Tax Break

Essential reading: Facebook elite set up to skirt estate tax, California tax hike talk, and more

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* How Facebook’s elite skirt estate tax. Laura Saunders – The Wall Street Journal. Tax specialists are paying attention to how half a dozen of Facebook’s luminaries, including founder Mark Zuckerberg, appear to be using a perfectly legal maneuver called a grantor-retained annuity trust, or GRAT, to avoid at least $200 million of estate and gift taxes on their own Facebook shares. Facebook’s prospectus cites eight separate “annuity trusts” set up by insiders. All told, these trusts hold about 22 million shares that will be worth more than $690 million if Facebook goes public at $31.50 a share, the middle of its projected range. Link

* Brown pushes tax hike as California’s money woes deepen. Jim Christie – Reuters. California Governor Jerry Brown was elected in 2010 on a promise to fix the state’s chronic fiscal crisis. His weekend announcement of a much bigger-than-expected shortfall in the state budget signals how far he still has to go. In an unusual move that underscored the highly politicized nature of the state budget, Brown took to YouTube on Saturday to deliver the bad news: the state’s projected budget deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1 is now $16 billion, up from the $9 billion anticipated in January. Link 

* Arrest is warning on secret offshore accounts. Laura Saunders – The Wall Street Journal. In a fresh warning to U.S. taxpayers who haven’t confessed secret offshore accounts, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Internal Revenue Service announced the arrest of Michael Little, a British investment adviser who allegedly helped several members of a prominent American family conceal more than $10 million in Swiss bank accounts for 11 years. According to the charges, Little advised the family members to set up Swiss accounts that would nominally be controlled by him and a Swiss lawyer. Link 

* Japan opposition leader hints at extended tax hike debate. Alexander Martin – The Wall Street Journal. The leader of Japan’s main opposition party on Monday suggested that an extension to the current parliamentary session may be necessary to debate the government’s proposed consumption tax hike, in a sign that he may be leaving the door open for compromise ahead. The opposition party LDP may be willing to give Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda more time to reach a compromise on a bill that would double the country’s 5 percent consumption tax to 10 percent by 2015. Link

* Americans feel defriended over perceived Eduardo Saverin tax dodge. Rene Lynch – The Los Angeles Times. Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook co-founder who renounced his U.S. citizenship in what many have seen as a move to avoid paying federal taxes, has managed to unify many Americans behind Uncle Sam’s outstretched hand. Many in the online world this week are outraged at the perception that Saverin is trying to dodge the tax man. Saverin made his riches off Facebook-loving U.S. taxpayers and is now defriending the country that made him rich. Link 

Top tax Republican works for “jumping off” point to tax reform post-election

Top House Republican tax-writers are working full-tilt on a plan to have in place in case talk turns to a tax code overhaul after the Nov. 6 elections, a top tax aide said on Friday.

“Pretty much everybody on our tax staff is doing tax reform,” Ray Beeman, tax counsel to Representative Dave Camp, told lawyers at an American Bar Association meeting in Washington.

“We want to put ourselves into the best position we can be in, in the lame duck in the event that the focus turns to tax reform as a way of getting out of this fiscal cul-de-sac,” he said.

Essential reading: Big 4 China challenge; Luxembourg tax shelters shine in prime time TV

* Risks loom as China orders Big 4 auditors to go local. Kevin Drawbaugh – Reuters. China and the world’s largest audit firms face credibility risks under an order Beijing issued saying the firms must hire more Chinese citizens to manage operations there, analysts said. Thursday’s order follows a string of accounting scandals at Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock markets and amid broader questions about China’s willingness and ability to conform with international business standards and rules. Link to Reuters.  

 * Watchdog calls foul on IRS whistleblower office. Patrick Temple-West – Reuters. A Republican senator advocating for whistleblowers called on President Barack Obama to “light a fire” under the Internal Revenue Service’s whistleblower office after a new report highlighted concerns about the program. The comments, on Thursday, came shortly after a watchdog for the IRS criticized the agency’s whistleblower program, saying it may produce inaccurate data and that deadline goals are not strong enough. Link to Reuters.  

* Panorama to highlight Luxembourg tax role. Vanessa Houlder – The Financial Times. A BBC investigation is set to highlight the role played by Luxembourg in the tax structures of big British companies, in the latest sign of intensifying scrutiny on corporate tax planning. Next Monday’s Panorama is based on confidential documents said to show how companies including GSK, the pharmaceutical group, and Northern and Shell, the media company, used Luxembourg subsidiaries to lend money to their British operations. The investigation is the latest in a series of examinations of big companies’ tax planning which has triggered a public fightback from the CBI, the employers group. Link to The Financial Times. 

Essential reading: China forces auditors to restructure; veto threat of Republican defense cuts


* China orders “Big Four” auditors to restructure. Koh Gui Qing and Rachel Armstrong – Reuters. The world’s top four accounting firms will have to bring in Chinese citizens to run their operations in China and end the dominance of foreign partners under new rules announced by the Finance Ministry on Thursday. The Big Four auditors – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and KPMG – must start to convert their practices this August and comply with all the new rules by the end of 2017. The changes come at a difficult time for the Big Four as they grapple with the fall-out from a string of accounting scandals at Chinese companies listed in the United States that has left investors questioning the quality of auditing in China. Link to Reuters. 


* Obama threatens to veto Republican’s shield of defense cuts. David Lawder – Reuters. President Barack Obama threatened on Wednesday to veto a Republican bill that would partially replace looming automatic budget cuts and protect military spending at the expense of food stamps and other social programs. The House of Representatives on Thursday is expected to vote on the Republican plan. A Democratic plan would raise revenues by implementing the “Buffett rule”, a new minimum tax rate for those with incomes above $1 million. Ending tax breaks for the five largest large oil producers and cuts to crop subsidies would be the next largest savings contributors. Link to Reuters. 

* Reid issues threat on defense cuts. Janet Hook – The Wall Street Journal. Raising the stakes in the congressional budget debate, the Senate’s top Democrat Tuesday threatened to allow deep defense spending cuts to take effect at year’s end unless Republicans were willing to accept a broader budget deal that includes tax increases. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Democrats would insist on a more “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that includes tax increases, as well as cuts to both domestic and defense programs. Link to The Wall Street Journal. 

Essential reading: Senate debates tax loophole, Treasury official is skeptical of imminent tax reform


Good day and welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other news sources.


* A tax loophole opposed by conservatives now divides the Senate. Jennifer Steinhauer – The New York Times. Republicans took to the Senate floor Tuesday to denounce a bill proposed by Democrats that would freeze student loan rates by closing a loophole that allows wealthy individuals to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes on some of their income. The bill would pay for the $5.9 billion loan rate freeze by preventing individuals with incomes exceeding $250,000 who file their taxes as a small business to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on some of their income. Democrats have referred to the bill as the Edwards bill, as it targets the tax strategy that former Senator John Edwards was criticized for using. In the past, however, many conservatives have dinged the same tax loophole that Democrats now seek to close. Link to The New York Times.  


* No tax reform plan yet: Obama aide. Kim Dixon – Reuters. President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the top tax official at the U.S. Treasury Department said on Tuesday that the administration is not actively working on a plan to revamp the tax code, frustrating some of Obama’s fellow Democrats. “At this point there is no plan that has been developed,” Mark Mazur, Obama’s nominee for Treasury’s top tax job, said at a Senate panel hearing on his confirmation. Tax reform was going to be a tougher slog than it was in 1986, when reform was “revenue neutral,” neither raising nor lowering the overall federal tax take. “We are going to need to modestly increase revenue, unlike in 1986,” Mazur said. Link to Reuters. 

Essential reading: Private equity defends deductions, Brazil’s tax “lion,” and more

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Private equity defends business-debt deductions. John McKinnon – The Wall Street Journal. A private-equity group will release a report on Tuesday that attacks one of the central tenets of many tax-overhaul plans in Washington – the idea of curbing deductibility of business debt. Limiting debt deductibility could raise the effective tax rate on new investment and could well stifle growth, said the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, a trade group. The group says that a limit on deductibility of interest expenses in exchange for a 1.5 percentage point reduction in the corporate rate, “would increase the marginal effective tax rate on new corporate investment from 31.0 percent to 33.1 percent. Link

* House bill shields defense from cuts. Janet Hook and Damian Paletta – The Wall Street Journal. House Republicans, seeking to prevent defense-spending cuts at the end of the year, advanced a plan that would instead reduce spending on health-care programs, food aid and other major domestic initiatives of the Obama administration. Democrats agree that the arbitrary cuts should be replaced with a more carefully calibrated budget agreement, but they want a mix of defense cuts, tax increases and domestic spending cuts. Many Republicans oppose any tax increases and want to avoid the $55 billion in scheduled defense cuts next year and partially replace them with cuts in domestic entitlement programs such as Medicaid. Link

* Brazil’s secret fiscal weapon: the tax “lion.” Alonso Soto – Reuters. In Brazil, groups of armed agents fly around the country by helicopter, pounding on doors and instilling fear in the hearts of those who break the law. They’re not the police – they’re from the tax agency. The Federal Revenue Service will be one of the most important keys to Brazil’s economic prospects in 2012. President Dilma Rousseff is counting on the agency’s tax-collecting prowess to help her government meet ambitious budget targets without smothering the country’s suddenly brittle economy. Link

PwC’s Nally hopeful about China progress

PricewaterhouseCoopers CEO Dennis Nally sits between Eli Lily and Company Chairman and CEO John Lechleiter (L) and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (R) during the APEC CEO summit in Honolulu, Hawaii November 11, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Big audit firms are hoping talks will resolve an impasse between Chinese and U.S. regulators over work papers of the firms’ Chinese subsidiaries.

Auditors landed in the center of an international spat last year when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission went to court to force a Chinese arm of Deloitte to hand over audit records on its China-based audit client Longtop Financial Technologies.

Tax and Accounting calendar

Some important tax and accounting dates in the week ahead:

 Tuesday, May 8

U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing considering the nomination of Mark Mazur to be an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Matthew Rutherford to be an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and Meredith Broadbent to be a member of the United States International Trade Commission, to start at 10 a.m. EDT in Room 215, Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Two subcommittees of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee joint hearing on tax fraud involving identity theft, to start at 10 a.m. EDT in Room 1100, Longworth House Office Building. Steven Miller, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement, and Patrick O’Carroll, Social Security Administration Inspector General, will be witnesses, among others.

Tax Analysts, the National Association of Enrolled Agents, and roundtable discussion on changes to the rules governing practice before the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. IRS Office of Professional Responsibility Director Karen Hawkins will speak.

Essential reading: Offshore tax havens’ links to crime, budget choices, and more

Tourists walk on Seven Mile Beach at sunset in George Town, Cayman Islands REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* These islands aren’t just a shelter from taxes. Robert Morgenthau – The New York Times opinion. The British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Bermuda and the Bahamas – these offshore jurisdictions allow some individuals and corporations to engage in outright tax fraud, costing America at least $40 billion each year. The secrecy laws in these tax havens are at the root of serious crimes: fraud, money laundering and international terrorism. Follow the trail of nearly any major financial scandal and you will enter one or more of these notorious jurisdictions. Link

* House Republicans target social cuts to shield military. David Lawder – Reuters. Republicans in the House of Representatives on Monday will fire their first shots of the next deficit-reduction battle, advancing legislation to cut nearly $380 billion largely from social programs while protecting defense spending. President Barack Obama is likely to consider signing a replacement measure that offers “balance,” meaning spending cuts combined with new revenues such as those proposed in Obama’s February budget plan. But the tax increases for the wealthy proposed by Obama, along with some spending increases, make that budget a non-starter for House Republicans. Link

Facebook expects $14 billion tax break from options

When Facebook issued its original prospectus in February we wrote about how the expensing of options would sharply reduce the tech giant’s tax bill in the near future.

Now that it’s closer to IPO time, the company has put out fresh information on the impact its mega-offering will have on the company’s annual bill from Uncle Sam, and it’s even bigger than was thought.

The bottom line is the same: Facebook won’t owe tax this year, and its rate will stay low for years to come.