Multinationals Rethink Demands for Corporate Tax Reform

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CFOs at multinational companies are beginning to change their minds about using tax policy as a way out of the economic doldrums.

According to a new survey of multinational CFOs by Taxand, a global organization of tax advisors to multinational businesses, an overwhelming 87 percent of respondents from the Americas do not believe that economic turmoil can be resolved through tax policy. The 87 percent figure was significantly higher than the global average of 76 percent who responded negatively and is perhaps a reflection of historic examples of failed tax measures. In addition, 86 percent of the CFOs surveyed in the Americas have concerns over governments’ ability to assist multinational companies during a recession.

Multinational corporations based in the U.S. have been lobbying Congress and candidates in both parties to lower corporate tax rates so they are more in line with other industrialized countries and to provide a tax holiday on earnings repatriated from abroad. But the survey results indicate that support for such measures may be waning dramatically among CFOs.  Only 38 percent of multinationals in the Americas think global tax harmonization is desirable, down from 75 percent last year, with only 29 percent believing it to be achievable, a 21 percentage point drop since last year’s survey.

Amid the negative publicity about multinational companies like GE, Google and Apple using aggressive tax planning to shift their profits overseas, corporate CFOs are beginning to perceive damage to their corporate reputations from using such policies. Seventy-five percent of multinationals in the Americas believe exposure to the public of corporate tax planning activity has a detrimental impact on a company's reputation, up from 62 percent last year.

Multinationals are also finding themselves increasingly subject to audits by tax authorities in the Americas. Seventy-five percent of the CFOs polled have seen a continued increase in the number of tax audits undertaken by tax authorities, and 23 percent agree that the rising cost of compliance is a key challenge facing their company’s tax department.

Nevertheless, relationships with the tax authorities have been positive. Multinationals see a significant improvement in their relationship with government tax authorities in the Americas in the past year, with the proportion who have noted improvement in the relationship jumping from 37 percent in 2011 to a overwhelming 86 percent in 2012.

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