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Reading almost like an Occupy Wall Street manifesto, bond billionaire Bill Gross’ current investment outlook rails against the privilege of the 1% while demanding economic justice for the 99% through increased taxation of the rich.
Writing in his November monthly investment outlook, “Scrooge McDucks,” Gross, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $2.2 billion, counsels his fellow 1-percenters to enjoy their cigars and Chateau Lafite wine but recognize their privilege as males coming of age during a credit boom.
“You did not, as President Obama averred, ‘build that,’ you did not create that wave. You rode it. And now it’s time to kick out and share some of your good fortune by paying higher taxes or reforming them to favor economic growth and labor, as opposed to corporate profits and individual gazillions,” Gross writes.
Lamenting the decreasing percentage of income he pays in taxes “thanks to Presidents Reagan and Bush 43,” the manager of the world’s largest bond fund notes a shift in his thinking from that of one who made his wealth through capital to feelings of guilt over the plight of the 99%.
“Having gotten rich at the expense of labor, the guilt sets in and I begin to feel sorry for the less well-off, writing very public Investment Outlooks that ‘dis’ the success that provided me the soapbox in the first place,” he writes.
Gross challenges those who point to the disproportionate share of tax revenues that stem from the wealthy, arguing that his capitalist-class fellows should rather consider the share of national wealth they make. That share, he says, has risen from 10% in the 1970s to 20% today.
Gross argues for “an equitable rebalancing of personal income taxes, capital gains and carried interest,” seeing no reason that capital should be taxed at lower rates than labor.
The bond fund manager sees dangerous and portentous trends in the marketplace, wherein companies deliver outstanding profits while consistently showing tepid revenue growth. These S&P 500 companies achieve their profits by cutting expenses and buying back stock instead of reinvesting profits in new plant and equipment, Gross says.
The PIMCO manager then noticed the similarity between the behavior of corporations and that of the U.S. economy.
Just like large U.S. corporations, the U.S. economy exhibits weak revenue growth as measured by GDP that has grown a little over 1% a year on average over the past decade. Meanwhile, the U.S., too, is “cutting expenses” as measured by the declining share of wages to GDP (from 47% to 43% over the past decade). Yet the U.S. is more “profitable,” Gross claims, saying before-tax profits as a percentage of GDP have risen from 10% to 14% over the same period.
But the real kicker, he says, is that “the U.S. economy – thanks to the Fed – has been operating a $1 trillion share buyback program nearly every year since late 2008, buying Treasuries but watching much of that money flow straight into risk assets and common stocks instead of productive plant and equipment.”
Therefore, the U.S. and global economies have forsaken growth for financial alchemy “based on money printing, credit expansion and cost cutting, instead of honest-to-goodness investment in the real economy."
Investment as a percentage of GDP has declined from 14.6% to 12.2% over the past 13 years, he says, and our national savings rate sunk in recent years to below zero before a recent rebound. “Without savings there can be no investment. Without investment there can be little growth,” Gross says.
The PIMCO manager concludes that only taxing the wealthy can help with this situation since “the 99% don’t have money anymore…the rich 1% and corporations do.”
Specifically, Gross would like to see government and private enterprise jointly fund an infrastructure bank to modernize “our third world airports, third world city streets and third world water systems.”
Finally, Gross hopes the U.S. can “challenge more productive economies such as Germany and Canada” by improving equality of income, an area where the U.S. ranks “barley ahead of Spain and Greece.”
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