WMT Stock: We’ve been too cautious on the Border Adjustment Tax, a proposed 20% tariff on goods imported into the U.S. For the past few weeks, we had thought odds were 60-40 against the tax; now we’re raising the odds to 70-30 against as opposition stiffens in the Senate.
Death of the border tax would be a major plus for retailers like Target (ticker: TGT) and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), which have led industry opposition to the bill.
Supporters of the border tax (BAT) are led by House Speaker Paul Ryan; they believe the legislation will generate roughly $1 trillion in revenues over 10 years, in turn making it easier for eventual tax reform to be revenue-neutral. Ryan and others also want to reward exporters and punish importers in an effort to address the U.S. trade imbalance.
But opposition to the tax proposal is growing in the U.S. Senate. Respected GOP Sen. Rob Portman told CNBC yesterday that he opposes the tax; he joins several Republican opponents, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas (home of Wal-Mart) and John Cornyn of Texas. The Senate Finance Committee chairman, Orrin Hatch, hasn’t taken a position but sounds lukewarm at best. Some of these Senators oppose the idea because it would hurt companies in their home states, some are ardent free-traders, and some view the BAT as a de-facto tax hike.
Perhaps Ryan can devise an artful compromise to phase in the tax or water down its impact, but for now we envision a bill that may include the BAT in the House, but not in the Senate. That raises an enormous issue in a House-Senate conference committee – scale back the tax to reflect $1 trillion less in revenues, or pass a bill that isn’t fully paid for, which would produce howls from deficit hawks. This is still another complicated issue for a tax bill that could take a year to pass.
Meanwhile, controversy over Donald Trump’s job approval rating will persist for his entire presidency; do you believe Gallup or Rasmussen? It all depends on methodology; we could write several paragraphs on this but most eyes would glaze over (including ours). Here’s what’s overlooked as Trump’s numbers slide – his job approval rating, around 40% positive, is more than twice the job approval for Congress, which is mired below 20%.
The article first appeared in barrons.com