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Trump's plan to cut corporate tax would be profit tailwind

International
Washington - US President Donald Trump’s plan to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent would be a tailwind for profitability at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, but won’t fundamentally change how its business units operate, Buffett said.

“The deferred taxes that are applicable to unrealised gains on securities would all be applicable to us,” Buffett said during Berkshire’s annual shareholders meeting on Saturday.

“We have $90 billion or $95 billion in gains, and our owners, dollar for dollar, will participate in that If the rate were to drop 10 percent, that $9.5 billion is real.”

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Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett prepares to hug table tennis player Ariel Hsing, bottom, in front of the Berkshire-owned Borsheims jewelry store in Omaha, Neb., Sunday, May 7, 2017, as the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting winds to an end. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Buffett, a Democrat who vocally supported Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful White House candidacy, added that the impact of lower corporate taxes would not translate into higher profits across all of Berkshire’s many dozens of businesses.

Regulated utility units, for example, are not likely to enjoy lower tax rates as savings, in Buffett’s view, would be passed on to customers.

He also said that a lot of the benefits of lower corporate taxes would likely be competed away.

Buffett said: “We’ve had a lot of (tax cuts) in our lifetimes - it’s certain that some of a lower corporate rate would be competed away, and it’s sure that some of it would inure to the benefit of shareholders.”

In February, Barclays analyst Jay Gelb said that cutting the corporate tax rate even to 20 percent could boost Berkshire’s book value by $27 billion because of a decline in its deferred tax liability.

A cut to 15 percent could boost book value by $36 billion, he said.

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“I can’t recall sending anything out to our managers saying: ‘Let’s do this because the tax law is going to change',” Buffett said.

Berkshire vice-chairperson Charlie Munger, who was also answering shareholder questions during the annual meeting, agreed with the assessment.

“We’re not going to change anything at the railroad just for some little tax jiggle,” Munger said, referring to Berkshire’s BNSF unit.

Berkshire Hathaway on Friday said first-quarter profit fell 27 percent, reflecting a big decline in investment gains.

Net income fell to $4.06 billion, or $2.469 per Class A share, from $5.59 billion, or $3.401, a year earlier. Operating profit, which excludes investment and derivative gains and losses, fell 5 percent to $3.56 billion, or $2.163 per Class A share, from $3.74 billion, or $2.274.

Buffett believes Berkshire’s investment and derivative gains in any given quarter are often meaningless, but accounting rules require Berkshire to report them in its earnings statements.

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