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Thin-Capitalization Rules and Company Responses Experience from German Legislation


  • Alfons J. Weichenrieder
  • Helen Windischbauer


By granting intracompany loans to their foreign affiliates, multinational firms may reduce their tax liability abroad. Many countries have legislated thin-capitalization rules (TCRs) that limit the allowable levels of intracompany loans or restrict interest deductibility if certain thresholds are crossed. This paper empirically analyzes the effect of the German TCR on corporate policy. We find that tightening the regulations in 2001 had some limiting effect on leverage. Foreign affiliates reacted by reducing intracompany loans and increasing equity, with no significant evidence of reduced real investment. A possible reason for the limited impact of the TCR was that multinational firms had the option to work around the regulation by using holding company structures. Indeed, holding companies have been used to shift huge amounts of intracompany loans onto the books of German affiliates. At the same time, however, only part of these observed reorganizations seem to have been a reaction to TCR.

Suggested Citation

  • Alfons J. Weichenrieder & Helen Windischbauer, 2008. "Thin-Capitalization Rules and Company Responses Experience from German Legislation," CESifo Working Paper Series 2456, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_2456

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Haufler, Andreas & Runkel, Marco, 2012. "Firms' financial choices and thin capitalization rules under corporate tax competition," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(6), pages 1087-1103.
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    6. Jack Mintz & Alfons J. Weichenrieder, 2005. "Taxation and the Financial Structure of German Outbound FDI," CESifo Working Paper Series 1612, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. Andreas Haufler & Marco Runkel, 2008. "Firms’ Financial Choices and Thin Capitalization Rules under Corporate Tax Competition," CESifo Working Paper Series 2429, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. Rosanne Altshuler & Jack Mintz, 1995. "U.S. interest-allocation rules: Effects and policy," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 2(1), pages 7-35, February.
    9. Alfons J. Weichenrieder & Jack Mintz, 2008. "What determines the use of holding companies and ownership chains?," Working Papers 0803, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation.
    10. Johannes Becker & Clemens Fuest & Thomas Hemmelgarn, 2006. "Corporate Tax Reform and Foreign Direct Investment in Germany – Evidence from Firm-Level Data," CESifo Working Paper Series 1722, CESifo Group Munich.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mardan, Mohammed, 2017. "Why countries differ in thin capitalization rules: The role of financial development," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 1-14.
    2. Jennifer Blouin & Harry Huizinga & Luc Laeven & Gaëtan Nicodème, 2013. "Thin capitalization rules and multinational firm capital structure," Working Papers 1323, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation.
    3. Haufler, Andreas & Runkel, Marco, 2012. "Firms' financial choices and thin capitalization rules under corporate tax competition," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(6), pages 1087-1103.
    4. Schindler, Dirk & Schjelderup, Guttorm, 2012. "Debt shifting and ownership structure," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(4), pages 635-647.
    5. Hsun Chu, 2014. "Tax Enforcement Policy and the Provision of Public Goods with the Presence of Tax Havens," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 61(3), pages 304-321, July.
    6. Haufler, Andreas & Mardan, Mohammed & Schindler, Dirk, 2016. "Optimal Policies against Profit Shifting: The Role of Controlled-Foreign-Company Rules," Discussion Papers in Economics 27745, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    7. Gresik, Thomas A. & Schindler, Dirk & Schjelderup, Guttorm, 2017. "Immobilizing corporate income shifting: Should it be safe to strip in the harbor?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 152(C), pages 68-78.
    8. Georg Wamser, 2014. "The Impact of Thin-Capitalization Rules on External Debt Usage – A Propensity Score Matching Approach," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 76(5), pages 764-781, October.
    9. Shafik Hebous & Alfons J. Weichenrieder, 2015. "What Do We Know about the Tax Planning of German-based Multinational Firms?," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 12(4), pages 15-21, 01.
    10. Kayis-Kumar, Ann, 2015. "Thin capitalisation rules: A second-best solution to the cross-border debt bias?," MPRA Paper 72031, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Schindler, Dirk & Schjelderup, Guttorm, 2008. "Multinationals, Minority Ownership and Tax-Efficient Financing Structures," Discussion Papers 2008/19, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Business and Management Science.
    12. Ruud de Mooij & Michael P. Devereux, 2008. "Alternative Systems of Business Tax in Europe: An applied analysis of ACE and CBIT Reforms," Taxation Studies 0023, Directorate General Taxation and Customs Union, European Commission.
    13. Sachverständigenrat zur Begutachtung der Gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung (ed.), 2014. "Mehr Vertrauen in Marktprozesse. Jahresgutachten 2014/15," Annual Economic Reports / Jahresgutachten, German Council of Economic Experts / Sachverständigenrat zur Begutachtung der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung, volume 127, number 201415.
    14. Egger, Peter & Wamser, Georg, 2011. "The Impact of Controlled Foreign Company Legislation on Real Investments Abroad: A Two-dimensional Regression Discontinuity Design," CEPR Discussion Papers 8460, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    15. Ruf Martin & Schindler Dirk, 2015. "Debt Shifting and Thin-Capitalization Rules – German Experience and Alternative Approaches," Nordic Tax Journal, De Gruyter Open, vol. 2015(1), pages 17-33, September.
    16. Mardan, Mohammed & Haufler, Andreas & Schindler, Dirk, 2014. "An Economic Rationale for Controlled-Foreign-Corporation Rules," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100405, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    17. repec:ces:ifodic:v:12:y:2015:i:4:p:19149984 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Nicolay, Katharina & Nusser, Hannah & Pfeiffer, Olena, 2017. "On the interdependency of profit shifting channels and the effectiveness of anti-avoidance legislation," ZEW Discussion Papers 17-066, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    19. Dreßler, Daniel & Scheuering, Uwe, 2015. "Empirical evaluation of interest barrier effects," ZEW Discussion Papers 12-046 [rev.], ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    20. Egger, Peter H. & Wamser, Georg, 2015. "The impact of controlled foreign company legislation on real investments abroad. A multi-dimensional regression discontinuity design," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 77-91.
    21. Guttorm Schjelderup, 2016. "The Tax Sensitivity of Debt in Multinationals: A Review," International Journal of the Economics of Business, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(1), pages 109-121, February.
    22. Buettner, Thiess & Overesch, Michael & Schreiber, Ulrich & Wamser, Georg, 2012. "The impact of thin-capitalization rules on the capital structure of multinational firms," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(11), pages 930-938.
    23. Jarkko Harju & Ilpo Kauppinen & Olli Ropponen, 2017. "Firm Responses to an Interest Barrier: Empirical Evidence," EconPol Working Paper 3, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich.
    24. Kalamov, Zarko Y., 2015. "Safe Haven vs. Earnings Stripping Rules: a Prisoner Dilemma?," EconStor Preprints 110895, ZBW - German National Library of Economics.

    More about this item


    multinational firm; debt; thin capitalization; financial structure;

    JEL classification:

    • G38 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • H25 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Business Taxes and Subsidies


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