Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
One way a multinational corporation can further satisfy its primary objective, which is to maximize shareholder wealth, is to minimize the share of its income that is transferred through taxation to the various sovereign nations within which it does business. The profit maximizing firm attempts to maximize (minimize) taxable income in those jurisdictions where income tax burdens are the least (most) in such a way as to diminish the present value of its global total tax burden. While the US corporate income tax rate has remained relatively stable over the decades since most US income tax rates were last slashed as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, across the rest of the world, non-US corporate income tax rates have continued to fall. Even though the US statutory rate was among the lowest corporate income tax rates of any industrialized nation in 1988, by 2008, due to continuing rate decreases around the globe the US rate had become one of the highest corporate income tax rates amongst the G-8. In April of 2012, the US statutory rate as applied to corporate income became the highest among all the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) countries. This study will examine the behavior of option intensive corporations during the late 1990's. Coinciding with the longest recorded economic expansion in the history of the United States and coupled with the so-called "internet bubble" during the second half of the decade, this period of rapid stock price appreciation was also a time when many highly profitable companies faced substantially lower current US tax liabilities due to the large tax deductions resulting from the employee exercise of increasing quantities of non-qualified stock options at substantial gains. Enormous tax losses reported by employee stock option granting firms were sufficient to eliminate not only current US corporate income tax liabilities but also several years of future tax liabilities for some firms. Previous research has documented an increasing proportion of US multinational corporate income recognized in foreign jurisdictions, thereby escaping the relatively high US corporate tax rates until the foreign profits are repatriated back into the US. Perhaps US corporate income tax rates are so high in comparison to equally suitable substitute foreign locations that many firms have relocated their income producing activities to lower taxed jurisdictions abroad. Or it may be that US multinational firms engage in various cross border income shifting techniques to avoid high US corporate income tax rates and reduce their overall global tax burden. Profitable option intensive firms in the late 1990's faced in effect lower US corporate income tax rates due to their extensive employee stock option deductions and resulting net operating loss carry-forwards. It is possible that these firms had more incentive to recognize income domestically than their non-option intensive corporate peers. Using a sample of the largest US firms comprising the NASDAQ-100 index on May 31, 2001, this study found evidence of higher US profitability among NASDAQ-100 multinational firms with the largest deductions resulting from the exercise of options by their employees during the 1997 - 2000 fiscal years suggesting that these firms where more likely to recognize or even generate income within US borders when facing effectively lower US corporate income tax rates. Such an observation has potential public policy implications and contributes to the literature on tax motivated income shifting behavior.
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