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    Carried Interest Is Back in the Headlines. Why It’s Not Going Away.

    Changes demanded by Senator Kyrsten Sinema will preserve a tax loophole that Democrats have complained about for years.For years, Democrats and even some Republicans such as former President Donald J. Trump have called for closing the so-called carried interest loophole that allows wealthy hedge fund managers and private equity executives to pay lower tax rates than entry-level employees.Those efforts have always failed to make a big dent in the loophole — and the latest proposal to do so also faltered this week. Senate leaders announced on Thursday that they had agreed to drop a modest change to the tax provision in order to secure the vote of Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, and ensure passage of their Inflation Reduction Act, a wide-ranging climate, health care and tax bill.An agreement reached last week between Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, would have taken a small step in the direction of narrowing carried interest tax treatment. However, it would not have eliminated the loophole entirely and could still have allowed rich business executives to have smaller tax bills than their secretaries, a criticism lobbed by the investor Warren E. Buffett, who has long argued against the preferential tax treatment.The fate of the provision was always in doubt given the Democrats’ slim control of the Senate. And Ms. Sinema had previously opposed a carried interest measure in a much larger bill called Build Back Better, which never secured the 50 Senate votes needed — Republicans have been unified in their opposition to any tax increases.Had the legislation passed in the form that Mr. Schumer and Mr. Manchin presented it last week, the shrinking of the carried interest exception would have brought Democrats a tiny bit closer to realizing their vision of making the tax code more progressive.What is carried interest?Carried interest is the percentage of an investment’s gains that a private equity partner or hedge fund manager takes as compensation. At most private equity firms and hedge funds, the share of profits paid to managers is about 20 percent.Under existing law, that money is taxed at a capital-gains rate of 20 percent for top earners. That’s about half the rate of the top individual income tax bracket, which is 37 percent.The 2017 tax law passed by Republicans largely left the treatment of carried interest intact, after an intense business lobbying campaign, but did narrow the exemption by requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interest income.What would the Manchin-Schumer agreement have done?The agreement between Mr. Manchin and Mr. Schumer would have further narrowed the exemption, in several ways. It would have extended that holding period to five years from three, while changing the way the period is calculated in hopes of reducing taxpayers’ ability to game the system and pay the lower 20 percent tax rate.Senate Democrats say the changes would have raised an estimated $14 billion over a decade, by forcing more income to be taxed at higher individual income tax rates — and less at the preferential rate.The longer holding period would have applied only to those who made $400,000 per year or more, in keeping with President Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on those earning less than that amount.The tax provision echoed a measure that was initially included in the climate and tax bill that House Democrats passed last year but that stalled in the Senate. The carried interest language was removed amid concern that Ms. Sinema, who opposed the measure, would block the overall legislation.Why hasn’t the loophole been closed by now?Many Democrats have tried for years to completely eliminate the tax benefits private equity partners enjoy. Democrats have sought to redefine the management fees they get from partnerships as “gross income,” just like any other kind of income, and to treat capital gains from partners’ investments as ordinary income.Such a move was included in legislation proposed by House Democrats in 2015. The legislation would also have increased the penalties on investors who did not properly apply the proposed changes to their own tax filings.The private equity industry has fought back hard, rejecting outright the basic concepts on which the proposed changes were based.“No such loophole exists,” Steven B. Klinsky, the founder and chief executive of the private equity firm New Mountain Capital, wrote in an opinion article published in The New York Times in 2016. Mr. Klinsky said that when other taxes, including those levied by New York City and the state government, were accounted for, his effective tax rate was between 40 and 50 percent.What would the change have meant for private equity?The private equity industry has defended the tax treatment of carried interest, arguing that it creates incentives for entrepreneurship, healthy risk-taking and investment.The American Investment Council, a lobbying group for the private equity industry, described the proposal as a blow to small business.“Over 74 percent of private equity investment went to small businesses last year,” said Drew Maloney, chief executive of the council. “As small-business owners face rising costs and our economy faces serious headwinds, Washington should not move forward with a new tax on the private capital that is helping local employers survive and grow.”The Managed Funds Association said the changes to the tax code would hurt those who invested on behalf of pension funds and university endowments.“Current law recognizes the importance of long-term investment, but this proposal would punish entrepreneurs in investment partnerships by not affording them the benefit of long-term capital gains treatment,” said Bryan Corbett, the chief executive of the association.“It is crucial Congress avoids proposals that harm the ability of pensions, foundations and endowments to benefit from high-value, long-term investments that create opportunity for millions of Americans.”Jim Tankersley More

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    Loans Could Burn Start-Up Workers in Downturn

    SAN FRANCISCO — Last year, Bolt Financial, a payments start-up, began a new program for its employees. They owned stock options in the company, some worth millions of dollars on paper, but couldn’t touch that money until Bolt sold or went public. So Bolt began providing them with loans — some reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars — against the value of their stock.In May, Bolt laid off 200 workers. That set off a 90-day period for those who had taken out the loans to pay the money back. The company tried to help them figure out options for repayment, said a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke anonymously because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.Bolt’s program was the most extreme example of a burgeoning ecosystem of loans for workers at privately held tech start-ups. In recent years, companies such as Quid and Secfi have sprung up to offer loans or other forms of financing to start-up employees, using the value of their private company shares as a sort of collateral. These providers estimate that start-up employees around the world hold at least $1 trillion in equity to lend against.But as the start-up economy now deflates, buffeted by economic uncertainty, soaring inflation and rising interest rates, Bolt’s situation serves as a warning about the precariousness of these loans. While most of them are structured to be forgiven if a start-up fails, employees could still face a tax bill because the loan forgiveness is treated as taxable income. And in situations like Bolt’s, the loans may be difficult to repay on short notice.“No one’s been thinking about what happens when things go down,” said Rick Heitzmann, an investor at FirstMark Capital. “Everyone’s only thinking about the upside.”The proliferation of these loans has ignited a debate in Silicon Valley. Proponents said the loans were necessary for employees to participate in tech’s wealth-creation engine. But critics said the loans created needless risk in an already-risky industry and were reminiscent of the dot-com era in the early 2000s, when many tech workers were badly burned by loans related to their stock options.Ted Wang, a former start-up lawyer and an investor at Cowboy Ventures, was so alarmed by the loans that he published a blog post in 2014, “Playing With Fire,” advising against them for most people. Mr. Wang said he got a fresh round of calls about the loans anytime the market overheated and always felt obligated to explain the risks.“I’ve seen this go wrong, bad wrong,” he wrote in his blog post.Start-up loans stem from the way workers are typically paid. As part of their compensation, most employees at privately held tech companies receive stock options. The options must eventually be exercised, or bought at a set price, to own the stock. Once someone owns the shares, he or she cannot usually cash them out until the start-up goes public or sells.That’s where loans and other financing options come in. Start-up stock is used as a form of collateral for these cash advances. The loans vary in structure, but most providers charge interest and take a percentage of the worker’s stock when the company sells or goes public. Some are structured as contracts or investments. Unlike the loans offered by Bolt, most are known as “nonrecourse” loans, meaning employees are not on the hook to repay them if their stock loses its value.This lending industry has boomed in recent years. Many of the providers were created in the mid-2010s as hot start-ups like Uber and Airbnb put off initial public offerings of stock as long as they could, hitting private market valuations in the tens of billions of dollars.That meant many of their workers were bound by “golden handcuffs,” unable to leave their jobs because their stock options had become so valuable that they could not afford to pay the taxes, based on the current market value, on exercising them. Others became tired of sitting on the options while they waited for their companies to go public.The loans have given start-up employees cash to use in the meantime, including money to cover the costs of buying their stock options. Even so, many tech workers do not always understand the intricacies of equity compensation.“We work with supersmart Stanford computer science A.I. graduates, but no one explains it to them,” said Oren Barzilai, chief executive of Equitybee, a site that helps start-up workers find investors for their stock. Secfi, a provider of financing and other services, has now issued $700 million of cash financing to start-up workers since it opened in 2017. Quid has issued hundreds of millions’ worth of loans and other financing to hundreds of people since 2016. Its latest $320 million fund is backed by institutions, including Oaktree Capital Management, and it charges those who take out loans the origination fees and interest.So far, less than 2 percent of Quid’s loans have been underwater, meaning the market value of the stock has fallen below that of the loan, said Josh Berman, a founder of the company. Secfi said that 35 percent of its loans and financing had been fully paid back, and that its loss rate was 2 to 3 percent.But Frederik Mijnhardt, Secfi’s chief executive, predicted that the next six to 12 months could be difficult for tech workers if their stock options decline in value in a downturn but they had taken out loans at a higher value.“Employees could be facing a reckoning,” he said.Such loans have become more popular in recent years, said J.T. Forbus, an accountant at Bogdan & Frasco who works with start-up employees. A big reason is that traditional banks won’t lend against start-up equity. “There’s too much risk,” he said.Start-up employees pay $60 billion a year to exercise their stock options, Equitybee estimated. For various reasons, including an inability to afford them, more than half the options issued are never exercised, meaning the workers abandon part of their compensation. Mr. Forbus said he’d had to carefully explain the terms of such deals to his clients. “The contracts are very difficult to understand, and they don’t really play out the math,” he said. Some start-up workers regret taking the loans. Grant Lee, 39, spent five years working at Optimizely, a software start-up, accumulating stock options worth millions. When he left the company in 2018, he had a choice to buy his options or forfeit them. He decided to exercise them, taking out a $400,000 loan to help with the cost and taxes.In 2020, Optimizely was acquired by Episerver, a Swedish software company, for a price that was lower than its last private valuation of $1.1 billion. That meant the stock options held by employees at the higher valuation were worth less. For Mr. Lee, the value of his Optimizely stock fell below that of the loan he had taken out. While his loan was forgiven, he still owed around $15,000 in taxes since loan forgiveness counts as taxable income.“I got nothing, and on top of that, I had to pay taxes for getting nothing,” he said.The office of Envoy, a start-up that makes workplace software, in San Francisco. The company began a loan program in May.Lauren Segal for The New York TimesOther companies use the loans to give their workers more flexibility. In May, Envoy, a San Francisco start-up that makes workplace software, used Quid to offer nonrecourse loans to dozens of its employees so they could get cash then. Envoy, which was recently valued at $1.4 billion, did not encourage or discourage people from taking the loans, said Larry Gadea, the chief executive.“If people believe in the company and want to double down on it and see how much better they can do, this is a great option,” he said.In a downturn, loan terms may become more onerous. The I.P.O. market is frozen, pushing potential payoffs further into the future, and the depressed stock market means private start-up shares are probably worth less than they were during boom times, especially in the last two years.Quid is adding more underwriters to help find the proper value for the start-up stock it lends against. “We’re being more conservative than we have in the past,” Mr. Berman said.Bolt appears to be a rarity in that it offered high-risk personal recourse loans to all its employees. Ryan Breslow, Bolt’s founder, announced the program with a congratulatory flourish on Twitter in February, writing that it showed “we simply CARE more about our employees than most.”The company’s program was meant to help employees afford exercising their shares and cut down on taxes, he said.Bolt declined to comment on how many laid-off employees had been affected by the loan paybacks. It offered employees the choice of giving their start-up shares back to the company to repay their loans. Business Insider reported earlier on the offer.Mr. Breslow, who stepped down as Bolt’s chief executive in February, did not respond to a request for comment on the layoffs and loans.In recent months, he has helped found Prysm, a provider of nonrecourse loans for start-up equity. In pitch materials sent to investors that were viewed by The New York Times, Prysm, which did not respond to a request for comment, advertised Mr. Breslow as its first customer. Borrowing against the value of his stock in Bolt, the presentation said, Mr. Breslow took a loan for $100 million. More

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    How $2 Trillion in Tax Increases in Biden's Bill Target Companies and the Rich

    The proposal to fund the president’s sprawling spending plan mostly turns up the dial on more conventional tax policies, while trying to curb maneuvers that allow tax avoidance.WASHINGTON — President Biden’s new plan to pay for his climate change and social policy package includes nearly $2 trillion in tax increases on corporations and the rich. But many of the more contentious and untested proposals that Democrats have been considering in recent weeks were left on the cutting-room floor.The latest proposal reflects the reality that moderate Democrats are unwilling to back certain ideas aimed at raising money, including taxing the unrealized capital gains of billionaires and giving the Internal Revenue Service more insight into the finances of taxpayers. Ultimately, the package of tax increases mostly turns up the dial on more conventional tax policies, while adding some new wrinkles to curb maneuvers that allow tax avoidance.“I think in terms of who they’re targeting, they did decide to target the larger population of very rich people and not just get the money from a very small group of superrich people,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.Here’s a look at what’s in the new tax plan:Taxing the rich.Instead of a wealth tax or a special tax on billionaires, Mr. Biden rolled out a new “surtax” on income for multimillionaires and billionaires. It would effectively raise the top tax rate on ordinary income to 45 percent for the highest earners.Those with adjusted gross income of more than $10 million would face an additional 5 percent tax on top of the 37 percent marginal tax rate they already pay. Those making more than $25 million would face an extra 3 percent surtax.The Biden administration estimates that these tax increases would hit the top .02 percent of taxpayers and raise $230 billion of tax revenue over a decade.The plan also aims to ensure that people making more than $400,000 are not able to use loopholes to avoid paying a 3.8 percent Medicare tax. The White House estimates that provision alone will generate $250 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years.Making corporations pay more.Borrowing a page from his campaign playbook, Mr. Biden wants to impose a 15 percent minimum tax on profitable companies that have little to no federal tax liability. Many profitable companies are able to reduce or eliminate their tax liability through the use of tax credits, deductions and previous losses that can carry over. The new tax would apply to companies with more than $1 billion in so-called book income — profits that firms report to their shareholders but not to the I.R.S.The plan is meant to ensure that the approximately 200 companies that pay no corporate income tax will have to pay some money to the federal government.The White House estimates the provision, which was also included in a plan presented by Senate Democrats, will raise an additional $325 billion in tax revenue over a decade.Chye-Ching Huang, the executive director of the Tax Law Center at New York University, said on Thursday that the proposal could mean that financial statements where book income is reported could become the new “locus for tax avoidance.”A separate proposal would also enact a 1 percent surcharge on corporate stock buybacks. Buybacks have surged along with the stock market, with cash-rich firms like Apple, JPMorgan Chase and Exxon spending billions of dollars each year to buy back, then retire, shares in their own companies. That can help drive up the company’s stock price, enriching both shareholders and corporate executives whose compensation is often tied to their firm’s stock performance.The provision is projected to raise $125 billion over 10 years.Ending the tax race to the bottom.Mr. Biden’s framework would raise the tax that companies pay on foreign earnings to 15 percent, putting the United States in line with a global minimum tax that is being completed at the Group of 20 summit in Rome this week.The Biden administration initially wanted to double the current rate to 21 percent from 10.5 percent. In settling on 15 percent, the U.S. rate would match what was agreed to by the 136 countries participating in the global deal and could blunt criticism that American companies will face a competitive disadvantage.The global agreement is meant to end corporate tax havens and stop what Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen describes as the “race to the bottom” of declining corporate tax rates around the world.To deter companies from finding ways to avoid the tax, the plan would impose a penalty rate on foreign corporations based in countries that are not part of the agreement.The Biden administration projects the international plans would raise $350 billion over a decade.Narrowing the tax gap.White House and Treasury Department officials have spent months pushing a proposal to narrow the $7 trillion gap in taxes that are owed by individuals and businesses but not collected. The administration initially wanted to invest $80 billion in additional enforcement staffing at the I.R.S. and require banks to hand over more information about the finances of their customers.Under the new proposal, the I.R.S. would get more money to ramp up audits of people making more than $400,000. However, the new bank reporting proposal — which the Treasury has called critical to its ability to hunt down hidden revenue — was conspicuously absent. A lobbying campaign from banks prompted huge blowback from lawmakers, including Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat whose vote is critical to passing the overall package.Treasury officials and a group of Senate Democrats are continuing to negotiate with Mr. Manchin on narrowing the proposal in a way that he could support.As it stands, the plan to bolster I.R.S. enforcement is projected to raise $400 billion over a decade, down from the $700 billion in the original proposal.Reducing the deficit, maybe.Mr. Biden said on Thursday that his plans were “fiscally responsible” and claimed that the proposals, if enacted, would reduce the country’s budget deficit.The $2 trillion of proposed tax increases would more than offset the $1.85 trillion in spending on housing, child care and climate initiatives. However, nonpartisan scorekeepers such as the Congressional Budget Office have in the past offered less rosy projections of what Biden administration proposals might actually raise in revenue.Additional I.R.S. enforcement personnel will take years to get up to speed, and audits could be less effective without the additional bank information the Treasury Department is seeking.Some Democratic lawmakers are also still fighting for the inclusion of provisions that could actually cost money, including a partial or temporary restoration of SALT, the state and local tax deduction that Republicans capped in 2017. Last-minute additions such as that could add to the cost of the overall package. More

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    Global Shortages During Coronavirus Reveal Failings of Just in Time Manufacturing

    Global shortages of many goods reflect the disruption of the pandemic combined with decades of companies limiting their inventories.In the story of how the modern world was constructed, Toyota stands out as the mastermind of a monumental advance in industrial efficiency. The Japanese automaker pioneered so-called Just In Time manufacturing, in which parts are delivered to factories right as they are required, minimizing the need to stockpile them. More