Meet the one US pharma company not looking to reduce its tax bill

Peter Spence
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While peers are set to reduce their tax bills, St. Jude has declared itself uninterested in a pure inversion deal (Source: Getty)

There's a lone voice in the pharmaceuticals industry: a company that doesn't want to take steps to reduce its tax bill.

While almost all of its US peers are making strategic plays to reduce their costs, one firm - St. Jude Medical - isn't looking to go down the same path.

The heart device maker says it has no plans to join its competitors by seeking an inversion deal, one that would see it snap up a foreign company in order to reincorporate itself offshore and to enjoy the benefits of a lower corporate tax rate.

All the big players are trying to get in on the action. Pfizer made a tilt at AstraZeneca earlier this year, and Shire's board relented to US rival AbbVie on Monday. But St. Jude's chief financial officer, Don Zurbay, today said that any deal with that effect "really would have to be a deal that's highly strategic first, and if those [tax] benefits happen to be a part of it, that's great."

"For us, we don't really feel the need," Zurbay said in a telephone interview with Reuters. The finance chief said that St. Jude already has a "very low tax rate", such that it wouldn't see a large upside from a tax-orientated play.

Some of St. Jude's peers have found the cost savings that an inversion deal can offer too hard to ignore. Self-described patriot and chief executive of generics producer Mylan, Heather Bresch, expressed reluctancy in a CNBC interview on Monday over Mylan's acquisition of Netherlands-based Abbott Laboratories.

Despite not wanting to contribute less in US taxes, Bresch said that "if you put on your business hat, you can’t maintain competitiveness by staying at a competitive disadvantage. I mean you just can’t. The odds are just not in your favour."

US politicians like treasury secretary Jack Lew have been highly critical of the changes in the pharma landscape. In a letter published by Reason, Lew said yesterday that "these firms are attempting to avoid paying taxes here, notwithstanding the benefits they gain from being located in the United States." As Reason's J.D. Tuccille points out, perhaps Lew thinks that "taking their facilities, jobs, technology, and investments with them would be the proper thing to do."

On Monday Bresch raised concerns that the US had failed to keep pace globally, and remain competitive as an environment for corporations. "If we want to sit here and have a discussion about how do we handcuff US corporations to the United States, I think that's unpractical and quite frankly ridiculous," said Bresch.