IRS income and corporate earnings

When the Treasury released an update for the budget in June one of the notable aspects arising from the figures was that revenue, particularly from businesses, is evaporating. The operating income from large corporations is not a perfect sign of future government collections from companies, but it is, at least, a sign that the tax man may have a bad year.

Part of the difficulty with the Budget is that spending may be close to plans while receipts may not. The Administration made fairly optimistic projections for the strength of GDP growth and the moderating of the rise in unemployment. Now it faces the prospect that corporations are losing money, or that their profits are shrinking, compromising its tax base forecasts.

Microsoft (MSFT) is a case in point. Its provision for income taxes for its fiscal year ending June 30 fell from $6.133 billion last year to $5,552 in the period that just ended. That is $881 million, which is, even by the standards of the federal Budget, a lot of money. Another example is American Express (AXP), which in the last quarter had a provision for income taxes of $76 million, much lower than the $114 million provision in the last year's quarter.

Provisions for income taxes on public company P&Ls are not an entirely accurate proxy for IRS receipts but they are a reasonable way to gauge what the government will collect. Those receipts look pretty slim.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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