Fifteen U.S. corporations including online retailer Amazon.com, power company Duke Energy and insurer Prudential Financial avoided U.S. tax on nearly $25 billion in combined profits last year, a tax watchdog group said on Tuesday.
A report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, or ITEP, said data showed how profitable Fortune 500 companies have routinely lowered their tax bills long before the Republican tax overhaul signed into law by President Donald Trump in December.
The 15 corporations had profits of $24.5 billion in 2017 but managed to obtain nearly $1.4 billion in rebates from the U.S. Treasury for a combined tax rate of minus 5.6 percent, according to the ITEP report, which examined corporate income tax disclosures.
The nonpartisan group said the new U.S. tax regime, which slashed the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent beginning in January, will likely allow corporations avoid even more tax.
Amazon received a $137 million federal rebate on $5.4 billion in U.S. profits, resulting an effective tax rate of negative 2.5 percent, by using a tax break that allows companies to write off the value of executive stock options, according to ITEP.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy obtained a $247 million rebate on $4.2 billion in U.S. profits by using accelerated depreciation on capital investments and renewable energy production tax credits to lower its federal tax rate to a minus 5.9 percent, the report said.
"The upside could be big because business as usual wasn't getting the job done in opening up the market in China," said Daniel Rosen, founder and China director of research and consulting firm Rhodium Group.
"It is really not so much about trade as about China's rise as a technology power and U.S. efforts to contain this rise and prevent China from dominating key sectors going forward," Paul Triolo, practice head for geotechnology at consulting firm Eurasia Group, said in an email.
"Hence the investment action will be a critical piece of this," he said.
U.S. companies invested $14 billion in China last year, an increase of about $200,000 from 2016, bringing cumulative investment in the country to $256 billion, according to one of two studies released Tuesday by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and Rhodium Group.
On the other hand, the value of announcements for new Chinese transactions in the U.S. fell by nearly 90 percent in 2017, and the value of completed deals dropped by more than a third to $29 billion, one of the reports showed. The sharpness of the decline was mostly the result of record-high Chinese investment in the U.S. in 2016 and Beijing's crackdown on capital flight. The Trump administration has also significantly increased its scrutiny on Chinese deals, citing national security issues.
The latest annual survey from the American Chamber of Commerce in China found that its members "continue to feel foreign business are less welcome in China than they once were." More than half of member companies also said they still believe intellectual property leakage and data security threats are higher in China than other parts of the world, the January report said. "American businesses already have hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in China on the ground, most of which is producing profits every year. They have a tremendous amount of skin in the game," Rosen said. "They have to take an active stance in this space whether they like it or not."
"What we need China to do at this junction is not to open up whole new sectors but just to allow U.S. companies to own their companies," he said. "Then we could see a rapid uptick of U.S. investment in China" due to companies buying up stakes in financial services, automobiles and other industries.
A cyberattack that U.S. natural gas pipeline owners weren’t required to report has lawmakers taking a closer look at how the industry is handling such threats, raising the prospect of tighter regulation.
In website notices to customers this week, at least seven pipeline operators from Energy Transfer Partners LP to TransCanada Corp. said their third-party electronic communications systems were shut down, with five confirming the service disruptions were caused by hacking. But the companies didn’t have to alert the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, the agency that oversees the nation’s more than 2.6 million miles of oil and gas conduits in addition to providing security at airports.
Though the cyberattack didn’t disrupt the supply of gas to U.S. homes and businesses, it underscores that energy companies from power providers to pipeline operators and oil drillers are increasingly vulnerable to electronic sabotage. It also showed how even a minor attack can have ripple effects, forcing utilities to warn of billing delays and making it more difficult for analysts and traders to predict a key government report on gas stockpiles.
“You have to go after the people who aren’t treating you right,” Trump said. “We’re going to have a fantastic relationship long term with China, but we have to get this straightened out. We have to have some balance.”
Trump ordered his administration to consider tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese goods on Thursday, sending U.S. stock futures tumbling. The U.S. president cited “China’s unfair retaliation” in response to his list of proposed tariffs earlier this week covering $50 billion in Chinese products.
"The Chinese side will follow suit to the end and at any cost, and will firmly attack, using new comprehensive countermeasures, to firmly defend the interest of the nation and its people,” the Commerce Ministry said in a statement on its website on Friday. The ministry said it would hold a press briefing at 8:00 p.m. in Beijing Friday.
Were China to want to match Trump’s latest threat, it wouldn’t have enough American goods imports to target. It could take other measures like curbing package tours or student transfers to the U.S., or hamper American companies operating in China.
Trump said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would identify which new products may be subject to tariffs. He later stressed that any additional tariffs first would be subject to a 60-day public comment period.
“No tariffs will go into effect until the respective process is complete,” Lighthizer said in a statement. The administration hasn’t said when any of the proposed tariffs would go into force.Click here to download a pdf of this article, missile.2.pdf
So you can't buy a new machine gun but, you can buy a machine gun...
The National Firearms Act of 1934 slapped a $200 transfer tax on them, the equivalent of $3,773 in 2018 dollars. In addition to machine guns, the act regulated silencers and shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches long. Then came the Gun Control Act of 1968, which further expanded the definition of a machine gun.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed an act effectively banning civilians from purchasing NEW machine guns. Suddenly, most of those already out there became a lot more valuable (Goepfert says there were 250,000 at the time). Today, the exact number left isn’t known, though one industry expert put it at 182,000.
Since then, machine guns that can be sold legally are referred to as transferrable, meaning they were previously registered with the National Firearm Registration and Transfer Record, according to the ATF. Machine guns that weren’t registered—but should have been—are illegal to possess.
Machine gun buyers have to go through a local, federally licensed dealer who must first take delivery, charging a fee of up to $200. Such dealers are required to fill out paperwork transferring the weapon to them and submit it to the ATF. “That paperwork is everything,” Joy Goepfert says. “That is the license for the gun. That gun really is not valuable without that paperwork.”
Barring any mistakes, that initial process can take as long as a month. Once complete, Frank Goepfert says, the buyer has to make an appointment with local law enforcement and fill out a fingerprint card for submission to the ATF. Additionally, the buyer needs to fill out a certificate of compliance. After that, a buyer has to show up again at the local gun dealer, fill out further paperwork, pay the $200 transfer tax, and ship the whole file to the ATF. Upon receipt, the agency will begin a background check and examine the paperwork. This process can take six months.
1. What is a trade war?
The dictionary says it’s “an economic conflict in which countries impose import restrictions on each other in order to harm each other’s trade.” Trump’s tariffs and the threatened retaliation from other countries meet this definition, but so do centuries of protectionist skirmishes by numerous countries in countless sectors. The recent escalation is stoking fears that Trump has set off a full-blown trade war by singling China out for retaliation for intellectual property theft. The quid-pro-quo actions by the U.S. and China over steel tariffs, Trump’s invocation of national security to justify some of his moves -- which could open a Pandora’s Box of similar claims by other nations -- and Trump’s threat to further punish the EU if it imposes counter-duties also add to the trade-war atmospherics.
2. What happened in previous trade wars?
One of the most notorious examples is the Smoot-Hawley Act passed by Congress in 1930 and often blamed for deepening the Great Depression. The law hiked U.S. tariffs by an average of 20 percent, initially to protect American farmers but then broadened as other industries lobbied for protections. As demand collapsed, countries scrambled to maintain their gold reserves by devaluing their currencies or imposing even more trade barriers. Global trade fell off a cliff.
3. Who wins in trade wars?
No one, if history is any guide. When President George W. Bush raised steel tariffs in 2002, U.S. gross domestic product declined by $30.4 million, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. The U.S. lost about 200,000 jobs, about 13,000 of which were in raw steel-making, by one estimate. A report by the pro-free trade Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that Bush’s tariffs cost about $400,000 for every steel-industry job saved. The World Trade Organization also ruled that the Bush tariffs were illegal.
4. What has Trump done so far?
He’s imposing tariffs on $50 billion of products imported from China in retaliation for what he calls decades of intellectual property theft. He imposed tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, on steel and aluminum imports, which prompted China to say it could hit back with tariffs of its own. While he temporarily exempted allies, including the European Union, from the metals tariffs, he expects them to grant concessions to the U.S. to maintain the exemption.
5. Why did Trump invite this fight?
In a March 2 Twitter post, he declared trade wars “good, and easy to win.” His focus remains reducing the U.S. trade deficit, which shows the country imports hundreds of billions of dollars more than it exports. Stepping back from trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership also appeals to Trump’s base of voters in America’s Rust Belt. But talk of a trade war is alarming to many U.S. business leaders, who largely support existing trade deals, and the securities markets, which fear lower profits and slower economic growth if the U.S. turns protectionist and other countries retaliate.
6. Who has retaliated?
China hit $3 billion of U.S. wine, fruit, pork, steel pipe and other exports with tariffs on April 2. Many of the 128 products on the list originate from states that favored Trump in the 2016 presidential election. After the U.S. announced details of its tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports, China said it would retaliate against U.S. products “equivalent in scale and degree to the U.S. measures.” On April 4, it announced tariffs against U.S. soybeans, chemicals and aircraft. An even bigger worry for the U.S. is that China, the U.S.’s biggest creditor, will scale back purchases of Treasuries in retaliation. China’s ambassador to the U.S. doesn’t rule out the option. Other countries haven’t retaliated for the steel and aluminum tariffs, which took effect March 23, largely because Trump temporarily exempted many of them. Still, the EU is unhappy and warned it will respond with its own 25 percent tariffs on $3.5 billion of American goods. Like China, the EU says it will focus particularly on products from states that are part of Trump’s political base, including iconic U.S. brands of motorcycles, blue jeans and bourbon whiskey. In turn, Trump warned that he would impose a 25 percent penalty on European car imports if the EU carried out its threat.
7. When does the WTO get involved?
The U.S. took the first step on March 23, filing a "request for consultations" with China at the WTO on technology licensing. China also notified the WTO how it could respond to the steel tariffs with levies of its own, later adding later that it will challenge the legality of the broader tariffs, which it said were a “gross violation” and put the WTO in “unprecedented danger.” But retaliatory actions that unfold quickly can test the WTO’s somewhat ponderous deliberative process. The arbiter of international trade disputes was born in 1995 out of a set of agreements struck by countries trying to reduce trade barriers. If a government’s complaint about another nation’s trade barriers is seen as grounded, the WTO recommends acceptable retaliation. In the case of steel, Trump is invoking a seldom-used clause of a 1962 U.S. law that gives him the authority to curb imports if they undermine national security. Under WTO rules, countries can take trade actions to protect “essential security interests.” Other nations could challenge the validity of the U.S. use of that clause. They also could copy the U.S. move by citing national security to block imports themselves.
8. Could tariffs backfire on the U.S.?
Yes. Take steel tariffs. Many more people are employed in industries, such as auto manufacturing, that buy steel to make products, than in steel-making itself. Some consumers may also have to pay higher prices. Trade tensions could boost inflation more than desired by Federal Reserve policy makers, who might feel the need to raise rates more aggressively than planned. On the other hand, if the tariffs result in job losses and the economy slows, the Fed might want to ease the pace of rate hikes.
9. Are tariffs the only weapon in trade wars?
No, there are many others. Clamping down on Chinese investments in the U.S., which Trump is already doing, is one example. Talking down, or manipulating lower, one’s currency is another. Countries through the years have used other means to keep foreign goods out and protect homegrown companies, a practice known as mercantilism. Trump accuses China of using government subsidies to prop up its domestic industries. Some practices are overt, such as quotas, and others covert, such as unusual product specifications, lengthy inspections of goods at entry ports and intricate licensing requirements.
“It’s pretty likely they’re going to have to go to the capital markets in the not-too-distant future,” said Bruce Clark, a credit analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. Tesla has $1.2 billion of debt maturing in the next 12 months and is expected to burn through $2 billion of cash this year. After repeatedly missing Model 3 production milestones, raising money could prove difficult, he said. “Their credibility has taken some hits.”
Tesla is burning through more than $6,500 of cash every minute and would run out of funds before year-end without more financing, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Musk has proven adept at raising money before, but it’s likely to be more expensive this time. The unsecured bonds Tesla sold just months ago are trading near record lows, and a similar sale is less likely because investors probably would demand a yield of at least 10 percent. That’s almost double the 5.3 percent Tesla had to offer last time.
Alternatives include debt that can be converted to stock.
“This is a company about growth, and growth needs financing,” said CreditSights analyst Hitin Anand, who estimates that Tesla will have to raise about $2 billion in the next six months, likely through a combination of equity and convertible debt. “You got lucky the first time around,” on the unsecured bond sale, Anand said. “If you test the market a second time and it fails, that loses confidence and hurts the equity even more.”
The popularity of futures reflects an evolving market which is drawing in new participants many of whom prefer anonymous, open market trading venues like the CME Group’s (CME.O), which has a near-monopoly on rate futures.
It also demonstrates the impact of regulations that have constrained risk taking by banks, harming liquidity in some bonds, and made trading over-the-counter derivatives more expensive.
Volumes in futures have surged to $398 billion a day from $257 billion in 2010, while Treasury trading volumes have dwindled to $396 billion a day from $442 billion in the same timeframe.
Volatility in Treasuries that sent benchmark 10-year yields to four-year highs last month has helped boost activity.
“CME rates product usage has increased from greater participation of buy-side clients and continuation of deep and consistent liquidity, in an environment when rates volatility has started to increase from very low levels,” said Agha Mirza, CME’s global head of interest rate products in Chicago.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch’ three-month MOVE index .MERMOVE3M, which gauges volatility in Treasuries, jumped to 67 in February, the highest in 10 months.
New rules that require more capital to back over-the-counter derivatives are also being phased in, which is driving more investors to futures as an alternative.
“Investors are comparing to futures and seeing where the futures alternative is cheaper,” said Kevin McPartland, head of research and market structure and technology at consultancy Greenwich Associates.
Greenwich estimates that trading in rate futures can be as much as 70 percent cheaper than doing the equivalent trade with a centrally-cleared interest rate swap. A Greenwich survey of dealers and derivatives users found U.S. respondents expected to move 11 percent of swaps trading to futures, while European participants planned to move 17 percent.
Futures benefit from leverage and from not being held on bank balance sheets. Rate futures are also attracting firms seeking opportunity in fixed income as alternatives to equity strategies.
“As the principal trading world has moved away from equities trading due to a decrease in profit opportunities, fixed income has become a big growth area, particularly in futures markets for a host of reasons,” said McPartland.
The number of firms with large open interest in interest rate futures at the CME rose to a record 2,086 in February, and is up from 1,649 a year earlier. Volumes in the CME’s interest rate futures edged over 100 percent that of Treasuries on March 7, based on a 52-week moving average. That is up from 94 percent a year ago and 58 percent in 2010.
Rate futures account for 33 percent of the CME’s trading and clearing revenues, according to its most recent annual report.
Moves to relax some regulations may reduce the relative advantages of futures, though they are not likely to reverse the trend.
The Federal Reserve is seen as close to easing some of the bank capital requirements. Market participants have blamed a rule known as the supplementary leverage ratio for reducing liquidity in non-benchmark Treasuries known as “off-the-runs.”
“Some of the suggested changes on leverage would make trading-off-the-run Treasuries easier, which would reduce the relative attractiveness of futures,” said Michael Cloherty, head of U.S. rates strategy at RBC Capital Markets in New York.
The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), which represents the privately traded derivatives industry, has also said it may challenge the capital requirements for swaps because they are more onerous than for futures.
“I think if you were able to get the charges down on swaps people would migrate to swaps because a lot of people prefer swaps to futures,” said Michael Schumacher, head of rate strategy at Wells Fargo in New York.
To the CME, new regulations compliment capital advantages that already favored the futures contracts.
“All of those became more amplified and one could argue that there has been greater usage of futures,” Mirza said.
Futures trading giant CME Group has reached a deal to buy U.K.-based trading firm NEX Group for £3.9 million ($5.49 billion).
CME will acquire London-based NEX in a transaction valued at £10 ($14) per share, consisting of £5 in cash and 0.0444 CME Group shares, based on CME's closing share price of $158.84 on Wednesday, the companies said in statements Thursday.
The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2018, pending on the approval of regulators and NEX shareholders.
NEX is a provider of currency and fixed income platforms, and other over-the-counter (OTC) post-trade products and services.
The United States and South Korea have reached agreement on a revised trade pact that includes a side deal aimed at deterring competitive currency devaluation by Seoul and provides relief from U.S. tariffs on steel, senior Trump administration officials said on Tuesday.
South Korea's steel exports to the U.S. will fall by about 30 percent, but the Asian country is still subject to a 10 percent aluminum tariff.
The officials told reporters that the deal includes provisions outlined by South Korean officials on Monday, including a 20-year extension of the 25 percent U.S. tariff on pickup trucks and a doubling of the Korean import cap on autos that meet U.S. specifications to 50,000 per manufacturer per year.
The agreement, cobbled together quickly with only a few rounds of negotiations under Trump's threat of withdrawal, will include a side-letter that requires South Korea to provide increased transparency of its foreign exchange interventions, with commitments to avoid won devaluations for competitive purposes.Click here to download a pdf of this article, Missile.pdf
© 2015 R.J. O'Brien & Associates LLC
Futures trading involves the substantial risk of loss and is not suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results.