There was an awkward moment of tension at the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles, when a buysider on one panel asked a Wall Street banker whether he had pocketed taxpayers' bailout cash.
The tit-for-tat began when several panelists at the "Outlook for M&A" session began griping about the U.S. government's tax policy, which they said dissuades corporations from bringing overseas profits back home because of punitive taxes.
The panelists – including James Casey, co-head of global debt capital markets for JP Morgan, Anthony Armstrong, an investment banker at Credit Suisse, and Raymond McGuire, global head of corporate and investment banking at Citigroup – predicted that the M&A market might get a big boost if the U.S. were to offer a tax holiday of sorts for repatriated profits.
They also suggested such a move could be a boon for hiring and economic growth: Tilman Fertitta, a panelist who is chairman and CEO of the consumer products company Landry's, said he would certainly feel the incentive to do more deals and invest more at home if he could bring back his overseas profits without being taxed. He even wondered why Mitt Romney and Barack Obama hadn't made such a proposal a key point in their election campaigning.
But just before the executives could launch into a profit repatriation samba, another panelist stopped the music.