Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:BK) announced today it expects to have to absorb an $850 million charge from the IRS, after a court said the bank couldn't utilize certain foreign tax credits it had come to count on. And BNY Mellon isn't the only American bank that might be affected by this decision.
1 for you, 19 for me
According to Financial Times, Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) has also benefited from the foreign tax credit scheme, which was arranged through British banking giant Barclays. The deals are called Structured Trust Advantage Repackaged Securities, or STARS, and were set up by Barclays from 1999 to 2006.
The suit against BNY Mellon was brought by the IRS, which claimed that STARS "amounted to tax shelters that exploited loopholes between U.S. and U.K. laws." BNY Mellon plans to appeal, but if the decision is upheld, it could allow the IRS to also come after Wells Fargo, as well as North Carolina-based BB&T (NYSE:BBT).
You'll be just fine, probably
BNY Mellon stated that it will be able to easily absorb the charge, and I believe them: A quick glance at the balance sheet shows $4.3 billion in cash on hand for the country's ninth largest bank, which means taking an $850 million hit -- while not fun -- is also not imperiling. And if the bank loses its appeal, so long as it starts figuring these denied tax credits into the cost of doing business, it will likely be fine.
Neither Wells nor BB&T has commented yet on the decision, nor is it yet known how much money they're into these STARS for. But with nearly $22 billion in cash on the balance sheet, Wells is also very well-capitalized and should therefore be able to easily absorb whatever potential costs lie down the road. Like BNY Mellon, Wells is also a very smartly run, conservative bank, and unlikely got itself into anything it couldn't handle.
BB&T? Well, with only $1.97 billion on the balance sheet, it doesn’t have the same level of cash; let's just hope management was smart in its dealings with the Brits, because an $850 billion hit would not be so easily absorbed.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article used an overly broad definition of "cash" for evaluating the banks' cash levels. It has been updated with a more meaningful reflection of their true cash positions.
Fool contributor John Grgurich has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow John's dispatches from the bleeding heart of capitalism on Twitter @TMFGrgurich. The Motley Fool owns shares of Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.