Last year’s tax-code
overhaul slashed the rates companies pay, but limited an
important break-—the deductibility of interest payments. Now, companies are
exploring ways to sidestep that change and billions of dollars in tax each
Before the new law, corporate interest payments were generally
deductible. Starting this year, companies can only deduct interest
payments up to 30% of their adjusted income.
In response, some companies are taking or considering steps that would
keep interest payments within the cap. These include shifting some borrowing
overseas; moving to alternative forms of financing that carry lower interest
payments like convertible notes; or avoiding interest payments entirely
through the use of tools such as supply-chain financing or sale-leaseback
Some companies are simply retiring debt, lowering interest payments
“For sure they will try to avoid it,” said Steven Rosenthal, a senior
fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington. “People are trying
to find out how to react to the new rule.”
The new interest-deductibility limits are expected to affect companies
that are highly leveraged or capital-intensive—firms in industries
such as energy and telecommunications, whose businesses require constant
financing and spending.
The new restriction could wipe out some of the gains companies will
realize from the reduction in the corporate tax rate to 21% from the previous
35%. Indeed, Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the
interest-deduction limit will bring in $90.2 billion in additional revenue in
the next five years and $253.4 billion over the next decade.
While eager to act, companies are being cautious. The Internal Revenue
Service has yet to issue full guidance on how the interest-deduction cap will
be implemented, and it could close off some of the steps companies are
In a March report, the New York State Bar Association’s tax section said
there is “a reasonable policy argument that deductions for expenses that are
the functional equivalent of interest ought to be limited in the same manner as
interest deductions.” The Treasury Department and the IRS should consider
whether to issue guidance along those lines, the group said.
“There’s a little bit of wait-and-see,” said Craig Horowitz, head of the
tax group at law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP.
While the new law limits the deductibility of interest to 30% of a
before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, that
is just the start.
Beginning in 2022, depreciation and amortization costs will be
incorporated into the calculation. Doing so reduces profit and the amount
of interest expense that is deductible.
In part, capping the interest deduction was intended to prod companies
toward issuing more stock to finance operations, instead of relying on debt
that requires interest payments. As a result, law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen
& Hamilton LLP said in a January memo it expects “new patterns” to emerge
over how and where U.S. companies issue debt, and the firm thinks companies
will engage in more “liability management” transactions to restructure debt.
That is already happening. U.S. corporate debt issuance is down almost
14% this year through April compared with the same period last year, according
to data from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
Meanwhile, U.S. equity underwriting is up 3.2%, according to data from
And some companies already are borrowing through non-U.S. subsidiaries
where the effect of the 30% cap may be limited. Multinational companies are
“definitely looking at pushing their debt” to other countries where they might
get the best tax deal, Mr. Horowitz said.
Aerospace company TransDigm Group Inc., for
one, raised $500 million earlier this month by selling notes through a U.K.
subsidiary. The company had $322 million in net interest expense in the six
months ended in March, about 39% of Ebitda. The company didn’t mention the
interest-deduction cap as a reason for the offering and declined to
Energy company AES Corp.raised
about $380 million in February through a Brazil subsidiary. AES also recently
completed tender offers for $1.7 billion of existing debt, in part to refinance
higher-rate debt. The company had 2017 net interest expense of $926 million,
around the 30% threshold. AES said its tender offers were primarily aimed at
improving its capital structure, but the benefit of reducing debt when interest
deductibility is limited was “a secondary driver.”
Other companies are looking to monetize invoices, receivables and other
assets more quickly as a source of financing, rather than paying interest on
debt. Companies have used such arrangements for years, but staying away
from interest payments is “absolutely” a factor in their use of it
now, said Roland Hartley-Urquhart, head of the U.S. division of Greensill
Capital, which specializes in working-capital finance.
Here’s how that works: acting on a company’s behalf, Greensill pays a
supplier for an invoice or receivable. Greensill pays an amount slightly lower
than the face value of what is owed, but the supplier gets its money more
quickly than it would otherwise. The original company pays Greensill the full
The arrangement allows a company to plan for longer payment terms from
the start, giving it access to its cash for a longer period. That means it
has less need to borrow and pays less interest, so there is less chance it
will exceed the 30% cap.
There may be another way to avoid the cap. The tax law allows companies
to carry forward to future years the portion of interest that can’t be deducted
because it is over the 30% threshold. That may allow companies to deduct
the payments down the road.
Cable-TV company Altice USA Inc. paid
$1.6 billion in interest in 2017 and is close to the 30% cap. But the company,
which didn’t respond to requests for comment, said in its annual report that it
expects any disallowed deductions to “fully reverse.”
here for the original article from The Wall Street Journal.