Corporate Expatriation, Inversions, and Mergers: Tax Issues

Source: Donald J. Marples, Jane G. Gravelle, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R43568, May 27, 2014

Recently, several high profile companies have indicated an interest in merging or plans to merge with a non-U.S. headquartered company, including Pfizer and Chiquita. Pfizer, for example, was interested in merging with a smaller British firm, AstraZeneca, and moving headquarters to the UK. For Pfizer, which has accumulated substantial profits in subsidiaries in low tax foreign countries that would be taxed if paid to the U.S. parent, the territorial tax system is likely the most important tax benefit from such a merger. This “second wave” of inversions again raises concerns about an erosion of the U.S. tax base. Two policy options have been discussed in response: a general reform of the U.S. corporate tax and specific provisions to deal with tax-motivated international mergers. Some have suggested that lowering the corporate tax rate as part of broader tax reform would slow the rate of inversions. Although a lower rate would reduce the incentives to invert, it would be difficult to reduce the rate to the level needed to stop inversions, especially given revenue concerns. Others tax reform proposals suggest that if the United States moved to a territorial tax, the incentive to invert would be eliminated. There are concerns that a territorial tax could worsen the profit- shifting that already exists among multinational firms. The second option is to directly target the merger inversions. The President’s FY2015 budget proposes to treat all mergers as U.S. firms if the U.S. firm’s shareholders have 50% or more ownership of the combined firm or maintains management and control in the United States. Similar legislation has also been introduced in the 113th Congress. …