What Will the Tax Law Do to Over-Indebted Corporate America? by Wolf Richter

The new tax law will hurt heavily indebted companies. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

A crackdown on excessive debt. Financial engineering gets more expensive.

The new tax law is larded with goodies for Corporate America, but there is one shift – a much needed shift – in this debt-obsessed world that will punish over-indebted companies, discourage companies from taking on too much leverage, and perhaps, just maybe, make these companies less risky: The new law sharply limits the deductibility of corporate interest expense.

Starting in 2018, a company can only deduct interest expense of up to 30% of its Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Any amount in interest expense beyond it will no longer be deductible.

This will tighten further in 2022, when the deductibility of corporate debt will be capped at 30% of earnings before interest and taxes but after depreciation and amortization expenses. This is a much smaller number than Ebitda. And interest expense deduction is capped at 30% of that much smaller amount. This will raise the tax bill further.

Most impacted will be highly indebted companies, which often have a junk credit rating. And due to this junk credit rating, they also pay higher interest rates. This made the interest expense deduction very valuable. But now it is getting partially gutted.

Businesses have long been incentivized to borrow, not only by the extraordinarily low interest rates even for junk-rated companies, but also by the full deductibility of interest expense. And thus encouraged by the tax code, corporate debt has surged. Mergers & acquisitions, share buybacks, leveraged buyouts, and dividends have often been funded at least partially with debt. And over the years, companies have piled on an enormous amount of debt.

This chart shows this surge in US debts (bonds and loans) of nonfinancial businesses over the past decade:

According to estimates by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, cited by The Wall Street Journal, the first phase of curtailing interest-expense deductibility – the phase that kicks in next year – would raise $171 billion in tax revenues over 10 years. The second phase that commences in 2022 would raise $307 billion over 10 years.

To continue reading: What Will the Tax Law Do to Over-Indebted Corporate America?

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