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- BANK OF AMERICA: In 2009, Bank of America didn’t pay a single penny in federal income taxes, exploiting the tax code so as to avoid paying its fair share. “Oh, yeah, this happens all the time,” said Robert Willens, a tax accounting expert interviewed by McClatchy. “If you go out and try to make money and you don’t do it, why should the government pay you for your losses?” asked Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. The same year, the mega-bank’s top executives received pay “ranging from $6 million to nearly $30 million.”
- BOEING: Despite receiving billions of dollars from the federal government every single year in taxpayer subsidies from the U.S. government, Boeing didn’t “pay a dime of U.S. federal corporate income taxes” between 2008 and 2010.
- CITIGROUP: Citigroup’s deferred income taxes for the third quarter of 2010 amounted to a grand total of $0.00. At the same time, Citigroup has continued to pay its staff lavishly. “John Havens, the head of Citigroup’s investment bank, is expected to be the bank’s highest paid executive for the second year in a row, with a compensation package worth $9.5 million.”
- EXXON-MOBIL: The oil giant uses offshore subsidiaries in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Although Exxon-Mobil paid $15 billion in taxes in 2009, not a penny of those taxes went to the American Treasury. This was the same year that the company overtook Wal-Mart in the Fortune 500. Meanwhile the total compensation of Exxon-Mobil’s CEO the same year was over $29,000,000.
- GENERAL ELECTRIC: In 2009, General Electric — the world’s largest corporation — filed more than 7,000 tax returns and still paid nothing to U.S. government. They managed to do this by a tax code that essentially subsidizes companies for losing profits and allows them to set up tax havens overseas. That same year GE CEO Jeffery Immelt — who recently scored a spot on a White House economic advisory board — “earned total compensation of $9.89 million.” In 2002, Immelt displayed his lack of economic patriotism, saying, “When I am talking to GE managers, I talk China, China, China, China, China….I am a nut on China. Outsourcing from China is going to grow to 5 billion.”
- WELLS FARGO: Despite being the fourth largest bank in the country, Wells Fargo was able to escape paying federal taxes by writing all of its losses off after its acquisition of Wachovia. Yet in 2009 the chief executive of Wells Fargo also saw his compensation “more than double” as he earned “a salary of $5.6 million paid in cash and stock and stock awards of more than $13 million.”
The current profit-reporting season is shaping up to be one of the best ever. For non-financial firms in the S&P 500, earnings per share are now higher than they have been for at least a decade. With over half of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported, profits in 2010 were up by 17% compared with 2009. (The year-on-year increase is far greater if financial firms are included, since they plunged in 2009 and then rebounded spectacularly.)
What the financial statement says is that ExxonMobil, in 2009, after a handful of deferrals, recorded a total U.S. income tax benefit (i.e., a refund) of $46 million. Next to this, it shows total non-U.S. income taxes of $15.165 billion.
My mistake was in thinking that these figures somehow reflected actual tax benefits and liabilities.
Our article only focused on income taxes, but it’s worth noting that the 10-k also records $7.7 billion in other taxes in the U.S. (like sales taxes) and more than $50 billion of other taxes and duties paid (I mean recorded) overseas.
From 2003 to 2007, Exxon's earnings grew by 89%, while income taxes grew by 170%. Much of that growth was overseas. Oil-producing countries charge companies like Exxon dearly to dig for oil. Arrangements vary from country to country, but Russia and Libya charge companies up to 90% of the revenues they collect for extracting oil, according to Fadel Gheit, senior analyst for Oppenheimer (OPY). These arrangements—whether production share agreements or royalty contracts—are not disclosed by companies and governments.
In tax terms, the U.S. government is kinder to oil companies. According to Securities & Exchange Commission filings, Exxon paid an effective tax rate of 34% to the U.S. government in 2007, or $5.12 billion. While cheaper than rates from some foreign governments, it's still a higher rate than many U.S. companies pay.