October 17, 2018

Dividends

Berkshire Hathaway: Wall St. Journal Is Wrong About Our Taxes on Bank of America Deal

Last week, folksy octogenarian (81 years today!) billionaire Warren Buffett announced that he was going to invest $5 billion in Bank of America. Some are questioning The Oracle’s intentions with this investment but considering WB came up with the idea in a place where all good ideas originate – the tub – it’s plausible that this investment will turn out okay for Berkshire shareholders (isn’t that the point?).

Regardless, some don’t think a guy who says that he doesn’t want to be “coddled” and needs – nay, WANTS! – to pay higher taxes shouldn’t be throwing around money and should just put his money where his Blizzardhole is. Accordingly, The Wall St. Journal published an editorial today accusing Buffett of being a little dodgy when it comes to Berkshire’s tax liability as it relates to his BofA investment.

Mr. Buffett’s recent decision to invest in Bank of America represents another tax-avoidance triumph for the Berkshire chief executive. U.S. corporations are subject to a top federal income tax rate of 35%, the second highest in the world. But the Journal’s Erik Holm notes [Ed. note: Thanks for linking!] that Mr. Buffett and the Berkshire bunch won’t pay anything close to that on their investment in BofA preferred shares.

That’s because corporations can exclude from taxation 70% of the dividends they receive from an investment in another corporation. This exclusion is intended to prevent double- or even triple-taxation as money is earned by one company, paid to another company and then ultimately paid out to shareholders. The policy makes sense; we only wonder why the exclusion isn’t 100%.

With the 70% exclusion for Mr. Buffett and his fellow shareholders, Berkshire will enjoy an effective tax rate of 10.5% on the $300 million in dividends it will receive each year from Bank of America.

So, a 10.5% effective rate. Not bad, right? Well, Berkshire says it’s wrong and issued a brief press release to rebut the Journal’s op-ed account and not so subtly suggests that they bone up on tax law:

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal says that “Berkshire Hathaway will enjoy an effective tax rate of 10.5% on the $300 million in dividends it will receive each year from Bank of America.” That statement is incorrect.

Virtually all of the stocks that Berkshire owns are held in its property-casualty subsidiaries, and that will be the case with the Bank of America preferred.

The tax treatment for dividends paid by U.S. corporations to property-casualty insurance companies was materially changed by a law passed in 1986. The changes were described in detail in the chairman’s letter included in Berkshire’s 1986 annual report.

A minor change in rate was made in 1993. Since that time dividends that insurers receive from U.S. companies incur an effective tax rate of 14.175%. For Berkshire, that rate will apply to dividends it receives from Bank of America.

So, in other words, suck it editorial board. If you know Buffett like you should know him, then you know that if he could save that 3.675%, he would.

Buffett’s Latest Tax Break [WSJ]
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. News Release [Business Wire (a Berkshire Hathaway Compay!)]

Accounting News Roundup: BP Weighing Options on Dividend; Will the “New Wealth Taxes” Affect You?; Medifast Keeps Things Vague | 06.14.10

BP unlikely to cancel dividend, but mulls several ideas: source [Reuters]
They may defer it, pay it in shares or “pay into a ring-fenced account until the oil spill liabilities become clearer.” All of which will please absolutely no one.

Auditors to reveal bank talks under new plans [FT]
Proposals by the ICAEW would require auditors to disclose their private discussions with bank audit committees afteshowed that “the value of bank audits had shown investors especially were dissatisfied by the audit report. The internal process involved was perceived as helping to keep bank executives in check, but investors felt the report was only a box-ticking exercise.”

The Big 4 have historically resisted these types of proposals, arguing that it will expose them to additional legal liability.

Suggestions cited include assurance on the “front half of annual reports,” as well as an audit of the banks’ summaries of risks. The ICAEW said it was aware that this would add to the auditors’ workload.


Vantis trading suspension follows difficult financial period [Accountancy Age]
The court-appointed liquidator for Allen Stanford’s bank, Vantis, has had trading of its shares suspended by the AIM after the company was unable to obtain any funds for their services related to the Stanford case, among other financial difficulties.

Ernst & Young had issued a going concern opinion for the company back in February, warning that continued lack of cash flow would have to be remediated quickly for any possibility for the continuation of the business.

How the New Wealth Taxes Will Hit You [WSJ]
Are you one of those “rich” people? That is, do you have an adjusted gross income of $200,000 or more ($250,000 for joint filers)? If so, you’ll probably want to know that two new tax levies will come your way in 2013 as a result of the new healthcare legislation – a 0.9% levy on wages and a new 3.8% tax on investment income.

The 0.9% tax is on any wages over $200k/$250k. For example, if you are single and made $300,000, your additional tax would be $900.

Similarly, the investment income tax would tax any investment income in excess of the $200k/$250k threshold and the 3.8% tax would be applied. What’s investment income you ask?

Interest, except municipal-bond interest; dividends; rents; royalties; and capital gains on the sales of financial instruments like stocks and bonds. The taxable portion of insurance annuity payouts also counts, unless it is from a company pension. So do gains from financial trading, as well as passive income from rents and businesses you don’t participate in. All are subject to the 3.8% tax on amounts above the $250,000 or $200,000 threshold, as described above.

Income that is not considered investment income include: distributions from IRAs, pensions and Social Security, annuities that are part of a retirement plan, life-insurance proceeds, muni-bond interest, veterans’ benefits, and income from a business you participate in, such as a S Corporation or partnership.

KPMG considering move to 1801 K [Washington Businsess Journal (subscription required)]
KPMG might move their Washington, DC office location to 1801 K St. NW from 2001 M St. NW according to “real estate sources.” KPMG’s spokesman said that the firm is continuing to “examine all of our options.” The situation is fluid.

Open Letter to the [SEC]: Why You Must Review Medifast’s Revenue Accounting Disclosures [White Collar Fraud]
Sam Antar would like to put the SEC on notice that Medifast seems to be less than transparent when it comes to its disclosures, “it seems that Medifast is recognizing revenue upon shipment and not delivery. As a minimum, Medifast, like Overstock.com, should be required to expand and clarify its disclosures to avoid confusing investors.”