Buffett Toys with Republicans on Taxes

Jan 13, 2012, 10:53 am EDT

In an August 2011 op-ed piece in the New York Times, Warren Buffett declared that wealthy Americans paid too little in taxes. The response to the piece was predictably partisan, with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) saying Buffett should feel free to “send in a check” to the U.S. Treasury to assuage his guilt. Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) followed that up by introducing the “Buffett Rule Act,” which would allow rich folks to donate more in taxes to help pay down the national debt.

For an interview published in the new issue of Time magazine, Buffett told Rana Foroohar that Thune’s proposal was “a tax policy only a Republican could come up with.” If nothing else, Republican sparring on Buffett’s tax stance seems to have inspired the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) to play along and up the ante. Buffett said would donate $1 toward paying down the national debt for every dollar donated by a Republican in Congress, and for McConnell, $3 for every $1 McConnell donates.

An aide to McConnell told Reuters that Buffett should consider expanding his matching offer to President Barack Obama and his Democrats. Read 

What the New Hampshire Primary Reveals

Jan 11, 2012, 1:19 pm EDT

Mitt Romney won an expected and decisive victory in New Hampshire’s Tuesday primary. As the GOP field pivots to South Carolina, Romney will likely clinch the nomination. Although a strong showing by Newt Gingrich or a coalescing of social conservatives around one candidate, Rick Santorum probably, could slow Romney’s momentum. Still his coronation as the Republican candidate seems inevitable.

What else did we learn from the New Hampshire primary?

First, Ron Paul is a force to be reckoned with. He won 24% of the vote yesterday, a stronger showing than was expected. Although the Republican commentariat has dismissed his candidacy from the very beginning, he has won almost a quarter of the vote in the first two states, and his views and supporters simply cannot be ignored. Read 

The Journal’s Tax Story Comes Up Short

Jan 11, 2012, 12:40 pm EDT

The Wall Street Journal recently missed a big point about the tax burdens facing millions of small businesses.

Its article More Firms Enjoy Tax-Free Status” argues that increasing numbers of businesses are organized so “they don’t pay a penny in federal corporate income tax.” That’s true, but as the American Family Business Institute notes, those business owners pay taxes on their business through their personal income taxes.

“Unfortunately, an implication of characterizations like this is that it implicitly calls for hiking individual income taxes, which ensnares more and more family businesses,” AFBI spokesman Charles Chamberlayne said in a statement to InvestorPlace. “For business owners filing via personal income taxes, their family business likely accounts for the majority of what is considered personal income and is subject to a higher marginal tax rate.” Read 

Romney’s Private Sector Record Isn’t the Point

Jan 11, 2012, 12:22 pm EDT

Mitt Romney, now the winner of his party’s first two contests in the 2012 presidential race, loves capitalism. He’s eager to brag about his experience in the private sector, as do his supporters. Democrats and GOP presidential opponents love to point out that Romney’s resume is littered with bankrupt companies and laid-off employees.

None of it matters.

For one thing, as Paul Krugman noted recently in The New York Times, Romney is inflating his job-creating prowess while he was at private equity firm Bain Capital. The former Massachusetts governor’s claim that he created more jobs — 100,000 — than President Obama, who Romney says lost about 2 million, also is suspect. Romney’s record, which is hardly shocking considering that he invested in distressed companies, is also ancient history: He left Bain in 1992. Read 

The Fed Pays $77 Billion to Treasury

Jan 10, 2012, 2:17 pm EDT

Uncle Ben is trying to help out Uncle Sam. On Tuesday, Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve announced that it has handed over $76.9 billion to Timothy Geithner’s Treasury Department. The amount represents the Federal Reserve Banks’ 2011 income, minus costs.

A Fed statement says the amount “was derived primarily from $83.6 billion in interest income on securities acquired through open market operations (U.S. Treasury securities, federal agency and government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) mortgage-backed securities, and GSE debt securities).”

While that’s a hefty chunk of change, it’s slightly less than the Fed’s 2010 net profits of $79.3 billion, which went to the Treasury last year. Still, as The New York Times points out, this year’s payout is far above average: “The Fed made an average annual contribution to the Treasury Department of $23 billion during the five years preceding the financial crisis. In the five years since 2007, the Fed’s average contribution more than doubled to $54 billion.” Read 

Tensions With Iran Lift Oil Prices, Europe’s Recession Fears

Jan 10, 2012, 1:38 pm EDT

One third of the world’s oil tankers (14 supertankers per day) pass through the Straits of Hormuz. The USS John C. Stennis also passed through the Strait of Hormuz in November. Next, the U.S. may send the USS Eisenhower to the region to give Iran an even stronger message that the U.S. intends to keep oil pipelines open. In response, Iran continues to issue threats to the U.S. Navy. Last Tuesday, Iranian Major General Salehi reportedly said that “Iran advises, recommends and warns [the U.S.] not to move its carrier back to the previous area in the Gulf.” This warning pushed oil up to an 8-month high of over $100 a barrel.

To ease these tensions, the U.S. Navy rescued 13 Iranian fishermen who were being held hostage by Somali pirates, returning those Iranians to their home country. This won some support in Iran for the U.S., but Iran’s hard-line Fars news agency called the rescue a “Hollywood-style propaganda stunt” to justify the U.S. Navy’s “blockade.”

On Tuesday, the European Union reached a preliminary agreement to ban Iranian crude oil, but it must secure new sources before the embargo can proceed. This dilemma could push Europe into recession by making energy scarce and pushing prices to prohibitive heights. The euro is already at a 15-month low to the U.S. dollar due to continuing financial concerns about the eurozone. On Friday, the European Central Bank had to step in to buy Italian and Spanish debt after 10-year Italian bond yields rose to 7.12% (i.e., 5.24% higher than the 1.88% Germany pays on its 10-year bonds). Italy now pays 4.94% on its two-year notes, 4.76% higher than equivalent German notes. Clearly, the euro crisis is not over. Read 

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