Rite Aid Struggles with Tax Break Prescription

The pharmacy chain grapples with FAS 109 as it looks predict future income so it can claim a tax break on net operating losses – before time runs out.

Recently, Rite Aid Corporation made a stunning announcement. The company stated that in compliance with the accounting rule known as FAS 109, Accounting for Income Taxes, “…it expects to record a non-cash income tax expense in its fourth quarter ended March 1, 2008, related to a valuation allowance on the company’s deferred tax assets…”

The amount of the charge is substantial. Rite Aid has guided investors to expect a charge in the range of $800 million to $1 billion. Although the company states, correctly, that this charge will have no impact on its revenues, adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amoritzation), or liquidity, Rite Aid goes on to acknowledge — with equal accuracy — that the charge will “negatively impact” the company’s net loss and loss per diluted share for fiscal 2008. It will also negatively impact the company’s “net worth” and its book value per share.

To get a more complete picture, consider the company’s deferred tax assets. Indeed, as of the close of its most recent fiscal year, Rite Aid reported “net deferred tax assets” of $1.412 billion, after taking into account a valuation allowance of “only” $239 million. A large portion of the deferred tax assets is attributable to Rite Aid’s impressive array of “carryforwards.” Thus, as of the end of its most recent fiscal year, Rite Aid was reporting: federal net operating loss (NOL) carryforwards of $2.239 billion, which do not begin to expire until 2019*; state net operating loss carryforwards amounting to $3.093 billion; and federal capital loss carryforwards of some $238 million. This last carryforward will expire in 2008.

Since corporate capital losses can be only be used to offset corporate capital gains, it is incumbent on Rite Aid to generate a capital gain sufficient to use its capital loss carryforward. Without that capital gain, the carryforward will expire unused. Also consider that the carryforwards give rise to deferred tax assets. The deferred tax asset, in each case, represents the (undiscounted) tax savings Rite Aid can expect from the use of these items to offset income otherwise subject to taxation.

Valuation Allowance

In the case of deferred tax assets, FAS 109 is clear that a valuation allowance is required if, “based on the weight of available evidence,” it is more likely than not that some, or all, of the deferred tax asset will not be realized. Realizing the future tax break of an existing “deductible temporary difference” or carryforward (each of which produces deferred tax assets), depends exclusively upon the existence of sufficient taxable income of the appropriate character within the carryforward period. Appropriate character refers to the capital losses discussed above.

If the company is uncertain about the amount of taxable income it will generate in the future, it will have to establish a valuation allowance. The allowance should be sufficient to reduce the deferred tax asset to an amount that the company thinks it will more likely than not realize. Further, note that the effect of a change in the beginning-of-the-year balance of a valuation allowance that results from a “change in circumstances” should be included in income from continuing operations. That’s, of course, if the change in circumstance causes a change in judgment about realizing the deferred tax asset.

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