Donald J. Trump, in one of his many early tweets after he was elected, proposed a federal “tax holiday” of only 10% for corporations that have large cash stashed away overseas, if they bring back this money to the United States to invest in our domestic economy. According to corporate management, this cash hoard in foreign accounts is allegedly to avoid an excessive US corporate tax. Most corporations, however, maneuver cash globally to avoid all national taxation. Corporate tax “evasion” is illegal, while tax “avoidance” is legal. For example, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in April of last year, published the Panama Papers, documenting widespread use of Panama-based shell corporations to facilitate tax evasion, while The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) issued a report highlighting a number of U.S. states that enable corporate secrecy and tax avoidance.
Technology companies have been particularly adept at manipulating national tax laws to avoid taxation, while the European Commission announced last year that Apple actually used illegal subsidies to avoid $14 billion in Irish taxes, and also utilized foreign havens to avoid up to $66 billion in U.S. taxes, according to ITEP.
Most global corporations develop complicated corporate structures involving layers of tax haven entities, countries and/or accounts to disguise or alter the character of their income in ways to reduce their overall corporate tax bill. These strategies of tax avoidance can be very successful, often bringing their tax bills to zero or even triggering tax refunds from governments, while enjoying large profits. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that corporations don’t also utilize tax evasion, but which has also involved corporate bribery. (That will be the topic of another forthcoming story.)
The argument for a U.S. tax holiday is that this new corporate cash flowing back into the U.S. economy will be used by corporations to invest in U.S. infrastructure to create American jobs. Unfortunately, the only jobs that will be created from this plan, will be investment bankers who expect to use this new gold rush to generate fees from large merger and acquisition (M&A) deals to consolidate more corporate wealth and power; mergers and acquisitions that destroy working peoples’ jobs, not create them.
The last time Congress initiated a tax holiday in 2004, 15 repatriating companies brought back $150 billion, costing 20,931 jobs because of corporate employee layoffs, according to a 2011 study commissioned by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Oracle, for example, used repatriated funds for two acquisitions, Retak and PeopleSoft, costing Oracle $11 billion and American workers thousands of jobs.
Tech companies, which stand to bring back the most cash from overseas, are being targeted by investment bankers for M&A activities, include Google, Apple, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft, but also encompass a couple of healthcare companies, Amgen and Johnson & Johnson.
You see, merger activity is big business for investment bankers, like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase, as there were $3.55 trillion in transactions last year in the U.S. and $3.7 trillion globally. If the investment banking fee for domestic transactions was a mere 1%, the fees for investment banks would be $37 billion. What do you think investment banks would do or say to make $37 billion in fees?
In 2016, there were 28 transactions valued at $10 billion or more, while during October of last year, M&A activities totaled $489 billion, the highest month in 12 years.
The major M&A activity includes mega-billion dollar deals such as AT&T and Time Warner, Verizon and Yahoo, DuPont and Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Bayer, Rite-Aid and Walgreens, St. Jude Medical and Abbott Labs, and many more. Much of this activity continues to consolidate industries, creating larger oligopolies, destroying jobs, reducing competition and productivity.
According to the most recent report of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), the results of mergers and industry sector consolidation, is not only the creation of larger and larger oligopolies, or only a few corporations controlling supply, but a small number of corporations that are the only buyers with many sellers. This consolidation is called monopsony.
The CEA argues that labor-market monopsony reduces wages, employment and overall welfare. This secondary effect of industry concentration by large corporate mergers means that they can use their buying power to squeeze suppliers, leading to the corporation ability to depress wages or salaries and reduce the price they pay for inputs (wages, i.e., minimum wage).
This increased M&A activity clearly leads, not only to reducing competition and highlighting rising concentration among producers, but results in sluggish wage growth, with only the highest earners seeing steady wage gains, but labor income itself becoming increasingly unequally divided, with the top wage earners making more and the lowest wage earners making less.
Corporate consolidations result not only in the loss of jobs, but also in reduced competition, increasing the economic and political power of corporate oligopolies, and the rise of monopsony, or corporate wage-setting power in a labor market, with overall reduced and unequal wages.
If corporations get another lucrative tax holiday, they won’t just spend the money on consolidating more wealth and corporate political power by mergers, corporate management will also use this money not to create jobs, but to buy back their own corporate stock and pay down company debt. Share repurchases do not create more competitive enterprises, but consolidate, market power into larger non-competitive oligopolies.
This means corporate management will be spending repatriated funds not to invest in long-term capital projects, including factories, but to boost their share prices, which goes straight into their own pockets as stock options. The S&P 500 companies spent over $400 billion on stock buybacks last year.
Apple, mentioned above, holds more than $200 billion in cash and other liquid investments off shore, and over the last 12 months that ended in the third quarter, bought back $31.1 billion in their own stock. Apple, one of the biggest spenders on stock buybacks is also one of the companies that could benefit the most from updated repatriation policies of the new Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.
The combined cash holdings of Apple, Google, Cisco Systems, and Oracle, were expected to grow 16.7% to $587 billion by the end of 2016, totaling $1.77 trillion in cumulative cash held by U.S. companies rated by Moody’s Investors Service.
Of course, a tax holiday will in effect, be another subsidy for corporations and the wealthy, in that it will mean that poor and middle-income wage earners will make up for the taxes that corporations and the wealthy should be paying. It will also increase the inequality of wealth and income between rich and poor Americans and the decline in overall wealth for average Americans.
The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling gave corporations the same legal rights as living breathing human beings, without any moral and political responsibilities or obligations. Corporations have all the protection of U.S. laws and the judicial system, a democratic government, access to rich American natural resources, a modern infrastructure, lucrative consumer markets, access to government resources but diminishing tax liabilities. At the very least, we should insist that corporations be patriotic and pay their fair share to support our democratic government and all of the benefits of our great country.