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The 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street: April 15

3. GE, AP Get Punked

General Electric (GE - Get Report) was the victim of a fake press release pulled together by anticorporate prankster the Yes Men that said GE would "repay its entire $3.2 billion tax refund to the U.S. Treasury on April 18."

"It is a hoax," GE spokeswoman Anne Eisele told TheStreet..

General Electric has faced intense criticism over its low tax bill since The New York Times recently published a front page article saying the company will pay no federal taxes despite earning more than $14 billion in profits in 2010. The Times story also stated that GE "claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion."

The press release was so well-crafted that it initially fooled The Associated Press, which published a story online that Eisele said was based on it.

The erroneous AP story also stated that GE "plans to phase out tax havens over 5 years and said it will create one job in the US for each new job it creates overseas."

GE has intensely contested any attempts in the press to characterize the tax benefit as a refund. The debate is difficult to pin down, though it has highlighted two facts: first, that GE is among the most clever companies in the U.S. when it comes to minimizing its taxes, and second, that the corporate tax code is so complex it is extremely difficult to reach any firm conclusions about how much a giant company like GE actually pays.
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