While the details of the Trump administration’s economic policies are still to be determined, the President-elect’s comments on the campaign trail indicate he is ready to shake up the status quo. Recent interviews and early cabinet selections have given us a preview of his plans. In particular, the new administration seems eager to simplify complex regulations and to advance initiatives to bring jobs and capital back from overseas.
As the specifics of those policies take shape, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists should pay close attention, as they can benefit from understanding the dynamics at work. Here are some of the promised changes to watch for:
1. Lower corporate taxes
Trump has made clear he intends to lower the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent. With general consensus among both parties that the U.S. tax code is desperately in need of an update, this cut might be among the more realistic of Trump’s goals.
For most early-stage growth companies, tax rates are less of a concern given typically high cash burn rates and carry-forward positions on their balance sheets. Still, startups stand to be the benefactors of a wave of investment from larger companies if lower corporate tax rates pass. Look at the corporate ecosystem as a whole, with low tax rates facilitating a strong economic investment cycle that lifts up newer, smaller companies as well.
2. Low-cost opportunities for cash repatriation
Currently, companies holding cash overseas pay a 35 percent repatriation tax rate when they move earnings back into the US. To avoid that high cost, many companies simply reinvest the money abroad instead of bringing it back. As a candidate, Trump suggested a “tax holiday” to allow that cash to flow back into the country at a much lower rate, possibly around 10 percent.
Business leaders have reacted with enthusiasm. Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company is ready to move some of its $200 billion in overseas holdings back to the US, provided the US offers a “reasonable” tax rate. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that $2.6 trillion is currently being held overseas.
If the Trump administration moves forward with plans to ease the cash repatriation tax, well-established, cash-rich tech companies’ balance sheets will be flush with capital and ready to invest inside the United States. That stands to significantly accelerate the M&A trend in which larger companies seek new opportunities and partnerships with up-and-coming tech startups. For early stage growth companies, that would be very positive news. With a potential influx of cash to larger companies taking advantage of a tax holiday, entrepreneurs should keep a keen eye out for strategic partnering opportunities.
3. Fewer government regulations
Throughout his campaign, President-elect Trump argued that the economy would fare better with fewer restrictive government regulations. If onerous bureaucratic procedures are lifted, companies that have been suffering from related implementation costs will have more room to breathe. Small companies have traditionally struggled more with interpreting legalities, so entrepreneurs and startups stand to gain from fewer and simpler requirements.
4. Reconsidering Obamacare
Entrepreneurs were vocal critics of the Affordable Care Act from the time it was implemented, with the National Federation of Independent Businesses bringing a legal challenge against the law that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Among other requirements, the law mandates that businesses with 50 or more employees provide health coverage. That put a financial burden on employers who had to find other ways to cut back, and frustrations grew as they saw premiums rise since the establishment of the law.
Trump’s platform includes health care reform and repealing at least some aspects of Obamacare, possibly eliminating a source of frustration for some entrepreneurs.
5. The potential for surprises
While the general population was stunned by the recent Trump victory, markets quickly self-corrected: Bonds entered into a sharp sell-off in anticipation of higher interest rates, and the healthcare, energy, and banking sectors responded favorably to anticipated changes.
The takeaway is that things can and will change quickly. Entrepreneurs should remember that political risk needs to be monitored and managed. Risk mitigation is especially important for younger companies in segmented vertical markets, where there can be a significant magnitude of change in business models.
Entrepreneurs and VCs should remain vigilant
Primed to build his legacy on improving America’s ability to do business, many of Trump’s policies are expected to be quite business-friendly. In spite of early suggestions that sales cycles would slow as companies waited to assess the new administration’s policy direction, the market’s rally demonstrates that these concerns may be overblown. The overwhelming majority of the market will maintain business-as-usual status and quickly adjust to the new realities of a Trump administration.
The businesses that will gain the most are the ones whose leaders strategize in advance. For entrepreneurs and investors in particular, being prepared to respond to new policies and pivot accordingly will be crucial to their future success.
Ron Heinz is Managing Director at Signal Peak Ventures.