Tom Bergin London

BURGER King may have taken a lot of flak in the past week for a deal that should curb its US tax bill but in many ways it is consistent with the burger chain’s aggressive tax-reduction strategies in recent years.

Some US legislators and other critics attacked the firm that is the home of the Whopper for deciding to move its tax base to Canada from the US through its proposed purchase of Ontario-based coffee and doughnut chain Tim Hortons. They say that it will allow Burger King to avoid paying some US taxes.

That would be nothing new. A Reuters analysis of Burger King’s regulatory filings in the US and overseas, which was also reviewed by accounting experts, shows that it has been making major efforts to reduce its US tax bill for some time.

By massaging down US taxable profits while maximising the profits it reports in low-tax jurisdictions overseas, Burger King is able to operate one of the most tax-efficient businesses in the US fast food industry.

The chain’s effective tax rate of 26 percent over the past three years compares with rates above 31 percent at McDonald’s, Starbucks and Dunkin Brands Group.

KFC and Pizza Hut owner Yum Brands did have a similar tax rate to Burger King, though this reflects the 74 percent of its revenues that were generated outside the US, in markets where tax rates are typically about 25 percent.

The Burger King rate is 30 percent lower than the average tax rate it paid in the five years before it was bought in 2010 by Brazilian private equity group 3G, still the company’s majority shareholder.

The accounting experts say the Canadian move will allow Burger King to double down on those efforts as it will open up new tax-saving opportunities for the company. It could, for example, apply the tax structures it currently employed in major markets like Germany and Britain, and which allowed the group to operate almost tax free in those places, to its business in the US, they said.

And that could mean Uncle Sam will lose corporate tax income that Burger King would have to pay under its current structure. Burger King declined to comment on its current US tax arrangements. But it has said the so-called “inversion” deal to buy Tim Hortons for $11.5 billion (R122.6bn), and move the headquarters to Canada, was based on Canada being the biggest market for the combined firm. – Reuters