Dec 17, 2017

Tax plan could push assembly lines abroad

The Capitol dome, silhouetted by the rising sun. Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Tax experts say the new legislation "fails to eliminate long-standing incentives for companies to move overseas and, in some cases, may even increase them," the WashPost's David J. Lynch writes in the Business section lead:

Why it matters: "As a candidate, Trump vowed to stop companies from moving offshore ... But presidential jawboning has been no match for the market."

What's changing: "Under current law, the 35% corporate tax is due on profit earned overseas only when it is returned stateside. The legislation ... would permit the estimated $2.6 trillion that corporations have stockpiled outside the country to return to the United States subject to a rate expected to be around 15%."

  • "In the future, corporations would be required to pay about a 10% minimum tax on overseas income above a certain level. The provision is billed as a way to discourage the movement of jobs and profit overseas."

But the fine print of the new global minimum tax could make the problem worse for three reasons, nonpartisan tax specialists said:

  1. "[A] corporation would pay global minimum tax only on profit above a 'routine' rate of return on the tangible assets — such as factories — it has overseas. So the more equipment a corporation has in other countries, the more tax-free income it can earn."
  2. "[T]he bill sets the 'routine' return at [a generous] 10% ... Such allowances are normally fixed a couple of percentage points above risk-free Treasury yields, ... currently around 2.4%."
  3. "[T]he minimum levy would be calculated on a global average rather than for individual countries where a corporation operates. So a U.S. multinational could lower its tax bill by shifting profit from U.S. locations to tax havens such as the Cayman Islands."

Be smart: The new law will include lots of what you might call unintended consequences — although often they were intended by the hidden hands that put them there.

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