The top 50 US corporations

Taxes, and taxpayer support, for 50 of America’s biggest corporations

Oxfam’s report Broken at the Top analyzes the 50 largest public US companies, and sheds light on just how rigged the tax system has become. This table shows that these same companies are using considerable political influence to push for even greater rewards in the forms of loans, bailouts and other government support. The analysis highlights the vast taxpayer-funded support the largest and most profitable US companies receive even as they engage in aggressive schemes to avoid paying taxes.

Resize table text:
Corporation Name Federal Loans, Bailouts, Loan Guarantees Profits Federal Income Tax Total Tax Effective Tax Rate Tax "Breaks" Money Held Offshore Subsidiaries in Tax Havens Total Lobbying
Totals $11,192,876,856,080 $3,965,763,857,599 $412,083,375,000 $1,051,321,840,000 26.5% $336,695,510,160 $1,381,936,000,000 1608 $2,594,746,794

Notes:

A dash (-) is used to denote amounts that were not disclosed.

[1] Boeing responded: “The bulk of the difference in statutory and effective tax rates is the benefit of R&D and manufacturing credits. Those were enacted to encourage businesses to invest in high-value innovation and manufacturing to strengthen the economy and provide high-skill jobs.”

[2] To calculate its effective tax rate, ExxonMobil uses income before tax including non-controlling interests and pre-tax equity company earnings (item C) instead of “income before income tax” from their Income Statement. ExxonMobil also includes its share of equity company taxes to calculate effective tax rate instead of using “income tax provision” from its Income Statement. We did not alter our methodology for Exxon in order to remain consistent with our approach to the other 49 companies by taking the “income before income tax” and “income tax” figures directly from Exxon’s Income Statement without any manipulation.
ExxonMobil responded: “ExxonMobil operates in dozens of countries all over the world. The corporate governance rules in these countries vary considerably. Where permissible, it is often prudent to incorporate an affiliate in a different country with stable and secure corporate governance rules (including countries that some refer to as “tax havens”). However, the affiliate pays taxes on any profits earned in a country where it operates to the government in that country, not in the country of incorporation.”

[3] General Motors filed for bankruptcy in June 2009 and was reorganized as a new entity with GM’s continuing operations, assets and trademarks in July 2009. General Motor’s 2009 earnings, as reported on its financial statements, include $128 billion in debt cancellation income (“Reorganization Gains”) that arose from the bankruptcy. General Motors has characterized this income as “accounting-only, non-economic.” General Motor’s bankruptcy proceeding may have significantly distorted its tax picture. However, while recognizing these unique circumstances, we decided to maintain our methodology to remain consistent with our approach to the other 49 companies.
General Motors responded: “GM does not have, nor use tax havens to reduce or avoid taxes. We do sell cars, parts, and auto financing in countries such as Caymans, Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and we conduct those sales through GM-owned companies in those countries.”

[4] MetLife responded: “MetLife’s former bank subsidiary participated in the Federal Reserve’s Term Auction Facility (TAF) after being encouraged by regulators who were eager to have healthy financial institution play a role in broader efforts to bolster market liquidity. MetLife also participated to a small degree in the FDIC’s Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program and the Fed’s Commercial Paper Funding Facility because of the low cost of borrowing. The money was not needed to fund operations because MetLife had direct access to the capital markets. In fact, from 2008-2009, the company raised $9.3 billion in debt and equity.”
“A portion of our U.S. tax liability is offset by the use of tax credits. These tax credits are used exactly as Congress intended: to expand the supply of affordable housing ($2 billion) and to develop renewal energy projects ($3 billion) that mitigate climate change.”
“Most of these earnings are re-invested in our local businesses. As insurance companies grow, their capital needs increase and our regulators uniformly require that a large portion of earnings be retained locally as a capital buffer to support our obligations.”
“MetLife does not shift income to tax havens. MetLife has hundreds of active businesses across more than 45 countries. The only entities that have operations or investments in “tax havens” are structured so that their income is included on our U.S. tax return and subject to the U.S. 35% tax rate.”

[5] Financial information for Phillips 66 is aggregated from 2010 to 2014, not 2008 to 2014, because Phillips 66 was not spun-off from ConocoPhillips until 2012. In its first 10-K filing in 2012, Phillips 66 included its financial information from 2010 and 2011 when it was operating as a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips. Lobbying expenditures are aggregated from 2012 to 2014.
Phillips 66 responded: “We operate refining assets in Ireland and marketing locations in Switzerland that provide products to local markets. Singapore is a major trading center for petroleum and we have operations there that support our worldwide Refining and Marketing operations.”

Methodology

Oxfam America collected data across nine metrics for each of the 50 companies to measure taxes paid, taxes avoided, federal support received and lobbying expenditures. All of the information we present in this publication is based on publicly available data, mostly provided by the companies themselves in their 10-K filings with the SEC. This section describes the methodology for each of the nine metrics we present.

 

Oxfam America reached out to all companies named in this report to share the findings of our research prior to publication. Many of the companies responded to engage with us on our methodology or provide additional information, clarification or context. This report incorporates that feedback.

 

Federal Support

The “federal support” metric captures the amount each company received or was a beneficiary of in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailout assistance from the US federal government from 2008 to 2014. The Good Jobs First Subsidy Tracker creates a list of individual subsidies received by companies and calculates the sum for federal loans, loan guarantees and bailout assistance (excluding repayments).[i]

The data on these types of federal support comes from:

  • The Federal Reserve,[ii]
  • Treasury Department,[iii]
  • Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC),[iv]
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation,[v]
  • Internal Revenue Service,[vi]
  • USA Spending,[vii]
  • gov,[viii]
  • Quarterly Report to Congress of the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program,[ix]
  • Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board EMMA database,[x]
  • Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration,[xi]
  • America International Group,[xii]
  • New York City Independent Budget Office,[xiii]
  • Appendix to GAO testimony to House Subcommittee on Investigation, May 30, 2014,[xiv] and
  • Louisiana Treasury Department.[xv]

 

In some circumstances, the company was the beneficiary of a loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank or OPIC that encouraged third party companies to purchase the company’s products or services. Some of the companies challenged our inclusion of these funds, but we stand by our methodology. Although the companies in our study were not the direct recipients of the loan guarantees, these companies were direct beneficiaries and the Export-Import Bank and OPIC listed them as a party to the deal.

 

The Good Jobs First Subsidy Tracker’s list of individual subsidies received by companies also includes federal grants and allocated tax credits. Oxfam America chose to exclude this data because we wanted to have a clear definition of federal support. Mixing grants and tax credits with loans, loan guarantees and bailout assistance is potentially confusing or misleading because it conflates amounts that may have been repaid with those that have not.

 

Because many of these loans were paid back, the ultimate cost borne by the US government is not 1 to 1. However, these are subsidies and programs not available to the average individual or small business. Often, as in the case of large bailouts, the federal government is the only possible source of funding available to companies.

 

Moreover, the calculations of federal support are conservative estimates of the dollar value of benefits enjoyed by companies from federal spending. The figures do not account for the value companies receive in direct grants or contracts, from federal funding for the judicial system, law enforcement, public safety, an educated workforce, transportation and other infrastructure, R&D and countless other shared services. They do not account for the safety net programs, which many employees, even of large corporations, rely on to supplement pay levels that fall short of a living wage.

 

Just as Oxfam’s estimates do not count the full extent of the benefits companies enjoy, they do not measure the contributions to society that companies create through economic growth, job creation and numerous other valuable additions to our culture and economy, including their charitable donations and corporate social responsibility efforts.

 

Amount Paid in US Taxes

The second category – amount paid in US taxes – is made up of five metrics. Using the companies’ annual 10-K reports filed with the SEC, we calculated each company’s total profits, federal income tax paid and total tax paid for the years 2008 to 2014. We then used the total profits and total tax paid to calculate the companies’ effective tax rate and the amount they underpaid in taxes compared to the statutory rate of 35%.

 

Profits

In the companies’ annual 10-K reports, the Income Statement provides a figure for “earnings before income taxes” that represents the company’s profits for income tax purposes.[xvi] We added together “earnings before income taxes” for years 2008 through 2014 to calculate each company’s profits for this period. We used “earnings before income taxes” from the Income Statement and did not manipulate this figure by including or excluding certain other types of income to remain consistent with the companies’ own approach in presenting their tax figures and calculating their effective tax rates.

 

Federal Income Tax Paid

In the 10-K reports, the Income Tax footnote to the financial statements provides the components of the company’s income tax or benefit, broken down by current and deferred amounts for federal income tax, state and local income tax and foreign income tax. We used both the current and deferred amounts for federal taxes to remain consistent with the companies’ own approach in presenting their tax figures on their Income Statements and calculating their effective tax rates. We calculated the total current and deferred federal income tax provision for each company from 2008 through 2014.

 

Total Tax Paid

In the 10-K reports the Income Statement provides a figure for “income tax provision” which represents the company’s current and deferred income tax expense or benefit for federal, state and local and foreign taxes. We added together years 2008 through 2014 to calculate each company’s total tax provision for this period. We used “income tax provision” from the Income Statement and did not manipulate this figure by excluding deferred taxes to remain consistent with the companies’ own approach in presenting their tax figures and calculating their effective tax rates.

 

Effective tax rate

To calculate the overall effective tax rate, we divided the total tax paid by total profits from 2008 to 2014 for each company. This method aligns with the company’s own effective tax rate calculation in the 10-K reports. When aggregating the tax data for our time period, we calculated the effective tax rate for each company for every year from 2008 to 2014 and verified this calculation against the companies’ self-reported rates.

 

Tax Break

The “tax break” metric represents the amount the companies are underpaying in comparison to the amount they would pay at the full US statutory rate of 35% for corporate income tax. The “tax break” was calculated by multiplying a company’s total profits by 35% and subtracting the amount of tax they actually paid to determine the difference between the amount of tax paid and the amount of tax that should be paid at the full statutory rate.

 

Taxes Avoided Offshore

To provide a fuller picture of these companies’ tax avoidance activities, we also sought to assess the companies’ efforts to avoid taxes by holding money offshore.

 

Money held offshore

In the 10-K reports companies often disclose the amount of earnings held offshore in the Income Tax footnote to the financial statements.[xvii] The total is generally labeled as earnings “permanently reinvested” in certain foreign subsidiaries. Although these earnings are not always held as cash or cash reserves and may actually be re-invested in the foreign subsidiaries at times, they are still earnings by US companies that are allowed to escape US taxation. Because most of the companies’ 2015 10-K reports had not yet been released at the time of this research, we used the companies’ 2014 10-K reports for consistency.

 

Tax Haven Subsidiaries

To determine the number of subsidiaries, our research team used the Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) report Offshore Shell Games 2015: The Use of Offshore Tax Havens by Fortune 500 Companies. CTJ used Exhibit 21 of the corporations’ 2014 10-K reports to determine how many subsidiaries were disclosed by the companies and where they were located. CTJ classified 50 jurisdictions as tax havens using three sources with consistent definitions of tax havens: “the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a US District Court order.”[xviii]

 

The Exhibit 21 subsidiary disclosures only include “significant subsidiaries.” This standard only requires companies to disclose subsidiaries where either 1) the investment in the subsidiary constitutes more the 10% of the corporation’s total consolidated assets or 2) the income from the subsidiary exceeds 10% of the corporation’s total consolidated income.[xix] As an illustration of the very limited nature of this disclosure, the four largest US finance companies only disclose 17% of their subsidiaries on their 10-K reports.[xx]

 

A tax haven subsidiary does not always constitute a shell company established solely for tax and secrecy purposes, and many companies justify the location of subsidiaries in tax havens by demonstrating that they have active businesses in these jurisdictions. However, it is clear that, as a group, US multinationals use the networks of offshore subsidiaries to utilize the lenient regulations and added secrecy of the offshore jurisdictions and the loose US standards for “locating” a subsidiary in a jurisdiction. They are able to report higher earnings in their offshore subsidiaries to take advantage of the low or zero tax rate while avoiding taxes elsewhere.[xxi]

 

Lobbying

To determine the lobbying expenditures of the target companies, we used the Center for Responsive Politics’ website Opensecrets.org. This resource calculates the total lobby expenditure for a company and its affiliates using lobbying data released by the Senate Office of Public Records as of April 20, 2015. For each company, we added together their total lobbying expenditure for the seven years from 2008 to 2014.

[i] Subsidy Tracker, Good Jobs First, http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/subsidy-tracker.Oxfam, and CRP, excluded repayment amounts because this information is not publicly available.

[ii] News and Events, Federal Reserve, http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/reform_cpff.htm;Monetary Policy, Federal Reserve, http://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/bst_tranche.htm.

[iii] Recovery Act, Treasury Department, http://www.treasury.gov/initiatives/recovery/Pages/1603.aspx.

[iv] Annual Reports, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, http://www.opic.gov/media-events/annual-reports.

[v] TLGP Debt Guarantee Program: Issuer Reported Debt Details, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, https://www.fdic.gov/regulations/resources/TLGP/total_debt.html.

[vi] Announcement of the Results of 2009-10 Allocation Round of the Qualifying Advanced Coal Project Program and the Qualifying Gasification Project Program, Internal Revenue Bulletin 2010-39 (Sept. 27, 2010), http://www.irs.gov/irb/2010-39_IRB/ar09.html.

[vii] USA Spending, http://www.usaspending.gov/.

[viii] Data.gov, https://data.exim.gov/.

[ix] Quarterly Report to Congress, Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (Oct. 29, 2014), http://www.sigtarp.gov/Quarterly%20Reports/October_29_2014_Report_to_Congress.pdf.

[x] Emma database, Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, http://emma.msrb.org/Home/Index.

[xi] DFA Bond Advisory Division, Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, http://www.dfa.state.ms.us/Offices/BondAdvDiv/ReportsandPublications.htm.

[xii] AIG, Counterparty Attachment: Collateral Postings Under AIGFP CDS, http://www.aig.com/aigweb/internet/en/files/CounterpartyAttachments031809_tcm385-155645.pdf.

[xiii] The Aftermath: Federal Aid 10 Years After the World Trade Center Attack, New York City Independent Budget Office (Aug. 2011), http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/wtc2011.pdf.

[xiv] DOE Loan Programs: DOE Has Made More Than $30 Billion in Loans and Guarantees and Needs to Fully Develop Its Loan Monitoring Function, GAO testimony to House Subcommittee on Investigation, Appendix (May 30, 2014), http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-645T.

[xv] Direct communication with Good Jobs First.

[xvi] The Income Statements is generally referred to as the Consolidated Statements of Earnings, the Consolidated Statements of Income or Consolidated Statements of Operations.

[xvii] Of the 50 companies in our study, five companies did not disclose the amount of cash they hold offshore. AT&T discloses that it has permanently reinvested offshore earnings but does not provide the amount. AIG, Comcast and US Bancorp all disclose that they own subsidiaries in tax havens but do not disclose the existence of cash held off-shore. CVS does not disclose the existence of cash off-shore but also does not pay any foreign taxes or have any subsidiaries in tax havens.

[xviii] Robert McIntyre, et al., Offshore Shell Games 2015: The Use of Offshore Tax Havens by Fortune 500 Companies, Citizens for Tax Justice 20 (Oct. 2015). Two of the 50 companies we examined were not included in CTJ’s report: AT&T and CVS. Our researchers looked at Exhibit 21 of their 2014 10-K reports and found that neither disclosed any subsidiaries located in the jurisdictions classified as tax havens by CTJ.

[xix] 17 CFR § 210.1-02(w).

[xx] Because of more stringent reporting requirements, the four largest US financial institutions disclosed 10,688 subsidiaries to the Fed compared to only 1,858 subsidiaries disclosed in their 10-K filings.

[xxi] One example technique is to shift intangible capital to a subsidiary in a low tax jurisdiction and have other subsidiaries or the parent company pay a large fee to that offshore subsidiary to use the intangible capital.