In what appears to be the largest sale of corporate tax breaks to date under the 1981 tax law, Ford Motor Co. yesterday announced that it sold all 1981 investment credits and depreciation deductions to International Business Machines for somewhere between $100 million and $200 million.
Both firms refused to give specific details of the deal, but the tax breaks sold under the agreement are tied to all of Ford's purchases of machinery, tooling and equipment this year. A Ford spokesman said the total investment involved was between $500 million and $1 billion.
IBM, according to an official of the firm, also will make somewhere between $100 million and $200 million. This profit on the agreement would come from the difference between what IBM paid for the tax breaks and their value to the computer firm. IBM had net earnings after taxes of $2.2 billion through the third quarter of this year.
The tax sale, accomplished through controversial leasing provisions included in the tax cut enacted in July, will provide a major cash boost to Ford. Through the third quarter of this year, Ford reported total losses of $713 million.
"This transaction enables Ford to obtain the cash from these credits and deductions now," John Sagan, vice president and treasurer, said. "Otherwise, Ford would have to delay use of its investment tax credits and depreciation deductions on 1981 capital expenditures."
The leasing provisions in the 1981 tax bill were put in the legislation in an effort to spread some of the major corporate tax breaks to companies, like Ford, which have little or no profits.
Under terms of the legislation, a company like Ford buys needed equipment, then sells it to a profitable firm, such as IBM. This is accomplished through what amounts to a paper transaction involving only the tax breaks from the 10 percent investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation.
The profitable company then "leases" the equipment back to the actual user in an arrangement in which the rent exactly equals the cost of paying off the purchase. At the end of the term, the lease agreement would, in most circumstances, permit the low profit company to buy back the equipment at a nominal price. Ford would not disclose the precise terms of its agreement with IBM.
The leasing provisions were designed to benefit such industries as autos, steel, paper and railroad which are, in many cases, either running in the red or showing such low profits that the tax breaks in the 1981 tax bill are of no use.
The Treasury Department, however, has issued regulations that persons involved in making leasing deals say make arrangements with such marginal firms as Chrysler tough to complete because of the tax liabilities in the event the unprofitable firm goes bankruput.
The department has estimated that the cost of the leasing provision will amount to $27 billion over six years.
All companies that want to retroactively capitalize on the leasing section face a Nov. 13 deadline. Under the law, companies were given until that date--three months after President Reagan signed the tax bill--to convert purchases made any time this year into leases.