The ultrarich are taking Elizabeth Warren’s rise seriously enough that they are strategizing with their wealth advisers about how to shield themselves from the 2020 candidate's plans to raise their taxes.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in people looking to take steps before the election,” John Voltaggio, a managing director at Northern Trust Wealth Management, which oversees nearly $300 billion in assets, told me in a recent interview. “It comes up in every conversation, and it’s one of the first things we talk about.”
The activity is just one sign of a Democratic primary that is spotlighting the concentration of wealth at the pinnacle of the country’s economic ladder — and sparking a debate about whether the richest Americans need to give up more.
That debate grew sharper last week with the news that Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, was taking steps to jump into the contest. And it continues apace: JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, appearing on CBS's "60 Minutes," declared the wage gap "a huge problem" but declined to say whether his $31 million compensation is too high. See the clip here:
“Last year, you were paid $31 million. Too high?”— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) November 11, 2019
JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon says he thinks the wealth gap in America is a “huge problem,” but he passed the buck when asked about his salary. https://t.co/Vry0mGV1Pv pic.twitter.com/UHULrxmuTb
A Bloomberg bid, meanwhile, “would make him one of four billionaires who either plan to seek or have expressed interest in seeking the nation’s highest office in 2020,” The Post’s Jeff Stein writes. “His decision came one week after [Warren] proposed vastly expanding her 'wealth tax' on the nation’s biggest wealth holders and one month after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said America should not have any billionaires at all… Past presidential elections have involved allegations of class warfare, but rarely have those debates centered on such a small subset of people.”
Voltaggio said his clients understand a President Warren couldn’t “snap her fingers” to implement her proposed wealth tax. But they are already developing strategies to minimize their exposure.
He is advising them their best move may be to take advantage of a provision in the 2017 tax cut package that doubled to $22.8 million the amount married couples can give away tax free. By directing that sum into a trust fund for a child, an ultrarich couple could keep their wealth in the family while shrinking the pile of assets subject to Warren’s levy. They could also move now to give the money to charity or a foundation.
“There’s a benefit to making the gift now,” Voltaggio said. “Rather than growing their estate problem, the money is growing for the benefit of their heirs.” And while the tax law provision is set to expire at the end of 2025, Voltaggio said his clients are not taking it for granted it would remain on the books that long if Democrats sweep to power next year.
“People fear there could be a dramatic change in the laws, and therefore they’re taking more action than they otherwise would,” he said. Or as Brian Galle, a law professor at Georgetown University, put it to the Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin, “It’s a tax policy that the Red Hot Chili Peppers would love, because they want you to give it away now.”
Sanders, for example, has proposed reducing the gift tax exemption to $3.5 million per individual. Gifts or estates worth more would face a 45 percent tax — a rate that climbs with the value of the estate, up to 77 percent for those worth more than $1 billion. Sanders estimates the proposal will hit 0.2 percent of the population. Warren has also proposed lowering the exemption to $3.5 million per person. She would apply a 55 percent tax to assets in excess of that amount, rising to 75 percent, to fund a housing proposal.
“My clients are looking at wrapping up their gifting, to use up their lifetime exemption, before it’s taken away, because Warren and Sanders propose dialing it back,” says Rhonda Guinazzo, director of CDL Family Office Services, a wealth planning firm in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Guizzano said many clients are torn between locking in tax advantages now and moving too aggressively in anticipation of changes that may never pass into law. They faced a similar conundrum back in December 2012, when a $5 million gift and estate tax exemption provided by the George W. Bush tax cuts was set to snap back to $1 million at the end of the year.
Some who decided to get ahead of the changes ended up with what she calls “gifter’s remorse.” They included a single man in his 80s who transferred millions of dollars in assets to his children and grandchildren before the end of the year. To his surprise, he later married a younger woman and concluded he had given away too much. “As time went on and his health declined, it became clear that his wife would not be left with adequate assets to live in the manner to which they were accustomed,” Guizzano said.
Others are holding off on making any dramatic moves to transfer their wealth, believing if the next set of rules disadvantage them, a subsequent administration will reverse course again. “People are wary of doing something they can’t get back again,” Guizzano said. “They hate to sit by and do nothing, but they hate to move too quickly.”
Either way, she said she expects many of her clients, most of whom have assets worth more than $50 million, to hold off until the last minute, as they did in 2012. “It is likely that we will see that kind of flurry of activity again, with many of the same tactics, and likely at the last minute,” she said.
— Trump, Powell set to make big appearances this week: “Progress in trade talks and a steady, but accommodative Fed policy have eased the way for the stock market’s rally to new highs, and both will be in the forefront when [Trump] and Jerome Powell speak at separate events in the week ahead,” CNBC’s Patti Domm reports.
“Trump speaks to the Economic Club of New York during a Tuesday luncheon, and investors are hoping for clarity on a possible trade deal. The Fed chairman speaks Wednesday to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, and he also appears before the House Budget Committee Thursday.”
— Hong Kong in chaos. Anna Kam, Casey Quackenbush and Ryan Ho Kilpatrick for The Post: "The shooting of a pro-democracy protester by Hong Kong police unleashed a chain of chaotic events on Monday, as thousands of demonstrators clashed with riot police in the city’s financial district and violent confrontations erupted at university campuses, plunging the Asian financial hub further into turmoil. Tensions soared across the city...
"There had been calls for a general strike on Monday, the latest step in months of anti-government unrest that has convulsed the former British colony and posed a direct challenge to Chinese rule. But the immediate spark for the escalation came when a police officer fired live rounds in the Sai Wan Ho neighborhood early in the day, critically injuring a 21-year-old protester who appeared to be unarmed."
— Yield curve to investors: Back into the pool. WSJ's Sam Goldfarb and Daniel Kruger: "A closely watched barometer of economic expectations is encouraging investors to take risks again. Yields on longer-term U.S. government debt climbed above those on shorter-term Treasurys in recent weeks—a sign investors expect no immediate pullback in growth and inflation. That stands in contrast to earlier in the year, when longer-term yields fell below their shorter-term counterparts, a phenomenon known as an inverted yield curve.
"The yield curve, in fact, completely uninverted this week for the first time since November 2018, meaning shorter-dated benchmark Treasurys all yielded less than longer-dated ones. The reversal gives comfort to investors, because an inverted yield curve has proved to be one of financial markets’ best predictors of recessions."
- Evercore is bullish on the end of the year. Bloombetg's Joanna Ossinger: U.S. equities should rise into year-end amid stabilizing economic growth and increased chances for a tariff rollback, according to Evercore ISI. 'The VIX curve is very steep/defensive and the resolution to that steepness could come with the longer end coming down (bullish), or with a spike in near-term implied volatility,' Evercore strategists including Dennis DeBusschere wrote in a note Nov. 10. 'Stabilizing economic growth and some tariff rollback increase the odds of a bullish resolution.'"
Trump says U.S.-China talks are moving along “very nicely”: Trump said “that trade talks with China were moving along 'very nicely,' but the United States would only make a deal with Beijing if it was the right deal for America,” Reuters's Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom report.
“Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews before leaving for a visit to Tuscaloosa, Ala. [on Saturday], that the talks had moved more slowly than he would have liked, but China wanted a deal more than he did. 'The trade talks with China are moving along, I think, very nicely and if we make the deal that we want it will be a great deal and if it’s not a great deal, I won’t make it,' he said.”
IMPEACHMENT MINUTE: A speed read on the latest from the congressional impeachment inquiry.
“The key impeachment question: What did Trump want from Ukraine — and what exactly did he do?” By The Post's Greg Jaffe.
“Lawmakers spar over impeachment witnesses as probe enters public phase.” By The Post's Felicia Sonmez, Joel Achenbach and Paige Winfield Cunningham.
“Giuliani Associate Says He Gave Demand for Biden Inquiry to Ukrainians.” By the New York Times's Ben Protess, Andrew E. Kramer, Michael Rothfeld and William K. Rashbaum.
“What Joe Biden Actually Did in Ukraine.” By the Times's Glenn Thrush and Kenneth P. Vogel.
— Goldman probed over sexism allegations related to the Apple Card: “The New York Department of Financial Services is launching an investigation into Goldman Sachs’ credit card practices after a tech entrepreneur accused the bank’s Apple Credit Card algorithm of discriminating against women when determining credit card limits,” CNBC’s Emma Newburger reports.
“David Heinemeier Hansson condemned Apple Card for providing him a credit limit that is 20 times higher than his wife, even though the couple files joint tax returns and his wife has a higher credit score than him. Even when Hansson’s wife paid off her low credit limit in full, the card wouldn’t approve her spending until the next billing period, he wrote in a series of tweets starting on Thursday. He didn’t disclose their respective income information.”
— Aramco’s presentation shows scale of risk: “Aramco revealed a steep drop in profit related to attacks on its facilities in September that briefly halved the Saudi company’s oil output, highlighting the risks to investors ahead of what could be the world’s largest initial public offering,” the Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones reports.
“The Saudi Arabian Oil Co., as Aramco is officially known, delayed its highly anticipated initial public offering last month until it had published the earnings, hoping to demonstrate the resilience of its operations. At the launch of the IPO last weekend, Chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan said the Sept. 14 attacks didn’t have a material impact on the company’s financials.”
— Before scrapping IPO, WeWork scrapped with SEC: “Just weeks before WeWork expected its stock to begin trading publicly, the startup was still wrangling with the Securities and Exchange Commission over a controversial key financial metric and a litany of other concerns about its planned multibillion-dollar IPO,” the WSJ’s Jean Eaglesham and Eliot Brown report.
“On Sept. 11 — after the initial public offering prospectus had been public for nearly a month, and after the SEC had already made dozens of demands about the document — the regulator sent the shared-workspace company a list of 13 still-unresolved concerns, according to previously unpublished correspondence reviewed by [the WSJ]. The back-and-forth shows that WeWork was scrambling to clean up big problems as its IPO was crumbling. The timing was indicative of the chaotic management that gave investors pause and ultimately led the company to pull the offering and Chief Executive Adam Neumann to step down under pressure.”
— It’s a good time to direct a company: “The average annual compensation for non-executive directors at S&P 500 companies rose 2 percent to $304,856 last year, topping $300,000 for the first time and 43 percent higher than it was 10 years ago, according to a new report released by executive headhunters Spencer Stuart,” Reuters’s Tim McLaughlin report.
“S&P 500 boards met, on average, just 7.9 times, in person or via telephone, during 2018. That’s down from 9 a decade ago, according to Spencer Stuart.”
— 737 Max grounding will stretch to nearly a year: “Southwest Airlines and American Airlines Group Inc said on Friday they are extending Boeing 737 MAX cancellations until early March, just shy of the one-year anniversary of an Ethiopian Airlines crash of the jet that led to a worldwide grounding,” Reuters’s Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson report.
“Southwest and American, the two largest U.S. operators of the aircraft, have had to scale back growth plans and are together canceling more than 300 flights a day, taking a hit to profits as they manage slimmer fleets without the 737 MAX. Southwest, which has bet its entire growth strategy on Boeing’s newest single-aisle aircraft, had previously canceled all its 737 MAX flights until Feb. 8 and now expects a return to service on March 6, though it warned that the timeline could get pushed back again.”
MONEY ON THE HILL
— Bloomberg flopping with voters so far. Politico's David Siders: "Michael Bloomberg is running at 4 percent nationally as he teases a presidential bid, showing that he's well known — but widely disliked — by the Democratic electorate, according to a new poll. No contender is viewed more negatively by Democrats than the billionaire former New York City mayor.
"The Morning Consult poll, released Sunday, reflects the enormous challenge confronting Bloomberg as he considers a late entry into the 2020 race. He sits in sixth place, just behind Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and would begin his campaign far outside the top tier. Nearly 25 percent of likely primary voters view him unfavorably — the highest unfavorable rating in the field — while about 31 percent view him favorably, according to the poll."
- President Trump speaks at the Economic Club of New York
- CBS Corp, Tilray, D.R. Horton, Tyson Foods, Overstock.com and Advance Auto Parts are among the notable companies reporting their earnings, per Kiplinger.
- CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert speaks at the third annual Invest:NYC conference
- Peterson Institute for International Economics holds an event focused on Europe, which will feature remarks from a top European Commission official
- The Joint Economic Committee holds a hearing featuring testimony from Fed Chair Jerome Powell
- Cisco Systems, Energizer and Canada Goose are among the notable companies reporting their earnings, per Kiplinger.
- Powell continues his testimony on the Hill with an appearance before the House Budget Committee.
- Walmart, Nvidia, Dillard’s, Viacom, Shoe Carnival and Williams-Sonoma are among the notable companies reporting their earnings, per Kiplinger.
- The Cato Institute holds its 37th Annual Monetary Conference entitled “Fed Policy: A shadow review"
- The American Enterprise Institute holds an event focused on the Fed’s ability to manage the next crisis
- The New York Fed releases its latest Empire State Manufacturing Survey
- JCPenney is among the notable companies reporting its earnings, per Kiplinger.
- The Brookings Institute holds an event on taxing capital income
From The Post's Tom Toles: