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Tax planning in practice: a field study of US multinational corporations

By Emer Mulligan

Abstract

The aim of this study is to achieve a better understanding of tax planning in practice, identifying and taking account of the multiple arenas within which it operates, and thereby highlighting its social and institutional dimensions. In the current rapidly changing business and regulatory environment, in which tax is an extremely important source of revenue for governments around the world, an enhanced understanding of tax planning in practice benefits and has implications for taxpayers and tax policymakers alike. The four research questions posed in this study address: the organisation and strategic alignment of the tax planning function in multinational corporations (MNCs); performance measurement of this function; tax risk management; the nature and impact of the relationship between the tax planning function within MNCs and the external environment within which it operates. Empirically this study focuses on US MNCs, primarily in respect of mainstream corporation tax planning. In line with the interpretive inductive methodological approach adopted, face-to-face interviews were conducted with senior tax executives in US MNCs, and tax advisors to such companies. A theoretical framework is developed which combines core themes and theoretical constructs within three strands of literature, namely, tax planning, new institutional sociology and endogeneity of law. This framework provides a powerful explanatory lens through which the findings are presented and interpreted. The role ofpower and powerful actors is an important and recurring theme, and partly explains prevailing tax planning practices through the intensity of professional and social interaction between tax executives. Increasingly tax risk management is more important and there is evidence that this may change the way in which the tax planning function is given strategic recognition and integrated operationally. with business units. The focus on tax risk management results in an isomorphic trend towards conservatism in tax planning, and competitor and peer company influence are significant in shaping tax risk management mechanisms. Measuring the performance of the tax planning function is found to be variable, although there was a view that the effective tax rate (ETR), although an important external measure of corporate performance, was inappropriate as an internal measure. Tax laws are often portrayed as exogenous factors, however this study has found that companies invest heavily in external affairs and direct lobbying to secure changes in the law to suit their purposes; evidencing its endogeneity. Networking costs, reputational risk management and lobbying costs therefore represent non-tax costs that are difficult to measure, but are important components of tax planning activities, overlooked in the current tax planning literature. In addition to the findings themselves this study contributes to knowledge through its interpretive methodological approach which provides a new and rich perspective on tax planning in practice, highlighting some shortcomings of the positivistic approach. It also develops a theoretical framework which uniquely combines theoretical constructs from three strands of literature

Topics: HF
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:1113

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