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Understanding U.S. Corporate Tax Losses

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 23

  • Rosanne Altshuler
  • Alan J. Auerbach
  • Michael Cooper
  • Matthew Knittel

Recent data present a puzzle: the ratio of corporate tax losses to positive income was much higher around 2001 than in earlier recessions. Using a comprehensive 1982-2005 sample of U.S. corporation tax returns, 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 NIPA corporate profits. 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 a different pattern of losses in recent years. However, we can identify no simple explanation for this differing experience. 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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This chapter was published in:
  • Jeffrey R. Brown & James M. Poterba, 2009. "Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 23," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pote08-3, 07.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10572.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10572
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. Alan Auerbach, 2006. "Why have Corporate Tax Revenues Declined? Another Look," CESifo Working Paper Series 1785, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. 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.
    3. Stephen Davis & John Haltiwanger & Ron Jarmin & Javier Miranda, 2006. "Volatility and Dispersion in Business Growth Rates: Publicly Traded Versus Privately Held Firms," Working Papers 06-17, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    4. 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.
    5. Hines, J.R. & Rice, E.M., 1990. "Fiscal Paradise: Foreign Tax Havens And American Business," Papers 56, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Discussion Paper.
    6. Roger H. Gordon & James R. Hines Jr., 2002. "International Taxation," NBER Working Papers 8854, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. 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.
    8. Grubert, Harry & Mutti, John, 1991. "Taxes, Tariffs and Transfer Pricing in Multinational Corporate Decision Making," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 73(2), pages 285-93, May.
    9. Rosanne Altshuler & Harry Grubert, 2006. "The Three Parties in the Race to the Bottom: Host Governments, Home Governments and Multinational Companies," Departmental Working Papers 200625, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
    10. Alan J. Auerbach & James M. Poterba, 1986. "Why Have Corporate Tax Revenues Declined?," Working papers 435, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    11. Diego A. Comin & Thomas Philippon, 2006. "The Rise in Firm-Level Volatility: Causes and Consequences," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2005, Volume 20, pages 167-228 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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