Microsoft is funding its Nokia acquisition with cash it kept from the taxman

Nokia’s headquarters in Finland.
Nokia’s headquarters in Finland.
Image: AP/Sari Gustafsson
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Microsoft’s $7.2 billion deal for most of struggling Finnish phone manufacturer Nokia lessens the load of an unlikely burden—a surplus of overseas cash. Microsoft will pay for the acquisition entirely in cash from its $60 billion in offshore holdings.

Microsoft and other US-based multinational giants, particularly technology companies, have been under fire for the huge amount of cash they hold overseas instead of repatriating it, where it would be subject to clutches of the Internal Revenue Service. At the end of 2012, Microsoft held 89% of its over $68 billion in cash overseas, second only to Apple, which had 69% of its $137 billion offshore. The St. Louis Federal Reserve said in a January report that the cash hoarding helps to explain the US’s slow recovery from the recession.

Microsoft shifted some $21 billion overseas between 2009 and 2011 and managed to avoid paying $4.5 billion in taxes on goods sold in the US, according to a US Senate committee report, by the aggressive use of a tax strategy known as “transfer pricing.” The report said Microsoft also transferred royalty income to low-tax countries like Singapore and Ireland, including one unit that was headquartered in Bermuda and had no employees.

For many of the workers in Espoo, Finland, the deal is sure to be a relief, especially after Nokia’s chief executive compared their position to an offshore oil worker standing on a “burning platform” with “multiple points of scorching heat that are fueling a blazing fire around us.” And happily for Microsoft, Finland is planning to cut its corporate tax rate to 20% from 24.5% to attract new business.