Here's How Obama Can Halt "Tax Inversions" Without Congress (& Why It Doesn't Matter)

Tyler Durden's picture

As the topic of "unpatriotic" 'tax inversions' becomes a political issue, we thought it interesting to examine how big an economic issue it really is. How much income tax do U.S. companies actually pay every year to the Federal government? As ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, the simple answer is “Not much”, at least as compared to any other major source of revenue. In Fiscal 2013, Colas adds, the total was $274 billion, or just 9.9% of all tax and withholding receipts. Your political leanings will inform your opinion about whether that number is too high or too low, of course; but we point out that, as Reuters reports, a former  international tax counsel at Treasury explains Obama could "slam dunk" dictate an end to 'tax inversions' without Congressional approval (by invoking a little known 1969 tax law).

We already know - since we have been told - that corporations who shift their tax domiciles aborad are unpatriotic.

But just how big an economic deal is this (via ConvergEx's Nick Colas)...

Back in 1971, the Rolling Stones were in a bit of bind. While commercially successful, their onerous contracts with various managers left them with little in the way of actual cash flow. Their financial manager at the time, a savvy Bavarian prince named Rupert, cooked up a plan to remove them from the United Kingdom. Taxes on their income in the U.K. were over 80%, a rate that would not allow them to ever cover their sizable expenses and pay off their previous managers.  So the Stones decamped to the south of France, where tax rates were much lower for residents.


The outcome of the move was twofold. First, the Stones recorded large chunks of their classic album “Exile on Main Street”.  The title was a nod to their awkward financial situation – tax exiles from their homeland.  The second was that the Rolling Stones finally got on sound financial footing for the first time in their careers, since the royalties from that album escaped the UK tax authorities’ high marginal rates. The rest, as they say, is music history.


If the same thing happened today, the Stones would be accused of “Tax inversion” – moving domiciles to reduce taxes.  This topic is much in the news of late, with various U.S. companies considering the move to lower tax rate countries and away from official “American company” status.  At a headline level, the move makes sense. Corporate tax rates in the U.S. are 35% on annual income over $18.3 million, a level most public companies certainly earn. The “Main Rate” on corporate income in the U.K., by contrast, is 21% on the same amount. A far cry from the days of “Exile”, to be sure, but a large enough difference versus American rates to make a difference.


Lost in the debate, however, is a more central question: just how important are corporate tax revenues to the finances of the United States?  You’d think that with reported corporate pretax profits in the U.S. of $2 trillion annually (according to the Federal Reserve’s Distribution of Annual Income Data), we’re talking about some big numbers here.  Not so much, as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) data clearly shows:

  • For the most recent fiscal year 2013, which ended in September, Federal corporate tax receipts were $274 billion. This amounts to 9.9% of the total tax and withholding proceeds that Uncle Sam received in that year, or 1.6% of Gross Domestic Product. One geeky note: corporate payments for Social Security and other social programs are not included in this number. Rather, this is the tax burden tied to reported corporate income.
  • By way of contrast, individual income taxes represented 47% of last year’s total Federal tax receipts. The rest of the payments “Pie” came from withholding for Social Security and Retirement Receipts (34%), Excise Taxes (3%) and Other (6%).
  • These numbers aren’t unusual in terms of historical norms. The average percentage of Federal revenues that come from corporate income taxes has been 10% since 2000 and 9.9% since 1980. You have to go pretty far back in the records – the 1960s, actually - to find numbers over 20% and World War II to see corporations funding more than a third of the national budget.
  • Since the Federal budget is a leviathan of almost unimaginable proportions, let’s put corporate tax revenues in some context.  Looking at annual government expenses through the lens of the Daily Treasury Statement (the nation’s checkbook), we can see just how far $274 billion goes. For example, it pays for all of Medicaid, the health program for low income Americans, which cost $260 billion in Fiscal 2013. Corporate income taxes also comfortably cover the salaries of all Federal workers ($171 billion), with enough left over for NASA ($16 billion), and taking care of the nation’s veterans ($46 billion).
  • How are corporate tax receipts doing for year-to-date 2014? The Daily Treasury Statement shows gross deposits of $265 billion through July 24, or pretty close to last year’s $274 billion for the whole of Fiscal 2013. Last year at this time, corporations had paid $243 billion, so this year shows a 9% increase over 2013. Not bad, considering GDP growth is so sluggish in the U.S. through the first half of calendar 2014.
  • At the same time, the OMB had much higher hopes for this year, as their budgeting spreadsheets (available on the White House website) show.  They had expected 2014FY corporate tax revenue of $333 billion – a 22% improvement from prior year receipts.  How did they get this so wrong? GDP growth has been below expectations, so that is certainly part of the problem. At the same time, the OMB also budgeted corporate tax revenues to rise to 1.9% of GDP from 1.6% last fiscal year. The long run average since 1980 is 1.7%, which would likely be a more realistic estimate for 2014FY.
  • The OMB is also much more optimistic in its estimates for corporate tax receipts through the balance of its forecast window. For example, it has $540 billion in expected proceeds for the 2018FY, or just about double last year’s receipts. That would amount to 2.5% of GDP, a level that we’ve only seen in 2 years since 1980 – 2006 and 2007.

With such a small part of total U.S. tax and withholding proceeds originating from corporations, several questions pop to the foreground. Three fall easily to hand:

Should America even bother taxing corporate income? There is, by most estimates, trillions of dollars of corporate cash locked up overseas because U.S. companies would prefer not to pay the taxes on repatriating those funds.  Eliminating corporate taxes would allow them to bring that money onshore and use it to reduce debt and return capital to the financial system. Buying back stock inherently carries an 8-15% return on capital for companies that pursue that route, depending on their cost of capital; cash currently returns zero.

  • Yes, this is where politics and economics intersect on the Venn diagram of social policy, and it’s an uncomfortable locus.  Corporate profits have come back much more quickly than employment since the Financial Crisis.  Eliminating corporate taxes would be a boon to the capital-owning class – including senior managements – but a less certain fillip to labor markets. Perhaps tying tax rates to additional headcounts is one logical incentive structure, giving both political parties something to crow about at the next election.
  • Do corporations really even “Pay” taxes?  Companies take capital, pursue their business strategies, and sell the result to end consumers. Taxes are simply one cost of doing business, and that expense gets passed along to the end purchaser just as employee and raw materials costs do.  Lowering corporate taxes might be deflationary in the short term, but would make U.S. corporates more much competitive than their international peers in the medium and long run by reducing a fixed cost. 
  •  How much of the “Tax inversion” game is really about accrual accounting versus cash flow? Ask any stock analyst who covers individual companies what line on their income statement model is the most opaque, and you’ll get a common answer: tax accruals, the piece between pretax profits and net income.  Yes, they will typically display a neat percentage number of 30-40%, but how much of that is an actual cash expense?  Companies tend to be pretty mum on that point, simply because the math gets quite difficult to explain, especially if there are tax loss carry forwards from prior year losses. And what company doesn’t have those, after the last several years?

In summary, U.S. corporate tax regulation is a potential area for meaningful and value-added reform. Its contribution to national finances is small enough that a well-constructed revamp could improve both prospects for economic growth and kick-start a still-underwhelming recovery in labor markets, boosting national finances in the process.  It is, therefore, the lowest hanging fruit for policymakers to grab. All they need to do is stand up and grasp it.

Nevertheless, it's a lightning rod for "fairness" that Obama has grabbed onto and - as we explain below - he can bring more tyrannical control to make the decision (via Reuters):

A recent sharp upswing in inversion deals is causing alarm in Washington, with Obama last week urging lawmakers to act soon on anti-inversion proposals from him and other Democrats. But Republican opposition has blocked Congress from moving ahead.


By invoking a 1969 tax law, Obama could bypass congressional gridlock and restrict foreign tax-domiciled U.S companies from using inter-company loans and interest deductions to cut their U.S. tax bills, said Stephen Shay, former deputy assistant Treasury secretary for international tax affairs in the Obama administration. He also served as international tax counsel at Treasury from 1982 to 1987 in the Reagan administration.


In an article being published on Monday in Tax Notes, a journal for tax lawyers and accountants, Shay said the federal government needs to move quickly to respond to a recent surge in inversion deals that threatens the U.S. corporate tax base.


"People should not dawdle," said Shay, now a professor at Harvard Law School, in an interview on Friday about his article.


If the administration were to take the steps he discusses, Shay said, some of the many inversion deals that are said to be in the works might be halted in their tracks.


The regulatory power conferred by the tax code section he has in mind, known as Section 385, is "extraordinarily broad" and would be a "slam dunk" for the Treasury Department, he said.




Section 385 empowers the Treasury secretary to set standards for when a financial instrument should be treated as debt, eligible for interest deductibility, and when it should be treated as ineligible equity.


If a corporation has loaded debt into a U.S. unit beyond a certain level, Section 385 could be used by the government to declare the excess as equity and ineligible for deductions.


"The stuff I'm describing should be putting a crimp in tax-motivated deals," Shay said.

*  *  *
The Democrats are going to try it... (enabling them to blame Republicans then do it anyway)

Democrats in Congress trying to prevent government from awarding contracts to cos. that save taxes by moving legal address outside U.S.


Bill would bar federal contracts from going to businesses “that incorporate overseas, are at least 50 percent owned by American shareholders, and do not have substantial business opportunities in the foreign country in which they are incorporating,” according to statement

*  *  *
So while big numbers are being thrown around and "fairness", "inequality", and "patriotism" are all great slogans for the coming election, but the numbers just don't make it a big economic deal.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Pinto Currency's picture




What about the network of tax-free family trusts and foundations in which the Rockefellers and other families reportedly hold trillions of dollars?

Is that a tax invresion? 

If so, Barry needs only to call Senator John "Jay" Rockerfeller IV for information.

As key Obama supporters, surely Jay and his homies they will be most helpful in guiding Obama through their tax free trust maze.

Raymond K Hessel's picture

Why is it unpatriotic to do a tax inversion but not unpatriotic to be domiciled in the US but pay no income tax anyway?  

I'm talking to you General Electric and about a whole bunch of other public companies that pay less than 35%.


Why is it okay for trusts to avoid estate taxes and help build American dynasties?

Double.Eagle.Gold's picture

Extending that "Why is it unpatriotic..." meme


This makes the 51% of Americans that don't pay Federal Income tax, unpatriotic.



If that's the case, I propose anyone that does NOT pay income tax be disqualified from voting in any Federal Election.


nmewn's picture

That sir, is fucking brilliant!

Plus one ;-)

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

I agree.  You want to play?  Then help pull the wagon.

mark mchugh's picture

Sounds great.  I'm in.

But just to be clear, you don't count federal government workers  as taxpayers, right? (cause that would be dumb).  


Chuck Walla's picture

U.S. corporate tax regulation is a potential area for meaningful and value-added reform. Its contribution to national finances is small enough that a well-constructed revamp could improve both prospects for economic growth and kick-start a still-underwhelming recovery in labor markets, boosting national finances in the process.

Um, someone should tell this guy that recovey isn't Obama's plan.



max2205's picture

They allowed millions of jobs and investment overseas for the last 30 years.

If they zero corp taxes...that would be the final insult and win win


I'll be fucked if anyone calls giving corps a free ride to screw americans with abandon.


Who the fuck wrote this and what kind of crack is he smoking?








........('(...´...´.... ¯~/'...') 


..........''...\.......... _.·´ 





Escrava Isaura's picture

new max2205,

Try the link below. I found it very interesting. And telling. I believe most of you will enjoy.

DoChenRollingBearing's picture



Escrava Isaura

That was an excellent link, thank you.  Highly recommended to all here at Zero Hedge.

I guess that your junkers did not read Orlov's piece.

acetinker's picture

Max, my micro (smaller than small) biz is incorporated, and while I sign the check to the IRS, it's also true that I wouldn't be able to do that if I hadn't included $ for that expense into my pricing structure.  So, who really pays the tax- me, or my customers?

So, if you are my customer it's truly you who pays it.  If I wasn't forced to fork that dough over to the imperial federal gov't., I could give you the same product for ~30% less.  Still feel the same way about 'corporate' taxes?

Mr. Ed's picture

Aren't you forgetting compliance costs:

  how much does it cost:

  to meet basic filing requirements...

  to do tax planning...

  to fart around with audits...

  to interpret the 70,000+ pages of code...

  to deal with idioits who work inside the IRS

  and ask for more form submissions and, 

  to pay whoever prepares your taxes

Maybe the added product cost is more than 30%..

Then there is the cost in personal energy and enthusiasm, the violation of your 4th and 5th amendment rights, and the overall effect on your quality of life (who enjoys living in a police state?)  but, you can't pass that on...

The designers of the FairTax took these issues (plus the movement of jobs and capital offshore) into account when they decided that CORPORATE TAXES SHOULD BE ELIMINATED ALTOGETHER.


The downside of the FairTax (HR25 and assoc legislation) is that it only helps business people, employers, employees, retired people, children, the poor and and pretty much EVERYONE EXCEPT the political class and their cronies.  It eliminates all the nooks and crannies of our convoluted tax code.  After the FairTax is passed, there will be no rules to be manipulated, no hand holds for pols and their cronies to grab onto.  So the FairTax faces a tough uphill battle because the politcal class serves itself, not you.  Of course the piece on "tax inversion" you've just read waltz's around with just such considerations.

About the only thing most of us can do to bring change is to promote awareness of the FairTax and answer those who spread lies about it.  The FairTax is currently before the House Ways and Means Committee.

There is one other thing you can do: don't elect any politician to office who won't sponsor HR25... if they won't, that means they have plans to collect some type of quip-pro-quo under the table. (If you'd like detail on how that works, read Peter Schweizers book: EXTORTION.)

Double.Eagle.Gold's picture

This whole tax inversion business is hillarious.


First, the Fucking Corporate bastards outsourced our fucking jobs.

Now they are outsourcing .GOV


Servers .GOV right, fuck them too you Corporate bastards.


Wait. .GOV is us....

European American's picture

Who cares about "tax inversions" when "THIS", long over due item, will be here in '15.


Max Inversion; Fury Road


I can't wait!!!


syntaxterror's picture

Just drive around Detroit if you can't wait.

kaiserhoff's picture

Capital will flow to where it is treated well,

  which used to be America.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

It's not treated well anywhere. That's why capital is getting drained from corporate balance sheets and getting stuffed into the pockets of corporate executives.

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

True dat, BB.  Even in relatively benign Peru, the corporate income tax rate is 30%.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Just punch the Tax Reset Button, and the economy will go to warp speed. 

Punch it!

kaiserhoff's picture

I see it Kirk, but it's on Barry's nose.

  You first.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

Taxes are a cudgel that politicians use to reward their friends and punish their enemies. The higher they are, the bigger the cudgel. They aren't getting reduced anytime soon. Certainly not while the thug Obama is in office.

Keyser's picture

If a company is incorporated in a foreign tax jusidiction, the US can pound sand on any profits gained from international trade... This is the same crap the IRS imposes on a citizen that works outside the country and is double-taxed on earnings... Yes, there are allowances, but hardly equitable to true earners... 

HDaryl's picture

Check. And, with 7,000 million people on the planet, and only 300 million of those (4.3%) living in the United States, wouldn't it make sense to incorporate offshore and pursue the remaining 95.7% of the global population without having to tithe to the US Treasury on sales to these 95.7%?

Cult of Criminality's picture

Obama has a pen and does everything by decree so,whats the problem,This is a lawless society anyway for them....president,house,senate, know.

Just push the easy button,nuff said.

buzzsaw99's picture

usa corporations don't pay shit for taxes anyway (like $200B v $2T for individuals). they should just abolish corporate taxes and make excessive executive bonuses tax free too.

NOTaREALmerican's picture

Somebody's gonna pay.  Not you, me.  Not you or me, them.   But somebody will pay.

Cult of Criminality's picture

inversion ,scandal...its all the same.

 Its called  (in true reality......CRIME


Not scandal not inversion.......CRIME

Cult of Criminality's picture


esum's picture

"extraordinarily broad"  =  LAWSUITS lasting years.... when is warren buffoon going to pay the outstanding $2.5 billion in taxes owed..?? 

I THOUGHT ONLY THE HOUSE HAD THE taxing power.... and power of the purse... 

Harvard Law professor = LIBTARD

ebworthen's picture

Oh sure, the politicians and .gov are going to go after the corporations, *cough*.

It's all talk, on both sides; they are owned by the corporations.

Austerity and bail-ins for us plebes much more likely.

I Write Code's picture

Yes, well, some good points, but let me offer a few more, that the current corporate tax brings in only modest dollars because over the last 30 years so much manufacturing has been offshored to non-US companies and offshore divisions and subsidiaries of US companies, so what's left is only the dregs anyway.  The corporate tax rate is too high and business will relocate based on taxes and everyone knows that.  The IRS has been hunting for individual and corporate offshore accounts for years now and for good reason from one perspective, even if it is doomed to failure one way or another.

The second point is that Obama don't do numbers, and this is just another illustration of that.  He's just "lucky" that it's coming to a point under his maladministration, he didn't create the problem, and he doesn't seem to think it's part of his job to fix any problems he didn't create - or the ones he did create either.  Have to bring back George Bush for that, I guess.

So, yes it matters, but there are fifty reasons under the Obamanation to move your ownership offshore, and taxes is barely in the top ten.


desirdavenir's picture

zero corporate tax rate would be a huge step towards neo-feudalism. It's probably too soon, corporations appear too strong right now. They'll need a stock market crash to appear vulnerable and needing to be defended at all cost. Maybe a few blue chip chapter 11 would be sufficient to convince the public that their choice is between 0 tax rate or the end of corporate america.

kchrisc's picture

Businesses do not pay taxes, customers pay all taxes levied on businesses.

Any tax not paid is more for the people to spend and enjoy instead of the criminals of government.

They want us to pay attention to who is paying what instead of who, them, is doing the robbing.

Amish Hacker's picture

Looks like they're getting close to the point of running out of other people's money.

Escrava Isaura's picture

Amish Hacker,

Money? Did they forget to tell you?

Psssst! There's NO money.

Currency in circulation;

And about half is offshore.

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

Your essential point is correct.  They can print to infinity.  Just wait until the new $500 "Obama" FRNs come out.  Whee!

Fuku Ben's picture

Tax inversion? But taxes are voluntary. Why pay at all?

There are always exemptions on this planet and you are always informed about them. Whether you choose to listen, learn about them, and act upon them is left to your sole (soul) discretion.

I never said it would be easy or that your existence here might not be put in jeopardy for exercising your free will. Many have paid for their decisions with their lives. Does that mean that they no longer exist?

Your choice of exercising those exemptions, or not, will directly correlate to your degree of freedom or enslavement here. After all you are not a number you are a free man. Which is why the most retched hive of scum and villainy temporarily in charge of this planet will attack any lone wolf with extreme prejudice. The demons fear anyone that is able to speak, think and act for themselves and exercise their free will because it may spark as mass revolt against them and cause actual chaos. Not the chaos they implement under their direct control as false gods. They fear free will more than the deadliest plague or the most destructive war which they have both conceived and implemented for their gain.

nmewn's picture

All any layman needs to understand about corporate taxation is this:

"Companies take capital, pursue their business strategies, and sell the result to end consumers. Taxes are simply one cost of doing business, and that expense gets passed along to the end purchaser (that would be you, dear reader) just as employee and raw materials costs do."

Also, corporations spend millions of dollars to secure its profits. Anything else would be bad business, fiduciarily speaking (is that even a

Now, if O'Barry (and the left) REALLY wanted to fix the tax structure he would push for Fair Tax or Flat Tax AND to abolish executives being paid their salary (largely) from corporate stock issuance, which is dilutive to existing shareholders but in the era of the Fed pumping fiat like (pick your favorite volcano) has minimal impact on share price.

But class warfare is much better "policy" for the sheeples mass consumption. "I'm fucked and its someone elses fault!" plays very well.

Until it doesn't.

shovelhead's picture

"I'll take What is Krakatoa for $500, Alex."

I needed something that almost destroyed the planet.

Substantial reform over vote pandering optics?


Stop, Please...Yer killin me...

BeetleBailey's picture



People that are for bigger government (and most pinheads out there cannot connect the dots as to their "hero" Fuckbama or the Murderous Lying Cankly Cuntlary - the big government shit bags) and, that big government SUCKS TOTAL ASS.

Protokletos's picture

One of the better pieces I've read on ZH recently. Presents a pramatic perspective and helps lift the veil from the "problem" itself.

q99x2's picture

Obama can't do a fucking thing without being told what to do. Dude's a TOTUS.

HDaryl's picture

If the Rolling Stones happened to be American then, or now, they would not have been able to relocate to the south of France to avoid oppressive taxation, or the long arm of the US IRS....


It is unpatriotic to NOT stand up to tyranny. 


Alternative citizenship. Expatriation. Renunciation. Tax inversion. All are patriotic in response to tyranny.