Posts Tagged ‘stocks’

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Clay Bennett editorial cartoon  EPSON scanner image

equity

I have been arguing, since 2016 (e.g., here, here, and here), that one of the likely outcomes of the kind of corporate tax cuts Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans have supported—and, as we saw, eventually rammed through—would be an increase in inequality. That’s because corporations would likely use a portion of their higher profits to engage in stock buybacks, leading to an increase in stock prices. And stock ownership in the United States is already grotesquely unequal. Therefore, the rise in equity prices would disproportionately benefit the small group at the top of the wealth pyramid.

And that’s exactly what is happening. As CNN Money reports, U.S. corporations have showered Wall Street with $214 billion of stock buyback announcements so far this year.

buybacks

According to a recent report by U.S. Senate Democrats (pdf), that total includes enormous repurchases from a diverse array of large corporations, including Wells Fargo, Oracle, Amgen, and Alphabet (Google).

Even those who, like Tyler Cowen, defend the use of the tax cuts for stock buybacks are forced to admit that

If a major corporation engages in buybacks, that simply transfers money from one set of hands to another — from the corporate entity to the shareholders.

That’s exactly right—except, of course, Cowen forgets about the initial transfer of value, the surplus, from workers to corporate boards of directors.

Now consider my estimate of the distribution of stock ownership in the United States, illustrated in the chart at the top of the post.

Again, as with the distribution of wealth in the United States, most experts get it wrong (as I showed recently, in a post that was picked up by Market Watch). As of 2014 (the last year for which data are available) the top 1 percent of American taxpayers (the green bar) owned not two or three but almost six times the corporate equities as the bottom 90 percent (the red bar)—62.19 percent compared to only 10.8 percent.

So, who are the real beneficiaries of the corporate tax cuts? Not workers (in terms of pay, benefits, or jobs) but the tiny group at the top who already own the bulk of stocks in the United States.* They’re getting wealthier and leaving everyone else further and further behind.

Let’s see what kind of economic voodoo the tiny group at the top of the wealth pyramid and their friends in politics and the media are going to use to attempt to buyback that obscene result.

 

*While some corporations have announced one-time bonuses, the money devoted to workers pales in comparison with the buyback bonanza. So far, just 6 percent of the corporate windfall from the tax cuts has gone to workers in the form of pay hikes, bonuses, and other benefits, according to an analysis by JUST Capital.

profits-stocks

There’s no real mystery behind the spectacular gains in the stock market over the course of 2017. Much of it can be explained by the rise in U.S. corporate profits.

But, as is clear from the chart above, the relationship between corporate profits (after tax, in red, measured on the right-hand side) and the stock market (the Dow Jones Industrial Index, in blue on the left) actually goes back almost a decade. Corporate profits have increased, from their low in the fourth quarter of 2008, some 176 percent. Meanwhile, the stock market has risen 182 percent from its own low in the first quarter of 2009.

Corporate profits are, of course, a signal to investors that their stocks will likely rise in value. Moreover, increased profits allow corporations themselves to buy back a portion of their stocks. Finally, wealthy individuals, who manage to capture a large share of the growing surplus appropriated by corporations, have had a larger and larger mountain cash to speculate on stocks.

Clearly, the United States has had a profit-led recovery since the crash of 2007-08, which is both a cause and consequence of the stock-market bubble.

However, that recovery has left most other Americans behind. First, corporate profits have increased in large part because workers’ wages have largely stagnated. Second, most American workers don’t own any stocks, either directly or indirectly. Stock ownership itself is highly concentrated, as the top 10 percent of households own well over 80 percent of the U.S. stock market.

And looking forward? I don’t make predictions but it’s obvious that the Republican administration is determined to do all it can to keep corporate profits growing and to make sure wealthy individuals keep a larger share of the surplus they receive. As long as that happens, we’ll continue to see the kind of lopsided recovery—including banner gains in the stock market—that has characterized the U.S. economy for the better part of the past decade.

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DJIA-wages

The new jobs report is out and, once again, little has changed—including wage growth (the blue line in the chart above), which for production and nonsupervisory workers was only 2.3 percent.

That may not be good for workers but their employers and stock-market investors couldn’t be happier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (the red line in the chart above) continues to soar, on the expectation of higher future profits.

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Just in the first couple of hours of trading today, the average is up more than 58 points.

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While Wall Street celebrates yet another stock market record—surpassing 20,000 on the Dow Jones industrial average—most Americans have little reason to cheer. That’s because they own very little stock and therefore aren’t sharing in the gains.

The only possible response is, “That’s your damn stock market, not ours,” analogous to the response about Brexit and the expected decline in GDP by a woman in Newcastle.

stocks

It’s true, even after recent declines, about half (48.8 percent) of U.S. households hold stocks in publicly traded companies directly or indirectly (according to the most recent Survey of Current Finances [pdf]).

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But, according to Ed Wolff (pdf), the bottom 90 percent of U.S. households own only 18.6 percent of all corporate stock. The rest (81.4 percent) is in the hands of the top 10 percent.

So, while the stock market has experienced quite a turnaround from mid-February of last year (when a barrage of selling sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average to its lowest close since April 2014), especially since Donald Trump’s November victory (including more than 100 points just yesterday), most Americans continue to be left out in the cold.

Clearly, a much better alternative for American workers would be to follow Shannon Rieger’s advice and look toward a radically different model: enterprises that are owned and managed by their employees. That would give them a much better chance of sharing in the wealth they create.

They would also then be able to finally say to mainstream economists and politicians, “That’s our GDP and stock market, not yours.”