Tax-loss harvesting – an investment tactic that has gone too far
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Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says it aims to provide “best-in-class investment advice to clients, consistent with both the letter and the spirit of all applicable tax laws and regulations.”
So, the bank was quick to say that it would change its trading practices after a media organization claimed it had helped former Microsoft Corp. boss Steve Ballmer subvert at least the spirit of U.S. laws against so-called “wash sales.”
Investors will be familiar with the idea of tax-loss harvesting: selling an underperforming stock to crystallize a loss that can be offset against capital gains elsewhere, to lower your overall tax bill. It’s common practice to prune a few losers before the end of the tax year.
But you can’t simply buy the same stock back and still claim the deduction. It really has to be kicked out of your portfolio.
However, in February, Pro Publica Inc. reported that Mr. Ballmer, through his trading account at Goldman Sachs, had sold shares in the dual-listed natural resources giants Shell PLC RYDAF and BHP Group Ltd. BHPLF, then replaced them on the same day with identical amounts of the other class of the companies’ shares, and claimed a chunky deduction.
Under U.S. law, a wash sale is defined as one in which the investor makes a “substantially identical” purchase within 30 days. Goldman Sachs told the Financial Times it would halt repurchase transactions involving dual-class shares and had alerted clients to the mistake. A spokesperson says the affected trades were very small in number. Mr. Ballmer told Pro Publica that he would amend his tax filings.
But the biggest impact from Pro Publica’s investigation may not be the tweaks to Goldman Sachs clients’ tax filings. It may instead be the spotlight it shines on the explosive growth of tax-loss harvesting strategies. The use of dual-class share replacements was a tiny part of what Goldman’s traders achieved for Mr. Ballmer, who netted an extraordinary US$579-million in tax-loss harvesting over five years, according to Pro Publica’s calculations.
And this is not a billionaires’ only game. Far from it. Tax-loss harvesting has been mechanized thanks to the collapse in trading costs and the rise of so-called direct indexing.
Investors can acquire algorithmically-controlled portfolios of hundreds of stocks that are built to track a broad stock market index but are also programmed to sell lossmaking shares throughout the year to crystallize tax losses and replace them with alternative investments to keep the portfolio on track.
A pioneer of the strategy, Parametric Portfolio Associates LLC, was purchased by Morgan Stanley after a bidding war in 2020. Rival JPMorgan Chase & Co. eventually bought another platform called 55ip, and the two wealth managers have put their tax-loss harvesting products at the centre of a fierce price war. Market research sponsored by Parametric suggests direct indexing could account for US$800-billion in assets by 2026.
Academic studies show the strategy can add 1 to 2 per cent a year in after-tax returns to a diversified equity portfolio, and can even be used to give a boost to fixed-income portfolios.
Marketing materials from the investment manager Northern Trust Corp. (NT) demonstrate how sophisticated the products have become. It says the tax losses can be dialled up or down depending on how much deviation from the underlying index an investor is willing to risk. NT did not respond to a request for comment.
There’s no suggestion any of these platforms engage in illegal wash sales by using substantially identical replacements. That’s the point. They don’t have to. But algorithms can be programmed to go more or less close to the line.
So, it wouldn’t be surprising if authorities were tempted to move the line and toughen the rules. The word “substantially” could be made to do a lot of work.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) hasn’t provided much in the way of guidance about what “substantially identical” means in modern markets, with the result that different advisors take more or less conservative positions.
In a piece on the “silver lining” of tax-loss harvesting opportunities in the down market of 2022, Morningstar Inc. warned investors against replacing an exchange-traded fund (ETF) with another that tracked the same index, even if it was run by a different asset manager.
“It’s probably safest to replace fund holdings with a vehicle that tracks a different index,” Morningstar strategist Amy Arnott wrote. “For example, an investor selling Vanguard 500 Index Fund, which tracks the S&P 500, could replace it with Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund, which tracks the broader CRSP Total Market Index.”
Tax authorities could also squeeze investors in a variety of other ways that raise the costs or risks of the strategy – by making investment advisors liable for the violations of their clients, or just by subjecting more users of tax-loss harvesting strategies to gruelling audits. The IRS has just had US$80-billion added to its budget and is itching to spend it.
The nuclear option would be for the U.S. Congress to step in. David Schizer, tax professor at Columbia Law School, told Pro Publica that the law should be rewritten to change “substantially identical” to “substantially similar.”
Individual investors obviously don’t want to lose the better after-tax returns they can enjoy thanks to the mechanization of tax-loss harvesting. But if it substantially erodes the tax base, politicians will only be encouraged to find new taxes elsewhere to crimp investors’ returns by other means – like the new U.S. tax on share buybacks, for example. That really would be a wash.
© The Financial Times Limited 2023. All Rights Reserved. FT and Financial Times are trademarks of the Financial Times Ltd. Not to be redistributed, copied, or modified in any way.
General Motors to invest $500M in Arlington Assembly plant to build next-gen SUVS
More than $500 million is heading towards General Motors Arlington Assembly.
With the new investment, the plant expects to produce the next cycle of internal combustion engine (ICE) full-size SUVs. The Arlington plant exports cars to over 30 countries and assembles the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban.
It is unclear exactly when the Arlington plant will begin producing GM’s next cycle of SUVs and exactly what products will be included.
Investment in the Arlington Assembly is expected to complement GM’s larger U.S. manufacturing operations. Gerald Johnson, GM’s executive vice president of global manufacturing and sustainability, said the company has plans to announce $3 billion in investment across its national plants and distribution centers over the next 10 days. The company has more than 50 plants and distribution centers across the country.
GM has funneled more than $2 billion into the Arlington Assembly since 2013. With the $500 million investment, the plant will receive new equipment and tooling for general assembly, body shop and stamping areas.
The investment is focused on equipping the Arlington facility for the next cycle of production and maintaining opportunity for the existing jobs at the GM Arlington plant, Johnson said. It remains to be seen if some new jobs could be created with the investment.
“We have more than 4,000 people who work really hard, who are great problem solvers in order to figure out every day how to produce nearly 1,200 vehicles a day at quality levels that are industry leading on a vehicle that we can’t seem to get enough of in terms of the customer demand,” Johnson said.
“How well they’re able to do that lively as a team consistently on behalf of themselves, Arlington, the Arlington community, Texas and General Motors is something we’re recognizing. $500 million is a good way to do it.”
More than 34,000 new vehicles rolled out of General Motors Arlington assembly plant in March, setting a new record for the number of cars ever produced in one month across the plant’s 70-year history in North Texas.
The facility at 2525 E. Abram St. currently employs more than 5,600 people. GM is still in conversation with local government officials about opportunity for tax incentives, Johnson said.
“This community and this economy gets the benefit of having those moneys flow through their economy that supports grocery stores and movie theaters and all the things that have come that you see here,” Johnson said. “I have been coming to Arlington for a long time. A lot has grown around this area, and I think we had a part to play in that.”
The family office for Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey backs French rival to Microsoft Excel
French business planning software startup Pigment has raised $88 million in a funding round led by ICONIQ, the private investment fund that manages the money of tech billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey.
Pigment is best known for its business planning and forecasting platform that’s designed to be more user-friendly than Microsoft’s spreadsheet software Excel.
The company, co-founded and helmed by dual CEOs Eleonore Crespo and Romain Niccoli, told CNBC it planned to use the funding to expand its reach in the U.S. and artificial intelligence.
Venture capital firms Felix Capital, Meritech, IVP, and FirstMark also participated in the funding round.
Pigment counts the likes of Klarna, Miro and Tommy Hilfiger owner PVH as its customers.
The company’s tools are mainly used by finance teams to plan and make financial and business decisions. As well as Microsoft, Pigment also views enterprise software tools from giants like Google, SAP and Oracle as rivals.
Crespo said that, in 2022, Pigment grew its revenues by 600% and its total user base increased tenfold — and insisted it was well positioned to compete with behemoth incumbent Microsoft.
“We not only have users in the finance team but outside of finance, and that’s super interesting for investors to hear that we are not a finance platform but a business database that can serve any business leader out there from HR to sales to marketing, to R&D [research and development],” she said.
“We are here to sell [to] any business leader. And not only that, but they have heard from their portfolio companies that we managed to serve the most forward-looking companies out there.”
Pigment also plans to use the latest influx of money to invest in the development of AI products.
It introduced a new service called Pigment AI last month, on the heels of heightened buzz surrounding AI and products like ChatGPT, which lets clients query data, identify patterns and automate analysis and reporting.
Crespo said there are no plans to increase headcount substantially and Pigment was instead looking to grow in a more sustainable way, given the pressure from investors on businesses to achieve profitability in favor of breakneck growth.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund just reshaped pro golf. It’s not stopping there
Saudi Arabia’s mountain of cash has upended the world of professional golf. But that is only a small sliver of the money it is sinking into a number of prominent businesses elsewhere around the globe as the kingdom moves to diversify away from a dependence on oil income – and as the petro-kingdom tries to achieve its political goals.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund is a government-controlled fund that has $650 billion in assets under management, according to its most recent filing. It is aiming to top $1 trillion within a few years. A state-owned investment fund like the PIF is not unique. It is ranked only the seventh-largest in the world, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.
While some of those are pension funds for a country’s citizens or public employees, others, like the PIF, operate the way a private sector investment firm might, trying to make money through a diversified portfolio of investments.
But what makes Saudi Arabia’s fund different from those private investment firms is that since the country faces widespread condemnation for its human rights record, its investments in sports and other entertainment companies can be seen as an attempt to polish that tarnished reputation.
The PIF’s creation of LIV Golf a year ago, reportedly at a cost of $2 billion, attracted many of the sport’s top players away from the US-based PGA Tour and Europe-based DP World Tour by offering big dollar prize money. It led to a year-long legal battle that banned LIV golfers from the established tours and brought some unwanted attention to Saudi’s human rights record. Critics of LIV Golf accused the Saudis of backing the new tour as a form of “sportswashing” its reputation.
But the legal battles, acrimony and competition for the best golfers between LIV and the PGA and DP World Tour suddenly ended Tuesday with the announcement that the three would form a combined for-profit company. The PIF plans to make undisclosed additional investments into the entity.
Soccer, video games and other investments
The chairman of the new golf series will be the chairman of state-owned petroleum company Saudi Aramco, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who also controls English soccer team Newcastle United and is himself a governor of the PIF.
The Saudis have also been throwing big dollars at some of the world’s best known soccer players, wooing legends such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to play in Saudi Pro League.
The investment in sports is not a vanity play, according to Al-Rumayyan.
“It all makes financial sense to us. We don’t like to subsidize things,” he said on an interview on CNBC Tuesday announcing the deal with the PGA.
But whether the Saudis’ investments are driven by a desire for profits or good publicity, what’s clear is that pro sports are not the only place where the Saudis are flexing their financial might.
For example, it has a total of $7.5 billion in investments in several leading video game companies, according to its most recent filing, giving it a 9% stake in Electronic Arts
(EA), a 7% stake in Take-Two Interactive and nearly a 5% stake in Activision Blizzard
(ATVI). It also owns more than 5% of Live Nation
(LYV), the concert promoter and owner of Ticketmaster, and significant stakes worth hundreds of millions each in cruiser operator Carnival Corp
(UBER) and Zoom
Its biggest US investment is in upstart electric vehicle maker Lucid
(LCDX). The PIF owns 60% of Lucid
(LCDX)’s stock, worth $7.6 billion as of Tuesday’s close. Lucid
(LCDX) recently announced the PIF would invest another $1.8 billion in the company to help fund its operations.
In 2018 when Elon Musk was thinking about taking Tesla
(TSLA) private, he sought funding from the PIF, which already had a stake in Tesla
(TSLA) at that time. It no longer lists Tesla
(TSLA) as one of its holdings. But last year it helped Musk with his $44 billion purchase of Twitter by agreeing to roll over its existing $1.9 billion investment in the social media platform to the new Musk-controlled company.
Not all of the PIF investments have been publicly disclosed. For example it’s not clear exactly how much it invested to start up LIV Golf. And the Washington Post has reported that it invested $2 billion into a private equity firm created by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, soon after Kushner left his position in the White House in January of 2021. CNN has not been able to confirm that report, but what is known is that LIV Golf tournaments have been held on Trump Organization properties.
Saudi Arabia and human rights criticisms
Many of these investments, including the creation of LIV Golf, have sparked controversy.
The PIF is chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Bin Salman is the man a US intelligence report names as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s killing.
In addition, the US State Department says the Kingdom’s dismal human rights record includes free speech restrictions, torture, political prisoners and enforced disappearances.
And families of some of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack decried the news of the LIV-PGA agreement Tuesday. Some have accused the Saudi government of complicity with those attacks. Fifteen of the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who hijacked four planes were Saudi nationals, but the Saudi government has denied any involvement in the attacks. The 9/11 Commission established by Congress said in 2004 that it had found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.
– CNN’s Coy Wire, Jack Bantock and Steve Almasy contributed to this report
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