Income trust foreign takeovers may be a good thing

There’s been a lot of activity lately on the income trust front. Foreign firms are making bids left and right to acquire the Canadian entities, in the wake of the 31.5% trust tax introduced by the Conservative government.

Jack Mintz, a professor at Rotman, the business school at the University of Toronto, discusses in a recent Globe and Mail article that trust takeovers are not always a bad thing:

Trusts were shielded from takeovers prior to the federal trust tax announcement because their relatively high market values made purchases more prohibitive. It allowed managers to avoid the threat of takeover and therefore encouraged inefficiency.

Makes sense to me. I’ve come around to the idea that trusts were not all they were cracked up to be. That the trust tax is a good thing. Maybe not for investors who plowed most of their assets into units instead of shares or bonds, but it didn’t make sense that a business could choose to structure itself in a way such that it would pay no tax while other entities would.

Prof. Mintz says trusts could end up being run more efficiently and productively by new management.

“When you are operating as an income trust and have the high valuations at that point – and the very high distributions – it made it difficult for someone to come in and do a takeover based on such a very high valuation,” Mr. Mintz said.

Canada has been lagging in productivity for years compared to our neighbours to the south. This could help close the gap, but it could also result in a dramatic increase in foreign ownership, which could potentially lower tax revenues for the government which set in motion this chain of events in an effort to strengthen the tax base!

What do you think? Could trust takeovers be a good thing for our productivity? Will the increased productivity make up for the potential lost tax revenues?

8 replies on “Income trust foreign takeovers may be a good thing”

  1. Haven’t given this a lot of thought, but if they continue to operate here, aren’t they going to pay tax on earnings in Canada? I may be forgetting some foreign tax credits, but the idea that “they’re doing business in this country, so they’re paying tax here” sticks out in my mind.

    Maybe the rates will change, but if the vaunted efficiency thing works out, it could lead to even more business and, by extension, tax revenue.

    As long as “efficiency” isn’t just a code-word for massive layoffs.

  2. Yeah I wasn’t entirely clear on that either. The foreign tax credits should work to eliminate the tax they would pay in their home country on income earned here, so that they would pay it here only.

  3. Come on, give your head a shake, since when is it good for a “sovereign country” to have its economy dominated and controlled by foreign owners – never, if you wish to set any policy that is based on peoples needs, rather than the corporate agendas that own the marketplace!

    Canada has given control of our vast natural gas, our oil and each year an unprecedented and increasing number of businesses over to foreign control.

    The facade of sovereignty is wearing thin as we dumb down to the lowest common denominator and move to a NA currency (the Amero) under US fed control.

    IMO, Canada is sovereign in name only and has politicians who seem hell bent on completely selling us out!

  4. Bob – Thanks for commenting! :)

    We’re a long way off from being “dominated and controlled” by foreign owners. As well, domestic owners want the same profit as foreign ones from their investments. I think you’re romanticizing Canadian ownership.

    I’m wondering what you mean by “policy”. If it is government policy, then I’m not sure how foreign takeovers will have any effect. If it is corporate policy, this will continue to be based on maximizing profit for shareholders – what is this bit about “people’s needs”? More romanticizing?

    The point of the post was that the trusts being taken over were not being run as efficiently – because of their tax-free status they didn’t need to be. Whether US-based management or Zimbabwean-based management can turn these inefficient organizations around is of no one’s concern. You’re still just as free to buy the units.

  5. Neil …. I *completely disagree* with your assertion that Canada is a long way from being dominated and controlled by foreign owners.

    – – – >

    Income Trust Buyouts Gaining Pace
    Globe and Mail
    “The private equity takeover binge that’s fuelling stock price jumps accelerated in Canada in the first quarter of the year, when buyout firms snapped up companies worth $5.1-billion.”
    – – – –
    Foreign ownership in Canada is somewhere around 40%. Foreign ownership in the U.S. is around 6%. Of THAT 6%, about 6% is owned by Canadian firms.

    Stats Can has statistics up to 2004 available online and the foreign ownership numbers (about 32% foreign ownership in 2004) have increased dramatically since then.
    – – – –
    As the Trust tax changes have now accelerated the foreign takeovers, here are a few links that may provide some insight for you:
    – – –
    Manulife’s CEO calls for action on foreign takeovers – he said, Canada is in a more vulnerable position.”The world is awash with capital,” he said. “We are a small country with a relatively small population. Canadian companies typically aren’t of a size to be global players. “:
    http://www.cbc.ca/money/story/2007/05/03/dalessandro.html
    – – –
    “Corporate concern over this wave of takeovers has been expressed by such respected figures as Onex Corp. chief executive officer Gerry Schwartz, Peter Munk of Barrick Gold Corp., Manulife Financial Corp.’s Dominic D’Alessandro, Royal Bank of Canada CEO Gordon Nixon and Alberta oil and gas mogul Dick Haskayne.”
    http://www.thestar.com/article/215607
    – – –
    “No other developed country has, or will, allow foreign ownership to happen to the extent that it has happened in Canada.”
    http://www.vivelecanada.ca/article.php/20050110090043807

  6. I wrote an essay for a politics course in second year, and I did pretty well on it. It was about school vouchers, and I argued for them. But I lost marks for using too many references that were clearly going to favour vouchers. My argument lacked balance.

    Andrew Coyne:

    Between 1999 and 2005, the number of head offices in Canada grew by 4.2%; the number of head office jobs climbed by 10.7%, to nearly 175,000. And where did most of that growth come from? Foreign-owned firms. … ”Foreign firms add staff because they do as much, if not more, research and development than domestic firms.”

    Another StatsCan study cites a large body of research confirming that “foreign owned plants operating in Canada exhibited higher labour productivity, and tended to adopt new advanced technologies, earlier and faster than their domestically owned counterparts.”

    Clearly there is some disagreement on the interpretation of statistics from the same source and time period.

  7. … ever since the heated Mulroney/Turner election over Free Trade, where dissenters were labeled as ‘lacking in confidence and afraid of playing on the world stage’, brain-massaged Canadians have been putting up a brave face, while the rest of the world gobbled up ownership of our rare and now highly coveted resources.

    Unlike many Arab nations, who from the get-go, always prohibited foreign ownership of their coveted resources, Canada has bought into the mindset served up by the global juggernaughts and their PR machines, and has willingly handed over control of our resources to the highest bidders.

    Debating whether or not foreign ownership will enhance our productivity as we rise towards 50% foreign control of our entire economy, simply demonstrates to many (perhaps not you Neil) how far we have fallen from any common sense ability to think for oursleves and take control our own destiny as a nation.

    Oh Canada, we have NOT stood on guard for thee!

  8. Originally I just wanted to blog about how income trust takeovers are occurring because their tax-free status necessarily introduces management inefficiency.

    The debate about Canada’s natural resources is an important one, but far too political for this blog. The debate will appropriately centre around control and strategy in a global age, but also freedom and choice.

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