Among companies listed on the S&P 500, almost one in nine paid an effective tax rate of zero percent — or even lower — over the past year, according to an analysis by USA Today.
There are 57 separate companies listed on the index that paid a zero percent rate from the past year. Those companies include both household names like Verizon and News Corp. and lesser-known corporate giants like the data storage manufacturer Seagate (market value $15.9 billion) and Public Storage (market value $29.5 billion). Many of the companies USA Today identified in its analysis as paying negative rates make the list because they lost money, but several were profitable. Previous analyses have shown that the typical corporation pays a lower effective tax rate than most middle-class families, and a far lower one than the statutory corporate tax rate against which business interests disingenuously rail.
Getting to a zero percent tax rate despite turning a profit requires creative accounting, but not lawbreaking. The corporate tax code allows companies to avoid tax liability even in years when they turn a profit. Some of the profitable companies on the newspaper’s list, such as General Motors, achieved a zero percent rate by banking tax credits from previous years when business was bad. But the more common gambit involves moving revenues from parent companies to offshore subsidiaries based in tax haven countries in the Caribbean, Europe, and elsewhere.
Pinterest is now valued at $3.8 billion after its most recent round of fundraising generated $225 million. It’s an impressive feat for a company without any revenue. Note: that’s not no profit. That’s no revenue whatsoever. Though that may change! After all, the company recently announced that it’s beginning an experiment with advertising via “promoted pins,” which reflect similar practices by other social media giants—ads that blend in with unpaid content from people you follow, like you’d get on Facebook.
When Pinterest says “experiment,” they mean it. As CEO Ben Silbermann said last month, “Nobody’s paying for anything yet — we want to see how things go and, more than anything, hear what you think.”
Is it a little frightening how normal that statement seems nowadays? Pinterest’s profitless growth is totally in line with the norm, with Amazon still operating at a loss and Twitter hoping to maybe turn a profit in 2015. At least those two have ads going already.