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President Obama Would Like Those Critical of His Deficit Reduction Plan To Get a Nerdier Argument

By now, you’re probably heard about President Obama’s new plan for reducing our nation’s deficit. It involves raising taxes on the wealthiest of citizens including this new thing called the “Buffett Rule” which would force anyone making $1 million a year to pay a tax rate that is at least as high as the one paid by middle-income taxpayers. Predictably, Republicans have not warmed to the idea and are reacting on cue. Congressman Paul Ryan (WI) got feisty, saying the Buffett Rule was an example of “class warfare.”

The President, not always thrilled with criticism, sees it as slightly more complicated than that:

“This is not class warfare — it’s math,” Mr. Obama said from the White House Rose Garden, addressing GOP critiques of his plan head on.

Yeah Paul Ryan, Mr. Chairman of the House Budget Committee. If you’re not willing to get all nerdy about it, the President doesn’t want to hear it. Come back when you’ve got a blackboard filled with equations.

Obama: “This is not class warfare — It’s math” [CBS]

Confidential to The New York Times: GE’s 2010 Tax Return Isn’t Finished Yet

Remember that New York Times story that put the universe on notice that General Electric made truckloads of money and ended up with a $3.2 billion “tax benefit”? It also mentioned that their tax department is known as the “best tax law firm” and is staffed with a small army of former Treasury whiz-kids and turbo-tax nerds to legally minimize the company’s tax obligation. The story got all sorts of people worked up from Jon Stewart to Henry Blodget and it whipped up a small amount of hysteria amongst the masses who had the courage to read an esoteric tax article that went on for more than one page.

Today a new report from ProPublica (a rebuttal of sorts, since they got scooped by the Times) is “Setting The Record Straight on GE’s Taxes“:

Did GE get a $3.2 billion tax refund? No.

Did GE pay U.S. income taxes in 2010? Yes, it paid estimated taxes for 2010, and also made payments for previous years. Think of it as your having paid withholding taxes on your salary in 2010, and sending the IRS a check on April 15, 2010, covering your balance owed for 2009.

Will GE ultimately pay U.S. income taxes for 2010? After much to-ing and fro-ing — the company says it hasn’t completed its 2010 tax return — GE now says that it will pay tax.

Also, part of the ProPublica report clarifies that the whole “financial reporting vs. tax reporting” thing:

GE’s 2010 financial statements reported a $3.25 billion U.S. “current tax benefit,” which is where the Times, which declined comment, got its $3.2 billion “tax benefit” number. But a company’s “current tax” number has nothing to do with what it actually pays in taxes for a given year. “Current tax benefit” and “current tax expense” are so-called financial reporting numbers, used to calculate the profits a company reports to shareholders.

In other words, the Times left out the tricky stuff or maybe just didn’t a bang-up job explaining the tricky stuff. But framing the shrewd tax planning and lobbyists working for a giant corporation is far more provocative than book-tax differences and defining deferred tax assets. Relevancy be damned!

Setting The Record Straight on GE’s Taxes [ProPublica]
Also see: GE and the power of iterative journalism [Felix Salmon/Reuters]

The New York Times Takes the Big 4’s Work-Life Balance Bait

Late(r) on Friday, the New York Times published an article championing the accounting firms for their commitment to providing a flexible work arrangements for its employees. The article, as you would expect from the Times, provides numerous examples of how the policies of the Big 4 and other major accounting firms make life extra-peachy for their employees.

The article leads off with none other than a firm who has been in desperate need for good press:

As the peak season for the nation’s accounting firms begins, David Leeds’s team at Ernst & Young is once again bracing for two months of 60-hour weeks auditajor bank in Atlanta.

In years past, those grueling weeks often fueled nasty marital spats about missed dinners and children’s tantrums over forgotten basketball games.

Not any more. At Ernst & Young, as at the nation’s other major accounting firms, workplace flexibility has been built into the culture — even during crunch time. [our emphasis]

Every Monday morning, the 15 people on Mr. Leeds’s team meet and lay out the personal commitments that might interfere with work — basketball games, teacher conferences, Pilates classes, weddings. They arrange to cover for each other, helping make the busy season tolerable for everyone. Despite the auditing team’s six-day weeks, one Auburn University graduate, for example, is taking next Monday and Tuesday off to see the school’s football team play in the national championship bowl in Arizona. And Mr. Leeds plans to escape to New Orleans for three days to see his daughter run a marathon.

“We face very tight deadlines from our clients, but at the same time we try to make sure that team members have the flexibility they need,” said Mr. Leeds, a partner at the firm.

Parent-teacher conferences! Pilates! The Bowl Championship Series! From the sounds of it, you’d think being the an E&Y partner on a banking client was like whistling dixie (in Atlanta anyway). We’ll give this Atlanta team the benefit of the doubt (unless someone wants to email us with a different story) but the Times gives you the impression that the gambit of the industry is sympathetic to your family time and college gridiron road trip ambitions. Even during busy season. More untrue, this could not be.

We could go on with anecdotes about a senior manager’s spouse being in the hospital or the lack of flexibility given to a single dad OR not allowing someone to scoot out an hour early to see their girlfriend because she’s in from out of town but that really isn’t necessary. Examples such as those are simply provide you with a the spectrum of firms being at their absolute worst. What about the lion share of employees at these firms? Chances are, if you walked over to 5 Times Square and pulled aside the first person you saw with a E&Y backpack, they’d tell you that they are preparing to be sleep deprived for the next three months and if you told them they would get a dozen days off in that time frame, they’d be thrilled. Furthermore, if you were ask them if their partner had weekly meetings to ensure that everyone’s extracurricular activities were being respected, they’d look at you like you had three heads.

We won’t dismiss the firms’ efforts entirely because as we said, the Times cited several examples of employees who have taken advantage of the flexible schedules but the article is full of the rhetoric candidates and employees hear regularly when it comes to work-life balance. The best example being one of the last quotes from E&Y partner Brooke Sikes, who is out of Dallas:

“The firm very much rewards you for your performance,” she said. “It’s not about punching a clock. It’s not about face time.”

Not really much needs to be said. Reactions to this statement and any other thoughts on the current work-life efforts by your firm are welcome at this time.

Flex Time Flourishes in Accounting Industry [NYT]

American Apparel Takes Issue with Deloitte’s Notion That Management Withheld Some Fairly Important Financial Statements

Remember the hipster drama Deloitte caused this past summer when they resigned as the auditor of American Apparel? It was quite the rs the stock took a beating (it has recovered in the meantime) and questions were raised about the company’s ability to continue as a [g]oing [c]oncern.

Some recent developments in this particular story have come to light as Dov & Co. have been providing a whole mess of information to Deloitte, as is SOP in these matters. For starters, Deloitte notified the APP audit committee that the 2009 financial statements are not kosher and anyone using them for any other purpose than lining a bird cage is nuts.

From the 8-K:

On December 15, 2010, the Audit Committee of the Company received notice from Deloitte stating that Deloitte had concluded that Deloitte’s report on the Company’s previously issued consolidated financial statements as of and for the year ended December 31, 2009 (the “2009 financials”), including Deloitte’s report on internal control over financial reporting at December 31, 2009, included in the Company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2009 (such reports, collectively, the “Deloitte Reports”) should not be relied upon or associated with the 2009 financials.

Deloitte explained that its conclusion was based on the significance of the declines in operations and gross margin in the Company’s February 2010 monthly financial statement, combined with the January 2010 monthly financial statements, the Company’s issuance of revised projections in early May 2010 which reflected a significant decrease in the Company’s 2010 projections, and Deloitte’s disagreement with the Company’s conclusion that the results shown in the February 2010 monthly financial statements would not have required a revision to the Company’s projections as of the date of the 10-K filing and the issuance of Deloitte’s reports. Deloitte further indicated that their decision considered their inability to perform additional audit procedures, their resignation as registered public accountants and their professional judgment that they are no longer willing to rely on management’s representations due to Deloitte’s belief that management withheld from Deloitte the February 2010 monthly financial statements until after the filing of the 2009 10-K and made related misrepresentations.

So if you can get past how poorly written these paragraphs are, you can boil down Deloitte’s concerns about the 2009 10-K to a few things: 1) business was not looking good; 2) they didn’t buy APP’s notion that financial projections for February ’10 were hunky dory (which weren’t made available until after the 10-K was filed); 3) APP management was more or less full of shit. You can also read their official letter to the company, if you are so inclined.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Dov & Co. have a difference of opinion here:

The Audit Committee of the Company has commenced an investigation into the assertions that management withheld the February 2010 monthly financial statements and related misrepresentations. Management disagrees with Deloitte’s assertions and does not believe that the February 2010 monthly financial statements were withheld. The Company does not currently believe, including after discussions with Marcum, that the reaudit will result in any changes to the 2009 financials, though no assurance can be given in this regard.

So, somewhere, there are February 2010 financial statements stuffed in a drawer (but whose drawer?) that basically caused this whole fiasco. This seems like a completely plausible scenario.

Boston Scientific Corp. Will Gladly Spend ‘Several Years’ Taking Issue with the IRS’s Notion That They Owe $525 Million

It’s not that they don’t have the money; it’s the principle of the matter:

The Natick, Mass., medical-device company, which purchased Guidant in 2006, said it received a “notice of deficiency” from the IRS on Dec. 17 relating to the 2001 through 2003 tax years for Guidant and subsidiary businesses. “The incremental tax liability asserted by the IRS with regard to the Guidant claim is $525.1 million plus interest,” Boston Scientific said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Besides, the issue is related to transfer pricing which isn’t exactly cut and dry, so the company figured they’ll explore the differences they have. Besides there’s no rush to pay up:

The company said the main issue under dispute is transfer pricing linked to technology license agreements between certain domestic and foreign Guidant subsidiaries.

“We do not agree with the transfer pricing methodologies applied by the IRS or its resulting assessment,” the company said.

It noted that no payments on this assessment are required until the dispute is definitively resolved, which could take “several years” based on experiences of other companies.

Boston Scientific Says IRS Seeks $525.1 Million in Taxes [WSJ]