The FOX Business Network’s Tracy Byrnes talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about her path to TV news, what she really thinks about the U.S. tax code and the one thing she dislikes about being an on-air personality.
Tracy Byrnes is perhaps best known for her quick wit and entertaining approach to the economic issues of the day. An on-air reporter for the FOX Business Network and a regular on “Cashin’ In” each Saturday morning on the Fox News Channel (FNC), Byrnes also hosts a segment called “Markets Now” that airs at 2 p.m. EDT every day. Her unique background as an accountant, journalist, consumer—and as a mother of three—has given her a wealth of knowledge to draw from when discussing such issues as investments, global markets, oil, taxes, and the economy. Her delivery is friendly and approachable, but she is not afraid to go head-to-head with the best of them on any topic she feels strongly about.
Before joining FOX full-time, Byrnes was a recurring guest on the FNC’s “Cavuto on Business,” “Bulls and Bears,” and “Your World with Neil Cavuto.” She was also a weekly morning business correspondent for FOX News affiliates in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta. She also covered the markets, economy, taxes and personal finance topics as a journalist for publications including the New York Post, TheStreet.com and Money magazine.
Opportunist: How did you go from a Big Four accounting firm like Ernst & Young to broadcast journalism?
Tracy Byrnes: Wow, that’s a lifetime and a bottle of wine long. [Laughs] I always wanted to be a writer. I took fiction-writing classes at night and even tried to write a dumb romance novel. All the publishers I approached basically told me, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’ Then I stumbled upon nonfiction and discovered I was pretty good at it. Financial World magazine, which is now defunct, gave me my first writing gig. Three months after I got there, they decided to quit publishing. But it was a weird blessing because Jim Cramer was starting TheStreet.com on the Internet. I was his eleventh hire. That’s where I met Dagen McDowell, who to this day is one of my good friends at Fox. I left TheStreet.com when I got pregnant and was doing some freelancing for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post when someone said ‘Let me put you on air to talk about an article you wrote.’
Opportunist: As a former accountant, how would you change the U.S. tax code?
Tracy Byrnes: I think we should junk it. Throw it out the window and start over. We are never going to properly fix it the way it is now because it’s a political book of favors. Our political leaders take the stance that nothing passes until you throw in a deduction for my constituents at home. That’s why it’s as big and voluminous as it is—because it’s a book of favors. It has done nothing for us competitively or economically. It throws our international competitiveness out the window.
Tracy Byrnes: Where do I begin? Go on extended vacation and take Obamacare with them. Get rid of Dodd Frank. Stop with all the regulations already.
Opportunist: Do you have faith that the Obama Administration will follow through on its promises to the middle class?
Tracy Byrnes: I don’t think the Obama Administration realizes how it’s indirectly hurting the middle class. They are trying so hard to demonize the wealthy but they are forgetting an important fact: the wealthy are smart and they have smart people working for them. Those smart people will help the wealthy keep their money and so the middle class will be hurt in the end.
Opportunist: Do you believe that raising the minimum wage would in effect reduce the demand for skilled labor, or would raising the minimum wage actually increase demand and economic efficiency?
Tracy Byrnes: The minimum wage is such a misnomer because it’s not something you aspire to make for the rest of your life. The minimum wage is your starting point, so it should be irrelevant. Don’t force small businesses to have to pay anybody anything. Competition is enough to determine a wage. No one dreams about making minimum wage for the rest of their life. It gets you in the door, where you work hard so you can get promoted and make more money.
Opportunist: Should the United States continue to tax foreign-sourced income of U.S. companies and individuals, or should we implement a ‘where the taxpayer earns it’ model like the rest of the industrialized world?
Tracy Byrnes: That’s a huge issue the United States has with why we can’t get companies to bring money back home. We have this Big Brother mentality that we should tax every penny you make no matter where you are in the world and it’s hurting our competitiveness.
Tracy Byrnes: That’s another question for a bottle of wine. [Laughs] I would say yes, but with some trepidation because they need to get their you-know-what together as much as we do.
Opportunist: What kind of impact do you think such an agreement would have on the two economies?
Tracy Byrnes: On one hand, we want to be the kind of country that opens our borders and shares with the world. But, on the other hand, we worry about the contagion that is the euro zone.
Opportunist: JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has said that the Base III capital adequacy requirements will make U.S. banks less competitive globally. Do you agree?
Tracy Byrnes: Why are we doing this? Sure, all the banks needed a little wakeup call but we’re not allowing these guys to do their job. You cannot create jobs with too much regulation.
Opportunist: Some U.S. Senators and Congressmen want our nation’s larger banks to be broken up into smaller banks than our foreign banking competitors. What do you think?
Tracy Byrnes: I think we need big banks and we need small banks.
Opportunist: Speaking of banks, what do you make of the recent financial meltdown in Cyprus?
Tracy Byrnes: It’s really scary stuff. It makes people very nervous about the system that they’ve learned to depend on, that they thought was going to be there for them. It hinders economic growth because everyone is going to be afraid to invest or to put money in the banks. You need money to make money grow and it’s not going to happen. People will start putting money in their mattresses again and that hinders economic growth.
Opportunist: Will all the uncertainty over Cyprus cause the euro to fall further?
Tracy Byrnes: I’m going to Italy in May, so I hope it keeps falling. [Laughs] Seriously, though, the EU was created under false pretenses. They let countries in that shouldn’t have been allowed in and they broke their own game before it even started. We all should’ve seen this coming.
Opportunist: What do you enjoy the most about being on TV?
Tracy Byrnes: I get to meet a ton of smart people and talk about smart things, which is a kind of cool way to make a living. We talk with people who are creating money about how they are doing it and how the economy is formed, and politics and everything that affects our lives. I am interested in all of those topics and I get to talk about it every day.
Every day is funny. The funniest things happen when you forget your mike is on during commercial break and you say stuff that the entire control room can hear. That’s the first lesson everyone on the TV set should learn—not that it stops any of us. [Laughs]
Opportunist: Is there anything you dislike about being a TV personality?
Tracy Byrnes: Hair and makeup is the worst part of my day—every single day.
Opportunist: Seriously? Some women would die for that opportunity.
Tracy Byrnes: If I could go out there wearing a ball cap and report on some very cool stuff that would make me so happy. I just want to be smart and talk about smart things. I don’t want to have to look pretty all the time.
Opportunist: Who influenced your career?
Tracy Byrnes: My mother—hands down. She raised me alone, and she’s still raising me quite frankly. [Laughs]
Opportunist: What is your motto for success?
Tracy Byrnes: Don’t quit. Keep going until you find it. There are days where I’m still not sure, but the beauty of this world is you have a lot of opportunity to keep trying.
Tracey Byrnes: You’re going to laugh. I work out at home with these exercise DVDs, and I got to meet the woman on the DVD. Cathe Friedrich has this booming home exercise business and Dagen McDowell and I did an exercise show on Fox. It was one of the coolest things. I got to meet one of my heroes, and I had tears in my eyes.
Opportunist: Do you ever encounter disagreeable guests who dodge your questions?
Tracy Byrnes: There are a fair amount of them, but that makes it fun.
Opportunist: What inspired you to write your book, Break Down Your Money: How to Get Beyond the Noise to Profit in the Markets?
Tracy Byrnes: Writing a book was on my bucket list.
Opportunist: Do you really have a bucket list?
Tracy Byrnes: Yeah, I have a bucket list and I keep updating it. I think everybody should. When I got separated, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do.
Opportunist: How long did it take you to write your book?
Tracy Byrnes: I did it in about four months. It was the hardest thing I ever did. I gained a newfound respect for authors.
Opportunist: That’s an amazing feat, Tracy. Dare I ask what else is on your list?
Tracy Byrnes: I want to live in Italy for a while, so my kids can learn how to be a true Italian. And I want to salsa in South America.
Opportunist: Do you have any plans to write another book?
Tracy Byrnes: You know, I want to write again but I don’t know if I could sit down and write such a large project. At this point I guess I am just not inspired, but I do miss writing every day.
Opportunist: You have been outspoken about your belief that women in business should not be handed anything (i.e., seats on boards of directors) just because they are women. Some people criticized your comments as being too hard on your own gender. Why do you think that is?
Tracy Byrnes: Oh, I don’t know. Women are tough on each other sometimes and I don’t know why. I don’t think anybody should be handed anything. We are creating a society, unfortunately, that comes to expect stuff and I think that’s wrong. I believe everybody should earn everything they get.
Opportunist: As a woman in the public eye, do you ever encounter jealousy from other women, or do they applaud your success?
Tracy Byrnes: Both. But sometimes life is just too damned busy to worry about what other people think. [Laughs] I’m comfortable enough with myself to not take it personally. Jealous people are that way because of something else going on in their lives—it’s not about you—so I cannot hold it against them. I keep looking forward and remind myself to take a step back and think about what’s important and then move on.
Opportunist: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Tracy Byrnes: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I am going to have a kid on his way to college. That’s crazy. [Laughs] God willing, I am still doing this. If not, I hope I am doing something that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning like this does.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area. Follow her on twitter at @les7989.
Watch Tracy Byrnes On Fox - http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/2277619848001