Monday, April 4, 2011

The New York Times Got The General Electric Tax Story Right but The Facts Wrong (GE)

The stock is up 1% at $20.55.
From Felix Salmon at Reuters:
On March 25, the NYT’s David Kocieniewski splashed a bombshell of a story across the front page; its current headline, online, is “GE’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether”:
The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.
Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.
Cue a massive scurrying sound, as dozens of journalists around the country started talking to GE, trying to work out whether or not the NYT allegations were actually correct. GE’s own PR operation was far from helpful in this regard, simultaneously claiming that GE did make “significant US federal income tax payments” while telling AFP that “GE did not pay US federal taxes last year because we did not owe any”. The @GEpublicaffairs Twitter account, in particular, became a case study in how not to communicate in the age of social media.

Now, after literally months of work, Allan Sloan and Jeff Gerth of Fortune and ProPublica have come along to adjudicate the issue. Squeezing months of work into just a couple of weeks is a neat trick, which isn’t nearly as clever as the way that GE pays single-digit income taxes despite a corporate tax rate of 35% — it just so happens that Sloan and Gerth were working on a GE taxes story anyway, so they’d already done a lot of the legwork needed to get to the bottom of the matter when the NYT story came out.

The verdict? The NYT got the truth right, but the facts wrong. GE hasn’t actually filed its tax return for 2010 yet, and when it does it will pay some unknown amount in US income taxes. This admission was dragged painfully and reluctantly out of GE’s secretive tax department by Sloan and Gerth, and was not available to Kocieniewski; probably were it not for Kocieniewski’s article, GE would never have revealed it....MORE
General Electric: "Hope at Last" (GE)
CJR: "GE Flubs a Pushback Against The New York Times The company can’t—or won’t—get its story straight on taxes" (GE)
"G.E. Getting Off Tax Free"
"Google Questioned by SEC Over Earnings in Low-Tax Countries" As General Electric Reacts to Hurtful Comments About Their Tax Avoidance Strategies (GE; GOOG)
The Nuclear Breakthrough that Wasn't (General Electric and the Selling of Nukes) GE 
Repost: "Grading Jeff Immelt" (GE)