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Lunch Beat

Bramwell's Lunch Beat: Grant Thornton Settles, Business or Asset, McD’s Taxes

Dec 3rd 2015
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Grant Thornton settles SEC charges over audits
Audit firm Grant Thornton LLP and two of its partners agreed to settle US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charges that they ignored red flags and fraud risks at two publicly traded companies – Assisted Living Concepts (ALC) and Broadwind Energy, wrote Suzanne Barlyn and Dena Aubin of Reuters. Grant Thornton admitted wrongdoing and will pay a $3 million penalty, as well as forfeit about $1.5 million in audit fees. “We are pleased to have these several years-old matters resolved and we maintain a strong commitment to continually improving the quality of our work,” Grant Thornton said in a statement. The SEC also fined and suspended two Grant Thornton partners involved in the audits, which spanned 2009 to 2011. The two auditors – Melissa Koeppel and Jeffrey Robinson – recognized that representations made by ALC and Broadwind management were questionable, but accepted those statements and failed to get supporting evidence.

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Clearer definition of a business called boon for CFOs
David M. Katz of CFO wrote that responding to complaints that companies are being driven to overly cautious M&A accounting, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) last week drew what it thinks is a clearer line between what a business is and what assets are. By clarifying the difference between the definition of a business and that of an asset, the proposal would make it easier for CFOs to report that their companies are acquiring an asset rather than a business, according to Georgia Tech accounting professor Charles Mulford. And that could be a big boon for their companies in terms of saved time and expense. “You don't want to be wrong, so there was a tendency to call acquisitions businesses that might have been more easily just been characterized as an asset,” Mulford said. Under the revisions proposed by the FASB, CFOs could “more quickly and easily determine that an acquisition is an asset as opposed to a business,” he adds.

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Dems optimistic for ‘Cadillac tax' repeal
Democrats are growing more confident they'll win their battle with the White House over whether to include the repeal of Obamacare's “Cadillac tax” on high-cost insurance plans in a package of tax extensions both parties want to approve before the end of the year, wrote Naomi Jagoda and Sarah Ferris of The Hill. The tax extenders package has also become a better option for the Cadillac tax's repeal because there are no plans to offset extending the tax cuts with corresponding spending cuts. “There's clearly discussions going on for this package,” Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) said at a Capitol Hill briefing on Wednesday. Repealing the Cadillac tax would cost about $93 billion, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office released on Wednesday. The biggest hurdle to repealing the tax is the Obama administration, which has defended it as both a key source of revenue and as an incentive to reduce the overall costs of health care.

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EU hits McDonald's with full-blown tax investigation
European Union (EU) regulators confirmed on Thursday they have opened a full-blown probe into McDonald's tax affairs in Luxembourg, warning that a tax deal granted to the fast-food chain in 2009 may have illegally reduced its tax burden, wrote Tom Fairless of the Wall Street Journal. The European Commission said it would examine whether a 2009 tax ruling granted to a Luxembourg unit of the restaurant chain, McDonald's Europe Franchising, had allowed it to avoid paying corporate tax in either Luxembourg or the United States. The unit, which collects royalty fees from McDonald's franchisees across Europe and Russia, has paid no corporate tax in Luxembourg since 2009 despite recording large profits. The commission's preliminary view is that the Luxembourg ruling “may have granted McDonald's an advantageous tax treatment in breach of EU” law. Luxembourg's government said it would “fully cooperate” with the investigation.

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Quick Links:

  • One month remains to renew tax extenders (Tax Foundation)
  • The popular tax breaks that could go away (yet again) (Washington Post)
  • Want to stop corporate tax deserters? Start with this. (Washington Post)
  • Exxon withholds tax data from global transparency group (Reuters)
  • Households forced to plug corporate tax gap, says OECD (The Guardian)
  • The tax Europe can't afford not to pay (New York Times)
  • Yahoo is looking for a new way around Alibaba taxes (Bloomberg View)
  • The case of the mislabeled ABLE account (TaxVox)
  • The ACA penalty tax is going up if you don't get health insurance (TaxVox)
  • What's next for Microsoft after some expensive table pounding? (Tax Analysts)

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