24 November 2009

What Is a Tobin Tax?

The purpose of a Tobin Tax is to place a financial penalty on short term transactions to curb speculation. It was originally proposed by James Tobin in the 1970's as a means of discouraging international currency speculation after Nixon closed the gold window and rendered the Bretton Woods agreement moot, at least until the ascendancy of the current dollar reserve currency system.

The tax is generally discussed as being 0.1% of the total transaction, or 1.00 per 1,000. It certainly would have a discouraging impact on the daytraders, and some could argue, as I would, that a percentage of the transaction at .1% might be considered regressive, and a huge penalty on institutional trading.

The tax might be better targeted at 'frequency' of trading, rather than nominal size of the transaction, in order to target speculation, under some reasonable transaction limit.

So for example, a flat tax of .50 per transaction would be negligible for the average investor, but would seriously impinge high frequency trading that is de rigeur amongst professional speculation these days.

What is also of concern is the discussion of a Tobin Tax as a international source of revenue, let's say for the IMF. A system of direct taxes on US citizens for the funding purposes of an international entity like the IMF must surely be unconstitutional.

And it goes without saying that there are sure to be 'exemptions' for certain types of trading in this tax, if the lobbyists have anything to say about it.

There will be another bailout of the banks. There will be discussion about punitive and ameliorative legislation to deal with them, in addition to the general lack of discussion about existing antitrust and bankruptcy laws, and the Glass-Steagall law which stood the test of time for sixty years.

American Banking News
Is a Tobin Tax in Store for Large Banks?

By Christopher
November 24th, 2009

The phrase “too big to fail” may get retired in 2010, but for banks such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup Inc., and Bank of America, they may face a new round of punitive legislation to deal with the political fallout.

According to a special report in Money Morning, heavy government intervention in the banking sector combined with low interest rates and ongoing stimulus has made 2009 a profitable year for many banks.

In fact, according to a special report in Money Morning, so-called “bad” banks including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup Inc., and Bank of America have turned out to be a better investment than good banks.

But as they look to 2010, these same factors may signal trouble.

To begin with, if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates as is widely expected, it would reduce trading profits, reduce the profitability of borrowing short-term and lending long-term, and reduce the prices of assets such as houses and commercial real estate – putting even more strain on loan portfolios.

But an increase in interest rates is only the first of three areas of concerns for investors.

The length and the level of U.S. unemployment have economists wading through unchartered waters. If unemployment rises above its current 10.5% level and tests a postwar period high of 10.8% set back in 1982, it could signal huge losses as the U.S. consumer-credit system is not “stress-tested” for such high unemployment rates over a prolonged period of time.

And if the losses start piling up, the Fed might very well intercede again with a second bailout. This would be yet another strike against bank stocks since politicians would try to penalize investors for needing taxpayer money twice in two years.

All of this, plus the recent news of record bonuses at Goldman Sachs is creating momentum for punitive legislation against the banks that goes beyond the premiums banks pay to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC).

One idea being considered is a “Tobin tax”. Originally proposed by economist James Tobin after the Nixon administration effectively ended the Bretton-Woods system of tying the U.S. dollar to the gold standard.

The idea behind such legislation, which would fall most heavily on very big conventional banks and trading-oriented investment banks, would be to tax transactions in bonds, stock commodity and foreign exchange markets.

Opinions are divided between those who discern a Tobin tax could protect countries from spillovers of financial crises, and those who claim the tax would constrain the effectiveness of the global economic system and dry up world liquidity.