Reverse Morris Trust Is A Tax-Free Merger Deal

In order to talk about Reverse Morris Trust, we need to discuss Morris Trust. And then we will talk about why this is relevant.

Morris Trust was a company that, in the 1960s, received a tax-bill for unpaid taxes for a $413.44. The trust was being held at American Trust Company. The tax bill was a result of ATC merging with a competitor. Mind you, nothing about the Trust had changed, it’s just that the merger created a transaction with tax consequences.

The tax liability is created for the target company because the target company, presumably, sells its shares at a premium to the buyer. The Reverse Morris Trust puts the tax liability to buyer instead, which it may be able to offset with other expenses. (Expenses reduce income, lowering the tax liability.)

Example of a Reverse Morris Trust from Tax Interpretations
Example of a Reverse Morris Trust from Tax Interpretations

The mechanics goes something like this. Buyer wants to buy Target and Target wants to sell to Buyer. Buyer divests a portion of itself into a newly created subsidiary. At this point Buyer own 100% of the subsidiary. Buy SELLS 49% of the shares of the subsidiary to Target for a price. The price costs Target its whole company. So, now, the subsidiary includes 100% of Target and a line of business from Buyer. Having sold 49% of the subsidiary, Buyer retains control. Target, having BOUGHT 49% of a company using itself as the price, it writes off the expense of purchasing those shares. The Target is allowed to merge with the subsidiary. See the trick here? Buyer SOLD while Target BOUGHT.

Executing an RMT is difficult. Buyers and Sellers must find each other for not just for the M&A and the right price, but then also willing to go through with this complicated transaction method. While tax compliance isn’t my area of expertise or interest, business is. M&A is an interesting area that creates many compliance issues, including tax compliance. Tax avoidance is legal, but tax evasion is illegal. RMT offers a way to avoid taxation when done right.

About the Author: Marcus Maltempo is a compliance professional with more than a decade of experience helping banks, law firms and clients manage investigations and regulatory responses. He is the author of the forthcoming book History of Money Laundering: How criminals got paid and got away.


Inversion Mergers Raise Compliance Concerns

In 2014, many firms merged with foreign firms to execute an inversion so that they will be subjects of a different tax jurisdiction. The idea was to answer to foreign taxation first, only paying the difference, if anything at all, to the US government, creating massive savings. Inversion is a cross-border merger where the smaller foreign firm takes over a larger domestic firm. It is truly an inversion of the classic merger, but for the recent inversions, this is legal mumble-jumble. While technically the foreign firm took over the larger firm, the larger domestic firm is assuming a subsidiary role in name only. For this reason, The Department of Treasury started cracking down on foreign inversions.
image from Bloomberg Business

Now that the mergers have happened, in order to maintain the inverted status, a true merger must take place. That requires merging the operations of the two firms. All of the usual headaches of merger implementations apply. One of those headaches is compliance.

Inversion generally took place outside of the financial services world because that was an industry already global in nature on a firm to firm basis. So, the regulatory compliance issues pertaining to inverted firms are unique to each merger.

What isn’t unique is the US operations having to comply with foreign regulators. Here is where the US firm will need to be guided by their foreign counterparts, who may not be all that eager to help since the executives at the smaller foreign firm might be out of a job by the end of the year if the merger implementation goes smoothly.

And then then there are labors laws. The EU has TUPE — Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment. (Most of the inversion took place between US and Europe.) This protects many employees when transferring to new employers. Americans have long left unions behind but Europe is much more labor friendly. Shedding the European workforce after the merger might get tricky. Even complying with simple issues like mandatory national holiday and vacation day rules might create an inequality on which the US counterparts may demand parity.

And then there is the tricky situation of US expatriates working for the newly formed non-US firm. Are they still expatriates or are they immigrants? How these employees get paid, now that they are no longer working abroad for their firms?

A successful merger is a one time expense and, hopefully, in the mad rush to find foreign dancing partners, Americans didn’t partner up with one with two left feet. Constantly replacing one shoes will get expensive.

About the Author: Marcus Maltempo is a compliance professional with more than a decade of experience helping banks, law firms and clients manage investigations and regulatory responses.