Amazon, possibly on its way to becoming America's first trillion-dollar company, paid zero dollars in federal taxes for 2017, despite earning $5.6 billion in income.
Public companies are required to submit the form every year to the SEC in addition to quarterly updates (10-Q forms) and, when announcing major events shareholders should know about, the 8-K or "current report" form.
Matthew Gardner, senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, wrote about Amazon's tax bill that won't come due in a Feb. 13 blog post. Without being privy to the company's tax return, no one can say exactly how CEO Jeff Bezos and Co. avoided what could have been more than $1.3 billion in federal taxes based solely on the annual financial report, but there is information to be gleaned.
According to Gardner, one factor is the $917 million deduction on stock options:
"Even though these don't represent as meaningful out-of-pocket expenses for the companies, they're still allowed to deduct the fair value of the stock options when they're exercised," Gardner told SeattlePI. "When somebody who has been given this right cashes them in, the company gets to deduct this from their taxable income."
Another ingredient in the low tax bill is likely capital expenditure depreciation, Gardner said, where companies are allowed to write off the cost of some expenses -- say those incurred while building a distribution center, for example -- up front. Those taxes are essentially shifted to future years' tax bills.
Amazon will also benefit handsomely from the Republican tax bill passed last year.
Bezos, a frequent critic -- and target -- of President Donald Trump, nevertheless earned a windfall from the Trump administration's U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, passed in December. Amazon readjusted estimates for taxes deferred under the old 35 percent corporate tax rate to meet the new tax law's 21 percent figure, which resulted in an estimated $789 million reduction for Amazon.
At a time when Amazon is pitting state and local governments against each other in a Hunger Games-style contest over the location of the company’s new headquarters, the company’s new disclosure should cause some consternation among the state officials who have been most willing to pony up billions of dollars in tax incentives. In each of these states, Amazon’s sales tax dodging has pushed brick and mortar retailers to the brink of extinction, and its spectacular federal corporate tax avoidance is very likely mirrored at the state level.