What Largest Tax Overhaul in 30 Years Means for CompaniesBy
Banks, pharma, retail, telecom seen as benefiting from bill
Mixed results for health care, private equity and real estate
The impact of the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in three decades will spread far and wide starting next year, highlighted by a cut in the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, fully allowable deductions for capital expenses and lower levies on repatriating overseas profits.
Here’s how the law will most likely affect various industries:
Republicans firmed up late support for the overhaul by adding a measure that will provide a windfall to real estate investors like President Donald Trump. The change allows real estate businesses to claim a new tax break that’s planned for partnerships, limited liability companies and other so-called “pass-through” entities.
With U.S. housing on a roll since the financial crisis, homebuilders don’t want to see the good times end. Incentives that have promoted home ownership over renting came under attack during the legislative process, but the industry’s powerful lobbying organizations were able to minimize the damage.
The bill will allow interest deductions on the first $750,000 in new mortgage debt, down from the current limit of $1 million; the House had called for slashing it to $500,000. It also won back $10,000 in deductions for property and local income taxes, a figure still far below what many upper-income families pay in blue states like California, New York and New Jersey.
Tech stands to benefit from repatriation. U.S. companies are sitting on $3.1 trillion in overseas earnings, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The largest stockpile belongs to Apple Inc. at $252 billion -- 94 percent of its total cash. Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Oracle Corp. round out the top five, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
One caveat is that the repatriation provision could generate a large tax bill. In Apple’s case, a 14.5 percent rate would equate to $36.6 billion in taxes, or about $7 a share, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
Analysts expect the bulk of the tax savings to be spent on increasing dividends and share buybacks. That should push U.S. equity markets higher, increasing the value of investments held by asset managers.
Firms such as Federated Investors Inc. and Franklin Resources Inc. could also see more demand for their money management services, thanks to tax cuts for individuals, especially the wealthy.
The tax bill may boost 2018 earnings of big U.S. banks by an average of 13 percent, according to Goldman Sachs. Leading the way will be Wells Fargo & Co. (17 percent) and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (15 percent).
Morgan Stanley says the overhaul is a net benefit for U.S. banks because it will help them compete better with lower-taxed international rivals. Many provisions in the bill, including repatriation of overseas cash, could spur U.S. mergers and acquisitions that would boost investment banking. And banks’ wealth management units are likely to see more money rolling in because the bill reduces tax rates on the rich.
But a reduction on interest-expense deductions will weigh on earnings. That provision may also cause companies to borrow less. It could be especially painful for banks such as Synovus Financial Corp. that have large exposure to real estate and commercial loans, Morgan Stanley said.
Lenders focused on consumers, such as Discover Financial Services and Synchrony Financial, are better positioned, because individuals already are unable to deduct interest expense, so there wouldn’t be a change in behavior, according to Morgan Stanley.
The reduction in corporate rates means companies should have more cash to fund acquisitions, which could increase the value of private equity-owned firms. There’s also likely to be more assets to buy. Many conglomerates have been holding onto non-core assets because they didn’t want to generate a big tax bill on the sale.
But just like banks, private equity will take a hit on the lowering of interest deductions. Financial firms use debt to fund acquisitions, and if borrowing becomes more costly that could disrupt their business models. It might also limit the size of deals.
Big auto dealers, like AutoNation Inc., are also poised to do well because they are focused in the U.S. and pay high tax rates.
Retailers are primed to be big winners from the rate cut because many generate all, or at least an overwhelming majority, of their income in the U.S. and pay some of the highest tax rates of any industry.
Full and immediate deductions on capital expenditures could allow at least one retailer to not owe any federal taxes the next two years. Aaron’s Inc., which leases televisions and refrigerators to consumers at more than 1,700 stores, will be able to use deductions on buying inventory, which are considered capital investments, to wipe out its tax bill in 2018 and 2019, according to Stifel Nicolaus & Co.
Chains and consumer brands also expect the tax bill to boost demand for their goods and services. Many of those companies rely on middle- and low-income shoppers for the bulk of their sales, and changes to individual taxes -- such as doubling the standard deduction -- will increase discretionary income.
In machinery, trucking is likely to see the biggest impact, according to Jefferies LLC. The corporate rate cut would give U.S. transportation companies of all sizes more money to upgrade their fleets with fuel-efficient vehicles. The bill’s increased deductions for capital spending would add another incentive to buy new 18-wheelers, a potential boon for truck makers like Paccar Inc. and Navistar International Corp.
The same can’t be said for farming and its equipment suppliers like Caterpillar Inc. Farmers are struggling to be profitable at current crop prices, which means the corporate tax cut will have little impact on them. But that could change if prices rise, Jefferies said.
The tax cut could also spur industrial giants to divest businesses that aren’t core to current strategy, Jefferies said. Many conglomerates have maintained divisions because selling them would generate a big tax bill.
Oil-and-gas companies will be big winners because they pay the second-highest effective tax rate of any sector, at 37 percent, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. But a number of oil explorers and equipment providers won’t benefit because their operations are unprofitable.
The industry also benefits from a measure that opens a portion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, which could generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.
The renewable-energy industry avoided taking a big hit by lobbying Republicans to keep a $7,500 electric-vehicle subsidy and a tax credit for wind-power production. But there is concern that the bill’s changes to how tax credits work may disrupt financing of wind and solar projects.
The coal industry notched a victory by getting the corporate alternative minimum tax killed -- a move executives say will reduce bankruptcies.
Hospitals and Insurers
The bill is estimated to boost insurance companies’ profits by as much as 15 percent because they pay high rates, according Ana Gupte, an analyst at Leerink Partners.
But the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate won’t help health insurers and hospitals, which are coping with the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the law. Ending the provision -- a requirement that all Americans carry health insurance coverage or pay a fine -- is likely to decrease the number of people who buy coverage. For hospitals, an increase in uninsured people means fewer paying customers.
U.S. drugmakers will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the repatriation portion of the bill. They’ve been sitting on billions of dollars in overseas earnings and can now bring home that cash at a reduced rate. While the tax bill has been promoted by Republicans as a job creator, the reality is that drug companies are more likely to return the money to shareholders, or use it to make acquisitions.
Biotech and pharma companies will get a smaller tax credit for developing drugs for rare diseases. Under current law, they can deduct 50 percent of the cost of testing drugs for rare or orphan diseases that affect only small numbers of patients. The revised bill cuts that amount to 25 percent, raising government revenue by $32.5 billion over a decade.
This is another industry that is likely to increase capital investments because telecom companies regularly need to upgrade their networks. And the bill allows deductions on such spending to be immediate, instead of over several years. AT&T Inc. has said it will invest $1 billion more in U.S. infrastructure next year under the new tax plan.
“This bill will spur much-needed investment and economic growth in the United States,” AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said in a statement.
Colleges have objected to the reversal of a rule that allows supporters to make tax-deductible contributions to their teams, in return for priority seats at football and basketball games. The provision has been credited with the financial boom in college sports. In a rush to limit the impact, athletic departments have been telling donors to prepay multiple years before Dec. 31 to retain the tax deduction.
About 30 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale and small liberal arts schools such as Amherst and Williams, may pay a 1.4 percent tax on their endowment investment returns. Schools that would be taxed have at least 500 students and more than $500,000 in endowment per student.
Colleges have widely opposed the bill, although the final version dropped a tax on graduate school tuition waivers that sparked an outcry.
— With assistance by Felice Maranz, Scott Moritz, Zachary Tracer, Patrick Clark, Brian Eckhouse, Tim Loh, David Wethe, Ari Natter, Rick Clough, Cynthia Koons, Eben Novy-Williams, Simone Foxman, Jamie Butters, Mark Chediak, Natasha Rausch, and Janet Lorin