President Trump’s pro-Wall Street record will leave him little room on the campaign trail next year to reprise the anti-industry pose he struck in 2016.
That was in fresh evidence as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the onetime Goldman Sachs executive, appeared on Capitol Hill to defend the Trump administration’s deregulation of the financial services industry and criticize Democratic proposals to tax and scrutinize it.
Mnuchin spent most of his time before the House Financial Services Committee in the weeds of financial oversight. But the hearing also offered a preview of what Democratic strategists believe will be a potent line of attack to press against Trump on the campaign trail.
And at least one former Trump official agrees the president is vulnerable on this front. “There’s some truth to the idea that it would be smart for a Democrat nominee to focus on the closeness between the Trump White House and Goldman Sachs,” the former White House official tells me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “That would be some inherently good messaging for Democrats to use.”
Mnuchin in his appearance offered a full-throated critique of a tax on financial transactions embraced by some Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. And the Treasury secretary faced sharp questions from Democrats about the administration’s moves to shrink the Financial Stability Oversight Council, the post-crisis board charged with coordinating the federal government’s regulation of the financial system.
Mnuchin said the Treasury Department is working to study the impact of the potential financial transactions tax. “I am very concerned that that would destroy our capital markets, and the cost to American holders of mutual funds would bear the majority of the cost,” Mnuchin said.
But it likely will remain a popular concept on the campaign trail: A version introduced by congressional Democrats would raise an estimated $777 billion over a decade, a considerable sum for the party’s White House hopefuls looking to fund pricey social welfare expansions while reining in the industry.
To be sure, not all Democratic presidential candidates are embracing a financial transactions tax. But even former vice president Joe Biden, arguably the field’s moderate pacesetter, is pushing a tax plan that would mean a significantly higher burden for big banks. His plan, released this week, would bump the corporate rate up from 21 percent to 28 percent, effectively halving the windfall the industry reaped from Trump’s tax cuts.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says the Trump cuts, whose second anniversary arrives this month, present a ripe target for Democrats to make the case the president has betrayed the populist pitch he made in 2016. She tells me focus groups she’s conducted with disaffected Trump voters reveal they are “really, really mad” about the corporate windfall the cuts yielded, “and a remarkable number of people know about companies like Amazon that aren’t paying any taxes.” (To that end, Biden is proposing a 15 percent minimum corporate tax.)
Lake says going after the failed promise of the tax cuts could become “a very powerful component” of a broader case against the president’s coziness with corporate interests. Another focus group of Trump voters — conducted in Michigan’s swing Macomb County by Democracy Corps, a project by Democratic strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg — struck on the framing back in March 2017. From that report:
“When his cabinet is described as full of campaign donors, Goldman Sachs bankers (bailed out by the taxpayers) and people who use undocumented workers in their homes, they question whether this is the Donald Trump they voted for. “That right there seems to be two-faced,” and Trump is now “just the puppet” doing what Goldman Sachs want. Most important, this means they won’t get the changes they wanted and it’s possible “we’re in for another four or possibly eight years of the same old same old.”
But the former White House official argued not all Democratic candidates are on the same footing when it comes to challenging Trump’s Wall Street advocacy. Trump, he said, can lean into his trade wars — anathema to C-suites and Wall Street — to argue his populist credentials are intact if he’s running against a more moderate, trade-friendly Democrat. “Both sides are going to attempt versions of the same argument against the other,” he said. But “Sanders will have a better time making the argument against Trump than a Biden or [South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete] Buttigieg.”
— November jobs numbers ahoy. The Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Chaney notes what to watch out for in today’s report: “Watch for a bounceback in employment last month as General Motors Co. workers, who were on strike in October, returned to work. Employment in auto manufacturing fell by more than 40,000 in October because of the strike. Economists expect the return of GM strikers to help drive November job growth to 187,000, from 128,000 in October…
“Friday’s report is expected to show the November unemployment rate remained at 3.6%, in line with October. The jobless rate has logged in at or below 4% for 20 straight months, the longest such stretch since the 1960s. The historically low rate is a sign that most workers who want a job can land one. The question now is how much further unemployment can fall.”
— Aramco set to be world’s largest IPO. The New York Times’s Kate Kelly and Stanley Reed: “Saudi Arabia’s giant state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, on Thursday set the price of its initial public offering at a level that would raise $25.6 billion, a sum that is expected to make it the world’s biggest I.P.O.
“Saudi Aramco said it had set the initial share price at 32 riyals, or about $8.53, the high end of the range it forecast last month. It plans to sell three billion shares, 1.5 percent of the company. At that price, the company would be worth $1.7 trillion. The amount raised by the sale would exceed the $25 billion raised by Alibaba, the Chinese online retail company, in its initial offering five years ago on the New York Stock Exchange. And the total could go higher.”
—Stocks mostly unchanged. CNBC’s Fred Imbert: Stocks ended Thursday’s session little changed as investors digested strong employment data while they monitored the latest news from the U.S.-China trade negotiations. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained just 28.01 points, or 0.1% to close at 27,677.79. The S&P 500 advanced 0.16% to 3,117.43 while the Nasdaq Composite gained less than 0.1% to close at 8,570.70. The major averages oscillated between slight gains and losses throughout the day as they struggled to find direction…
““On balance, U.S. equities appear to be in pause mode and for good reason,’ said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. ‘Performance this year has been superb, balanced and broad based.'”
— Trade deficit shrinks: “The U.S. trade deficit dropped to its lowest level in nearly 1-1/2 years in October, suggesting trade could contribute to economic growth in the fourth quarter, though a broad decline in imports hinted at a slowdown in domestic demand,” Reuters’s Lucia Mutikani reports.
“Still, consumer spending is likely to remain supported by a strong labor market. Other data … showed the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, hitting their lowest level in seven months. The reports countered data this week showing manufacturing activity contracting for a fourth straight month in November, a slowdown in growth in the services sector as well as a drop in construction spending in October.”
— Where have we heard this before? Oh, right …: “China’s trade negotiations with the U.S. remain on track, Beijing said, offering official reassurance after tensions flared between the world’s two biggest economies over human-rights issues in China,” the Wall Street Journal’s Grace Zhu, Eva Dou and Bob Davis report.
“The negotiating teams from both sides have maintained close communications, China’s Commerce Ministry said … though it didn’t provide details on progress. The recent strain had spooked investors and stoked concerns about the global economic outlook.”
- The U.S. is not as optimistic (again): “During the past few days, though, officials in the U.S. have become less optimistic about a deal. The two nations remain at odds over the value of U.S. farm goods Beijing would buy, with [Trump] looking for $40 billion to $50 billion a year within two years.”
— Canada’s trade surplus is a work of art: “New York’s art scene is suddenly skewing Canada’s trade balance with the U.S.,” Bloomberg News’s Shelly Hagan and Erik Hertzberg report.
“A shipment of paintings and sculptures potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars helped drive an increase in exports in October, Statistics Canada said … That resulted in the northern nation’s widest surplus with its biggest trading partner since the 2008 financial crisis … Canadian trade data is often skewed by high-value items. The import of an expensive piece of machinery for an offshore oil project in 2016 led to one of Canada’s biggest ever trade deficits with the world.”
— Trump asks SCOTUS to intervene in fight over his financial records: “A lower-court ruling giving a congressional committee access to [Trump’s] financial records would usher in a new wave of political warfare in times of divided government, the president’s lawyers said in a brief filed,” my colleague Robert Barnes report.
“‘Warning of “uncharted territory,’ Trump asked the court for the second time to review rulings from lower courts that have said Congress and state prosecutors have a right to review his personal and business records … The Supreme Court is scheduled to consider a related case at its private conference Dec. 13. It involves a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that granted Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. similar access to Trump’s financial records, which are held by his longtime accounting firm Mazars USA. The company has said it will comply with final court orders.”
— The U.S. tax burden is now one of the lowest in the world: “Trump’s 2017 tax cuts reduced the U.S. tax burden to one of the lowest among major world economies, according to a … report by an intergovernmental organization,” the WSJ’s Richard Rubin reports.
“U.S. tax burdens dropped by the largest amount among those countries in 2018, and the U.S. now has lower taxes than all but three countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the report said … Measured as a share of the U.S. economy, taxes are now 10 percentage points below the 2018 OECD average of 34.3 percent. Among 34 countries with preliminary 2018 data, the U.S. tax burden is lower than everywhere except Chile, Ireland and Mexico. The tax cut drove U.S. taxes below Turkey’s, and taxes in France and Denmark are now nearly twice what they are in the U.S.”
IMPEACHMENT MINUTE: A speed read on the latest from the congressional impeachment inquiry.
“Pelosi announces intent to impeach Trump as constitutional clash intensifies.” By The Post’s Mike DeBonis, Karoun Demirjian and Seung Min Kim
“‘Don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that,’ Pelosi tells reporter who asked her whether she hates Trump.” By The Post’s Felicia Sonmez
“Ukraine lawmaker seeking Biden probe meets with Giuliani in Kyiv.” By The Post’s David L. Stern and Robyn Dixon
“A look inside Trump’s anti-impeachment spin factory.” By The Post’s Sarah Ellison
— Aramco is officially the world’s largest IPO: Saudi Aramco priced its initial public offering “at the high end of the targeted range to give the oil giant a total value of $1.7 trillion in the world’s biggest-ever IPO,” the WSJ’s Ben Dummett and Summer Said report.
“The state-controlled Saudi Arabian Oil Co., commonly known as Aramco, said it would sell 3 billion shares, or a 1.5% stake of the company, at 32 Saudi riyals ($8.53), or at the top of the targeted range of 30 to 32 riyals for a total of $25.6 billion. That exceeds the $25 billion IPO in 2014 of Chinese online commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., the current record holder. Still, the share sale falls well short of the initial $2 trillion valuation targeted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
— Boeing says 737 Max delay could halt production: “Significant additional regulatory requirements or delays in returning Boeing Co’s 737 MAX to commercial service could cause it to cut or temporarily halt production of the aircraft, it said in an Oct. 18 letter released on Thursday,” Reuters’s Eric M. Johnson reports.
— United Airlines CEO to step down: “United Airlines Holding Inc. said its chief executive, Oscar Munoz, will step down after four-and-a-half years at the helm, promoting an air-travel veteran to continue one of the industry’s biggest turnarounds,” the WSJ’s Alison Sider and Doug Cameron report.
“Scott Kirby, who joined United from American Airlines Group Inc. three years ago, will assume the top job in May, the Chicago-based carrier said Thursday. The leadership change follows sustained improvements in the company’s performance, plus aggressive growth — overseen by [Kirby] — that moved United past American to become the second-largest U.S. carrier by traffic. Strong profit has helped the company’s stock outperform that of rivals. United has beat analysts’ earnings expectations in 11 of the past 12 quarters. During Mr. Munoz’s tenure, United’s shares have risen 53 percent, compared with a 24 percent rise in the NYSE airline stock index.”
— GM to build EV battery plant in Ohio: “General Motors Co and South Korea’s LG Chem said “they will invest $2.3 billion to build an electric vehicle battery cell joint venture plant in Ohio, creating one of the world’s largest battery facilities,” Reuters’s Paul Lienert reports.
“The plant, to be built near GM’s closed assembly plant in Lordstown in northeast Ohio, will employ more than 1,100 people, the companies said. Construction is to begin in mid-2020 and the plant will have an annual capacity of more than 30 gigawatt hours with the flexibility to expand.”
MONEY ON THE HILL
— Warren goes after Buttigieg: Warren called on Buttigieg “to open his campaign fund-raising events to the news media and to release a full accounting of the wealthy donors who are gathering contributions for him,” the Times’s Shane Goldmacher and Astead W. Herndon report.
“The remarks represented a departure from Warren’s previous unwillingness to publicly chide most of her top-tier primary opponents, and came as Buttigieg has overtaken Warren in some polls in Iowa, the first state to hold a nominating contest next year. ‘I think that Mayor Pete should open up the doors so that anyone can come in and report on what’s being said,’ Warren told reporters in Boston. ‘Those doors shouldn’t be closed, and no one should be left to wonder what kind of promises are being made to the people that then pony up big bucks to be in the room.'”
Buttigieg’s team fires back:
If @ewarren wants to have a debate about transparency, she can start by opening up the doors to the decades of tax returns she’s hiding from her work as a corporate lawyer- often defending the types of corporate bad actors she now denounces. https://t.co/3nGZc7Dzhj
— Lis Smith (@Lis_Smith) December 6, 2019
— Buttigieg’s time at McKinsey: “Buttigieg sells his candidacy, in large part, on his mayoralty of South Bend, Ind., and a civic revitalization there rooted in the kind of data-driven techniques espoused by McKinsey. His nearly three years at “the firm” set him apart from many of his campaign rivals, underpinning his position as a more centrist alternative to progressive front-runners like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren,” the Times’s Michael Forsythe reports.
“Yet Buttigieg’s time at the world’s most prestigious management-consulting company is one piece of his meticulously programmed biography that he mentions barely, if at all, on the campaign trail. As Buttigieg explains it, that is not a matter of choice. For all of his efforts to run an open, accessible campaign — marked by frequent on-the-record conversations with reporters on his blue-and-yellow barnstorming bus — McKinsey is a famously secretive employer, and Buttigieg says he signed a nondisclosure agreement that keeps him from going into detail about his work there. But as he gains ground in polls, his reticence about McKinsey is being tested, including by his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.”
The NYT’s editorial board calls for Buttigieg to release more info on his McKinsey work: “This is not a tenable situation. Mr. Buttigieg owes voters a more complete account of his time at the company.”
— The ETF that predicts Warren’s 2020 chances: “Those in search of a real-time, market-based way to make money on the possibility that [Warren] wins the Democratic presidential nomination need look no further than one of the market’s biggest health-care funds, according to a Jefferies analysis,” CNBC’s Thomas Franck reports.
“Performance analysis of the Health Care Select Sector SPDR ETF, which tracks the performance of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the S&P 500, reveals strong negative correlation with Warren’s odds of nomination tracked by political betting site PredictIt.”
— Tarullo: Repo market turmoil raises alarm about post-crisis regs. MarketPlace’s Greg Robb: “Former Fed Gov. Daniel Tarullo on Thursday said the turmoil in the crucial short-term lending market in September raises a fundamental question for regulators — will the new rules put in place in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis exacerbate an ‘over-hoarding’ of capital during market stress?
“In the September crisis, interest rates on short-term ‘repo’ loans spiked to 10% from under 2%, setting off alarm bells on Wall Street and in Washington… In a discussion of the repo market stress, sponsored by the Brookings Institution, Tarullo said the episode raises question about an over-arching feature of the new rules — that the biggest banks must amass and hold a large quantity of liquid assets to ensure they can survive periods of stress.”
- The Labor Department publishes the latest jobs report.
- The Financial Services Committee’s task force on artificial intelligence holds a hearing on “the impact of AI on Capital Markets and Jobs in the Financial Services Industry.”
- Big Lots is among the notable companies reporting their earnings.
- Brookings holds an event titled “The great reversal: How America gave up on free markets.”
From The Post’s Ann Telnaes: