A yearslong dispute between a pioneering hedge fund and the Internal Revenue Service ended Thursday with an enormous bill for taxes and penalties: as much as $7 billion.
James Simons, a mathematician whose algorithmic approach has been adopted by many other investment funds, and some of his former colleagues at Renaissance Technologies have settled a decade-long dispute with the government over the tax treatment of some of their investments, the firm said in letter to investors.
The settlement, which involves 10 years’ worth of trades made by the hedge fund, could be worth as much as $7 billion, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement. It is one of the largest federal tax disputes in history.
The deal ends a standoff that led to a congressional investigation and involved two politically connected financiers: Mr. Simons, a longtime patron of Democratic candidates with an estimated net worth of $25 billion, and Robert Mercer, a former Renaissance executive whose advocacy for conservative causes included helping to found Cambridge Analytica. After Donald J. Trump won the 2016 presidential election, the now-defunct political consulting firm became embroiled in a scandal for harvesting Facebook data without users’ consent to assist his campaign.
$10 million in Breitbart News, and was a key supporter of Stephen K. Bannon, who was Breitbart’s chairman before becoming Mr. Trump’s chief strategist.
The billions in payments to the I.R.S. will be made by current and former investors in a small group of Renaissance funds, but principally its Medallion fund. Those investors include seven people who were members of the firm’s board between 2005 and 2015, as well as their spouses. Mr. Simons will make a payment of $670 million on top of his obligation as part of that group, according to the letter.
“Renaissance’s board ultimately concluded that the interests of our investors from the relevant period would be best served by agreeing to this resolution with the I.R.S., rather than risking a worse outcome, including harsher terms and penalties, that could result from litigation,” Peter Brown, the firm’s chief executive, wrote.
Renaissance is best known for pioneering a data-intensive form of stock trading called quantitative strategy, which has been adopted by many other hedge funds and trading platforms on Wall Street. The settlement centers on the firm’s Medallion fund, which manages about $15 billion, mostly for employees and former employees of the firm and their family members.
Mr. Simons founded the firm in 1982. Once the head of the math department at Stony Brook University on Long Island, he was a code-breaker for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. He stepped down from the firm’s day-to-day operations in 2010, handing the reins to Mr. Mercer and Mr. Brown as co-chief executives.
reported that contractors and employees of Cambridge Analytica, eager to sell psychological profiles of American voters to political campaigns, acquired the private Facebook data of tens of millions of users — the largest known leak in the company’s history. Facebook eventually said as many as 87 million users — mostly in the United States — had their data harvested by the firm.
Mr. Mercer’s decision to resign as co-chief of Renaissance shortly after Mr. Trump won the presidency came about in part because of his involvement in bankrolling Cambridge Analytica. Some of the hedge fund’s investors had voiced concerns about Mr. Mercer’s political activities.
The firm’s letter on Thursday said that aside from the board members and their spouses, other investors will be required to pay additional tax and interest owed, but no penalties. Renaissance’s outside clients, who include wealthy individuals, pensions and other investors, are not expected to be affected by the settlement.
The tax dispute involved Medallion’s fast-paced options trading and how those transactions should be taxed — a major consideration given that the firm’s rapid-fire trading had a history of generating big profits.
At the time of the transactions the federal tax rate on long-term capital gains was about half what it was for short-term capital gains. The hedge fund argued that many of its trades were eligible to be taxed at the lower rate because it had converted those options trades into longer-term holdings through the use of complex financial instruments.
These instruments involved baskets of stocks put together by a bank. But Medallion didn’t buy the actual basket of stocks; it instead bought an option on that basket and sometimes gave the banks instructions on how to trade those stocks. Basket options have been criticized for having allowed hedge funds to borrow money more easily and allowing them to make bigger and potentially riskier trades.
The I.R.S. argued that the basket option trades should have been taxed at the higher rate because they were mainly the result of short-term trading.
The disagreement drew the attention of Congress, and led to rule changes. Following a report from the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, the I.R.S. issued new guidance in 2015 that sought to clamp down on this type of trading by making it more difficult and costly for hedge funds to buy basket options. Such investment vehicles had to be declared on the tax returns of any investor who used them, the agency said.
The I.R.S. had said its guidance on basket options would be retroactive, and applied to all transactions as far back as Jan. 1, 2011.
Still, some senators were critical of the I.R.S. for taking so long to change its rules and start investigating the trading practice, including at Renaissance.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who headed the Senate committee in 2014 and died in July, said the I.R.S. guidance would stop banks and hedge funds from using “dubious structured financial products” that had cost taxpayers billions.
Elise Bean, a former aide to Mr. Levin, said she wished her former boss had lived to see the settlement. “It’s good to see that, despite a yearslong, knock-down, bare-knuckles battle, the I.R.S. prevailed in compelling at least one set of billionaires to pay the taxes they owe,” she said.
There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.
Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.
The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.
The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.
one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.
It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.
Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.
The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.
Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.
nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.
Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.
The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.
That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.
The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.
article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.
Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.
An Unexpected Email
One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.
The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.
Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.
$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”
Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”
floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.
Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)
Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.
In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.
But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.
So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.
Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.
One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”
The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.
Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.
No Money Owed
For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.
Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.
“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.
The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.
The Mnuchin Compromise
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”
wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.
McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.
credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”
Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”
Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.
‘The Government Caved’
It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.
The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.
The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)
On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.
Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.
Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.
A Charmed March
Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.
The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.
now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.
The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.
Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.
The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.
Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.
“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They areso grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”
LONDON — The top economic officials from the world’s advanced economies reached a breakthrough on Saturday in their yearslong efforts to overhaul international tax laws, unveiling a broad agreement that aims to stop large multinational companies from seeking out tax havens and force them to pay more of their income to governments.
Finance leaders from the Group of 7 countries agreed to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.
The agreement would also impose an additional tax on some of the largest multinational companies, potentially forcing technology giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google as well as other big global businesses to pay taxes to countries based on where their goods or services are sold, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in that nation.
Officials described the pact as a historic agreement that could reshape global commerce and solidify public finances that have been eroded after more than a year of combating the coronavirus pandemic. The deal comes after several years of fraught negotiations and, if enacted, would reverse a race to the bottom on international tax rates. It would also put to rest a fight between the United States and Europe over how to tax big technology companies.
has been particularly eager to reach an agreement because a global minimum tax is closely tied to its plans to raise the corporate tax rate in the United States to 28 percent from 21 percent to help pay for the president’s infrastructure proposal.
EU Tax Observatory estimated that a 15 percent minimum tax would yield an additional 48 billion euros, or $58 billion, a year. The Biden administration projected in its budget last month that the new global minimum tax system could help bring in $500 billion in tax revenue over a decade to the United States.
The plan could face resistance from large corporations and the world’s biggest companies were absorbing the development on Saturday.
“We strongly support the work being done to update international tax rules,” said José Castañeda, a Google spokesman. “We hope countries continue to work together to ensure a balanced and durable agreement will be finalized soon.”
said this month that it was prepared to move forward with tariffs on about $2.1 billion worth of goods from Austria, Britain, India, Italy, Spain and Turkey in retaliation for their digital taxes. However, it is keeping them on hold while the tax negotiations unfold.
Finishing such a large agreement by the end of the year could be overly optimistic given the number of moving parts and countries involved.
“A detailed agreement on something of this complexity in a few months would just be lighting speed,” said Nathan Sheets, a former Treasury Department under secretary for international affairs in the Obama administration.
The biggest obstacle to getting a deal finished could come from the United States. The Biden administration must win approval from a narrowly divided Congress to make changes to the tax code and Republicans have shown resistance to Mr. Biden’s plans. American businesses will bear the brunt of the new taxes and Republican lawmakers have argued that the White House is ceding tax authority to foreign countries.
Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said on Friday that he did not believe that a 15 percent global minimum tax would curb offshoring.
“If the American corporate tax rate is 28 percent, and the global tax rate is merely half of that, you can guarantee we’ll see a second wave of U.S. investment research manufacturing hit overseas, that’s not what we want,” Mr. Brady said.
At the news conference, Ms. Yellen noted that top Democrats in the House and Senate had expressed support for the tax changes that the Biden administration was trying to make.
“About $20 billion of long positions were liquidated last week,” Sam Bankman-Fried, the C.E.O. of the crypto derivatives exchange FTX, told DealBook. “In terms of price movements: the biggest part of it is liquidations,” he said, suggesting the worst is over. But he also noted news from China late Friday of a crackdown on Bitcoin mining and trading. This added to other news of official scrutiny that has spooked crypto investors in recent days:
Financial regulators in Hong Kong announced support for a legislative proposal to create a licensing scheme for virtual asset exchanges and to ban trading for investors without a minimum of $1 million in their portfolios.
The Bank of Canada cited crypto concerns in its annual financial system review, saying that “the rapid evolution in cryptoasset markets is an emerging financial vulnerability.”
Gary Gensler, the chair of the S.E.C., said that American regulators “should be ready to bring cases” involving wrongdoing in crypto markets.
The Treasury Department noted in a report on tax proposals that “cryptocurrency already poses a significant detection problem by facilitating illegal activity broadly including tax evasion.” The I.R.S. said it would require more extensive reporting of crypto transactions.
Companies with Bitcoin on their balance sheets may be getting nervous. For accounting purposes, crypto is valued at its purchase price. If it goes up in value, this isn’t reflected in a company’s accounts but if it falls, the value is impaired and puts a dent in quarterly profits. Let’s check in on the three big corporate Bitcoin holders — Tesla, MicroStrategy, and Square — shall we?
Tesla: The electric vehicle company bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin last quarter, at an average price of about $34,700 per coin, not far from its current price. Elon Musk has signaled that Tesla isn’t selling, but it probably isn’t buying, either.
MicroStrategy: The business intelligence software company has spent about $2.2 billion on Bitcoin, at an average price of $24,450. The company bought more last week and is still sitting on big gains.
Square: The payments company, led by the Twitter C.E.O. Jack Dorsey, bought two batches of Bitcoin for its treasury — $50 million in October at a price of about $10,600 and $170 million in February at a price of around $51,000. It took a $20 million impairment on its holdings last quarter, stemming from the drop in value from its most recent purchase. It doesn’t plan to buy any more, its C.F.O. said this month.
Today in Business
“Yeah, I do.”
— Barry Diller, when asked by Andrew on CNBC’s Squawk Box whether he thinks Disney’s C.E.O., Bob Chapek, has pushed his predecessor, Bob Iger, to the sidelines, as he suggested earlier in the interview. (And “not very nicely,” per Diller.)
Lazard enlists an admiral
The investment bank Lazard has hired William McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who led the U.S. Special Operations Command, as a senior adviser for its financial advisory business. McRaven oversaw the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
His hiring underscores business’ concerns about geopolitics. The pandemic has highlighted the potential business risks of global interconnectedness and China’s increasing assertiveness, among the many fault lines that multinational companies face.
McRaven is the latest financial outsider to join Lazard. Memorably, the firm hired the late Vernon Jordan, the civil rights leader with a gold-plated Rolodex, in 2000. “It’s not a place that is big on golfing,” said Peter Orszag, the head of financial advisory at Lazard, himself a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations. Bringing such people on board brings both intellectual “content” and deep relationships around the world, Orszag said.
Paul J. Hanly Jr., a top trial lawyer who had been central to the current nationwide litigation against pharmaceutical companies and others in the supply chain for their role in the deadly opioid epidemic, died on Saturday at his home in Miami Beach. He was 70.
The cause was anaplastic thyroid cancer, an extremely rare and aggressive disease, said Jayne Conroy, his longtime law partner.
Over his four-decade career, Mr. Hanly, a class-action plaintiffs’ lawyer, litigated and managed numerous complex legal cases, involving among other things the funding of terrorists, stemming from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and allegations of the sexual abuse of dozens of boys by a man who ran an orphanage and school in Haiti.
But nothing compares to the national opioid cases that are pending in federal court in Cleveland on behalf of thousands of municipalities and tribes against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioid pain medications. The federal opioid litigation is regarded by many as perhaps the most complex in American legal history — even more entangled and far-reaching than the epic legal battles with the tobacco industry.
settled with Purdue for $75 million. It was one of the few instances in which a drug maker agreed to pay individual patients who had accused it of soft-pedaling the risk of addiction.
Mr. Hanly had a history of taking on complex cases with vast numbers of plaintiffs. Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, he represented some of the families who had lost loved ones on the planes and in the World Trade Center. He also filed suit to stop the sale of tanzanite, a raw stone used as a cash alternative to fund terrorist activities. That lawsuit was expanded to include foreign governments, banks and others that supported Al Qaeda. Portions of it remain pending.
Another of his important cases was a 2013 landmark settlement of $12 million on behalf of 24 Haitian boys who said they had been sexually abused by Douglas Perlitz, who ran programs for underprivileged boys and was subsequently sentenced to 19 years in prison. Mr. Hanly said the defendants, including the Society of Jesus of New England, Fairfield University and others, had not properly supervised Mr. Perliitz. Mr. Hanly filed additional charges in 2015, bringing the total number of abused youths to more than 100 between the late 1990s and 2010.
“Paul was a lawyer’s lawyer,” said Ms. Conroy, his law partner. She said he was renowned for his exhaustive trial preparation, his creative trial strategies and his nearly photographic memory of the contents of documents.
He was also known for veering sartorially from the muted grays and blacks of most lawyers to more jaunty attire in bright yellows, blues and pinks. He favored bespoke styles that were flashy yet sophisticated. His two-tone shoes were all handmade.
John V. Kenny, a former mayor of Jersey City and a powerful Hudson County Democratic boss known as “the pope of Jersey City,” who was jailed in the 1970s after pleading guilty to charges of income tax evasion.
Mr. Hanly took a different path. He went to Cornell, where his roommate was Ed Marinaro, who went on to play professional football and later became an actor (best known for “Hill Street Blues”). Mr. Hanly, who played football with him, graduated in 1972 with a major in philosophy and received a scholar-athlete award as the Cornell varsity football senior who combined the highest academic average with outstanding ability.
He earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Cambridge University in 1976 and a law degree from Georgetown in 1979. He then clerked for Lawrence A. Whipple, a U.S. District Court judge in New Jersey.
Mr. Hanly’s marriage in the mid-1980s to Joyce Roquemore ended in divorce. He is survived by two sons, Paul J. Hanly III and Burton J. Hanly; a daughter, Edith D. Hanly; a brother, John K. Hanly; and a sister, Margo Mullady.
He began his legal career as a national trial counsel and settlement counsel to Turner & Newall, a British asbestos company, one of the world’s largest, in its product-liability cases. The company was purchased by an American firm, Federal-Mogul, in 1998, after which it was overwhelmed with asbestos claims and filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Mr. Hanly and Ms. Conroy spent much of their time steeped in negotiations with plaintiffs’ lawyers. They soon switched to representing plaintiffs themselves.
“We recognized over time that that was more important to us,” Ms. Conroy said, “to make sure victims were compensated for what happened.”
The Biden administration on Thursday defended its assessment that it could raise $700 billion in revenue by pumping money into the Internal Revenue Service to beef up its enforcement capabilities amid criticism that its projections were overly rosy.
The Treasury Department released a 22-page report laying out the administration’s new “tax compliance agenda,” which is a centerpiece of its plans to pay for a $1.8 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal. The Biden administration wants to give the I.R.S. $80 billion over the next decade so that it can overhaul its outdated technology and ramp up audits of wealthy taxpayers and corporations.
The Biden administration’s estimates of the return on investment that it could generate from boosting the I.R.S. budget far surpassed projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And John Koskinen, a former I.R.S. commissioner under President Barack Obama and President Donald J. Trump, has suggested that it would be hard for the cash-strapped agency to efficiently spend that much money.
The Treasury Department said that it believes its projections are conservative. Much of the revenue from more rigid enforcement would become evident in the later part of the decade, the report said, but Treasury officials believe that with more enforcement staff and better technology the I.R.S. can chip away at the “tax gap.”
$1 trillion owed to the government is not being collected every year. The Treasury Department estimated on Thursday that in 2019 the tax gap was $584 billion and is on pace to total $7 trillion over the next 10 years.
The Treasury report said that much of the revenue it estimates would come through its “information reporting” rules for financial institutions. This would give the I.R.S. more visibility into corporate accounts to determine how much money they are actually taking in and what should be taxed. The department said it expects that such reporting would be helpful for audits and would serve as a deterrent against corporate tax evasion.
The new information reporting rules would also include an effort by the Biden administration to bring cryptocurrencies into the tax regime and to crack down on those using cryptocurrencies to avoid paying taxes. The report said that cryptocurrency exchange accounts and payment accounts that accept them would fall under the reporting rules. Businesses that receive cryptoassets with a fair market value of more than $10,000 would be subject to information reporting.
The Biden administration has faced questions from Republican lawmakers, such as Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, to justify its claims that giving the I.R.S. so much money will yield such robust returns. Conservative political groups have criticized the Biden administration plan to hire an army of I.R.S. agents, saying it’s a way to hike taxes.
The Treasury report attempted to rebut such claims, noting that increased audits would be focused on the rich.
“It is important to note that the President’s compliance proposals are designed to ameliorate existing inequities by focusing on high-end evasion,” the report said. “Audit rates will not rise relative to recent years for those with less than $400,000 in actual income.”
Exclusive: L Brands will spin off Victoria’s Secret
L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, DealBook is first to report. The company said last year it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and we previously reported that it was testing private equity’s interest. Ultimately, sources say, L Brands has decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.
Bids didn’t match what Victoria’s Secret expects to get in a spinoff. DealBook hears that L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion. It turned them down, because it expects to be valued somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.
The pandemic torpedoed a sale last year for much less. That agreement, announced in February 2020 with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion. Apart from a pandemic that was about to upend the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and Jeffrey Epstein. (Wexner stepped down as C.E.O. last year and said in March that he and his wife are not running for re-election on the company’s board.)
As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, in May 2020, the sides agreed to call off the deal.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michaels and others were able to accelerate digital transformations that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before. It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands C.F.O., said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”
bump in inflation and that factory-gate prices in China rose more than expected last month. April’s Consumer Price Index data is set to be released today, and is expected to show a sharp rise from a pandemic-depressed level last year.
China’s birthrate slows again. The country’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades, posing grave social and economic risks to the world’s second-largest economy. While the U.S. also reported a drastic slowdown in population expansion, China “is growing old without first having grown rich,” The Times’s Sui-Lee Wee writes.
President Biden defends federal unemployment benefits. He rejected claims that $300-a-week supplemental payments are deterring unemployed Americans from seeking work, but he ordered the Labor Department to help reinstate work search requirements. Separately, Chipotle said it was raising wages, to an average of $15 an hour, to attract workers.
The Colonial Pipeline is expected to “substantially” reopen within days. The pipeline, which supplies nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel, is expected to restore most services by the weekend after a ransomware attack. U.S. authorities formally blamed a hacker group and pledged to “disrupt and prosecute” the perpetrators.
12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S., potentially helping reopen schools and other parts of the economy more quickly. But while cases are declining worldwide, they are surging in countries that lack vaccines. And the W.H.O. labeled a virus variant spreading fast in India as “of concern.”
Does Amazon need more money?
Amazon sold $18.5 billion worth of bonds yesterday, joining other corporate giants taking advantage of ultralow interest rates to raise money because … well, why not? The e-commerce titan sold some of its debt at a record-low interest rate for a corporate issuer — barely above what the U.S. government pays.
About $1 billion worth of two-year bonds has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries. That’s a huge vote of confidence in Amazon, which has emerged as a winner during the pandemic. The company also set a record for yields on a 20-year bond, besting Alphabet. Over all, investors placed $50 billion worth of orders, underscoring enthusiasm for debt that yields next to nothing.
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It raised another $1 billion in the form of a sustainability bond, which is meant to finance investments in environmentally minded projects like zero-carbon infrastructure and cleaner transportation. Amazon is the latest company to sell bonds aimed at E.S.G. investors, a market that reached $270 billion last year and could double this year.
To be sure, the bulk of the offering will finance typical corporate maneuvers like share buybacks, acquisitions and capital expenditures, according to the bond prospectus. It will add to the nearly $34 billion in cash that Amazon had on hand at the end of March — as will profits that are growing at extraordinary rates for a company of its size.
a bold bet by the beleaguered retailer that shoppers and workers will flood back there after the pandemic.
offshore tax evasion. “The tax gap is a massive problem, especially the part driven by ultrarich individuals and corporations stashing income overseas,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the subcommittee chair, told DealBook. That gap “could be as much as a trillion dollars,” he said. “That’s trillion with a ‘T.’” This money would help fund President Biden’s spending plans, which also run into the trillions.
It’s difficult to quantify just how much money goes uncollected each year, officials say. Corporate tax collections in the U.S. are “at historic lows and well below what other countries collect,” according to a recent Treasury report. U.S. multinational companies can be taxed at a 50 percent discount compared with their domestic peers, an incentive to shift profits abroad. “Bermuda, a country of merely 64,000 people, shows 10 percent of all reported U.S. multinational foreign profit,” the report explained.
“The Biden administration is serious about stopping tax cheats and so are we,” Whitehouse said. The hearing, which features I.R.S. and Treasury officials, will discuss legislation to end corporate tax breaks that incentivize profit shifting, a proposed $80 billion investment in I.R.S. enforcement, a new approach to international tax diplomacy and proposed changes to the tax code.
THE SPEED READ
The investment firm TPG named Jon Winkelried as its sole C.E.O.; Jim Coulter, who previously shared the role, will become executive chairman and lead the firm’s E.S.G.-focused funds. (Bloomberg)
Vice Media is closing in on a deal to merge with a SPAC at a $3 billion valuation, which would leave existing investors in control. (WSJ)
Elliott Management has reportedly taken a stake in Duke Energy and plans to push for a change in strategy, after the utility rejected a takeover bid by NextEra Energy. (WSJ)
Politics and policy
In Wall-Streeters-seeking-political-office news: Glenn Youngkin, the former Carlyle Group co-C.E.O., won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor; and Alex Lasry, the son of the hedge fund mogul Marc Lasry, is running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin as a Democrat. (NYT, WaPo)
Big semiconductor makers and their customers have formed a new group to push for billions in federal funding to promote chip manufacturing in the U.S. (NYT)
Forty-four state attorneys general warned Facebook against plans to introduce a version of Instagram for children. (NYT)
The Pentagon reportedly may scrap its JEDI cloud-computing program, the subject of a lawsuit by Amazon and criticism from lawmakers. (WSJ)
Veteran traders are bringing old Wall Street tricks to crypto market-making. (Bloomberg)
Best of the rest
NBC said it won’t air next year’s Golden Globes ceremony, the biggest blow yet to the awards show as its organizers face criticism over a lack of diversity. (NYT)
An American court rejected an Australian company’s bid to scrap Ugg as a U.S. trademark. In Australia, it’s a catchall term for sheepskin boots with fleece linings. (NYT)
“How the Zoom era has ruined conversation” (WaPo)
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ROME — In an effort to fight corruption in the highest ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis issued a sweeping new decree on Thursday compelling top managers at the Vatican — including cardinals — to provide full financial disclosures and to refuse any gifts worth more than roughly $50.
In taking aim at matters both large and small — from real estate holdings and investments to work-related gifts given to any Vatican employee — Pope Francis said his goal was to bring the church into accord with the best practices on fighting corruption and financial transparency.
“According to Scripture, fidelity in small things is related to fidelity in important ones,” the pope wrote, citing the Gospel of Luke. “Just as being dishonest in matters of little consequence is also related to being dishonest in important matters.”
The decree was made in an apostolic letter, under the pope’s own legal authority, and was added to the rules governing the Roman Curia, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the church.
It requires that all senior management and administrators at the Vatican sign a declaration stating that they have never been investigated, or have been tried and subsequently convicted or pardoned, for crimes involving corruption, fraud, exploitation of minors, human trafficking, terrorism, money laundering or tax evasion. They must also update the disclosure every two years.
Senior Vatican staff are now also banned from putting their savings in tax havens or in companies in countries at high risk of money laundering, either directly or through third parties.
They cannot own any goods or invest in real estate bought with funds from illegal activity. Nor can they have shares or interests in companies whose policies are contrary to the Church’s social teachings.
More broadly, all Vatican employees are banned from receiving gifts worth more than 40 euros — about $50.
The decree is part of an ongoing effort to hold church officials accountable and builds on changes put in place in May, when the pope tightened rules for procurement contracts by Vatican departments.
“Corruption can be manifested in different manners and forms even in various sectors other than that of procurement,” the pope wrote in the preamble to the decree, explaining the need to draft further regulations.
He said the new rules were in keeping with the guidelines of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
Anyone found making a false declaration can be fired, the pope added, tasking the Vatican’s Secretariat of the Economy with ensuring that declarations are truthful.
Most of the spending and tax cuts in Wednesday’s proposal is directed at families, with provisions for a national paid family and medical leave program; child care subsidies; and extensions of several tax credit expansions from the most recent Covid-19 relief law.
Newly proposed education spending includes universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds; two years of free community college; an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award; and investments in colleges and universities serving minority groups.
The plan also calls on Congress to adjust the unemployment insurance system so that it would automatically link the length and amount of benefits to economic conditions.
The president intends to pay for the infrastructure portion of the plan with 15 years of higher taxes on corporations.
give more money and enforcement power to the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on tax evasion.
SEOUL — Picasso, Monet and Dalí are among the assets South Korea’s richest family is parting with as it prepares to pay one of the largest inheritance tax bills in history.
The Samsung family announced on Wednesday that it would pay $10.8 billion in inheritance taxes after the death of Lee Kun-hee, Samsung’s chairman, last year. South Korea has one of the highest inheritance taxes in the world. The family is required to inform the tax authorities of how it plans to pay the bill by Friday.
The answer will have deep implications for the family’s control of the company, the biggest and most profitable family-run conglomerate in South Korea.
Mr. Lee was credited with turning Samsung into a global tech giant known for its semiconductors and smartphones. But the reclusive chairman kept many secrets, including how he wanted to split his wealth among his wife and three children after he died.
imprisoned after being sentenced to two and half years for bribery. In recent weeks, business lobbying groups have appealed to the government to pardon Lee Jae-yong so that he could lead Samsung amid growing uncertainty in the semiconductor industry.
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“It is our civic duty and responsibility to pay all taxes,” the Lees said on Wednesday in a statement.
The family has not always abided by that rule.
Samsung has long faced accusations of trying to secure a father-son transfer of power at all costs, even if that meant breaking laws, avoiding taxes and buying political influence. It’s a problem that Lee Jae-yong has acknowledged himself.
“All of the problems basically started from this succession issue,” he said last year. “From now on, I will make sure that no controversy happens again regarding the succession issue.”
secretly inherited from his father, the Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull. He hid the money in stock accounts opened in the names of his aides. Samsung at the time said Lee Kun-hee had kept the secret funds to protect the company from hostile takeovers from foreign investors.
Lee Jae-yong’s legal trouble stemmed from a similar problem. In January, he was convicted of bribing South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye to obtain government support for a merger of two Samsung subsidiaries in 2015. The merger was meant to tighten his control over Samsung.
Who will control Samsung has been the subject of much public curiosity since the father’s death. The company accounts for one-fifth of South Korea’s total exports. Samsung Electronics, the flagship of the group, alone posted $213 billion in revenue and $32 billion in operating profit last year.
Lee Jae-yong has been running the conglomerate since a heart attack incapacitated his father in 2014. He owns only 0.7 percent of Samsung Electronics but holds 17.5 percent of Samsung C&T, a subsidiary created through the 2015 merger. His siblings also hold smaller stakes, giving the family a controlling stake in the company.
Through a web of circular holdings, the family continues to control the conglomerate. Samsung C&T owns 5 percent of Samsung Electronics and 19.3 percent of Samsung Life. Samsung Life owns 8.5 percent of Samsung Electronics.
Lee Kun-hee owned 4.18 percent of Samsung Electronics, as well as 20.7 percent of Samsung Life. How those stocks will be divided among the family will affect the son’s chances of running the business.
By law, the chairman’s widow, Hong Ra-hee, is entitled to one-third of the total inheritance, with the rest split equally among Mr. Lee and his two sisters. But chaebol families often reach a private agreement to ensure that the eldest son controls the company.
Some South Koreans on Wednesday were amazed to learn the amount of inheritance taxes to be paid by the Lee family.
“Ordinary people like me can’t fathom how much it is,” said Park Soon-mi, a stay-at-home parent in Seoul. “It’s good for the chairman to leave so much money in taxes and make such big donations for the society.”
Others were not so impressed.
This is not the first time the Lee family has promised to use its wealth to benefit society as part of a larger scheme. Back in 2008, when Lee Kun-hee was indicted on charges of evading taxes, Samsung said he would use the money “not for the chairman or his family, but for some beneficial causes.”
The family had not kept its word until Wednesday, said Kang Jong-min, a chaebol expert at the civic group Solidarity for Economic Reform in Seoul. “It is belatedly following up on its old promise.”