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Tax 101: Outbound Acquisitions - Holding Company Structures

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When a U.S. company acquires foreign targets, the use of a holding company structure abroad may provide certain global tax benefits. The emphasis is on “global” because standard U.S. benefits such as deferral of income while funds remain offshore may not be available without further planning once a holding company derives dividends and capital gains. This article will discuss issues that should be considered when setting up a company overseas, particularly a foreign holding company, in order to maximize foreign tax credits despite the limitations under the U.S. tax rules, and to reduce the overall U.S. taxes paid. These issues include challenges to the substance of a holding company, recent trends in inversion transactions, the net investment income tax on investment income of U.S. individuals, and the significance of the O.E.C.D. Base Erosion and Profit Shifting report on tax planning structures.


If we assume the income of each foreign target consists of manufacturing and sales activities that take place in a single foreign country, no U.S. tax will be imposed until the profits of the target are distributed in the form of a dividend or the shares of the target are sold. This is known as “deferral” of tax. Once dividends are distributed, U.S. tax may be due whether the profits are distributed directly to the U.S. parent company or to a holding company located in another foreign jurisdiction. Without advance planning to take advantage of the entity characterization rules known as “check-the-box,” the dividends paid by the manufacturing company will be taxable in the U.S. whether paid directly to the parent or paid to a holding company located in a third country. In the latter case, and assuming the holding company is a controlled foreign corporation (“C.F.C.”) for U.S. income tax purposes, the dividend income in the hands of the holding company will be viewed to be an item of Foreign Personal Holding Company Income, which generally will be taxed to the U.S. parent company, or any other person that is treated as a “U.S. Shareholder” under Subpart F of the Internal Revenue Code.