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GE, Citigroup 2012 Earnings In Limbo Over Tax Fight

Willens says he doesn't blame Immelt for assuming the exception will eventually be extended through at least 2012. Indeed, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D.,N.M.) writing in Politico earlier this week, noted the "tax entenders" package was passed earlier this year by the Senate Finance Committee with bipartisan support.

"We should not wait for a "grand bargain" to materialize before we finish our work on tax extenders," he wrote.

Still, in urging the swift passage of the extenders, Bingaman mentioned tuition tax credits and wind energy credits, while conveniently leaving out the benefit to the deeply unpopular financial services industry.

Even assuming the extenders eventually get passed, it will leave auditors in a tough spot if the issue still isn't resolved by the time GE and other corporations report their year-end 2012 results.

Will companies be allowed to report their results of operations as if the active financing exception had been extended even though it hasn't?

"I don't think you can make that assumption," Willens says.

While all multinational financial companies will face a similar predicament, Willens believes GE is likely to see the greatest impact. For JPMorgan Chase (JPM), losing the active financing exception would have cost it roughly $600 million in 2011.

Among U.S. banks, Citigroup is widely understood to have the biggest international business, and Willens estimates Citigroup's earnings would have been lower by roughly $1 billion in both 2010 and 2011 without the loophole. Will Citigroup simply assume its extension for 2012 even if that hasn't happened by the time it files its 10-K?

A Citigroup spokeswoman wrote via email said the bank "won't speculate on upcoming filings."

-- Written by Dan Freed in New York.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.
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