Honeywell Firing on Tax Cut Cylinders

The conglomerate plans to bring $7 billion to $10 billion back on shore to invest in its U.S. operations and possibly buy “bolt-on” companies.
David KatzJanuary 29, 2018

For good and ill — but mostly good — Honeywell International is an excellent example of how the major provisions of the U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are affecting the financials of multinational conglomerates.

At first glance, Honeywell seems a case study in the boons that President Trump and Congressional Republican had long touted in their campaign to pass the act. During the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Friday, CFO Thomas Szlosek told analysts the company expects in the next two years to repatriate at least $7 billion of the $10 billion in cash that’s held by Honeywell’s foreign subsidiaries.

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“And of course, we’ll continue to generate overseas cash, which will add to that pool of potential repatriation,” according to the finance chief.

One of the major selling points of the repatriation provision of the act was that companies would invest the repatriated cash in growing their domestic business once they brought it onshore. Not missing a beat, Szlosek told the analysts that the “new global mobility of our cash will allow us to continue investing in our businesses in the U.S.”

Further, the finance chief said, Honeywell plans to use portions of the cash to “pay a competitive dividend; to more aggressively seek out M&A, particularly in the U.S.; and to repurchase our own shares.”

Thomas Szlosek, CFO, Honeywell

Thomas Szlosek, CFO, Honeywell

Besides the repatriation of overseas cash at lower U.S. tax rates, Honeywell, a diversified manufacturing and technology conglomerate that has long pushed for tax reform, expects to fire on at least two cylinders of the new tax law’s most oft-cited effects: lower tax rates on its U.S.-source income and the increased cash that the tax cuts will put in its customer’s pockets.

During the call, Szlosek and chief executive officer Darius Adamczyk reported that the company was raising its annual earnings-per-share guidance 20 cents, to a range of  $7.75 to $8, as a result of the lower tax rates it was expecting to enjoy under the new law. “We believe that the tax reform will provide a sustainable, long-term benefit to Honeywell, not a single quick hit,” the CFO said.

To be sure, the tax act, which was signed into law December 22, did provide Honeywell a single, quick hit — but in the negative sense. The company booked a provisional charge of $3.8 billion in the fourth quarter to reflect the estimated effects of the law.

That nearly $4 billion provisional charge “may be adjusted over the course of 2018 as things become clearer,” Szlosek said.

Although the CFO reported that the write-down consists of three non-cash elements, Honeywell didn’t provide numeric breakdowns of them. The first element of the charge is the repatriation tax that will be charged under the new law on $20 billion of earnings that Honeywell’s foreign subsidiaries haven’t returned to the parent company yet. While all of that non-cash charge was recorded in the fourth quarter of 2017, it will be paid over an 8-year period.

In contrast, the second element is a favorable one, Szlosek noted. To reflect the effect of the act’s big tax cut — from a 35% maximum corporate rate to a 21% standard rate — Honeywell estimates that it will enjoy a hefty deferred tax liability adjustment.

The third element consists of the estimated cost of changing over to the territorial tax system (which would only tax companies in countries where income is earned) launched under the new law. Honeywell expects the expenditures of that transition to include withholding and local taxes associated with the future repatriation of cash back to the United States.

During the call, Steven Winoker, a managing director at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., asked the executives about the effects of tax reform on Honeywell’s customers’ spending decisions.

“For us, we certainly see much greater level of bullishness on the part of our customers, which should translate to continued investment,” Adamczyk replied, noting that customers’ capital expenditures “is our revenue, and we do expect some level of investment to accelerate.”