Closing the lending gap will help government and business thrive – Doug Criscitello

Doug Criscitello, Executive Director of MIT’s Center for Finance and Policy

Doug Criscitello, Executive Director of MIT’s Center for Finance and Policy

From The Hill

With taxpayers at risk for $20 trillion in loans and insured obligations, worth more than the five largest American bank companies combined, the United States government is essentially the largest financial institution in the world. Lending is a risky business as we learned during the last financial crisis. Government activities in this regard are no less dangerous, and perhaps more so, given public policy complexities that extend well beyond profit. Given a bleak fiscal outlook, policymakers may want to consider ways to reduce taxpayer exposure by fortifying financial institutions and financial technology companies with an enormous infusion of loan performance data that only it can provide.

Through a set of more than 100 programs largely initiated or expanded in response to the Great Depression, the Great Society programs of the 1960s, and the 2008 financial crisis, the government has provided over 100 million direct loans and guarantees for home ownership, higher education, business assistance, and a variety of other purposes. As the government has increasingly turned to credit programs to accomplish a diverse set of objectives, with its loan portfolio more than doubling since 2008, it is challenged to keep pace with an increasingly sophisticated financial marketplace, which could actually help reduce the federal lending role.

Government forays into this realm are typically driven by a desire to extend the lending frontier, thereby achieving societal gains, by either closing information gap about borrower creditworthiness or by providing an explicit subsidy to borrowers who likely would not be granted a loan even if a private lender had full information. The government can increase credit availability under either of those conditions because, unlike private lenders, it is able to offer loans without regard for profit. 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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If retailers want to compete with Amazon, they should use their tax savings to raise wages – Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

From Harvard Business Review 

Walmart announced today that it is raising its starting wages in the United States from $9 per hour to $11, giving employees one-time cash bonuses of as much as $1,000, and expanding maternity and parental leave benefits as a result of the recently enacted tax reform. It is part of Walmart’s broader effort to create a better experience for its employees and customers. The new tax law creates a major business opportunity for other retailers as well — if their leaders are wise enough to take advantage of it.

The U.S. corporate tax rate is dropping from 35% to 21%. Retailers, many of whom have been paying the full tax rate, are going to benefit substantially. Take a retailer that makes 15% pretax income. Assuming its effective tax rate goes from 35% to 21%, it could save the equivalent of 2.3% of sales. Specialty retailers with higher pretax income will save even more.

Retail executives have a choice in how they use these savings. I believe the smartest choice — one that will help them compete against online retailers like Amazon — is to create a better experience for customers and to achieve operational excellence in stores. For most retailers, doing both requires more investment in store employees — starting with higher wages and more-predictable work schedules. My research shows that combining higher pay for retail employees with a set of smart operational choices that leverage that investment results in more-satisfied customers, employees, and investors. Read More »

Trump’s magical economic thinking – Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From Project Syndicate

Donald Trump has finally put out a detailed economic plan. Authored by Peter Navarro (an economist at the University of California-Irvine) and Wilbur Ross (an investor), the plan claims that a President Trump would boost growth and reduce the national debt. But its projections are based on assumptions so unrealistic that they seem to have come from a different planet. If the United States really did adopt Trump’s plan, the result would be an immediate and unmitigated disaster.

At the heart of the plan is a very large tax cut. The authors claim this would boost economic growth, despite the fact that similar cuts in the past (for example, under President George W. Bush) had no such effect. There is a lot of sensible evidence available on precisely this point, all of which is completely ignored.

The Trump plan concedes that the tax cut per se would reduce revenue by at least $2.6 trillion over ten years – and its authors are willing to cite the non-partisan Tax Foundation on this point. But the Trump team claims this would be offset by a growth miracle spurred by deregulation.

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Fed’s focus on ‘too big to fail’ won’t save taxpayers from next bank bailout – Oz Shy

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Oz Shy

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Oz Shy

From The Conversation

Last month, the Federal Reserve announced that 31 out of 33 U.S. banks had passed its latest “stress test,” designed to ensure that the largest financial institutions have enough capital to withstand a severe economic shock.

Passing the test amounts to being given a clean bill of health by the Fed. So are taxpayers – who were on the hook for the initial US$700 billion TARP bill to bail out the banks in 2008 – now safe?

Yes, but only until the next crisis.

Skeptics of these tests (myself included) argue that passing them will not prevent any bank (large or small) from failing, in part because they’re not stressful enough and the proposed capital requirements are not high enough.

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