Corporate Tax Avoidance and Firm Value

(w/ D. Dharmapala) Review of Economics and Statistics, 91:3 (August 2009), 537-546.

Do corporate tax avoidance activities advance shareholder interests? This paper tests alternative theories of corporate tax avoidance that yield distinct predictions on the valuation of corporate tax avoidance. Unexplained differences between income reported to capital markets and to tax authorities are used to proxy for tax avoidance activity. These "book-tax" gaps are shown to be larger when firms are alleged to be involved in tax shelters. OLS estimates indicate that the average effect of tax avoidance on firm value is not significantly different from zero, but is positive for well-governed firms as predicted by an agency perspective on corporate tax avoidance. An exogenous change in tax regulations that affected the ability of some firms to avoid taxes is used to construct instruments for tax avoidance activity. The IV estimates yield larger overall effects and reinforce the basic result that higher quality firm governance leads to a larger effect of tax avoidance on firm value. The results are robust to a wide variety of tests for alternative explanations. Taken together, the results suggest that the simple view of corporate tax avoidance as a transfer of resources from the state to shareholders is incomplete given the agency problems characterizing shareholder-manager relations.