A certain presidential candidate has been in the news lately for the $916 million business loss he recorded in 1995, allowing him to avoid paying federal taxes potentially for another 18 years thanks to net operating loss carryforwards.
While Calcbench takes no official view on the merits of Donald Trump’s candidacy, this particular episode of the campaign led us to wonder what other companies have claimed for NOLs lately, and how large their tax benefits might be. As always, the Calcbench databases made answering that question a breeze. Let’s take a look.
We begin at the Data Query page, and we’ll set our peer group to be the S&P 500, looking at NOLs for calendar year 2015. To set that as our search parameter, we scroll halfway down the page to the Footnotes section, and press “Tax” to show our footnote choices there. Under the tax category another checklist of choices appears, and the 12th one down is “Deferred Tax Assets, Net.” Immediately under that choice is “Deferred Tax Assets Operating Loss Carryforwards.”
That’s our box. Check it, then jump to the bottom of the page to export the findings to Excel.
In total, the S&P 500 claimed $277.4 billion in NOLs last year. More than 80 percent of the companies (406 of 498) claimed at least some NOL, and the Top 10 by dollar amount are as follows:
We can also put Trump’s $915 million loss into more context. Adjusted for inflation, that loss in 1995 would equal about $1.44 billion today. A loss that large would rank him No. 52 on our list of 2015 losses, right between Baxter International ($1.489 billion) and Cisco Systems ($1.437 billion).
We’ve also seen several media reports that Trump’s $915 million loss accounted for 1.9 percent of all net operating losses in Corporate America that year. Our databases don’t go back that far, so we can’t confirm that number. But again, for context: AIG’s $12.2 billion loss last year accounts for 4.4 percent of all losses in the S&P 500, Micron Technology’s $11.2 billion loss accounts for 4 percent.
A loss equal to 1.9 percent of all $277.4 billion claimed last year would be roughly $5.27 billion, and only squeak into the 10th spot on our Top 10 list—large, yes, but not yuuuuge.
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