A worker at Google offices in Ireland John Cogill/AP
Reading Time: 7 minutes

As select U.S. multinational corporations push for a tax holiday on a trillion dollars parked overseas, their own recent financial reports undermine the arguments they are making for preferential treatment on Capitol Hill.

Proponents of the tax break for “repatriated” overseas earnings say that bringing the money home will give U.S. corporations an infusion of cash, stimulating investment and creating jobs.

But an iWatch News survey of some major players in the tax repatriation debate found that corporations, far from being cash-starved, are sitting on billions of dollars of liquid assets. In new filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and conference calls with Wall Street analysts, some big players flatly say they don’t need the tax holiday.

Firms like Microsoft and Oracle, Google and Apple have tens of billions in cash stashed offshore, and lots more here at home.

“We currently do not intend nor foresee a need to repatriate these funds,” the Microsoft Corp. said in its latest quarterly report. “We expect existing domestic cash, cash equivalents, short-term investments, and cash flow from operations to continue to be sufficient.”

Microsoft said it had $57.4 billion in cash and other liquid sources on hand, with $51 billion of that kept overseas.

Though it rests in offshore accounts, the lion’s share of Microsoft’s money is already invested in U.S. assets. The firm says it has socked 83 percent of the billions it holds offshore in U.S. government securities, U.S. corporate bonds and U.S. mortgage-backed securities.

The story was much the same at Google Inc., which reported its corporate coffers held $42.6 billion, with $20.2 billion of that stashed overseas.

“Our intent is to permanently reinvest these funds outside of the U.S. and our current plans do not demonstrate a need to repatriate them,” Google said. “Our sources of funding will be sufficient to satisfy our currently anticipated cash requirements through at least the next 12 months.”

Google and Microsoft are members of WIN America, a coalition of US multinationals and trade groups pushing for the tax break. The holiday could cost the U.S. Treasury as much as $80 billion, one reason why its prospects are mixed as Washington remains inundated by a lake of red ink. Yet 80 members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, have signed up as co-sponsors.

Some 70 of those co-sponsors have received almost a million dollars in campaign contributions from WIN-affiliated companies since the start of 2009. WIN and its members have spent millions lobbying Congress, and employ dozens of lobbyists, to press for the tax break, iWatch News has reported.

Need aside, the payoff could be huge. A similar tax holiday in 2004 cut the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 5.25 percent for repatriating companies.

American firms face a 35 percent corporate income tax at home, but money earned overseas is taxed only by the country of origin until it is returned to the United States, at which time an additional tax is levied to make up any difference and restore the rate to 35 percent.

If the rate was dropped to 5 percent, “the amount of corporate cash that would come flooding into the country could be…used for creating jobs, investing in research, building plants, purchasing equipment and other uses,” wrote John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems, and Safra Catz, the president of Oracle Corp., in an op-ed last year in The Wall Street Journal.

However, after a number of deductions and tax breaks are employed, the effective tax rate for U.S. corporations is often much lower.

And critics of the repatriation proposal, pointing to a previous tax holiday in 2004, say that the influx of cash will not create jobs, but will be spent instead to benefit shareholders and corporate executives, via higher dividends and stock repurchasing plans.

“They should use the cash they already have here at home to invest in America rather than ask for still another break,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, told iWatch News.

U.S. firms are flush with cash, analysts from the Heritage Foundation noted last month, and can easily borrow at bargain rates if they need to raise funds.

“The repatriation holiday would have little or no effect on investment and job creation, the key to the whole issue, simply because the repatriating companies are not capital-constrained today,” the Heritage report said. “Any investment, any action that they would deem worthwhile today can be and is being financed by current and accumulated earnings.”

Apple Inc. is a prime example. In its latest annual report, filed on Oct. 26, Apple noted record sales and profits, and plans to expand its network of retail stores and its lines of iconic products.

But Apple does not need a tax break to finance its plans for expansion. The firm’s report shows that it is sitting on some $81 billion in cash and cash equivalents, up 60 percent during 2011.

America’s education system, not taxes, is what keeps Apple from employing more Americans, according to a new biography of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs. Author Walter Isaacson recounts that Jobs told President Obama that the company employed 700,000 workers in China, instead of the United States, because of a lack of qualified American engineers.

Other cash-rich firms have been acquiring new subsidiaries and letting go “redundant workers,” or distributing wealth to shareholders and corporate executives.

Another prominent member of the WIN America coalition is Pfizer, the pharmaceutical firm that manufactures such popular products as Lipitor and Viagra. Speaking to Wall Street analysts on Tuesday, the firm’s executives were focused on slimming down its workforce, and buying back shares – not creating jobs.

“We are…focused on shareholder value,” CEO Ian Read told the analysts. The company hopes to boost its dividends, and has spent $6.5 billion this year repurchasing shares of the company’s stock as part of an ongoing buyback program that it hopes will reach $9 billion this year.

Meanwhile, the Pfizer executives said they cut 4,100 jobs in 2011, as part of an ongoing company-wide purge of redundant positions from recent acquisitions.

Pfizer was the single biggest benefactor of the 2004 tax holiday, when it took advantage of a cut-rate “one time” 5.25 percent tax rate to bring back $37 billion from overseas.

In a paper for the nonpartisan New America Foundation, cited by WIN America, economist Laura D’Andrea Tyson and two Berkeley associates say that the trickle-down effects from rewarding stockholders could be significant.

Tyson and her colleagues acknowledge that 74 percent of the money brought back to the US in a tax holiday would probably be distributed to shareholders in the form of dividend payments or stock repurchases. But for every dollar returned to a stockholder, Tyson says, from 25 to 40 cents will be used by higher-income Americans to go shopping. The boost to the economy, when combined with direct hiring and investment, could ultimately lead to the creation of between 1.3 million and 2.5 million jobs.

Tyson serves on the board of directors of Kodak, a member of the WIN America group. Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, serves as chairman of the New America Foundation.

WIN America, when asked to comment, declined.

Microsoft also rewarded shareholders. It spent $1 billion in the 90 days prior to its Sept. 30 report buying 38 million shares as part of its ongoing stock repurchase program.

A similar tale was told by software giant Oracle.

“Our current cash…will be sufficient to meet our working capital, capital expenditures and contractual obligation requirements,” Oracle reported to the SEC. And “we could fund any future acquisitions, dividend payments and repurchases of common stock or debt with our internally available cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities, cash generated from operations, additional borrowings or from the issuance of additional securities.”

Oracle is in the midst of an $8 billion stock repurchase program, and purchased 27.5 million shares for $823 million in the three months ending Aug. 31. It is paying dividends and has its own robust merger and acquisition strategy, which in recent years has led to thousands of layoffs.

Though not as flush as Apple, Cisco Systems reported that it held $44 billion in cash, with $39.8 billion of that stashed overseas.

The company used $6.8 billion last year to benefit shareholders in the latest stage of a long term $82 billion stock repurchasing plan.

At the same time, Cisco said, it was paring its workforce by 6,500 employees to beef up its bottom line.

Requests for comment, by phone to Microsoft and Pfizer and by email to Google, were not returned.

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.