CVS executives knew that some of their sales would go up in smoke when they decided last year to stop selling cigarettes. The press release announcing that all 7,600 CVS stores nationwide would stop selling all tobacco products acknowledged that sales would take a hit. Still, the company said, “This is the right thing to do.”
The costs of the decision are now becoming clear. CVS Health’s general merchandise sales slumped 7.8 percent last quarter on a same-store basis, the company said Tuesday. The company claims non-pharmacy sales would have stayed the same if tobacco sales — and the other products cigarette buyers added to their baskets — were removed from sales figures for the same quarter in 2014.
Same-store sales in the pharmacy category climbed 4.1 percent, boosting overall same-store sales growth to 0.5 percent compared with the second quarter of last year, down from a 1.2 percent year-over-year increase the previous quarter. Net revenue overall grew by 7.4 percent to $37.2 billion, helped by pharmacy services revenue that surged 11.9 percent ($2.6 billion) to $24.4 billion. The company has reportedly increased its market share in the health and beauty categories (it did, however, narrow its full-year earnings forecast).
So even as the move to drop cigarettes has cost the company, its bet on health as the source of future growth may be starting to pay off. CVS stock dropped in the wake of its earnings announcement, but shares are still up more than 15 percent on the year and 44 percent over the past 12 months.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is warning that sharply cutting taxes right now would be an economic “mistake.”
In an interview with Maria Bartiromo on the Fox Business Network Thursday, the 91-year-old Greenspan said it’s more important for President Trump and Congress to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path by addressing rising entitlement spending driven by the aging of the U.S. population.
“Frankly, I think what we ought to be concerned about is the fact the federal debt is rising at a very rapid pace, and there’s nothing in this bill that will essentially stop that from happening," Greenspan said. "So my view is that we’re premature on fiscal stimulus, whether it’s tax cuts or expenditure increases. We’ve got to get the debt stabilized before we can even think in those terms.”
It’s no surprise that the House Republicans’ tax bill includes the eventual repeal of the estate tax, a long-held GOP goal. But The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler highlights an unexpectedly generous aspect of the current bill: It “allows the beneficiaries of estates to not pay capital gains taxes on the increase in value of assets held by the estates. That has not been a feature of most previous estate-tax bills.”
Currently, estates face a federal tax if they’re valued at more than $5.49 million for individuals or almost $11 million for couples. But, for tax purposes, the value of assets passed on to heirs gets “stepped-up” or reset to their value at the time of death. Kessler’s example: “Imagine a home that had been purchased for $250,000 but was now worth $1 million. The ‘stepped-up basis’ would be $1 million. If the heirs sold the house for $1.1 million, they would only owe capital-gains tax on the $100,000 difference, not the $850,000 difference from the original purchase price.”
The GOP bill repeals the estate tax, but also keeps the stepped-up basis — a seemingly small detail that creates a huge tax shelter. It means that heirs of large estates would save tens of billions of dollars a year when they sell assets that have appreciated in value over time — or, as Kessler puts it, that the bill will allow “tens of billions of untapped capital gains to remain beyond the reach of the U.S. government.”
Speaker Paul Ryan said Sunday that House Republicans are still considering a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate as part of their tax bill. "We have an active conversation with our members and a whole host of ideas on things to add to this bill. And that’s one of the things that’s being discussed," Ryan said on Fox News. President Trump touted the idea in a tweet last week, and Sens. Tom Cotton and Rand Paul have recently spoken in favor of using the tax bill to eliminate the mandate. The move would save the government $416 billion over 10 years as roughly 15 million people go without insurance due to lower spending on subsidies and health care services, according to the CBO. Those savings could be appealing as Republicans look for revenues in their revised tax bill. But if the controversial repeal of the mandate isn’t included in the tax bill, the White House is reportedly ready to roll out an executive order weakening the requirement that taxpayers provide proof of insurance to avoid paying a penalty.
Despite the challenges the Republican tax overhaul faces, Goldman Sachs still puts the chances of a plan becoming law by early next year at about 65 percent — but its analysts see some substantial changes coming before that happens. “The proposed tax cut is more front-loaded than we have expected; official estimates suggest a tax cut of 0.75% of GDP in 2018. However, we expect the final version to have a smaller near-term effect as competing priorities lead tax-writers to phase in some cuts—particularly corporate rate cuts—over time,” Goldman said in a note to clients Sunday.
Politico’s Danny Vinik: “Thanks to a quirky proposed surcharge, Americans who earn more than $1 million in taxable income would trigger an extra 6 percent tax on the next $200,000 they earn—a complicated change that effectively creates a new, unannounced tax bracket of 45.6 percent. … The new rate stems from a provision in the bill intended to help the government recover, from the very wealthy, some of the benefits that lower-income taxpayers enjoy. … After the first $1 million in taxable income, the government would impose a 6 percent surcharge on every dollar earned, until it made up for the tax benefits that the rich receive from the low tax rate on that first $45,000. That surcharge remains until the government has clawed back the full $12,420, which would occur at about $1.2 million in taxable income. At that point, the surcharge disappears and the top tax rate drops back to 39.6 percent.”
Vinik writes that the surcharge would have affected more than 400,000 tax filers in 2015, according to IRS data, and that it could raise more than $50 billion in revenue over a decade. At a Politico event Friday, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said the surcharge, sometimes called a bubble rate, was included to try to drive more middle-class tax relief.