Thursday, February 9, 2017

“Destination-Based” “Border Adjustment” “Indirect Tax” … What?

The destination-based border adjustment tax.

I  have been reading about it recently.

If you cannot distinguish it from a value-added tax, a national sales tax, a tariff or all-you-can eat Wednesdays at Ruby Tuesday, you are in good company.

Let’s talk about it. We need an example company and exemplary numbers. Here is one. Let’s call it Mortimer. Mortimer’s most recent (and highly compressed) income statement numbers are as follows:

Cost of sales
Operating expenses
Net profit

How much federal tax is Mortimer going to pay? Using a 34% federal rate, Mortimer will pay $850,000 ($2,500,000 * 34%).

Cue the crazy stuff….

A new tax will bring its own homeboy tax definitions. One is “WTO,” or World Trade Organization, of which the U.S. is a part and whose purpose is to liberalize world trade. The WTO is a fan of “indirect taxes,” such as excise taxes and the Value Added Tax (VAT). The WTO is not so much a fan of “direct taxes,” such as the U.S. corporate tax. To get some of their ideas to pass WTO muster, Congressional Republicans and think-tankers have to reconfigure our corporate income tax to mimic the look and feel of an indirect tax.

One way to do that is to disallow deductions for Operating Expenses. An example of an operating expense would be wages.

As a CPA by training and experience, hearing that wages are not a deductible business expense strikes me as ludicrous. Let us nonetheless continue.

Our tax base becomes $6,500,000 (that is, $10,000,000 – 3,500,000) once we leave out operating expenses.

Not feeling so good about this development, are we?

Well, to have a prayer of ever getting out of the Congressional sub-subcommittee dungeon of everlasting fuhgett-about-it, the tax rate is going to have to come down substantially. What if the rate drops from 35% to 20%?

I see $6,500,000 times 20% = $1,300,000.

Well, this is stinking up the joint.

VATs normally allow one to deduct capital expenditures. We did not adjust for that. Say that Mortimer spent $1,500,000 on machinery, equipment and what-not during the year, What do the numbers now look like? 
  • Sales                                       10,000,000
  • Cost of Sales                            3,500,000
  • Operating Expenses                 4,000,000
  • Capital Additions                       1,500,000 

I am seeing $5,000,000 ($10,000,000 – 3,500,000 – 1,500,000) times 20% =  $1,000,000 tax.

Still not in like with this thing.

Let’s jump on the sofa a bit. What if we not tax the sale if it is an export? We want to encourage exports, with the goal of improving the trade deficit and diminishing any incentive for companies to invert or just leave the U.S. altogether.

Here are some updated numbers:

  • Sales                                        10,000,000 (export $3,000,000)
  • Cost of Sales                             3,500,000
  • Operating Expenses                  4,000,000
  • Capital Additions                        1,500,000 

I see a tax of: (($10,000,000 – 3,000,000) – (3,500,000 + 1,500,000) * 20% = 2,000,000 * 20% = $400,000 federal tax.

Looks like Mortimer does OK in this scenario.

What if Mortimer buys some of its products from overseas?

Oh oh.

Here are some updated, updated numbers:

  • Sales                                       10,000,000
  • Cost of Sales                            3,500,000 (import $875,000)
  • Operating Expenses                 4,000,000
  • Capital Additions                       1,500,000 

This border thing is a two-edged blade. The adjustment likes it when you export, but it doesn’t like it when you import. It may even dislike it enough to disallow a deduction for what you import.

I see a tax of: ($10,000,000 – (3,500,000 - 875,000) – 1,500,000) * 20% = 5,875,000 * 20% = $1,175,000 federal tax.

Mortimer is not doing so fine under this scenario. In fact, Mortimer would be happy to just leave things as they are.

Substitute “Target” or “Ford” for “Mortimer” and you have a better understanding of recent headlines. It all depends on whether you import or export, it seems, and to what degree.

By the way, the “border adjustment” part means the exclusion of export income and no deduction for import cost of sales. The “destination” part means dividing Mortimer’s income statement into imports and exports to begin with.

We’ll be hearing about this – probably to ad nauseum – in the coming months.

And the elephant in the room will be clearing any change through the appropriate international organizations. The idea that business expenses – such as labor, for example – will be nondeductible will ring very odd to an American audience.


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