NEW YORK – America’s companies are swimming in cash thanks to the big cut in the corporate tax rate.
The roughly 180 companies in the S&P 500 Index that have reported results saw their effective tax rate drop by 6 percent on average in the first quarter. That saved them a total of almost $13 billion in taxes, an analysis by Bloomberg shows. About a third of that went to 44 financial firms.
What companies are doing with that boatload of money is a bit muddy. Some analysis shows spending on capital expenditures is surging. That would confirm President Donald Trump’s insistence that the cut would boost investment.
But lots of cash is also still going to buybacks that have anchored the U.S. stock market’s unprecedented run since the recession. Many firms also need more dough to pay for increasing labor and transportation costs.
Here are some of the early winners of the tax law, which reduced the federal corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. To measure how much money a company saved, Bloomberg applied the 2017 tax rate to this year’s first-quarter pretax income, and then compared the number to 2018 results.
Among financial firms, Bank of America Corp.’s IRS bill in the first quarter fell the most, plummeting by $709 million from a year ago. No surprise, the firm posted record profits of $6.92 billion, a 30 percent jump. The funds could help the bank open more branches and expand into states like Ohio. Alphabet Inc., parent of Google, is embarking on a spending binge to catch up to rivals in areas including artificial intelligence and home assistants. In the first quarter, capital expenditures tripled as its tax rate was slashed almost in half to 10.8 percent. The tech giant has, so far, had the biggest dollar windfall, seeing its tax bill plummet by $1 billion. Consumer discretionary firms, like appliance-maker Whirlpool Corp. and Harley-Davidson Inc., have seen their rates fall. The iconic motorcycle maker is in the midst of a turnaround plan aimed at reversing sagging interest from younger shoppers. In the first quarter, it saved $24 million on a tax rate that fell by 1,000 basis points. Capex rose by 18 percent. But the company remained focused on cutting costs, while also boosting buybacks and its dividend. Many companies have already realized the tax law would be more beneficial than they figured just a few months ago. One is Texas Instruments Inc., which in January projected a 23 percent rate for this year. Last week it reduced that to 20 percent. Among the largest drops in tax rate, Netflix Inc.’s sank to 3 percent from 20 percent. Ford Motor Co. saw its decline by two-thirds to 9 percent. AbbVie Inc., maker of top-selling drug Humira, had already projected a 9 percent adjusted rate for this year, and posted a minuscule 0.5 percent levy last quarter. The drugmaker says it plans to spend more on research and development and capital projects.
“We view the passage of U.S. tax reform as an important business driver for companies like ours,” AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez said last week in a conference call. “Tax reform is having the intended impact.”
Matt Townsend and Brandon Kochkodin are reporters for Bloomberg News.