Taxes drive merger activity among international companies

Bloomberg NewsJune 16, 2014 

— What’s greasing the wheels for the rise in mergers by U.S. companies? The tax man.

Two tax-code quirks – one that charges U.S. companies when they repatriate overseas earnings, the other that allows them to claim a foriegn domicile without moving their senior leadership abroad – are motivating U.S. companies to buy overseas counterparts in part to lower their bills.

Takeovers by U.S. companies of targets in low-tax environments – those with a corporate tax rate of below 20 percent – have doubled in proportion to all overseas deals, according to data compiled by Goldman Sachs analysts. The desire for such an arrangement, known as a tax-inversion, is a factor in two large takeover efforts this year: Medtronic’s $42.9 billon purchase of Covidien, and Pfizer’s more than $100 billion effort to buy AstraZeneca.

“If you have a lot of cash trapped offshore, then the potential tax savings are likely to be larger,” said Marc Zenner, co-head of JPMorgan Chase’s corporate finance advisory group. “With bigger tax savings, you can offer a bigger premium and it’s harder for a target company to say no to an offer.”

U.S. companies have almost $2 trillion in profits stockpiled offshore, according to a review of securities filings from 307 corporations reviewed by Bloomberg News.

Medtronic, with nearly $14 billion offshore, said Sunday it agreed to pay about $42.9 billion for Covidien – itself a tax inversion with an Irish domicile since 2009, while its senior leadership resides in Mansfield, Mass. Ireland taxes corporate profits at less than half the U.S. rate.

Since 2010, U.S. purchases into the low-tax environments accounted for 15 percent of all overseas transactions with a value of $250 million or more, Goldman Sachs’s data show, up from an average of 7 percent in the previous 15 years.

Pfizer tried to acquire AstraZeneca in part to change its tax jurisdiction to Britain, a move that might have cut its tax bills by as much as $1 billion a year. Actavis’s $20.8 billion purchase of Forest Laboratories – expected to close this month – gives the combined company an Irish tax domicile.

While the inversion deals are likely to continue, tax savings wouldn’t be the sole factor driving a buyer, said Ferdinand Mason, a partner at the law firm Jones Day in London.

“It needs to make absolute strategic sense and create value for shareholders in the long term,” he said in a phone interview. “That should still be the number one priority and reason to pursue acquisitions. As the world is becoming more stable and intense cost-cutting strategies come to an end, U.S. companies want to use their big piles of cash sitting abroad to make acquisitions.”

Cross-border deals by U.S. companies reached $117 billion this year so far, data compiled by Bloomberg show – out of a total of $724 billion in deals struck by companies overall. This total doesn’t include Medtronic’s purchase of Covidien, which is largely based in the United States, Pfizer’s so-far unwelcome bid for AstraZeneca, or the $54.2 billion offer for Allergan by rival Valeant Pharmaceuticals International.

While Valeant’s operations are run from Bridgewater, N.J. – with its key executives based in the U.S. – the company’s tax domicile is in Laval, Canada. The effect of its purchase of Allergan would be the same as an inversion deal.

Under scrutiny

The companies looking to avoid U.S. taxes are drawing attention from lawmakers – a factor that could encourage the deals ahead of any legislation to make them harder, said Frank Aquila, a partner at corporate law firm Sullivan & Cromwell.

President Barack Obama has already made a proposal that would make inversion deals tougher.

Last month, Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., both said they plan to propose legislation that could curtail such tax deals.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service