The Trump years: Rebuilding our hollowed-out economy

From E.B. Tucker, editor, The Casey Report: Donald Trump’s election signals a critical change for the U.S. economy and its markets.

You see, for 15 years, the Federal Reserve’s radical money experiment fixed interest rates at lower and lower levels until they hit 0%…where they stayed.

The price of money is not zero. Keeping it there distorts prices, manipulates investments, and alters the natural course of our economy.

Companies used the cheapest borrowing rates in human history to buy back their own stock, overpay for acquisitions, and reward mediocre management teams. Easy money, plentiful credit, and instant gratification have hollowed out the U.S. economy. It made otherwise losing investments acceptable. It made spending today more rewarding than investing for tomorrow.

But all of this is about to change.

As I’ll show you today, the next four years are presenting us with brand-new investment opportunities.

The Economy Is About to Experience a Pivotal Shift

America is a hollowed-out shell of what it was last century.

Take the homeownership rate, for example. This rate measures the percentage of occupied homes that are owned by the person who lives in them. This year it dipped to its lowest level in 45 years.

The Fed made last decade’s housing boom possible. Easy access to abundant credit meant anyone and everyone could buy a home. In the real world, some people shouldn’t buy a home. Some people are transient or irresponsible.

But in the Fed’s radical money experiment, banks rush to lend money. When they run out of good borrowers, they lower the standards. In the end, the boom goes bust. What’s left is a generation of renters.

Keep in mind that the homeownership rate touched new lows while creditworthy borrowers had access to the lowest mortgage rates in human history.

It’s Easy to Spend Free Money

Low interest rates make money more accessible. Lower interest means lower payments on borrowed money. For most people, it means being able to borrow more.

Borrowing more money can stave off hard times. Lower and lower interest rates make that possible. Over the last 15 years, rates sank lower and lower until they hit 0%.

0% is not a natural interest rate. Most people don’t want to lend their hard-earned money for 0%. Companies definitely want to borrow it. Corporate debt levels barely even felt the last financial crisis.

If interest rates rise, even the slightest bit, many companies will struggle to pay back bloated piles of debt.

Where Did All the Money Go?

Companies used to borrow money to grow. Building a factory, hiring workers, or developing a new product were all good reasons to borrow.

That’s not the case anymore. Over the last 15 years of record-low interest rates, companies found new ways to make money. They started using borrowed money to buy back their own stock.

When a person borrows to buy stock it’s called “buying on margin.” Everyone knows it’s risky. Brokers warn against it. If the price of the stock falls too quickly, you’ll have to sell everything to cover the loss on the borrowed stock.

Things aren’t much different for companies. When times are good, they use profits to buy stock back. When times get tough, they have to sell stock to raise badly needed money. That usually happens at just the wrong time.

Take teen-clothing retailer Aéropostale Inc. (AROPQ), for example. The company generated over $1 billion in free cash flow from 2005 to 2013. It spent almost all of that money, over 90%, buying back its own stock. The company had no debt at the time. Its stock price reached over $29 per share in 2010.

Today it trades for 3 cents per share. The company has over $100 million in debt and negative free cash flow.

While it makes for a good headline, stock buybacks aren’t always the best use of profits. When hard times hit, companies need money. If they spent it all buying back stock at the top of the market, they may have to issue new stock at much lower prices to raise money.

Borrowing money to buy stock is even worse. Yet, companies that spent the most money on stock buybacks saw their shares soar over the past eight years.

The black line in this chart shows the share price of companies that aggressively bought back their own stock. Their share prices more than doubled. The blue line shows old-line industrial stocks focused on building infrastructure. Their shares suffered losses of more than 25% over the same period.

Borrowing to build something real hasn’t been popular in the easy-money years. That’s all about to change.

Prepare for the Flood

Like him or not, Donald Trump is one of the best dealmakers in history. He’s written books on the subject. He built a massive empire using the art of the deal.

He realizes a hollowed-out America, buried in debt, can’t support its own weight forever. He’s said it publicly.

Trump also knows American tax rates are far too high to incentivize growth. Lower taxes encourage people to invest. Higher taxes encourage them to hide money.

Companies hide money offshore in places like Ireland and the Netherlands. Two of the most notable tax schemes are the double Irish and the Dutch sandwich. Apple, Facebook, and Starbucks are just a few from the long list of companies that set up these schemes. Here’s one example of how they work.

Ireland has a low corporate tax rate, around 12%. A U.S. company opens a wholly owned subsidiary there. That subsidiary will own some of the U.S. company’s intellectual property, a logo or trade secret, for example. It also opens a Dutch-based subsidiary. Even though the two companies have the same parent company, the Dutch subsidiary charges the Irish company a royalty. The Dutch company then pays money back to another Irish company. This final company, owned by a subsidiary based in a tax haven like an island nation, still has the same U.S.-based parent company.

Major U.S. companies use these schemes to avoid our onerous 35% corporate income tax. Apple, for example, holds over $150 billion overseas in order to avoid paying a third of it to the U.S. government.

Apple doesn’t like paying taxes to any government. According to Bloomberg, a U.S. Senate subcommittee pegged the company’s 2011 tax rate at 0.05%.

All that cash piles up overseas. Shareholders claim it belongs to them…but getting it back might be a problem.

The chart below shows reported overseas cash hoards as of early last year. Since that time, companies have been less eager to disclose exactly how much money they have stashed in overseas coffers.

We’re not fans of any tax. In fact, our stance on taxes is that they’re immoral. We also don’t get hung up in ideological battles. We want to make money.

Donald Trump said he’d convince these companies, and many others, to bring their cash hoards home. You can bet there will be strings attached. Companies will likely have to put that money to work building, creating, and investing in their futures here at home…where the money came from in the first place.

If that happens, certain infrastructure companies stand to see major increases in revenue.

Editor’s note: To profit from this huge trend, E.B. and his team just published a brand-new report, “The Trump Years: Four Infrastructure Stocks for 2017 and Beyond.” Months of pre-election research went into this report to determine the top companies that are best positioned to cash in on Trump’s massive spending.

You can learn how to access this report—and two other critical ones that will set you up to make a fortune during the Trump years—by watching this FREE video presentation.

Posted in Palm Beach Daily
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