Biden tax plan weighs on stocks, Bitcoin tumbles

Morning Note

European equity indices opened a tad lower on Friday morning after stocks fell on Wall Street on reports Joe Biden is planning to slap much higher capital gains taxes on the wealthy. This was always part of the equation when we looked at the implications of a Biden presidency, but markets have been pepped up on a mix of fiscal stimulus, the Fed’s extraordinarily accommodative stance, a strong cyclical impulse from the vaccine-led reopening and a bounce back in earnings. The major averages fell in lockstep, dropping by almost 1% , though the Russell 2000 ended the session flat as the selling was led chiefly by the longer-term growth names like Tesla and Amazon. The Dow Jones finished the day at 33,815, a decline of more than 300 pts. The S&P 500 closed down 0.92% at 4,134 and the Nasdaq Composite notched a similar decline to finish at 13,818. The FTSE 100 opened lower and is heading for a decline of more than 1% for the week. As of send time the CAC 40 had inched into the green. I would not describe risk as being offered as such; it’s been a pretty choppy week and I would be equally unsurprised if stocks turned around this afternoon and ended the week higher as I would if Wall Street led a sharp decline into the weekend.

The Biden administration is looking to raise the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6% from 37%, whilst also doubling capital gains tax to 39.6% for people earning more than $1 million. Tax the rich, hand it out to the poor. Sounds like furlough, but on a permanent basis. The big problem (one of many) in all this is the Senate – it would require support of all the Democrats in the upper chamber and this is far from assured. Stocks would probably be a lot lower if investors were really worried, and I think markets can overcome this move, even if it manages to pass through the Senate, which I don’t think it will. Nevertheless, coming off record highs and a good run up through the start of the year, the macro picture not really changing, rising Covid cases globally, strong earnings and other supportive factors largely priced in and the extent to which investors are ‘all in’ equities, we could be set for a downwards move in equities over the coming weeks. Beware seasonal factors (I dare not say ‘sell in May’…)

The economic picture continues to improve in the US. Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell to 547,000 last week, down from 576,000 the prior week and below the roughly 600,000 estimated. The number of continuing claims also fell.

Likewise, UK retail sales numbers were very positive in March as consumers opened their wallets ahead of the reopening of non-essential shops. Sales rose by 5.4% from February, well ahead of the 1.5% expected. Clothes, gardening goodies and specialist food items from bakers and butchers were in vogue.

Even Europe is showing immense resilience in the face of lockdowns – France’s Services PMI came in at 50.4 against 46.7 forecast, whilst the manufacturing survey surged to 59.12. The composite PMI rose to 51.7 from 50 previously, with the outperformance in services meaning it easily beat the 49.4 expected. Germany’s composite PMI came in at 56, still in expansion territory, but short of the 57 expected and down from the 57.3 in March.

The dollar is offered in early trade, with EURUSD jumping to 1.2050, Yesterday’s ECB presser high of 1.2070 is the main target for bulls. GBPUSD also tried to sustain a rally to 1.39 but hit resistance at 1.3890 and reversed a touch.

The euro remains steady following yesterday’s ECB meeting, which left markets on an even keel as the central bank managed to maintain its dovish stance and fend off chatter about wrapping up its emergency bond buying programme. Christine Lagarde played down any taper talk, saying this was ‘premature’ and that the recovery still has a long way to go. The yield on 10-year German bunds moved lower.

Bitcoin prices have tumbled. Spot trades under $48k this morning, meaning it’s down 25% from last week’s all-time high. The low tested several times in Feb at $44k is the big support. Basically, it seems to have been bid up on a lot of speculation (even more than usual) ahead of the Coinbase IPO and all this froth has evaporated like a lot of hot air. There has also been a cluster of regulatory reports and rumours that point to a clampdown and tighter regulation. JPMorgan analysts led by the closely-followed Nikalous Panigirtzoglou say the rollover in prices has been led by a steep liquidation in speculative futures positions. “Momentum signals will naturally decay from here for several months, given their still elevated level,” he says.

Shares in Coinbase are in for a hit should cryptos go further south. Also, Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF is still loading up on COIN – watch this one ,too. The Coinbase listing – the ultimate poacher-turned-gamekeeper moment – might have been the high watermark for Bitcoin.

I refer to two points we highlighted when Coinbase registered to go public:

1. Earnings are inextricably tied to crypto prices. This may be obvious, but it is interesting to see in black and white. “Our total revenue is substantially dependent on the prices of crypto assets and volume of transactions conducted on our platform. If such price or volume declines, our business, operating results, and financial condition would be adversely affected.”

2. More than anything it’s highly dependent on Bitcoin. A majority of Coinbase’s net revenue is from transactions in just two crypto assets: Bitcoin and Ethereum. For the year ended December 31, 2020, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other crypto assets represented 70%, 13%, and 13% of assets on the platform respectively. “If demand for these crypto assets declines and is not replaced by new demand for crypto assets, our business, operating results, and financial condition could be adversely affected” says the filing.

Caveat emptor and all that.