Stock Markets Spooked By US Capital Gains Tax Rumors

Tom Burroughes Group Editor April 23, 2021

Stock Markets Spooked By US Capital Gains Tax Rumors

The wealth management sector is waking up to the reality that in a matter of days, if not weeks, capital gains tax rates will rise significantly at state and federal level. As a result, combined state and federal CGT burdens could approach 60 per cent in New York and California, reports say.

Lawmakers in the state of Washington have voted to push up capital gains tax rate on the sale of bonds and stocks over $250,000. At the national US level, wealth advisors are bracing for a CGT hike. Reports of leaked White House proposals hit US equities yesterday.

The Washington state measure passed on a 52-46 vote in the House after nearly two hours of debate in the Democratic-led chamber (source: Associated Press, April 22). 

At a time when lawmakers in Washington DC and the Biden administration are eyeing a big hike to CGT, the state of Washington’s vote adds to worries about a rising tide of taxes on the “rich”. Elsewhere, Bloomberg and others reported that Biden administration officials leaked that they will soon propose raising the federal tax on capital gains to 43.4 per cent from a top rate of 23.8 per cent.

US equities fell sharply on the stories of a possible big CGT move. The S&P 500 index was down 0.92 per cent yesterday; the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.94 per cent; and the Nasdaq Composite Index was also down 0.94 per cent. 

Unnamed sources told Bloomberg that the administration wants to impose CGT on taxpayers who earn more than $1 million at the personal income tax rate, which he also wants to raise to 39.6 per cent from 37 per cent. With some states also imposing CGT on gains, such as the 13.3 per cent rate in California and 11.85 per cent in New York – it means that the coastal financial powerhouses might have rates approaching 60 per cent in total.

Rockefeller Global Family Office said that such CGT hikes might encourage investors to take their funds out of the market.

“If the 43.4 per cent rate becomes a reality, it will likely trigger an exodus from some of the biggest market cap stocks as many investors will likely seek to lock in their capital gains at the existing rate before year end. It raises the question on whether lawmakers will make the higher capital gains tax rate retroactive to some point in 2021 in order to maximize the tax revenue,” Jimmy Chang, chief investment officer, Rockefeller Global Family Office, said. 

“It feels like we are watching a negotiation in real time. The proposed increase is exactly in line with President Biden’s campaign platform, but it’s unclear how much traction it will receive. Unlike income taxes, capital gains are elective," Joe Roberts, managing director and head of wealth strategy, Rockefeller Capital Management, said.

“It is difficult to predict how much revenue will be produced by this increase, and without tangible evidence that it will materially increase inflows, the cooling effect it will have on markets and capital transactions will be a real hurdle. It is possible - maybe even likely - that the Biden Administration is anchoring for a more moderate increase, like the 24.2 per cent bracket that has been proposed in the past," Roberts added. 

Advisors have told Family Wealth Report that they expect some rises to income and capital gains taxes, as well as reversing the doubling of estate tax exemptions introduced under the Trump administration. When the Democrats won control of Congress after the Georgia state election run-offs, it added to one of the busiest estate and tax planning seasons advisors have seen in years.

Another worry, for institutional investors for example, is a potential hike to corporate tax rates, according to RBC Wealth Management.

“One of the biggest sources of angst among equity institutional investors is the prospect that US corporate taxes could increase, according to an RBC Capital Markets survey. Such tax hikes are included in the infrastructure bill proposed by President Joe Biden. Concerns about this have even overshadowed the potential benefits of the sweeping $2 trillion, multiyear infrastructure package,” RBC said. 

Earlier this week, a tax and migration advisor told this news service that he predicts the number of Americans seeking to renounce their citizenship and leave the US will rise "dramatically", with tax hikes playing an important role in those decisions. 

Large rises in the assets of some of the richest people in the US - such as tech and aerospace tycoon Elon Musk or Amazon's Jeff Bezos - have fueled debate about tax hikes on those perceived to have profited from changes to the economy, as well as from the lockdowns that have forced consumers to shop and get their entertainment online. Central bank quantitative easing has arguably also added to wealth inequality.

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