Protectionism in the form of new tariffs and trade deals and a general neglect when it comes to interfering with the business of U.S. corporations is fueling the Trump trade again, even though the major indexes dropped yesterday on concern that rising inflation might prompt the Fed to raise interest rates four times this year instead of three.
One should expect stocks to come roaring back shortly, and for months and years to come, as the tax cuts overseen by Trump administration usher in an era that favors corporate profits over virtually any other government constituency to a degree unmatched in the U.S. since the Roaring Twenties, or perhaps the Gilded Age.
That's excellent news for the half of the U.S. population that keeps money invested in the stock market - and especially the 10% of the population that holds about 80% of U.S. stocks. Warren Buffett, who controls Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.A - Get Report) and is the second richest man in the world, said this week that his company has reaped a $29 billion gain because of the new tax laws.
Berkshire holders now hold shares worth $314,345 apiece, compared with $240,800 the day before Trump was inaugurated in January 2017. Buffett said Berkshire may be buying back shares fairly soon since it can't find any attractive companies to buy.
The news about a Trump administration proposal to raise tariffs on imported steel and aluminum also signals a shift in thinking that stands to benefit holders of U.S. equities. The decisions to withdraw from the Paris climate deal and abandon plans for the TPP trade partnership among nations bordering the Pacific Ocean, as well proposals for the U.S. to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, are part of an inward-looking trade focus that will free American corporations to scour for profits in the vast U.S. consumer market, the richest in the world. Domestic corporations will have less to fear from foreign competitors, especially since a weakening dollar will make imported goods less competitive with those made in the U.S.A.
Companies are responding to the windfall generated by the tax cuts by rewarding their owners, another good reason to own stock. Almost 100 U.S. companies have announced more than $180 billion in planned buybacks - the largest amount unveiled in a single quarter, according to Chris Costelloe, an analyst at Birinyi Associates, a market research firm in Westport, Connecticut, that compiled the data.
For example, Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO - Get Report) said it will spend $25 billion to buy back stock, using some of the proceeds of the $67 billion in overseas cash it's bringing back as a result of the tax bill. Lowe' Companies Inc (LOW - Get Report) , the home improvement retailer, is going to buy back $5 billion of stock, while tech company Applied Materials Inc. (AMAT - Get Report) plans to buy back $6 billion worth. Action Alerts Plus holding Alphabet (GOOGL - Get Report) is going to buy back stock. So is Pepsico, another Action Alerts Plus holding. Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , which has the biggest market capitalization in the world at $908 billion, may soon buy back the remaining $34 billion it has left under a whopping $210 billion share repurchase plan.
Apple is an Action Alerts Plus holding.
There are few constituencies in the U.S. that can provide an effective check to ever-rising corporate profits, not that equity investors should favor that. The U.S. regulatory regime under President Trump, as shown by the actions of the Interior and Energy Departments, the EPA, the FCC, the CFPB, HUD and others, is proving itself to be more sympathetic to corporate persuasion than it is to consumer complaints. Moreover, under current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it's unclear whether the Trump Justice Department will have much of an appetite for prosecuting corporate malfeasance, in case any should arise.
As for American workers and whether they have any stake in participating in what used to be called the fruits of their labor, fuhgeddabout it, as they say in Brooklyn. The Supreme Court appears likely to decide that forcing city and municipal workers to pay union dues violates their First Amendment rights, another dagger in the side of union representation in the U.S. Though public unions aren't participants in the great profit-making era we're now in, their failure to persuade the Supreme Court is a component of the decline in union membership in the U.S. from about 20.1% in 1983 to 11.1% in 2015.
Even though some workers got one-off bonuses becaus of the tax cuts and some others may see actual raises, there's no worker or union force in the U.S. that can touch the supremacy of the corporations today. For U.S. public companies and the holders of their equity, we're in a good news era that promises rising profits and greater wealth concentration than in any period since perhaps Calvin Coolidge was president.
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