When America’s biggest corporations make news for their taxes, it’s usually for how little they pay. One recent study, for example, argues that 26 big corporations, including AT&T, Boeing, and Citigroup, paid their CEOs more than they paid Uncle Sam in federal income tax. (Comparisons like that might bring to mind an old Babe Ruth quote. In 1930, a reporter pointed out that Ruth’s $80,000 salary was more than the President’s — to which the Babe replied “I know, but I had a better year . . .”) Now, another corporate giant is making headlines for its taxes. And for once, the surprising news involves how much it paid, not how little.
Exxon and Mobil are iconic corporate names. Both began life as parts of John D. Rockefeller’s original Standard Oil Company. Both were spun off in 1911 when the U.S. Supreme Court found Standard Oil guilty of illegally monopolizing the oil refining industry. (“Standard Oil Company of New Jersey” eventually grew into Exxon, while “Standard Oil Company of New York” morphed into Mobil.) When the two giants re-joined to create ExxonMobile in 1999, they instantly became the biggest publicly-traded corporation on earth. And since then, they’ve only gotten bigger, with a “market capitalization” (total value of outstanding publicly-traded shares) topped only by tech giants Apple and Microsoft, and the largest company on earth by revenue.
You would expect a corporation this size to pay a lot in taxes, right? And for once, you would be right. In fact, a recent study by economist Mark Perry reveals that ExxonMobil has paid over one trillion dollars in taxes since that merger. That’s a full three times the profit the company earned for its actual shareholders.
Take 2008, for example. ExxonMobil’s profit reached a staggering $46.87 billion, the highest annual profit since the Romans invented the corporation. But they also paid $36.53 billion in income taxes, $34.51 billion in excise taxes, and $41.72 billion in other taxes, including sales taxes. Do the math and you’ll see that totals $112.76 billion — $9.4 billion per month, $2.17 billion per week, $309 million per day, and $214,535 per minute.
Skeptics might reply that ExxonMobil doesn’t actually “pay” all those taxes out of its own pocket. They argue that the corporation just passes the cost of excise taxes on to customers and merely collects sales taxes imposed by state and local governments on buyers. But there’s no arguing that the economic activity generated by this particular actor ultimately led to that trillion dollars in worldwide tax revenue.
We’re not here to champion “Big Oil” in general, or ExxonMobil in particular. We realize ExxonMobil has been criticized for inadequately responding to various oil spills, funding research disputing “global warming” claims, and even violating workers’ human rights in Indonesia. We’re here to champion the value of surprising information — especially when we can use that information to your benefit.
You’d probably be surprised, for example, to learn that some business owners deduct their family’s medical bills as a business expense. But that’s exactly what a medical expense reimbursement plan allows. You’d probably be surprised to learn that you can deduct the cost of crashing your car if it happens while you’re driving for work. But that’s what the law allows.
We constantly go to the well for smart tax strategies, so you don’t have to. Call us if you want to put this sort of information to work for you! And remember, we’re here for your friends, family, and colleagues, too.
Peter J Tarantino CPA
Tarantino & Company, CPAs
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Roswell, GA 30076
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