CXO

3 ways the GOP tax bill will impact business and tech

The biggest impact will be on repatriation, as firms will be able to move cash back to the US at a lower rate.

The GOP tax plan passed on Wednesday, winning in both the Senate (51-48) and the House (224-201) before making its way to the desk of US president Donald Trump. Supporters of the bill claim that it will lower corporate tax rates and help grow the economy, while opponents fear it will hurt small businesses and add to the federal debt.

Officially titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the bill makes many provisions for personal income tax, family deductions, and more. Since many professionals in the tech industry make a higher-than-average salary, this has major implications for the 2018 taxes they will file in early 2019.

On the corporate side of things, tech companies also stand to see some serious changes that could affect the way they do business. Here are three ways the new tax bill could impact tech companies.

SEE: Special report: Tech budgets 2018: A CXO's guide (free PDF) (Tech Pro Research)

1. Repatriation

It's no secret that large tech companies hold a lot of untaxed profits overseas—Goldman Sachs estimates the amount to be around $3.1 trillion. Currently, these companies would need to pay a 35% tax to bring that money back into the US. Under the new plan, however, the tax rate would be 15.5% for cash and 8% for reinvested earnings, which could incentivize companies to bring the money back to the US.

This will help companies like Apple and Microsoft in the short term, according to John Anagnos, chief investment officer for Aetolia Capital, LLC. "Now it all depends on how that cash will be used, and no one is quite sure," Anagnos said. "You could see more hiring, which is a positive. You will likely see more stock buybacks which will boost market share. Investors might also benefit from higher dividends."

Essentially, the goal of this cut is for US companies to be more willing to bring their money back to the US, which could be further accelerated by actions the EU is taking to collect unpaid taxes from companies like Apple. However, whether or not companies will actually invest that money back into the American economy in the way the GOP is hoping they will is unclear. In 2004, Congress cut the tax from 35% down to 5.25% in a one-time repatriation holiday, but that led some companies to actually cut jobs and send that money to their shareholders.

2. Networking

Telecom companies are continually in need of network upgrades, as noted by Fortune. Since the new tax bill allows for immediate deductions on such capital investments, this could lead some telecom companies to invest more in their infrastructure.

While the one-time tax repatriation of foreign earnings could be a short-term shock to financial reporting, the R&D expensing initiative would be more impactful long term, according to Joel Waterfield, tax leader for Grant Thornton's technology industry practice.

One example of this is AT&T, which announced it would be investing $1 billion in its US business and paying a $1,000 bonus to more than 200,000 union AT&T employees in the US. Anagnos also said that it was interesting to see other companies (Comcast for example) jump to offer similar bonuses.

In November, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson called the GOP tax plan a "capital-freeing event." This could also be leveraged by companies such as AT&T as they seek to compete with upstart ISPs like Google Fiber.

3. Real estate

With the new plan in place, interest deductions will only be allowed on the first $750,000 in new mortgage debt, which is a $250,000 cut from the current $1 million limit. This may not have much of an impact in a majority of the country, but it could have some sort of impact in New York, California, and Massachusetts—where many tech companies are headquartered.

Reducing the tax benefits of homeownership could make buying a home more difficult in the major cities where many tech professionals live. This could affect investment decisions in high markets like San Francisco and New York City, according to Richard Friedlander, tax partner at Rosen, Sapperstein and Friedlander.

"This is clearly an annoyance and will knock out certain people who are really not able to lose the deduction for about $10,000 a year when they were stretching to do it anyways," Friedlander said.

However, this will also drive rental properties, as real estate can get a lower tax rate if it is done through a flow-through entity, Friedlander said. This could make single family rental properties especially attractive to investors, CNBC reported.

All in all, it's still a wild card how this particular change will impact the tech industry. It could help lower home buying costs over time and make it more attractive to move to these cities, or it could drive some folks away. One thing is for certain: As these major cities are feeling the growing pains brought by expansion, the potential impact could be huge.

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Image: iStockphoto/Wallentine

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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