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商业 - 金融

美国大企业谋求减免海外税

Tory Newmyer 2011年02月21日

甲骨文、思科、苹果、辉瑞制药等大公司希望美国政府对企业海外收入实行税收减免

    好几个月以来,关于如何将总额约2万亿美元的企业存款重新投入美国经济,许多经济学家、商人和政客已经说哑了嗓子。预计接下来,他们将热烈讨论美国企业在海外的存款。

    美国一些科技、制药和能源巨头正在准备进行一次大规模的游说活动,以争取一个免税期,使他们能以一个很高的贴现率,将自己存放在海外的约1万亿美元资金带回美国。

    这次活动目前仍处于计划阶段。不过据消息人士透露,这将是一次齐心协力的持久战,为了说服政策制定者,甲骨文(Oracle)、思科(Cisco)、苹果(Apple)、杜克能源(Duke Energy)和辉瑞制药(Pfizer)等大公司都将出钱资助这次游说活动。此次游说的目的是为了给他们的海外收入争取为期一年的税收减免,使他们能够按5%左右的税率,将这笔钱转移回美国国内,而不是按当前35%的税率。

    各大企业此次推动游说,适逢美国国内热议企业税法全面改革问题。这些企业希望不论最终出台什么样的改革方案,最好都能把免税期这一条涵盖在内。不过如果广域改革停滞不前,那么他们很可能会谋求单独推动他们的计划。不过这些企业的代表都拒绝对游说活动的细节发表评论,有的根本就没有回电话。

    这次游说活动要想取得成功,实在不是一件容易的事情。2004年跨国企业曾向美国国会进行过游说,希望国会批准为期一年的税收减免,以此作为促进就业的一揽子计划的一部分。当时这些企业主张,如果国会批准了税收减免,他们会把转移回美国国内的钱用于研究、投资和招聘上,这将有助于促进经济增长。后来国会批准了这项免税计划,许多公司从那次免税期中获得了好处。根据美国国税局的数据,当时共有843家公司利用了那次免税期,从海外移回了3620亿美元的资金。不过美国广域经济是否从那次免税中获得了好处?这很难说。

    当时美国财政部制定了一系列规定,以确保返回的海外资金的确是被企业用于投资。不过钱是一种具有可替换性的东西。尽管财政部明确规定企业不得将这笔资金用于支付红利或股票回购,不过后来的分析还是表明,企业将这笔资金中的大部分付给了股东。一份由美国国家经济研究局发布的研究显示,企业每从海外挪回1美元资金,付给股东的钱就增加60到92美分。

    该研究的共同主笔人克里斯汀•福布斯是麻省理工学院斯隆商学院(MIT's Sloan School of Management)的经济学教授,也是前总统布什的经济顾问委员会成员。他表示:“如果国会批准了这次免税期,这将为美国带回大量的现金,把这些钱付给股东,对经济来说是件好事。不过假如你是名政客,宣称这样做会产生许多新工作岗位或新的投资,那么你的这种主张缺乏数据支持。”

调整主张

    也许正是由于这个原因,现在主张进行另一次税收减免的企业高管们正在调整他们的论调。在《华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal)10月份的一篇社论上,思科公司首席执行官约翰•钱伯斯和甲骨文公司总裁萨夫拉•卡茨主张,第二个免税期将有助于美国失业人口重返工作岗位。不过他们并没有承诺公司一定会把所有移回的海外资金都直接投入到与创造就业有关的投资中。

    钱伯斯和卡茨也承认,企业有可能会再一次将这笔钱付给股东。不过他们认为,与直接投资相比,更重要的是免税期会对市场产生推动作用,从而对经济形成新的刺激,进而增加消费者的信心。他们还表示,如果国会批准了第二个免税期,由此产生的税收收入就高达500亿美元,美国可以利用这笔钱来鼓励招聘,不过,前提是美国企业决定将其全部海外收入转移回美国国内,而这不大可能。

    与这次游说活动关系甚密的游说人士私底下承认,他们有很多工作要做,这就是为什么他们现在就要开始准备了。之前一些跨国公司也想在2009年的经济恢复计划中插入类似提案,但未能成功,这次失败也成了他们的前车之鉴。当时,一支两党联立的参议员队伍向美国国会提交了一份议案,要求减免海外税一年,作为经济恢复法案的一项修正案。这些参议员以加州民主党议员芭芭拉•鲍克瑟和内华达州共和党议员约翰•恩赛因为首。不过该修正案最终只获得了42票,未能通过。

    在国会推销该议案时,鲍克瑟也坦承有些企业利用了第一次免税期,美国财政部对这笔钱应该怎样花已有规定,而那些企业亵渎了这些规定的精神。不过鲍克瑟也对其他议员做了保证,表示只要把条件制定得更严格,那么在最近的这次提案中,就可以避免类似的事再次发生。北达科他州参议员拜伦•道尔甘总结了在民主党中广泛蔓延的反对情绪,他表示:“让一头驴踢两次就是傻子。”

    在两年后的今天,这个议案将如何被提出来,现在还不是很清楚。不过,眼下共和党人在参议院实力上升,加之不久前他们拿下了众议院,这预示着这个议案的前景乐观。但这个方案也受到了小企业的抨击,称这相当于给那些最大型的企业白送了一笔钱。联合了茶叶党(Tea Party,在美国迅速崛起的政治势力,现在已成为美国的第三大党派——译注)的共和党真的会欣然接受这样一项方案吗?那些支持2009年议案的人主张,这项议案会为美国市场注入急需的流动性——不过随着银行放松借贷,这个理由已经不太适用。

    通过这次游说活动,这些企业究竟能否使国会相信,免税期将大大刺激私人市场、促进经济恢复?与这次活动关系紧密的游说人士也认为,即便游说活动成功了,企业也必须在资金的使用上接受一些苛刻的条件。不过如果这些条件过于苛刻,那么企业也有可能会放弃该方案。

    另一个大问题是:白宫在这个问题上持什么态度?奥巴马的经济团队过去对这个议案一向不是很热衷。不过现在奥巴马正在寻找机会,以期改善与大企业之间的关系,因此他有可能会从一个新的视角看待这个问题。不过不管怎样,奥巴马上上周四连夜赶往硅谷,与科技界的首席执行官们会面,向他们兜售自己的预算方案,当时他肯定会听到一大堆有关免税的说词。

    译者:朴成奎

    Economists, businessmen, and politicians of every stripe have spent months talking themselves hoarse about how to get the roughly $2 trillion in corporate reserves back into the economy. Get ready to start hearing a lot about that sum's international cousin.

    A group of tech, pharmaceutical and energy giants is readying a major lobbying blitz for a tax holiday that would allow them to bring home the estimated $1 trillion they've got parked overseas at a steeply discounted rate, Fortune has learned.

    The campaign is still in its planning stages, but sources close to the effort say Oracle, Cisco, Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500), Duke Energy (DUK, Fortune 500), and Pfizer (PFE, Fortune 500) are among the major players looking to bankroll a coordinated, sustained pitch to sell policymakers on the idea. Their aim is to win a one-year tax amnesty on their foreign earnings, allowing them to repatriate that money at a tax rate of about 5%, instead of the 35% they face now.

    The push is timed to coincide with the start of a serious debate on a comprehensive overhaul of the corporate tax code, and the companies are hoping to include the holiday in any reform package that moves forward. But if the broader reform effort stalls, they will likely angle to move their plan separately. Representatives from the companies either declined to comment on the specifics of the effort or did not return calls.

    It's going to be a tough sell. Multinationals prevailed on Congress to approve a one-year tax holiday once before, as part of a jobs package in 2004. Back then, the companies argued the relief would help them boost economic growth, because they'd plow their repatriated money into research, investment, and hiring. And while plenty of outfits benefited from the break -- 843 corporations made use of the holiday, bringing back a total of $362 billion, according to the IRS -- the broader economic benefits were dubious.

    The Treasury Department wrote rules trying to ensure that the recovered cash was in fact invested back into the companies. But money is fungible. Although the rules expressly prohibited using the funds for dividend payments or stock buybacks, subsequent analysis has shown participants sent most of it to shareholders anyway. One study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that for every dollar of repatriated cash, companies bumped up shareholder payouts between 60 and 92 cents.

    "A tax holiday would bring a substantial amount of cash back to the United States and paying that out to shareholders is good for the economy," said study co-author Kristin Forbes, an economics professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management and a member of then-President George W. Bush's council of economic advisers. "But if you're a politician claiming this will create a lot of jobs or new investment, it isn't supported by the data."

Fine-tuning the argument

    Perhaps that's why, so far, corporate executives arguing for another holiday are modulating their pitch. In an October editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Cisco (CSCO, Fortune 500) CEO John Chambers and Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) president Safra Catz contended that a second holiday would help put Americans back to work. But they don't promise that companies would drive all of their repatriated money directly into job-creating investments.

    They acknowledge that companies might pass the money along to shareholders again. But Chambers and Catz argue on top of direct investments, the holiday would spur a new stimulus by boosting markets, thereby increasing consumer confidence. And they say the tax revenue itself could fund $50 billion worth of credits to encourage new hiring -- a sum only possible in the unlikely event companies decide to bring home the entirety of their overseas reserves.

    Lobbyists close to the effort privately admit they've got a lot of work to do, which is one reason they're getting started now. Their benchmark is a failed attempt to attach a similar proposal to the 2009 economic recovery package. A bipartisan team of senators, led by California Democrat Barbara Boxer and Nevada Republican John Ensign, offered a one-year foreign tax holiday as an amendment to that bill, and it gathered only 42 votes.

    Making the case for the amendment on the floor of the Senate at the time, Boxer acknowledged companies that took advantage of the first holiday abused the spirit of the requirements on how the money needed to be spent. But she tried to reassure her colleagues that tighter strings in the latest proposal would prevent a repeat performance. Summing up the feelings of the widespread Democratic opposition, Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) said, "There is no education in the second kick of the mule."

    How the proposal will play two years later is not yet clear. Republican pickups in the Senate, and their takeover of the House, would seem to augur brightened prospects. But will Tea Party-affiliated Republicans embrace a plan that small businesses slam as a giveaway to the biggest corporations? Proponents of the 2009 measure argued it would inject much-needed liquidity into the markets -- a pitch that's lost its urgency as banks have loosened up on lending.

    But can they prevail with a campaign that sells the holiday as a gigantic, privately-funded stimulus to goose the economic recovery? Lobbyists close to the effort agree the companies will need to accept some tough conditions on the use of the money, but tie the strings too tight, and the companies could sour on their own program.

    Another big question mark: Where will the White House come down? Obama's economic team has been cool to the proposal in the past. But with the President scouting for opportunities to burnish his relationship with big business, he could give the idea a fresh look. Either way, he's sure to get an earful about it on Thursday, when he makes an overnight trip to Silicon Valley to meet with tech industry CEOs and try to sell them on his budget.

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