Treasury Calls on Congress to Halt Inversion Deals

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Congress should "shut down" tax inversion deals, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote in a letter to key members of Congress. Tax inversion deals have been embraced in recent months by a number of drug companies looking to lower their tax bills. 

WHAT'S NEW: In a letter to leaders of Congressional committees that deal with tax legislation, Lew said legislation to shut down tax inversion deal should be enacted immediately and made retroactive to May 2014. The Obama administration seeks to take comprehensive action to reform and simplify the U.S. tax system, but as it works to do that Congress should crack down on this loophole, Lew said.

BACKGROUND: Tax inversions refer to an acquisition of one company, usually officially based in a country in Europe or elsewhere, by a U.S. company, following which the acquiring company becomes domiciled in the same country as the company that it bought. The switch has the potential to significantly lower the acquiring company's tax rate.

ANALYST REACTION: In a note to investors earlier today, BMO Capital analyst David Maris wrote that anti-inversion rhetoric from the Obama administration may cause the environment for inversion deals to become "quite chilly." Although Congress is unlikely to act on this issue soon, the risk of legislation could make some companies think twice about paying high premiums for competitors they are acquiring in inversion deals, the analyst warned. Investors should be especially cautious about deals that are pending or have been recently announced, such as Mylan's (MYL) acquisition of Abbott's (ABT) established products business announced on Monday, Maris wrote. Lew's letter will also hinder Valeant's (VRX) efforts to acquire Allergan (AGN), as the Treasury Secretary's statement will bolster Allergan's argument that Valeant's tax assumptions could be overly positive, according to the analyst. Maris has Outperform ratings on all the stocks mentioned above except for Mylan, on which he has an Underperform rating.

WHAT'S NOTABLE: Another high-profile proposed deal in the pharmaceutical space that involved a potential inversion was Pfizer's (PFE) failed attempt to acquire AstraZeneca (AZN). Additionally, Medtronic (MDT) recently agreed to acquire Ireland's Covidien (COV).

PRICE ACTION: In early trading, Mylan was little changed at $52.20, Abbott was fractionally higher to $41.25, Valeant was little changed at $120, Allergan traded fractionally lower at $164.30, Medtronic fell 1.7% to $62.48 and Covidien dropped 2% to $88.67.

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