Effects of a Financial Transaction Tax

All Investors Affected

A Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) will hurt all investors because it will directly affect everyone who has a portion of their retirement savings or other assets, in the financial market. When investments are reallocated to reflect an investor’s changing risk profile, need for a redemption to cover expenses or rebalancing to keep an investment strategy on track, the tax will apply. That is money that could be compounding to grow assets. And gains are already taxed so this could be seen as a way to tax losing stock trades as well. It’s a bad deal for investors.

A Financial Transaction Tax Would Weaken the Market

Any tax on transactions will add friction that threatens our market, which is the world’s best engine of capital formation, economic growth and job creation. History has shown a transaction tax drives trading away from the country imposing it, therefore reducing the potential revenue from trading activity such as capital gains taxes, while shipping well-paying, and highly taxed, jobs and companies out of the country.

In March 2013, the Italian government imposed an FTT on stocks of corporations with a market capitalization above 500 million euros. The result, as observed in a studypublished in August 2016 by the European Central Bank, has been “a reduction in liquidity for the stocks hit by the reform.” And increased “volatility of the ‘treated’ stocks.” In other words, the stock became more expensive and their prices less stable.

When Sweden began taxing financial transactions in the 1980s, bond trading fell by 85% and futures trading fell by 98%. By 1990, more than 50% of all Swedish trading moved to London. The tax was declared a failure and repealed in 1991. Recently, Sweden’s Finance Minister Anders Borg quipped “between 90%-99% of traders in bonds, equities and derivatives moved out of Stockholm to London” because of that FTT.

After one-third of the trading in German public companies moved to London and trading in German bonds sank as much as 50 percent, Germany abolished its FTT in 1991. In Italy, a FTT caused trading in Italian stocks to fall by 34.2% within two years of the introduction of the tax according to research from Credit Suisse.

It Doesn’t Raise the Revenue Expected

In Italy, an FTT imposed in 2012 has raised just €159 million of a targeted €1 billion. France, which introduced its FTT a year later, initially predicted €1.5 billion annually in revenue, but has yet to raise even half that much so far. Both countries may see the same results Sweden did when it instituted its FTT. Revenues on bonds, for example, were predicted to be SEK 1.5 billion per year but the average was closer to SEK 50 million.

A More Targeted FTT Will Likely Also Backfire

A variation of the transaction tax proposed is a levy on “excessive levels of order cancellations.” However, a tax on authentic market making efforts will limit an inexpensive and effective way for investors to determine a fair price. The ability to negotiate prices freely has helped limit trading risks and thus made the costs to trade very low.  In fact, a study by professors Jesse Blocher, Ricky Alyn Cooper, Jonathan Seddon and Ben Van Vliet finds that “the only thing occurring during high levels of cancellation activity is HFT firms seeking the correct price level. This is good for the market. It means that HFT firms process information and help improve price discovery without the need for intermediate executions.”

In addition, defining how much legitimate order cancelling is “excessive” will be difficult and dependent on such factors as the complexity of the stock (some ETFs have thousands of underlying constituents) and the tradability of the stock (some stocks trade sporadically and some very often). Setting an improper limit will hinder competition among HFT intermediaries and raise costs for investors.

It’s a “Speculators Tax” That does not Target Speculators

One thing FTT proposals have in common is its positioning as a punitive measure against “Wall Street speculators” who fueled the financial crisis of 2008 that required a taxpayer-funded bailout. But high frequency traders had nothing to do with designing the over-leveraged bank positions that caused the crisis.

It Can Happen Here

Although some dismiss a financial transaction tax as an idea that has been discussed and dismissed many times, the same was said in Europe, where 10 EU countries are poised on the brink of instituting an FTT. In the U.S., all three Democratic presidential candidates have financial transaction tax proposals. This is of particular interest since, as The Wall Street Journal points out “each of the past three presidents ran in part on a tax plan and each got much of it implemented by the end of his first term.”

Conclusion

In short, an FTT has proven to drive trading to other countries, fall short of revenue expectations, sharply depress trading volumes and increase investor’s costs to trade. Collectively it would be an economic disaster for America.

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What Experts are Saying About Financial Transaction Taxes:

“High-frequency trading plays a critical role. When you put a tax on transactions, you risk damaging liquidity. As mutual fund investors we rely on having liquidity,” he added. “A drop in liquidity is bad for fund shareholders.”
– Tim Buckley, Chief Investment Officer, Vanguard Group

“Quite frankly, an FTT is a terrible idea.  It would harm all investors, especially middle-income American workers saving for retirement.  We have yet to see a FTT proposal that would not hurt Main Street nor weaken our capital markets.”
– Investment Company Institute, a trade group representing 90 million investors in US mutual funds

“The fundamental problem with FTTs is that they are distortionary; for example, by driving down stock prices, they make raising capital more expensive for firms. In the long run, this lowers labor productivity and wage levels.”
– Kenneth Rogoff, Professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University and past chief economist of the International Monetary Fund from 2001-03

“Seemingly small changes such as a financial transactions tax can cause considerable damage far from Wall Street, harming both investors and American businesses and impeding job recovery and growth.”
Professors Charles Jones and Erik Sirri, in a paper for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

“The most troubling outcome (of a financial transaction tax) could be that consumers, mom and pop investors, pensioners and end users (those actually using markets to hedge their legitimate business risk) wind up being victims of such a mindless—perhaps momentary lapse of reasoned—policy.”
– Bart Chilton, Former CFTC Commissioner

“Politicians think of this (financial transaction tax) as a tax on the guys that caused the financial crisis.  It’s a tax on investors.”
– Keith Lawson, senior counsel at the Investment Company Institute

“(Financial transaction taxes) wind up being paid for by the mom-and-pop investors at the end of the day.”
– James J. Angel, Associate Professor of Finance, Georgetown University

“We found a significant increase in the bid-ask spread.  There is also evidence of an increase in the volatility of the taxed stocks.”
– European Central Bank study on the Italian Financial Transaction Tax

“The evidence from Europe over the past few years suggests a financial transaction tax in the UK would be one of the most catastrophic regulations ever to hit the financial sector.”
– Ben Wright, Group Business Editor, The Telegraph

“…highly risky and costly to all investors to introduce an FTT of any design.”
– Jim Toes, Security Traders Association President and CEO

“There are few taxes that are as damaging and counter-productive as transaction taxes.  Even before Adam Smith, all economists understood that economic progress is generated by trade: it leads to the division of labour, the division of knowledge and the creation of wealth. Transaction taxes … reduce trade and economic exchanges, and hence slow down economic improvements.”
– Allister Heath, Deputy director of content and deputy editor at The Telegraph

“A tax which would damage savings, reduce liquidity and cut economic growth whilst being unlikely to raise much revenue anyway just does not seem worth it.”
– Adam Memon, Head of Economic Research at the Centre for Policy Studies

“An FTT affects the economy … that over the long term it actually reduces, not increases, tax revenue.”
– Tim Worstall, Forbes.com

“New life for a bad idea”
– The Economist, regarding revived financial transaction tax discussions among the European Union

“… an FTT will actually produce lower government revenue due to falling profits in the financial industry. And that benefits precisely no one.”
– Professor Moorad Choudhry, Head of Business Treasury, Global Banking & Markets, Royal Bank of Scotland

“Hillary Rodham Clinton has now followed Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley in calling for a tax on the traders who, they complain, use their high-speed computers and expensive data lines to pick the pockets of ordinary investors. The odd thing about all this concern is that most of the investors who are actually facing off against the high-frequency traders — often on behalf of retirement savers — don’t see this as anything like the most costly problem they are facing, even in the arcane realm of trading mechanics.”
– The New York Times

“An FTT will create unintended investment incentives and undermine sound asset management principles such as diversification, proper hedging and efficient execution. Perversely, as a result of an FTT, active portfolios will be forced to take higher levels of risk and/or invest to a greater extent in derivatives in order to deliver the same level of return to clients. It will also reduce market liquidity and increase volatility, further hurting investment performance for pensioners and savers.”
– BlackRock

“A FTT at the rates being proposed and adopted elsewhere would discourage all trading, not just speculation and rent seeking. It appears as likely to increase market volatility as to curb it. It would create new distortions among asset classes an across industries. As a tax on gross rather than net activity, and as an input tax that is not creditable and thus cascades, the FTT clearly can most optimistically be considered a second-best solution.”
– Tax Policy Center

“Empirical evidence provides little indication that a transaction tax would reduce volatility. In fact, a number of research studies have concluded that higher transaction costs are associated with more, not less, volatility.”
– Congressional Budget Office

“Little evidence is found to suggest that an FTT would reduce speculative trading or volatility. In fact, several studies conclude that an FTT increases volatility and bid-ask spreads and decreases trading volume. Furthermore, a number of challenges associated with the design and effectiveness of an FTT could limit the revenues that FTTs are intended to raise. For these reasons, countries considering the imposition of FTTs should be aware of their negative consequences and the challenges involved in implementation.”
– Bank of Canada

“However, Italy’s experience shows that while this sort of tax … is effective at reducing trading volumes, it isn’t very good at raising money.”
– Assistant Professor Noah Smith, Stony Brook University

“Many developed nations, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan have imposed transactions taxes on securities trades, and their experience suggests that the alleged benefits of the tax are likely to be small while the resulting costs and distortions would be large.”
– Burton G. Malkiel, author of “A Random Walk Down Wall Street”

“The FTT would negatively impact the real economy and pensioners would bear the costs.”
– PensionsEurope, an organization with 24 member associations in 19 EU Member States and 3 other European countries with significant workplace pension systems.