New taxes, corporate dividends and MLPs

How will the current default tax rate increases impact different equity investment income streams, especially dividend paying corporations compared to Master Limited Partnerships? To try and walk through the concepts let’s use the following hypothetical assumptions [1]:

  • Both investments are held in taxable accounts (clearly dividend paying corporations can be held in tax advantaged accounts to avoid paying current taxes on the income stream but MLPs are intended to be held in taxable accounts)
  • $1,000 of qualifying dividend income from a corporation
  • $1,000 of distribution income from an MLP with 80% of the distributions assumed to be tax deferred (typically MLPs will include some language in equity offering documents that estimate the ratio of taxable income to distributions along the lines of “you will be allocated, on a cumulative basis, an amount of federal taxable income for that period that will be 20% or less of the cash distributed to you,” the percentages vary by MLP but the larger pipeline MLPs are generally in the 20% taxable / 80% deferred range)
  • Current highest tax rate on qualifying dividends of 15% and highest income tax rate of 35%
  • 2013 highest tax rate on qualifying dividends and highest income tax rate of 39.6% plus a 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax so a total effective maximum rate for both of 43.4%

Based on those simplified assumptions here’s how the estimated numbers look:

2012 Taxes

2013 Taxes


$1,000 Qualifying Dividends



Up 189%

$1,000 MLP Distributions [2]



Up 24%

The basic conclusion is that the pending tax code changes are comparatively more detrimental to dividend income streams in taxable accounts than they are to MLP distribution income streams, thus making MLPs relatively more attractive for taxable accounts going forward [2]. Keep in mind that these estimates are based on the current default plan so they may change substantially if the government negotiates some different agreement.

[1] Please consult with a professional tax advisor these are hypothetical and oversimplified calculations for discussion purposes only and are not in any way intended to be tax advice, decoding the human genome is simpler than the U.S. Tax Code.

[2] The generic MLP position is also assumed to have a positive tax basis even after all of the distributions received, which makes the taxes due calculation equal to 20% of the distributions times the tax rates. The 80% of the distributions that are “tax deferred” reduce the tax basis in the MLP position and will be subject to “recapture” when the position is sold. Please also see footnote (1).

The investments discussed are held in client accounts as of December 7th. These investments may or may not be currently held in client accounts. The reader should not assume that any investments identified were or will be profitable or that any investment recommendations or investment decisions we make in the future will be profitable.

Certain information contained in this presentation is based upon forward-looking statements, information and opinions, including descriptions of anticipated market changes and expectations of future activity. The manager believes that such statements, information and opinions are based upon reasonable estimates and assumptions. However, forward-looking statements, information and opinions are inherently uncertain and actual events or results may differ materially from those reflected in the forward-looking statements. Therefore, undue reliance should not be placed on such forward-looking statements, information and opinions.