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Do taxes influence the organizational boundaries of international firms? An incomplete-contracting model with empirical evidence

Xiangjun Ma

The Journal of International Trade & Economic Development, 2017, vol. 26, issue 7, 801-828

Abstract: Firms that import intermediate goods choose between outsourcing and vertical integration. When corporate tax rates differ between the home country and the foreign country, the possibility of shifting income and reducing overall tax payments through transfer pricing makes integration more attractive than outsourcing. This paper develops an incomplete-contracting model in which an international firm facing tax rate differentials chooses whether or not to internalize intermediate transactions in order to trade off production efficiency and tax minimization. By shifting economic activities across borders, an integrated multinational enterprise establishes a proper transfer price and reaches the optimal profit-splitting arrangement that maximizes its total after-tax profit. This paper finds that cross-country differences in corporate tax rates and product intangibility play important roles in affecting firms’ internalization decision. Empirical analysis employing the US data also supports the theoretical findings. The positive correlation of the integration level of US firms and tax rate differentials between the US and foreign countries remains in the sample excluding tax havens.

Date: 2017
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DOI: 10.1080/09638199.2017.1303744

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