Wall Street rushes to find winners and losers from tax overhaul

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Normally right about now, many on Wall Street would be packing their bags for the Caribbean or the slopes. Not this year.

Even as President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans celebrate passage of their once-in-a-generation rewrite of the tax code, Wall Street is moving into high gear, toiling late into the night to figure out what it all means.

“I’ve got everybody working, changing official estimates for 2018 and 2019,” Fred Cannon, head of research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said on Thursday. He said his team of 60 analysts “aren’t happy with me. But they’re all here.”

So far the financial industry’s big takeaway is that the tax bill will increase U.S. stock prices, primarily driven by higher earnings on slashing the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. That means analysts are reevaluating corporate earnings estimates for 2018 and 2019 to reflect deep tax cuts for businesses. The big question is whether the measures will create jobs and raise wages, as Republicans claim.

Among the early prognostications:

Retailers will benefit in two ways: The lower corporate tax rate will boost profits while an uptick in consumer spending could goose sales. That prompted Wolfe Research’s Scott Mushkin to remove his sell rating on Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Airlines should gain under the new tax law, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Linenberg. He raised stock price targets for airlines, upgrading both Allegiant Travel and Spirit Airlines to buy from hold. Delta and Southwest Airlines are top of list of airline names to own in 2018, Linenberg said. Media and telecom companies are likely the biggest beneficiaries of lower taxes, boosting telecom carriers’ capex plans, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. AT&T Inc. has already announced it will increase its capex by $1 billion in 2018.

Analysts across industries are digging in on the eve of the winter holidays for more insights. Take Mike Mayo, a bank analyst at Wells Fargo Securities. This is the latest he’s worked before the holidays in two decades, as clients pepper him with questions on how much of the tax savings will be passed on to bank customers.

Windfall Spending

“What are the ramifications of the biggest tax change in several decades?” he said. “That’s a reason to stay around longer.”

It’s still too early to know how the tax overhaul will play out in the corporate world until companies more fully disclose how they will spend their windfall. Some U.S. chief executives have begun to show their hand with a flurry of announcements since Congress passed the bill. AT&T and Comcast Corp. said they’d give $1,000 bonuses to a combined 300,000 employees. Wells Fargo increased its minimum hourly pay from $13.50 to $15.

FedEx Corp. said earlier this week that it would increase adjusted earnings for the fiscal year ending in May as much as $5.50 a share on the revaluation of deferred tax liabilities and the corporate tax rate cut. The company’s current forecast ranges from $12.70 to $13.30 a share.

Investors will start seeing companies disclosing the tax bill’s material impacts on results before the end of the year, according to Mitch Thompson, a tax lawyer at Squire Patton Boggs LLP. Items likely to be reported are revaluations of deferred tax assets, permanently reinvested earnings, exposure to repatriation tax bills, and expected tax rates.

“Normally, this is a very slow time,” said Brian Yarbrough, a retail and consumer-products analyst for Edward Jones. “But most analysts are much busier. There are still a lot of people working.”

—With assistance from Cynthia Koons and Matthew Boyle

Bloomberg News