Tuesday, May 29, 2007

US Savings Rate: Ignore It

We are always hearing about the negative US Savings Rate and how we are "living on credit". It is only a matter of time before our bubble bursts and we are plunged into recession / depression or what ever else negative "sion" they can come up with. Let's just ignore the number you see. Why? The method used to arrive at number we always see, while accurate 50 years ago, in today's investor economy gives us a false number. Here is how.

Today savings is calculated as:

Income - Federal taxes - Expenditures= Savings

sound easy enough correct? Wrong and here is why.

1- Excludes capital gains

Let's say I bought 300 shares of Sears Holdings (SHLD) in 2004 for $23 a share spending $6,9000. Wanting to pay for my kids college, I sold them last month for $180 a share pocketing $54,000 or a profit of $47,100.

According to the current savings calculation, that $47,100 is not counted as income..

2- Includes all Federal Taxes

Now, Of that $47,100 I now have to pay 15% long term capitol gains taxes of $7,050. That tax bill is included in the "taxes paid" portion of the saving equation even though the income that generated it was not.

3- Includes the spending of the gain

The remaining $40,050 that is sent to the college, is now counted as an expendtiture in the calculation..

so for what I just illustrated, the income and expenditures and taxes all equal out to zero BUT, for the National Savings Rate, it looks like this:

Income = 0
Federal Taxes = $7050
Expenditures= $ $40,050

This gives me a NEGATIVE savings on this transaction on $41,000 when in reality, it should be zero.

Another factor? 401k's

How many retired people are getting an income from a 401K? If you are that numbers is NOT being counted as income, BUT the things you buy with it are being counted as expenditures, giving you an artificial negative savings rate.

Own a home? Has it increased in value? The increase in that value is NOT counted as savings either. When you sell it and have a gain you then roll over into another house, you have the same mythical spending with no income from our stock transaction. The money you put down on the new house and the taxes you may pay on the sale of the old are counted as expenditures but the gain on the sale of the old house is not counted as income.

Perhaps this is then reason that even though we have a "negative savings rate" as a nation, our household wealth is at all time highs?

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