Today, in just a matter of hours, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Despite having no formal military or political background, Trump will enter the highest office in the land and look to lead America to economic prosperity over at least the next four years.
Based on the details released in his 100-day plan, Trump plans to tackle a variety of issues early in his presidency. Trump and his Republican congressional peers have vowed to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act, the hallmark piece of legislation enacted during the presidency of Barack Obama. Among Trump's laundry list of actions is to deregulate a number of critical sectors (e.g., banking and energy), open up federal land for the drilling of fossil fuels, and pass a $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill meant to repair or modernize our nation's aging roads and bridges.
Trump's tax policies could be a boon for mergers and acquisitions
Trump's landmark legislative action, however, is likely to be his call for individual and corporate income tax reform. Being a lifelong businessman gives hope to U.S. businesses of all sizes and investors that he can usher in a considerably friendlier growth environment. There are, in particular, a handful of reasons to believe Trump's tax policies could be great for businesses and even better news for M&A activity, according to Bill Casey, EY Americas' vice chair of transaction advisory services, in an interview with Yahoo! Finance.
The obvious benefit comes in the form of reduced taxes on businesses. Currently, the U.S. has the third-highest corporate marginal tax in the world (i.e., corporate tax rate plus local and sales taxes). Trump's intention is simple: lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, which would instantly make the U.S. one of the most tax competitive developed countries in the world. The assumption is that if businesses can hang on to more of their income, they'll be more likely to spend it on research and development, business expansion, and perhaps M&A.
Trump's desire to offer a special tax repatriation holiday rate could be a boon for business, too. Nearly $2.5 trillion in U.S. multinationals' profits is being held in overseas markets because domestic businesses don't want to pay a 35% corporate income tax rate to bring this capital back into the United States. This proposal would offer a special repatriation tax rate of just 10%, which would probably result in hundreds of billions of dollars being brought back into the U.S. Some of this capital could presumably be used for M&A purposes.
Finally (and this isn't exactly related to Trump's tax policy), Trump's efforts to deregulate a number of sectors could result in lower expenses for businesses, as well as create easier pathways by which businesses can merge.
Taken together, lower corporate tax rates, fewer regulatory expenses, and the ability to repatriate their overseas capital at a favorable rate could increase corporate earnings and entice businesses to engage in M&A.
The outlook for jobs isn't as rosy
However, Trump's corporate tax and business policies may not have the same effect on the jobs market.
Businesses usually engage in M&A in order to boost their product offerings and create operational synergies. The desired results are higher profits for the acquiring company and better margins. But those better margins are often derived from the elimination of job redundancies, resulting in layoffs -- or as Time has referred to it, "merge and purge."
According to First World Pharma, between the beginning of 2008 and October 2013, the 11 largest pharmaceutical companies eliminated nearly 144,000 jobs, many of which were tied to M&A. This figure has likely grown as M&A has picked up in the pharma and biotech industries in recent years, and it provides a perfect example of what could happen if Trump's tax policies are implemented.
Large businesses would also concur that increasing head count may not be anywhere near the top of their agenda if they wind up keeping more of their income. In December, CNBC surveyed 39 U.S. CFOs with a combined market capitalization of more than $4 trillion to find out what they might do with their repatriated cash. A mere 12.5% of the surveyed CFOs suggested that increasing head count was on the agenda. By comparison, M&A was the most popular answer, followed by new buildings and equipment, and research and development. If repatriated capital is used for the purposes of M&A, we're liable to see higher margins and happy investors but also job cuts in the process.
What it comes down to is the fact that Trump can't dictate what businesses do with their extra capital. It's quite possible businesses could even choose to boost share buybacks in an attempt to appease investors and boost their earnings per share. Unfortunately for job seekers, share buybacks aren't going to do them any good.
It should be pointed out that CNBC's survey of CFOs showed that more than a third have no plans for potential repatriated capital as of yet, so it's still possible repatriated capital could be used to increase head count. Early indications would suggest, however, that easing taxes and regulations on businesses may not help the jobs market at all.