Arkansas-based firms to lay out plans for spending expected windfall created by tax break

The signing Friday of the first major overhaul of the nation’s tax laws since 1986 prompted a handful of high-profile companies to announce plans to spend the expected windfall created by lower corporate taxes.

For Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc., the details are pending.

The tax measure distributes benefits across a range of American industries, from construction to health care, lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

“As a general rule of thumb, everybody’s doing well under this bill,” Martin Sullivan, chief economist at Tax Analysts, says of U.S. companies. “When you give out a trillion in tax breaks, it’s hard to create a lot of losers.”

On Friday, before the White House signing ceremony, Aerospace leader Boeing said it plans to spend millions of dollars more on employee training. AT&T, which is seeking government approval for its planned acquisition of Time Warner, announced $1,000 bonuses for its employees. Wells Fargo plans to raise its minimum hourly wage for about 36,000 workers from $13.50 to $15.

Wal-Mart and Tyson said Thursday that they plan to invest further in their companies, but didn’t disclose specifics.

Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the Bentonville retailer is conducting an analysis and will have more to share about its plans at a later date.

“We’ve always invested in our business, and given the new rate we’ll look for additional opportunities to do that again,” Hargrove said.

Hargrove said that the enactment of tax reform will provide “meaningful relief to American families and companies.”

An analysis of the new tax law by the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model shows the largest tax savings from 2018 through 2027 — $261.5 billion — will go to manufacturers. Insurance and finance companies will save $249.4 billion, and retailers will enjoy a benefit of $171.4 billion.

“Like many businesses, we have paid high effective tax rates for years,” Hargrove said. “Lowering the corporate tax rate will make the U.S. more competitive globally and promote investment here at home.”

Wal-Mart’s effective tax rate was about 30 percent for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2017, according to company filings.

Brian Yarbrough, a retail analyst with Edward Jones, said Wal-Mart is likely considering how much it can return to shareholders, customers and employees.

Investors would applaud Wal-Mart buying back shares of its own stock with the tax savings, he said, but it’s also important that companies implement measures that could benefit the overall economy.

Wal-Mart could use some of the tax benefits to lower prices on goods in hopes of driving more sales as it continues to battle competitors like, Target Corp., Kroger, Aldi and Lidl. Wal-Mart could also accelerate investments in technology and e-commerce, while some of the benefits could be returned to workers in wage increases and other perks.

“Most of their profits are in the United States,” Yarbrough said. “That’s the big driver for them and that’s a higher tax rate, so they’re definitely going to see some relief there. So I think there will be a nice benefit for them. It just depends on what they decide to do with it.”

Ken Shea, Bloomberg senior food and beverage analyst, said he doesn’t think Tyson will alter its priorities on the basis of the tax overhaul.

Tyson has been generating a healthy cash flow, purchasing shares back strategically and spending money on plant expansions, Shea said. Most recently, Tyson Foods announced plans for a $300 million poultry processing plant in Humboldt County, Tenn., and increased its shareholders stake in Beyond Meat, a plant-based protein producer.

Whether or not Tyson will spend some of its tax savings in employee raises or bonuses is unclear because a tax overhaul to this degree is unprecedented, Shea said.

The tax rate reduction coupled with the provision that allows the immediate write-off of capital expenditures “will enable us to accelerate our strategy by investing even more in our supply chain and team members,” Tyson said in an email last week.

Specific details will be announced during Tyson’s quarterly earnings call in February, the company said.

Tyson’s effective tax rate was roughly 32 percent for the company’s fiscal year ending Sept. 30, according to company filings. However, Bloomberg data showed Tyson Foods had an adjusted tax rate of 28.5 percent.

The Springdale-based company said it should see some immediate benefits in the coming fiscal year, but won’t see the full benefit of the changes until fiscal 2019.

Information for this article was contributed by Paul Wiseman of The Associated Press.

A Section on 12/27/2017

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