Barack Obama and Tim Cook's weekend chat

November 20, 2012: 7:40 AM ET

I'll bet $82.6 billion the call had something to do with Apple's overseas cash holdings

Source: SEC Form 10-K. Chart: PED

FORTUNE -- One of the business leaders President Obama called last weekend before he began his Southeast Asia visit was Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook.

The President met with a dozen CEOs last week to talk about the so-called fiscal cliff, and he reached out to four more over the weekend, including Cook.

The White House did not disclose the subject of their chat, but it's not hard to guess.

During his re-election campaign, Obama talked a lot about closing tax loopholes that reward U.S. companies for exporting jobs.

Apple, which has shipped almost all its manufacturing work to Asia, has lobbied heavily for a tax holiday that would allow it to "repatriate" some the cash it has accumulated overseas -- i.e. spend it in the U.S without having to pay federal taxes on it.

How big an issue is that for Apple?

Well, according to the Form 10-K the company filed with the SEC last month, of the record $121.3 billion in cash and marketable securities it has accumulated, $82.6 billion is parked overseas.

Apple pays extraordinarily low tax rates on its foreign earnings -- $713 million in 2012 at an effective rate of less than 2%.

This compares to the $13.3 billion Apple paid in state and federal taxes in the U.S. in 2012, where the federal tax rate is 35%.

The discrepancy between 2% and 35% is what you might call a loophole. When it gets closed -- and how it gets closed -- is something the President and Tim Cook might want to talk about.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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