The Board’s Role in Share Repurchases [MITSloan Management Review]

In many companies, decisions about the level and timing of share repurchases are left mainly to the management. But given their importance, corporate directors should probably pay closer attention.

Capital allocation is a significant function for company directors. How much of the company’s profits gets reinvested in the business rather than distributed to shareholders through cash dividends or share repurchases is a critical decision companies must make. Boards of directors typically approve a dividend policy and precise amounts for each quarter: Everyone knows that cutting the dividend will result in a sharp decline in the share price.

Read the rest at sloanreview.mit.edu…

How to increase retirement savings of 60 million employees [Pensions & Investments]

Senate Republicans are voting to repeal the Labor Department’s recent rules that would have expressly allowed states and cities to sponsor a type of individual retirement account, called an automatic IRA. These votes will rescind those rules, because they already have been rejected by House Republicans and the administration supports rescinding them.

While Republicans objected to a patchwork of state-sponsored retirement plans, Congress should promptly pass a federal automatic IRA invested by the private sector. This vehicle, developed by conservatives, is the most feasible way of substantially increasing retirement savings in the U.S.

About a third of all Americans have no retirement savings, and most don’t have enough to retire comfortably. The main reason: More than 60 million American employees have no retirement plan offered to them by an employer.

Read the rest at pionline.com…

President Trump Can Actually Pass Corporate Tax Reform [Fortune]

While the Congressional efforts to reform America’s health care system fell apart last month, the Trump Administration can learn important lessons for its next legislative battle: corporate tax reform. Here are five key guidelines.

First, don’t trust House Republicans to draft a bill.

House Republicans could not muster a majority of their own party for their healthcare bill, so the White House should draft its own corporate tax bill — without the border adjustment tax (BAT) that House Speaker Paul Ryan has advocated. Although the BAT would exempt from US corporate taxes all exports by US companies, it would be fiercely opposed by US retailers and local manufacturers, since it would end their ability to deduct the cost of imported goods or services from their corporate tax payments. What’s more, these opponents do not believe the economists who claim that the BAT would send the price of imports downward by 20% — because these economists predict the US dollar will appreciate by an equivalent amount.

Read the rest at fortune.com…

Retirement healthcare could bust the budgets of many US cities [Brookings Institution]

While the deficits of public pension plans have been widely discussed, much less attention has been given to the obligations of US local governments to supply healthcare for their retired employees.

The unfunded liabilities for retiree healthcare for the 30 largest US cities exceeds $100bn, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based non-profit organisation. The unfunded liabilities for the 50 US states exceeds $500bn, according to Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency.

Retiree healthcare plans are uniquely American. They exist because the US has never offered universal healthcare before Medicare, the national social insurance programme, at age 65.

Many employees of cities and states retire between 50 and 55, so local governments usually provide them with highly subsidised healthcare between retirement and Medicare, and sometimes beyond.

Yet retiree healthcare plans of local governments, on average, have less than 10 per cent of the funding they need to meet their future obligations. By contrast, if a public pension plan were less than 60 per cent advance funded, it would be considered to be in dire straits.

Read the rest at brookings.edu…

No More Dizzying Earnings Adjustments [Wall Street Journal]

Whether Microsoft’s $26.2 billion purchase of LinkedIn makes sense might depend on where you look. Glancing at LinkedIn’s press release for the full year 2015, you will see a prominent projection for “adjusted” earnings this year of $950 million.

Yet if you closely read the press release and its appendix, you can figure out that the company’s projected 2016 earnings under GAAP, the generally accepted accounting principles required in securities filings, are minus $240 million.

What accounts for that enormous difference? Like many companies, LinkedIn reports one set of figures to the Securities and Exchange Commission but touts adjusted figures elsewhere. LinkedIn’s adjusted projection excludes large expenses: $630 million for stock awards to executives and $560 million for depreciation and amortization.

Read the rest at wsj.com…

How to Fix Jeb Bush’s Corporate Tax Reform Plan [Real Clear Markets]

The corporate aspects of the tax plan recently announced by presidential candidate Jeb Bush are aimed at achieving the worthwhile goals of economic growth and job creation. However, these goals are likely be undermined by the plan’s treatment of foreign profits of U.S. multinationals and unrealistic projections of tax revenues from rate cuts.

Almost everyone would agree that the current U.S. system for taxing foreign profits of U.S. multinationals is seriously flawed. In theory, such profits are taxed by the U.S. at its standard corporate tax rate of 35 percent — one of the highest in the industrialized world. In fact, such profits are NOT subject to any U.S. corporate tax as long as they are held overseas. As a result, such profits of U.S. multinationals are effectively “trapped” overseas – they are generally not repatriated to build US plants, buy US start-ups or pay dividends to their American shareholders.

The Plan on taxing PAST foreign profits of U.S. multinational is sensible — a one-time tax of 8.75 percent paid over a period of years. That could raise close to $180 billion in revenues. Since U.S. multinationals reasonably relied on the existing U.S. tax rules for foreign profits by holding them abroad, these corporations should be taxed at a modest rate on such past profits.

In the future, however, Jeb’s plan calls for a pure territorial system — foreign profits will be taxed only in the country where they are “earned.” This plan, if adopted, would strongly encourage U.S. multinationals to transfer their intellectual property (patents, copyrights and trademarks) — which can be moved easily at minimal cost — to tax havens, like the Bahamas, where they pay little or no corporate taxes.

Read the rest at realclearmarkets.com…

The Underfunding of Corporate Pension Plans [Real Clear Markets]

The current low level of interest rates poses a big challenge to pension plans with benefits guaranteed by their corporate sponsors. These pension plans have a difficult time earning a decent return from high-quality bonds with relatively low risk.

In response, Congress has recently revised the rules for calculating the obligations of corporate pension plans. But these revised rules allow corporate pension plans to assume that they will earn unrealistically high returns. As a result, many corporate sponsors will not contribute enough to meet their likely benefit obligations to retirees.

Read the rest at RealClearMarkets.com

A realistic discount rate for pensions [FT.com]

Co-authored with Theresa Hamacher.

Private pension funds across the world are finding it more difficult to meet their obligations to future retirees. In July 2012, the 100 largest US private pension funds faced a $533bn shortfall, according to the consulting firm Milliman. In the same month, private pensions in the UK faced a £283bn shortfall, according to the government’s insurer of pension plans.

Read the rest at FT.com