a boost from Apple, which erased losses after announcing plans to repatriate billions in overseas cash. The stock closed 1.7 percent higher. The Nasdaq composite rose 1 percent to finish at 7,298.28, a record."
It broke the record in record time. CNN Money's Matt Egan: "The latest rush to buy stocks left the average up almost 8,000 points since... Trump's 2016 election.The rally on Wednesday gave the Dow its best percentage gain since November. And it showed that the upward trend remains intact despite a big reversal the day before... But the velocity of the rally is raising eyebrows. It took just seven trading days for the Dow to climb from 25,000 to 26,000. While that is just a 4% advance, it's part of a broader surge that has carried the Dow 42% during the Trump era. And the market rise has come with virtually no breaks."
— Shutdown showdown. The Post's Mike DeBonis, Ed O'Keefe, and Erica Werner: "Bitter divisions in both parties threatened Wednesday to derail Congress’s effort to keep the federal government fully operating past the end of the week. The shutdown threat emerged on two fronts: Republican defense hawks in the House said a short-term spending plan the party introduced late Tuesday did not devote enough money to the military. Meanwhile, Democrats, whose support would be critical for passage in the Senate, began lining up in opposition amid pressure from immigration activists to use the budget talks as leverage to legalize many young immigrants known as 'dreamers.' By Wednesday evening, the short-term bill was on the cusp of failure...
House Republicans unveiled a bill Tuesday that would extend funding for four weeks, allowing time for further negotiations toward deals on long-term spending and immigration. To entice Democrats, GOP leaders attached a six-year extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as the delay of two unpopular health-care taxes. But few, if any, Democrats have been swayed by the overture."
— Tax bill fails to crack majority. Politico's Toby Eckert: "Support for the Republican tax plan has ticked up slightly since [Trump] signed it into law, but it still hasn’t drawn the backing of a majority of voters, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
The GOP’s top selling point for the plan recently — a spate of employee bonuses and wage increases — was a wash in the poll. The tracking poll, conducted Jan. 11-16, found that a 45 percent plurality of voters backed the plan based on what they knew about it, up from 42 percent in a similar poll before the legislation was enacted on Dec. 22. Opposition in the new poll came in at 34 percent, down from 39 percent. Twenty percent of respondents were undecided, up from 18 percent. After respondents were told about the major provisions of the bill, support rose to 47 percent, opposition remained at 34 percent."
— ICI reverses itself on fund rules. Politico's Zachary Warmbrodt: "A prominent investment industry group is lobbying to keep in place major money market mutual fund regulations that it resisted only a few years ago. The issue will come to a head this week as the House Financial Services Committee votes on bipartisan legislation that would roll back regulations intended to prevent the kind of investor runs on money market funds that exacerbated the 2008 financial crisis. The Investment Company Institute, which represents money managers, did not support many of the safeguards the SEC enacted in 2014 but told senior lawmakers in a letter Friday that it now opposes the House bill that would defang the rules."
— Trump threatens NAFTA. Reuters's Jeff Mason and David Lawder: "Trump on Wednesday said that terminating the North American Free Trade Agreement would result in the 'best deal' to revamp the 24-year-old trade pact with Canada and Mexico in favor of U.S. interests. Lawmakers as well as agricultural and industrial groups have warned Trump not to quit NAFTA, but he said that may be the outcome.
'We’re renegotiating NAFTA now. We’ll see what happens. I may terminate NAFTA,' Trump said in an interview with Reuters. 'A lot of people are going to be unhappy if I terminate NAFTA. A lot of people don’t realize how good it would be to terminate NAFTA because the way you’re going to make the best deal is to terminate NAFTA. But people would like to see me not do that,' he said. Trump’s comments come less than a week before trade negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico meet in Montreal for the sixth of seven scheduled rounds of negotiations to update NAFTA."
Considers big "fine" against China. More from Reuters: "Trump and his economic adviser Gary Cohn said China had forced U.S. companies to transfer their intellectual property to China as a cost of doing business there. The United States has started a trade investigation into the issue, and Cohn said the United States Trade Representative would be making recommendations about it soon. 'We have a very big intellectual property potential fine going, which is going to come out soon,' Trump said in the interview. While Trump did not specify what he meant by a 'fine' against China, the 1974 trade law that authorized an investigation into China’s alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property allows him to impose retaliatory tariffs on Chinese goods or other trade sanctions until China changes its policies."
— Fed overhaul hits snags. The Post's Heather Long: "In less than three weeks, the Federal Reserve, which is widely credited with playing a major role in leading the United States out of the Great Recession, will be under new leadership. Current Fed chair Janet L. Yellen is leaving, and Jerome Powell is President Trump's nominee to take her place. But Trump's efforts to remake the Federal Reserve will soon face key tests. The first hurdle will be the Senate. All of Trump's appointees to the Fed require Senate approval, which has been slow in coming. Trump nominated Powell on Nov. 2, but the Senate didn't act on his appointment before the end of the year, forcing the president to renominate Powell in 2018... Trump has made his priorities clear for a Powell-led Fed: He wants the stock market to keep soaring and the economy to grow faster. To make that happen, Trump would like interest rates to stay low and fewer restrictions on Wall Street banks. But Powell has been clear to stress the Fed's independence — from Congress and the White House — in public appearances since his nomination."
— Powell says he'll hold Deutsche Banke accountable. Bloomberg's Jesse Hamilton: "Donald Trump’s pick to run the Federal Reserve, responding to a key lawmaker’s concerns over the president’s ties to Deutsche Bank AG, said the agency will hold the German lender to the same standards as the rest of the industry. Fed Governor Jerome Powell answered a letter from Senate Banking Committee member Chris Van Hollen ahead of the panel’s vote on his nomination to become chairman, telling the Maryland Democrat that he’s committed to supervising banks “in an independent manner.” Powell’s nomination was advanced by the committee on Wednesday, with Van Hollen voting in favor."
— Replacing Dudley. Reuters's Jonathan Spicer: "Unions and groups advocating for retirees, teachers, housing, and workers’ benefits are among those visiting the ornate conference rooms of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to lobby for a less conventional candidate to serve as its next president. New York Fed directors leading the search for a successor to chief William Dudley, seen as the second most influential policymaker at the U.S. central bank, invited the guests to last week’s meeting to seek their advice. According to attendees and others familiar with the search, the directors are close to a “long list” of candidates and appear set to begin formal interviews within weeks. Until then, directors Sara Horowitz and Glenn Hutchins are taking steps intended to head off any criticisms of opacity and lack of diversity that, in recent years, have stung presidential searches at other district Fed banks. The afternoon meeting with 11 advocacy groups last week marked what one attendee called an unprecedented gesture of public outreach."
— Bannon agrees to Mueller interview. The Post's Roz Helderman and Karoun Demirjian: "Former top White House adviser and Trump campaign strategist Stephen K. Bannon has agreed to an interview for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation likely to take place later this month, but his lawyer is pushing back against House investigators’ demands for an audience Thursday afternoon, arguing there is 'no conceivable way' Bannon will be ready for an interview on the panel’s terms. House Intelligence Committee members K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who is leading the Russia investigation, and Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member, sent a letter Wednesday to Bannon’s lawyer, William Burck, insisting that Bannon return to Capitol Hill on Thursday at 2 p.m. to comply with a subpoena they issued Tuesday after Bannon refused to answer questions, citing orders from the White House."
— Probe could collide with midterms. Politico's Darren Sameulsohn: "Robert Mueller’s Russia probe isn’t ending any time soon, and that’s bad news for President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans already bracing for a possible 2018 Democratic midterm wave. While many Republicans insist the Trump-Russia saga is overblown, they worry headlines about federal indictments, high profile trials—and a potential blockbuster meeting between Mueller and Trump himself—could obscure their positive message ahead of November elections and threaten their House and Senate majorities. In an ominous development for Republicans, a federal judge overseeing the upcoming trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates rejected Mueller’s request to begin in May and instead outlined a scheduled start as soon as September or October — peak election season."
— Goldman's losing money. NYT's Emily Flitter: "Goldman Sachs used to seem invincible. In the fourth quarter, it lost money. The Wall Street firm on Wednesday reported its first quarterly loss since 2011. It was the result of a one-time $4.4 billion charge stemming from the new tax law. But even ignoring that unusual event, Goldman’s weak core results showed how far the firm has fallen. The bank’s per-share earnings and revenue were both higher compared with a year earlier without the tax charge. But the results announced on Wednesday also revealed a decline in Goldman’s trading might, which has been drained by a potent combination of placid markets and quiet clients. Revenue in its business of buying and selling bonds, commodities and currencies — historically an engine of Goldman’s results — sank to $1 billion in the fourth quarter, half of what it was during the same period in 2016. For the year, net revenue in that business fell 30 percent. The drop sent Goldman’s shares down 3 percent on Wednesday."
— Treasury sees a threat. Bloomberg's Saleha Mohsin: "The U.S. Treasury views virtual currencies such as Bitcoin as an “evolving threat” and is examining dealers to make sure they aren’t being used to finance illegal activities, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence said. Treasury is working with the Internal Revenue Service examiners to review 100 registered digital currency providers as well as others that have not registered, Sigal Mandelker said in prepared testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday. The department is also working with the Justice Department to pursue money laundering cases."
— Bitcoin falls below $10,000. CNN Money's Nathaniel Meyersohn: "Bitcoin keeps tumbling. The price of the volatile digital currency briefly dipped below $10,000 around 7 a.m. ET on Wednesday, its lowest level since late November, according to data from CoinDesk.com. Bitcoin has dropped nearly 30% this week and has lost almost half of its $19,343 peak value on December 16. Bitcoin approached its record as it launched on futures exchanges in the United States. But it has since fallen sharply. Other popular cryptocurrencies ethereum and ripple also have posted double-digit losses. One virtual currency exchange, Bitconnect, dived 93% late Monday. It's unclear why bitcoin has had a rough week. Cryptocurrency is a murky market with frequent swings."
— Ripple founder loses $44 billion. CNBC's Evelyn Cheng: "The digital currency plunge has wiped billions from the paper fortune of a cryptocurrency billionaire in just a few weeks. Ripple's XRP coin has fallen 74 percent from an all-time high of $3.84 hit on Jan. 4, erasing $44 billion from the holdings of Chris Larsen, co-founder and executive chairman of Ripple. With XRP trading near $1 Wednesday, Larsen now holds the equivalent of just $15.8 billion, according to CNBC calculations using figures from Forbes. Citing sources at Ripple, Forbes said earlier this month that Larsen has 5.19 billion of XRP and a 17 percent stake in the start-up. Ripple holds 61.3 billion of the 100 billion XRP coins in existence. At XRP's peak on Jan. 4, Larsen was worth $59.9 billion. That made him one of the five richest people in the U.S. and wealthier than Google's founders, based on Forbes' rich list."
— Stock market endangered? CNBC's Stephanie Landsman: "A sustained sell-off in the cryptocurrency market will hit the stock market where it hurts, one major Wall Street firm warns. It's a scenario investors are underestimating, according to Wells Fargo Securities' Christopher Harvey. 'We see a lot of froth in that market. If and when it comes out, it will spill over to equities,' the firm's head of equity strategy said Tuesday... 'I don't think people are really ready for that.'"
— Fannie, Freddie regulator: Take them private. Bloomberg's Joe Light: "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s regulator is throwing its voice into the debate about what to do with the two companies at the center of the U.S. mortgage system. In a proposal obtained by Bloomberg News, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt wrote that he and agency staff believe the mortgage market should be supported by shareholder-owned utilities with regulated rates of return and an explicit government guarantee of mortgage bonds. Watt sent the document, titled 'Federal Housing Finance Agency Perspectives on Housing Finance Reform' along with a letter dated Tuesday to Senate Banking Chairman Michael Crapo, an Idaho Republican, and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the panel’s top Democrat. By sharing the perspectives now, 'we seek to provide our views independently and transparently to those who have requested them while continuing to provide technical assistance to the committee and its members on other proposals that may be introduced,' Watt wrote."
— Mulvaney moves to overhaul CFPB. LA Times's Jim Puzzanghera: "On Wednesday, Mulvaney announced he was launching a review of the entire operation of the consumer watchdog agency created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The bureau has provided Americans with billions of dollars in refunds and debt relief, often at banks’ expense. Republicans and many financial firms have complained that it has been too aggressive... The bureau said it would formally request public input about whether it is 'fulfilling its proper and appropriate functions to best protect consumers.' It will seek comment on its enforcement of consumer protection laws, drafting of regulations, oversight of financial firms, monitoring of the marketplace and public education. The first function to be examined: how the bureau demands information from financial firms during investigations."
Asks financial firms for complaints. The Hill's Sylvan Lane: The CFPB "is asking the firms its regulates to submit complaints about the agency’s core actions. The CFPB announced Wednesday that the agency will ask 'for evidence to ensure the bureau is fulfilling its proper and appropriate functions to best protect consumers.' The request is the latest step forward in acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s effort to draw back the bureau’s aggressive regulatory and enforcement actions. Mulvaney said in a Wednesday statement that it’s 'natural for the Bureau to critically examine its policies and practices to ensure they align with the Bureau’s statutory mandate.'"
Cordray blasts. More from The Hill: "The former director of the... CFPB blasted his successor in a series of tweets Wednesday for attempting to unwind the agency’s rule on payday lending. Richard Cordray, the bureau’s first director, panned the CFPB’s plans as 'truly shameful action by the interim pseudo-leaders' of the bureau." ... 'Let’s see the case be made, with full debate, on whether the zealots and toadies can justify repealing a rule to protect consumers against extortionate payday loans,' Cordray continued."
— Hoenig criticizes banking bill. Reuters's Pete Schroeder: "A top official at a leading U.S. bank regulator is airing concerns about a Senate bill that would ease banking rules, saying parts of it could “significantly weaken” critical protections. Thomas Hoenig, the vice chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, warned lawmakers that efforts to ease new rules around leverage and proprietary trading could encourage banks to take on excessive amounts of risk, and put the stability of the financial system at risk. Hoenig said he was broadly supportive of the bill primarily aimed at easing rules for smaller banks, crafted by Republicans and moderate Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee, but has concerns about a pair of key sections. In particular, Hoenig warned Congress’s attempts to relax burdens around the Volcker Rule and the supplementary leverage ratio would do more harm than good."
— SCOTUS considers overtime rule. Washington Examiner's Sean Higgins: "Looking under the hood and figuring out what is wrong is a popular cliche, but on Wednesday, the Supreme Court examined whether the workers who actually do that should be guaranteed overtime pay. The justices heard oral arguments in Encino Motorcars v. Navarro, a case involving whether the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime rules extend to "service advisers" at auto dealerships. It is the second time it has heard the case. Service advisers are the dealership employees who tell customers what repairs or other work their cars need. Congress exempted them from the overtime regulation in 1966, but in 2011, the Obama administration changed the rule and said service advisers should be able to claim overtime pay."
— New late trading method gets SEC ok. Bloomberg's Annie Massa: "Cboe Global Markets Inc. got regulators’ permission to challenge its chief rivals in U.S. equities, the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market, during their crucial end-of-day auctions. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will let the company begin Cboe Market Close, which the company says is a lower-cost way to carry out certain closing trades that may otherwise be completed at markets owned by NYSE Group and Nasdaq Inc. NYSE and Nasdaq had argued against approval, saying Cboe’s offering could tarnish the critical role played by auctions that set closing levels for thousands of U.S. stocks. NYSE and Nasdaq both stand to lose volume from any mechanism threatening their closing auctions. Cboe countered that their concerns were overblown, since some brokers already provide a similar function for customers. The SEC came down in favor of Cboe, according to a filing Wednesday."
From Axios's Chris Canipe and Steve LeVine: "Manufacturing jobs are up sharply from the recession:"
- The American Enterprise Institute holds an event on “New thinking about poverty and economic mobility.”
- The Cato Institute Policy Perspectives 2018 hosts a discussion on “A Fiscal Rule to Tame Federal Debt?"
- The SEC-NYU Dialogue on Securities Markets – Shareholder Engagement will be held in New York on Friday.
From The Post's Tom Toles:
Sen. Lindsey Graham tells lawmakers: "Stop the s-show and grow up:"
Here's an ongoing list of White House staff, Cabinet members, and federal appointees who quit or were fired under Trump:
Here's how tech companies are using algorithms to prevent extremist content:
Stephen Colbert talks about how "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff got access to the White House: