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Understanding U.S. Corporate Tax Losses

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Author Info

  • Rosanne Altshuler

    ()
    (Rutgers University, Department of Economics)

  • Alan Auerbach

    ()
    (University of California, Berkeley)

  • Michael Cooper

    ()
    (Department of Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis)

  • Matthew Knittel

    ()
    (Department of Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis)

Abstract

Recent data on corporate tax losses presents a puzzle this paper attempts to explain: the ratio of losses to positive income was much higher around the recession of 2001 than in earlier recessions, even those of greater severity. Using a comprehensive sample of U.S. corporation tax returns for the period 1982-2005, we explore a variety of potential explanations for this surge in tax losses, taking account of the significant use of executive compensation stock options beginning in the 1990s and recent temporary tax provisions that might have had important effects on taxable income. We find that losses rose because the average rate of return of C corporations fell, rather than because of an increase in the dispersion of returns or an increase in the gap between corporate profits subject to tax and corporate profits as measured by the national income accounts. Our analysis also suggests that the increasing importance of S corporations may help explain the recent experience within the C corporate sector, as S corporations have exhibited adifferent pattern of losses in recent years. However, we can identify no simple explanation for the differing experience of C and S corporations. Our investigation concludes with some new puzzles: why did rates of return of C corporations fall so much early in the decade and why has the incidence of losses among C and S corporations diverged?

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Rutgers University, Department of Economics in its series Departmental Working Papers with number 201124.

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Length: 20 pages
Date of creation: 18 May 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:rut:rutres:201124

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Keywords: corporate taxation; tax losses;

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References

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  1. Steven J. Davis & John Haltiwanger & Ron Jarmin & Javier Miranda, 2006. "Volatility and Dispersion in Business Growth Rates: Publicly Traded versus Privately Held Firms," NBER Working Papers 12354, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Diego Comin & Thomas Philippon, 2005. "The Rise in Firm-Level Volatility: Causes and Consequences," NBER Working Papers 11388, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Alan Auerbach, 2006. "Why have Corporate Tax Revenues Declined? Another Look," CESifo Working Paper Series 1785, CESifo Group Munich.
  4. Gordon, Roger H. & Hines, James Jr, 2002. "International taxation," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 28, pages 1935-1995 Elsevier.
  5. Altshuler, Rosanne & Auerbach, Alan J, 1990. "The Significance of Tax Law Asymmetries: An Empirical Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(1), pages 61-86, February.
  6. Hamid Mehran & Joseph Tracy, 2001. "The effect of employee stock options on the evolution of compensation in the 1990s," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue Dec, pages 17-34.
  7. Hines, James R, Jr & Rice, Eric M, 1994. "Fiscal Paradise: Foreign Tax Havens and American Business," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(1), pages 149-82, February.
  8. Cooper, Michael & Knittel, Matthew, 2006. "Partial Loss Refundability: How Are Corporate Tax Losses Used?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 59(3), pages 651-63, September.
  9. Alan J. Auerbach & James M. Poterba, 1987. "Why Have Corporate Tax Revenues Declined?," NBER Working Papers 2118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Rosanne Altshuler & Harry Grubert, 2005. "The Three Parties in the Race to the Bottom: Host Governments, Home Governments and Multinational Companies," CESifo Working Paper Series 1613, CESifo Group Munich.
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Cited by:
  1. Nadja Dwenger & Pia Rattenhuber & Viktor Steiner, 2011. "Sharing the burden: Empirical evidence on corporate tax incidence," Working Papers sharing_the_burden, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance.
  2. Dwenger, Nadja & Steiner, Viktor, 2009. "Financial leverage and corporate taxation: Evidence from German corporate tax return data," arqus Discussion Papers in Quantitative Tax Research 61, arqus - Arbeitskreis Quantitative Steuerlehre.
  3. Alan J. Auerbach, 2009. "Implementing the New Fiscal Policy Activism," NBER Working Papers 14725, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Alan Auerbach, 2009. "US Fiscal Policy In Recession: What's Next?," CESifo Forum, Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 10(2), pages 3-8, 07.

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