The U.S. Department of the Treasury on Monday issued rules to curb tax-motivated inversions, and while much of the immediate attention focused on how they would affect the proposed Pfizer-Allergan merger, the regulations could ensnare other kinds of cross-border deals or even domestic transactions.
The regulations issued Monday formalized notices put out by the Treasury in 2014 and 2015 saying the administration would write rules to make it more difficult for companies to merge with competitors in low-tax jurisdictions. The regulations included new measures not mentioned in the previous announcements, such as a provision to prevent companies from getting around existing inversion rules by acquiring multiple companies over a short time, as Allergan Inc. has done.
The Treasury also issued proposed regulations to combat the practice of earnings stripping, one of the primary ways inverted companies reap tax benefits from inversions and which involves saddling domestic affiliates with debt and taking a U.S. tax deduction on the interest.
The government may have written the rules to target inversions, but the more than 300 pages of regulations touch on so many different sections of the tax code that other transactions could be caught up as well.
Firms may have to take another look at deals going back more than a year and a half to see if they comply with the rules. The regulations implementing the 2014 notice apply to transactions completed on or after Sept. 22, 2014, while the regulations formalizing the 2015 announcement apply to acquisitions completed on or after Nov. 19, 2015. The new measures introduced Monday apply to transactions completed on or after April 4.
The proposed earnings-stripping regulations in particular have a wide scope that goes well beyond inversions and would encompass debt transactions that are commonly used by multinational or domestic groups of related corporations.
Under the proposed rules, the IRS said it would treat as stock certain transactions that would otherwise be considered debt, such as instruments issued by a subsidiary to its foreign parent in a shareholder dividend distribution or instruments issued in connection with some acquisitions of stock or assets from related corporations in transactions economically similar to dividend distributions.
The proposed regulations specifically mention a court case from 1956, Kraft Foods Co. v. Commissioner, in which the Second Circuit considered a domestic corporate subsidiary that issued indebtedness in the form of debentures to its sole shareholder, which was also a domestic corporation, in the payment of a dividend. In the case, the government argued that the transaction may have been a sham and should have been treated as stock, but the court sided with Kraft, saying the debentures should be respected as debt.
In the proposed regulations, the IRS said going forward it would treat a debt instrument issued in fact patterns similar to that in Kraft as stock, thus unsettling well established law.
The breadth of the regulations will have implications well beyond inversions and will affect not only foreign companies and inverted companies but U.S. companies as well, Bazar said.
One of the new provisions in Monday’s regulations would target so-called serial acquirers who purchase multiple U.S. companies in quick succession to get around an existing rule that penalizes inversions in which the former stockholders of the U.S. company retain at least 60 percent ownership in the newly combined foreign company. If the former stockholders retain at least 80 percent ownership of the new company, the transaction is completely disregarded for U.S. tax purposes.
In the regulations, the Treasury said it was concerned that a serial acquirer could subvert the rule by issuing stock with each successive purchase of a U.S. company, thereby increasing its ownership and enabling acquisition of an even greater domestic company without crossing the 60 percent threshold. To that end, the regulations exclude from that ownership calculation stock that is issued by a foreign corporation in connection with the acquisition of U.S. entities in the prior three years.