Friday, April 11, 2008

WSJ: U.S. Deficit Hits Record As Corporate Profits Fall

From the Friday April 11, 2008 issue of the Wall Street Journal (page A12)

By Michael M. Phillips

The foreclosure crisis and the turmoil on Wall Street appear to be putting a squeeze on the federal budget, leaving record deficits in their wake as corporate-income-tax revenues fall.

The Treasury Department reported Thursday that receipts from corporate income taxes fell 16% to $129 billion in the first half of fiscal 2008, which began Oct. 1. The federal deficit during the period hit an all-time high of $311 billion, and was up 20% from a year earlier.

"Corporate tax revenues are declining significantly," Peter Orszag, head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said in an interview. "We're experiencing a period in which corporate tax revenues grew extremely rapidly for several years, and now that's being reversed to some degree."

While government data don't identify revenue sources by industry, analysts looking at corporate profitibability say that the biggest revenue declines probably are due to the setbacks to banks, investment banks and other financial institutions arising from the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market.

"It's partly an economic slowdown, but it's much more focused than that," said J.D. Foster, a former chief economist at the White House Office of Management and Budget and now a senior fellow at the conserative Heritage Foundation. "In recent years we have gotten an inordinate proportion of our corporate tax receipts from the financial sector. And who's getting hammered [now]?"

The wave of home-loan defaults sweeping the nation has sent shocks through banks and Wall Street firms that invested heavily in risky securities backed by those mortgages. The International Monetary Fund forecast this week that, over two years, the crisis will saddle financial institutions world-wide with $945 billion in losses.

In part because of rising revenues from taxes on individuals' incomes, federal receipts overall hit a record in the first half of the fiscal year, reaching $1.15 trillion, an increase of 2% from a year earlier. Individual-income-tax receipts accounted for $504 billion, up from $479 billion in the first half of fiscal 2007. The periods ended before the height of the tax-filing season in early April.

Nonetheless, the reduction in corporate tax revenues combined with a 6% jump in federal spending to $1.46 trillion to create the record budget shortfall.

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