DAVOS, Switzerland — As Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan travels the world in 2018, he says he keeps hearing the same thing over and over: Foreign businesses want to pump money into the United States again after President Trump’s tax cuts. Like the White House, he thinks the positive bounce from the tax bill could be far bigger than most experts predict.
There's growing cohesion among executives — cutting across industry and even geography — that Trump's tax plan is going to deliver massive new investment in the United States, which should, in turn, boost growth and employment.
At an annual gathering of top business and political leaders in Davos, CEOs are actively selling the Trump tax plan to skeptics and fighting back on the public perception that the Republican tax bill was just for the rich.
“Think about large global companies: They can go anywhere. They think the U.S. is the place to talk about investing in the next 12 to 18 months,” Moynihan said Tuesday in Davos.
Blackstone chief executive Steve Schwarzman, Credit Suisse chief executive Tidjane Thiam and NASDAQ chief executive Adena Friedman said they, too, were hearing about more plans to invest in the United States now.
“I think we’re going to find a very big positive surprise,” said Schwarzman, who chaired Trump’s advisory council, the Strategy and Policy Forum, before it disbanded in August after the president's comments regarding a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. “There are companies all around the world who are looking at the U.S. now and saying, ‘This is the place to be in the developed world.’ ”
Thiam, the head of a French company, said the tax overhaul was “exactly what we needed” and that “the positive impacts of that are underestimated.”
Their comments are a boost to Trump as he heads to Davos on Thursday in an effort to reset global perceptions of him and sell his first year as an economic success.
“The reason we have such a large delegation (in Davos) is really a function of the economic program we’ve had and the success we’ve had in the first year under President Trump with our economic program,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday.
The International Monetary Fund released a report Monday saying U.S. growth would jump to 2.7 percent this year, an increase of 0.4 percentage points over its initial projections, because of the tax cuts. But the IMF also said the benefits would be short-lived, disappearing entirely after 2022. Some chief executives think that's a lowball estimate. The Trump administration predicts at least 3 percent growth in the coming years.
The most vocal champions of Trump’s tax cuts are chief executives of major financial companies, which are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the drop in the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.
James Staley, chief executive of British bank Barclays, predicts the “dramatic” decrease in U.S. tax rates will “have a real benefit to Barclays shareholders.”
But some leaders, especially from Europe, believe the tax plan was a mistake. They think it adds too much to America's already substantial debt and creates a dangerous “race to the bottom” as countries attempt to see who can cut taxes the most.
“You can’t reduce tax rates if you have huge deficits,” said Frank Appel, chief executive of Deutsche Post DHL, a German shipping company. The tax cut “will be good for the short-term, but it doesn't fix the fundamental problems” in the U.S. economy.
The tax changes are projected to add at least $1 trillion to America's $20 trillion debt. Appel says the U.S. government will likely be forced to scale back spending to pay for it, making it difficult to invest in needed education and infrastructure upgrades.
“We are lowering the taxes on companies that should be paying,” said Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg. “It stops good things from happening because we are losing out on the tax base.”
Thiam of Credit Suisse says the United States doesn't have to worry about debt like most countries do since there is a large appetite for U.S. Treasury bonds.
The views from Davos inject an international perspective on the benefits of the tax cuts. Many business and world leaders have been openly critical of Trump, especially his “America First” views on trade and comments about immigrants that some view as insulting and uncouth. But executives see benefits for their companies from Trump's first year in office and many are making more positive statements about the president than they did in the summer.
In August, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon criticized Trump's leadership. “I strongly disagree with President Trump's reaction to the events that took place in Charlottesville over the past several days,” he said then. “Racism, intolerance and violence are always wrong.”
This month Dimon released a letter praising Trump's tax bill as “a significant positive outcome for the country.”
The key will be whether the talk of additional investments translates into action. The Trump administration points to several corporate announcements in recent days of new investments and pay raises or one-time bonuses for workers as signs the plan is working. The White House says the announcements cover about 2.5 million workers, although that is a small fraction of the total U.S. workforce of over 147 million.
The other major concern is that the benefits of the tax cut will go mostly to the wealthy and corporate shareholders.
Trump's “strategy is not really to create more opportunities for everyone, but to pick and choose who's going to be able to get those opportunities,” said Ricardo Hausmann, director of Harvard's Center for International Development, who is also in Davos.