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Buffett: WSJ wrong about BoA dividends

August 30, 2011: 2:58 PM ET

Warren Buffett seems to be getting tired of those who call him a hypocrite on taxes.

At this point, I'm not really sure who's allowed to advocate for higher taxes on the rich. Certainly not the lower 98%, lest they be accused of engaging in "class warfare." And apparently not the uber-wealthy like Warren Buffett, who is to be ignored until he donates a cargo plane full of gold bullion to the IRS.

The latest attempt to discredit Buffett came today from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which argued that Buffett's recent $5 billion investment in Bank of America (BAC) "represents another tax-avoidance triumph for the Berkshire chief executive."

Here's the gist:

U.S. corporations are subject to a top federal income tax rate of 35%, the second highest in the world. But the Journal's Erik Holm notes that Mr. Buffett and the Berkshire bunch won't pay anything close to that on their investment in BofA preferred shares. That's because corporations can exclude from taxation 70% of the dividends they receive from an investment in another corporation... With the 70% exclusion for Mr. Buffett and his fellow shareholders, Berkshire will enjoy an effective tax rate of 10.5% on the $300 million in dividends it will receive each year from Bank of America.

It's a bit of an odd argument, because WSJ never really shows that Berkshire is doing anything different from any other investment firm that buys into a dividend-paying company. And the dividends are hardly the bulk of the money that Berkshire hopes to make off of BoA (that would be capital gains on the underlying investment, which also comes in lower than the 35%).

More importantly, however, Buffett is pushing back against even the little bit of math WSJ offered up. In an unusual move, Berkshire today issued a press release arguing that it is housing its BAC preferred shares in property-casualty subsidiaries where all of its dividends are taxed at a 14.175% rate. That means Berkshire would pay around $42.53 million in taxes per year on its BAC dividends, rather than the $31.5 million claimed by WSJ. So far, WSJ has neither corrected its editorial nor offered a public reply.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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