NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
U.S. multinational companies have announced plans to return more than $200 billion in profits made overseas to their U.S. operations, according to a published report, but it is unclear how much impact that flow of cash will have on job creation here.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the flow of cash comes under a one-year tax break passed in 2004 as part of the American Jobs Creation Act. But the newspaper reported that it offered only broad outlines for how companies intend to use the extra dollars earned outside the U.S.
Most frequently say they are using the bulk of the money for tasks such as paying down debt and meeting payrolls, with direct job creation rarely appearing on the list.
The newspaper reports that there is normally a broad exception to corporate taxes for profits "permanently" reinvested in overseas operations, while money moved back to the U.S. gets taxed. Under the one-year law, profits returned from overseas still generate a tax bill, but one not nearly as hefty as it would have been otherwise.
The newspaper cites data from International Strategy & Investment Group Inc., which estimates that 91 large companies have disclosed some $206 billion in profit repatriation plans under the break. That figure could rise to $350 billion, according to the newspaper report.
When the law passed before the 2004 election, advocates pointed to a study by economist Allen Sinai that estimated a temporary cut in the tax on foreign earnings would create 666,000 U.S. jobs over five years, the newspaper reported. Sinai told the newspaper that he now believes the gains may be more modest, perhaps as few as 450,000 during that same period. But he said that is still a success for the law.
"It looks to me like the act is roughly working as it was expected to." Sinai told the newspaper. "We never found huge impact -- but certainly in our work we found improvement in growth, capital expenditures and jobs coming from the measure."
The law does not require companies to make any moves to hire U.S.-based employees to qualify for the tax break. In fact, some companies will continue to shave U.S. staff at the same time they bring cash back.
The newspaper reports that consumer products manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive Co. (Research) said in July that it planned to repatriate $800 million, even as it also moved ahead with plans to close a third of its factories and eliminate roughly 12 percent of its workforce, or 4,450 jobs.
Some companies are adding to U.S. facilities at the same time they are bringing overseas profits home, but even in those cases, it's tough to tie the overseas money to the new jobs here, the newspaper reports.
Intel Corp. (Research) plans to bring back $6.3 billion in foreign profits, Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy told the newspaper. He noted that the No. 1 chip manufacturer is building a $3 billion wafer fabrication facility in Chandler, Ariz., and recently announced $345 million in investments in two existing U.S. plants. But he couldn't tell the newspaper that those investments were directly tied to the returned profits.
Computer manufacturer Dell Inc. (Research), is bringing back $4.1 billion in foreign profits and is spending about $100 million on a new factory in North Carolina, set to open Wednesday, the newspaper reported. But a company spokesman also could not say the new plant, which will employ up to 1,500 people, is tied to the overseas cash.
"When you're talking about $4.1 billion, ($100 million) is not a big chunk of it," Dell spokesman Jess Blackburn told the newspaper. "In general, we're going to use it for some R&D spending, some advertising and marketing and for compensation and benefits for nonexecutive people at Dell."
Even if companies use the money to improve their balance sheet or buy capital equipment, it can better position the company for future growth, Daniel Clifton, executive director of the American Shareholders Association, told the newspaper.
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