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Coming To Terms With Trump

There is clearly unhappiness with the liberal global economic order that has been in place since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

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By Dave Mohr, Chief Investment Strategist, and Izak Odendaal, Investment Strategist at Old Mutual Multi Managers (OMMM).

Monday’s rare supermoon – where the moon will be the closest to the earth at any point between 1948 and 2034 – appears to be the apt metaphor for this year’s string of unlikely events. Some will say it started when the odds on Leicester City winning the English Premier League went from 5000/1 to 1/5 in May.

Then Brexit happened, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union membership, followed by Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States.

As unlikely as his candidacy seemed a year ago, he clearly tapped into some of the same anti-immigration, anti-globalisation and anti-establishment discontent that drove the Brexit vote.

It is ironic, since the UK and US economies have outperformed most other developed countries since 2009, and have relatively low unemployment. Crucially, though, both have higher income inequality. Looming elections in Europe – Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany –will have key votes over the next 11 months, and these will now draw much closer scrutiny.

Related: Trump Win Highlights New, Populist-led Era Says Old Mutual Investment Group

There is clearly unhappiness with the liberal global economic order that has been in place since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Limited market fall-out so far

Despite being a shock, the Brexit vote had little lasting impact on markets (apart from the pound, which remains very weak). As it became clear during the night that Trump would win, the immediate market reaction was a sell-off on Asian equity markets, a plunge in the Mexican peso (Mexico is heavily reliant on free-trade access to the US economy), and falling US equity futures.

However, by the end of the day US equities closed higher, reversing the early losses. The following day, Asian equities rebounded sharply. As with Brexit, this cautions against a knee-jerk reaction to unexpected events. Few predicted a Trump win, but those who did warned of a market correction.

This hasn’t happened, and illustrates why it is so difficult to build portfolios around specific events where the outcome is uncertain even if the timing is known (elections, referenda, ratings announcements). Sensibly diversified portfolios are still better than concentrated fearful ones.

The US is of course a much bigger economy than the UK, and what happens there truly has global implications. Trump’s campaign promises to block immigration and tear up trade agreements would be negative for the US and the global economy. On the plus side, he also promised to upgrade US infrastructure. US government infrastructure spending as a percentage of gross domestic product is close to a 60-year low.

By the end of the week, US and other developed equity markets were up strongly. The equity market is therefore pricing in a stronger economy and more business-friendly economy (with lower taxes and less regulation) under a Trump presidency.

However,  the longer-term implications are unknown until we have a better idea of what his policy proposals are and if he will get backing in Congress.

Related: Mitigating Currency Exchange Risk For International Businesses in South Africa

Fed outlook

As far as the global economy and markets are concerned, the most important building in Washington, D.C  for now is not the White House but the Federal Reserve’s Eccles building four blocks to the South West.

Aggressive interest rate hikes are much more likely to cause a US recession and deep bear market than Trump’s policy changes. The likelihood of a rate hike in December implied by futures markets fell from 80% to 50% on the election news, but have risen since.

Barring a change in the underlying economic reality, the Fed is still expected to hike interest rates gradually without upsetting the markets or the economy.

Since the Trump campaign attacked the Fed for its failure to raise rates, the longer-term outlook is unsure. However, the Fed is an independent institution with a mandate from Congress to achieve stable prices and full employment. Also, Janet Yellen will stay on as Chair until 2018 and will remain a board member until 2024.

Therefore, abrupt monetary policy changes are unlikely, but it does appear that there might be a shift in emphasis away from using low interest rates to stimulate the economy to using fiscal policy (tax cuts and government spending).

This would be welcome and is exactly what many prominent economists were calling for (ironically, most of them were also stridently anti-Trump). However, it also implies more government borrowing and potentially higher inflation and therefore upward pressure on bond yields.

This is clearly what the market sees: The US 10-year treasury yield rose above 2% for the first time since January. However, this could be an overreaction, since no-one knows exactly what Trump’s plans are yet.

Related: 5 Reasons Why The Krugerrand Is The Perfect Investment For You

What does all this mean for us in South Africa?

To continue with our metaphor, the supermoon is expected to result in extreme tides. As much as we grapple currently with political uncertainty and the fall-out from policy own goals, South Africa’s history also points to the influence of big global tides on our economic shores, specifically on commodity prices, sentiment towards emerging markets and global capital flows.

Typically the risk is always there that the heavily traded rand sells off with negative consequences for the local inflation and interest rate outlook. The rand lost 5% against a US dollar that firmed against most currencies. However, the rand had strengthened quite a bit prior to the election.

On the positive side for the rand, commodity prices have firmed up this year as China’s economy seems to have picked up some speed (with the key manufacturing gauge in positive territory again).

There are concerns that the US could hike tariffs on Chinese imports, but starting a trade war with the world’s second largest economy would be an extreme move even for Trump.

China can also hardly be called a currency manipulator when the falling yuan is accompanied by falling, rather than rising, foreign exchange reserves. It is clearly capital flows rather than government buying of dollars that has pushed the yuan to a six-year low.

More infrastructure spending in the US could also be positive for commodities. Trump has promised to dial back America’s commitment to fighting climate change, which is supportive of coal and energy producers, but obviously bad news for the environment.

However, sentiment towards emerging markets has taken a knock, given their general reliance on trade. South Africa’s preferential access to the US market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was recently secured until 2025.

No African country makes it into the top 30 list of US trading partners and there is no reason to expect any anti-trade backlash against AGOA.

Moreover, while the US is an important export market for us, South Africa exported more to the BLNS countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland) than to America in 2015. China was our single biggest export destination. However, other emerging markets are very dependent on exporting to the US.

Finally, capital flows are greatly influenced by the risk-free rate – if US Treasury yields rise further, it could place pressure on the rand and local rates, and higher yielding emerging market assets in general. However, if US yields are rising on hopes of faster growth, that would also be a good sign for the global economy.

Chart 1: Impact on US markets

Chart 1: Impact on US markets

Chart 2: Impact on South African markets

Chart 2: Impact on South African markets

 

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3 Stealthy Tax Hikes Payroll Managers And Employees Need To Take Note Of

By Rob Cooper, tax expert at Sage, and chairman of the Payroll Authors Group of South Africa

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“Dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.” 

The adage summarises the difficult decisions government and the Finance Minister faced when balancing the country’s books, rescuing state-owned enterprises, and reviving the growth of our economy. Given the economic pressure that most taxpayers are facing, government ideally needed to achieve all of that without direct increases to personal income tax in the most recent Budget Speech.

Personal income tax has comprised at least a third of South Africa’s total tax revenue in recent tax years, despite growing unemployment. The 2019 Budget, presented in February, forecasts that personal income tax will account for nearly 39% of tax collected during the upcoming (2019/20) tax year. Given that we are in an election year and that the tax base is fragile, it’s not surprising that the Finance Minister and the National Treasury avoided direct increases to the statutory tax tables used to calculate PAYE for employees in the budget.

Nonetheless, government has made inflation work in its favour to impose some tax increases by stealth. Here are three ways government is raising more revenue without direct tax increases:

1. Bracket creep

The statutory tax tables used by payrolls and employers have not been changed for 2019/20, nor have the brackets been adjusted for inflation. This effectively amounts to an indirect tax increase that will yield a revenue saving of approximately R12.8 billion for government’s coffers.

It is not unusual for government to use ‘bracket creep’ to effectively raise more revenue. But unlike previous tax years, even low- and middle-income earners are not getting much relief. Rebates and the tax threshold are being increased by small amounts to allow some relief, but many people this year will feel the pain as inflationary salary increases push them into a higher tax bracket.

2. Medical aid credit not adjusted for inflation 

As proposed in the 2018 Budget, the Finance Minister did not apply an inflationary increase to the Medical Tax Credit, which allowed him to raise an extra R1 billion in revenue for the year. Surprisingly, these funds will be allocated to general tax revenue rather than ring-fenced for healthcare. In previous tax years, revenue generated from below-inflation increases on medical scheme credits was used to fund National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot projects.

There is still no clarity on how the NHI is going to be funded except for a general statement that the funding model is a problem for the National Treasury to solve, and that the principles of cross-subsidisation will apply. One wonders if any real progress will be made soon, given the fiscal constraints government faces.

3. Business travel deduction left untouched

The Budget leaves the per-kilometre cost rates used to determine tax deductions for business travel untouched. By not increasing travel rates to account for inflation, government effectively increases income tax collection at the cost of the taxpayer. This will be a blow for people who need to claim from their employers for business travel in their personal vehicles. This change has slipped through largely unnoticed and the budget does not provide numbers for the expected increase in tax revenue.

Closing words

Amid political turmoil and uncertainty, the Finance Minister presented a balanced budget for 2019/20 that offers hope for the future along with some tough love. With government taking steps to accelerate economic growth and improve revenue collection, we should hopefully see a steady improvement in government finances, which will translate into less pressure on the taxpayer in future years.

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SMEs: Staying On The Right Side Of The Taxman

Remaining SARS compliant can be a constant challenge for small- to medium-enterprises (SMEs), especially when they are trying to focus on growing their businesses and streamlining their operations.

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EasyBiz Managing Director, Gary Epstein, says submitting taxes can be a seamless process that does not have to take up more time than is necessary. “If business owners understand what is required of them and they put a few processes into place to deal with their tax submissions properly, their lives will be so much easier.”

What are the top three considerations for SMEs when submitting tax returns?

“Firstly,” says Epstein, “SARS returns must be accurate and submitted in terms of the relevant Act. Secondly, returns should be submitted and paid on time to avoid unnecessary penalties and interest, and thirdly, business owners must follow up on queries issued by SARS. “Do not ignore these queries, act on them as soon as possible”.

What are the major SARS submission deadlines for SMEs?

Epstein points out that small business owners need to adhere to various tax deadlines, each with their own particular dates for submission. “It is important that business owners diarise the dates (and set advance reminders for themselves) and/or enlist the services of an accountant or financial adviser to help them keep abreast of requirements.”

Value-added tax (VAT)

VAT payments need to be submitted in the VAT period allocated to the business, according to various categories and ending on the last day of a calendar month. This may mean making payments once a month, once every two months, once every six months or annually, depending on the category.

Provisional taxes

Provisional tax should be submitted at the end of August (first provisional) and at the end of February (second provisional) – for February year-end companies.

Employee taxes

In addition to submitting an annual reconciliation (EMP501) for the period 1 March to end of February for Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE), Skills Development Levy (SDL) and Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), employee tax, in the form of an EMP201 return, needs to be submitted by the seventh of every month.

When can SMEs get extensions and is it worth it?

Epstein says SMEs can apply for various extensions, but these are subject to the Income Tax Act and Tax Administration Act.

“It is best for SMEs to consult their tax professionals to get advice regarding extensions for their businesses.”

What is SARS not flexible about?

SARS is not flexible when it comes to late returns and late payments.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is for SME owners to ensure their tax returns are submitted on time. In this way, they will avoid the inconvenience and expense of additional fines and interest,” notes Epstein.

What skills do SMEs need in their organisations to be able to submit to SARS efficiently?

Business owners often don’t have the time or expertise to deal with tax submissions throughout the year. If the business cannot afford to employ a full-time accountant or financial services expert, it would do well to outsource its tax requirements to a registered tax practitioner.

“I would recommend that even if they are not submitting the tax returns themselves, business owners should have a broad understanding of the tax regulations and what is expected of them. There is a lot of helpful information on the various Acts and tax requirements on SARS’ website,” says Epstein.

How does the right software help SMEs remain SARS compliant?

SME’s (and their accountants’) jobs can be made easier by using reliable accounting software to calculate accurate VAT reports. These reports are only as accurate as the data entered into them, which means care needs to be taken when inputting data into the accounting programme. Epstein says a good accounting software package must be reliable, easy to use and functional.

“SMEs need to check that the software has thorough reporting capabilities and can interface with other software solutions. Of course, it is also important to find out whether the software is locally supported by the vendor or not.”

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4 Dangers Of Business Under-insurance

A common short-term insurance peril that many SMEs face when submitting a claim following an insured event is the risk of being underinsured.

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Malesela Maupa, Head of Products and Insurer Relationships at FNB Insurance Brokers says, many small business owners mistakenly believe that by merely having a short-term insurance policy in place they are adequately protected against unforeseen events.

“This is technically correct provided that the business is covered for the full replacement value of the items insured. However, in circumstances where the sum insured does not cover the full replacement value or material loss of the item insured, the business is underinsured,” explains Maupa, as he unpacks the dangers of business underinsurance:

1. Financial loss

The most common risk is financial loss on the part of the business. If the business is underinsured or the indemnity period understated, the short-term insurance policy will only pay out the sum insured for the stated indemnity period as stated in the schedule, with the business owner having to provide for the shortfall. This often leads to cash flow challenges, impacting profit margins or rendering it difficult for the business to recover following the financial loss.

2. Reputational damage

Should an underinsured business not have sufficient funds to replace a key business activity or critical component following a loss, this may impact its ability to fulfil its contractual obligations, leading to a loss of business or market share, and irreparable reputational damage in the worst-case scenario.

3. Legal action

A small business also faces the risk of customers or clients taking legal action against it, should it fail to deliver on goods and services following a loss or be unable to honour its financial commitments that they committed to prior to the loss.

4. Survival of the business

A catastrophic event such as fire, which could result in the loss of stock or company equipment and documentation, could threaten the survival of a small business that is not yet fully established, if the business assets are not adequately insured.

Working with an experienced short-term insurance broker or insurer is essential when taking up short-term insurance to ensure that business contents are covered for their full replacement value.

Furthermore, depending on the nature of the business or item insured, the policy should be reviewed on a regular basis to avoid underinsurance as the value of items often change overtime due to fluctuations in economic activity. Where it’s necessary, evaluation certificates need to be kept up to date.

“Lastly, SMEs should ensure that the sum insured does not exceed the replacement value, which would lead to over insurance. Should a business submit a claim following a loss, the insurer would only pay out the replacement value, regardless of the higher sum insured,” concludes Maupa.

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