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Advisors, CEOs, Private Equity

5 Taboo Topics to Avoid at the Holiday Table

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Heading home for the holidays?

Any time you assemble a group of generationally and politically diverse family members around the dinner table, there will always be touchy topics — and at least one relative trying to steer the conversation toward them.

Sure, controversy can be fun. But be prepared for the fallout should you decide to bring up any of the below topics.

(By the way — it should go without saying, but this is not a comprehensive list.)

1) The President-to-Be

Everyone knows politics and family don’t always mix. This election season, that may be truer than ever. Here are a few areas in particular to give a wide berth.

  • Clinton’s big-bank buddies
Source: hrc.io

Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has received “more money from big banks than any other candidate — Republican or Democrat — in the 2016 race,” reports the Huffington Post. And that isn’t including super PAC contributions or donations from people in the hedge fund or PE industries.

After the latest Democratic debate, Clinton came under fire for tying the time she spent on Wall Street post 9-11 to the financial support she’s received since that time. Many weren’t pleased with Clinton’s implications.

  • Sanders’ plan to “put Wall Street on notice”
Source: DemocraticUnderground.com

Meanwhile, in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders shared his plans to hold Wall Street responsible for the financial crisis. “On Day One, I am appointing a special committee to investigate the crimes on Wall Street. We’re gonna move this quickly, and if these people are found guilty, they will be in jail. Nobody in America is above the law.

“Is that what Barack Obama said?” Sanders continued. “Mm — not quite.”

Such a promise has the potential to divide fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans and Dems.

  • The Donald
donaldtrump
Source: reddit.com

Officially, we strongly advise against any all and conversation revolving around Trump… but whether you hate him or love him, odds are good you won’t be able to resist. Trump’s recent kerfuffle with Rupert Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal over the Trans-Pacific partnership is just the latest example. The hair, the hat, the smile, the cheerful vitriol… it’s a special sort of magic.

2) Pensions vs. PE

Got a firefighter, a retired schoolteacher, and a private equity magnate sitting at the same holiday table? For everyone’s sake, don’t mention CalPERS.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, public pensions like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS for short) “are owning up to a painful truth about their private equity bets: They never totaled the bill.”

In April, CalPERS chief operating investment officer said that the fees it pays to PE funds were “not explicitly disclosed or accounted for. We can’t track it today.”

The key question here is not only how much money PE firms are getting from pensions, but also the rate at which they are taxed on that money. Under a typical 2 and 20 fee structure, an investor’s 2% management fee will be taxed as ordinary income, while the 20% carry will be taxed as capital gains. “The majority of deals signed with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System,” Reuters reports, “allow the firms to reduce their tax bills by treating ordinary management fees as capital gains.” This earns the GPs a significant amount of money — capital gains are taxed at 20%, compared to up to 39.6% for income.

Now, pension funds are finally breaking out their calculators. This Thanksgiving week, CalPERS is expected to break — or some might say, bury — the news “that it paid private-equity firms billions of dollars more over the past 17 years than it had previously disclosed,” reports the WSJ.

3) Government Freeze?

The Wall Street Journal reports that new House Speaker Paul Ryan “said a spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown in December must include Republican policy measures.” Meanwhile, “the White House reiterated its position that Republicans should keep partisan policy measures out of the spending bill.”

Either way, it’s a tense beginning for Ryan’s tenure — though nothing the House hasn’t seen before.

4) Black Friday

Source: Eonline

… or should we say Black Thursday? The L.A. Times reports that stores like J.C. Penney, Toys R Us, Best Buy, Target, Kohl’s, Wal-Mart, Sears, Macy’s, and Kmart will all be open for bargain hunters starting on Thanksgiving Day.

Even as your Uncle Bob is sneaking out to buy a new flatscreen and Cousin Sue is pulling on her uniform to get to work, other retailers are pushing back. REI’s president and chief notably decided to close the company’s nearly 150 stores not only on Thanksgiving Day, but on Black Friday itself. As Fortune’s Geoff Colvin notes, “the free publicity is already worth way more than whatever revenue REI is giving up.” (However, the New York Times reports that REI employees are not without their grievances, as evidenced by a recent “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit.)

Some might be rooting for consumers to work off their pumpkin pie with some good old fashioned mall walking — after all, “consumer spending generates more than two-thirds of U.S. economic output, and is a key driver of growth.” But others at the table might want just one more game of touch football — even if it means missing out on the best sales of the year.

5) The Year’s Big Drug Deal

Pfizer Inc. — the pharmaceutical company that brings us over-the-counter and prescription drugs like Advil, Robitussin, and Zoloft — announced on Monday its plans to merge with fellow pharmaceutical Allergan PLC.

So what’s the issue? Allergan, though based in New Jersey, is technically domiciled in Ireland, where it enjoys the benefits of Ireland’s 15% corporate tax rate (the U.S. rate is 35%). With the merger, the enlarged Pfizer will also receive that benefit.

As Alan Murray argues in Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter, “the end result is that Americans are getting screwed.” He points out that drugs cost more in America than any other country, that Congress doesn’t allow price negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, and that “as a result, the American market provides the bulk of profits for most drug companies.”

While the move may be controversial, it seems to be garnering more nays than yays from American citizens as well as politicians. When Bernie Sanders (who called the deal a disaster) and Donald Trump (who called it disgusting) are on the same page, you can make a pretty safe bet as to public sentiment.

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