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Should We Support or Oppose This Change?

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Giant global corporations have enjoyed an $85 billion tax perk for several years -- but now it's in jeopardy. Whether you're for or against its abolition may depend on whether you're wearing your taxpayer or shareholder hat.

"Check-the-box" tax rules permit multinational corporations to designate their international subsidiaries as "disregarded entities" for tax purposes. That helps these companies legally defer taxes that they'd otherwise have to pay sooner.

The Obama administration initially wanted to remove this loophole. Not surprisingly, companies such as General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB  ) , and Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) opposed that proposal, arguing that it would harm their ability to compete internationally. Their protests prompting the administration to leave "check-the-box" rules alone.

The dilemma
On one hand, our ever-ballooning national debt means we need every tax dollar we can find. On the other hand, when big American companies pay less in taxes, their earnings rise, and investors benefit. A report from CFO.com cited White House figures that "in 2004, which is the most recent year for which data is available, U.S. multinational corporations paid about $16 billion in U.S. taxes on approximately $700 billion of foreign active earnings -- an effective U.S. tax rate of 2.3%."

Check out just how much some companies took in abroad during their most recently ended fiscal years:

Company

Non-U.S. Revenue in Fiscal 2009

Percentage of Overall Revenue

Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT  )

$19.2 billion

48%

3M (NYSE: MMM  )

$14.6 billion

63%

McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  )

$14.8 billion

65%

Nike (NYSE: NKE  )

$12.6 billion

66%

Data: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's.

If you want to see more of this money taxed, let your Congressional representatives (and the President!) know. If you're a shareholder, keep an eye on developments. Reforms in this department probably won't stay off the table forever, and if the "check-the-box" loophole gets closed, your holdings could take a greater tax hit.

In the meantime, let the numbers above remind you of how much international exposure you can gain by investing in U.S. companies. Many foreign economies are growing faster than ours, and globally focused domestic companies could benefit from that expansion. And if you'd like to further juice up your portfolio's international focus, we've got a few recommendations for great global stocks.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of 3M, McDonald's, and General Electric. 3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2010, at 11:27 AM, mhonarvar wrote:

    And you wonder why there is massive unemployment?

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2010, at 4:31 PM, Melaschasm wrote:

    I would rather foreign profits not be taxed, than have corporate headquarters move to other countries.

    At least if we keep corporate taxes low, we can tax the income of their corporate employees.

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Selena Maranjian
TMFSelena

Selena Maranjian has been writing for the Fool since 1996 and covers basic investing and personal finance topics. She also prepares the Fool's syndicated newspaper column and has written or co-written a number of Fool books. For more financial and non-financial fare (as well as silly things), follow her on Twitter...

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