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The current wave of inversions may be motivated by tax avoidance, but the real driver behind the deals is Wall Street. Advisers of every sort—investment bankers, attorneys, accountants, private equity and hedge fund managers—are pushing companies to do a corporate inversion before Congress shuts down this loophole. It’s the latest mania from the folks who gave us the dot-com bubble and toxic sub-prime mortgages.
What’s in it for them? Well, the advisers who facilitate the deals are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in fees. In all, investment bankers have earned about $1 billion over the last three years on inversion transactions. Goldman Sachs, which is part of a shareholder group including private equity and hedge funds that is pressuring Walgreens to invert, has earned an estimated $203 million advising on inversion deals since 2011.
Major shareholders, too, like inversions for the prospect of increased long-term profits from avoiding tax, but that comes with a cost. The inversion transaction is treated as a taxable sale of the stock, resulting in capital gains taxes of 20 percent. Tax applies to executive stock options, too, through a 20 percent excise tax imposed on insiders that was enacted with the other anti-inversion rules in 2004. In most cases, though, the company executives are being reimbursed for the tax hit, so they feel no pain. It’s the small investors and the mutual funds that will be stuck with a tax bill and no cash to pay it.
So the Masters of the Universe make out again, like the bandits they are, while the rest of American taxpayers make up the loss to the U.S. Treasury through higher taxes, reduced public goods and services, or increased government debt.
To stop inversions Congress will have to stand up to both the multinational corporations that are pursuing these deals and the Wall Street firms that are advising them. What are the odds?