GE dismisses fears of additional US tax liabilities

Financial Times

Ed Crooks, Sylvia Pfeifer

Nov 05, 2018

General Electric has rejected suggestions that it could face billions of dollars of additional tax liabilities following the shake-up in US law passed at the end of last year, and insisted that it also does not expect to pay about $1bn extra in the UK.

In a statement on Monday morning, GE said that while its tax charge for 2018 could be different from the liability it had already booked, it did not “expect any change in proposed or potential regulatory guidance that would cause our tax accrual to increase by billions of dollars”. It added that while the UK tax authorities had separately indicated they planned to bill the company for an additional $1bn, plus interest and penalties, it expected to “successfully contest the assessment, if made, and not owe any additional taxes to the UK”.

The statement was issued in response to a note on Friday by analyst John Inch of Gordon Haskett, who had suggested that the new US tax on cash held by foreign subsidiaries introduced in last year’s tax reforms could result in “a substantial tax charge pending” for the rest of this year and beyond. The note contributed to a 3 per cent fall in GE’s share price on Friday, completing an 18 per cent decline for the week.

GE in January booked a charge of $3.5bn for the expected cost of the new tax law, principally made up of two items: $1.2bn for the new tax on overseas cash, and $2.2bn from the reduction in the value of accrued losses caused by the cut in the corporate tax rate, and the loss of credits that are no longer available. As the company works through the implications of the change for its complex tax position, however, it is warning that amount might turn out to be an over- or underestimate. When it reported earnings for the third quarter last week, Jamie Miller, chief financial officer, said there were some issues about interpreting the new tax law that could be cleared up in the fourth quarter, which “could cause some tax adjustments in the fourth quarter for GE Capital”, the financial services division.

However, the company at the same time said in a regulatory filing that the $3.5bn figure “remains a reasonable estimate” of the effects of the law. Its statement on Monday added that it need not expect any revisions to be very large. Meanwhile in the UK, the tax authorities have said they would disallow interest deductions claimed by GE’s financial services arm over 11 years between 2004 and 2015. In a filing to US regulators, GE warned about the potential liability of $1bn plus interest and penalties, but said: “We comply with all applicable laws and judicial doctrines of the United Kingdom and believe that the entire benefit is more likely than not to be sustained in its technical merit”.

The UK’s HM Revenue & Customs said it would not comment on “identifiable taxpayers” but added that “we make sure that large businesses, just like everyone else, pay all the taxes due under UK law and we don’t settle for less”. Last year the department secured more than £9bn in additional tax revenue from “the largest and most complex businesses”. “This is money that would otherwise have gone unpaid,” HMRC added.