Business advocacy groups lobbied hard against the 15% minimum tax rate for large corporations that just passed Congress as part of the the Inflation Reduction Act, saying it was “terrible policy” that would reduce economic growth and make America “poorer.”
Wall Street analysts, however, say the legislation won’t dramatically affect company earnings or their future investments.
Companies that make more than $1 billion a year will now have to pay a minimum tax rate of 15% as well as 1% on stock buybacks. Those tax reforms, aimed mostly at the largest U.S. corporations like Google parent Alphabet, JPMorgan Chase and Facebook parent company Meta, will reduce the federal deficit by an estimated $300 billion over the next decade.
While the new taxes are “generally not positive for stocks,” the 15% corporate minimum tax won’t be “material,” Wells Fargo analysts wrote in an Aug. 9 research note that called the new taxes “modest.”
Just over 170 companies in the S&P 500 paid less than 15% in taxes last year, according to a new analysis by Credit Suisse. Of those corporations, less than half would likely see a tax hike for 2023 since the legislation allows companies to use adjusted earnings, which can be massaged in a number of ways, the analysis found.
“In general, the impacts could be somewhat minimal overall and at this point, complicated to truly understand,” Credit Suisse accounting strategist Ron Graziano said in an interview. “Will some companies possibly be hit more than others? Possibly, yes. The overall impacts are not material to the large corporations.”
Senate Democrats passed the bill 51-50 on Aug. 7 without a single Republican “yea” and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. The House approved it 220-207 on Friday; President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law Tuesday.
“This legislation will finally make the biggest corporations start paying their fair share in taxes, and — as our nation’s top economists have confirmed — it will reduce inflationary pressures in our economy,” bill sponsor Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said after it passed the House.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., meanwhile accused Democrats over Twitter on Friday of jamming through a “700-page bill that raises your taxes and doubles the size of the IRS.”
“87 days from now, Democrats will have only themselves to blame…” McCarthy said, referring to the upcoming November midterms.
Catherine Schultz, vice president of tax and fiscal policy at Business Roundtable, called the 15% minimum corporate tax a “terrible policy.”
“What it really does is pick winners and losers within the tax system,” Schultz said, and added that companies that have the most stock compensation will experience substantial effects.
“Businesses are not stagnant, they’re dynamic, and they make different investment decisions on a daily basis,” Schultz said. The minimum tax “could affect how companies determine how they’re going to do certain investments in the future.”
“Companies may not be as willing to take certain risks in their investment, if it feels like that could add to their bottom line tax bill,” Schultz said.
The National Association of Manufacturers “remains staunchly opposed to the IRA,” president and CEO Jay Timmons said in a statement. “It increases taxes on manufacturers in America, undermining our competitiveness while we are facing harsh economic headwinds such as supply chain disruptions and the highest rate of inflation in decades,” he said.
Akash Chougule, a lobbyist at Koch family-founded Americans for Prosperity, said “Americans are left worse off” while some “line their pockets” and lawmakers claim a win. “At the end of the day, this is the same old story – hundreds of billions of dollars in tax hikes and corporate welfare being sold as the solution to our most pressing crisis,” he said.
Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy offer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the minimum tax would make America “poorer” and reduce “future economic growth.” He added that the 1% excise tax on stock buybacks will “distort the efficient movement of capital” and “diminish the value of Americans’ retirement savings.”
S&P 500 companies bought back a record $881.7 billion in their own stock last year, as historically low interest rates pushed up company profits and valuations. The practice, however, only benefits investors if the company reduces its outstanding shares, which increases earnings per share. Often times, however, the buybacks serve to boost executive pay.
Analysts for the Washington-based Cowen Research Group disputed industry claims, predicting the 1% excise tax won’t change buyback behavior.
Credit Suisse agrees that the tax is not high enough to affect capital deployment decisions — “particularly for companies with strong balance sheets and attractive valuations.”
Graziano said time will tell with reference to the overall impacts of the law.
“All tax is complicated. This is a new type of tax based on adjusted financial income. This is the first time this has been done,” he said. “The way they roll out could be much different than planned. That’s nothing new, it happens all the time with all tax provisions.”
David French, senior vice president of government relations for the National Retail Federation, said that, while a tax increase in a weakening economy is a “concern,” a minimum tax is fairer and “preferable to an increase in the tax rate.”
“Retailers are generally unaffected by the new corporate minimum tax proposal, because most retail companies already pay at much higher effective rates than 15 percent,” French said in a statement to CNBC.