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Published On: Tue, Jun 19th, 2018

How U.S. tax reform rewards companies that shift profit to tax havens

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The corporate tax cut passed by U.S. President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans that was in part designed to help dissuade U.S. companies from moving profits overseas may instead make the practice a lot more rewarding.
That is because companies which shifted profits linked to U.S. sales, research or production previously had to pay U.S. taxes on the money at the rate of 35 percent when they brought those profits home.
The new tax bill cuts the overall corporate tax rate to 21 percent, and allows income from overseas to be taxed at about half that rate – to as low as 10 percent.
Its Chief Executive Richard Gonzalez told investors earlier this year that because of the change to a territorial system, whereby only profits reported by domestic subsidiaries face U.S. tax, the U.S. drugmaker expects its tax rate to fall to 9 percent this year from around 22 percent in recent years.
That ranks among the lowest of the companies in the S&P 500 that have announced estimates for their tax rate, which average around 22 percent, according to Credit Suisse.
The company has historically reported its income in lower tax jurisdictions, which is possible in part because AbbVie parks the majority of the patents for its top-selling drug in Bermuda – a country that has a zero tax rate on corporate profits, according to a Reuters analysis of 88 Humira patents.
Despite recording over half its $28.2 billion in 2017 sales in the United States and basing most of its research facilities there, the suburban Chicago company has never reported a profit in its home country, its annual reports show.
In 2017, AbbVie reported foreign earnings before income tax of $10.4 billion on international revenue of only $9.97 billion.
Yet, between 2013 and 2016 AbbVie had to pay around $1 billion a year of taxes in the United States, when it took the profits reported by foreign subsidiaries home to help cover expenses from its U.S. operations.
In the future, it will not have to pay such taxes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The authors of the tax legislation, including Senator John Thune of the Senate Finance Committee, said their bill would discourage the shifting of profits earned in the United States.
But the principal anti-tax avoidance measures introduced still allow companies to benefit strongly from profit shifting.
AbbVie does not address the patent locations on earnings conference calls or in its SEC filings, and declined to discuss its accounting practices or its annual U.S. losses – which are widely accepted among investors who have scooped up its shares over the 5-year life of the company.
The main driver for AbbVie, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment called Humira, generated more than $12 billion in sales in 2017 from patients in the United States, where the most common dose has a list price of about $60,000 a year.
“If the guardrails in the new territorial system were meant to prevent companies from avoiding all taxes, AbbVie’s (tax rate) is a pretty clear signal that these guardrails may not be effective,” said Matthew Gardner, senior fellow with the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy. (Reuters)

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