More Warren Buffett Hypocrisy; Restructures Deal To Avoid $400 Million In Taxes

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Mike Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

Warren Buffett epitomizes everything that is wrong with the global economy, and the U.S. economy specifically. He is the consummate crony capitalist, a brilliant yet conniving oligarch who intentionally plays on the gullibility of the masses to portray himself as one thing, when in reality he is something else entirely.

He publicly talks about how rich people need to pay more in taxes, then turns around and pioneers new ways for his company Berkshire Hathaway to avoid hundreds of millions in taxes. He thinks that by going on television stuffing ice cream cones and hamburgers in his mouth and acting all grandfatherly that no one will notice who he is really is and the incredible hypocrisy of his actions.

I’ve pointed out “Uncle” Warren’s hypocrisy previously on these pages, most recently in my post from last March titled: Crony Capitalist “Uncle” Warren Buffett Drives Company Profits Using Derivatives.

While that was pretty blatant hypocrisy, Buffett’s latest elaborate scheme to avoid $400 million in capital gains taxes from the disposition of a large chunk of Berkshire Hathaway’s Washington Post stake (which was acquired in the 1970s for $11 million) absolutely takes the cake.

The Street published an excellent article on the topic. Their conclusion at the end of the piece says it all:

Bottom Line: Warren Buffett is pioneering new ways to avoid capital gains tax, even as he is President Obama’s richest spokesperson for progressive income tax policy. 

More from The Street:

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Berkshire Hathaway may have avoided about $400 million in taxes by exiting its long-time stake in Graham Holdings - formerly known as The Washington Post Company - through an asset swap with the company that will add Miami-based TV station WPLG and hundreds of millions in cash to Berkshire’s coffers. Wednesday’s transaction also may also break new ground in how large investors structure deals to avoid taxes on their investment gains.

 

Berkshire’s deal with Graham Holdings is structured in a way that may allow the Warren Buffett-run conglomerate to exit a multi-decade investment in Graham Holdings without paying any capital gains tax, Robert Willens, an independent tax expert, said in a Friday telephone interview.

 

The cost-basis for Berkshire’s 1,727,765 million shares was $11 million, Warren Buffett said in Berkshire’s 2000 annual letter to shareholders. Now, Berkshire is seeking to exit Graham Holdings at a value in excess of $1.1 billion.

 

Applying a 38 percent tax rate (federal plus state and local taxes) would bring Berkshire to about $400 million in tax liability, Willens said. The swap orchestrated between Berkshire and Graham Holdings, however, is likely to reduce Berkshire’s tax liability to $0.

 

The mechanics of Berkshire’s maneuvering are arcane, especially since both Berkshire and Graham Holdings hold large investment gains on each other company’s shares. Berkshire holds 1,727,765 Graham Holdings shares, while Graham Holdings owns 2,214 shares in Berkshire’s Class A stock.

 

To unwind each other’s investment, Berkshire and Graham Holdings devised what amounts to a stock swap, although not a direct swap that would have locked in capital gains on both companies’ respective investments.

 

Normally, both corporations and investors must recognize taxable gains on appreciated assets, even if they transfer shares for assets such as cash or business lines.

But Berkshire isn’t directly taking the TV station from Graham, and Graham isn’t taking Berkshire’s stock. NewSub is doing all of the stock, TV station and cash swapping. As such, the swap may meet Sec. 355 of the federal tax code that exempts capital gains.

 

“This particular cash-rich split-off breaks new ground since, to our knowledge, it is the only one in which the investment assets of the distributed subsidiary consist, at least in part, of the stock of the very shareholder to whom the subsidiary’s stock is being distributed,” Willens wrote on Thursday.

 

Berkshire’s swap deal with Graham Holdings and similar moves the investment conglomerate has made in exiting large investments in Phillips 66  and White Mountain Insurance indicate that Warren Buffett isn’t interested in paying taxes on Berkshire’s investment gains when cutting deals on behalf of the company’s shareholders.

 

That comes as Buffett has placed himself front-and-center in a debate over taxation that has simmered in Washington for decades.

If you haven’t thrown up yet, I suggest you read my most popular post ever on our favorite crony oligarch from back in August 2011: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.

Full article from The Street here.