It started with a simple request for an update to my personal net worth.
Over the years I’ve been mum about the subject, only exposing myself due to the Rockstar Finance Net Worth Tracker. I’m still undecided about discussing my *exact* net worth publically. It’s really nobody’s business and is only public because I write a personal finance blog.
(As an example: Recently I was told point-blank if this blog failed it would be no big deal since I could always do something else and I’m already rich enough. This remark was a jab at the hopeful opportunity to watch something I enjoy crumble. If I really felt that way I would never have started the project.)
The reader kept the emails coming fast and furious when I dodged the net worth question. I had a duty, I was informed, to share my personal life — details and all — since I was a business owner and have a semi-successful blog.
There was a hint of humor beneath the requests so I delayed blocking said intruder. Eventually we started a civil dialog with some serious questions about the current tax law and how it might ripple through the economy.
A week ago I was working in the barn and began formulating a post using many of the questions my intruder asked. I worked myself into a frenzy until it started coming out as a rant. I went to the house and took notes on all the topics I wanted to cover.
So this is it. I promised my intruder a nice post covering a large portion of his questions he had surrounding the TAX CUT AND JOBS ACT. Some of this is tongue in cheek so don’t take this post as hard and fast predictions of the near future.
Then again, I do have a point.
Doubling the estate tax exemption is industrial strength stupid. All this worry about farmers and small businesses losing a lifetime of work due to estate taxes is the dumbest thing ever thrust upon the people.
With the old tax law only a few thousand estates were subject to the estate tax in any given year. Now even fewer will pay the tax.
You can count the farmers subject to the estate tax on your fingers with fingers left over! Some small businesses pay an estate tax, but even that is rare.
What the adjustment to the estate tax did was line the pockets of the uber-rich! Even this blog with a very wealthy readership will not have much to worry about when it comes to estate taxes!
It’s time to stop calling the estate tax a death tax. It’s not a death tax; it’s a welfare tax!!! We keep hearing politicians complain about welfare draining the public coffers. Well, the estate tax is the biggest welfare tax there is.
I see some raised eyebrows. Let me explain. The estate tax is not a death tax; it’s a welfare payment to all the people getting a free ride due to the genetic lottery.
I don’t care what they do to the estate tax personally, but stop calling it what it’s not!
No amount of tax cuts will offset the accelerating wealth accumulation at the top. As the top keeps more due to lower taxes there is less available to spread around to the middle class. The middle class pie gets smaller and smaller as the middle class gets squeezed like never before.
Tax cuts don’t trickle down. And stop with the politics. If trickle down worked it should have leveled some of the income inequality by now. Remember, President Reagan came up with the idea back in 1981.
Tax cuts can stimulate the economy, however, and have been used as a tool to spur the economic growth on a regular basis in the past.
The latest tax cut is a bit weird. Normally the government lowers taxes to encourage economic growth when the economy is sputtering or in recession. This time we spiked the Kool-Aid after six or seven years of modest economic growth.
Cutting taxes with unemployment at a 4-handle (unemployment is 4 point something percent) could actually harm the economy as interest rates and inflation could accelerate destroying any gains from the tax cuts.
Time will tell.
The labor participation rate will collapse if a technical corrections bill doesn’t fix the myriad problems with the latest tax bill. Savers will be able to exit the workforce faster and the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) movement will make it easier than ever for people to check out early, further exacerbating the labor shortage.
Also, the tax code now punishes added payroll expenses significantly since if you didn’t spend on payroll the extra profits are barely taxed (big corps) or you get 20% of profits as a deduction without spending a penny (small business and landlords).
There is no doubt in my mind any increase in the labor participation rate will be short-lived. Also, businesses are more incentivized than ever to lay off workers at the first hint of slower demand.
Automation is cheaper than ever with bonus depreciation increases. Include the 20% business income deduction and I foresee plenty of staff reductions.
The automation was coming regardless. Now we don’t have time to adjust as the changes will come faster. Once installed the jobs are gone forever.
Major corporations will benefit most as the cost benefit calculations will favor more automation up front. Wal-Mart is a perfect example recently announcing a few bonuses and a higher internal minimum wage while experimenting with over 200 of their stores by replacing all cashiers with automation. Total payroll expenses to Wal-Mart will probably fall. So much for their altruism.
Don’t be fooled by the token pay bonuses either. Many companies are giving a one-time $1,000 bonus to select staff. This is less than a 2% temporary pay increase. If you paid attention, many of these companies announced a few days later layoffs which will reduce payroll by more than the bonuses.
Big business and the very wealthy know exactly what they’re doing (to you).
Now we get to my net worth. Know this, your favorite accountant will do rather well in this environment. Complex tax laws are always good for people with tax knowledge and a pulse.
We came into this story talking about a certain someone’s net worth. Here I confess I might have adlibbed a bit. The issue was net worth, but more to the point, how much was I going to haul home with all the tobacco company shares I own?
It’s true I own a lot of shares in tobacco companies. Unfortunately only my Altria shares will benefit from the tax cuts. Foreign tobacco companies — Phillip Morris International in my case — will not see a benefit from U.S. tax rate reductions for corporations since they derive all their profits outside the U.S.
This led to a discussion on how many shares of Altria I own. Ah, a lot.
Let’s look at what Altria might do to my net worth. The tax reduction could increase their reported earnings by about $2 per share from the tax reduction alone. Assuming a 10 P/E ratio this will eventually be reflected in the stock price increasing $20 per share. Bad news, kind readers. A twenty dollar increase in MO’s share price will get me a bit more than two-thirds of a million only.
Altria also likes to distribute about 80% of profits to shareholders. Currently MO pays 66 cents per share per quarter or $2.64 annually. Eighty percent of an additional $2 profit increase due solely to tax reductions is $1.60 extra per share per year for me (my favorite person) in dividends.
Your favorite accountant expects the tax reduction for Altria to add a bit north of $50,000 per year to his pocket on top of the current dividend. Not bad for a broke farmer in 1982.
On December 26th my net worth crossed the $14 million mark. Here, less than a month later, I reached $15 million. It took 14 years to amass the first million (age 18 to 32). Now I’m bumping off a million in less than a month. I can’t wait for the day I can brag I lost a million between sunup and sundown!
I am sooooo smart! I doubt anyone has seen their net worth climb in the current environment.
(Okay, the last part is total BS. I didn’t add my stuff up the day after Christmas. A back of the envelope calculation says I’m getting close to $15 million, however. Yes, even your favorite accountant can’t resist looking as his stash when it’s growing so fast. I keep reminding myself, “This too shall end.”)
This tax cut is different than the 1981 cut. Inflation and unemployment were double digits back then; now we have inflation and interest rates near zero with a 4 and change unemployment rate. Dropping a line of crack will not solve a meth heads issues! Stimulating an economy after 7 – 8 years of modest growth with the labor force fully or nearly fully employed is asking for problems.
At least I’ll be okay. I’m not so sure about you.
I could offer solutions, but there are none I can think of. There will be pain a head. You might want to keep that job for a while and eliminate debt. (Always eliminate debt.) For a few years (as long as the economy holds) it will be easier than ever to build a significant net worth and retire early (if that’s your goal).
Don’t worry. The government will print and borrow enough money to fund the upcoming inflation tax.
This entire post is opinion, of course. Many of these questions have come up again and again so I feel it is easier addressing them here for everybody to enjoy, ahem.
If any of these predictions comes true I take full credit.
If I’m off, let it be known I was only predicting the future and we all know the best we can do is guess at the future.
(Note: The light-hearted nature of this post is due to the flu epidemic affecting the nation. Some people are down and out. Your favorite accountant has been only modestly lucky so far. Some days I feel great only to spend several days so tired and exhausted I can barely think. Since I’m writing at a down point I felt it best to leave the serious discussions for a day when my head doesn’t feel like a balloon. There are actually people who follow my advice! Best to assure the advice has a reasonable chance of being right.)