Where Are We Going?

Instead of a Quote Of The Day, let me leave you with this piece from the WSJ. I don’t often do this but I’m going to simply past the whole article since some of you might not be able to get past the firewall.

WASHINGTON — Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Portland Trailblazers basketball team, might save hundreds of millions in taxes over the next few years thanks to a provision in the economic stimulus legislation signed by President Obama Tuesday.

The provision is aimed at helping companies who are trying to restructure their debt, by delaying taxes that would otherwise be due when debt-holders agree to forgive a portion of the debt.

One such company is cable provider Charter Communications Inc., of which Mr. Allen is Chairman and in which he holds a majority stake. Charter announced this month a restructuring agreement that will reduce its debt load by $8 billion, and will also involve the company entering into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The new law temporarily suspends taxes on debt amounts that are forgiven in 2009 and 2010. Accordingly, Charter and Mr. Allen, as a major partner, would probably benefit, said Robert Willens, president of Robert Willens LLC, a tax and accounting advisory firm.

The debt forgiveness tax break benefits a wide array of firms, and was one of the most lobbied-for provisions in the stimulus bill. It was sought by homebuilders, casino operators and telecommunications firms.

Under the new law, firms will be able to delay paying taxes on income from debt that is forgiven until 2014, and then to spread the taxes on that income from 2014 to 2018.

The law makes clear that partnerships like Charter Holdco, parent company of Charter Communications Inc., also are eligible to benefit from the provision. Under normal tax rules, forgiveness of partnership debt is counted as a “deemed distribution” to the partner. The law ensures that the income from this distribution does not have to be recognized until 2014.

Since Mr. Allen’s stake in Charter is around 50%, his partnership share of the debt forgiveness could be as much as $4 billion. Assuming an effective tax rate of 25%, the new law could spare Mr. Allen the necessity of paying as much as $1 billion in taxes, Mr. Willens said in an interview, at least until 2014.

David Postman, a spokesman for Mr. Allen’s hedge fund Vulcan Inc., said “no lobbying was done on behalf of Mr. Allen for that provision, at all.”

A spokesman for Charter declined to comment for this article.

Edward Ptaszek, a partner in the law firm of Baker Hostetler, said the law is written in such a way that firms in bankruptcy can also benefit, by electing to defer recognition of debt forgiveness income.

Under normal bankruptcy rules, a firm would not have to pay taxes on debt that is wiped clean. But in return, the firm would have certain tax assets like net operating losses reduced.

Mr. Ptaszek said that under the new law, the firm might prefer to save its net operating losses and pay taxes on income from forgiven debt, if it could defer those taxes for 5 to 10 years.

“If you expected to return to profitability very quickly, you might want to use this deferral rule and hold on to your NOLs,” said Mr. Ptaszek.

There is much talk about concerning oligarchs in the country. I have tended to dismiss them. I am becoming less inclined to do so.

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