CEO pay rises as tax payments drop

For 25 large corporations, the top boss took home more money than the entire company paid in federal income taxes, one study shows.

By Kim Peterson Aug 31, 2011 10:47AM
No matter what happens to the economy, executive pay seems immune. We may be on the verge of another recession, but chief executives are still taking home tens of millions of dollars. We're used to that by now.

But what about when a CEO's salary is fatter than the entire federal income tax bill for the company? Or better yet, what if their companies didn't pay any 2010 federal income taxes at all? Is this becoming the new normal?

That's what some of the largest U.S. companies managed to finagle last year, according to a new study from the Institute for Policy Studies. The study found that 25 of the 100 highest-paid CEOs took home more money than their company paid in federal income taxes. The average pay of those 25 CEOs was $16.7 million.

Actually, it wasn't hard to take home more pay than what went to Uncle Sam. That's because most of those 25 companies didn't pay any federal income taxes, the institute found. Instead, they received tax refunds averaging $413 million.

Some of the companies are popular stocks with investors, since they pay dividends in tough times and are becoming global powerhouses. Those include Boeing (BA) and Verizon (VZ).

A generation ago, CEOs might have felt ashamed to be paid so much when their companies weren't contributing to the public infrastructure, said Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute and one of the report's authors. They didn't game their taxes or their workers, he added. They just tried to make a better widget and they built it to last.

"Now, you have a generation of companies that sort of compete on accounting gymnastics," he said. "That's not good for business."

The Institute's report is bound to be controversial. Companies don't like to talk about the federal taxes they may or may not have paid. Consider the drama that erupted in March when The New York Times reported that General Electric (GE) didn't pay any U.S. taxes and instead claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. The top corporate tax rate in the U.S. is 35%, but many companies use shelters, accounting loopholes, credits and other strategies to pay far less.

GE was outraged at the assertion, but wouldn't clarify what its federal income tax bill indeed was. The Times stood by its article, and at the end of the day we didn't really know who to believe.

GE was one of the companies named in the report. The Institute's offered numbers similar to what the Times reported, claiming GE received a $3.3 billion refund on its U.S. federal income taxes. Its chief executive, Jeff Immelt, received $15.2 million in 2010 compensation. President Barack Obama named Immelt in January to lead his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

GE says the Institute's study is inaccurate. "GE pays what it owes, including significant income taxes in 2010 for previous years," said spokewoman Deirdre Latour. "The study also ignores all the state and federal taxes the company pays." Latour did not specify the amounts GE paid in those tax categories.

Another company mentioned in the report was Stanley Black & Decker (SWK), whose CEO John Lundgren took home $32.6 in total compensation last year (that includes $25 million in stock awards). The company did not profit last year, and in fact reported a loss of $183 million in pre-tax income. That resulted in the company receiving a $75 million refund on its federal income taxes.

The company did not respond to a request for comment. But Verizon told The New York Times that the report's numbers were misleading, because it cited the company's tax benefit without acknowledging the billions of dollars in deferred taxes to be paid in the future.

Corporate America seems to be dismissing the institute's findings. It's a left-leaning organization, one that Collins says tries to bring unconventional wisdom to debates about foreign policy, the economy and the environment.

But the report does highlight some truths. The U.S. corporate tax rate is too high and there are too many loopholes, shelters and ways around the system. The study is useful for investors, because while CEO compensation is a hot topic, a company's tax bill is less discussed while still important to the bottom line.
Aug 31, 2011 11:56AM
Pretty Pathetic isn't it that 1 person can make more money per year than the company pays in taxes.  Actually it is a very sad state of economics----and to think an average Joe/Joyce wonders why the economy is not getting any better---ask a CEO!!!!!!!!!
Aug 31, 2011 12:38PM



Aug 31, 2011 12:11PM
who do you think the politicans get their donations from?????   it is a circle,that will not be broken
Aug 31, 2011 1:09PM
You didn't think they would use the money to create jobs did you. Instead more jobs are being outsourced out of the country. Companies need to be penalized for shipping jobs out not given more tax breaks.
Aug 31, 2011 12:56PM
Someone (nomm).....why do you say "ask a CEO" about why the economy is in shambles?  Are you really claiming that they are the real reason for all of this mess?  The bottom line is that although I don't agree with it, these companies are operating within the law (with exception of some isolated cases).  The real problem is how we still allow these idiots in Washington to continue passing laws with loopholes, back-door deals, and other kickbacks to all walks of life.  The simple answer to your complaint it two fold:
1.  Term limits for ALL public offices (local, state, or federal) dependent upon the position held
2.  Simplified tax code with a "flat tax" type structure

Aug 31, 2011 1:24PM

Undeniable proof that "Trickle down" economics DOES NOT and WILL NOT work! These companies are given tax breaks to help them expand, but instead of passing the savings on to their employees the CEO's choose to pocket the money for themselves and send the jobs overseas. I'm not impressed with how the Democrats are running this country but expect more of this under a Republican administration.

Aug 31, 2011 1:26PM

No investigations into what and who caused the financial collapse?!? No prosecutions and no end to the looting?!? Tax payer money (TARP) handed to the looters who then pocketed it?!? The proceeds of the looting taxed at 15%?!? The looters standard of living continuing to soar while their victims continue hemorrhaging jobs and homes?!? Shared sacrifice going forward??? It should have been: "we've been sacrificing for three years while the looters continued to prosper; now its their turn!!!" Instead, Obama just gave the store away. No revenue = No money for work programs like a WPA or a CCC.


TAX THE LOOTING RICH!!! No more discounts! Drop the deductions! Lose the loopholes! Shut the shelters! End the off-shoring! Close the Caymans! Sanction the Swiss (UBS & Credit Suisse)! ELIMINATE the cap on Social Security Tax! These out-sourcing Globalists do not need or deserve discounts!!!

Aug 31, 2011 1:52PM

I hope these ceo's never get a good night's sleep.  greedy sob's   ****s think they can take it with them.  Our government allows these bandits/corps to pay no taxes and then they let them send the jobs out of the country.  They should be penalized for sending them out of the country.  Corporations are full of it saying oh they will pay taxes in the future, it is just an excuse for their crooked ways.


Our congress sucks a big one and they all have their heads of corporations asses.  If one objects then the rest of the good ole boys and gals shut them down so they don't lose their gravy train.  Corporation & ceo's should not be allowed to make massive contributions to campaigns.  They should only be allowed to contribute $100 Maximum to each candidate.

Aug 31, 2011 2:15PM

CEO salarys compared to their workers in 1965 was about 24-1.  In 1989 it was about 70-1, and then in 2005 it was 262-1.  By comparison the median wage in 1979 was $15.91/hour (adjusted for inflation to 2001 dollars).  By 1989 it only rose to 16.63, thats .07 per year increase.  1995 it was a whopping 16.71, .08 cent raise in 6 years.


That is just the salaries,  if you add in the fact that most of the companies these ceo's work for do not pay taxes, it is down right disgusting. 

Aug 31, 2011 2:09PM

The fact that CEOs are not paying as much in taxes as they receive in salaries proves one thing: They take more out of this country and put nothing or next to nothing back. How can  any economy sustain itself with that kind of greed?

Aug 31, 2011 1:18PM
What a suprise. Like the American people didnt know this already and if they didnt, thats why they keep voting for republicans. Keep giving them breaks, dont charge exxon taxes, dont put taxes on the outsourcing companies and soon we will be in a depression worse than the 1920's!!!!
Aug 31, 2011 1:24PM
These companies are bad for America. GREED is not good. Greed is the reason this country is falling apart, But they still don't get it, they don't care. The trickle down effect is bull. There is no trickle down effect. they hoard all the cash they can, and as long as they have their money they don't care what happends to this country as a whole. The biggest problem we face is the U.S government, they are the ones that let them get away with. I can't wait for the day when their castles crumble and they are begging for help because they don't know how to take care of them selves!
Aug 31, 2011 1:50PM

Americans have to stop assuming Big Business and Corporate America has the ONLY right to wealth. Americans have to stop assuming Big Business has the right to gouge prices three, four, five or six times a year. Is there some reason Americans can't figure out when something is priced outrageously? When what they think they need is more only what they want?


For more than 2 decades now, we've watched Big Business savage consumers, their employees and taxpayers. They just assume they can ride herd over us and we will sit back and take it. When they aren't price gouging, they are begging for more, more, more tax exemptions, tax credits and tax breaks until the US Government is the sole source of their revenue for paying off their debts. Then, they go after their employees. They post ads for jobs that make the claim that benefits are offered...until you read the fine print...offered...just not paid for by the company. Paid for by employees almost entirely.


Don't wonder how they managed the world's highest CEO salaries.

Aug 31, 2011 2:23PM

Thank you so much Speaker of the House John Boner (Boehner).  You got exactly what you wanted in the debt talks.  The rich will continue to get richer, there will be no job growth because they will outsource all their jobs to foreign countries who pay their workers low wages, and middle class of America will continue to pay the majority of the taxes so you and corporations like this can give yourself an annual pay raises and slap yourselves on the back in congratulations of what a great job you are all doing. 


I only can hope Americans wake up and vote slime like you out of office. 

Aug 31, 2011 1:24PM
Why do people keep putting the Republicans in office? They care more about CEO's than the regular guy, proven by their record of refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy. The next elections scare the crap out of my, with the likes of Perry, Bachmann and Romney as front runners. If one of these clowns get in, it's going to be very bad in the US.
Aug 31, 2011 1:31PM

Maybe it's time WE THE PEOPLE start looting the rich! Angry


Aug 31, 2011 1:52PM
So now maybe the 90% of america will understand why the crap that the Republicans spew about tax breaks for the big business sector works well. For the big business CEO's and such. Nothing to do with creating jobs. Business knows that they can now lean on people harder to work more for less and not have to hire more people. Same reasons unions started is what is happening at this time. Funny stuff.
Aug 31, 2011 1:35PM
We need a good old fashioned REVOLUTION!! The government does not serve the people, instead it serves corporations.
Aug 31, 2011 1:40PM

10 years of tax cuts at a cost of zillions of dollars to our country and with stupid attempt to balance the shortfall of paying for 2 wars and aftermath of several natural disasters on those who have the least--all in the name that this will allow the corporations to create more jobs.  Well where are the jobs they created in the US--we all know they created jobs in 3rd world countries so they could make even more $ by paying minimal wages and no benefits-but where are the jobs they were to create in the US???

Aug 31, 2011 1:56PM

First of all, No...Business are not just in business to make huge profits they can spend solely on CEO salaries and high risk investments. Businesses can't survive without consumers, employees or taxpayers. That's a fact some Americans want us all to forget.


So, if business only exists to buy and sell other businesses and then turn that into some bizarre high risk game of venture capitalism, how are they NOT responsible for the mess this country is in?


They have no right to operate a business in this country tax free, dump their debts on taxpayers, close financial gaps with price gouging whent risky investments sour or refuse to give employees raises when their salary is obviously out of control. How dare they? They dare because we allow it. We've become a nation of enablers.

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