Photo: Bloomberg TV
One of the hottest debates in the markets these days is how investment tax increases would affect stocks. Specifically, if we go over the fiscal cliff, Bush-era tax cuts will expire sending capital gains and dividend income tax rates surging.Intuitively, a higher dividend tax rate would be bad for dividend stocks. This is what Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank have been saying.
However, Wisdomtree and BMO Capital’s Brian Belski have provided research that show the historical precedents suggest otherwise or are inconclusive. Doug Kass thinks the fiscal cliff is “simply noise.”
Bank of America’s Savita Subramanian is the latest market guru to submit her take.
She argues that stocks are moved by much bigger forces than tax changes. Specifically, the bigger driver of market returns is growth. From Subramanian’s note:
Growth opportunities matter more than tax rates
The outcome of the US presidential election and the magnitude of the Fiscal Cliff pose the risk of higher taxes on dividend income. Our work suggests, however, that taxes do not matter as much as growth. We examined valuations pre- and post- the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, when the dividend tax rate was initially dropped to 15%, and found that high dividend yielding stocks actually became cheaper after the Bush Tax Cuts, which coincided with an marked increase in profits growth. We also found no evidence that the change in the dividend tax rate had a significant impact on the relative performance of dividend-oriented strategies.
In other words, dividend stocks actually underperformed after dividend tax rates were cut. Here’s a chart that compares the valuations of dividend stocks versus non-dividend paying stocks:
Photo: Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Subramanian goes on to make the same argument that Wisdomtree makes in that many of these dividend stocks sit in tax-deferred accounts or tax-exempt funds, which shield investors from tax changes. In fact, this was the story on the front page of the New York Times business section.
“We suspect that this is one of the reasons why the impact of a dividend tax change would not be as dramatic as some investors expect,” writes Subramanian.
It’s interesting to see how many experts are coming out to argue that a dividend tax spike could ultimately prove to be a non-event.