Here is a great little example of the distortionary effects that taxation can have. Taxes have a ‘deadweight loss’ over and above the amount collected by the taxes. Here the loss is an asset that in the absence of taxation would continue to be used.
Newly independent Aol is still struggling with the fate of Bebo, the social network they acquired for $850 million in 2008.
No one argues that Aol underpaid for Bebo. And the social network has fallen from 22 million monthly unique visitors when it was acquired to just 14.6 million today (Comscore worldwide). But even so, Bebo clearly has some value on the open market.
Despite that value, Aol’s best financial option for Bebo will likely be to abandon it rather than sell it, say corporate tax experts we’ve spoken with.
Here’s why – complicated corporate tax rules will let Aol write off the full purchase price of Bebo if they declare it worthless and abandon the asset. With Aol’s effective tax rate of around 45%, that’s $380 million and change in their pocket in taxes that they’d be able to avoid.
A sale of Bebo would almost certainly be less attractive. If someone were to pay them $100 million for the service, which is optimistic, Aol could still offset the remaining $750 million as a tax loss. But it could only apply against long term capital gains, and Aol doesn’t have any to offset against. They’d have to carry that loss forward and hope for future gains to offset it against.