After months of counting, we are now less than 24 hours away from diving headfirst over the fiscal cliff. If no deal is reached, which appears to be a definitive possibility as of this writing, around 90% of taxpayers will see some sort of hike in the taxes they pay . On top of a 3.8% Medicare surtax introduced by the Affordable Care Act in 2013, taxpayers will deal with the end of the payroll tax holiday and a cut to unemployment benefits. Investors aren't going to be spared either, with long-term capital gains jumping from 15% to 20%, and dividend income losing its preferential treatment and being treated instead as ordinary income, causing a tax rate jump to 39.6% from 15% for upper income earners.
Going over the cliff is viewed by many as bad for the economy, and I personally can't argue against that viewpoint. Unemployment levels should rise and discretionary income will fall as more tax revenue is collected. But, not every company views the fiscal cliff with as much animosity as those profiled by my Foolish colleague Demetrios Kalogeropoulos. In fact, there are five companies I can think of that would welcome the U.S.'s jump off the fiscal cliff with open arms.
Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU ) & H&R Block (NYSE: HRB )
There's hardly a year that goes by that Congress doesn't enact new tax laws. This year, however, is special because we're talking about a complete rollback of numerous tax cuts, provisions, and extensions that have been in effect for years. In response to these new tax laws, as well as many taxpayers' shuffling their portfolios and retirement accounts around before Jan. 1, 2013, I fully expect tax preparation service providers like Intuit with TurboTax, and H&R Block with its nationwide office presence, to be busier than they've been in possibly a decade. The days of being able to do your taxes on your own are nearly gone given the scope of changes to be expected this year, so look for these two to excel in 2013.
Western Union (NYSE: WU )
As I mentioned previously, the fiscal cliff is going to affect taxpayers from all walks of life -- both upper and lower income earners. Western Union has to be salivating with joy as we march toward the cliff, with unemployment levels expected to rise by roughly 150 basis points and long-term unemployment benefits expected to run out for more than 2 million workers. Trust me, I take no joy in these figures, but Western Union, which derives its profits from providing services like instant money transfers and money orders, could be in for a big boost in business since the credit quality of many lower income earners isn't great, and many will turn to money orders, instant transfers, and check cashing businesses for their banking needs.
Dollar General (NYSE: DG ) & Dollar Tree (NASDAQ: DLTR )
This may sound a bit counterintuitive, because I've opined before that lower discretionary spending environments can be just as bad for dollar stores like Dollar General and Dollar Tree as they can be for premium grocers like Whole Foods Market. One trend I've noticed that does stand the test of time with these dollar stores is that in the time shortly after an economic downturn (such as the one expected from the removal of billions of consumer spending dollars out of the economy), cost-conscious consumers tend to flock to these discount stores for a good deal. Make no mistake, these discount stores still need consumers to step up and buy higher margin items in order to really boost their margins, but a drop in discretionary income while accompanying a slowdown in GDP could be just what this sector needs to get back on track.
Unfortunately, the need for some mix of spending cuts and higher taxes is a necessary evil that'll be called upon to end years of trillion dollar U.S. deficits. However, Congress has done little on their end to shield as many Americans as possible from the negative implications of this rollback. To that end, I ascribe going over the fiscal cliff with no deal just as I would a chain smoker that's decided to quit cold turkey -- the end result can be envisioned, but the time in between isn't going to be pretty. Although, for these five companies, the going may not be nearly as tough as it might be for others.
Is this another surefire play?
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