Thursday, September 4, 2014
New York Times Deal Book: Public Pension Funds Stay Mum on Corporate Expats, by Andrew Ross Sorkin:
In the outcry about the recent merger mania to take advantage of the tax avoidance transactions known as inversions, certain key players have been notably silent: public pension funds.
Many of the nation’s largest public pension funds — managing trillions of dollars on behalf of police and fire departments, teachers and others — have major stakes in American companies that are seeking to renounce their corporate citizenship in order to lower their tax bill.
While politicians have criticized these types of deals — President Obama has called them “wrong” and he is examining ways to end the practice — public pension funds don’t appear to be using their influence as major shareholders to encourage corporations to stay put.
Public pension funds may be so meek on the issue of inversions because they are conflicted. On one side, the funds say they care about the long term and the implications for their state. Calpers’s “Investment Beliefs” policy states that the pension system should “consider the impact of its actions on future generations of members and taxpayers,” yet most pension funds are underfunded and, frankly, desperate to show investment returns. Mergers for tax inversion can prop up share prices of the acquirers and clearly help pension funds, at least in the short term, show improved performance.
(Hat Tip: Mike Talbert.)