A Transaction Tax of its Own May Be Heading to Wall Street

Terry Flanagan

The specter of a financial transaction tax heading to Wall Street is growing in more ways than one.

Firstly, the 11-nation European version is set to infiltrate the U.S. by stealth when it is expected to be finally adopted next year. And, more worryingly, a U.S. version of the levy has been resurrected despite it failing to get off the ground twice before in recent years.

The European version is a tax of 10 basis points on stocks and one basis point on all derivatives transactions issued in either Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Greece, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia or Estonia. Because the tax is a directive, all 11 nations will have to implement their own law, which also opens up the possibility of 11 slightly different taxes.

And many U.S. investors are likely to become embroiled in the tax even if trades are conducted in the U.S.

Dr Christian Voigt, business solutions architect, Fidessa

Dr Christian Voigt, business solutions architect, Fidessa

“For example, let’s look at a German FTT, as part of the European effort,” said Dr Christian Voigt, business solutions architect at trading and technology company Fidessa. “Once the tax is up and running, it doesn’t matter where a German instrument is traded as it will be covered by the German financial transaction tax even if the trade takes place in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Peter DeFazio are proposing to introduce a similar U.S. version entitled the Wall Street Trading and Speculators Tax, which will collect 3bps on every trade and is expected to raise an anticipated $352 billion over 10 years.

They had unsuccessfully tried to push through similar measures in 2009 and again in 2011. This time, though, they are hopeful that the European version will prove a catalyst for their Bill being a success.

“They appear to have learned from their previous attempts and are striking a populist tone,” said Mikhail Merone, a product marketing specialist at Fidessa, in a recent blog.

DeFazio has said that the U.S. “will need to make hard decisions to get back on sound fiscal footing” and that “our financial transaction tax should be a no-brainer”.

Merone at Fidessa added: “The new measure may contain safeguards to shield some market participants from the tax, but it seems certain to affect proprietary and high-frequency traders.

“Some have questioned whether Harkin and DeFazio wield sufficient influence in financial circles to give their latest attempt to pass the legislation any better chance than in previous years. [But] stranger things have happened. After all, there is something to be said for perseverance.”

However, there is still some time yet before this could come to pass.

“In terms of process, the U.S. is behind Europe, unlike on other regulations,” said Voigt. “We’ve seen in the past a number of proposals in the U.S. but there is no certainty, yet. I’m holding my breath and hope the U.S. dodges this one for the sake of the industry.”

With the U.S. financial coffers in an even worse state than in 2009 and 2011, the senators are hoping that the potential revenue-raising ability of the levy may also help push the Bill through.

Although many market participants believe that any financial transaction tax would, in fact, cause an economy to shrink. France, which already has a transaction tax levy of its own in place, has seen trading volumes shrink after its introduction in August last year.

“France saw a double-digit decline in trading volumes so the countries that have signed up to it will be hurt by it,” said Ricardo Arroja, chief investment officer of Pedro Arroja, a Portuguese investment manager, and author of a recently released book on the Portuguese economy.

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