RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Sirota writes: "Microsoft Corp. is currently sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore, according to disclosures in the company's most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gestures during the keynote address of the Build Conference in San Francisco. (photo: Eric Risberg/AP)
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gives the keynote address of the Build Conference in San Francisco. (photo: Eric Risberg/AP)

Microsoft Admits Keeping $92 Billion Offshore to Avoid Paying $29 Billion in US Taxes

By David Sirota, International Business Times

23 August 14

icrosoft Corp. is currently sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore, according to disclosures in the company’s most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of money that Microsoft is keeping offshore represents a significant spike from prior years, and the levies the company would owe amount to almost the entire two-year operating budget of the company’s home state of Washington.

The company says it has "not provided deferred U.S. income taxes" because it says the earnings were generated from its "non-U.S. subsidiaries” and then "reinvested outside the U.S.” Tax experts, however, say that details of the filing suggest the company is using tax shelters to dodge the taxes it owes as a company domiciled in the United States.

In response to a request for comment, a Microsoft spokesperson referred International Business Times to 2012 U.S. Senate testimony from William J. Sample, the company’s corporate vp for worldwide tax. He said: “Microsoft’s tax results follow from its business, which is fundamentally a global business that requires us to operate in foreign markets in order to compete and grow. In conducting our business at home and abroad, we abide by U.S. and foreign tax laws as written. That is not to say that the rules cannot be improved -- to the contrary, we believe they can and should be.”

The disclosure in Microsoft’s SEC filing lands amid an intensifying debate over the fairness of U.S.-based multinational corporations using offshore subsidiaries and so-called "inversions" to avoid paying American taxes. Such maneuvers -- although often legal -- threaten to signficantly reduce U.S. corporate tax receipts during an era marked by government budget deficits.

White House officials have called the tactics an affront to "economic patriotism" and President Obama himself has derided "a small but growing group of big corporations that are fleeing the country to get out of paying taxes." In a July speech, he said such firms are "declaring their base someplace else even though most of their operations are here."

"I don't care if it's legal; it's wrong," Obama said. Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have been pushing legislation they say would discourage U.S. companies from avoiding taxes through offshore subsidiaries. The proposals are being promoted in advance of the 2014 elections, as polling suggests the issue could be a winner for the party. In Illinois, the issue has already taken center stage in the state’s tightly contested gubernatorial campaign.

Because Microsoft has not declared itself a subsidiary of a foreign company, the firm has not technically engaged in an inversion. However, according to a 2012 U.S. Senate investigation, the company has in recent years used its offshore subsidiaries to substantially reduce its tax bills.

That probe uncovered details of how those subsidiaries are used. In its report, the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations described what it called Microsoft’s “complex web of interrelated foreign entities to facilitate international sales and reduce U.S. and foreign tax.” The panel’s report noted that “despite the [company’s] research largely occurring in the United States and generating U.S. tax credits, profit rights to the intellectual property are largely located in foreign tax havens.” The report discovered that through those tax havens, “Microsoft was able to shift offshore nearly $21 billion (in a 3-year period), or almost half of its U.S. retail sales net revenue, saving up to $4.5 billion in taxes on goods sold in the United States, or just over $4 million in U.S. taxes each day.”

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said at the time: “Microsoft U.S. avoids U.S. taxes on 47 cents of each dollar of sales revenue it receives from selling its own products right here in this country. The product is developed here. It is sold here, to customers here. And yet Microsoft pays no taxes here on nearly half the income.”

Apple and General Electric, which also employ offshore subsidiaries, are the only U.S.-based companies that have more money offshore than Microsoft, according to data compiled by Citizens for Tax Justice. In all, a May report by CTJ found that “American Fortune 500 corporations are likely saving about $550 billion by holding nearly $2 trillion of ‘permanently reinvested’ profits offshore.” The report also found that “28 these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less to the governments of the countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens.” 

Microsoft’s use of the offshore subsidiary tactics has exploded in the last five years, with the amount of Microsoft earnings shifted offshore jumping 516 percent since 2008, according to SEC filings.

According to Microsoft’s filings, if the company repatriates the $92.9 billion it is holding offshore, it would face a 31.9 percent U.S. corporate tax rate. U.S. law generally permits companies to deduct the foreign corporate taxes they’ve already paid from the U.S.’s official 35 percent corporate tax rate. According to CTJ's Richard Phillips, that means Microsoft's disclosure implies the company is paying just 3.1 percent in the locales where it is currently holding the cash. Phillips says such an extremely low rate strongly suggests the firm is keeping the earnings not just in relatively low-tax locales like Ireland, Singapore and others the company has disclosed, but also in smaller countries like Bermuda that are considered true tax havens.

According to a Wall Street Journal report in 2012 about companies reducing transparency about their subsidiaries, Microsoft “once disclosed more than 100 subsidiaries [but] reported just 13 in its 2003 annual report and 11 in its 2012 report.” your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

-16 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-08-23 23:52
Well, if it's the "law," why bitch? What can we do about it?
+4 # 2014-08-24 08:06
We can and should do tax reform, adopt international standards for not taxing corporate foreign earnings and reduce the corporate tax rate from the highest in the world to one that is at least competitive with OECD countries.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+7 # DMar 2014-08-24 15:53
Most of these corporations pay almost no taxes. They could carry a lot higher burden and help reduce the budget deficit.
+11 # lorenbliss 2014-08-24 13:29
What we can "do about it" is use it:

(1)-To demonstrate how capitalism is class war, that taxes unpaid by the One Percent are vital services -- schools, transport, health care, safety-net programs -- maliciously stolen from the rest of us;

(2)-To demonstrate how capitalism is the moral imbecility of infinite greed elevated to maximum virtue -- that is, the methodical rejection of every humanitarian precept our species has ever set forth;

(3)-To prove Bill Gates' carefully cultivated image of a "humanitarian capitalist" is total bullshit -- that he's as predatory as any of the other obscenely greedy Ayn Rand fascists who make up the One Percent;

(4)-To show us how "humanitarian capitalist" is in fact not only a contradiction in terms but the most outrageous Big Lie ever; and

(5)-To remind us yet again why capitalism must be abolished – outlawed just as the more blatant forms of slavery have already been outlawed – if our species is to achieve the sharing of resources essential to surviving the looming environmental apocalypse.
0 # bmiluski 2014-08-26 15:24
Isn't that what slave owners said?
+5 # phrixus 2014-08-24 07:18
"In conducting our business at home and abroad, we abide by U.S. and foreign tax laws as written. That is not to say that the rules cannot be improved -- to the contrary, we believe they can and should be.”

Translation: "We're gonna voluntarily keep pulling this shit until somebody forces us to quit."

"'I don't care if it's legal; it's wrong,' Obama said."

Kinda like killing innocent men, women and children with drone strikes, Mr. President? Or not so much?
-17 # 2014-08-24 08:03
We are the only country on earth to tax domestic corporations on foreign earnings. These corporations pay the highest corporate tax rate in the world on domestic earnings and foreign taxes on foreign earnings already. And now they are "unpatriotic" or "immoral" legally avoiding paying even more. Does anyone wonder why domestic companies are doing inversions?

If we continue our habit of looting corporations, there will eventually be no American corporations left.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+1 # bmiluski 2014-08-26 15:27
Inason....If corporations continue their habit of looting the middle-class and the government, there will eventually be no America left.
+7 # 2014-08-24 08:14
Many in Congress do the same thing with their assets. Google it
+9 # Activista 2014-08-24 11:26
How Much Do Corporations Pay?
In 2015, it’s estimated that taxes paid by corporations will account for only 13.5 percent of all federal revenue. In contrast, individuals collectively pay about 46 percent of all federal revenue through their income taxes.
U.S. Corporate Tax Rates -‎‎
How tax breaks and loopholes affect the federal budget.
Cost of National SecurityGet your tax receiptNPP's Mission Statement
look at history - graph - it tells clearly how power is shifting from voters to corporations
+7 # DMar 2014-08-24 15:51
The New York Times recently stated that we do not have the highest tax rate for corporations. Corporations do not pay a higher tax rate than the average citizen and in fact they dominated the tax writing legislation. Corporations are able and should pay higher tax rates, particularly corporations such as Microsoft that are so dependent of US Government purchases for their revenue.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.