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Inversion and off-shoring explained in just a few words

Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014

* There’s much, much more to this Matt Levine piece in Bloomberg, so you should really read the whole thing. But this’ll do for now

For instance, if you are a drug company, it costs you like a dollar to make a pill, and you sell it in the U.S. for $10,000. You might say, “well OK then I have $9,999 of net income in the U.S.,” but again you are being naive. The right answer is:

    * Your U.S. subsidiary makes a pill for $1.
    * Your U.S. subsidiary licenses the patent on that pill from your Bermuda subsidiary for $9,995.
    * Your U.S. subsidiary sells the pill for $10,000.
    * Your U.S. subsidiary has $4 of net income, which is taxable.
    * Your Bermuda subsidiary has $9,995 of net income, which is not.

It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the general idea. If the parent company is a U.S. company, then eventually that Bermuda sub’s net income will be taxable in the U.S. anyway. But if the parent company is Canadian or Dutch or Swiss or whatever, then the Bermuda sub’s income will never be taxed [by the US].

Again, go read the whole thing.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


35 Comments
  1. - PublicServant - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:07 am:

    Just in case you don’t know how to pronounce “inversion”, that would be “Tax Dodging” and is unAmerican. It also affects every American who is left to pay for everything.


  2. - OneMan - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:11 am:

    Also I had heard the Canadian regulators would not have allowed the merger if Tim Horton’s Corporate left Canada.

    They are like everywhere in Canada, you drive through a small town in Ontario, there is a Tim Hortons.


  3. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:12 am:

    Fix it.
    You won’t fix it by calling them names or claiming they are unpatriotic. Playing politics with it makes the whole thing worse because it lessens the importance of the issue.

    Fix it.
    The taxes are too high, so we get nothing.
    Lower the taxes to keep them here, and get something.

    Fix it. Don’t demagogue it.


  4. - Concerned - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:14 am:

    Timmy’s (as it is known in my home country of Canada)is fabulous. They can teach the BK Lounge folks a thing or two about service, freshness and service (yes, I said service twice–visit a Tim Horton’s and you will understand why).


  5. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:18 am:

    Public Servant -

    Tax dodging is illegal. Inversion is not. You are implying that such companies are committing felonious acts. Care to elaborate?


  6. - OneMan - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:19 am:

    Concerned — True that about the service…


  7. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:20 am:

    I was going to put something on Facebook after reading about the BK-Horton’s merger, but that is not really the place to have an intelligent discussion about taxation matters.

    President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi had COMPLETE control of D.C. for two entire years (or one Congress). During that time, little-to-nothing was done to address not only this matter but also taxation in general. They had ample time during President Obama’s first year in office to tackle tax issues, and they could have used their own “lame duck” period during November and December of 2010 to work on a solution. Nothing happened. Now it is a big issue. Hmm. I wonder why?!


  8. - Ben - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:24 am:

    Inversions are done because US taxes ALL of a companies world wide revenue. All other countries simply tax the revenue that is made in that specific country. It is taxed, just not double taxed.


  9. - Nonplussed - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:24 am:

    How abut a “Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich”? Not for the BK deal, but has anyone looked to see if Rauner’s firms benefitted from this to pay no US tax.

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/04/28/business/Double-Irish-With-A-Dutch-Sandwich.html?_r=0


  10. - Ben - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:27 am:

    BK’s majority owner is a Brazil hedge fund so it is not a real US company anyway.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3G_Capital


  11. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:30 am:

    I read the article but am a bit confused about something that seems contradictory in it. Does the US pay its share of taxes upon incorporating in another country (e.g. 35% US tax rate=20% in US and 15% in Canada), or once the company incorporates in another country, does it eventually just pay the tax rate in another country and not the US share?


  12. - walker - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:30 am:

    Yes. And this is only one way to use Bermuda, Cayman, and other foreign jurisdictions and legal structures to avoid payment of what we all would agree are fair, or even minimal, US taxes — for companies who grew based primarily upon the US consumer economy, security, infrastructure, education, and legal systems all provided by the US taxpayers.

    The Cayman Islands Navy ain’t protecting our shores.

    So much for the campaign-driven arguments we have seen that “US earnings are all eventually taxed by the US anyway.” Plain false.

    That is why offshoring of both jobs and tax liability is Rauner’s Achilles heel. He set up a company to advise other companies how to do both.

    And to reiterate, I have known highly successful individuals and major corporate leaders who have chosen not to take some of these steps, because they would be harmful to their real home-base country and its economy, and therefore to their own companies, in the long term.

    This is not an unreasonable expectation by which to judge someone’s actions and values, when they are running for public office.


  13. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:34 am:

    burmuda shorts america


  14. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:35 am:

    Fix it? What makes you think it’s broken? It’s working just the way it was designed to, just not for regular schmucks.

    Who do you think writes the four-million-word tax code? Eagles Scouts? Corporate interests, their highly paid lobsters and their lackeys in Congress.

    Before you start chanting the mantra “fiduciary responsibility,” check out the p.r. of the crews pulling these scams. It’s all about “commitment to the community” this, “good corporate citizen” that. And it’s all spin.

    If you can’t spot the chump the first time the deal goes round, you’re it.


  15. - Mason born - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:42 am:

    Grandson

    U.s. earnings are to be taxed at 35%. It is the offshore earnings that are taxex at 35% - the tax rate of the country of origin. Off course if the company turnes around and invests those earnings overseas and does not bring them back to u.s. then they only play the tax in the country of origin.


  16. - Concerned - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:47 am:

    Inversions arean issue but the bigger issue may be the phony accounting done to make sure a company’s earnings are in a jurisdiction other than the U.S. The scenario Rich spelled out above, from the article discussed, is a good example.

    I say attribute income to each country in which you have sales in proportion to the company’s sales in each country.


  17. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 9:59 am:

    Mason, no one’s paying 35%.


  18. - Under Further Review - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 10:04 am:

    @Concerned:

    Your dining experience at Timmy’s differed from mine. The menu featured bland offerings that closely resembled the food available at Dunkin Donuts.


  19. - walker - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 10:36 am:

    Talking about “US earnings are taxed at x but offshore earnings are at y”, or that “total US plus overseas earnings would be taxed twice” is missing a key point.

    These might be true statements in the abstract, but don’t fully deal with the real world issue. They are popular with lobbyists and campaigns, as misdirections.

    The abuse occurs in legally changing the definition of “US earnings”, or “country of origin” even when nothing has actually changed in the real world.

    The sophisticated “dodge” is to set up a corporate legal structure, with foreign corporate HQ’s, subsidiaries, and licensing agreements, plus accounting processes, that convert these same earnings actually earned in the US (as we all would see them) into “non-US earnings,” accounted for in another jurisdiction with no or minimal taxes. Sometimes they are technically moved through two or three different offshore legal jurisdictions. It has little to do with where market sales or product manufacturing physically take place, and are sometimes just computer entries and legal filings.


  20. - A guy... - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 10:40 am:

    While we’re focusing on the “really big name” companies like Walgreens and Burger King, emerging and growing smaller companies are doing inversions by the hundreds, maybe thousands. You don’t need to get too far into the “profitable” range before you realize our tax code and regulations do alot to kill growth and entrepreneurialism. There is a fix here, and it’s not that complicated. Lower the rate and take away the incentive.

    Or incentivize patriotism by establishing policies and rates that encourage what you’re looking for. It’s very “American” to make as much money (legally) as you can. That’s the promise we’ve made to the world for over two centuries. Our tax policies and regulations are breaking that promise. This is fixable.


  21. - Cook County Commoner - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 10:51 am:

    The other side of the coin is that a tax inversion can be viewed as economic patriotism. If you are retired and collecting a government or private pension or living off of investments, inversions help maintain distributions and capital gains. This helps keep retirees off the government dole.
    Also, tax inversions are patriotic because they cause the government to re-evaluate tax policies and perhaps institute efficiencies.
    There are a lot of government pensioners on this site. I’ll bet their plan operators are 100% behind tax inversions when they make fiscal sense.
    Be careful what you wish for. If the feds pass rules restricting inversions, large organizations to be will originally set up outside the US.
    The answer is a tax code that recognizes a global economy.


  22. - Johnny Utah - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    The corporate tax is largely nonsensical. The US has double taxation of corporations in two ways:

    First
    1) Corporate income is taxed by the corporate tax, and then what is remained is disbursed to shareholders, who are the owners of the company.

    2) The shareholders are taxed on dividends and capital gains. This is the second time the same income is taxed.

    Second
    1) Foreign profits of US corporations are taxed in the locality where they are earned.
    2) When [if] the corporation brings this income back to the US, the US taxes it again at US corporate rates, and then again when it is distributed to shareholders.

    The US is the only country in the world to do either of the above forms of double taxation in any substantial way. Of course corporations are going to invert.

    The corporate tax is the single biggest anti-job tax we have. It should be done away with altogether.


  23. - Hit or Miss - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 11:08 am:

    ===U.s. earnings are to be taxed at 35%.===

    The 35% figure is the ‘official’ or published tax rate. Most companies pay less, often much less, than that. According to the GAO U.S. corporations pay an average effective federal tax rate of 12.6%.

    http://money.cnn.com/2013/07/01/news/economy/corporate-tax-rate/


  24. - facts are stubborn things - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 11:12 am:

    Why should we want company A who feels to be a good corporate citizen they don’t do an inversion and company B feels it is it’s obligation to it’s share holders to legally maximize profits so they do an inversion. The tax code effects behavior…fix it.


  25. - Johnny Utah - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 11:26 am:

    The US should do what Illinois should do. Stop cronyism and corporate welfare, then eliminate the corporate tax. A gusher of investment and corporate relocations would flow into the U.S.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/stancollender/2014/08/27/how-to-abolish-the-federal-corporate-income-tax-without-increasing-the-deficit/


  26. - Mason born - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 11:33 am:

    Hit or miss

    That 35% is the tax rate much like 5% is the il tax rate for citizens. Do you pay 5% of all your income to the state? Just as our effective rate is lowered by deductions and tax credits so is the corporate. Now I’m all for cutiing deductions and credits as long as there is a corresponding reduction in rate. However that isn’t what anyone is championing. Mainly because it will be hard political work while demegagory is easy.


  27. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 11:34 am:

    Nope - I need this explained in even fewer words, please.

    When a tax inversion occurs, who’s cell phone and emails are lost over at the IRS?


  28. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 11:35 am:

    “It should be done away with altogether.”

    How about we rewrite the tax code to eliminate double taxation and tax corporations at a progressive rate that’s competitive with other countries?

    Why should corporations not pay any taxes, leaving the financial burden of paying for a first-world country on everyone else’s shoulders?


  29. - foster brooks - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 12:03 pm:

    If you lower the corporate tax who’s going to make up the difference? Btw General Electric pays no taxes.


  30. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 12:14 pm:

    I love the economic geniuses who say that eliminating a tax brings in more money. Must be the new math.

    Don’t eliminate the corporate tax, but do make it simpler by getting rid of all of the tax breaks. Lower the rate and everybody pays that rate. Period.


  31. - That Guy - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 12:25 pm:

    Btw General Electric pays no taxes.

    Really? Not even property taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes etc….


  32. - Ghost - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 12:29 pm:

    technically this is known more as transfer pricing.

    car built in the US, parts are purchase from mexico/canada or whever and assembeld here. costs are jacked up on the parts the car company buys from itself so it can bury the profit as an expense here, and have the actual profit appear in a friendly tax area where the subsidary manufacurer is making the parts. Thus when you see them say they only make 3k off a vehicle sale to the company, its not really 3k, thats 3k after they made money selling themselves the parts etc. they made a lot more then that, they just burried it.


  33. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 12:40 pm:

    A Guy, shockingly, you have no idea what you’re talking about and are simply making things up.

    There have not been “thousands” of inversion deals. So far this year, there have been nine, the most in any year ever, according to today’s Reuters.

    As far as “incentivizing patriotism,” how does rule of law, defense, infrastructure, worlds’s largest market, etc., grab you?

    If you’re going to be a knee-jerk apologist, at least educate yourself a little bit before you start peddling ridiculous whoppers.

    And VMan, Congress sets the tax code not the IRS, but I understand your Fox lapdog Pavlovian response.


  34. - walker - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 3:29 pm:

    VMan: ==I need this explained in fewer words please.==

    Good comment, because this issue can be so complex that it can lose political impact for the average voter.

    OK here goes:

    “Avoiding paying US taxes on US earnings, by pretending they were earned elsewhere.”

    Complex legal artifice or not, that’s what bothers me about this.


  35. - A guy... - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 3:39 pm:

    The headline on this thread refers to inversions and Off-Shoring. My point was the second portion of this with smaller and emerging profitable companies. I realize I inadvertently stated “inversion” in relation to those companies. Mea culpa on that part. The rest stands.


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