See full size imageBusiness appraisers generally apply discounts of one sort or another to value an interest in a closely held business entity. Discounts for lack of control (DLOC) and lack of marketability (DLOM) are most commonly used, depending on the context (estate taxes, matrimonial divorce, dissenting shareholder appraisal, etc.) and the applicable standard of value (fair market value, fair value, investment value).

Once in a while a more exotic discount makes the news. Case in point: the discount for built-in capital gains (BIG) affecting subchapter C corporations. A recent appellate decision scores a major victory for estate taxpayers, and ultimately may also become a factor in valuation cases arising out of dissolution proceedings involving C corporations. First, some background.

Under changes made by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, proceeds from the sale of appreciated assets held by a C corporation upon liquidation are subject to gains tax at the corporate level. A buyer of C corporation shares therefore is willing to pay less for the shares than if the same assets were held by a subchapter S corporation. A C corporation can avoid capital gains taxes at the corporate level upon sale of all its assets by converting to a subchapter S corporation. [IRC §1361 et seq]. However, this option is of limited use since, among other things, the corporation must retain the appreciated assets for ten years from the date of conversion in order to avoid the tax. [See IRC §1374(d)(7)].

In a 2005 decision in a case called Estate of Jelke, in valuing an estate’s 6.44% stock interest in an investment holding company, the Tax Court reduced a $51 million BIG tax liability to $21 million by computing the present value of tax liabilities assuming the future sale of company assets over a 16-year period. On November 15, 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ordered the Tax Court to recalculate the stock value using a dollar-for-dollar reduction of the entire $51 million in BIG tax liability, under the assumption that the company is liquidated on the date of death and all assets sold.

Jelke likely will not have wide impact on valuation contests in dissolution cases, for two main reasons. First, the great majority of dissolution cases involve S corporations and other entities that opt for pass-through partnership tax treatment. Second, the standard of value in estate tax cases such as Jelke is fair market value as opposed to the fair value standard specified by New York’s buyout statute. In a BCL §1118 valuation case involving a real estate holding C corporation called Matter of La Sala, a New York trial court refused to apply a discount for BIG tax liability on the ground that it was required to value the corporation as a going concern and, therefore, it would not consider capital gains taxes triggered upon liquidation. Undoubtedly, this will not be the last word on the subject of BIG discounts in stock valuation proceedings.