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Last week, CTJ published its finding that International Business Machines (IBM) has paid U.S. federal corporate income taxes equal to just 5.8 percent of its $45.3 billion in pretax U.S. profits over the five year period from 2008 through 2012. Today IBM responded by trying to change the subject to what it paid in one single year, and what it may or may not pay in future years.
To understand IBM’s evasive argument, first remember that CTJ’s corporate tax numbers are from the form 10-K, the document corporations file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to disclose relevant information to shareholders. We report what are recorded on the 10-K as “current” U.S. income taxes (the federal income taxes paid by the corporation in a given year) and the profits earned by the corporation in the U.S. that year. The current taxes paid over a five-year period divided by the U.S. profits earned over a five-year period is the effective federal corporate tax rate over a five-year period.
Here the description from Politico’s “Morning Tax” of what happened when IBM was asked about CTJ’s analysis:
IBM argues that the CTJ analysis does not take into consideration the fact that the tech company heavily relies on deferrals to lower their year-to-year income tax bill noting that, according to its calculations, the company paid more than $2.5 billion in taxes for its 2012 domestic operations. That comes out to a tax rate of 27 percent, a spokesperson for the company told Morning Tax.
First, IBM focuses only on its U.S. effective tax rate in 2012, which our own figures show was in fact higher than in the previous four years. But IBM’s federal tax rate wasn’t 27 percent; it was only 14 percent. In the previous four years, IBM’s federal tax rate was only 3.5 percent, which is why IBM’s five-year effective rate is 5.8 percent.
Second, IBM seems to think that we should give the company credit for taxes that it did not pay, specifically the “deferred” taxes that it may or may not pay in the future. But quite reasonably, we count such “deferred” taxes only when and if they are actually paid.
“IBM is happy to minimize its federal tax bill, but apparently not so happy for the public to know just how little it pays to support our country,” said CTJ director Bob McIntyre. “If and when IBM starts paying its fair share in taxes, we’ll be pleased to report it. But that hasn’t been the case for at least the past 12 years.”