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US companies found ways to avoid taxes before tax cut bill: report

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Fifteen US corporations including online retailer Amazon.com Inc, power company Duke Energy and insurer Prudential Financial avoided US tax on nearly US$25 billion in combined profits last year, a tax watchdog group said on Tuesday.

[WASHINGTON] Fifteen US corporations including online retailer Amazon.com Inc, power company Duke Energy and insurer Prudential Financial avoided US tax on nearly US$25 billion in combined profits last year, a tax watchdog group said on Tuesday.

A report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, or ITEP, said data showed how profitable Fortune 500 companies have routinely lowered their tax bills long before the Republican tax overhaul signed into law by President Donald Trump in December.

The 15 corporations had profits of US$24.5 billion in 2017 but managed to obtain nearly US$1.4 billion in rebates from the US Treasury for a combined tax rate of minus 5.6 per cent, according to the ITEP report, which examined corporate income tax disclosures.

The nonpartisan group said the new US tax regime, which slashed the corporate income tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent beginning in January, will likely allow corporations avoid even more tax.

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ITEP said while "disclosures made by these companies are too vague to allow a complete diagnosis of how they are avoiding income taxes" they used a variety of tax breaks to cut their tax bills.

Amazon received a US$137 million federal rebate on US$5.4 billion in US profits, resulting an effective tax rate of negative 2.5 per cent, by using a tax break that allows companies to write off the value of executive stock options, according to ITEP.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy obtained a US$247 million rebate on US$4.2 billion in US profits by using accelerated depreciation on capital investments and renewable energy production tax credits to lower its federal tax rate to a minus 5.9 per cent, the report said.

Officials at Amazon.com and Duke Energy were not immediately available for comment.

Last year's tax legislation dramatically expanded the depreciation tax break used by Fortune 500 corporations, the group said.

Prudential Financial, which has operations in investment management and other financial services in addition to insurance, reduced its effective federal tax rate to negative 1.9 per cent on US$2.5 billion in US profits partly through low-income housing credits, ITEP said.

Officials at Prudential also were not immediately available for comment.

REUTERS