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Tax Planning Knowledge Diffusion via the Labor Market

with John Barrios | Management Science 2023

We examine the extent to which the labor market facilitates the diffusion of tax planning knowledge across firms. Using a novel dataset of tax department employee movements between S&P 1500 firms, we find that firms experience an increase in their tax planning after hiring a tax employee from a tax aggressive firm. This finding is robust to various research designs and specifications. Consistent with tax planning knowledge driving the result, we find that the tax planning benefits are more substantial when the employee is involved in a director-level role and has more experience. Further tests suggest that tax planning knowledge is highly specific in nature: the increase in tax avoidance is larger when the hiring and former firms are similar (i.e., operating in the same sector or having similar foreign operations), and firms are more likely to hire tax department employees from firms with similar characteristics. Finally, we do not find that the prior firm’s tax planning changes after the employee leaves the firm, suggesting that the tax planning knowledge simply spreads to the hiring firm and does not leave the prior firm. Our study documents the first-order role of the labor market in the diffusion of tax planning knowledge across firms, and our findings suggest that tax department human capital is a central determinant of tax planning outcomes.

Featured in: NBER Featured Working Paper of the Day (Sept. 2, 2021), Becker-Friedman InstituteChicago Booth Review

Bank Financial Reporting Opacity and Regulatory Intervention

Sole authored | Review of Accounting Studies 2023

I study the association between bank financial reporting opacity, measured by delayed expected loan loss recognition, and the intervention decisions made by bank regulators. Examining U.S. commercial banks during the 2007-09 financial crisis, I find that delayed expected loan loss recognition is negatively associated with the likelihood of regulatory intervention (measured by either severe enforcement action or closure). This result is robust to using various specifications and research designs. In additional analyses, I find evidence suggesting that this association is driven by regulators exploiting financial reporting opacity to practice forbearance. My findings contribute to the extant literature on bank opacity, regulatory forbearance, and the consequences of loan loss provisioning by suggesting that delayed expected loan loss recognition affects regulatory intervention decisions.

Featured in: Chicago Booth Review

Corporate Tax Enforcement Externalities and the Banking Sector 

with Martin Jacob | Journal of Accounting Research 2020

We explore whether corporate tax enforcement can affect bank lending. Specifically, we hypothesize that tax enforcement efforts aimed at small and midsized enterprises (SME) can improve their information environments, which in turn could lead to increased bank commercial lending. Exploiting the regional structure employed by the IRS until 1999, we find that the corporate tax return audit probability for SMEs is associated with greater commercial lending growth for regionally focused banks. We find similar evidence when exploiting the IRS reorganization from a regional to federal system in 2000 as an exogenous change to tax enforcement at the district level. Further results show that tax enforcement’s impact on SME informational environments is at least partially responsible for this association: the impact of tax auditing on bank lending is stronger for banks facing greater informational disadvantages and in areas where SMEs face greater hold-up problems. Finally, we find that the tax audit rate is positively associated with loan portfolio quality, suggesting that tax enforcement can lead to better loan decisions. Our findings are consistent with the tax authority’s mandate having important externalities on bank lending and SME access to capital, suggesting that the benefits to tax enforcement go beyond improving tax collection.

Featured in: NYU School of Law Compliance & Enforcement Blog, Chicago Booth Review

Banks as Tax Planning Intermediaries

with Brandon Gipper and Ed Maydew | Journal of Accounting Research 2019

We provide the first large‐scale empirical evidence of banks functioning as tax planning intermediaries. We posit that some banks specialize in assisting corporate clients with tax planning. In this role, banks make use of their centrality in financial relationships; access to private information; and ability to structure, execute, and participate in tax planning transactions for clients. We measure bank‐client relationships using loan contracts and measure client tax planning using either the cash effective tax rate or the unrecognized tax benefit balance. Using a difference‐in‐differences design, we find that firms experience meaningful tax reductions when they begin a relationship with a bank whose existing clients engage in above‐median tax planning. The effects of pairing with such tax intermediary banks are concentrated in relationships with larger or longer maturity loans, clients with foreign income or greater credit risk, and when the bank is an industry specialist or has above‐median investment banking activities. Finally, we find that potential clients are more likely to choose tax intermediary banks than nontax intermediary banks, suggesting that tax intermediary banks benefit by attracting new business. Collectively, our results suggest that some banks act as tax planning intermediaries, a role beyond the traditional one of financial intermediary.

Featured in: Chicago Booth Review

The Effect of Corporate Taxation on Bank Transparency: Evidence from Loan Loss Provisions

with Kathleen Andries and Martin Jacob | Journal of Accounting & Economics 2017

We examine how the corporate tax system, through its treatment of loan losses, affects bank financial reporting. Exploiting cross-country and intertemporal variation in income tax rates and loan loss provision deductibility, we find that loan loss provisions are increasing in the tax rate for countries that permit general provision tax deductibility. When general provisions are deductible, a 1 percentage point rate increase leads to a provision increase of 4.9% of the sample average. This effect is driven by the tax system's encouragement of timelier loan loss recognition, suggesting that corporate taxation is an important determinant of bank financial reporting transparency.

The importance of the internal information environment for tax avoidance

with Eva Labro | Journal of Accounting & Economics 2015

We show that firms׳ ability to avoid taxes is affected by the quality of their internal information environment, with lower effective tax rates (ETRs) for firms that have high internal information quality. The effect of internal information quality on tax avoidance is stronger for firms in which information is likely to play a more important role. For example, firms with greater coordination needs because of a dispersed geographical presence benefit more from high internal information quality. Similarly, firms operating in a more uncertain environment benefit more from the quality of their internal information in helping them to reduce ETRs. In addition, we provide evidence that high internal information quality allows firms to achieve lower ETRs without increasing the risk of their tax strategies (as measured by ETR volatility). Overall, our study contributes to the literature on tax avoidance by providing evidence that the internal information environment of the firm is important for understanding its tax avoidance outcomes.

Featured in: Chicago Booth Review

The Reputational Costs of Tax Avoidance

with Ed Maydew and Jake Thornock | Contemporary Accounting Research 2014

We investigate whether firms and their top executives bear reputational costs from engaging in aggressive tax avoidance activities. Prior literature has posited that reputational costs partially explain why so many firms apparently forgo the benefits of tax avoidance, the so-called “under-sheltering puzzle.” We employ a database of 118 firms that were subject to public scrutiny for having engaged in tax shelters, representing the largest sample of publicly identified corporate tax shelters analyzed to date. We examine the reputational costs that prior research has shown that firms and managers face in cases of alleged misconduct: increased CEO and CFO turnover, auditor turnover, lost sales, increased advertising costs, and decreased media reputation. Across a battery of tests, we find little evidence that firms or their top executives bear significant reputational costs as a result of being accused of engaging in tax shelter activities. Moreover, we find no decrease in firms’ tax avoidance activities after being accused of tax shelter activity. Finally, in tests of the capital market reaction to news of tax shelter involvement, we find that negative event-period returns fully reverse within a few weeks of the public scrutiny, consistent with a temporary market penalty to tax shelter news. In all, we conclude that there is little evidence of tax shelter use leading to reputational costs at the firm level.

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