Monday, August 04, 2008

What is a "Windfall" profit, and how big should it be? And who should it belong to?

And how do the profits of "greedy" Oil companies compare to the profits of other businesses? This piece from the Wall Street Journal looks at those very questions:

What Is a 'Windfall' Profit?
[...] Take Exxon Mobil, which on Thursday reported the highest quarterly profit ever and is the main target of any "windfall" tax surcharge. Yet if its profits are at record highs, its tax bills are already at record highs too. Between 2003 and 2007, Exxon paid $64.7 billion in U.S. taxes, exceeding its after-tax U.S. earnings by more than $19 billion. That sounds like a government windfall to us, but perhaps we're missing some Obama-Durbin business subtlety.

Maybe they have in mind profit margins as a percentage of sales. Yet by that standard Exxon's profits don't seem so large. Exxon's profit margin stood at 10% for 2007, which is hardly out of line with the oil and gas industry average of 8.3%, or the 8.9% for U.S. manufacturing (excluding the sputtering auto makers).

If that's what constitutes windfall profits, most of corporate America would qualify. Take aerospace or machinery -- both 8.2% in 2007. Chemicals had an average margin of 12.7%. Computers: 13.7%. Electronics and appliances: 14.5%. Pharmaceuticals (18.4%) and beverages and tobacco (19.1%) round out the Census Bureau's industry rankings. The latter two double the returns of Big Oil, though of course government has already became a tacit shareholder in Big Tobacco through the various legal settlements that guarantee a revenue stream for years to come.

In a tax bill on oil earlier this summer, no fewer than 51 Senators voted to impose a 25% windfall tax on a U.S.-based oil company whose profits grew by more than 10% in a single year and wasn't investing enough in "renewable" energy. This suggests that a windfall is defined by profits growing too fast. No one knows where that 10% came from, besides political convenience. But if 10% is the new standard, the tech industry is going to have to rethink its growth arc. So will LG, the electronics company, which saw its profits grow by 505% in 2007. Abbott Laboratories hit 110%.

If Senator Obama is as exercised about "outrageous" profits as he says he is, he might also have to turn on a few liberal darlings. [...]

It goes on to give some examples of institutions that are regarded highly by liberals, that have greater profit margins than big oil. Why not seize their profits?

Because this is about politics, not economics. What Obama and the Democrats are proposing is the Venezuela solution. We don't need that kind of thuggery in our government.

How about a bi-partisian American Solution instead?

Who is benefiting from Oil company profits? Neal Boortz spells it out:

[...] Just who owns the profits these oil companies have earned? That would be the stockholders. And just who might these stockholders be? Well, about 1.5 percent of them are oil company executives. The rest are the rank and file Americans who own mutual funds and workers who will rely on pension plans for their retirements. Pension plans and mutual funds, you may not know, are major investors in oil company stocks. This means that the retirement incomes of school teachers, firemen, police officers, municipal workers, flight attendants, warehousemen, truck drivers, hotel employees and other service sector workers and others may rely in part on the financial health of the oil companies in which their pension funds hold stock. Obama the Magnificent wants these pension funds to cough up some of their earnings so that he can hand out checks to voters. Too bad the government-educated masses can't see through this, and too bad the media won't point it out to them.

Bold emphasis mine. It's more Democrat wealth redistribution. Are you folks living on pensions ready to have YOUR money confiscated?

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