Monday, March 13, 2017

To BAT or not to BAT? Trump`s tax reform dilemma

As the market awaits the FOMC decision and statement this week, there are a number of other critical market moving events to watch for. The Trump White House is expected to release its "skinny budget" this week, which may contain some broad outlines of the tax reform package. In addition, Angela Merkel's White House visit Tuesday could bring important news on the trade front.

Donald Trump came into office promising a series of tax cuts and offshore cash repatriation incentives for Wall Street. But tax cuts have to be offset with either revenue increases or spending cuts. Trump adviser Gary Cohn recently stated on CNBC that the White House is aiming for to be revenue-neutral over a 10-year period. As this chart from Morgan Stanley shows, this level of fiscal stimulus is highly unusual at this point of the economic expansion.

The main strategy for paying for the many of the proposed tax cuts is the imposition of a Border Adjustment Tax (BAT), which will penalize imports while encouraging exports. The BAT proposal, however, is likely to run into a number of major objections from America's largest trading partners.

Those objections have come from Canada, which is America's biggest customer, and from Germany, the sixth largest (chart via CNN Money).

Last week, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau spoke at a Houston energy conference and cautioned that a BAT would be bad for all parties (via Bloomberg):
A levy on goods imported to the U.S. would damage business on both sides of the northern border and could impede the growth of energy, automobile and steel industries that benefit from bilateral cooperation, Trudeau said at a press conference in Houston.

“A border adjustment tax would be bad not just for Canada but for the United States as well,” the prime minister told reporters Friday. “No two countries in the world have the close friendship, alliance, relationship and level of economic integration that Canada and the U.S. have.”
German chancellor Merkel is expected to be far less diplomatic than Trudeau.

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