How Would Municipals Fare Under Romney?

Last month, we wrote that changes to the tax code being discussed in Washington would affect the value of municipal bonds. While that analysis still holds true, that was before the election campaign engines really revved up. Now there’s more chatter, if not more clarity. My colleague Michael Brooks weighs in.

William G. Gale, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and one of the most respected tax policy economists in the nation, has published a report that includes a discussion of the tradeoffs of Romney’s tax proposals. Details of Romney’s plan have not been released, forcing Gale to make certain assumptions regarding which tax expenditures would be “on the table” and which would be “off the table.” 

Included among the off-the-table tax expenditures in Gale’s report is the municipal bond tax exemption, largely because Romney wants to encourage savings and investment.

Unfortunately, the crystal ball is a little murky, because Romney’s own economic advisor Glenn Hubbard apparently told The Wall Street Journal here that the muni bond exemption was “definitely ‘on the table.’” 

What we know for sure is, until the Romney campaign releases more details about its tax policy proposals, it will be impossible to determine if the muni bond exemption might be at risk under a Romney presidency.

There is one interesting point, however, that we can glean from details Romney has released about his plans to revise the tax code. Romney is on record as saying he would like all the tax rates to be reduced by 20%, which would lower the current top rate to 28%. Comparing this to the top rate of 39.6% scheduled for next year under current law, there’s no question that the tax advantage municipals enjoy would be significantly eroded.

Furthermore, Romney is also apparently on record as saying he wants taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes below $200,000 to pay no tax on interest income from Treasuries or corporate bonds. This could have an impact on the retail municipal market, as investors in that income category could choose among municipals, Treasuries and corporates, all on an equal tax footing, thereby reducing demand for municipals. That assumes, of course, that he has not altered the tax exemption for municipals.

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AllianceBernstein portfolio-management teams.

Douglas J. Peebles is Chief Investment Officer and Head of Fixed Income, and Michael Brooks is Senior Portfolio Manager of Municipal Bonds, both at AllianceBernstein.

Douglas J. Peebles

Douglas J. Peebles joined the firm in 1987 and is the Chief Investment Officer of AB Fixed Income. In this role, he supervises all of the Fixed Income portfolio-management and research teams globally. In addition, Peebles is Chairman of the Interest Rates and Currencies Research Review team, which is responsible for setting interest-rate and currency policy for all fixed-income portfolios. He has held several leadership positions within the fixed-income division, having served as director of Global Fixed Income from 1997 to 2004, and then co-head of AllianceBernstein Fixed Income from 2004 until August 2008. He earned a BA from Muhlenberg College and an MBA from Rutgers University. Location: New York

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