It’s no surprise that the House Republicans’ tax bill includes the eventual repeal of the estate tax, a long-held GOP goal. But The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler highlights an unexpectedly generous aspect of the current bill: It “allows the beneficiaries of estates to not pay capital gains taxes on the increase in value of assets held by the estates. That has not been a feature of most previous estate-tax bills.”
Currently, estates face a federal tax if they’re valued at more than $5.49 million for individuals or almost $11 million for couples. But, for tax purposes, the value of assets passed on to heirs gets “stepped-up” or reset to their value at the time of death. Kessler’s example: “Imagine a home that had been purchased for $250,000 but was now worth $1 million. The ‘stepped-up basis’ would be $1 million. If the heirs sold the house for $1.1 million, they would only owe capital-gains tax on the $100,000 difference, not the $850,000 difference from the original purchase price.”
The GOP bill repeals the estate tax, but also keeps the stepped-up basis — a seemingly small detail that creates a huge tax shelter. It means that heirs of large estates would save tens of billions of dollars a year when they sell assets that have appreciated in value over time — or, as Kessler puts it, that the bill will allow “tens of billions of untapped capital gains to remain beyond the reach of the U.S. government.”
A new survey by the Spectrem Group, a market research firm, finds that almost 80 percent of investors with net worth between $100,000 and $25 million (not including their home) say that the U.S. political environment is their biggest concern, followed by government gridlock (76 percent) and the national debt (75 percent).
At least two key Republican senators are unlikely to support an effort to roll back parts of the $1.3. trillion spending bill passed by Congress last month, The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis reported Monday evening. While aides to President Trump are working with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on a package of spending cuts, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) expressed opposition to the idea, meaning a rescission bill might not be able to get a simple majority vote in the Senate. And Roll Call reports that other Republican senators have expressed significant skepticism, too. “It’s going nowhere,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said.
David Kostin, chief U.S. equity strategist at Goldman Sachs, said in a note to clients Friday cited by CNBC that companies in the S&P 500 can expect to see a boost in return on equity (ROE) thanks to the tax cuts. Return on equity should hit the highest level since 2007, Kostin said, providing a strong tailwind for stock prices even as uncertainty grows about possible conflicts over trade.
Return on equity, defined as the amount of net income returned as a percentage of shareholders’ equity, rose to 16.3 percent in 2016, and Kostin is forecasting an increase to 17.6 percent in 2018. "The reduction in the corporate tax rate alone will boost ROE by roughly 70 [basis points], outweighing margin pressures from rising labor, commodity, and borrow costs," Kostin wrote.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the tax cuts and economic environment are prompting U.S. companies to go on a buying binge: “Mergers and acquisitions announced by U.S. acquirers so far in 2018 are running at the highest dollar volume since the first two months of 2000, according to Dealogic. Thomson Reuters, which publishes slightly different numbers, puts it at the highest since the start of 2007.”