President Biden’s latest spending bill could result in a new tax on corporate stock buybacks. In its most recent incarnation, the Senate version of the plan includes a 2 percent excise tax on stock buybacks. Still, this isn’t enough for many critics of stock buybacks, who claim they incentivize short-term behavior in lieu of long-term investment.
Stock buyback programs have long been criticized for giving a short-term boost to share prices with funds that could have been used for long-term investment instead. Critics, including the current president, believe stock buybacks come at the expense of capital investment in new or updated factories, research, worker training, etc. These critics believe this type of long-term investment is the key to sustainable growth.
Changing Behavior with Taxes
Some critics advocate for an outright ban on stock buybacks, but they are in the minority. Instead, the recent Senate bill proposes a 2 percent tax on stock buybacks. This tax is dual purpose. First, it aims to discourage buybacks and encourage longer-term investment. Second, it’s a revenue generator to help fund the trillions in new spending in the bill.
Will the 2 Percent Tax be Enough to Matter?
While a 2 percent excise tax on buybacks may not be draconian, it appears to be significant enough to drive a change in behavior. In a CNBC poll, more than half of CFOs indicated the 2 percent tax is enough for them to curtail their buyback program. Only 40 percent said they would not change their buyback program plans (CNBC Global CFO Council Survey).
Impact on the Capital Markets
Stock buybacks have had a significant impact on the markets. Not only are companies using excess cash to buy back shares, but with interest rates so low for so long, many companies have even taken on debt to buy back shares. Still, excess cash that can’t just sit on the corporate balance sheet is the main driver of the largest buyback programs. Established, cash-flush tech companies such as Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft are the dominant players, accounting for nearly one-third of all buyback activity in the first half of 2021.
Given the recent run-up in the markets, buyback programs have not kept up. Couple this with the proposed increases in corporate tax rates from 21 percent to 25 percent, and there’s even less cash to fund buyback programs. Generally, most experts believe these macro-economic factors combined with the new 2 percent tax will cause a shift toward dividend payouts as they will be more favorable to shareholders.
The main idea behind the proposed 2 percent excise tax on stock buybacks is to both raise revenue and encourage corporate investment. Critics of stock buyback programs believe this is better for the economy and workers, whereas buybacks favor corporate shareholders at their expense. While a 2 percent tax might not be enough to create wholesale change, it appears to have enough teeth combined with corporate tax rate changes to change most public company CFOs.
According to a recent U.S. Travel Association forecast, only about one-third of companies are requiring their employees to travel. With business travel still at a low, how can companies develop a travel policy that reduces the risk of COVID-19?
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
When it comes to business travelers, whether employees are traveling domestically or internationally, OSHA recommends employers consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for guidance.
The CDC advises against traveling internationally if someone is not vaccinated, is exposed to, sick with, tests positive and/or is waiting results from COVID-19 exposure. Even for travelers who are fully vaccinated, the CDC reminds us that becoming infected and/or spreading the virus is still possible.
Travelers should similarly follow all guidelines at their point of departure, on the airline, and at their destination (e.g., wear face masks, get tested to show proof of being COVID-19 negative, maintain social distancing) to be compliant with requirements during each point of the journey.
For those returning to the United States, fully vaccinated travelers must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel. Fully vaccinated individuals are suggested to test three to five days post travel, keep an eye out for symptoms and test and isolate if there are symptoms. Travelers who are not fully vaccinated must have a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of travel. Travelers who are not fully vaccinated are advised to test three to five days after, along with self-quarantining for seven days, post return. Even if the COVID-19 test is negative, self-quarantining for seven days after travel is advised. If the COVID-19 test is positive, travelers should isolate. If you don’t get tested, stay at home and self-quarantine for 10 days post travel. If symptomatic, test and isolate.
When it comes to domestic travel, differences exist between fully vaccinated and partially/non-vaccinated travelers. Along with masking and government mandates for fully vaccinated travelers, upon return they need to keep an eye out for symptoms and isolate if any develop. However, there are no recommendations for testing or self-quarantining for fully vaccinated or those who have recovered from an infection within the past three months.
For unvaccinated travelers, along with following masking, social distancing, hand hygiene practices, and government mandates, testing 24 to 72 hours before departure is recommended. Upon return, travelers are advised to get tested three to five days later and isolate for one week. If non-vaccinated travelers don’t test, a 10-day quarantine is recommended. If a test is done and it’s negative, a one-week isolation period is recommended.
Assessing Financial/Legal Risk
Employers must determine if the work that requires travel is truly essential, and if it is in all jurisdictions, it should be documented. There are a few types of potential financial and/or legal liabilities if employees travel to perform their work duties. If an employee becomes infected, a workers’ compensation claim could be opened. If an employee does not receive an accommodation, either not having to travel or unable to work safely in the office with a worker who may have been exposed to COVID-19, legal issues may develop. Additionally, a whistleblower lawsuit may exist if an employee alleges the company has violated public health requirements. However, if business travel can’t be delayed, there must be guidelines to reduce the risk of travel becoming a way to catch COVID.
Protect Employees Before Travel Begins
Businesses are advised to give their employees adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Depending on how and where the employee is traveling, he or she is required by federal law to wear a mask in and on mass transit (e.g., airplanes, trains). It also may help to provide gloves, hand sanitizer and wipes.
Study Transit and Destination COVID-19 Policies
Whether it’s domestic or international travel, different cities, states and countries have different requirements for those who are vaccinated and those who are not. Depending on where the traveler has a layover, there could be testing, proof of vaccination or masking/social distancing requirements in place at various spots.
Agree to Travel-Related Activities
By highlighting the risks of visiting certain venues that may pose higher risks (e.g., restaurants, gyms), an employer also can mandate employees to wear masks, socially distance, wash hands frequently, etc., regardless of the locale’s requirements.
Plan Ahead for Post-Travel Office Work
Another important component of a travel policy is how the business and its employee(s) will return safely to work and interact with co-workers and clients. For the most extreme cases, there could be a 14-day work-from-home policy to reduce the risk. Businesses can mandate testing for employees as long as they cover testing costs and testing requirements are applied fairly companywide.
While the world is reopening to commerce, especially instances when business deals necessitate face-to-face meetings with people from different cities and continents, safety with COVID-19 is paramount.
Energy is expected to increase in price as 2021 closes and 2022 begins, according to the Oct. 13, 2021 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Between October 2021 and March 2022, the U.S. benchmark, Henry Hub, is expected to average $5.67 million British thermal units (MMBtu). For 2022, the average price is expected to be $4.01/MMBtu. This is attributed to increased consumer need, a decline in domestic natural gas production, and sub-par inventories stockpiled as the weather becomes increasingly cold.
According to the EIA, the price of natural gas is influenced by a multitude of factors. These include supply and demand, production, storage levels, imports and exports, seasonality, the state of the economy and the availability of other fossil fuels.
For example, looking at hurricanes and seasonality in 2001, 25 percent of “dry natural gas” was produced in the Gulf of Mexico; however, only 2 percent was produced there in 2020. Cold weather also can impact prices due to slowing production – and if it’s coupled with increased demand, it can similarly increase natural gas prices.
Power generation creates additional need for air conditioning and power. With natural gas used for power generation, and if there’s increased demand coupled with limited inventories, trading on the cash market could see significantly higher prices than normal.
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (FRBSF) saw how higher prices of natural gas impacted individuals and businesses in its Federal District. The agricultural sector used it for greenhouse temperature control, using mechanical equipment to prepare crops for the market. It led to some farmers halting their operations due to unprofitability.
Consumers in the nation’s West use natural gas as their chief source for warming homes. During 1999 and 2000, the FRBSF explained that it wasn’t uncommon for the price to increase by 60 percent or even double.
Considerations for the Stock Market
With the price of natural gas projected to increase as the weather gets colder, it’ll impact businesses and consumers. Businesses will be forced to determine how much of their additional costs to absorb, impacting profit margins, and how much to pass on to consumers. For consumers, there are two considerations – they will be impacted by increases in prices of goods and services, and the likelihood of decreased consumer spending and confidence, both impacting the economy.
It’s important to understand how consumer confidence impacts spending and therefore is a good indicator of how publicly traded companies will perform on their quarterly earnings. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), consumer confidence gives a good idea of how they’ll spend and save determined by a survey of their budget and their outlook on the overall economy. The higher the consumer’s confidence, the more likely they are to spend and save less.
With production low and supply availability uncertain globally, depending on how hard consumers are hit in the wallet, price fluctuations of natural gas will impact consumers accordingly – and in-turn, that of company earnings.
Did you know that homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flood damage? Because of this, homes located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) are required by lenders to purchase a separate flood insurance policy. However, there are millions of homes at risk that also experience periodic flooding but are not located in the most hazardous zones.
Regardless, any homeowner can purchase flood insurance and the good news is that, for some, rates will be reduced this year.
Starting on Oct. 1, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) launched a new program called Risk Rating 2.0. This program is designed to encourage communities throughout the country to deploy measures that help mitigate potential damage due to flooding. The lower the risk resulting from these efforts, the higher the rating. This means that many homeowners who live in highly rated areas may benefit from lower premiums going forward. However, be aware that there is only one source of insurance sponsored by the government, rates are standardized and payouts are capped at $250,000.
But not to worry, flood insurance also is available in the private market. Private insurers are able to customize premium quotes and the forces of competition help keep premiums reasonable, so it’s a good idea to comparison shop. Private flood insurance policies also offer additional coverage options that the NFIP does not, such as:
- Up to $1 million or more in building coverage
- Enhanced coverage for detached structures
- Replacement cost for contents and secondary residences
- Additional living expenses
- Pool repair and fill
- Business income coverage
If your home is not in a SFHA and you are wondering whether or not to purchase flood insurance, consider how much you can afford to pay out-of-pocket for flood damage. Use this statistic as a guide: 1 inch of floodwater can cause as much as $25,000 in damages to a home.
In other words, paying for flood insurance is kind of like paying a fee to protect your home equity and investment portfolio. Compare a flood policy to buying a warranty for a new appliance. The risk is that the cost of repairing or replacing that appliance would put a strain on your finances. If you apply that same logic to 1 inch of flood damage, you can see that a flood policy would offer a much higher return on the amount you invest in its premium. Since a single flood event could wipe out all of your assets, it stands to reason that insurance is critical for perils that pose high financial risks.
If you still need more data to help decide whether to buy a flood insurance policy, consider the impact that extreme weather events have had on your property in recent years. In many areas, flood damage isn’t caused by a hurricane, but rather by storm surges or heavy rainfall. Even if you haven’t experienced significant events, that could change due to the constantly evolving environment. Rising sea levels and new weather patterns are expected to produce higher intensity flooding from hurricanes and offshore storms.
One way to see the local flood patterns in your area is to visit Floodfactor.com. Navigate the Floodfactor map to pinpoint your home’s exact location, and compare patterns based on past, recent, and projected future weather events.
If the thought of paying off your student loan causes a bit of anxiety, worry no more. Here are some ways to pay it off faster. Check them out.
Sign Up for Auto-Pay
This might seem like the most obvious thing to do, and yet, some alums don’t take full advantage of it. The psychology of this works well. When you decide to put your payment on auto-draft, you never miss it. You get used to living on a certain amount of money. Better still, there are lenders who offer refinancing at lower rates, ranging from 1.8 percent to 7.84 percent. But there’s more: Some lenders offer cash-back bonuses. With that said, the catch is you give up important benefits like income-driven repayment and student loan forgiveness. However, refinancing can help you save a bunch – like thousands of dollars.
If you can swing this, it makes good sense. Why? Interest on your student loan accrues daily. Just cut your monthly payment in half and make two payments per month. This way, it might be easier to juggle your finances, as opposed to doling out one big chunk every month. Also, paying more often gives you the feeling that you’re making progress – and you are because of the daily accrual. #WinWin
Use the Debt Avalanche Method
With this approach, you’re paying off your highest interest debt first. Makes sense, right? After you do this, make minimum payments on all of your other loans. If you have any extra cash left over, pay your highest interest loan. Keep at this until you’re paid in full.
Claim the Student Loan Tax Deduction
This is cool. You can write off up to $2,500 of your student loan interest. Now, the amount you can write off depends on your income because there are phaseouts and gradual reductions in place. Just use the 1098-E form (you can get this from your loan servicer) to figure out how much interest you’ve paid. Then get going.
Pay While Still in School
Talk about getting a head start.You’ll cut down on interest (a good thing) while forgoing in-school deferment, and start paying down your debt pronto.
Pay Off Private Student Loans First
Should you have public and private student loans, this is the best strategy. Here’s why: private loans don’t offer student loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment. And they have limited deferment options. You’ll be better off doing this, given all the stipulations that exist for these kinds of loans.
Use Employer Repayment Assistance Programs
This is a sweet deal. Check with your employer to see if they offer such a program. Generally, they offer reimbursement or allocate funds to help you. Don’t forget to ask!
Pay During the Grace Period
This is the six-month period after graduation. While this might not be something that’s initially appealing, think it through. It helps keep interest in check and prevents your balance from growing during your grace period. Also, starting earlier means you’ll finish earlier. Gotta love that.
Consolidate Federal Student Loans
This is a great idea for those with limited resources. You can lower your payment and extend the repayment terms. You’ll most likely pay more interest, but for a short-time solution it’s a good one.
Exceed the Minimum Payment
If you have the means to make this happen, by all means, do it. Another great way to make incredible progress is to make double payments. If you can’t pay double, at least try to pay over the required amount. It’ll help eat away at the interest and eventually, the principal.
Student loans are great while you’re in school, right? They enable you to get the education you want. And while paying them off might be overwhelming, if you use these methods, you’ll be ahead of the game and pay them off sooner than you think.
107 Ways to Pay Off Student Loans Faster (That You Can Start Right Now)