Winning a one-time repatriation of foreign cash at a reduced tax rate might be the single most important policy objective for tech companies during Trump’s term—and the matter could be decided fairly soon. Tech companies like Apple and Microsoft keep large percentages of their cash holdings overseas as a way of avoiding the 35% income tax that would be levied against them if brought back home.
Trump promised a repatriation plan during his campaign, and his administration is still holding out for a plan that would tax returning monies at a much lower 10%. The chart below shows how much some of the biggest tech companies could bring back after the tax.
The current legislative battle over the health care bill can be seen as a prelude to the larger fight over tax policy in Washington. (The GOP is hoping to use savings from the health bill to help finance the tax bill.) And repatriation will be one of many line items in the tax bill that lawmakers will have to hash out.
Trump hopes the repatriated money would go toward investments in U.S. manufacturing that create jobs. But the tech companies have very different ideas for what to spend the monies on, sources tell me.
Some may remember that such a repatriation plan was tried back in 2004, and with arguably poor results. In fact the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations studied George W. Bush’s tax holiday in 2011 and concluded that it was a “failed tax policy.” Foreign monies were allowed back in at a low 5.25% tax rate, but the tech companies did not use it to build factories, but rather for stock buybacks and management bonuses.
However, Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed to make an overture to the Trump administration yesterday by announcing his company will invest a cool billion in companies that will create jobs in the U.S. He gave no details on the type of companies that will benefit, or about the types of jobs that will be created.
Cook announced the new fund during an interview with CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Wednesday. The Mad Money host asked Cook about the monstrous pile of dollars Apple has parked with its overseas subsidiaries, referring to the growing chorus of people wondering why Apple doesn’t do something interesting with all that cash—like buy Disney or Tesla, for example.
Cook told Cramer that under the current tax regime Apple would have to borrow money if it wanted to buy anything big. But that situation, whether real or overdramatized by the Apple CEO, could change quite soon.