Forbes estimated that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will save corporations $600 billion -- with an additional $350 billion in savings for so-called pass-through entities -- over the next decade.
Will the tax cuts create jobs? No -- but it's possible that they could produce faster growth -- depending on how the money is spent. If the money goes to boosting CEO pay, increasing dividends and stock buybacks, or making big acquisitions then growth will not result. But raising employee pay could create jobs in the short-run while increasing capital expenditures would be the best option for jobs and the economy over the long-run.
The TCJA will not create jobs - so I believe it is misnamed and should instead be dubbed the Tax Cuts and Deficit Act.
How so? Tax cuts do not create jobs, CEOs do. And my interviews with CEOs reveal an obvious - but important - reality: companies do not create jobs unless the failure to do so causes the company to miss out on profitable growth opportunities.
In October 2010 I interviewed 17 CEOs and not one of them said they would create a job based on tax cuts. Each of them told me that their decision to create a new job would be based on whether the long-term cost of that new job would be offset by higher revenues and profits. Here are interviews with 10 such CEOs.
To be sure, I did those interviews when the unemployment rate was 9.6% - today it's 4.1% and the problem facing CEOs is not too many workers, it's a shortage of qualified talent. A November 2017 NFIB Small Business Economic Trends report found that business owners rank finding qualified workers as their top challenge.
And a November 2017 survey by the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank asked executives, "If passed in its current form, what would be the likely impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on your capital investment and hiring plans?"
The results indicated that for most respondents a tax cut would not change their hiring plans. According to the survey only 8% of the executives surveyed said the bill would make them increase hiring plans "significantly." Only 11% said they would significantly increase their capital investment plans. A majority answered either "no change" or "increase somewhat."
If CEOs are not likely to create jobs as a result of the tax cuts, will they cause the economy to grow faster? It is possible - depending on how the CEOs decide to spend the money.
In theory there are four ways they could spend the money. They could pay their workers more; boost capital expenditures; buy back stock and increase dividends, or make acquisitions.
Read on to see how I ranked these options from worst to best in their economic impact..
1. (WORST) Increase dividends and/or buy back shares
CEOs may find it hard to resist shifting some of the tax cuts into their own pockets.
And that's just what they would do were they to use the extra money to buy back shares or increase dividends. After all, most CEOs are big shareholders so the extra dividends would go into their pockets. Moreover, buying back shares would boost earnings per share - a target that determines how big a bonus many CEOs receive, according to Reuters.
And Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that much of the tax cuts could be channeled to stock buybacks. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, "in one of the more extreme estimates, the overhaul could trigger a 70% increase in buybacks to around $875 billion for S&P 500 companies."
Sadly, INSEAD professors found that stock buybacks caused economic stagnation, according to Forbes.
2. Make More Acquisitions
Mergers & acquisitions (M&As) usually lead to job cuts but are often thought of as a way to boost revenue growth for the acquirer -- though having a minimal effect on growth in the overall economy.
M&As were about the same in 2017 as they were in 2016 at around $3.5 trillion -- well-below the 2015 peak of $4.2 trillion according to Thomson Reuters. But in the U.S., mergers were down 16% to $1.4 trillion offset by the 16% rise in European M&A to $856 billion and 11% more Asia-Pacific mergers volume to $912 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.
But the tax cuts may result in more M&A in 2018. As Dietrich Becker, co-head of European advisory at Perella Weinberg Partners, told the Independent, "U.S. companies with lots of cash trapped overseas can now more easily put capital to work in the M&A market, while Europeans may try to take advantage of favorable tax policies to do more deals in the United States."
Would higher 2018 M&A volume boost economic growth or just reduce jobs? As Diana Moss, the president of the American Antitrust Institute, told the Atlantic, to get approval for a merger, companies focus on proving how the merger will help them cut costs, and "realizing cost savings means fewer jobs."
And economic growth resulting from mergers is rare -- it does happen when an acquirer with a global salesforce can boost the global sales of a startup it acquires -- it generally has no effect on growth. According to an analysis of OECD country mergers from 1985 to 2005, there is "no support of the hypothesis that M&A activity contributes to economic growth, except for growth of the services sector."
In short, while M&A is great for CEOs and investors or acquired companies, more of it will hurt workers who lose their jobs and will have no effect on overall economic growth.
3. Pay Workers More
If companies paid their workers more, the economy would grow faster in the short run but the resulting inflation would cause the Fed to raise interest rates which would ultimately put the brakes on growth.
In the short run, the economy would grow faster because about 69% of economic growth comes from consumer spending, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And while workers might use some of the funds to pay off debt or boost savings, much of it would be spent. And that spending would boost demand and economic growth, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
But such pay increases would accelerate inflation and ultimately cause the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more aggressively - thus braking economic growth.
In short, using tax cuts to pay workers more would boost demand in the short-term but lead to growth impeding interest rate increases designed to put a crimp on rising pay.
4. (BEST) Boost Capital Expenditures
But, as I wrote in Disciplined Growth Strategies, CEOs who can boost capital expenditures boost their revenue growth are the most valuable ones - and deserve a higher net worth that follows when that faster growth boosts their stock prices.
A December 28 Bloomberg report found that stock buybacks are not going away as a result of the tax cuts - but capital expenditures (capex) are likely to increase.
Wall Street analysts estimate that monthly capex layouts for S&P 500 firms will reach to a two-year high of $78 billion in 2018 up $7 billion a month from the level where they've been since 2016, noted Bloomberg.
Along with the lower tax rates, the bill lets companies deduct the expense of a capital investment in one year - rather than spreading it out over five. As Bloomberg wrote, "about 36% of corporate executives plan to increase capital investment in 2018, according to a survey compiled by Evercore ISI, four times more than in 2016."
For CEOs whose net worth depends mostly on their stock price, capex are better than buybacks. Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg found that "shares of companies with the most capital spending relative to market value [were] up 34% through [mid-December 2017], compared with a 22% return for those that spent the most on repurchases and dividends."
Economic growth does follow from increased productivity. And a pre-tax-cut increase in productivity has caused unit labor costs to fall. According to a December 2017 BLS report, "Unit labor costs in the nonfarm business sector declined 0.2% in the third quarter of 2017, as the 3.0% increase in productivity was greater than a 2.7% increase in hourly compensation."
If the pace of productivity keeps increasing - abetted by higher capex, perhaps faster economic growth will follow.