mardi 2 novembre 2010

Wall Street est comme un "film de casse"


"La meilleure façon de comprendre Wall Street est de le voir comme un "film de casse" comme "Ocean's Eleven" ou "Braquage à l'Italienne".

Il y a juste une différence : dans ce genre de film, une bande de petits gars s'assemble pour voler des "gros" -un milliardaire, une grosse banque ou une multinationale.

A Wall Street cela fonctionne dans l'autre sens."

Dans cet article Brett Arends fournit des arguments très convainquant à l'appui de cette thèse. Il montre en particulier comment aux Etats-Unis, les intérêts sur les obligations, qui sont déjà historiquement bas à l'heure actuelle, sont en outre déductibles de l'impot sur les sociétés alors que les investisseurs doivent payer des impots plein pot sur ces intérêts.

En outre il montre comment ce capital peut être réinvesti à l'étranger (dans des filiales) et échappe ainsi à l'impot sur les sociétés.

"Un système généreux pour les sociétés jusqu'à l'absurde".

(Au détriment des épargnants, qui comptent sur ces obligations faisant partie de leurs fonds de pension.)

Un article éclairant provenant pourtant d'une publication très "Mainstream".

Pas étonnant que certains électeurs américains soient "enragés" contre l'establishment politico-financier.


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BOSTON (MarketWatch) — The best way to understand Wall Street is to view it as a heist movie, like “The Sting,” “The Italian Job” or “Ocean’s Eleven.”

There’s just one difference: In your traditional caper, a bunch of little guys get together to steal money from the big guys — a tycoon, big bank or major corporation.

On Wall Street, it works the other way around.

Take the Great Bond Caper taking place right under your nose, right now. Most people don’t even know it’s going on.

Major corporations are jumping on the bond mania to borrow billions of dollars from ordinary investors at pitifully low interest rates.

Mutual-fund investors are so desperate for income they’ll accept almost anything. So Wal-Mart Stores Inc.last week issued $5 billion worth of bonds, or IOUs, at an average rate of 2.9% last week. That included 30-year bonds paying 5% and shorter-term paper paying almost nothing.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. sold $1.3 billion in 50-year bonds at just 6.125%.

They’re not alone. Other blue chips that have raised big money or are expected to do so shortly include Bank of America Corp. , Coca-Cola Co. , Johnson & Johnson , J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. , Morgan Stanley and PepsiCo Inc.

If you are invested in a mutual fund that owns bonds, including corporate bonds, there’s a good chance some of the cash going into these issues is yours. Good luck with that.

We already know that anyone buying these IOUs is taking a terrible risk. If inflation takes off, these bonds will tank. The prices will slump and the coupons will lose their purchasing power.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has all but promised to make inflation take off, one way or another.

But here is what they’re not telling you: The Great Bond Caper is also an incredible tax dodge.

Corporate America is using these bonds to shift millions of dollars of tax liabilities from their boardrooms into your living room. You are going to be paying more of their taxes for them, so they’ll pay less.

How?

The interest payments on these bonds are tax-deductible for corporations; the money comes off the top. So corporations save 35%, their typical marginal-tax rate.

Meanwhile, the bond coupons are fully taxable to the investors — and not even at the lower tax rates applied to dividends or capital gains. The bond coupons are taxable at ordinary income-tax rates.

By my calculations, Wal-Mart’s interest payments on its newest bonds will cut its taxable income by $144 million a year. If the company pays 35% tax, that’s a cash saving of $50 million annually. Meanwhile, bondholders’ taxes will rise.

As for Goldman Sachs? The interest on its new 50-year bonds will come to $80 million a year, saving America’s favorite “vampire squid” $28 million at year.

Your retired parents will pick up some of that tab through their bond fund. The rest can be borne by other taxpayers.

But the caper doesn’t even end there.

These companies can take this money they’ve borrowed from U.S. investors and send it overseas. That will create no jobs here — and if it goes to open a cheap, low-wage factory, may undercut some of the jobs that remain.

If they do that, the corporation may escape U.S. taxation on the profits from that money altogether. That’s because corporations get generous tax breaks on overseas profits.

It’s a double sting. The bond interest cuts their taxes here. In addition, the money is invested overseas, where it escapes U.S. tax as well.

Cue “The Entertainer.”

George Mundstock, a former Treasury official and professor of tax law at the University of Miami, says this double deal is a great one if you’re a U.S. corporation.

“If you borrow a lot of money and you have a lot of foreign subsidiaries, the money you earn overseas isn’t taxed currently, while you are allowed to deduct your interest payments against your income,” he said. “The current rules for interest deductions are absurdly generous.”

There are other ways companies can work the tax code as well. They could, for example, just use the money to buy some of their stock. That’s not a taxable move.

Doing that will boost the value of the shares left outstanding. It will add to earnings per share and shareholder returns.

That would be great news for investors — including, naturally, the senior honchos, who are typically loaded up to the gills with stock and options.

Here’s the final irony: Under current rules, they’ll just pay 15% capital-gains tax on their profits. (There are some proposals to raise that to 20%, but nothing has happened yet.)

What does this mean in human terms? Consider a retired widow who has her money in bond funds, and who has taxable income of say, $40,000 a year. She will have to pay 25% federal income tax on the (pitifully low) bond income her fund gets from the likes of Goldman Sachs.

At the same time, Lloyd “God’s work” Blankfein, the Goldman chief executive, will only have to pay 15% on his millions in stock gains.

It’s a bank heist in reverse. Tell me I’m wrong.

Brett Arends is a columnist for MarketWatch and The Wall Street Journal, based in Boston.


Wall Street is like a heist movie

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