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Drug Makers Reap Benefits of Tax Break

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posted on May, 8 2005 @ 01:30 AM

A new tax break for corporations is allowing the biggest American drug makers to return as much as $75 billion in profits from international havens to the United States while paying a fraction of the normal tax rate.

The break is part of the American Jobs Creation Act, signed into law by President Bush in October, which allows companies a one-year window to return foreign profits to the United States at a 5.25 percent tax rate, compared with the standard 35 percent rate.

Any company with profits in other countries can take advantage of the law, but drug makers have been the biggest beneficiaries because they can move profits overseas relatively easily, independent analysts say.

The money the companies are bringing home has come from many years of using legal loopholes in the tax law to aggressively shelter their profits from United States taxes, tax lawyers say. While the companies' tax returns are private, fragmentary information about their tax payments is buried inside their annual financial statements.

Those figures show that the drug makers have told the Internal Revenue Service for years that their profits come mainly from international sales, even though the prices of medicines are far higher in the United States and almost 60 percent of their sales take place in America.

Though the companies stand behind their accounting, financial analysts and tax lawyers say that the drug makers' claim defies reality and that their profits come mostly from sales in the United States. But the I.R.S. lacks the resources to challenge the companies effectively, the analysts and lawyers say. As a result, the six major companies - Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Wyeth and Lilly - collectively pay a federal tax rate of less than 15 percent on their worldwide profits, with some companies paying much less.

Already, four of the six drug makers have collectively announced plans to return $56 billion in profits to the United States. Two others say they are still considering but could repatriate an additional $18 billion. Had the six companies faced standard federal taxes on those profits, they would have paid $26 billion to the United States. Instead, they will pay less than $4 billion. Chris Senyek, an accounting analyst at Bear Stearns, said drug companies would probably make up about half of all the money repatriated by publicly traded companies.

Lawmakers have said their main intention for the law was to encourage American companies to build new operations and hire workers.

Although the act is intended to create jobs, Pfizer said last month that it would cut its annual costs by $4 billion over the next three years. Pfizer, which will repatriate at least $28 billion under the act, did not say how many jobs it planned to eliminate, but analysts expect the company to shrink its work force by thousands of people. Mr. Senyek said the law would create an insignificant number of jobs because companies can easily work around provisions in the law meant to stop them from using the money for dividends to shareholders rather than new hiring.

After the break expires, companies will probably go back to stockpiling profits overseas as they wait for another tax holiday in a few years, tax lawyers say.

The major drug makers use a variety of complex but legal tactics to move profits from the United States to low-tax countries like Ireland and Singapore where they have large manufacturing operations.

..."They're doing everything they can to maximize their profit in Ireland and minimize the profit in the countries where the sales occur."

The government can challenge the way the companies allocate their profits internally. But the companies have usually been able to defeat the I.R.S., Mr. Rosenbloom said.

"There's a limit to what they can do, because these cases are huge. They're very expensive," Mr. Rosenbloom said of the I.R.S.

Drug Makers Reap Benefits of Tax Break

American Jobs Creation Act or American Snobs Recreation Pact?
Reads like a bad novel with the sheriff of Nottingham robbin the hood in the Suregood forest.

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