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Ranked: The Biggest U.S. Tax Breaks

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The Biggest U.S. Tax Breaks

Tax Expenditures

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Ranked: The Biggest U.S. Tax Breaks

When you go to file your taxes this year, you’ll likely be looking for ways to minimize your tax bill. Tax breaks like credits and deductions—also known as tax expenditures—could reduce what you owe. On the flip side, they also cost the government trillions of dollars in foregone revenue.

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we rank the top 25 tax breaks by their forecast revenue impact over the next 10 years on the U.S. government.

What Are Tax Expenditures?

Tax expenditures are provisions within federal tax laws that result in government revenue losses. They can apply to individuals and/or corporations, and include a variety of things:

  • Special exclusions
  • Exemptions
  • Deductions
  • Special credits
  • Preferential tax rates
  • Tax deferrals

These expenditures are required by law to be included in the federal budget, and can be viewed as an alternative to other policy options such as direct spending. It’s important to note that when the budget is developed, revenue loss estimates are based on the assumption that all other parts of the tax code remain unchanged.

Tax Breaks, Ranked by Government Revenue Losses

With this in mind, let’s take a look at which tax expenditures are the biggest. We have ranked them by how much they are projected to cost the U.S. government in lost revenue over the next 10 fiscal years.

ProvisionProjected Revenue Losses 2022-2031
Exclusion of employer contributions for medical insurance and medical care$3.0T
Exclusion of net imputed rental income$1.7T
Lower tax rates on capital gains$1.4T
Tax benefits of defined contribution employer plans$1.4T
Deductions for charitable contributions (excl. education and health)$890B
Tax benefits of defined benefit employer plans$808B
Deductions for mortgage interest on owner-occupied homes$798B
Deductions for nonbusiness state and local taxes$761B
Step-up basis of capital gains at death$576B
Capital gains exclusion on home sales$542B
Child credit$446B
Tax benefits of self-employed plans$437B
Treatment of qualified dividends$421B
Deductions for state and local property tax on owner-occupied homes$384B
Reduced tax rate on active income of controlled foreign corporations$367B
Exclusion of untaxed Social Security benefits$357B
Exclusion of interest on public purpose state and local bonds$345B
Tax benefits of individual retirement accounts$288B
Credit for increasing research activities$272B
20% deduction to certain pass-through income$261B
Deductions for medical expenses$180B
Exclusion of life insurance death benefits$160B
Exclusion of benefits and allowances to armed forces personnel$157B
Deductions for charitable contributions (health)$153B
Exclusion of veterans' death benefits and disability compensation$141B

By a long shot, excluding an employer’s medical contributions from an employee’s taxable income is the biggest tax break. Family premiums for employer-sponsored coverage have jumped 47% over the last decade, outpacing both wage growth (31%) and inflation (23%).

The lower tax rates on capital gains is also forecast to cost the government trillions in lost revenue. In fact, the Biden Administration had proposed to significantly increase the capital gains tax in order to fund their budget, though this change has not come to fruition.

Tax expenditures related to retirement plans are also costly for the government. Income exclusions and tax deferrals for defined contribution plans are expected to cost $1.4 trillion over the next decade, nearly double that of tax breaks for defined benefit plans. This reflects the long-term decline of defined benefit plans. In fact, only 20% of U.S. workers participate in a defined benefit plan, whereas 43% participate in a defined contribution plan.

The Perks of Home Ownership

Finally, many of the largest tax breaks benefit homeowners. The exclusion of net imputed rental income—the theoretical income a homeowner would receive if they rented their home—is the second largest tax break.

On their primary residence, homeowners also get a capital gains exclusion when they sell their home. However, this exclusion is capped and is not indexed to inflation. Home prices climbed 19% in 2021 according to the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, effectively lowering the benefit of this tax break.

Finding Opportunity in Tax Expenditures

From credits to deductions, there are a number of tax breaks available to Americans. You can consider them when you are structuring an investment portfolio. For instance, if you hold assets with capital appreciation potential—like stocks—for at least a year, they are typically subject to a lower tax rate on their capital gains. Making contributions to a retirement plan will allow you to reduce your taxable income and defer taxes, subject to certain limits.

Of course, tax expenditures are in flux based on government policy at the time. By staying up to date on changes, investors can be poised to minimize their tax obligations and grow their wealth.

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Markets in a Minute

Charted: The Rise of Stock Buybacks Over 20 Years

Unlike the last two downturns, stock buybacks could hit a record $1.3T in 2022. We chart their growth over the last two decades.

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Stock Buybacks

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Chart: The Rise of Stock Buybacks Over 20 Years

Despite market turbulence, stock buybacks are on track to hit record levels by year-end.

Spurring this wave of buybacks are strong corporate cash flows⁠—sitting near $2 trillion—and a 1% excise tax on buybacks approaching in 2023. This signals a vote of confidence from corporations on their financial health even as a recession looms large.

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we chart the growth of buybacks over the last two decades and the implications for investors looking ahead.

How Stock Buybacks Work

In stock buybacks, corporations buy their own shares from existing shareholders. This reduces the number of shares in the market and boosts earnings per share. Often, this can increase share prices given the rise in earnings growth.

It was not until 1982 that share repurchases became legal, driving wider usage among corporations as a capital allocation tool.

By comparison, dividends are another common form of distributing capital back to shareholders.

Dividends are bound by strict policies and do not offer the same tax advantages and flexibility as buybacks. While dividends are taxed as income, buybacks are taxed as capital gains—making them a preferential choice for investors. Given these advantages, stock buybacks have outpaced dividends over the last two decades.

In fact, in the third quarter of 2022, an estimated one in five companies in the S&P 500 Index conducted buybacks that in turn increased their earnings per share by at least 4% year-over-year.

Stock Buyback Trends

As the below table shows, stock buybacks in the S&P 500 Index outnumber dividends by about double in 2022:

YearS&P 500 Stock BuybacksS&P 500 Dividends
2022*$1.00T$0.54T
2021$0.88T$0.51T
2020$0.52T$0.48T
2019$0.73T$0.49T
2018$0.81T$0.46T

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices (Sep 2022). *For the 12-months ending June 2022.

However, stock buybacks fluctuate more often than dividends since corporations can turn them on or off. For example, in 2020, buybacks sharply declined given growing financial uncertainty. Meanwhile, companies issued dividends at a steady pace.

In this way, when share prices decline, buybacks typically decrease.

Yet unlike the last two recessions in 2008 and 2020, buybacks have shown notable strength in 2022 in spite of falling share prices.

What Are the Top Sectors for Stock Buybacks?

We can see in the table below that the biggest share repurchasers are in the tech sector, with $2.1 trillion in buybacks since 2009.

SectorCumulative Buybacks Since 2009Q2 Buybacks
Information Technology$2,060.4B$72.0B
Financials$1,265.0B$21.2B
Consumer Discretionary $941.7B$27.6B
Health Care$929.1B$17.2B
Industrials$717.6B$17.4B
Consumer Staples$548.1B$10.7B
Communication Services$369.6B$29.4B
Energy$337.9B$13.4B
Materials$187.0B$8.7B
Utilities $26.8B$0.5B
Real Estate$16.9B$1.1B
Total$7,382.6B$219.6B

Source: Yardeni Research (Nov 2022). Represents stock buybacks for S&P 500 Index sectors.

On the other hand, utilities and other capital-intensive sectors tend to spend less on buybacks in contrast to asset-light sectors such as tech and financials.

What is also characteristic to share buybacks is their concentration. As we have seen in the second quarter this year, the top 20% of buybacks make up 47% of all repurchases across the S&P 500 Index.

New Tax On Stock Buybacks

Stock buybacks have drawn criticism for using cash to benefit shareholders instead of boosting production or improving the quality of the business.

In response, beginning in 2023, the Inflation Reduction Act puts a 1% excise tax on buybacks.

What this means is that public companies based in the U.S. must now pay a 1% tax on share repurchases, which could result in millions of additional expenses. Given this new tax rule, corporations may be accelerating buybacks ahead of year-end.

Implications for Investors

As stock buybacks have grown in prominence, it’s worth noting that not all are equal.

When a buyback aligns with a company’s long-term plan, and the company can cover their operational expenses, it can support the stability and growth of the company. When stock prices are volatile, companies can repurchase shares when they are undervalued.

By contrast, if a company takes on excess leverage in order to buyback shares, it can contribute to lower financial resilience. When a company uses a buyback to opportunistically repurchase shares, the boost in share prices may be short-lived.

In addition, it could also prevent capital from being directed to growth initiatives. In this way, it’s important to consider stock buybacks on a case-by-case basis.

With this in mind, investors can look to companies with healthy balance sheets that can weather economic storms. Here, companies that illustrate price discipline and buy back shares at a discount may help build long-term value, providing benefits to investors who stay the course.

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Mapped: Global Energy Prices, by Country in 2022

Energy prices have been extremely volatile in 2022. Which countries are seeing the highest prices in the world?

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Energy Prices

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Mapped: Global Energy Prices, by Country in 2022

For some countries, energy prices hit historic levels in 2022.

Gasoline, electricity, and natural gas prices skyrocketed as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ruptured global energy supply chains. Households and businesses are facing higher energy bills amid extreme price volatility. Uncertainty surrounding the war looms large, and winter heating costs are projected to soar.

Given the global consequences of the energy crisis, this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments shows the price of energy for households by country.

1. Global Energy Prices: Gasoline

Which countries and regions pay the most for a gallon of gas?

RankCountry/ RegionGasoline Prices
(USD per Gallon)
1🇭🇰 Hong Kong$11.1
2🇨🇫 Central African Republic$8.6
3🇮🇸 Iceland$8.5
4🇳🇴 Norway$8.1
5🇧🇧 Barbados$7.8
6🇩🇰 Denmark$7.7
7🇬🇷 Greece$7.6
8🇫🇮 Finland$7.6
9🇳🇱 Netherlands$7.6
10🇧🇪 Belgium$7.4
11🇬🇧 United Kingdom$7.2
12🇪🇪 Estonia$7.2
13🇨🇭 Switzerland$7.2
14🇸🇬 Singapore$7.2
15🇸🇪 Sweden$7.1
16🇸🇨 Seychelles$7.1
17🇮🇱 Israel$7.0
18🇩🇪 Germany$7.0
19🇺🇾 Uruguay$7.0
20🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna$7.0
21🇱🇮 Liechtenstein$6.9
22🇮🇪 Ireland$6.8
23🇵🇹 Portugal$6.8
24🇱🇻 Latvia$6.7
25🇧🇿 Belize$6.7
26🇦🇱 Albania$6.6
27🇦🇹 Austria$6.6
28🇲🇨 Monaco$6.6
29🇪🇸 Spain$6.6
30🇨🇿 Czech Republic$6.5
31🇲🇼 Malawi$6.5
32🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$6.4
33🇸🇰 Slovakia$6.4
34🇲🇺 Mauritius$6.3
35🇱🇺 Luxembourg$6.3
36🇱🇹 Lithuania$6.3
37🇦🇩 Andorra$6.3
38🇮🇹 Italy$6.3
39🇺🇬 Uganda$6.2
40🇭🇺 Hungary$6.2
41🇯🇴 Jordan$6.2
42🇸🇾 Syria$6.1
43🇫🇷 France$6.0
44🇧🇮 Burundi$6.0
45🇧🇸 Bahamas$6.0
46🇳🇿 New Zealand$5.8
47🇸🇲 San Marino$5.8
48🇭🇷 Croatia$5.8
49🇷🇴 Romania$5.7
50🇾🇹 Mayotte$5.7
51🇷🇼 Rwanda$5.7
52🇿🇲 Zambia$5.7
53🇷🇸 Serbia$5.7
54🇱🇦 Laos$5.6
55🇲🇳 Mongolia$5.6
56🇰🇪 Kenya$5.6
57🇨🇾 Cyprus$5.6
58🇯🇲 Jamaica$5.5
59🇲🇰 Northern Macedonia$5.5
60🇨🇱 Chile$5.5
61🇧🇦 Bosnia$5.5
62🇱🇨 Saint Lucia$5.5
63🇵🇱 Poland$5.4
64🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$5.4
65🇨🇦 Canada$5.4
66🇲🇦 Morocco$5.4
67🇦🇼 Aruba$5.4
68🇸🇮 Slovenia$5.4
69🇧🇬 Bulgaria$5.3
70🇵🇪 Peru$5.3
71🇱🇰 Sri Lanka$5.3
72🇨🇷 Costa Rica$5.2
73🇲🇬 Madagascar$5.2
74🇬🇳 Guinea$5.2
75🇳🇵 Nepal$5.2
76🇲🇿 Mozambique$5.2
77🇳🇮 Nicaragua$5.2
78🇲🇱 Mali$5.1
79🇸🇳 Senegal$5.1
80🇺🇦 Ukraine$5.2
81🇩🇲 Dominica$5.0
82🇲🇪 Montenegro$5.0
83🇲🇹 Malta$5.0
84🇲🇩 Moldova$5.0
85🇨🇩 DR Congo$5.0
86🇨🇼 Curacao$5.0
87🇨🇻 Cape Verde$4.9
88🇧🇩 Bangladesh$4.9
89🇱🇷 Liberia$4.9
90🇰🇭 Cambodia$4.8
91🇮🇳 India$4.8
92🇨🇺 Cuba$4.8
93🇭🇳 Honduras$4.7
94🇬🇪 Georgia$4.7
95🇿🇦 South Africa$4.7
96🇹🇿 Tanzania$4.7
97🇫🇯 Fiji$4.7
98🇨🇳 China$4.7
99🇲🇽 Mexico$4.6
100🇬🇹 Guatemala$4.6

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of October 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

At an average $11.1 USD per gallon, households in Hong Kong pay the highest for gasoline in the world—more than double the global average. Both high gas taxes and steep land costs are primary factors behind high gas prices.

Like Hong Kong, the Central African Republic has high gas costs, at $8.6 USD per gallon. As a net importer of gasoline, the country has faced increased price pressures since the war in Ukraine.

Households in Iceland, Norway, and Denmark face the highest gasoline costs in Europe. Overall, Europe has seen inflation hit 10% in September, driven by the energy crisis.

2. Global Energy Prices: Electricity

Extreme volatility is also being seen in electricity prices.

The majority of the highest household electricity prices are in Europe, where Denmark, Germany, and Belgium’s prices are about double that of France and Greece. For perspective, electricity prices in many countries in Europe are more than twice or three times the global average of $0.14 USD per kilowatt-hour.

Over the first quarter of 2022, household electricity prices in the European Union jumped 32% compared to the year before.

RankCountry/ RegionElectricity Prices
(kWh, USD)
1🇩🇰 Denmark$0.46
2🇩🇪 Germany$0.44
3🇧🇪 Belgium$0.41
4🇧🇲 Bermuda$0.40
5🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$0.35
6🇯🇲 Jamaica$0.34
7🇬🇧 United Kingdom$0.32
8🇪🇸 Spain$0.32
9🇳🇱 Netherlands$0.32
10🇧🇧 Barbados$0.32
11🇪🇪 Estonia$0.32
12🇱🇹 Lithuania$0.31
13🇦🇹 Austria$0.31
14🇮🇹 Italy$0.30
15🇨🇿 Czech Republic$0.29
16🇨🇻 Cape Verde$0.28
17🇮🇪 Ireland$0.28
18🇸🇪 Sweden$0.27
19🇧🇸 Bahamas$0.26
20🇬🇹 Guatemala$0.26
21🇱🇮 Liechtenstein$0.26
22🇨🇾 Cyprus$0.25
23🇷🇼 Rwanda$0.25
24🇭🇳 Honduras$0.24
25🇺🇾 Uruguay$0.24
26🇵🇹 Portugal$0.24
27🇸🇻 El Salvador$0.23
28🇱🇻 Latvia$0.22
29🇫🇮 Finland$0.22
30🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.22
31🇧🇿 Belize$0.22
32🇯🇵 Japan$0.22
33🇨🇭 Switzerland$0.22
34🇵🇪 Peru$0.21
35🇰🇪 Kenya$0.21
36🇦🇺 Australia$0.21
37🇧🇷 Brazil$0.20
38🇲🇱 Mali$0.20
39🇸🇬 Singapore$0.19
40🇷🇴 Romania$0.19
41🇧🇫 Burkina Faso$0.19
42🇸🇮 Slovenia$0.19
43🇬🇦 Gabon$0.19
44🇸🇰 Slovakia$0.19
45🇦🇼 Aruba$0.19
46🇬🇷 Greece$0.19
47🇫🇷 France$0.18
48🇳🇿 New Zealand$0.18
49🇹🇬 Togo$0.18
50🇳🇮 Nicaragua$0.17
51🇻🇪 Venezuela$0.17
52🇵🇦 Panama$0.17
53🇵🇭 Philippines$0.17
54🇵🇱 Poland$0.17
55🇮🇱 Israel$0.16
56🇺🇲 U.S.$0.16
57🇺🇬 Uganda$0.16
58🇭🇰 Hong Kong$0.16
59🇸🇳 Senegal$0.16
60🇲🇴 Macao$0.15
61🇨🇱 Chile$0.15
62🇰🇭 Cambodia$0.15
63🇿🇦 South Africa$0.14
64🇲🇺 Mauritius$0.14
65🇲🇬 Madagascar$0.14
66🇭🇷 Croatia$0.14
67🇮🇸 Iceland$0.14
68🇳🇴 Norway$0.13
69🇲🇹 Malta$0.13
70🇲🇿 Mozambique$0.13
71🇨🇴 Colombia$0.13
72🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.12
73🇲🇻 Maldives$0.12
74🇨🇷 Costa Rica$0.12
75🇨🇦 Canada$0.11
76🇲🇼 Malawi$0.11
77🇨🇮 Ivory Coast$0.11
78🇳🇦 Namibia$0.11
79🇲🇦 Morocco$0.11
80🇹🇭 Thailand$0.10
81🇦🇲 Armenia$0.10
82🇯🇴 Jordan$0.10
83🇹🇿 Tanzania$0.10
84🇸🇿 Swaziland$0.10
85🇪🇨 Ecuador$0.10
86🇧🇼 Botswana$0.10
87🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$0.10
88🇲🇰 Northern Macedonia$0.10
89🇦🇱 Albania$0.10
90🇱🇸 Lesotho$0.09
91🇸🇱 Sierra Leone$0.09
92🇮🇩 Indonesia$0.09
93🇧🇾 Belarus$0.09
94🇭🇺 Hungary$0.09
95🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina$0.09
96🇹🇼 Taiwan$0.09
97🇰🇷 South Korea$0.09
98🇲🇽 Mexico$0.09
99🇷🇸 Serbia$0.09
100🇨🇩 DR Congo$0.08

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of March 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

In the U.S., consumer electricity prices have increased nearly 16% annually compared to September last year, the highest increase in over four decades, fueling higher inflation.

However, households are more sheltered from the impact of Russian supply disruptions due to the U.S. being a net exporter of energy.

3. Global Energy Prices: Natural Gas

Eight of the 10 highest natural gas prices globally fall in Europe, with the Netherlands at the top. Overall, European natural gas prices have spiked sixfold in a year since the invasion of Ukraine.

RankCountry/ RegionNatural Gas Prices
(kWh, USD)
1🇳🇱 Netherlands$0.41
2🇸🇪 Sweden$0.24
3🇩🇪 Germany$0.21
4🇧🇷 Brazil$0.20
5🇩🇰 Denmark$0.19
6🇪🇸 Spain$0.17
7🇮🇹 Italy$0.16
8🇦🇹 Austria$0.16
9🇸🇬 Singapore$0.15
10🇧🇪 Belgium$0.15
11🇭🇰 Hong Kong$0.14
12🇨🇿 Czech Republic$0.14
13🇬🇷 Greece$0.12
14🇫🇷 France$0.12
15🇯🇵 Japan$0.11
16🇬🇧 United Kingdom$0.10
17🇨🇭 Switzerland$0.10
18🇨🇱 Chile$0.10
19🇵🇹 Portugal$0.09
20🇧🇧 Barbados$0.09
21🇵🇱 Poland$0.09
22🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.09
23🇮🇪 Ireland$0.08
24🇦🇺 Australia$0.07
25🇲🇽 Mexico$0.07
26🇳🇿 New Zealand$0.06
27🇸🇰 Slovakia$0.06
28🇺🇲 U.S.$0.05
29🇰🇷 South Korea$0.04
30🇨🇴 Colombia$0.04
31🇨🇦 Canada$0.03
32🇷🇸 Serbia$0.03
33🇹🇼 Taiwan$0.03
34🇺🇦 Ukraine$0.03
35🇲🇾 Malaysia$0.03
36🇭🇺 Hungary$0.03
37🇹🇳 Tunisia$0.02
38🇦🇿 Azerbaijan$0.01
39🇧🇭 Bahrain$0.01
40🇧🇩 Bangladesh$0.01
41🇹🇷 Turkey$0.01
42🇷🇺 Russia$0.01
43🇦🇷 Argentina$0.01
44🇧🇾 Belarus$0.01
45🇩🇿 Algeria$0.003
46🇮🇷 Iran$0.001

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of March 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

The good news is that the fall season has been relatively warm, which has helped European natural gas demand drop 22% in October compared to last year. This helps reduce the risk of gas shortages transpiring later in the winter.

Outside of Europe, Brazil has the fourth highest natural gas prices globally, despite producing about half domestically. High costs of cooking gas have been especially challenging for low-income families, which became a key political issue in the run-up to the presidential election in October.

Meanwhile, Singapore has the highest natural gas prices in Asia as the majority is imported via tankers or pipelines, leaving the country vulnerable to price shocks.

Increasing Competition

By December, all seaborne crude oil shipments from Russia to Europe will come to a halt, likely pushing up gasoline prices into the winter and 2023.

Concerningly, analysis from the EIA shows that European natural gas storage capacities could sink to 20% by February if Russia completely shuts off its supply and demand is not reduced.

As Europe seeks out alternatives to Russian energy, higher demand could increase global competition for fuel sources, driving up prices for energy in the coming months ahead.

Still, there is some room for optimism: the World Bank projects energy prices will decline 11% in 2023 after the 60% rise seen after the war in Ukraine in 2022.

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