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Tax code hurts U.S. firms in M&A market, EY and Roundtable study finds

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The U.S. lost $510 billion in business assets that were acquired by foreign companies from 2004 to 2016 in part because its corporate income tax rate exceeds other countries’, according to a study released Tuesday by a group of top U.S. business leaders.

Cutting the U.S. corporate rate to 20 percent from the current 35 percent would have meant a net gain of $1.2 trillion in such assets and would have kept 4,700 companies in America over that period, said the study from the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executive officers from dozens of corporations. The group includes the heads of Apple Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Exxon Mobil Corp., Boeing Co. and others.

The study, which was conducted for the group by accounting firm EY, comes as the Washington-based lobbying group is pushing for Congress to overhaul the U.S. tax code—with a focus on reducing the corporate tax rate. Congressional leaders and officials in President Donald Trump’s administration say they’ll be releasing more details of proposed legislation next week.

“The United States is losing business headquarters along with good-paying jobs, assets and innovation because of its outdated, anti-competitive tax code,” said EY CEO Mark Weinberger, a BRT board member, in a prepared statement. “This study is more compelling evidence that Congress and the administration must enact tax reform to keep and attract companies, jobs and investment.”

The study examined 97,500 cross-border mergers and acquisitions among 68 countries and found that U.S.-headquartered companies were at a competitive disadvantage in the global market for mergers and acquisitions because of the tax code.

‘Limitations and Caveats’

While it contains attention-getting numbers, the study also acknowledges several “limitations and caveats” on its findings. For example, the study says it looked only at the effect of reducing the corporate income tax rate— “without any other changes.”

But Congress will consider balancing a major corporate rate reduction by eliminating many breaks in the tax code that companies already use to keep their effective tax rates well below 35 percent—a strategy known as broadening the base. “The estimated impacts could vary depending” on how base-broadening applies to the companies in the study, the business group’s report says.

That effect could be significant. More than 250 of the largest U.S. companies paid an effective rate of 21.2 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

In response to mergers and acquisitions that sent U.S. companies’ tax addresses or business operations overseas, the administration and congressional leadership have urged a tax overhaul that would cut the corporate rate to a level competitive with other countries’. The average rate among countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is about 24 percent.

Global Approach

At the same time, Trump and GOP congressional leaders have urged repeal of the U.S.’s global approach to corporate taxation—which the report also cites as a competitive disadvantage.

Under that worldwide system, companies can defer paying U.S. taxes until they bring their foreign earnings home. At that point, they’re subject to U.S. income tax— after credits for the foreign taxes the companies have already paid. To avoid triggering that tax on their foreign income, U.S. companies have stockpiled an estimated $2.6 trillion in earnings offshore.

The business group’s study focused on M&A transactions and found that foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies have accelerated since 2014. Such acquisitions made up 31 percent of international mergers and acquisitions by value from 2014 to 2016, up from 20 percent in the decade after 2004, according to the study. The U.S. companies were the acquirers in 18 percent of cases from 2004 to 2013, and 16 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Trump has called for a 15 percent corporate rate, although administration officials have begun saying there’s room for compromise on that number. Others, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have discussed moving the rate to the mid-20s.

Like several business-oriented groups, the Business Roundtable has made tax legislation a top priority. JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, who also chairs the group’s board, spent much of the first half of the year urging lawmakers forward and corralling other CEOs to support the effort. The group spent $5.5 million lobbying on federal issues, including tax matters, during the first half of the year, according to disclosures.

Bloomberg News