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The big election winner? Diversified, long-term investors

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Most clients have made up their mind about who they want to serve as their next president. But what can they look forward to, from an investment and tax standpoint, if their candidate wins or loses? How will the election affect their portfolio and future net worth?

The most reliable clue we have about the fiscal and investment impact of a Trump or Clinton presidency is the actual proposals by the candidates — but we have to proceed with caution.

It is unlikely the Democrats will win the presidency plus a majority in both the Senate and the House. Nevertheless, if Clinton is elected, we know to expect certain changes to the tax code. There will at least be an attempt to add a 4% surtax on incomes above $5 million, to end the carried interest deduction favored by hedge fund managers and other Wall Streeters, plus a possible cap on itemized deductions when people reach the 28% tax rate. The existing $5.45 million estate tax exemption could be reduced to $3.5 million ($7 million for couples); estate amounts above that figure could be taxed at a 45% rate. Wall Street brokers may be hit with an unspecified surtax on high-frequency trading activities.

A President Trump would be more likely to get his wishes if he’s elected along with a Republican Congress, but what, exactly, these would be is far less certain.

You can expect a President Trump to make an effort to cut taxes by seeking to reduce the ordinary income tax brackets to 12% (up to $75,000 for joint filers), 25% ($75,000 to $225,000) and 33% (above $225,000). The standard deduction could double, but itemized deductions would be capped at $100,000 for single filers and $200,000 for joint filers. Corporate tax rates could be reduced from a maximum of 35% to a maximum of 15%. Federal estate and gift taxes may be eliminated, but the step-up in basis would also be eliminated for estates over $10 million.

A Clinton presidency checked by either the Republican House or a Republican House and Senate would provide a measure of stability. A President Trump and a GOP Congress would represent significant uncertainty, and off-the-cuff policy proposals introduced at random times would likely spook investors. Loose talk about “renegotiating” America’s debt with Treasury bond holders here and abroad (read: default, followed by demanding lower payments) could lower America’s bond rating once again.

Perhaps the biggest risk in the election involves trade. A Trump Presidency would be seen, initially, at least, as a drag on the Mexican markets, and it might see America rip up its trade agreements and pick currency and trade wars with the emerging economic colossus that is China. Interestingly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which both candidates now reject, was an effort by the U.S. to create economic ties to Singapore, Korea, Vietnam and other countries in the Asian rim, the better to counter Chinese economic influence. In terms of global trade, China stands to win no matter who wins this election.

The bottom line: Prepare for the possibility (but not the certainty due to gridlock) of higher taxes under a Clinton presidency, and a more certain (but hard to predict the details) lower-tax environment under a President Trump if Republicans control Congress.

Despite the usual stereotypes, the deficit would likely go up under Trump and it might go down under Clinton — again with the caveat that comes with a divided government. The reality is that no matter who wins, America will still represent the most dynamic economy in the world, and whoever wins the White House is unlikely to change that. As I see it, tell clients to stay diversified and stay the course.

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