Hamilton Place Strategies, a public affairs consulting firm, analyzed transcripts of earnings calls by publicly traded U.S. companies over the last three quarters. They found that tax reform was the policy issue companies discussed most on those calls with Wall Street analysts — but that mentions of the subject dropped by 38 percent from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2017. Overall, the percentage of earnings calls mentioning government or policy issues fell from 41 percent to 16 percent. Health-care reform saw the largest increase.
Does this mean that businesses have given up on tax reform this year? Perhaps. More likely, it's simply the result of a lack of action on the tax overhaul. Hamilton Place notes that mentions of tax policy peaked in February just after the Senate Finance Committee advanced Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's nomination and have spiked after other tax-related announcements. So mentions of tax reform on earnings calls could surge again the fall.
One other note about what businesses have been discussing: Calls mentioning President Trump fell by 84 percent from January to late August.
President Trump announced on Thursday the creation of a National Council for the American Worker, charged with developing “a national strategy for training and retraining workers for high-demand industries,” his daughter Ivanka wrote in The Wall Street Journal. A report from the president’s National Council on Economic Advisers earlier this week made it clear that the U.S. currently spends less public money on job programs than many other developed countries.
Most business economists in the U.S. expect the economy to keep chugging along over the next three months, with rising corporate sales driving additional hiring and wage increases for workers.
The tax cuts, however, don’t seem to be playing a role in hiring and investment plans. And the trade conflicts stirred up by the Trump administration are having a negative influence, with the majority of economists at goods-producing firms who replied to the most recent survey by the National Association for Business Economics saying that their companies were putting investments on hold as they wait to see how things play out.
The Republican tax bill signed into law late last year imposed a 21 percent tax on employees at non-profits who earn more than $1 million a year. According to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education cited by Bloomberg, there were 12 presidents of public universities who received compensation of at least $1 million in 2017, with James Ramsey of the University of Louisville topping the list at $4.3 million. Endowment managers could also get hit with the tax, as could football coaches, some of whom earn substantially more than the presidents of their institutions.
The federal budget deficit rose by 16 percent in the first nine months of the 2018 fiscal year, which began last October. The shortfall came to $607 billion, compared to $523 billion in the same period the year before, according to a U.S. Treasury report released Thursday and reported by Bloomberg. Both revenue and spending rose, but spending rose faster. Revenues came to $2.54 trillion, up 1.3 percent from the same nine-month period in 2017, while spending came to $3.15 trillion, up 3.9 percent.