Commentary: the BlackRock letter sets ambitious goals. Here’s how CEOs can meet them – Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

From Fortune

Should public companies focus on earning profits for their shareholders, or should they serve broader societal needs? Larry Fink, the head of BlackRock, the largest fund manager in the world, recently issued a letter to company CEOs stating: “Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”

Yet the same letter tells public companies that they should adopt a strategic plan with “a path to achieve financial performance.” The letter reconciles these potentially conflicting objectives by pushing companies to pursue “long-term value creation” rather than short-term profits. In other words, they can enhance their long-term financial returns to shareholders by serving the needs of other stakeholders—even if this lowers short-term profits.

While BlackRock was trying to sensitize companies to their social responsibilities, the letter could undermine the accountability of corporate directors to their shareholders. CEOs could hypothetically justify any decline in annual earnings by claiming they were serving all stakeholders in hopes of increasing long-term financial results. How will shareholders later assess whether these stakeholder-focused policies actually resulted in higher financial returns? And does the long term mean five, 10, or even 20 years? Read More »

Public companies are about to be flooded with cash, how will they spend it? – Robert Pozen and Robert Steel

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

From Fortune

U.S. companies will soon experience a tsunami of free cash flow. Because of the new Trump-GOP tax plan—the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—we estimate American companies will have over $2.6 trillion of additional cash over the next five years. This will come from three sources: repatriated overseas cash, future foreign earnings, and lower corporate taxes on domestic profits. The critical question is: What will companies do with this inpouring of cash?

For years, many CEOs of public companies have complained of pressure by analysts and activists to focus on short-term profits rather than long-term growth. Now each CEO has a great chance to put their money where their mouth is.

CEOs have two main alternatives for this incremental cash flow; they can boost short-term returns to shareholders through higher dividends and share repurchases, or they can augment long-term growth by investing in plants, people, research, and technology acquisitions.

For the sake of their credibility and the American economy, we urge CEOs to invest in long-term growth, and not in share buybacks as they did in 2004.

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Millennials don’t save for enough retirement, but Congress can help – Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

From The Hill

“Young people are not saving enough.”

“They will have to double their savings to retire at a reasonable age.”

These quotes represent the conventional wisdom about our nation’s millennials, the more than 80 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 36. However, the savings picture for millennials has become more complex, according to recent data. This cohort of young people is saving more, though for short-term goals instead of retirement.

To promote retirement savings, Congress should pass the Automatic Individual Retirement Account (IRA) Act, legislation that was introduced in the House in 2015, for millennials and other Americans without a retirement plan at their workplace.

Millennials, especially the younger ones, are now building up their savings to cover emergencies for the first time since the financial crisis. More than 30 percent of Americans ages 18 to 26 have saved enough to cover three to five months of living expenses, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

A spokesman for Bankrate.com, the survey’s sponsor, explained, “Millennials have a savings discipline that the preceding generations lacked.” Despite much lower levels of earnings, millennials save on average 19 percent of their annual income, compared to 14 percent for both generation X (those in their late 30s to early 50s) and baby boomers (those in their late 50s to late 60s).

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The slow road to state pension reform – Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

From Pensions & Investments

Pennsylvania, like many other states, is facing a huge unfunded pension deficit in its defined benefit plans: a $70 billion shortfall in two large plans for teachers and other state employees. Unlike most states, Pennsylvania in early June passed — with widespread bipartisan support — major legislation “to get real meaningful pension reform,” as Gov. Tom Wolf was quoted saying.

Indeed, the recent Pennsylvania law is a significant step in the right direction. However, the financial projections for the legislation show how long it takes, given the legal and political constraints, for this approach to pension reform to meaningfully reduce the burden on state budgets.

Here is the background. In 2001, Pennsylvania reported a $20 billion surplus in its two big defined benefit plans – the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the State Employees’ Retirement System. But then state legislators boosted benefits for current state workers without increasing contributions to these plans, and even extended this giveaway to already retired public employees. In 2003, legislators compounded the state’s funding challenge by taking a “pension holiday” — decreasing pension contributions to allocate revenue to other state priorities.

These actions contributed to a giant shortfall during the global financial crisis, when the value of the state’s pension portfolios plummeted. In response, state legislators in 2010 reduced pension benefits — only for newly hired state workers — to pre-2001 levels. Nevertheless, because of growing obligations to current and retired workers, the state’s contributions to its pension plans ballooned to $6 billion in the 2018 fiscal year from $1 billion in the 2011 fiscal year.

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Why the Trump tax plan’s fuzzy math​ doesn’t add up – Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

From MarketWatch

Senate Republicans last week agreed on a budget resolution allowing a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next 10 years from tax legislation. This resolution paves the way for 51 Republican Senators to enact mammoth tax cuts by September 30, 2018.

Let’s be clear: these are tax cuts, despite their tax reform rhetoric.

As the centerpiece of these tax cuts, President Donald Trump has proposed to lower the corporate tax rate to 15% from 35%. However, despite the deficit cushion of $1.5 trillion allowed by last week’s budget resolution, a 15% rate is totally unrealistic.

Cutting the corporate tax rate to 15% would cost the U.S. Treasury $3.7 trillion over 10 years. But that cost cannot come close to being offset by repealing existing tax preferences, which all will be fiercely defended by special interests. A realistic legislative target would be a corporate tax rate of 25%. And under Senate rules this rate would have to expire after 10 years because it creates future budget deficits.

Let’s do the math on corporate and individual rates, together with optimistic assumptions about limiting existing tax preferences. The numbers are based on dynamic estimates from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, unless noted otherwise.

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