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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Investors to scour outlooks for US companies' tax cut plans

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Corporate results for 2017's final quarter will start pouring in next week and are expected to be laden with one-time charges as US companies begin to cope with tax code changes, including a one-time tax on trillions of dollars in profits held overseas.

Wall Street investors will be tuned in to chief executives' statements about plans for 2018 and beyond for savings that will result from a deep cut in corporate income taxes enacted last month by the US Congress and President Donald Trump. Some investors expect many companies will use their tax savings to buy back shares and increase dividends, while others will look for increased capital spending or wage increases.

Walmart announced on Thursday that it will raise entry-level wages for hourly employees, partly because of tax cuts. It also said it would lay off thousands of workers and close dozens of Sam's Club stores. The tax law was Trump's first major legislative achievement since he took office in January last year, and it slashes the corporate income tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent.

The tax package, approved despite the unanimous opposition of Democrats, helped drive stock market gains in the last months of 2017. The momentum has continued in 2018, and there are widespread expectations that investors will overlook fourth-quarter charges and focus on upbeat corporate outlooks. "What you'll see is companies will take a one-time hit, but it's not going to have a bearing on stock price movements," said David Katz, chief investment officer at Matrix Asset Advisors in New York.

"They will talk about 2018, and we feel pretty confident it will be a win to a big win for US companies." Estimates for 2018 S&P 500 earnings have risen more than 2 percentage points since the beginning of the year, partly due to analysts factoring in the impact of the tax code changes. Profit growth for the year is forecast at 14.2 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data, while analysts expect fourth-quarter earnings to have risen 11.8 percent from a year ago.

The energy sector is expected to post the biggest year-over-year gain in earnings. Estimates have risen in recent weeks following a surge in oil prices, which this week climbed to their highest level in three years.

-Reuters, New York

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