How 'Lynching' the Rich Could Hurt Stocks
It’s hard for most Americans to fathom why the wealthy are aggrieved these days.
After all, the wealthy have largely recovered from the recession. Millionaires have so much cash that it's piling up by the trillions in savings accounts and money-market funds. Taxes for top earners are among the lowest in history. And relative to the middle class, the top five percent have had a pretty good decade.
Yet, if you talk to most millionaires and billionaires today, they feel like targets, scapegoats, and financial victims. They usually cite the Obama campaign rhetoric against the rich and his plans to spread their wealth around.
They also blame the Occupiers, the media, and an angry populace for an anti-wealth zeitgeist that harkens back to Huey Long (though raising income taxes 4.6 percentage points can’t really compare to Long’s plan to put a hard cap on personal wealth at $50 million).
The reason this matters is that the psychology of the wealthy drives their spending and investing. And if the top earners aren’t spending or investing, that can kill a recovery – which is what many think may be happening now. (Read more: 'Paralyzed Plutocrats' Lock Up Economy)
A new analysis from Team Macro Man, a group of financial analysts and investors, argues that the persecution of the rich is now global – hitting both developed and emerging markets – and could put pressure on luxury stocks. They say that “if Europe is a slow car crash then the reaction of the world's populace to the wealthy is a slow lynching.”
They argue that governments around the world are getting more aggressive on taxing the rich. In that environment, the rich don’t want to have luxury goods that will make them stand out and draw the attention of the tax man.
They cite the story of Ferrari-selling in Italy, where the rich are so afraid of getting stopped by tax men that they are dumping their beloved super-cars. They also cite swimming pools in Greece, which were used by tax authorities to find rich people who were claiming low incomes. (Read more: Yachts Raided By Tax Authorities in Italy)
Among the unsold good piling up in Asia is luxury jewelery.
“Rising ire against the rich over the impoverishment of the middle class in DM (developed markets) and stagnation of wages in EM (emerging markets) is going to make selling luxury pretty hard going forward,“ Macro says. “We want to short traditional luxury companies not only on falling disposable incomes, but also because we expect their very fashion to fade as a display of ostentatious wealth itself becomes unfashionable and attracts unnecessary attention.”
This new “lynching theory” can be seen either as a corollary or companion to “The Plutonomy” theory, the prevailing theory of wealth consumption and over the past decade. The theory, devised by equity strategist Ajay Kapur, states that the wealthy will drive a larger share of consumption and spending as they gain a larger share of wealth and income.
Plutonomies generally favor luxury goods, though it depends on market and economic cycles.
The socio-economic "lynching" of the rich may force the rich to pull back – not just on luxury goods but also on broader consumption and services. In an economy where the wealthy account for an outsize share of activity, that could hurt the rest of us.
-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter: @robtfrank