European equity indices opened a tad lower on Friday morning after stocks fell on Wall Street on reports Joe Biden is planning to slap much higher capital gains taxes on the wealthy. This was always part of the equation when we looked at the implications of a Biden presidency, but markets have been pepped up on a mix of fiscal stimulus, the Fed’s extraordinarily accommodative stance, a strong cyclical impulse from the vaccine-led reopening and a bounce back in earnings. The major averages fell in lockstep, dropping by almost 1 per cent , though the Russell 2000 ended the session flat as the selling was led chiefly by the longer-term growth names like Tesla and Amazon. The Dow Jones finished the day at 33,815, a decline of more than 300 pts. The S&P 500 closed down 0.92 per cent at 4,134 and the Nasdaq Composite notched a similar decline to finish at 13,818. The FTSE 100 opened lower and is heading for a decline of more than 1 per cent for the week. As of send time the CAC 40 had inched into the green. I would not describe risk as being offered as such; it’s been a pretty choppy week and I would be equally unsurprised if stocks turned around this afternoon and ended the week higher as I would if Wall Street led a sharp decline into the weekend.
The Biden administration is looking to raise the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6 per cent from 37 per cent, whilst also doubling capital gains tax to 39.6 per cent for people earning more than $1 million. Tax the rich, hand it out to the poor. Sounds like furlough, but on a permanent basis. The big problem (one of many) in all this is the Senate – it would require support of all the Democrats in the upper chamber and this is far from assured. Stocks would probably be a lot lower if investors were really worried, and I think markets can overcome this move, even if it manages to pass through the Senate, which I don’t think it will. Nevertheless, coming off record highs and a good run up through the start of the year, the macro picture not really changing, rising Covid cases globally, strong earnings and other supportive factors largely priced in and the extent to which investors are ‘all in’ equities, we could be set for a downwards move in equities over the coming weeks. Beware seasonal factors (I dare not say ‘sell in May’…)
The economic picture continues to improve in the US. Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell to 547,000 last week, down from 576,000 the prior week and below the roughly 600,000 estimated. The number of continuing claims also fell.
Likewise, UK retail sales numbers were very positive in March as consumers opened their wallets ahead of the reopening of non-essential shops. Sales rose by 5.4 per cent from February, well ahead of the 1.5 per cent expected. Clothes, gardening goodies and specialist food items from bakers and butchers were in vogue.
Even Europe is showing immense resilience in the fact of lockdowns…