Why Biden’s Proposed Tax Hikes Won’t Affect Stocks

There’s undoubtedly fear that possible higher capital gains rates could affect investors, but do they actually correlate to the return on equities?

1040 tax form with calculator and pen

News last month that President Biden was planning on hiking the capital gains tax rates on some investors cast a shadow over the market which was broadly blamed for rising selling pressure in equities. The fear, of course, is that higher taxes are bad for stocks and investors.

“Wealth inequality” in America was a central plank of Candidate Biden’s campaign platform last year and the proposal seems specifically designed to use higher taxes on wealthy Americans to fund The American Families Plan which includes enhanced tax credits for families. The initial plan, which is likely to be subjected to significant changes to get through Congress, proposes a top marginal income tax rate of 39.6% for households making more than $1 million annually.

There is also a new “Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance” (Social Security) payroll tax imposed on income earned above $400,000, evenly split between employers and employees.

Corporate income tax rates would increase to 28%, up from 21% now, which were just lowered four years ago by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017 under former President Trump. Big businesses with profits of $100 million or more would also face a new alternative minimum tax to close corporate loopholes. The below chart, courtesy of the Cato Institute, shows the higher tax rates being proposed (red bars).

Federal Tax Rates in 2021

But what really got the stock market’s attention, and not in a good way, was the part of President Biden’s plan to nearly double the capital gains tax on folks making $1 million or more.

And when you add in the 3.8% surtax on investment income that helps pay for the Affordable Care Act it would raise the total capital gains tax on seven-figure income-earners to 43.6%!

According to estimates from the American Enterprise Institute on the plan’s likely impact, the top 1% of income earners (the target group for income inequality) would see their after-tax income decline by nearly 18%.

Do Higher Tax Rates Really Affect Stock Prices?
Overall, the first draft of Biden’s tax plan aims to raise tax revenue by $3.3 trillion over the next decade. But are higher taxes really the nightmare scenario for the stock market that some believe they are?

Capital Gains and Market Returns

Historically speaking, the answer is no.

In fact, a timely Tweet last week from Schwab chief investment strategist Liz Ann Sonders (see chart above) shows that there is virtually no relationship between changes in the capital gains tax rate and S&P 500 Index performance. This is based on many tax law changes dating back to the 1960s and up through the present.

The lack of correlation between higher taxes and lower stock prices holds true in both the year the tax change takes effect and the year before it happens, in anticipation of possible tax hikes (the stock market tends to be forward-looking, after all). In fact, Sonders goes on to note, “The last time cap gains went up (in 2013), the S&P had a stellar year (up 30%).”

There are, of course, still plenty of unknowns about what the final tax plan will look like. But investors should be able to take some comfort in the fact that, according to the historical record at least, higher tax rates are not automatically bad for stock prices.

Has this concern about capital gains tax rates caused you to alter your tax planning?

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